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

Progress on Keystone XL? ....Don't Get Your Hopes Up

Posted by Ed Burke on Jun 25, 2014 2:49:09 PM

Oil pipline in the snow

 

Tuesday the House passed bipartisan legislation to speed up the approval process for cross-border energy projects (ie Keystone XL), despite a promised veto from President Obama.  The bill is known as the “North American Energy Infrastructure Act”, featuring 12 Republican and 8 Democratic co-sponsors. If it passed the Senate, it would establish by law that projects be granted or denied approval within 120 days of the Environmental Impact Study, and more significantly, it would remove the need for Presidential Approval.

Technically the bill doesn’t apply to Keystone XL, because the applications and environmental impact studies are already completed for that proposed project. However, that’s obviously the most glaring example of the need to speed up the process, and probably the impetus for the bill’s submission in the first place. In theory, TransCanada could resubmit their application and be subject to the speedier process. (A motion to prevent TransCanada from resubmitting should the bill pass was handily shut down by a wide margin.) 

It’s unlikely that the bill will get through the Senate with a veto-proof majority, though. It may not even be likely that the bill be considered by the Senate, as Majority Leader Reid has indicated he has no inclination to move this or previous Keystone related bills to the floor if he can help it. 

As you know, the project has been languishing for over 5 years after delay upon delay. Earlier this year, progress looked promising when the Environmental Impact Study found no significant environmental concern to prevent the project from going forward (actually, its more environmentally safe to transport via pipeline than railcar - but I digress...). However, nothing much happened and now the current hold up is purportedly related to a "wait and see" on how a Nebraska district court rules on the proposed pathway for a portion of pipeline in that state.

Frustrating to be sure - but the strong bipartisan nature of the push to move Keystone forward in Congress is an encouraging sign. I'm sure we won't see any real movement until after the midterms, given the polarity of the issue in some areas and the amount of seats up for grabs in the Senate. Hopefully, no matter which way the chips fall in the mid terms, we finally see some real, meaningful progress on what is such an extremely important project for our Energy and National Security. 

 

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Topics: Energy Independence, Keystone XL, Energy Infrastructure, Congress, TransCanada, Environmental Impact Study

Energy Security, Not Independence, Should Be The Goal

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 27, 2014 12:36:40 PM

Crude oil terminal

We've discussed previously the debate about lifting the Crude export ban in the wake of the shale oil boom in the US. Last year alone the reduction in US imports (down 9%) and the increase in exports (up 11%) accounted for a $63 billion dollar reduction in the overall trade deficit.

Next year the US is expected to become the world's biggest exporter, and oil production is continuing to increase - analysts predict that by 2020 the US will be a net exporter, and the boom could create a net 4.7 million jobs by 2020 as well. 

The continued economic success of the oil boom however will be greatly impacted by whether or not the Crude ban is overturned. Without a growing export market to support the increased production, prices become depressed due to limited refinery capacity until the infrastructure catches up to the supply, which is never the goal, realistically.

The thought is that the US will be capable of being virtually self sufficient in oil production by that 2020 horizon, although that's not necessarily the practical goal. Trade relationships are often a positive for nations, and the thought is we get a better energy security by maintaining relationships than setting the goal as an isolated, completely energy independent nation. For example, we currently get almost half our oil imports from Canada and Mexico, and the Keystone pipeline would enhance our ability to get Canadian oil into the market and strengthen our relationship with Canada. There is a school of thought that an energy alliance between Canada and the US, or Canada, the US and Mexico would be a much better solution for all three countries' energy security and economic opportunities than being a completely independent country would.   

Exporting will have an enormously positive impact on the trade deficit, and US supply would keep downward pressure on global pricing. In terms of energy security, the availability of alternative crude sources for other nations is a positive as well - being that its a global market, political and other issues in oil-producing nations will always affect one another, but with varied supply an issue in one nation isn't neccessarily a catastrophe for others. For example, as we are seeing in the Russia/Ukraine situation, Europe is in a tight spot given that a huge percentage of their energy supply comes from Russia. That sort of limits their ability to enforce tough sanctions because they risk an economic mess if Russia decides to push their prices higher in retaliation. As we all know - energy prices have huge impacts on almost all sectors of a nations economy.  

Political ramifications and implications of Energy policy and security aren't the only issues at play in the debate, obviously. Environmental groups strongly oppose exporting crude because it will likely make renewable energy even less cost effective in the wake of plentiful oil supply, and reduce the pressure to find alternative, non-fossil fuel energy sources. 

