When Exxon Mobil Corp.’s newest addition to its southeast Texas refinery ramps up to full production in the next few weeks, it’ll be the first major expansion of US fuel-making capacity in at least a decade. And probably the last.
Six fossil fuel companies funneled more than $700m in research funding to 27 universities in the US from 2010 to 2020, according to a new study.
Such funding at universities that conduct climate research can shift not just research agendas, but also policy in the direction of climate solutions the industry prefers, the report’s authors argue.
Those solutions typically include biofuels, carbon capture, and hydrogen, according to the research by the thinktank Data for Progress and the nonprofit group Fossil-Free Research. Oil majors also invest in public policy and economics research that favors deregulation.
Crude oil has been a major resource of the Nigerian state since it was discovered in the Niger Delta area in 1956 by a joint venture between Shell and British Petroleum. To this day, oil and gas account for over 80 percent of Nigeria’s total exports and about 65 percent of national revenue.
Shell and other multinational oil companies make billions of dollars in profits annually off the region—at great expense to the host communities. The Ogoni communities in Rivers State in the Niger Delta area have endured decades of oil spills and gas-instigated fires that have led to ecological destabilization and destruction, loss of livelihoods, migration, health hazards, biodiversity loss, and preventable deaths. Nigeria leads the world in volume of oil spilled; between 1976 and 1991, over 2 million barrels of oil polluted Ogoniland in 2,976 separate spills. The people of Ogoniland, to date, are still denied justice as it relates to their damaged environment (including farmland), health, and financial reparations. The Nigerian government has supported resuming oil exploration in the region despite years of protests and justice movements, which have been met with military brutality, court cases that have dragged on for generations, and further destruction of the environment in the form of pipeline vandalism and militancy.
In an award-winning, six-month-long investigation published in Ripples Nigeria and republished in three other outlets, Nigerian journalists Kelechukwu Iruoma and Ruth Olurounbi chronicled the devastating effects of oil development on the health and safety of the people of Ogoniland. Their investigation led them to several communities in the region whose residents spoke about their heart-rending plight living in a place where they can no longer plant crops, fish, breathe clean air, get justice, raise a family, or have a say in their communities as Indigenous people.
The reporters also obtained blood samples from area residents to test for medical evidence of oil spill–related diseases. The analysis revealed unhealthy changes in people’s livers and kidneys, which medical experts that Olurounbi and Iruoma consulted agreed were likely from exposure to oil-associated contaminants in their environment.
Nigerian journalist Amir Sadiq spoke to Olurounbi and Iruoma on the strategies, experiences, and research behind their investigation, which led to improvements in affected communities, including oil cleanup and provision of potable water, and even served as a source of evidence for communities suing the oil companies in court. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Some of the world’s major oil companies remain internally skeptical about the “energy transition” to a low-carbon economy, even as they publicly portray their firms as partners in the cause, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post that a House committee released Friday.
The documents arepart of atrove obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform during a year-long investigation. They reveal oil company executives dismissing the potential for renewable energy to quickly replace fossil fuels, while working to secure a future for natural gas. They also detail industry efforts to secure government tax credits for carbon capture projects that might relieve them of the need to drastically alter their business models.
The documents — many of them copies of internal emails between oil company officials — describe ExxonMobil’s efforts in 2021 to persuade big industrial firms and oil giants to co-sponsor a mammoth carbon capture project in Texas. Elsewhere, in one email string, officials at Shelldiscuss whether BP, Shell and TotalEnergies — a French oil firm — increased their carbon footprints by selling Canadian oil sands interests to moreeager investors.
Exxon’s carbon capture and sequestration deal with CF Industries and Enlink Midstream in Louisiana could be significant for the future of Big Oil’s low-carbon business. One key: tax incentives included in the Inflation Reduction Act passed in August. Environmental critics say the new law just subsidizes an expensive technology, but Exxon says deal will be the first of many from a large backlog that is “starting to move quickly” and that the Biden climate plan has helped to catalyze.
For decades, 1960s research for the American Petroleum Institute warning of the risks of burning fossil fuels had been forgotten. But two papers discovered in libraries are now playing a key role in lawsuits aimed at holding oil companies accountable for climate change.
