Pacific Dreams & Nightmares

Oregon state cap.jpg

By a vote of 17-11, the Oregon State Senate last week just passed a five-year moratorium on fracking in that State. The Senate bill cut in half a 10-year moratorium passed in March by the Oregon House of Representatives, but the House is expected to quickly agree to the Senate version. Then the bill will be passed along to Governor Kate Brown, who is likely to sign it.

The fracking moratorium comes on the heels of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s rejection of Section 401 Clean Water Certifications for the Jordan Cove Pipeline, which would have transported gas and oil to a terminus on Coos Bay in economically depressed Southwestern Oregon. Currently there are no fracking operations in Oregon. The proposed moratorium and the DEQ decision, however, put Oregon clearly in the camp of states that stake out an environmentalist position, with future consequences to be seen.

North of Oregon, across the Canadian border, the province of British Columbia lost a ruling issued by the Provincial Court of Appeals where the Court said that the BC government could not stop the Mountain West Pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, BC, north of Vancouver. Long time readers of this blog will remember that last year two Canadian provinces, Alberta and British Columbia, almost had a trade war over BC’s attempts to stop the pipeline.

What BC did accomplish was forcing out the pipeline developer, Kinder Morgan, and requiring the Canadian Federal Government to take over the project. That Canadian Federal involvement was the main reason the BC Court of Appeals rejected BC’s latest attempt to stop Trans Mountain. The Court ruled that the Province did not have the power to stop what now is a Federal enterprise.

Given the Section 401 Certification situation in Oregon, which we have seen repeated elsewhere in the United States, such as New York’s recent rejection of the Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline, it bears asking the question of whether this will be the model that we will have to follow in this country to get interstate pipelines built at all? Will the US Government actually have to build the pipelines itself and fight out Federal-State constitutional issues every time we need to build a pipeline somewhere?

All along the North American West Coast, states and provinces are moving against what they perceive as “dirty” energy.  But as they move against oil and natural gas (although don’t ask BC about coal, which the Province still hypocritically produces and exports in massive quantities), the West Coast needs viable energy sources to replace them. That part of the equation remains lacking.

What the West has now is large quantities of wishful thinking and good intentions, but no sensible, practical or economically viable energy policy. This is true especially in the short term, as Westerners assume that, eventually, so-called green energy will be sufficiently widespread to actually fill projected needs.

Left Coast residents should take heed. Laws that appear good in the abstract can be devastating when put into actual practice. Good intentions are never sufficient to make up for lost services that are essential to human life and economic well-being.

If Oregon goes ahead with its fracking moratorium and bans Jordan Cove, it will need to ensure that it has energy sources ten years in the future. Does it have a plan for this? If so, the Oregon public has a right to know what it is. If that plan calls for large amounts of “renewables”, the public should ask itself how that power gets stored and transmitted. Will Oregon need massive new investment in huge batteries to store solar energy that cannot be produced at night or power lines to move wind power from the wilderness (where it is typically generated) to populated areas where it is most needed?  If that’s the case, what type of power lines will Oregon need?  Are they the same type that just was shown to have caused California’s deadly and destructive wild fires last year?  If large batteries are needed, does this battery storage technology even exist to handle all that would be needed if there were no fossil fuels?  Technologically, can any of this actually be done – at least in 2019 – 2029?  If not, what official in Kate Brown’s Administration gets to tell the good citizens of Portland, Eugene and Medford that there will be no heat during the winter?

Questions? Let me know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

Shale Gas News Podcast – Pipelines, Fracking & More

shale gas news podcast

I had a great time on the Shale Gas News Podcast over the weekend discussing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s dilemma regarding approval of the NESE pipeline, the decision by Oregon to deny a Section 401 Clean Streams Certification for the Jordan Cove Pipeline, the banning by Washington Governor Jay Inslee of fracking in his state, and the battle near Death Valley over lithium mining, which is needed to make renewable energy sources viable.

Check it out here in case you missed it. (My interview appears at 18:55).