I wrote an article on this topic for the March issue of Oil & Energy Magazine - you can read that article in their online magazine here: http://oilandenergyonline.com/how-energy-independent-is-america/ 

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Topics: Energy Independence, US Crude Exports, US Energy Boom, Keystone XL, russia, ukraine,

Energy Issues Top the Political Agenda for 2014

Posted by Ed Burke on Feb 25, 2014 12:52:00 PM

Main energy topics in the headlines for 2014 include the Crude Export Ban, the Keystone Pipeline, the Climate Change Action Task Force, RFS Volumes, and an expected final ruling on the Tier III mandate from the EPA. 

State of the Union 2014
(Photo Credit: Amanda Lucidon, WhiteHouse.gov Official Photo)

There is a lot of work to be done on energy infrastructure in the US - something that became especially clear with record breaking spikes in Natural Gas pricing to the New England and New York markets on the heels of the Polar Vortex. This topic is supposed to be the highlight of the Administrations Quadrennial Energy Review. However, the most obvious energy infrastructure and transport improvement - the Keystone XL pipeline is still bogged down in its 5+ years of paperwork, with no decision in sight, even following the most recent Environmental Study which found there would be no major negative impact environmentally from the project. The State Department review was expected after the President's State of the Union Speech, with a Presidential decision to follow but so far as of late February we haven't seen any movement on the issue. 

Renewables are also on the table - The EPA's expected final RFS volume reductions should be out this month (the first time the EPA will have used waiver power to decrease, not increase, volumes). The tax credits for Biodiesel and Cellulosic Biofuels also expired at the end of 2013, but if you recall, last time these were reinstated retroactively. The EPA is also expected to release its final ruling on Tier 3 Gasoline Standards, which would affect the sulfur content of gasoline vehicle emissions.

I wrote a more comprehensive article for the February issue of Oil & Energy Magazine on the topics on the Energy Agenda for 2014, you can read that article by clicking here 

What do you think the priority items on the Energy Agenda should be?    

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Topics: Energy Independence, Biodiesel Tax Credit, President Obama Address, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, US Crude Exports, Cellulosic Ethanol, Keystone XL

Would CRUDE Exporting Increase Your Pain at the Pump? Not Necessarily

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 7, 2014 1:43:00 PM

As we’ve discussed, proponents of overturning the ban on US Crude Exports cite the economic gain to be had, including jobs to be created.

An objection to lifting the ban on US Crude exporting is that given that US consumers are paying record prices for at-the-pump gasoline, it’s tough to see exporting the raw material to produce that gasoline. 

Gasoline prices, however are determined by global markets not domestic supply per se, although there is an influence. 

What's important to remember concerning the Crude Export ban is really two key factors:

It is permissible under US Law to export refined oils - ie finished products. If the argument for maintaining the ban is that it will negatively impact domestic gas supply, thats not really true as one could, today, export finished gasoline. In fact, the US is one of the world's largest exporters of finished (refined) diesel & gasoline. 

Secondly, and more importantly perhaps - the US refinery infrastructure has understandably not been able to keep up with the boom in production of crude, in both refinery capacity and transportation ability. This is resulting in downward pressure on the prices producers can get from refineries for their Crude, making it less profitable. Continued downward pressure could remove the incentive to produce in the first place.

What does that mean for pump prices? It means the incentive to produce and sell domestic crude to be refined into gasoline is not really there. Which, in turn, means the banning of exporting crude is not some automatic way to increase the domestic supply of refined gasoline. Without a large increase in supply, you dont get a decrease in price. 

So what about pricing if the ban is lifted? 

Again, gas prices are largely globally influenced, however exporting to nations that have refinery capacity will drive up the total supply and potentially lower prices.

Outside of this, the economic benefits to the US are estimated to be in the billions - and with an improving economy, if gasoline prices remain stagnant they become a lower percentage of expense for individuals which essentially has the same impact as a price drop in a stagnant economy. 

 

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Topics: Energy Independence, Fracking, CRUDE

Is it Time to Overturn the US Crude Export Ban?

