Harvard finds Boston is Leaking $90 Million of Natural Gas Annually

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 29, 2015 12:44:52 PM

Yellow caution tape reading, caution gas line buried below

A Harvard University study has concluded that 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas escapes the aging pipelines in Boston - an amount that means we're losing $90 MILLION dollars worth of natural gas through leakage annually. 

The problem with leakage, outside of the obvious environmental and health concerns, as well as the fact that consumers bear the cost of the leakage, is that this leakage is responsible for almost all of the methane emissions given off by the city. As we've discussed previously, methane has a 25 times larger impact on the environment than carbon, and for that reason it's been the focus of new proposed regulations from the Administration and the EPA.

The suggested regulations however, are aimed at fracking companies, which over the past year have shown large declines in the amount of methane leaks, and leaks in general in four out of six of the major shale plays. The reason for that is at the production site, leakage costs the producer money in lost product.

The second sector that the regulations aim at (although they are "voluntary" in this case) is agriculture, which is responsible for the bulk of methane emissions. 

When you break down the numbers however, most emissions come from so called "super users", namely power plants etc., versus fracking sites or even intense agricultural production sites. And as studies like this point out, there is a lot of environmental impact happening passively through leaking in outdated pipeline systems, like those in Boston.

What this study points out on leakage, is that there may be a more efficient way to curb urban emissions of gas, and therefore methane, than imposing sweeping regulations on fracking sites, who already are self-motivated by profit to control product loss. That motivation is less present in urban areas, because the cost of pipe replacement and remediation is high, and the work is complicated to perform without disruptions in densely populated areas. Additionally, remediation of leaks in urban pipelines is a direct cost to the utility as well as the consumer, versus the cost-savings measure it is for upstream producers.

To their credit, both Massachusetts and National Grid have already been working on an accelerated pipeline replacement project. This program categorizes how risky leaks are and addresses them in an urgent to non-urgent priority order. This allows them to address the most critical leaks first, and move forward on remediation without undue and immediate cost burdens on the utility or the consumer.

 Essentially, studies like this point out there are emission control options downstream in addition to the ones happening upstream that can complete the picture and move the entire process forward in a more timely and efficient manner.

If you want to read a little more on the background of methane regulations proposed, or the prior study on leaks in Boston, you can do so here: "Methane and Consumers giving Nat Gas Headaches"

If you want more background on fracking and environmental impact, you can do so here: "US Carbon Emissions Still on the Decline - Guess Why?" 

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Topics: natural gas, EPA Mandate, Fracking, methane

Looking Back and Looking Forward - Energy in 2014 & 2015

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 22, 2015 8:38:55 AM

Abstract image of an oil rig, calculator and cash

The most recent article I wrote for Fuel Marketers News is now online.

We looked at the domestic and geopolitical factors that shaped the 2014 slide, and looked at what we might expect in 2015. 

You can read the article in Fuel Marketers News here: This Time Is Different - Current Drop Has Long Term Support

Let me know what youu think in the comments section!

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Topics: Market analysis, fuel marketers news

How Will the EPA Address the RFS for 2014 & 2015?

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 21, 2015 10:43:17 AM

Chalkboard image with the focus on Biofuel

In November the EPA announed it would not be able to finalize on the RFS volumes for biofuels until 2015. The 2014 and 2015 volumes will be set soon,, in theory. But there has been a lot of stress out there in the industry over the fact that the delay will essentially mean refiners and producers need to be retroactively compliant with the volumes the EPA sets.

The biofuels industry is pushing for an increase in biofuel requirements, to 18.15 billion gallons. This is probably not happening, but the uncertainty overall has had a serious impact on bio producers, many of whom have scaled operations way back over 2014 as compared to 2013.

On the other hand most refiners argue that the EPA should lower the standard by 16% given the drop in demand year on year since the RFS' inception in 2007. Additionally the cellulosic ethanol standard should be scrapped, its argued, since its not available for use and its therefore impossible to comply with that portion of the mandate.  

The implication the EPA gave was that it was looking at reducing volumes, and would almost certainly not be increasing the ethanol mandate over the 10% current level - ie that it wouldnt break the so called "blend wall". We will have to see how it plays out over the next month or so. 