The Department of the Interior has announced a proposed rule from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to address the waste of natural gas during the production of oil and gas on federal and Tribal lands. The proposed rule would generate $39.8 million a year in additional royalties for the American public and prevent billions of cubic feet of gas from being wasted through venting, flaring and leaks, boosting efficiency.
Venting and flaring activity from production on public lands has significantly increased over several decades. Between 2010 and 2020, the total venting and flaring reported by federal and Indian onshore lessees averaged approximately 44.2 billion cubic feet per year, enough to serve roughly 675,000 homes. This contrasts to an average of 11 billion cubic feet lost per year between 1990 and 2000.
The proposed rule will protect communities while delivering significant economic benefits through increased recovery of wasted gas. It would modernize requirements that are outdated and ill-suited for current technology and operations, including by requiring operators of federal and Indian oil and gas leases to take reasonable steps to avoid the waste of natural gas. If implemented, the proposed rule would also ensure that, when federal or Indian gas is wasted through excessive venting or flaring, the public and Indian mineral owners are compensated through royalty payments.
The proposed rule responds to a series of U.S. Government Accountability Office reports highlighting the potential revenue being lost due to the BLM’s outdated regulations. Several states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania and New Mexico, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have taken steps to limit venting, flaring and/or leaks from oil and gas operations.
Key elements of the proposed rule include:
Technology Upgrades: The rule would require the use of “low-bleed” pneumatic equipment as well as vapor recovery for oil storage tanks, where economically feasible. These requirements would reduce losses of natural gas from pneumatic equipment and storage tanks on federal and Indian leases.
Leak Detection Plans: The rule would require operators to maintain a Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) program for their operations on federal and Indian leases.
Waste Minimization Plans: Requires applicants to develop waste minimization plans demonstrating the capacity of available pipeline infrastructure to take the anticipated associated gas production. The BLM may delay action on, or ultimately deny, a permit to drill to avoid excessive flaring of associated gas.
Monthly Limits on Flaring: Places time and volume limits on royalty-free flaring. Importantly, this includes a monthly volume limit on royalty-free flaring due to pipeline capacity constraints—the primary cause of flaring from Federal and Indian leases.
Flaring is the process of burning excess natural gas at a well. Venting is the direct release of natural gas into the atmosphere. While some amount of venting and flaring is expected to occur during oil and gas exploration and production operations, venting and flaring can be minimized when operators take reasonable precautions to avoid waste.
The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register in the coming days. The draft Environmental Assessment and other supporting documents will be available on regulations.gov. Public comments will be accepted via regulations.gov for 60 days after the publication of the rule.
Yesterday at COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is strengthening its proposed standards to cut methane and other harmful air pollution. If finalized, these critical, commonsense standards will protect workers and communities, maintain and create high-quality, union-friendly jobs, and promote U.S. innovation and manufacturing of critical new technologies, all while delivering significant economic benefits through increased recovery of wasted gas.
The updates, which supplement proposed standards EPA released in November 2021, reflect input and feedback from a broad range of stakeholders and nearly half a million public comments. The updates would provide more comprehensive requirements to reduce climate and health-harming air pollution, including from hundreds of thousands of existing oil and gas sources nationwide. It would promote the use of innovative methane detection technologies and other cutting-edge solutions, many of which are being developed and deployed by small businesses providing good-paying jobs across the United States.
The new proposal also includes a ground-breaking “Super-Emitter Response Program” that would require operators to respond to credible third-party reports of high-volume methane leaks. The agency estimates that in 2030, the proposal would reduce methane from covered sources by 87 percent below 2005 levels.
Oil and natural gas operations are the nation’s largest industrial source of methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that traps about 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, on average, over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere and is responsible for approximately one third of the warming from greenhouse gases occurring today. Sharp cuts in methane emissions are among the most critical actions the U.S. can take in the short term to slow the rate of climate change. Oil and natural gas operations are also significant sources of other health-harming air pollutants, including smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxic air pollutants such as benzene.
