wolf“Remember, I can do anything to anybody”, deranged and murderous Roman emperor Caligula to his grandmother (Julia, widow of Tiberius and herself no stranger to things done to other people as and when they pleased).

In related news, the White House intends to limit methane pollution from thousands of existing oil and gas wells, pipelines and other facilities.

Why should I care?

Because, if you suspect the new rules are .. pick the word … unnecessary, too expensive for the benefit, anti-capitalist, “overbearing leftist bulls&%t” … you should understand the point of view of those who see it differently. That way you can defend the industry to those who don’t know better. This week is a discussion of the rationale for the rules.

The new rules good for America, aren’t they?

No they aren’t, (That’s an opinion; feel free to disagree). Here are reasons why we need the new rules.

The Environmental Defense Fund, through its Energy Exchange blog, asserts that methane emissions are far higher than EPA estimates. According to EDF, the oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of methane emissions in the United States and reducing these emissions is the biggest, most cost-effective opportunity to make “fast meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas pollution.”

Reducing methane emissions isn’t as difficult or as costly as the industry claims. For example, Jonah Energy reduced fugitive methane emissions by 75 percent and cut repair time by 85 percent, saving more than $5 million in product. We’ve got to do it now.

Methane traps 84 times as much heat as CO2 over 25 years.  The IPCC suggests methane is responsible for 25 percent of the world’s global warming and is a climate destroying fossil fuel.

According to a recent study published in Environmental Science and Technology, the biggest problem is the “super emitters” – large, unpredictable leaks caused by equipment failure, human error or other factors.  The study recommended that “regularized, widespread monitoring facilities across the supply chain” could quickly find and fix leaks in equipment.

According to the EPA, methane constitutes about 10 percent of total US greenhouse gas emissions.  Methane has a warming potential that is about 25 times greater than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA and the IPCC.

What do the fabulists say?

Bill McKibben, whose fracking “facts” have been debunked more often that your president has apologized to foreign dignitaries, is still at it. Here are his assertions:

  • Fracking would do more climate damage than coal even if only a small percentage of methane is leaked;
  • America’s contribution to global warming increased during the Obama years;
  • the nation is leaking methane in massive quantities;
  • new research backs prior claims of McKibben and Ingraffea;
  • Gasland is one of the classic environmental documentaries of all time.

Next week: Why the new rules are neither good for the industry nor helpful in reducing global warming.

Our musical interlude: Here is where these studies take me.

 

EPA in  ActionUSA v. Citgo Petroleum highlights the excruciating degree of detail in federal regulations and the gymnastics the EPA will employ to justify a prosecution. The Fifth Circuit has reversed Citgo Petroleum’s conviction for violations of two federal laws.

Breathing Easier Under the Clean Air Act

The EPA regulates oil refinery waste water treatment systems under the Clean Air Act. They emit dangerous levels of volatile organic compounds, which produces ozone. so far, so good; now for the minutia:

Can an equalization tank be an “oil water separator”?  The district court used a purely functional explanation – defining an oil water separator by how it is used. This was not correct. Subpart QQQ (See the regs at 40 C.F.R § 60 et seq) defines an oil water separator by how it is used and also by its constituent parts.  It is equipment “… used to separate oil from water consisting of a separation tank, which also includes the forebay and other separator basins, skimmers, weirs, grit chambers, and sludge hoppers.”  When used in this way, “consists” is as an exhaustive list; the components are a part of the definition.

That is different than if the regulation had said “includes”.  Used in that way, that phrase does not mean that the listed equipment is necessary for the regulation to be invoked.  The Court explained that “including” is “inclusive but not mandatory” and distinct from “consisting of”.  The court also cited “Subpart Kb”, which regulates storage vessels excluded from Subpart QQQ.

The government warned that this reading of Subpart QQQ would create a “massive loophole” in the regulatory structure.  The court replied that equalization tanks were not under-regulated because “Subpart Kb” still applies.  Further, the government is authorized under the Clean Air Act to fix the loopholes with new regulations.