I wrote a more in depth piece on the RFS for January's Oil & Energy Magazine, if you want to dive into the topic a little deeper, you can read that article here: "Rethinking the Renewable Fuel Standard"


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Topics: Biodiesel, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, EPA

AltWheels - Past, Present and Future

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 7, 2015 12:32:35 PM

The most recent AltWheels Fleet Day in Norwood was once again a great success. We've been part of AltWheels from the beginning, back when biodiesel was a niche product and who had ever even heard of ethanol gasoline?

There have been a lot of advances and changes in the landscape of alternative fuels and vehicles. I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine in December chronicling some of the major evolutions we've seen across the field of alternative energy. You can read that article here: "Fleets of the Present and Future: Ed Burke Reports on Alt Wheels Fleet Day"

And below, just for fun here's some awesome shots of the great times we've had at AltWheels past. Enjoy!

AltWheels recognizes green pioneers

E85 pickup truck

Two men standing in front of a flex fuel Chevy AvalancheMan in a suit standing at a podium giving a speech

Chevy VoltHonda Civic - Natural Gas

Police officers riding on horses pose infront of the Dennis K. Burke kiosk

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Topics: natural gas, Biodiesel, Ethanol, environment, altwheels,, electric vehicles

Keystone XL Hits the Senate Floor

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 18, 2014 11:59:17 AM

Oil pipeline in the snow

Today, the bill to approve the construction of the the Keystone XL pipeline hits the Senate, after the House approved Cassidy's legislation by 252-161 on Friday. 

In an exciting twist, the Senate is apparently stuck at 59 votes in favor, one shy of the 60 needed to pass the legislation and send it to the Presidents desk. However, Mary Landrieu (D-LA) claimed yesterday to have secured the 60th vote. The bill hits the floor in what some say is an attempt to boost Landrieu's chances of maintaining her Senate seat in the December 6th runoff election she faces versus, oddly, the bill's sponsor, Bill Cassidy.

(Sounds cynical, yes, but given that the House has previously passed 8 seperate bills to push the vote on Keystone and none saw the Senate floor, it seems pretty reasonable as well.)

The jury is out on whether if the bill passes it will be vetoed by the President or not. He cited a legal challenge to the pipeline in Nebraska that is still ongoing, stating that "process should not be interfered with", but Secretary of State John Kerry recently made statements in Canada that implied the Administration may not veto a bill if it came down to it. It's really anyone's guess. 

Obviously, this has been a lighting rod political issue for the over 6 years the project has been on hold. On one side there are environmental groups and people in the geography impacted, who are concerned with  the climate impact, potential leaks,  and the "doubling down" on a commitment to fossil fuels they see the pipeline as representing. On the other are groups who argue this strengthens our energy independence and supports American workers and the American economy versus that of other countries, and those who cite the immediate jobs boost the project will represent. 

We've talked about some of these Keystone related issues before: 

There are 6 hours scheduled for debate on the floor, with the vote expected to occur at 6:15pm. Stay tuned! 




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Topics: Energy Independence, Keystone XL, Energy Infrastructure, TransCanada, senate

Midterms 2014: What Will the Energy Agenda Look Like Now?

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 6, 2014 8:00:00 AM

United States House of Representatives

How will the 2014 Midterm Election results cause a shift in the Energy Agenda?

Keystone XL:

Prior to the midterm elections, Congress sent numerous bills to the Senate to push approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, none of which were brought to the Senate floor. That all likely changes with a Republican Majority Leader. Most likely we will see a vote happen on Keystone, and with Republicans controlling the Senate there are solidly enough votes to pass. Whether the President will sign it or not is up for debate, but in late October during a visit to Canada, Secretary of State John Kerry said he would like to "see a decision, sooner rather than later", maybe signaling that the President won't veto the bill once it hits his desk. 

Crude Exports

Less of a change expected here with the party shift. Exports were expected to be a big consideration in 2015 regardless of party control. Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mary Landreiu were both expected to move the issue forward. As of this morning Landreiu is locked in a runoff contest, but Murkowski will be stepping up as Chair of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Comittee next year, and has vowed to push the issue on LNG and Crude exports. 

