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April 18, 2014

Keystone XL put on back burner – again – awaiting Nebraska legal outcome

State Department extends its review of tarsands pipeline, citing court case

The long wait for a final State Department decision on the Keystone XL pipeline just got longer, Politico reported Friday, with the Obama Administration planning to extend the public comment period while part of the Nebraska route remains tied up in litigation.

The State Department told reporters it can’t predict how long the delay will last, since a dispute over the pipeline’s Nebraska route is before the state’s Supreme Court. Politico speculated that the delay could easily push President Barack Obama’s final decision on the contentious project past the November election.

The southern leg of the pipeline, from Cushing, Okla. to Texas Gulf Coast refineries near Houston, is already built and operating. The stretch of pipeline in dispute would carry tarsands from Canada, through the Midwest and onward to Oklahoma.

By Polly Ross Hughes


April 18, 2014

Brandy Marty’s chair sits empty as PUC chairman welcomes new member

Maximilian Wayne Marquez, born last Friday, marks commission milestone

The Texas Public Utility Commission gained a new and historically significant member, PUC Chairman Donna Nelson announced at an official meeting yesterday as the chair of Commissioner Brandy Marty sat notably empty.

“You might notice that there are only two of us up here. We have a new member of the Public Utility Commission,” Nelson said as the morning meeting began. “Commissioner Marty gave birth last Friday (April 11) to a beautiful baby boy, Maximilian “Max” Wayne Marquez. I think this might be a first here.”

We at Texas Energy Report welcome the new addition and wish Marty and her family a Happy Easter.

By Polly Ross Hughes


April 18, 2014

EPA issues greenhouse gas permit to Texas natural gas processing plant

Federal agency reiterates that states, namely Texas, are better able to do so

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized its second greenhouse gas permit this week in Texas – this time for a new natural gas processing plant – it repeated its statement about who would be better equipped to have done so.

“EPA believes states are best equipped to run GHG air permitting programs,” the federal agency said in a statement. “Texas is working to replace a federal implementation plan with its own state program, which will eliminate the need for businesses to seek air permits from EPA. This action will increase efficiency and allow for industry to continue to grow in Texas.”

While other states do issue such permits, Texas dug in its heels over the ideologically fraught issue over contributors to climate change and what to do about it.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 17, 2014

Sitton pledges to place company in blind trust and step down if elected to RRC

Candidate moves late in runoff election to remove conflict-of-interest attacks

Ryan Sitton, who has been pummeled by his opponent in the Republican primary runoff for Texas Railroad Commission over potential conflicts of interest, pledged Thursday morning to put his oil-and-gas engineering firm into a blind trust if elected to regulate the industry.

Sitton promised he would also step down as president and chief executive officer of PinnacleAIS, in an attempt to put to rest conflict-of-interests questions that have dogged him in a heated GOP contest against former state Rep. Wayne Christian of Center.

He also told Texas Energy Report (TER) he would unequivocally state that his wife, who helped found the company, would not be his successor in leading the company.

“Hopefully this will help me in terms of making things more clear for folks,” Sitton said in an interview with TER. “Hopefully this will make things crystal clear for everyone, and we can get back to the campaign.”

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 16, 2014

Austin-based Skyonic pioneers profitable carbon-capture technologies

Canadian non-profit awards $500,000 grant for climate change solutions

Austin-based Skyonic Corp., a firm pioneering profitable carbon-capture technology, said Wednesday that it has received a $500,000 grant from a Canadian non-profit dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change via science and technology.

The funding from the Alberta-based non-profit Climate Change and emissions Management Corp. will support ongoing research and development of a pilot plant for the Austin company’s SkyCycle technology, Skyonic said. SkyCycle aims to make carbon-capture technology profitable and within reach of any stationary emitter, according to Joe Jones, Skyonic’s CEO, president and founder.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 16, 2014

EPA and TCEQ working together, finally, on greenhouse gas permits

Federal agency says goal is for Texas to issue permits itself

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, so often at odds with each other in the past on the contentious issue of greenhouse gas permitting, are now working together, the EPA announced Wednesday.