How did Texas Approach It?

Is there a difference between state and federal regulators?  Some years before the inspection at issue the Texas Department of Environmental Quality cited Citgo for operating the tanks as oil water separators, agreed that the tanks were not separators under Subpart QQQ, and dropped the charges.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 – Is it “Taking” or Bird Murder?

The MBTA declares it “ … unlawful, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, … any migratory bird.” According to the court, “taking” is limited to deliberate acts done directly and intentionally. To “take” is to reduce those animals by killing or capturing to human control. It involves only conduct intentionally directed at the birds, such as hunting or trapping, not commercial activity that unintentionally and indirectly causes bird deaths.

By contrast, the Endangered Species Act defines “take” to mean “harass, harm, … ”  “Harass” includes a negligent act or omission and “harm” means any act which actually kills or injures wildlife, not only acts that directly result in the death of endangered species.

Other Interesting Facts in the Opinion

  • Take a tour of the refinery wastewater treatment process
  • Have a grammar lesson reminiscent of your high school English class
  • Find out why the court refused to define “kill”
  • Impress your friends by knowing how many birds are killed each year by flying into windows
  • Face the ugly truth that house cats in Wisconsin are “serial violators of the MBTA”
  • Ponder the difference between means rea and actus reus
  • Learn to spot a “temporizing modifier” when you see one.

Speaking of Byrds, here they are for today’s musical interlude. From an under-appreciated album.

The box scores after election day showed frackers 4, anti’s 4. Courtesy of a gubernatorial grand-slam by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, hydraulic fracturing is now banned throughout the entire state of New York.

In this ballgame within a ballgame, it’s

Yoko and Shawn, the likes of Moveon.org , and wealthy Manhattanites: 1

Mineral owners, asthmatics, underemployed up-staters, and cash-starved municipalities: 0

Producers are safe at home. They will take their bonus money, royalty payments, and jobs elsewhere, such as to other producing states, or just over the border to Pennsylvania.

Why did he do it?

A cynic would say it’s a political decision: He needs the environmentalists for his next election more than the citizens who actually live where production would occur. The professed rationale is that health concerns outweighed economic benefits.

The New York Times reported:

  • The governor said, “I have never heard anyone say to me “I believe fracking is great” . . . “What I get is ‘I have an alternative but fracking’”.
  • The move seems “likely to help repair [Gov. Cuomo’s] ties to his party’s left wing.” (Did we say “cynic”?)
  • In announcing the report, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said there was “insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking.”
  • “We can’t afford to make a mistake”, he said. “The potential risks are too great, in fact they are not even fully known”.

Decide for yourself what those explanations really mean, or if they are plausible, but the long and short of it is that unless and until fracking is proven beyond any doubt to be safe in all circumstances, at least under the current thinking there will be no fracking – and thus minimal oil and gas production – in New York. Given the propensity of certain groups to make up what they want out of the available scientific evidence, that is not likely to happen.

Here is the 184-page report if you want to read it. Jillian Kay Melchior of National Review Online summarizes:

  • At his news conference Cuomo said that the commissioners made the decision and “I think I don’t even have a role here”.
  • The first draft of the report, under then-Governor David Patterson, concluded that New York should allow fracking to proceed. Patterson asked for do-over that was followed by years of intensive environmental lobbying.
  • There was a suggestion that prosperity itself poses a public health risk (see p. 6).
  • The report focused on what it referred to as “significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with fracking”.
  • Absolute scientific uncertainty of fracking is unlikely to ever be attained.

What could he have done?

Here is what comes immediately to mind:

  • For communities that might want the economic benefits of oil and gas production, let the  voters decide for themselves.
  • Impose reasonable regulations, as producing states have done.
  • Pay attention to the long and safe history of hydraulic fracturing.

Natural Gas is Evil Because …

It’s cleaner?

