Archive for the ‘natural gas’ Category

The following is a repost of my National Journal Energy Experts blog

Electricity policy faces enormous challenges—three different federal agencies (EPA, DOE, FERC) and 10 Congressional committees wrestle with oversight over electricity markets, new generation sources, air and water emissions issues, and energy efficiency initiatives. Resolving the current political stalemate requires an acknowledgement that maximizing investment in a decentralized electricity structure has to be a significant part of policy going forward. And we must recognize that while constitutional rights within our Democratic Republic often clash with companies’ need for efficiency, preserving those rights must be our priority.

Not only are capital cost barriers of proposed new nuclear and coal-fired units significant, but so are the associated transmission infrastructure upgrades needed to move the power from new sources to population centers. Trying to build any new type of large infrastructure system designed to accommodate our centralized power system has traditionally run into NIMBY opposition, which lately has been characterized as Not on Planet Earth (NOPE). Population density in the US has increased 105% from 1950 to 2010—from 42.6 people per square mile in 1950 to 87.4 people per square mile in 2010. With more people living per square mile than ever before, Americans’ Fifth Amendment Constitutional right to due process guarantees that large projects will continue to be delayed. Congress’ unwillingness to grant the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ultimate authority over transmission siting leaves permitting at the state level, where property owners will continue to hold sway over project developers. Meanwhile, the plummeting cost of solar photovoltaics, advances in micro-wind turbines, and continued permitting successes of geothermal are providing more opportunities for distributed renewable energy generation. It’s more efficient to site millions of rooftop solar systems than permit just a handful of new coal/nuclear stations with hundreds of miles of needed transmission.

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I recently appeared on CNBC to discuss problems associated with exporting natural gas. Despite the numerous problems domestic fracking poses to the environment, the process remains lightly regulated. I’ve noted that natural gas is really displacing wind and solar, and that exporting the gas (by freezing it to turn it into a liquid, known as LNG) will lead to higher prices domestically. Those seeking to export LNG claim it can globalize prices, but I find that unlikely to happen.

Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on twitter @tysonslocum


This is a repost of my blog at National Journal.

As I wrote in the Expert Blog at the beginning of this year, the primary attraction of natural gas today is its price advantage over competing fuels. Sure, the emissions benefits over coal and petroleum are nice and important, but pricing dynamics are driving the market. And it’s imprudent policy to assume that gas will remain cheap, or even affordable for that matter. While we most likely have a few more years of moderately-priced natural gas, we will see a return to the Bad Old Days of natural gas price volatility as soon as emerging and proposed infrastructure changes accelerate. Natural gas’ emissions benefits are no match for zero-emission competitors, but today’s cheap gas prices are luring crucial support away from the long-term renewables solution.

In the power sector, decisions are being made based on today’s low prices that commit significant parts of our electricity infrastructure to gas for the next generation. This will come at the expense of renewables, which, unlike natural gas, will only have a future cost curve that will continue to plummet. I can predict a future Energy Expert Blog after five years’ time bemoaning the natural gas price trap and “is it too late to ramp up renewables and efficiency?”.

Remember that natural gas, for all of its emissions benefits to its fossil fuel cousins, remains a messy extractive product. The folks that argue that all natural gas drilling pollutes drinking water are as correct as the industry folks who claim, always with a straight face, that fracking has never contaminated a single drinking water source (let’s start opening up those hundreds of nondisclosure agreements households have been forced to sign with drillers in exchange for getting their hands on trucked clean water to their rural homes). There is no such thing as benign fossil fuel extraction. There are risks and environmental costs associated with fracking, and there can be no doubt that the vast fracking revolution, complemented with weak federal (and, for the most part, state) oversight is a recipe for disaster. Water wars will define the next generation’s resource fight (it’s actually already beginning). Let’s not hasten that with natural gas’ inherent risks.

The recent revival of multilateral international trade talks with visions of using the 1992 Energy Policy Act requirement forcing approval of natural gas import/export facilities to countries with which we have a FTA requiring national treatment for trade in natural gas is fallacious. Sure the extreme price gap between North American and European/Asian markets is tempting, but the minute we become a significant exporter the fuel will no longer be affordable to fill our power plants and T. Boone Pickens’ patented trucks.

