TOP ENERGY NEWS
By Jason Plautz (@jason_plautz), Ben Geman (@ben_geman), and Clare Foran (@ckmarie)
IMPENDING SANCTIONS COULD DEAL SEVERE BLOW TO BIG OIL OPERATIONS IN RUSSIA. Bloomberg reports: “The U.S. and European Union are poised to halt billions of dollars in oil exploration in Russia by the world’s largest energy companies in sanctions that would cut deeper than previously disclosed. The new sanctions over Ukraine would prohibit U.S. and European cooperation in searching Russia’s Arctic, deep seas, or shale formations for crude. […] EU ambassadors met today and will resume deliberations tomorrow in Brussels on whether to trigger added sanctions or wait longer to see if a cease-fire holds between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists.” (Indira A.R. Lakshmanan and Joe Carroll, Bloomberg)
CLIMATE DEBATE IN ‘LA-LA-LAND,’ SHELL CEO SAYS. The Washington Post has a wide-ranging interview with Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden, where the oil giant’s top exec talks about the effect of sanctions against Russia, knocks the fossil-fuel divestment movement, and sizes up the state of climate-change debates.
“To just demonize a number of international oil companies that collectively make up 2 or 3 percent of the total world resource base and say ‘disinvest yourself from that’ is not going to be a solution. I think what has happened over the past few years is that the discussion has become dysfunctional. I think energy companies like us have retreated because there was no reputational upside in it, so better keep your head down. So the discussion has gone into la-la land a little. I think there’s a responsibility for us to reengage—maybe as part of a wider coalition with partners, academia, regulators, also NGOs with societal interest very much at the forefront—and see what would be good policy,” he said. (Steven Mufson, Washington Post)
THE ‘T’ WORD LOOMS OVER CLIMATE TALKS. A new blog post from the think tank Resources for the Future explores the battle over whether a new global climate pact should be a formal treaty. The downside is that it wouldn’t clear the U.S. Senate absent a sea-change in climate politics. The upside, European negotiators argue, is more teeth. But RFF senior fellow Raymond Kopp says a binding treaty isn’t really binding anyway.
“From a practical perspective, a legally binding treaty does not assure commitments will be met. While the European Union argues to the contrary, the simple fact is that a country can walk away from a legally binding treaty when it believes the compliance obligations are no longer in the country’s self-interest,” writes Kopp, who leads RFF’s Center for Climate and Electricity Policy.
GOP LAWMAKER: OIL-TRAIN SAFETY PUSH IS STALKING HORSE FOR CLIMATE AGENDA. A House Republican suggested the Transportation Department is hiding a stealth global-warming policy behind the guise of a rail-safety crackdown. Federal regulators are writing new safety standards for trains that carry crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation, part of a broader regulatory initiative that follows a string of derailments and explosions on trains shipping the fuel. The regulators have increased their focus on the flammability of the fuel, as well as other risks of moving it by rail. But Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California sees an ulterior motive: an effort to cripple fossil-fuel development in the name of a global-warming “theory.” (Ben Geman, National Journal)
RESIDENTS NEAR FRACKING WELLS REPORT ILLNESSES—STUDY. A new study from Yale University found that 39 percent of people who live within a kilometer of a fracking well experienced upper respiratory symptoms, compared to 18 percent of people farther from well sites. The study in southwestern Pennsylvania also found higher rates of reported skin irritation for those near fracking wells (13 percent compared with 3 percent). Lead author Peter Rabinowitz said the study did not prove that fracking wells were causing any problems, but did suggest that those near wells had more health problems. (Wendy Koch, USA Today)
GAS-EXPORT PROJECTS GET FEDERAL GREEN LIGHT . . . The Houston Chronicle reports: “The Energy Department on Wednesday handed critical final government licenses to the Cameron LNG project in southwestern Louisiana and a much smaller Florida facility, giving both approval to widely export natural gas around the globe.” (Jennifer Dlouhy, Houston Chronicle)
. . . BUT GOP LAWMAKER SAYS GAS-EXPORT LEGISLATION STILL NEEDED. The latest Energy Department approvals don’t negate the need for legislation that would force the department to expedite action on other applications, a Senate Republican said. “Exporting more natural gas will have three very valuable effects. It will create jobs and economic activity for our nation, reduce the flaring of natural gas in North Dakota and elsewhere, and it will also help Ukraine reduce its dependency on Russian natural gas. I will continue to work to advance legislation that will help to achieve all of these important objectives,” Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota said in a statement.