Questions? Let me know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

 

 

Is West Virginia Prioritizing The Past Over The Future?

iStock-1009952228 (1).jpg

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice made one of the most curious gubernatorial moves in recent years recently, when he vetoed a bill that would have directed money to plug the Mountain State’s approximately 4,000 abandoned gas wells.

The bill, which had strong bipartisan support, would have decreased the State’s severance tax on low producing wells and directed other monies to a fund for the plugging of the abandoned ones.

To show how strong support was for the legislation, the House passed the bill 89-11 and the Senate 33-1. At a time when different political camps have difficulty agreeing on anything, the bill was supported by the oil and gas industry, landowners, the West Virginia Farm Bureau, and the environmental community. That kind of agreement from notoriously warring factions is almost unheard of.

Given that level and breadth of support, why did Governor Justice veto the bill? In his veto letter, the Governor objected to the tax rate cut on the low-producing wells and stated that the money to plug the abandoned wells should come from West Virginia’s General Fund. That seems a curious position given the positive environmental goal and the amount of public support.

Some see a nefarious purpose behind the Governor’s move. The “Marcellus Drilling News” suggested that the Governor vetoed the bill as a payoff to his supporters in the coal industry, specifically big coal mine operator Robert Murray. Indeed, last week the Governor signed a bill lowering the tax rate on steam coal used in power plants, but then turned around and rejected a cut in the gas tax rate payable by low producing wells and raising other funds to help clean up West Virginia.

It’s not a pretty picture. At best, the Governor committed political malpractice by blindsiding nearly everyone in the State. At worst, the Governor made a terrible choice to reward certain large coal operators at the expense of the citizens of West Virginia.

This all comes at a time when West Virginia is about to receive a massive $2.5 billion investment in an ethane cracker plant to support the gas industry. How Governor Justice explains his veto to the industry that is plowing money and resources into his economically depressed State will be interesting to watch in the weeks to come.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

2018, The Year in Review

Year in Review - Marcellus Shale Update by Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg PC

2018 began with the United States producing immense amounts of oil and natural gas; pipeline companies struggling to build out the national pipeline system but not being transparent about how they are doing it; Europe, led by Germany, continuing to move toward 100% reliance on renewable energy yet becoming even more dependent on Russian gas as a result; and New York and New England continuing to block energy generation and pipeline construction in their areas so that they, too, had to import gas from Vladimir Putin.

2018 ended with the United States still producing immense amounts of oil and natural gas; pipeline companies still struggling to build out the national pipeline system but not being transparent about how they are doing it; Europe, led by Germany, still continuing to move toward 100% reliance on renewable energy yet becoming more dependent still on Russian gas as a result; and New York and New England still continuing to block energy generation and pipeline construction in their areas so that they, too, may have to continue to import gas from Vladimir Putin.

As the saying goes, the more things change….

Meanwhile, here in Pennsylvania, the biggest news was the reelection of Governor Tom Wolf and the confusion over the time-honored “rule of capture”. Wolf’s reelection, along with Democratic gains in the State House and Senate, mean the severance tax issue will be back on the table come budget season. The Governor almost had his severance tax in 2017 but threw it away in a move that remains inexplicable following agreement from Senate Republicans to support it. The “rule of capture” means that whatever gas flows into the producer’s pipes belong to the producer, subject to paying royalties to the landowner. In the hydraulic fracturing context, the argument is that the gas may have been taken illegally because it emanated from an adjacent landowner’s property. How an adjacent landowner could prove any of this, or more importantly how a gas company could disprove it, remains a mystery. Now, it will be up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to make a decision.

In West Virginia, the State Legislature in 2018 voted overwhelmingly to uphold the State’s “marketable product” doctrine for paying royalties. The votes followed a 2017 West Virginia Supreme Court decision in the Leggett case changing the calculation rule, which is unusual but also used in states such as Oklahoma and Kansas. The difference between “at the wellhead” states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and “marketable product” states like West Virginia is that in West Virginia a producer cannot deduct its costs from the overall royalty payments it makes to the landowner until the gas has been reduced to a “marketable product”. Of course, exactly what that means often is a subject of controversy. Regardless, West Virginia made sure it stayed in the “marketable product” group of states, and the overwhelming votes in both houses of the State Legislature shows how popular that concept is.