Natural gas will continue to be a part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future. But it must not―and cannot―serve as our foundation. That must be reserved for renewables and efficiency. The technology revolution is not fracking, but in solar PV and other renewables.

Tyson Slocum Directs Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on twitter @tysonslocum


This week National Journal reports that former Senators Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. and Trent Lott, R-Miss “are working together on a blueprint for energy legislation” through their role as co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Strategic Energy Initiative, and plan to release it in January. NJ notes that “their effort could gain traction: Both are held in high regard by their former colleagues, and the BPC is a serious player in the energy debate.

What NJ fails to mention is that both Dorgan and Lott are also lobbyists getting rich taking special interest money from a who’s who of major energy corporations, which raises the question: will their energy blueprint serve as yet another veiled, sophisticated sell for their high priced energy corporate clients? When does their respected “high regard” begin and their shilling for their corporate clients end?

Lott’s Breaux Lott Leadership Group represents ExxonMobilEntergy, GE, energy trader Goldman Sachs, National Propane Gas Association, Plains Exploration and Shell Oil. In addition, the Breaux Lott group is a subsidiary of lobbying giant Patton Boggs, so you should also include PBs list of energy clients: ATP Oil & Gas, the Mining Awareness Resource Group, Oil States International and the oil giant TOTAL.

Dorgan co-chairs Government Relations for Arent Fox, where his corporate energy clients include oil companies Denbury Resources & Noble Energy.

I’m sure there will be some good recommendations in the Lott-Dorgan energy report. And I’m sure there’ll be policies that will be controversial. At the end of the day, we just don’t know what made it into the blueprint because of policy merits or the special interest paycheck.

Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @tysonslocum


Natural gas companies are contributing more money than ever to lobby politicians to support fracking. The current governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, has received almost $1 million from the natural gas industry. The gas companies’ voices are being heard, but what about the citizens whose well-being is jeopardized by fracking?

For years, citizens have been taking action to oppose fracking in their state, but for the first time ever, those same citizens are coming together in Washington, D.C., to make sure their collective voice is heard.  To raise national awareness of anti-fracking movements across the nation, the first national anti-fracking rally, Stop the Frack Attack, is taking place on Saturday, July 28, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. 

Exempted from federal law

There are 34 states where oil and gas wells are being tapped through hydraulic fracturing. An average of 2,000 wells are being drilled every month.  Ninety percent of those wells are drilled using hydraulic fracturing. But despite the magnitude of drilling activity, fracking is exempted from every major environmental law including the Safe Water Drinking Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, due to the Energy Policy Act of 2005’s “Halliburton loophole,” so named because former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney was instrumental in its passage.

A clear case for regulation

  • A congressional investigation found that fracking fluids at many drilling sites contain dangerous levels of heavy metals and carcinogens.
  • In President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address, he pledged to increase the use of natural gas found within shale rock formations, as well as “require all companies that drill for gas on public lands disclose the chemicals they use.” This would affect only a small portion of fracking activity because most fracking is being done on private land.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a study of fracking in Montana and found that fracking fluids contaminated drinking water.
  • Perhaps even more troubling is that Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead pressured the EPA to delay publishing the study’s results because he feared they would harm his state’s economic interests, not to mention the gas companies’ profits.

In recent years, fracking has been pursued with Gold Rush-like fervor by oil and gas companies. While we oppose fracking, we must recognize that there are both communities vulnerable to this practice and some that have already been affected. Let’s stop the frack attack by banning new fracking, but let’s also protect those already at risk through closing the federal regulatory loopholes on fracking.

During the 3- day Stop the Frack Attack event, more than 130 local and national organizations, including Public Citizen, will call on Congress to take action to protect community rights, public health, drinking water, and the global climate from the impacts of fracking. We will also demand the closure of legal loopholes that allow the oil and gas industry to ignore parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and other bedrock environmental laws while fracking.

The anti-fracking movement is starting to grow, with recent celebrity endorsements from Mark Ruffalo, Lady Gaga and more than a hundred others, including Yoko Ono, who wrote the song “Don’t Frack My Mother.” To effectively protect the well-being of Americans, we need even more support, especially when proponents of fracking are hosting their own rallies.

Join the thousands already going to Stop the Frack Attack and come out to support clean water! Without your voice, local water supplies across the nation will continue to be contaminated.


Thaddeus Baringer – Intern at Public Citizen’s Energy Program




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