Natural Gas

BLM’s Misguided Rule Weakens Methane Flaring Reduction Standards that Avoid Waste and Protect Public Health and Our Environment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Judith Nemes

Bureau of Land Management’s Misguided Rule Weakens Methane Flaring Reduction Standards that Avoid Waste and Protect Public Health and Our Environment  

Statement by Howard A. Learner

In response to the Trump Administration’s rollback of the existing Methane Waste Reduction Standards avoid waste from oil and gas drilling on public and tribal lands in North Dakota and across the country, Environmental Law & Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner said:

“The Administration is turning its back on common sense methane reduction standards that reduce wasteful energy flaring and protect the public from harmful smog-forming pollution. The current standards call for the use of known technologies and good industry practices to reduce wasteful methane leaks. The new rule would allow more flaring of methane gas—a valuable natural resource. Flaring harms human health, wastes energy resources and costs Americans $1 billion in wasted energy and pollution.

“In North Dakota this rollback will mean more wasted natural gas, less money for impacted communities, and more air pollution from oil and gas drilling on public lands.

“The Bureau of Land Management is ignoring the strong support from more than half a million Americans who favored the existing Methane Waste Reduction Standards and oppose its repeal. The Trump Administration apparently doesn’t care enough about wasting energy, protecting public health or collecting fair revenues from the oil and gas industry drilling on our public lands,” Learner said.

Click Here to read the full rule. 

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Michigan Radio: Environmentalists ask MPSC to Reconsider DTE’s Billion-Dollar Natural Gas Plant

June 21, 2018
Environmentalists ask MPSC to Reconsider DTE’s Billion-Dollar Natural Gas Plant
By Tracy Samilton

Environmental groups haven’t given up trying to stop DTE Energy from building a $1 billion natural gas plant.

The groups are asking the Michigan Public Service Commission to reconsider the permit it approved for the plant.

Margrethe Kearney is with the Environmental Law and Policy Center. She says renewable energy becomes cheaper and more reliable every year.

“And it just doesn’t make sense for Michigan to say we’re going to build a huge natural gas plant, which means of course we won’t be building any of that other stuff,” she says.

READ MORE

PRESS RELEASE: ELPC Appealing Michigan Commission Decision to Approve DTE Energy’s Proposed $1 Billion Gas Plant

ELPC Joins Groups Appealing Michigan Commission Decision to Approve DTE Energy’s Proposed $1 Billion Gas Plant

DTE Energy failed to justify gas plant’s cost, ignored mounting evidence that fossil fuels are poor investments for customers and state

Today, a coalition of clean energy organizations asked the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse the decision of the Michigan Public Service Commission(MPSC) to approve a massive new natural gas power plant to be built by DTE Energy. The MPSC decision would allow DTE Energy to charge its customers to build the $1 billion gas plant, for ongoing fuel, and for operations and maintenances of the plant for decades to come.  The organizations, which include the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Ecology Center, the Solar Energy Industries Association, and Vote Solar, contend that DTE failed to demonstrate that its plant was the most “prudent” means of supplying power to its customers, as required by Michigan’s utility planning law.

“We are at a turning point in the electric industry, and our concern is that DTE is rushing the plant through without considering whether it really is needed, in light of newer, cleaner, and less costly alternatives,” said Margrethe Kearney, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “It is critical that the MPSC be required to fully and faithfully implement the law, to ensure that Michigan customers are not on the hook to pay for last-Century technology, when a clean, modern grid is more affordable now.”

“The law is there to protect consumers by ensuring that utilities make good investment decisions based on sound analytics to achieve an affordable, reliable and clean electric grid,” said Sam Gomberg, Senior Energy Analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.  “DTE failed to do the analysis necessary to justify its proposed natural gas plant, and the Commission should have sent them back to the drawing board.”

In July of 2017, DTE asked the MPSC to grant a “Certificate of Necessity” to build an 1100 MW natural gas power plant to replace older coal-fired plants that are slated for retirement. More than a dozen organizations intervened to oppose the plant, presenting expert testimony showing that DTE had failed to consider a range of less costly alternatives. Multiple scenarios showed that a portfolio of resources such as wind, solar, energy efficiency, demand response and battery storage could eliminate, delay or reduce the size of the plant.

“DTE did not provide sufficient analysis for the MPSC to be able to compare its plant to cleaner, reliable and more affordable options that would save customers money,” said Becky Stanfield, Senior Director of Western States at Vote Solar. “MPSC responded by decrying the lack of clear analysis but approving the plant anyway while urging DTE to do a better job in its next plan. It should have required DTE to start over.”