The protestors in the Times photo gathered in Manhattan, where air pollution is the lowest it’s been in 50 years thanks to, among other efforts, more natural gas for home heating.

It’s the preferred fuel?

New York City’s Pollution Control Code revisions announced in April by Mayor deBlasio will require certain targets, such as mobile food trucks and char broilers, to be run on natural gas and renewables in order to clean up the atmosphere.

You can count on this

Citizens where the process is legal thank the governor for helping keep the production at home, and for affirming New York’s hostile business environment.

Today’s musical interlude – a big Christmas thank you from the Far Left to the Guv for his Kris Kringle moment.

 

“What is it like to live inside your head with Peter Pan and the Easter Bunny?” So asks the sister in “Bridges of Madison County” after the brother wonders if the Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood characters had sex all those years ago.

And so it is from certain quarters in the hydraulic fracking debate who continue to insist, hysterically and despite the evidence, that the process is a threat to Civilization As We Know It. This post is a summary of several discussions.  Read the articles themselves for details.

Gas Flaring

According to Earthworks, gas flaring in the Bakken and Eagle Ford Shale is out of control and tons of greenhouse gases are being fired into the atmosphere; therefore, we should ban fracking. According to Energy in Depth, Earthworks fails to address that the flaring is significantly decreasing in the Bakken both in percentage of gas produced and actual volume, all as production increases. There is flaring because pipeline capacity hasn’t caught up with new gas production. Flaring will continue to go down as pipeline capacity comes on line. Does anyone seriously believe that the industry is not focused on finding a solution?

Methane Leaks

Speaking of inflammatory emissions, Bill McKibben points to methane leaks as one more reason to ban hydraulic fracturing, now and entirely. This is reported by the Energy Exchange, a publication of the Environmental Defense Fund. To its credit, the EDF disagrees, and also sees methane leaks as bad thing and lobbies for stronger, smart regulations.  Most people can go along with “smart”.

Lest you believe people like McKibben are not a menace to common sense and a safe, abundant and clean energy supply, Energy In Depth reveals the folly of his ideas and the bad “science” on which they are based. Among other points: Hydraulic fracturing has contributed the decrease in GHGs in the United States, a fact proclaimed by the IPCC, of all people, and surveys by McKibben and his colleague Ingraffea have been discredited by organizations such as the US IEA, MIT and other mainstreamers.

“Science” With a Political Agenda

And while we are on the topic of misleading “science”, the Hill published a reply by Isaac Orr of the Heartland Institute to an earlier piece by one Helen Slotttje, who wrote about the perils of fracking. (Preview: It’s Bush’s fault and FDR is on her side. I don’t have enough space here to unpack that point of view.)  Among her other errors is a report on the dangers of fracking by the Colorado School of Public Health that was repudiated by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

A musical interlude to accommodate the dark vision  of the likes of Earthworks.

In their search for Utopia, some opponents of oil and gas drilling ignore innovation … What’s harmful now will forever be that way.

The Question

That isn’t true, but it raises a question for producers: What are you doing to reduce the negative effects of your activities on the communities where you operate?

The Answers

Here are examples of the industry investing considerable time, money and effort to reduce its impact on the environment:

  • In Colorado, Anadarko is concentrating hydraulic fracturing operations in “Stim Centers”, locating those operations in a single location, thereby reducing truck traffic, and time and money otherwise spent on setting up.
  • and using pipelines instead of trucks to carry frac water.
  • Noble Energy is using “integrated development plans” to centralize facilities, reducing truck traffic and costs.
  • Marcellus shale producers are recycling 90% of their flowback water, according to Ben Seifer of Energy in Depth.
  • Statoil is reducing flaring and air emissions in the Bakken shale by testing a mobile system that converts associated gas into CNG at the well site.  The gas is then used on the well as a power source.
  • According to the Environmental Defense Fund (not the “Utopians” referred to above) there are cost-effective options to control methane, such as lower-emitting valves and other mechanical improvements.
  • Patrick Kiger in his National Geographic blog tells a similar story. I include his entry for the comments from the “Utopians”.
  • State regulators are focusing on leaking methane.