The federal environmental agency said it issued a final greenhouse gas permit to Equistar Chemicals in Corpus Christi after its state partners at the TCEQ drafted the permit. The joint effort, EPA said, involves a program designed to improve efficiency and productivity for business applicants in Texas.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 15, 2014

Ryan Sitton gets Barry Smitherman backing for RRC

Endorsement lands in midst of intriguing conflict-of-interest twists

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman, reportedly seeking a powerful oil industry lobbying post as he ends his term this year, endorsed Ryan Sitton Tuesday to replace him on the three-member, oil-and-gas regulating agency.

Sitton, a Houston engineer who started his own company serving the oil-and-gas industry, is locked in a hotly contested Republican primary battle with former state Rep. Wayne Christian of Center.

Each candidate has accused the other of conflicts of interest as they battle their way toward a May 27 primary runoff. Christian says Sitton won’t reveal the names of his clients who are likely to appear before the commission in contested cases, nor divest his interest in his company PinnacleAIS if elected. Sitton says Christian sells mutual fund securities that include oil and gas companies.

Smitherman offered a glowing endorsement of Sitton: “Ryan is an experienced entrepreneur who has actually worked in the Texas energy industry. He is not a career politician but a business leader that understands the critical role oil, natural gas, gas pipelines and lignite coal play in driving our Texas economy forward. Ryan Sitton is the reliable, conservative and competent choice to be our next Railroad Commissioner.”

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 15, 2014

Christian asks Sitton to post his oil-and-gas client list

Young Conservatives attack Sitton in RRC Republican primary video ad

Texas Railroad Commission candidate Wayne Christian, vying with Ryan Sitton in the May 27 Republican primary runoff, is pressing Sitton to release a list of clients of his oil-and-gas engineering firm PinnacleAIS.

On Tuesday the campaign of former state Rep. Christian of Center sent supporters a video clip produced by Young Conservatives of Texas.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 15, 2014

Rex and Renda Tillerson pledge $5 million for UT engineering center

Gift from ExxonMobil executive and wife to support education, research

ExxonMobil Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rex W. Tillerson and his wife, Renda, have pledged $5 million towards and engineering and research facility at the University of Texas at Austin, the university’s Cockrell School of Engineering announced Tuesday.

The 430,000-square-foot Engineering Education and Research Center, set for completion in 2017, will support advanced teaching, research and student project sites to encourage collaboration among the Cockrell School’s seven departments, the school said.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 14, 2014

EFH bankruptcy likely to result in cash bond for mining cleanup costs

Advocates on lookout for loopholes so taxpayers don’t foot $952 million bill

Environmentalists and public advocates who feared that $952 million in Luminant Mining cleanup costs could fall to Texas taxpayers said Monday they’re resting somewhat easier, based on written statements from its financially troubled parent, Energy Future Holdings (EFH), and the Texas Railroad Commission.

Currently the Railroad Commission has a self-bonding mining reclamation agreement with Luminant, backed up by the company’s coal plants and the funds they generate or fail to generate.

However, under EFH’s expected Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing due by the end of this month, that bond is expected to be replaced by a collateral bond backed up by cash or securities, EFH said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“In the event that Luminant Mining files for reorganization under Chapter 11, it would no longer qualify for self-bonding under commission regulations and must submit an alternate form of bond,” Railroad Commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said Monday.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 14, 2014

House energy chief Jim Keffer sees Ryan Sitton facing conflicts at RRC

Candidate holding onto energy interests ‘opens up this whole can of worms’

House Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jim Keffer said he isn’t endorsing a candidate in the Republican runoff for Railroad Commission, but he’s uneasy about conflicts of interests posed by the candidacy of Ryan Sitton of Houston.