The Clean Air Act standards in the supplemental proposal will complement President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which provides resources for financial and technical assistance and a waste emissions charge for applicable oil and gas facilities that exceed statutorily specified waste emissions thresholds. The Inflation Reduction Act incentivizes early implementation of innovative methane reduction technologies and supports methane mitigation and monitoring activities, allowing the United States to achieve greater methane emissions reductions more quickly.
Taking into account both the supplemental proposal and other measures in the November 2021 proposal, EPA projects that the proposed standards would reduce an estimated 36 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035, the equivalent of 810 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s nearly the same as all greenhouse gases emitted from coal-fired electricity generation in the U.S. in 2020. EPA’s estimates also show the updated proposal would reduce VOC emissions by 9.7 million tons from 2023 to 2035, and air toxics emissions, including chemicals such as benzene and toluene, by 390,000 tons. These projections reflect new analysis of the costs and benefits of the proposed standards, which incorporates an improved modeling approach as well as updated estimates of the number of facilities covered by the supplemental proposal and the amount of methane and VOCs they emit.
The supplemental proposal reflects public input on the November proposal and new information and analyses, which helped the EPA determine comprehensive and cost-effective approaches to reduce pollution from oil and natural gas facilities. Key features of the supplemental proposal would:
Ensure that all well sites are routinely monitored for leaks at less cost, and until they are closed properly;
Provide industry flexibility to use innovative and cost-effective methane detection technologies, and a streamlined process for approving new detection methods as they become available;
Leverage data from remote sensing technology to quickly identify and fix large methane leaks;
Require that flares are properly operated to reduce emissions, and revise requirements for associated gas flaring;
Establish emission standards for dry seal compressors, which are currently unregulated;
Set a zero-emissions standard for pneumatic controllers and pneumatic pumps at affected facilities in all segments of the industry.
Increase recovery of natural gas that otherwise would go to waste – enough gas from 2023 to 2035 to heat an estimated 3.5 million homes for the winter.
Proposal includes super-emitter response program
The supplemental proposal would also establish a super-emitter response program that would leverage data from regulatory agencies or approved third parties with expertise in remote methane detection technology to quickly identify these large-scale emissions for prompt control. Studies show that large leaks from a small number of sources are responsible for as much as half of the methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry, along with significant amounts of smog-forming VOCs. While many requirements of EPA’s combined proposals would reduce common sources of super emitters, EPA is proposing the response program to address super emitters’ significant pollution and impact on communities where they are located. To ensure that the super-emitter response program operates transparently, notices sent to oil and natural gas owners and operators, along with their response and any corrective actions, would be available on a website for easy access.
In addition to making EPA’s proposal more comprehensive, the supplemental proposal includes requirements for states to develop plans to limit methane emissions from hundreds of thousands of existing sources nationwide. EPA is proposing to require states to submit those plans within 18 months after the final rule is issued, and to establish compliance deadlines for existing sources that are no later than three years after the submission deadline. The supplemental proposal includes requirements for considering the communities most affected by and vulnerable to oil and gas emissions, along with a demonstration of meaningful community engagement as states develop their plans.
EPA estimates that the supplemental proposal will yield total net climate benefits valued at $34 to 36 billion from 2023 to 2035 (the equivalent of about $3.1 to $3.2 billion per year), after taking into account the costs of compliance and savings from recovered natural gas. The climate benefits are estimated using the social cost of greenhouse gases, a metric that represents the monetary value of avoided climate damages associated with a decrease in emissions of a greenhouse gas. While EPA’s estimates are based on the interim social cost of greenhouse gases recommended by an interagency working group in February 2021, EPA also is including a separate analysis that is based on updated social cost of greenhouse gases estimates that address recommendations of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. The additional analysis and accompanying EPA draft technical report will be available in the rulemaking docket for public comment. EPA is also seeking peer review of the report.
EPA will take comment on the supplemental proposal until February 13, 2023. The agency will host virtual trainings to provide communities, Tribes and small businesses information about the supplemental proposal and about participating in the public comment process. Those trainings will be November 17 and 30, 2022 and registration information is available on EPA’s website. EPA will hold a virtual public hearing January 10 and 11, 2023. Registration for the public hearing will open after the supplemental proposal is published in the Federal Register. EPA intends to issue a final rule in 2023.
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