EPA's 2017 RFS Volume Proposal Draws Familiar Concerns

Posted by Ed Burke on Jul 20, 2016 8:20:00 AM

shutterstock_150169862.jpg

This past May, the EPA released its 2017 RFS volume standards. The 2017 levels are a 3.8% increase over 2016 but are still well below the original levels for the year as proposed in 2007.

In both the stakeholder commentary period and the period immediately following the volumes' release, we saw the usual cast of characters come forward with their concerns about the mandated levels. That included biofuels proponents who see the EPAs levels as a "cave" over the blend wall, and industry members who are concerned about the market and practical feasibility of ever increasing levels and who carries the obligation to meet mandated levels. 

You can read more in depth about the diverse reactions the EPA ruling had in the recent article I wrote for Oil & Energy magazine here: "Proposed RFS Changes Draw Diverse Reactions" 

 

Read More

Topics: EPA Mandate, Biofuels, RFS

Obama Admin,EPA to Propose New Fuel Standards for Trucks Today

Posted by Ed Burke on Jun 19, 2015 12:30:00 PM

Semi-truck driving at dusk

The Obama Administration, EPA and DOT are set to unveil new proposed regulations today aimed at reducing fuel use and curbing emissions in trucks as part of the push for regulations aimed at stemming Climate Change.

The Climate Change proposals, in addition to the new trucking regulations, will include new regulations on airplanes, power plant emissions reductions, and more restrictions on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry (for a quick refresher there: Methane & Consumers giving Natural Gas Headaches ).

The new trucking regulation proposal will be open to comment, and finalized as a rule next year. 

Under the proposal as it currently stands, truck manufacturers will be required to increase fuel efficiency by 1/3. This would apply to all 2019 and later model year trucks. The EPA is ballparking the required changes to those trucks to cost approximately $12 thousand dollars per vehicle, but they argue that the amount of money from fuel savings would offset that cost in 18-24 months. 

The regulations regarding DEF and SCR Technology effective in 2010 have already made trucking emissions cleaner than some of its gasoline counterparts (for more on that check out:This Ain't Your Grandpa's Diesel Truck ).  This additional measure is intended to complete the cycle so to speak, and deal with the perceived lack of fuel efficiency of trucks, especially 18 wheelers, and other heavy-duty and/or heavy-use vehicles like garbage trucks, delivery vehicles, and even heavy-duty pickup trucks.

According to the New York Times, the manufacturing industry is split essentially down the middle on the issue, with half concerned about the cost, logistics, and potential safety impacts. The other half seem to be on board and believe the plan is feasible by 2019 model year roll out. 

What say you?

 

Read More

Topics: EPA Mandate, carbon emissions, emissons, fuel efficiency

RFS Battles Continue on Ethanol and E15

Posted by Ed Burke on Apr 21, 2015 3:59:45 PM

Container of corn kernels with a Biofuel sticker affixed

This week, Ethanol activists in Chicago used the 20th anniversary of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf to push for approval of a pending mandate that would require self-serve stations with over 850,000 gallons in annual sales volumes to carry E15, given they had the proper infrastructure for the blend. They argued that companies will "keep on spilling" and that made it imperative that the push continue towards higher blended, "cleaner" ethanol.

On the flip side, on April 21st, major petroleum groups API and AFPM requested the EPA ban the sale of E15 as a flex fuel. E10 Ethanol has a 1 psi volatility waiver that allows it to be RVP compliant in summer months. E15 is not compliant, however. The argument then is that stations, etc, are using E15 as a flex fuel in the summer months to avoid having to comply with RVP regulations.

The EPA is expected to formally announce the RFS volume requirements any day now, but even prior to the announcement there is action on the RFS in the legislature. House Bill HR 701 would cap ethanol at 10% blends, and rescind the EPA's approval of E15 blends. 

Another part of the bill states that target numbers for cellulosic ethanol goals need to be production based, which obviously makes sense, since one of the major issues with the RFS has been the cellulosic mandate in the face of a complete lack of cellulosic production.