Other Issues

Other issues that may come to the fore include addressing the EPA's proposed regulations on pollution generated from coal fired plants. This is probably too late to be relevant in the New England region, where we are seeing skyrocketing electricity costs and Natural Gas supply issues as a result of retiring older plants. 

It will be interesting to see if other items come to the floor as the legislative session advances. Perhaps RFS issues, blendwall issues, or indications of a reversal of the prohibition of fracking on Federal Land. We shall see.



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Topics: US Crude Exports, EPA, Keystone XL, carbon emissions, Election Results

Breaking: WH threatens Sanctions on ISIS Oil Purchasers

Posted by Ed Burke on Oct 24, 2014 8:33:30 AM

United States Department of Treasury seal

Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen announced Thursday that US airstrikes are having the desired impact of weakening the revenue generating abilities of ISIS/ISIL. Estimates are that ISIS generates up to a million dollars a day through a complicated black market oil sale operation. This financial self-sufficiency is one of the factors in how the group became so strong, and so difficult to starve from funding. According to the Undersecretary, the lack of reliance on normal financial transactions prevents the Treasury from hammering ISIS funding the way it's often possible to do on other groups who rely on banks and other financial institutions to transfer their money. 

Phase two on revenue attack, it appears, will be sanctions on the purchasers of the black market oil. Reportedly the Assad regime in Syria and Turkey are often the players involved. Today the White House has announced they will impose sactions on those purchasing this blackmartket oil in addition to continuing airstrikes near refineries to cut off primary supply. 

US sanctions would prevent the country or entity in question from using US financial instiutions of any kind. The idea generally is that other countries follow suit - ie British banks would not likely continue or accept business from the entity, etc. 

So far, airstrikes by the US and Arab allies have dropped crude production for ISIS to roughly 35% of its prior output, or around 20,000 barrels per day. Continually decreasing global prices means that black market prices have to be dropping as well to maintain the discount - and when you couple that with such a steep drop in production, it seems rather clear that the airstrike campaign is putting a serious damper on fundraising ability.

Stay tuned! 

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Topics: Syria, Baiji Refinery, Iraq, ISIS, sanctions

Social Media for Business, Should You Embrace it Even If You Hate It?

Posted by Ed Burke on Oct 21, 2014 11:05:00 AM

Picture of a mobile device with app icons

Spoiler Alert: The answer is YES!

Are you using Social Media for your business?

Admittedly, running social media accounts for your job or company isn't always fun. It sometimes gets tricky to make sure you're keeping the company voice consistent and professional across platforms, and not allowing personal use/views/posts to cross into the "work realm". 

However, on another level - it opens up channels for interacting with your customers, prospects and employees to interact with and (hopefully) support your company. You can see some really cool stuff that customers and prospects are up to that you might normally never hear about. 

When it comes down to it - social media on both the business and personal fronts is about relationship building and maintenance. And since the launch of social media, companies of all sizes have gotten a more human face and persona, and on some platforms, social media presence holds companies accountable to keeping customers happy. Isn't that the ultimate goal anyways?

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this month about using social media to build relationships and garner opportunities for your company. The article details which platforms are better for what types of interactions, and some basic tips on running your business social media sites. You can read the article here: Oil & Energy Magazine: Social Media Offers Opportunities 


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Topics: customer service, social media, social media for business, marketing, value added services

Pipeline Stubbornness - Canada's "Work Around" & US Environmental Harm

Posted by Ed Burke on Oct 17, 2014 12:00:00 PM

Protestors holding a sign that reads, Stop Keystone Climate Change

In response to the perpetual Keystone XL pipeline approval delays by the US government, Canada is closing in on a deal to make the final Keystone connection "irrelevant", in the words of former US ambassador from Canada McKenna. 

How? By going East. 

The proposed route would take Bakken shale oil from Alberta to Quebec, and then onto the Irving refinery in St John. The route would utilize an existing, underused nat gas pipeline, with some additions and modifications. The deal would reportedly be a 50-50 venture between TransCanada and Irving Oil.

The port in St John puts Canada in the position of being able to easily and efficiently ship oil to India, or Europe, versus being forced to transport huge quantities (160K barrels per day) by rail instead of pipeline into the US.

An irony of the Keystone delays, as well as pipeline opposition in general, is that it's pretty easy to argue that pipeline transport is more environmentally friendly than railcar or any other means of transport. 