OIL-SANDS PRODUCERS ‘GREEN UP’ THEIR ACT. A number of Canadian oil-sands producers have opted to adopt voluntary measures aimed at lessening the environmental impact of oil-sands development. The companies will unveil green commitments in the coming weeks, which are expected to focus on improving water quality and reining in greenhouse-gas emissions among other environmental priorities. (Chester Dawson, Wall Street Journal)
FIFTEEN GOVS TO EPA: CLIMATE RULE ILLEGAL. The Hill reports on a new letter from the governors of 15 states to the Environmental Protection Agency about planned rules to cut CO2 emissions from existing power plants. “The governors argue that under the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority provided by the Clean Air Act, they cannot regulate a source under two different sections of the act,” the paper reports on the letter from states including North Carolina, Alaska, Arizona, and Wisconsin. (Laura Barron-Lopez, The Hill)
Don’t Miss Today’s Top Stories
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IS INDIA’S LEADER A CLIMATE SKEPTIC? It’s a hot question as United Nations climate talks approach their hoped-for fruition late next year and a big climate meeting looms Sept. 23, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly won’t attend. The Guardian has a piece on Modi, whose nation is the world’s third-largest carbon emitter. “Modi used to be a supporter for climate action. But in public remarks on two occasions in the last week, the leader of one of the fastest growing—and biggest emitting—economies appeared to express doubt about whether climate change was even occurring,” the paper reports. (Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian)
. . . AND WILL HE AND OBAMA TALK CLIMATE? Modi will be in Washington the week after the U.N. summit for meetings with the White House, which environmentalists see as an opportunity for Modi to make up for missed time in international talks. A White House preview of Modi’s visit did not specifically mention climate change as a topic of discussion. When asked if climate change would come up, an administration official told National Journal only that the White House talks with its allies about “key global challenges, in which we stress the urgent need to address climate change with both ambitious domestic policies and a strong and effective international response.”
OBAMA’S ISIS PLAN TARGETS OIL CASH. The Wall Street Journal reports: “The U.S. Treasury Department and Washington’s allies are ramping up efforts to hit Islamic State’s finances, particularly focusing on steps to choke off its oil sales, its donations from the Persian Gulf, and its extortion rackets.” (Jay Solomon, Wall Street Journal)
THE POWER OF LEGAL POT. Oregon Public Broadcasting has a story that unwraps a study of increased power demand from legalized marijuana in Washington state. From their piece on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council study: “The study’s preliminary results show power demand increasing by up to 160 megawatts over the next 20 years because of indoor cannabis production. That’s roughly equivalent to the power usage of a town of 60,000 people. The electricity is used to power energy-intensive lighting, heating, and cooling equipment.” (Oregon Public Broadcasting)
JAPAN READIES NUKE-POWER RESTART. Reuters reports that Japanese regulators are taking steps to allow the restart of a nuclear-power plant in “the first step to reopening an industry that has been idle since the Fukushima disaster, as the government pushes for the permanent closure of older reactors.” (Kentaro Hamada, Reuters)
BP URGES NO VOTE ON SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE. Citing its oil interests in the North Sea, BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley came out against Scottish independence a week before a vote on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. “BP believes that the future prospects for the North Sea are best served by maintaining the existing capacity and integrity of the United Kingdom,” Dudley said in a statement. The Telegraph explains that the decision follows warnings that supporters of independence have inflated tax revenue potential from the North Sea. (Simon Johnson, The Telegraph)
HOW HILLARY CLINTON’S STATE DEPARTMENT PUSHED FRACKING. Mother Jones is out with a story that charts how the State Department exerted diplomatic pressure to expand fracking abroad under Hillary Clinton’s leadership as secretary of State. With Clinton at the helm, “the State Department worked closely with energy companies to spread fracking around the globe—part of a broader push to fight climate change, boost global energy supply, and undercut the power of adversaries such as Russia that use their energy resources as a cudgel,” Mother Jones reports. The article is not uncritical, however. It notes that key State Department officials involved in the efforts often had deep ties to the U.S. fossil-fuel industry, while they had little contact with environmental groups as they carried out their work. (Mariah Blake, Mother Jones)
AT PEAK OF HURRICANE SEASON, NO NAMED STORMS. Sept. 10 is historically the day when the odds are greatest that there will be at least one tropical storm or hurricane in the Atlantic, but for the first time since 1992 there is no named storm at the peak of the season. There have been only four named storms this weaker-than-normal year that has seen cooler Atlantic waters, but forecasters warn that there is still the potential for storms to develop. (Brian K. Sullivan, Bloomberg)
WHAT INSIDERS ARE SAYING
SHOULD WE LIMIT AIR POLLUTION FROM AIR TRAVEL?
“Compared to other forms of transportation, aviation emissions are a relatively small contributor to air-quality concerns both with regard to local air quality and greenhouse-gas emissions. In order to do the most good, as the EPA continues to make regulation changes, the focus of their efforts should be placed on modes of transportation with much higher rates of pollution than the aviation industry.” –Brigham McCown, CEO, Nouveau Inc.
SENATE COMMITTEE VOTES ON ENERGY DEPUTY. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a vote on Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall’s nomination to be deputy Energy secretary.
NRC NOMINEES SEE VOTES. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a vote on the nominations of Jeffrey Baran and Stephen Burns to join the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
WATER AND SHALE REPORT. The World Resources Institute holds a briefing on a report titled “Global Shale and Water Risk.”
INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT CONFERENCE. The World Bank, European Union, and United Nations Development Program host the World Reconstruction Conference.
FOOD POLICY AND CLIMATE CHANGE. The International Food Policy Research Institute hosts a discussion titled “Building Resilience in the Face of Climate Change and Weather Shocks.”
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