In states like Illinois and Ohio, owners of fossil power plants are finding that the cost to fuel and operate the plants is too expensive and are seeking bailouts from utility customers to recover these “stranded costs.”  Meanwhile, the cost of solar power has declined by 70 percent in just the past decade, while wind power is now the least costly generation resource. Increasingly, the electric industry is turning toward low-cost wind and solar power to meet future electricity demand instead of risking another generation of uneconomic investment in fossil fuels.

Learner Op-Ed in Crain’s Chicago Business: Nine Smart Ideas for Making Chicago Greener

As published in the Crain’s Chicago Business on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

Chicago is becoming a “greener city,” but let’s be candid about some key challenges and the need for solutions moving forward. Environmental progress is being achieved together with job creation and economic development. The old myth about jobs versus the environment is simply that: old and false.

Wind Power: Illinois has leaped from no wind power in 2003 to more than 3,842 megawatts today. A decade ago, who thought that Illinois would become #5 in the nation for wind power capacity and that Chicago would be now be home to 11 major wind power corporate headquarters?

Next: Illinois policymakers should say “no” to Exelon’s opposition and finally modernize the Illinois Renewable Energy Standard, which helps drive wind power development. Let’s make it work well and advance Illinois’ national leadership in the restructured electricity market.

Solar Energy: Our next boom. The City and County are advancing policies to streamline solar energy installations by speeding up permitting and standardizing grid connections. Solar energy is truly an improving disruptive technology, especially combined with battery technology improvements.

Next: How we can accelerate solar energy by better using Chicago’s many flat rooftops?  First, remove regulatory barriers that protect monopoly utilities from competition. Second, the Illinois Commerce Commission and Springfield legislators should adopt policies that better enable community solar projects for local businesses and neighborhood residents. Third, support Argonne National Labs’ goal of making batteries that are five times more efficient at one-fifth the cost. That’s a game changer.

Energy Efficiency:  There’s a quiet revolution occurring with more energy efficient lighting, appliances, cooling and heating equipment, pumps and motors, and other technologies.  Commonwealth Edison reports that electricity sales declined (-1.5%) in 2015 in Northern Illinois while the Chicago regional economy grew about 3.0%. Our economy is growing—efficiently.

Next:  Let’s make sure that homes in all Chicago neighborhoods gain energy efficiency benefits through job-creating retrofits that can reduce electricity and natural gas bills.

Public Transit: Chicago can’t be a greener “city that works” unless the CTA is modernized.

Next: Let’s face it—no good public transit, no green city. Chicago’s public transit system must become faster and provide improved, more efficient passenger services. CTA is working on it. Mayor Emanuel, Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Congressmen Lipinski and Quigley are trying to gain more federal funds for CTA modernization. That’s a priority and necessity.

Higher-Speed Rail: Chicago is the natural hub of the growing Midwest higher-speed rail network connecting Chicago and Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis, and the mid-sized cities in-between.

Next: Modernize Union Station so it works well for intercity passenger rail, is attractive to new visitors and can be a multimodal hub connecting with CTA while anchoring West Loop commercial development.

Great Lakes: The Great Lakes ecosystem is the Chicago region’s global gem, vital source of drinking water supply and place of recreational joy.  The Obama Administration’s investment of about $2 billion in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is paying off.  Water quality should improve as investments are made in upgrading treatment facilities, building green infrastructure, and restoring wetlands and habitat.

Next: Water efficiency is more than 20 years behind energy efficiency. We can’t afford to waste fresh water that the rest of the world craves and values highly.  Let’s figure out savvy ways of using lower-cost greywater for industrial processes and save fresh water for drinking. Let’s make Chicago a water efficiency leader among the Great Lakes cities.

Chicago River: Our namesake river should be a gem that increases recreational enjoyment and property values for all. There’s progress as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District finally begins to disinfect wastewater.  The Chicago River, however, is still not “fishable and swimmable.”

Next: The new Riverwalk and river-focused development is helping build support for the importance of cleaning up the river. MWRD should continue to step up its pollution reduction actions and equipment investments that pay off in clean water benefits.

Clean air, clean water, cleaner energy and fewer toxics are important values shared by all Chicagoans. This Earth Day, let’s be proud of our progress, and let’s seize opportunities to advance a cleaner, greener and safer community that works for all.

Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Midwest’s leading environmental and economic development advocacy organization.

 

Learner Op-Ed in State Journal-Register: Clean Power Plan makes good economic sense for Illinois

Illinois is an economic winner under the new Clean Power Plan because of our state’s robust clean wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency resources and nuclear plants. The Clean Power Plans sets flexible standards for Illinois and other states to reduce carbon pollution.