I wrote an article for this months Oil & Energy Magazine detailing the growing dissension between RFS involved groups, impacted industries, the EPA and the Government - you can read that article here:

"Dissension Grows over Biofuels Rules"

 

 

Read More

Topics: Ethanol, EPA Mandate, Cellulosic Ethanol, RFS

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?" 

Read More

Topics: natural gas, EPA Mandate, Fracking, methane

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"

 

Read More

Topics: Biodiesel, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, EPA

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?    

Read More

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

Is Ethanol Even Green?

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 21, 2014 2:08:00 PM

Grassy Hillsides plowed into crop rows. Millions of acres of conservation land converted to corn fields. Fertilizer runoff polluting lakes and streams. All to produce a "green" fuel source.... Or that's the picture painted by an AP article slash expose anyway. 

The ethanol industry renounced the AP article as a "smear campaign" pointing out that fertilizer runoff and associated issues occur regardless of the end point of the corn produced. Another issue with the AP article is that the "conservation" land converted to corn fields wasn't exactly "conservation land" in the usual sense - essentially, much of it was designated conservation under an initiative that seemingly has less to do with conserving land than it does with boosting crop prices for farmers. While those points may be true, there is no doubt that corn based ethanol has environmental impacts, and there's even question on how much benefit to the environment the fuel itself produces, with the revelation that ethanol may be only about 16% "greener" than gasoline, which would technically disqualify it as a green alternative to gas.

The Senate has even introduced a bill to eliminate the ethanol portion of the RFS. This happened in December, just as the EPA announced it would reduce the ethanol blending goals in the standard. Not a good month for the Ethanol Industry, I would say. Senators Feinstein and Coburn - another unlikely alliance, cosponsored the bill. Both cited increased food costs as a result of diversion of corn into fuel supply, and the issues oil companies face with the blend wall - their inability to blend more ethanol into fuel without risking damage to consumer vehicles (that was the issue behind the EPAs reduction as well). [You can read a little more detail about the bill in my most recent Oil & Energy Article by clicking here]

So what does this all mean anyways? Its not likely ethanol will "go away" but both of these actions make it a little less burdensome on refiners and companies and protect the blend wall. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out over 2014 - the Obama administration strongly supports the corn based ethanol on the basis that it encourages biofuel adaptation in general and ethanol is a good starting point. There is no doubt that the mandate for corn based ethanol is extremely costly however, and with the undeniable impacts on food prices for both the industry and consumers, given the recent questions on the reality of its environmental impact, it seems to be time for politicians to really sit down and repair broken and costly regulations.  

 

Read More

Topics: E85, Ethanol, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, RINs, Biofuels, EPA, Blend Wall

Environmentalists & Oil Exec's Unite on RFS Volume Reduction

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jan 14, 2014 9:47:00 AM

A surprisingly unusual coalition of folks have united to support the EPA's reduction of RFS Volume Requirements including food industry leaders, environmental groups, humanitarian groups and oil industry groups. Why is that? 

Everyone involved has concerns about different impacts they believe are created or exascerbated by the mandate, especially if the volumes hold or increase. Refiners, for example are concerned about their ability to breach the "blend wall", where every gallon of gasoline would contain the required 10% - once thats hit it will be extremely difficult for refiners to generate the neccessary RINs, largely because of concerns about moving past an E10 blend.

Refiners and Motorist groups like AAA argue that E15 is not approved for use in a large portion of vehicles, and 13 major car manufacturers will even void warranty coverage in vehicles running E15. That's a huge issue for folks with cars that are not model 2014. Even the Ethanol groups numbers on this issue leave approximately 250 million vehicles on the road that cannot run properly on E15 - that's not good news for Joe Six Pack.

So why are Environmental groups throwing their support behind a Volume Reduction? Isnt Ethanol supposed to be "green"? Well, maybe not. Original numbers put ethanol at 16% greener than gasoline, and then theres the more obvious environmental impacts. An estimated 5 million acres of land that had previously been set aside for conservation have been converted into farm land for corn for ethanol. Fertilizer run offs have worsened a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and contaminated some local water supplies as well, according to an AP investigation. 