Ohio ended 2018 leading the region in development of the Utica Shale. The Utica is deeper than the Marcellus. Companies such as Cabot Oil and Gas now actively are exploring the Utica in Ohio. Combined with the Marcellus, the two basins portend an enormous potential for energy production in the Marcellus-Utica Region.

Then there’s New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo won reelection easily in 2018 so we can expect his anti-natural gas policies to continue. The Governor is about to shut the Indian Point nuclear reactor and claims there will be sufficient power from renewable sources – mostly hydroelectric from something called the “Champlain Hudson Power Express” – to make up the shortfall. That hasn’t worked in New England and is unlikely to work in New York. Already New York is importing gas from Russia.

In November, FERC gave Governor Cuomo and unusual setback when it granted the Constitution Pipeline a rare time extension to finish construction. The Constitution remains stalled solely because of Governor Cuomo’s power grab regarding the Section 401 Clean Streams Permit.

New York has refused other pipeline permits and seems determined to follow its renewable idealism regardless of the practical consequences. While the Mueller Commission continues to investigate the possibility of collusion between Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump, Putin’s best friends in the United States may be Andrew Cuomo and the other New England governors. They insist on ensuring that Russia will continue to have influence over the energy security of the Northeastern United States.

Cuomo’s international energy champion is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Since 2010 Merkel has pursued her energy policy of “Energiewende”, trying to shift the German economy from nuclear power and fossil fuels to renewable energy. It hasn’t worked. Germany now has the highest energy prices in Europe, is increasingly dependent on Russia for supply (hence “Nord Stream 2”), needs to burn coal for decades in order to make up for the intermittent nature of solar and wind, and actually has to pay foreign governments to offload extra supply from solar and wind sources when they actually are producing because the supply is so uneven it would damage the German power grid.

Merkel and Cuomo are environmental “Idealists”. They are not to be confused with true “Environmentalists”, for whom improvements to the environment are paramount. Environmentalists likely will encourage the switch to natural gas from coal as a bridge to hopefully even cleaner fuels in the future. Idealists like Merkel and Cuomo will fight it at every turn. They will continue to preach and pursue policies that are lovely in the abstract. In real life, however, those policies make our environment dirtier, our economies weaker, and the respective national securities riskier.

Finally to pipelines. As with people like Merkel and Cuomo, pipeline proponents often are their own worst enemies. Energy Transfer Partners has been consistently non-forthcoming in its information regarding construction of the Mariner East 2 and Rover pipelines, but ETP is not alone. Two weeks ago a MarkWest Energy natural gas processing plant in Chartiers Township, Pennsylvania, suffered an accident that killed one person and injured three others. Some press reports stated there was an explosion, others that it was a flash fire. The owners of the pipeline involved, including Marathon Petroleum, won’t clarify publically what happened.

Coming on the heels of other pipeline explosions recently in places like Lawrence, Massachusetts, it would seem in the industry’s best interest to clear up what occurred. Without transparency, new pipeline projects such as Jordan Cove in Oregon and Atlantic Coast in Virginia and North Carolina will face more opposition and trouble.. If Cuomo and Merkel are pursuing self-defeating policies on behalf of their constituents, the pipeline companies are doing the same on behalf of their industry. Hopefully honesty, clarity and transparency will be in greater supply in 2019. That would benefit us all.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

Natural Gas’s Dilemma – How to Respond to the National Climate Assessment?

The day the world changed concept

On Black Friday, the Trump Administration released Volume II of the National Climate Assessment. Running 1,600 pages, the report is the second volume of the fourth National Climate Assessment, which was mandated by Congress in the late 1980’s and is required to be prepared every four years by scientists from 13 designated government agencies. It is being referred to as NCA4 Vol. II.

According to initial press headlines, the warnings contained in NCA4 Vol. II are dire. They include:

  • The “earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”
  • Average sea levels along the United States coast have increased by about 10 inches since the early 20th century as the oceans have warmed and land ice has melted.
  • More than 100 million people in the United States live in places with poor air quality – and climate change will “worsen existing air pollution levels.”
  • Climate change will “disrupt many areas of life” by affecting trade and exacerbating overseas conflicts.