Sitton, in a lengthy interview with Texas Energy Report published on April 9, said he does not plan to divest his interest in PinnacleAIS, an oil and gas engineering firm he founded with his wife. He also won’t put it into a blind trust.

Instead, he says he will step out of the day-to-day business of the company, but he won’t necessarily step down as the president and chief executive officer. In an earlier TER interview, Sitton said he’d make public his client list, but then he changed his mind. He said that wouldn’t be fair to his clients.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 11, 2014

GDF Suez, Houston’s Metro reach green energy pact for electricity

Renewable energy certificates, carbon reports to cut gas greenhouse emissions

Houston Metro has struck an electricity supply agreement with GDF Suez Energy Resources NA, the company said Friday, that advances a number of the transit authority’s green initiatives.

The agreement calls for Metro to offset 20 percent of its electric consumption by purchasing renewable energy certificates from GDF Suez. In turn, GDF Suez will provide 6,232 renewable energy certificates to offset another five percent. Each of the certificates represents the environmental benefits connected to a specific amount of energy produced by solar, wind or other renewable sources.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 11, 2014

Texas drought and despair: Don Cheadle visits Lubbock and Plainview

Showtime climate series looks at the West, Texas, Indonesia and Syria

Actor Don Cheadle treks to Texas for a firsthand look at drought and despair in Sunday’s premiere episode of a new Showtime documentary series called “Years of Living Dangerously.”

He visits Lubbock and Plainview to gather tales of lives and livelihoods coming unraveled as Texas’ multi-year drought threatens to surpass the duration of the state’s record-setting drought of the 1950s.

“It’s more than a dry spell,” says one rancher as he gazes over his 17,000 acres where he’s had to sell off two-thirds of his livestock.

In Plainview, the impact of the drought on ranchers forced a Cargill meatpacking plant to close, killing 2,300 jobs in a single day.

“It was like they herded up a herd of cattle in a bin and just hit us over the head with it,” one laid off worker told Cheadle. “When they told me it’s over, I thought, ‘What can I do? Who’s going to hire a 46-year-old woman as a forklift driver?’”

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 9, 2014

Q&A with RRC candidate Ryan Sitton: Will he, won’t he be conflicted?

Yes, no, maybe. It all depends on how sharply he draws the line and where

Former Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones has endorsed Ryan Sitton, owner and founder of a fast-growing oil and gas engineering firm, in his Republican runoff bid to become an oil and gas regulator.

She caught Texas Energy Report’s eye when she declared, “It is very exciting that someone like Ryan is willing to put his business interests aside (emphasis added) and serve as our Railroad Commissioner.”

What did she mean, “put his business interests aside?” TER wondered. So, we engaged Sitton, also president and chief executive officer of PinnacleAIS (Asset Integrity Services), in a conversation about what he thinks that means.

Pinnacle, after all, serves mostly midstream (pipelines, gas processing, transportation) and downstream (refining and petrochemical) ends of the oil and gas industry. Since the Railroad Commission primarily regulates upstream oil and gas production, Sitton argues that there’s virtually no conflict.

However, his client list likely includes names of some large, integrated firms involved in all aspects of the business. Such clients frequently appear in contested cases upon which the state’s three elected Railroad Commissioners must rule.

So far, Sitton refuses to make his client list transparent to his potential constituents in the names of protecting the privacy of clients at his privately held company. It raises the question of which interests might outweigh others? The privacy of Pinnacle clients, executives and investors who “didn’t sign up for this” or the public interests of the citizens of Texas?

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 8, 2014

$590-million transmission project for Houston approved by ERCOT

Power import system aims to improve electric reliability

Operators of Texas’ largest electric grid voted Tuesday to endorse a $590 million transmission project to increase Houston’s capacity to import power from other parts of the state, making electricity more reliable.

Directors of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) deemed construction of the Houston Import Project critical for electric reliability as they approved moving forward with it.