There is no doubt that many of these efforts are a response to the looming presence of regulators and regulations. That is to be expected. Industries tend to believe they are doing “enough” to satisfy their critics and would prefer to be left alone to run their business. That is not going to happen. Regulators exist to regulate, opponents live to oppose, and no industry can ever do enough to satisfy those two constituencies, even if it means more costs and burdens.

Why Does it Matter?

Why do I speak of this? “The wages of sin …” Oops, wrong venue. “The downside of rapacious destruction of Mother Earth … “ Too shrill, and generally not even true. Here you go: “Powerful forces are against you and if you don’t meet them somewhere in the middle you could be squeezed out of the process.  The result will be excessive and unreasonable regulation.”

What Would Nanook Do?

The risks of pollution could not be portrayed more forcefully than in this musical interlude.

Our wardens at the EPA are “racing to turn out new regulations before the clock runs out on President Obama’s term”, says The Hill.

The EPA is revising its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for coal fired power plants. According to the US Energy Information Administration, owners of U.S. operators are facing choices:

  • 20% must decide whether to upgrade their coal fired plants at the end of 2012 or retire them,
  • 9.5% intend to retire plants,
  • 5.8% plan to add environmental control equipment,
  • 64% already have appropriate control equipment.

The EPA is also looking to cut greenhouse gas emissions by reaching beyond the plants themselves. The reductions could be met by encouraging power plant owners to expand renewable energy, improve the efficiency of their grids, or encourage customers to use less power. This rule would also allow states to reach their goals by using existing emission-cutting schemes, such as state-controlled and regional cap-and-trade plans.

Questions

 Is this authority is allowable under the Clean Air Act? The complaint is that the EPA has gone “way beyond the original intent of the Clean Air Act … ”, said Sen. John Barrasso (R. Wyo.). The administration’s response is the EPA is just doing what Congress allowed under the CAA, and we Americans, and thus the EPA, must do more to prevent global warming.

Is this a passing thing or are we in an eternal regulatory vice grip?  Some say the EPA has been winning at the courthouse lately.   Not to worry.  Nothing in politics lasts forever … unless Edwin Edwards wins his congressional election.

Been-There-Done-That

Actor-activists like Mark Ruffalo remain committed to the untruths about contaminated drinking water in places you’ve heard of before: Pavilion, Wy; Dimock, PA; and Parker County, Tx. He has lent his name to a request by fringe group Food and Water Watch and the Natural Resources Defense Council to the EPA to re-open investigations of these alleged contamination sites. Those claims have repeatedly proven to be false.

The Takeaway

“Low Information Voters” are those who, it’s been said, don’t know what they think they know. Those who can be motivated by Hollywood personalities to actually vote can be a threat to progress and common sense. Witness the fracing bans in college towns in Colorado and even in our own Denton County, Texas.

Who’s Next?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is concerned that the. EPA’s plans will result in increased energy costs, which will diminish hU.S. competitiveness in the world economy and kill jobs. Coal is “dirty”, you say, and it competes with natural gas, so you might not care. But will the regulatory stampede stop short of sending us all hurtling over the economic cliff? Time will tell. And to be fair, not all regulations cost as much as originally feared.

This musical interlude is dedicated to the EPA and its Administrator Gina McCarthy.

It’s been said that if you torture numbers, they will confess to anything. Perhaps we should call in a UN peacekeeping force to address the treatment of hydraulic fracturing in North Texas.

A University of North Texas study presented to the North Central Texas Council of Governments by student Mahdi Ahmadi, working with his advisor Dr. Kuruvilla John, concludes:

  • The study relied on 6 million data points from 16 monitors and divided the area into a “Fracking Region” and a ”Non-Fracking Region”,
  • there are 17,494 gas wells over a 5,000 square-mile area in 24 counties in North Texas
  • 11,774 gas wells were drilled from 2007 to 2013, 
  • those wells contributed to an increase in ozone, and therefore in smog and adverse health effects, in North Texas,
  • There were higher ozone levels in the “Fracking Region” than in the “Non-Fracking”. 