It is conceivable that the initial press reports will turn out to be exaggerated and that the actual language in NCA4 Vol. II is more nuanced than what has been reported. This Update specifically is being written before full examination of the 1,600 pages can be made, although we will certainly correct any errors or omissions in what the press has written about the Assessment as soon as a more fulsome review of the report is possible.

However, for most members of the public, the press reports may be the only information that they will ever receive about the Assessment because it is unlikely that most people will take the time to pore over 1,600 pages of dense text. They will only remember headlines like those listed above. Whether fair or not, this is the environment that the natural gas industry finds itself in during 2018. It must adapt to that reality. While the industry can, and should, pick apart reports and assessments, including NCA4 Vol. II, to the extent that they contain erroneous data or jump to conclusions unwarranted by the evidence, the industry must realize the impact that the overall public mindset has on national, state, and local energy policy and initiatives.

To that end, the industry needs to recalibrate its message. For too long, what little public relations the industry as a whole has engaged in has concentrated almost only on the economic benefits of natural gas to consumers. While certainly not inaccurate, that overly simple message no longer will carry the day. The economic argument now is framed as: “We all can spend $X for energy which will destroy our planet, or we can spend $X time Y and save our planet. Nobody likes paying higher costs for anything, but if it will save our children’s futures, why shouldn’t we do it?”

It is imperative for the industry now to do two things. First, it must concentrate on the environmental case for natural gas, both over other fossil fuels and until so-called renewable energy becomes more universally available. The natural gas industry has a terrific story to tell, but it needs to tell it. The public does not know what the industry has not told it. America leads the world in greenhouse gas reductions since the fracking revolution. We’re producing massive new quantities of oil and gas, yet our greenhouse gas emissions have dropped over 10% to levels not seen since the 1980’s.

There is no harm in admitting that natural gas may not be the be all and end all of energy use to save the planet, but as a bridge fuel it is unsurpassed. If, as NCA4 Vol II states, we must do something positive fast for the environment to lessen any climate change impacts, there is no better way than to build out the natural gas pipeline infrastructure. This will allow the massive switch from coal to natural gas to occur as quickly as possible.

Second, the industry must point out, gently, that currently there is no feasible alternative. All proposals to power our economy via renewables still are speculative at best. Even if it can be done, we are decades away from a realistic plan to power the world with net neutral sources. Germany is a great example of this. In 2010 it refined its renewable energy policy to limit most, if not all, power projects not involving renewables. Despite this, over the last few ytears, German carbon emissions have increased, not decreased. Now, despreate for energy, Germany is helping the Russians build a new pipeline directly to Germany and it is involved with Dow Chemical to erect a new liquefied natural gas power plant in Strade. Good intentions are one thing. NCA4 Vol. II makes it clear they are not enough.

If the industry truly believes in itself and what it’s doing, it should take up the challenge. Engage on the playing field where the battle is taking place. Target our message to the mindset of the audience, and don’t be afraid to amid there are things we don’t know. Despite NCA4 Vol. II’s warnings, fossil fuels will be with us for decades moer, at least. Wishful thinking about promoting more renewables will not change that stark reality. Until such time as renewables can effectively and completely power our modern economy, we all will benefit from clear headed policies that encourage increased natural gas development, transportation and usage while simultaneously establishing a priority to develop and implement a nationwide renewable energy strategy. Isn’t that really what we all should want?

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

Foreign Policy Realism and the Importance of Shale

Pennsylvania Shale

Just six months after the Chinese Communist leadership massacred hundreds of their own people at Tiananmen Square in 1989, President George H. W. Bush sent his envoy Brent Scowcroft on a secret mission.  When pictures of National Security Advisor Scowcroft raising glasses for a champagne toast with the Butchers of Beijing leaked out, Americans were outraged.  However, Bush and Scowcroft realized that the Chinese relationship was too important and that the Communist leaders weren’t going anywhere.