“This already is one of the most congested areas in the ERCOT grid. We have evaluated this concern from a variety of perspectives, and, under every scenario, this project is needed to support reliability in the region by summer 2018,” said ERCOT Transmission Planning Manager Jeff Billo.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 8, 2014

Sen. Troy Fraser: Time for LCRA to live up to customer obligations

‘I have attempted to pull back the veil, but have been stonewalled’

Last week, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) held two so-called public information sessions regarding recently proposed water-rate increases, which I adamantly oppose. If adopted, the increases would make the Colorado River basin's rates, far and away, the most expensive of any other major basin in the state. Customers in the upper basin would see rates increase from $151 per acre-foot to $175.46 per acre-foot in 2015 with annual increases of 3% from 2016 through 2019.

It's my fear that these meetings will simply amount to window dressing and that the management and leadership at the LCRA has already made their decision. Rather than serving as a forum for debate, the public was largely on the sidelines, as LCRA staff simply read and answered questions from the audience. This isn't surprising, considering the LCRA has a history of telling the public what they want them to hear.

As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, I have been entrusted with the oversight of all water-related issues in the state of Texas. However, the LCRA operates largely as they wish, as they are considered a quasi-governmental entity. For years, I have attempted to pull back the veil at the LCRA to ensure they're acting in the best interests of those they serve, but have been stonewalled by an agency uninterested in transparency.

If the LCRA wishes to operate as though they're a private company, it only makes sense for them to act in a professional, streamlined manner. Rather, we see the type of bloat and bureaucracy that is usually associated with mismanaged federal agencies.

Check out the Opinion Section to read Senator Troy Fraser's complete colum n

By Senator Troy Fraser


April 7, 2014

RRC Chair Barry Smitherman backs Dan Patrick for lieutenant governor

Former RRC Chair Elizabeth Ames Jones endorses Ryan Sitton

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman threw his support to Sen. Dan Patrick in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor Monday, saying Patrick understands the importance of energy to the Texas economy.

“Dan Patrick has an appreciation and understanding of the important issues affecting Texans,” Smitherman said in a statement released by Patrick’s campaign. “He believes in the fundamental tenants of economic and social conservatism. Further, he understands that oil and gas is the lifeblood of the Texas economy.”

Patrick said he was proud to have the support of Smitherman, who did not make it into the Republican runoffs in his own bid for Texas Attorney General. Smitherman’s tenure at the Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, will end next January when his replacement will begin a six-year term.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 4, 2014

State, industry, DOE fund $66.5 million offshore wind project

Perry awards $2.2 million enabling grant to A&M’s Wind Energy Center

A major offshore wind energy project to be led by researchers at Texas A&M University (TAMU) has received a $2.2 million state grant to be matched with a combined $64.2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy and others, Gov. Rick Perry announced Friday

The state grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to TAMU’s Wind Energy Center will kick off the multi-university project to develop and increase capacity for offshore wind energy technology and help bring it to market.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 4, 2014

Quote du jour: Outspoken power exec on climate-change politics

“I’m not anti-utilities. I’m not anti-nuclear. I’m not anti-coal. I’m just anti-bullshit.” –NRG Energy Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer David Crane quoted by E&E’s EnergyWire Friday on why public debate on climate change should be rooted in science and facts rather than politics.

By Polly Ross Hughes


April 4, 2014

Ohio adopts tighter air standards for unconventional oil and gas production

Colorado, Wyoming have similar programs, but Texas lags behind

Texas still proudly declares it was the first state in the nation to adopt a chemical disclosure law for hydraulic fracturing, but the Lone Star State lags behind others in adopting rules to reduce air pollution from unconventional oil and gas production.

The Environmental Defense Fund, which has been pushing for rules to reduce emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and methane, a potent greenhouse gas, noted Friday that Ohio has joined fellow producing states Colorado and Wyoming in adopting clean air programs related to shale oil and gas.

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By Polly Ross Hughes