Building new wind farms in central Illinois creates jobs, boosts property tax revenues for schools and local governments, and provides new income for farmers who can continue to grow corn and soybeans while gaining wind turbine lease payments. Wind power produces clean energy that grows Illinois’ economy while reducing pollution for everyone.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest way to reduce carbon pollution while saving homeowners money on their utility bills and businesses money that improves their bottom lines.

Illinois is now fifth in the nation for wind power capacity. Illinois is home to the nation’s largest nuclear plant fleet. Solar energy is primed to accelerate. Illinois homes and business and governmental and university buildings have untapped opportunities for highly efficient LED lighting, improved heating and cooling systems, better pumps and motors, and other modern energy efficiency technologies that save money and reduce pollution.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Illinois Clean Energy Supply Chain report identified 237 Illinois companies engaged in the solar industry supply chain, and 170 Illinois wind industry supply chain companies. These businesses employ 20,000 people across Illinois. The Clean Power Plan and renewable energy development solutions are good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for our environment.

So, what’s the problem?

Missourian Terry Jarrett’s Dec. 7 guest column attacked the Clean Power Plan that is designed to reduce carbon pollution, help grow the clean energy economy and accelerate practical climate solutions. Jarrett’s economic arguments were based on a report by “Energy Ventures Analysis” that, apparently, was commissioned by the National Mining Association, including Peabody Energy, which is headquartered in Missouri. What does one expect when the cost estimates are being generated at the behest of large coal mining companies?

Let’s set the record straight. Some coal plants in Illinois are retiring because of changing realities in the competitive electricity market: (1) low natural gas prices, (2) economical wind power, (3) affordable energy efficiency holding down electricity demand, and (4) nuclear plants for which Exelon is asking for public subsidies to keep running.

Natural gas prices are low — today, $2.02 MMBtu — and many coal plants are just not competitive on a fuel basis. That’s why Dynegy and NRG are retiring some of their coal plants that are uneconomic in the competitive power market. They are converting some other coal plants to natural gas. These corporate business decisions reflect today’s competitive market prices and reasonable near-term projections; the Clean Power Plan requirements, however, won’t take effect until 2023 at the earliest.

Electricity sales are down about 1 percent annually in Illinois due to energy efficiency. There’s a surplus of electric generating supply over demand here. That results in relatively low wholesale electricity market prices. That’s good for Illinois businesses and residents. That’s not so good for power plant owners.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s recent study determined that reaching renewable energy and energy efficiency targets already in state statutes would trigger creation of 9,600 new jobs by 2019. The study also found that investments in wind power and solar energy have “led to a dramatic increase in manufacturing jobs at renewable component manufacturers across Illinois from Peoria to Cicero, Clinton, Rockford, and Chicago.”

Illinois should benefit from cleaner air, clean jobs and economic growth that the Clean Power Plan will accelerate. Let’s be smart, move forward and seize these strategic opportunities for progress.

— Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an environmental quality and economic development advocacy organization headquartered in Chicago.

Retraction of Bakken Analysis

“As we began the second phase of our analysis of gas capture plans, we discovered the Department of Mineral Resources gave us additional data which our analysis did not account for. As a result, we are withdrawing the initial findings pending a full review. We will be re-analyzing the data to determine if the gas capture plans are doing what they are intended to do – reduce wasteful flaring.”

If you have additional questions or comments please contact David Jakubiak. 

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead: Groups urge regulators to enforce flaring policy, not extend it

BISMARCK – Activist groups on Monday urged North Dakota regulators to “get tough” with the oil industry and deny its request to relax the goals it helped develop to reduce the flaring of natural gas.

“They said they could do it. Now they have to live up to that,” Wayde Schafer of the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club said during a news conference at the Capitol with representatives of the Dakota Resource Council and the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The state Industrial Commission is expected to decide Thursday whether to adjust the policy it adopted in March 2014 that aimed to curb the percentage of gas flared to 23 percent this year, 15 percent on Jan. 1, 2016, and 10 percent by October 2020.

A North Dakota Petroleum Council task force that recommended the goals is now asking the commission to delay the 15 percent goal for two construction seasons until Oct. 1, 2017.

State Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms has recommended meeting the industry partway by delaying the goal until Oct. 1, 2016.

In a letter to the commission Monday, the three advocacy groups said the industry’s requested delay is unacceptable and “threatens to unilaterally undo the progress we’ve made and severely weaken” the policy in the long term.

According to the most recent figures available, the percentage of gas flared increased from 17 percent in June to 20 percent in July — well above the national average of 1 percent, Schafer noted.

Keep Reading

The Jamestown Sun: Groups urge get tough flaring policy

BISMARCK — Activist groups urged North Dakota regulators on Monday to “get tough” with the oil industry and deny its request to relax the goals it helped develop to reduce the flaring of natural gas.