Posted by Ed Burke on Nov 8, 2013 3:33:00 PM

Congress is reportedly considering overturning laws banning US Oil Producers from exporting Crude. The law originally went into place in the 1970’s largely in reaction to embargoes that raised “scarcity” concerns – essentially, blocking export is supposed to safeguard from scarcity in domestic supply.  This is timely on their part – as we have seen for the first time since 1995, US Crude production has exceeded imports. What do they have to do with each other? In the absence of an export potential, or at least one not slowed and more expensive due to refining, US crude production will hit a plateau or worse. But why?

Refined oil  (gasoline and diesel) can be exported under current US law, and exports have grown substantially in recent years. The issue is, however, that the shale oil boom is producing huge volumes of light crude. In order to export, these huge amounts of crude need to be refined, which is difficult, costly and will ultimately slow production over time. The Council on Foreign Relations sums the issue up nicely in the following quote:

“Restrictions on crude oil exports are already beginning to undermine the efficiency of US oil economy. Much of the country’s rapidly growing production of light crude oil… comes from either areas where refiners are not interested in or able to process it, given that many US refineries are configured to run on lower-quality crude oil, or in parts of the country with inadequate transportation infrastructure. With few viable domestic buyers, producers are forced to choose between leaving oil in the ground and pumping it at depressed prices. The artificially low prices slow additional US Crude production. New refineries currently under construction will help remedy some of these market distortions over time, but a simpler, more cost effective solution would include allowing US Crude to be exported

(CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum No. 34 – you can read the whole thing by clicking here )

The CFR also estimates that Crude Oil exports could generate upward of $15 billion in annual revenue by 2017. Revenue to be made from export should also serve to stimulate continued investment in infrastructure, move technology forward, increase profitability for domestically based producers, not to mention create thousands of permanent, high paying jobs for Americans. 

Before we assume it’s a cut and dry decision however, there are several compelling arguments against dropping restrictions on Crude export, from economic concerns to environmental ones. Since this is a big and somewhat complex topic however, I will address them in subsequent posts.

What are your intial thoughts on US crude export policy? Do you favor a change?

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Topics: Energy Independence, US Crude Exports, US Energy Boom, CRUDE

Is Propane Autogas the Alternative Fuel of the Future?

Posted by Ed Burke on Jun 11, 2013 2:23:00 PM

Folks looking at different options for alternatively fueled vehicles are apparently increasingly considering moving to propane Autogas. Propane is currently the third most popular engine fuel (after diesel and gasoline) and given the changes in our domestic energy production, namely increases in Natural Gas and Crude Oil production/refining, propane is looking like an increasingly good choice.

Why?

Because Propane is produced as a byproduct of both crude oil refining and natural gas processing.  It stands to reason that as domestic production of the products we produce propane from goes up (nat gas and crude oil), propane will likely be an increasingly economical choice on top of the environmentally sound reasons already present.

Propane is actually one of the cleanest burning fossil fuels, and is considered an alternative fuel. Propane autogas vehicles are efficient, low emission vehicles. Additionally, propane has a higher octane rating than gasoline, and burns cleaner which leads to lower maintenance costs over time. There is also decent public access to propane fueling as opposed to other alternatively fueled vehicles like CNG/LNG vehicles.

I wrote an article for the June Issue of Oil & Energy Magazine regarding what I think is the positive outlook for the future of Propane Autogas. You can read the article by clicking here: http://www.nefi.com/oilandenergy/archive/OE_0613_web/#36 

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Topics: Environmentally Friendly Products, natural gas, Energy Independence, Propane Autogas

Déjà vu all over again

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 11, 2011 6:43:00 AM

While still in the winter of 2011 we return to a season of discontent. Oil prices are soaring, food prices are soaring, as well as other commodities. The recent Biodiesel Conference was very much counter seasonal with many warm summer breezes:

  • the tax credit of 1.00/gallon came back
  • RIN values have risen dramatically making biodiesel competitive to petroleum diesel in price

Many argue that Massachusetts was very wise to insist on waste feedstock for biodiesel, which takes the food price argument off the table.

Massachusetts has demonstrated a very successful program, so successful that the Massachusetts state mandate may be postponed indefinitely to rely on voluntary efforts.

As energy independence and reducing spending (especially on foreign energy spending) dominates the news, it is great to have a great story in biodiesel.

I happen to be especially proud of Massachusetts – remember, Massachusetts is where America started!

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Topics: Biodiesel Massachusetts, massachusetts biodiesel mandate, Waste Feedstock Biodiesel, Energy Independence, Biodiesel Conference, Biodiesel Tax Credit

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