The report doesn’t characterize all the wells as producing from the Barnett Shale, but one would assume that comprises the majority. 

If you don’t want to read the report itself (entitled ” An evaluation of the spatio-temporal characteristics of meteorogically-adjusted ozone trends in North Texas”) here is a news report, and another one.

The UNT report seems to contradict a 2012 report by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which found no deleterious effect on the atmosphere caused by Barnett Shale drilling activities. I’m not aware of a TCEQ response to the UNT study.

David Blackmon of Energy in Depth concludes otherwise after analyzing the study’s methodology. Blackmon contends that the raw data shows:

  • An overall reduction in ozone across the region, 
  • the difference in ozone levels between the “Fracking Region” and the “Non-Fracking Region” were not meaningful, and
  • the study failed to take into several important factors, such as ozone levels associated with airport activities, which generate lots of ozone (three airports in the “Fracking Region” and one in the “Non-Fracking”), and the effect of heavier-than-usual snow on the ground in the more rural and more westerly “Fracking Region” during the last several winters (which tends to cause a spike in wintertime ozone levels).

I’m not automatically siding with Mr. Blackmon, and I’m not accusing the UNT reserchers of doing an Abu Ghraib on the data. Sounds like more analysis is in order.

Until then, maybe we should all lighten up and do as the Denton (home of UNT) band Brave Combo recommends.

My recent post about Alex Epstein and the moral case for fossil fuels told only part of his story. He also says that the global warming “alarmists” have it all wrong. He refers to “unambiguous” data that CO2 emissions have risen from an atmosphere concentration of .03% to .04%, while over the same period climate-related deaths have declined 98%, and drought-related deaths have declined by 99.8%.

Here are some of Alex’s other points:

  • Defenders of fossil fuels, when they publicly endorse “renewable” as the ideal, defeat themselves by essentially agreeing that there is a moral case against fossil fuels.
  • The implication is that “renewables” are the goal and oil and gas is just a temporary necessary evil.
  • Once greenhouse gas emissions are endorsed as a fundamental benchmark of environmental health, the industry is conceding that it is causing catastrophic global warming and that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is moral imperative.

What’s With Honey Boo Boo and Fossil Fuels?

Which leads me to a related topic. In preparing this blog I see more blog posts and news articles than you can imagine about “global warming”, “climate change” and the like.  I’ve concluded that the issue is so highly politicized, has attracted so many advocacy groups, and has generated so many puroprtedly scientific opinions on one side or the other that I (not being an engineer) don’t know what to believe.

Thus, for the time being I leave it to you to Google “global warming” or “climate change” and decide for yourself. In the meantime here are a few sources I’ve come across that you can rely on, at least for their consistency:

The “Alarmists”: The International Panel on Climate Change  (where it all started), Al Gore and the Huffington Post  (a twofer here), pretty much anything from the New York Times (insidious for what it elects not to print as much as for what it does), Grist (Can you get farther left?).

The “Deniers”: Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change ; Bjorn Lomberg (not so much a “denier” as an alternative thinker); The Foundry, from the Heritage Foundation (far right on just about everything); Powerline; Watts Up With That.

Somewhere out there are “moderates”. Rich and Elizabeth Muller might be two of them. I know they’re U C Berkeley professors. Just read what he has to say.

This GW hiatus doesn’t include the fracking controversy. (Or is it fracing, or frac’ing? I’ve been castigated by my friend, Dallas lawyer Pat Shaw, for using “fracking”. Pat says only the “anti’s” use that spelling).