“They said they could do it. Now they have to live up to that,” Wayde Schafer of the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club said during a press conference at the Capitol with representatives of the Dakota Resource Council and the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The state Industrial Commission is expected to decide Thursday whether to adjust the policy it adopted in March 2014 that aimed to curb the percentage of gas flared to 23 percent this year, 15 percent on Jan. 1, 2016, and 10 percent by October 2020.

A North Dakota Petroleum Council task force that recommended the goals is now asking the commission to delay the 15 percent goal for two construction seasons until Oct. 1, 2017.

State Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms has recommended meeting the industry partway by delaying the goal until Oct. 1, 2016.

In a letter to the commission Monday, the three advocacy groups said the industry’s requested delay is unacceptable and “threatens to unilaterally undo the progress we’ve made and severely weaken” the policy in the long term.

According to the most recent figures available, the percentage of gas flared increased from 17 percent in June to 20 percent in July — well above the national average of 1 percent, Schafer noted.

Keep Reading

New White Paper on “Repowering Chicago”

My new white paper, “Repowering Chicago: Accelerating the Cleaner, More Resilient and More Affordable Electricity Market Transformation,”  was commissioned by the University of Illinois-Chicago for its 2015 Urban Forum.  This forward-looking, strategic analysis and roadmap explains how Chicago and the Midwest are on the cusp of fundamental changes in the way that people and businesses obtain, supply and use electricity — and what that means for our economy and environment.  This analysis is specifically focused on Chicago, but it’s applicable to the Midwest and nationally.

Solar + Battery Storage + EE (especially LEDs) are disruptive technologies that will change the electricity system as much as wireless technologies have changed telecommunications and the ways that we live and work.  You’ve all heard some of the policy, market and technological change ideas from me over the years, and this White Paper pulls the specifics together into a bigger picture and vision.

This new electricity system transformation will be driven by technological innovation, more competition and choices, and much more clean renewable energy and energy efficiency.

I welcome your comments, edits, suggestions and ideas.

ELPC’s Mindi Schmitz: N.D. lawmakers willfully ignored environmental issues

The following op-ed was published in the Grand Forks Herald Journal on May 13, 2015:

BISMARCK—The 64th Legislative Assembly of 2015 chose to blatantly disregard a persistent environmental problem facing North Dakota: the flaring of natural gas in the Bakken.

We are getting all of the pollution and none of the energy from a valuable natural resource.

A recent poll shows that North Dakotans want this embarrassing, wasteful flaring problem fixed ASAP.

The poll was commissioned by the Dakota Resource Council and the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club and was conducted Feb. 18-March 6 by UND’s College of Business and Public Administration. And according to the poll, 64 percent of respondents think oil companies are flaring off more gas than they should, while 58 percent support withholding drilling permits until the oil company has in place the means to capture the gas.

Some 65 percent of respondents also support requiring royalty payments to mineral owners for wasted gas.

There were two bills introduced in the North Dakota Senate that dealt directly with the flaring of natural gas.

The first was SB 2287, a bill to amend the North Dakota Century Code by reducing the time a well is allowed to flare from one year down to 90 days. This would have made state law consistent with the gas capture plans that are the foundation of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Gas Flaring Policy.

For unlike conventional oil wells, Bakken wells generally produce most of their oil and gas in the first two years, after which production drops off dramatically. So, if Bakken wells are allowed to flare their associated natural gas for the first year of production, most of the gas that that well will produce will be wasted through flaring.

However, SB 2287 was defeated on the Senate floor. So today, if push comes to shove and an oil company decides not to follow their 90-day gas-capture plan, the Industrial Commission is powerless to force them to do so because current state law allows flaring for up to a year.

The second, SB 2343, started out on the Senate side as a bill to require oil and gas developers in the Bakken to pay royalties to mineral owners and taxes to the state on natural gas that is wasted by flaring. This would have not only provided a fair return on a valuable asset currently wasted, but also incentivized the capture of natural gas at the well site.

But ironically, almost cynically, the bill was “hoghoused” by the Senate. This means that the bill’s language—which was meant to fairly compensate mineral owners and collect taxes for the state—was struck and replaced with language designed to sabotage the Industrial Commission’s efforts to reduce gas flaring in the Bakken.

The final language in the version of SB 2343 that passed is a kind of code. It attaches a fiscal burden to—and thus, potentially kills—any policy that tries to mitigate the environmental impacts from oil and gas development in the state.

The fact that it is retroactive to one year before the North Dakota Industrial Commission adopted its current gas-flaring policy makes the intention clear.

In the course of missing opportunities, the 2015 Legislature ignored the “will of the people”and showed total apathy toward the environment, North Dakota taxpayers and private mineral owners.

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