Food producers oppose the mandate on the basis that diversion of corn for use in fuel versus the food supply has driven up the cost of animal feed, as well as corn used in processing itself. 

Beyond just supporting the Volume Reductions, the groups in question support a full repeal of the RFS in many cases. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that gets a little more detailed on the RFS Reduction, you can read it here if you are interested: Oil & Energy Magazine 

What are your thoughts on the RFS Mandate and potential Volume Reductions?

Read More

Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Ethanol, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, Biofuels, EPA

Tier 3 Gasoline Standard Ruling to be released by February

Posted by Ed Burke on Dec 10, 2013 8:57:00 AM

The EPA has announced it will release the final rule on the Tier 3 gasoline standard by February of this coming year, after revising the timeline due to the volume of responses received. The standard  is set to be in effect by 2017, with the stated purpose of reducing harmful vehicle emissions and pollution generated by cars and light duty trucks by dropping the sulfur content of gasoline from its present 30 parts per million down to 10 parts per million. (If you recall, Tier 2 dropped gasolines sulfur content from 300 PPM to the current 30PPM) 

The EPA estimates the cost impact of Tier 3 should be around a penny per gallon, but refiners believe that it could be more like 9 cents per gallon. This is because of the overhaul needed at approximately 66 major US refineries to make their existing hydrotrating equipment meet the new standards, and the fear that there is not enough excess in supply to cover demand while the upgrades happen could shoot the price at the pump up.  

The EPA says that by the year 2030 the program should cost about 3.4 billion annually, that they claim is more than offset by the projected monetized health benefits of somewhere between 8 and 23 billion. 

I wrote an article for NEFI's Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into more detail on the standard and how it works, you can read that article here: Oil & Energy Magazine  or in PDF Form by clicking here 

Read More

Topics: EPA Mandate, Refinery Closures, EPA, Tier 3 Gasoline Standard, Gasoline Supply Crunch

The Revival of the Biodiesel Blender'sTax Credit - Pro or Con?

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 13, 2013 1:52:00 PM

In a move that was semi-surprising given the budget cut debates surrounding this years fiscal cliff talks, not only did law makers reinstitute the Biodiesel Blender Tax Incentive of $1 per gallon, but they did so retroactively to 2012.

The positives - or potential positives - of this decision are an estimated 30 thousand jobs sustained by the cut (112,000 versus a projected 82,000 jobs without the credit in place). Additionally in theory the credit serves to make domestic biodiesel competitive with Brazilian corn ethanol - currently ethanol blending into gasoline is the cheapest method of generating advanced biofuels to satisfy the EPA's RFS mandate. However, even with the credit in place, biodiesel still runs a significantly higher cost than ethanol. If biodiesel production does step up as a result of the credit and the RFS mandate, that could potentially prove a benefit for the United States economy, especially given that biodiesel is domestically produced, whereas we import most of the corn used for ethanol from Brazil because domestic corn does not satisfy the RFS "advanced" biofuel requirement.

On the negative side - given that ethanol is often cited as contributing to corn pricing spikes on  commodity and consumer product levels, it is reasonable to assume that increased biodiesel production and demand would have the same effect on soybean commodity prices as well as food items. Additionally, most of the projected benefits of reinstating the credit rest at least somewhat on the assumption that it will make biodiesel pricing competitive enough to compete with Ethanol - this is not really the case currently, and pricing structures on both products could prove unstable due to market volatility and competing uses for each items base commodity.

At the end of the day - my thought is a tax incentive on a mandated item is uneccesary, and appears more so given the uncertain nature of the benefits, and the solid $2 billion dollar price tag attached to this cut.

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine on this topic, if you want more info on the details of how the RFS mandate's ins and outs relate to this tax credit and why Brazilian ethanol's competitive advantage is tough to beat even with a dollar per gallon tax incentive. You can read the article online here: Oil & Energy Magazine - Feb 2013  or as a PDF by clicking here: Biodiesel Blender Tax Credit

Read More

Topics: Commodities, Biodiesel Tax Credit, Fiscal Cliff, Ethanol, RFS 2, EPA Mandate

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all