Having tired of trying to figure out if the world is going to perish by 2020, or 2035, or 2100, or the next presidential election, or never, I’ve moved on to more weighty topics:

  • Noah: Blasphemy or clueless Hollywood entertainment?
  • Lord Grantham:  Anachronistic dilettante or an honorable man preserving noblesse oblige and other worthy institutions?
  • Who will win the AL West? … the SEC West?
  • Should the USA convert to the metric system?
  • Clapton or Hendrix?
  • First place in artistic achievement:  Hoarders, Cheaters, or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?

As with GW, decide for yourself.

 

Do bystanders see oil and gas producers as taking a stand for morality?  Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress says they should.  He approaches the value of fossil fuels in our society differently from most industry defenders. The opponents make a moral case against fossil fuels: They destroy the earth and their use must be eradicated. His response is that there is a moral case in favor.

According to Alex, there is a philosophical question: An activity is moral if it is fundamentally beneficial to human life. He makes the case that the fossil fuel industry is a moral endeavor. Among his reasons:

  • Fossil fuels have made our environment safer by such efforts as producing huge amounts of fresh food (think about what fuels the farm tractor), generating heat and air conditioning (fossil fuel-generated power plants), irrigating deserts, manufacturing, and actually protecting ourselves from the climate.
  • The use of fossil fuels brought about a period of safety, longevity and prosperity that was not known to the human race before the industrial revolution.
  • Virtually everything we eat, drive, wear, live in, and use every day has been made better and more affordable by fossil fuels. (Imagine the 70’s without polyester and puka beads?)
  • Those opposed to fossil fuels view the industry as an evil that must be eradicated as soon as possible. Rather than apologize, thereby essentially agreeing that renewables are the ideal, industry supporters should be proud of the contributions fossil fuels have made to prosperity throughout the world.

As an amateur philospher, I add that you could question the morality of  dramatically raising the cost of living for everyone, especially the poor and middle class throughout the world, by the abrupt replacement of of fossil fuels, as urged by many elements of the environmental movement. 

His point is that with a little thought, defenders of the industry could do a much better job of defending. Here is his philosophy in more detail.

What is a wild bird worth? Does it matter whether it is a Bald or Golden Eagle, of which here are few, or ducks and pelicans, of which there are enough (as least the ducks) so that hunters may shoot them for dinner.  Does it matter how they meet their demise? Is a bird drowned in oil worth more one fried by a solar panel or chopped up into pieces by a wind turbine?  If one is determined to have no value and the other somewhere between several hundred and several thousand dollars, would you wonder how the value is calculated?  And what about bats – those environmentally friendly creatures without a lot of human admirers?

A 2012 post discussed a fine on CITGO Petroleum for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Ten migratory birds drowned in storage tanks at CITGO’s Corpus Christi refinery. The company was convicted on two felony and three misdemeanor counts.  In 2012 the court determined the fine could be as large as $2,000,900.  In a February 10, 2014 Judgment, the fine actually imposed was $1,045,000. The fine included Clean Air Act violations as well.

On the other end of the federal regulatory continuum, you have three examples of the effect of wind and solar operations on our avian friends.

We are warned of a new rule by the Department of the Interior that, in the words of the Audubon Society, makes possible 30 year permits for wind energy companies to site wind turbines in ways that kill Golden and Bald eagles.

What is reputed to be the world’s largest solar farm, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mohave Desert in California, is said to be causing birds flying through the area to be scorched by the 350,000 gigantic mirrors covering an area of five square miles and which generate temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Environment groups are challenging the project and complaining about its effect on wildlife. For their part, the regulators are conducting a two year study on the plant’s effect on birds.

And a study by Mark Hayes of the University of Colorado in the journal Bioscience estimates that 600,000 to 900,000 bats could be killed every year as a result of flying into wind turbines. The estimate is based on the number of dead bats actually found at 21 locations.  Bioscience is a publication of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

Is there a coherent public policy behind this disparate treatment of energy sources? I can’t find one.

Today’s musical theme give us choices: 

If I were a bird or a bat looking for an easy way out, I might be thinking like this:

But if I were a person looking for a party, I’d remember that it’s Mardi Gras.