In 2013, 1 million barrels of oil per DAY were transported by railcar, while that number is expected to jump to 1.5 million this year. 

Why? Because Shale is booming and we have no pipeline. And because environmental groups and prominent financiers (ala Tom Steyer, who pledged $50 million dollars to support candidates that oppose the Keystone pipeline) argue that pipelines, especially the Keystone, are environmentally bad news. But is that true? And more importantly - is the alternative to pipeline transport even worse?

It would appear that yes, the alternative may be worse. A Congressional report from a few months ago stated that more oil spilled in 2013 due to railcar accidents than had in the past 35 years. Seems crazy, since stricter safety and environmental standards have been imposed over that 35 year time period in transportation and every other industry. 

Speaking of safety regulations - upcoming costly new regulations on retrofitting railcars are on the horizon. These proposed regulations came up after several high profile railcar explosions (notably Lac-Megantic, which destroyed half a town and killed almost 50 people)

The costs of these retrofits are potentially crippling. The Wall Street Journal reports that thousands of railcars are being scrapped - but it will be tough for the industry to supply new, conforming railcars quickly enough to keep oil transportation costs down. 

(As an aside, these railcar regulations will also impact ethanol transport. A recent Federal Investigation found that ethanol rail transport was equally or more dangerous than crude rail transport. In fact - when exposed to prolonged fire, ethanol railcars were found to be 150% more likely to explode. Yikes.)

So if continual delay on Keystone is having an environmental impact, and new regulations for the alternative-to-pipeline transport method could drive costs up... what exactly is everyone still arguing about?  

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Topics: Keystone XL, TransCanada, shale, railcar regulations, irving oil, environment

EIA Projects Lower Bills for Home Heating Oil and Propane Customers

Posted by Ed Burke on Oct 8, 2014 2:45:47 PM

Person adjusting their residential thermostat

The EIA is projecting lower heating bills for consumers this winter - especially if you use propane or oilheat versus Natural Gas. 

Demand is projected to be down across the board because the latest NOAA projections are looking like this winter will (thankfully) be nothing like the extreme arctic fiasco we had this past winter. 

Heres how the numbers break out:

Natural Gas

  • Demand is expected to be down 10%
  • Consumer price is expected to be up 6%
  • Net change - about $30 dollars off your bill per month

Heating Oil 

  • Demand is expected to be down 10%
  • Prices are projected to be down 15% (or around 25 cents per gallon) due to Crude oil prices dropping
  • The caveat here is that its unknown whether new Sulfur regulations will impact price due to supply/demand/logistics issues (you can read about the sulfur changes here: http://www.burkeoil.com/state-sulfur-content-changes )


  • Demand is expected to be down 13%
  • Prices are projected to be down 24%
  • In the Northeast the propane figures are a little different: 5% lower prices, 9% lower consumption.
  • Last year we saw an extreme propane shortage and logistical nightmares in the propane market. This year inventories are higher than last year in the Midwest and Gulf, but the agricultural yield can impact propane supply levels quickly and harshly, so stay tuned on propane projections after the harvest (corn) season 

So what about here in New England?

As we saw last year, New England Nat Gas prices vary wildly from the Henry Hub spot pricing for Nat Gas. Supply here is a HUGE issue, and we are fighting over any and all pipeline projects that could address that issue in the near term. 

Also, the EIA is projecting that the cost of electricity will be trending down for consumers roughly 2% - but we know that is not the case here in Mass, where we just saw 37% rate hikes approved, on the back of our limited nat gas infrastructure. 

Keep in mind that the majority of cost savings are due to a presumed weather-related demand drop.

The bottom line - if you project that this winter will be 10% colder than average (last year was 11%) Propane and Heating Oil customers still come out ahead and spend less than last year due to the drop in pricing. Natural Gas customers don't fare so well - if their usage mirrors their usage last winter, they can expect a 6% increase in their bill - at least - due to price increases.  Add that to your newly increased electric bill, and heating oil is looking pretty good right now!


(PS - if you want the nitty gritty on the Market impacts of todays EIA reports and projections, you can read about that on our Market Update blog here: Retail & Market Prices Drop on Crude Supply & Pricing )

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Topics: natural gas, EIA, national grid, propane, heating oil

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