Today, critics of President Trump, especially the conservatives, wish he were surrounded by international “realists” like Mr. Scowcroft.  Instead, they see Mike Pompeo and John Bolton.  It is curious, however, that the same crew which praised the Bush/Scowcroft team for their “skillful” handling of the aftermath of Tiananmen and the fall of the Soviet Union now criticize Mr. Trump for not immediately taking steps to isolate Saudi Arabia following what appears to be the murder of a Saudi journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

For reasons ranging from oil to Iran, the US/Saudi relationship is important.  Trump has to exert a price from Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (MbS), but he has to be careful not to risk the overall relationship.  Whatever decision the President makes will affect the energy industry.  Will the Saudis retaliate by withholding oil supplies?  Will they do the opposite?  Will increased Saudi supply of oil be part of the overall “price” that Mr. Trump extracts from MbS for this sordid affair?  We don’t know the answers yet, and we may never know.

What we do know is that the future of many Pennsylvanians will both impact and be impacted by the intrigue playing out over the Saudi journalist.  That’s a remarkable accomplishment when you think about it.  The Saudis will have to consider places like Washington County and Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania in their calculations of how to respond to American anger.  Who would have thought that ten years ago?

While the international situation plays out, elections loom in this country.  Fewer than three weeks before election day, it looks increasingly likely that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf will win a second term.  That will put both the Governor and the gas industry in a bind.  The industry has been loath to engage with the Governor after he bludgeoned them during his 2014 campaign and after they had some dealings with him in the early days of his administration that the industry felt were not up front.  The Governor is bitter that the industry fought him so hard on his extraction tax, robbing him of one of his most important campaign promises.

Both the industry and the Governor may be in a pivotal international position in a few months if things spin out of control in the Middle East or elsewhere.  Pennsylvania gas production may prove to be a critical bulwark against mass economic dislocation that would please no one as much as the Russians and the Iranians.

First comes the approaching winter.  New York and New England are more vulnerable than ever to energy shortages due to their short-sighted policies on pipeline infrastructure and their closing of their nuclear plants.  Will they have to import gas again from Russia?  If they do it will it limit the President’s ability to deal with Russian involvement in the Middle East? What if the Saudis respond to American pressure by just moving closer to Vladimir Putin?  Meanwhile, as this is happening will New Englanders be forced again to go hat in hand to Putin to save them from freezing to death this winter?  It could happen.  By making themselves vulnerable to energy shocks – especially when the answer is five hours away in Pennsylvania, the New Englanders have weakened us all.  Domestic miscalculations often have international implications.

In Pennsylvania we have a separate problem.  Pennsylvania’s shale producers are notorious for their inability to develop common positions.  This limits their effectiveness when dealing with state government.   Assuming he wins, Governor Wolf will owe the industry nothing for his reelection.  Still, the industry provides a critical service at an unsettled time.  There is a lot that can be accomplished on both sides given any willingness to engage based on the new international and electoral realities.  There’s no time like the present.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

 

Marcellus Shale Update – 3.02.2018

Yesterday may have been the most instructive day ever to understand the current international situation involving natural gas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his State of the Nation address, bragged about “invincible” missiles that could carry nuclear warheads.  He showed videos of missiles raining down on Florida.  As he did so much of Europe was battered by two weather storms called “Storm Emma” and the “Beast from the East”.  Today is the coldest spring day in UK recorded history (I guess they consider March 1 spring over there).  Unfortunately they may have no heat.  Britain’s National Grid warned yesterday that it did not have enough natural gas to supply the country.

UK running out of gas, warns National Grid

UK weather: Armed Forces called in as death toll rises to 10 in coldest spring day on record

Britain has a lot of shale gas potential but it has not developed it, running into the same environmental objections that bedevil most of Europe.  We might have been able to help make up the shortfall, but our export capacity remains limited.  Now Britain freezes.   How many people will die in the UK because of their energy policies?

There are other reasons for Britain’s current situation, including the foolish shutting down last year of a natural gas storage facility at Rough, but the result is that Britain may turn in desperation to the same person that New England relies upon in times like these, Vladimir Putin.

Putin has been very busy.  Also yesterday, the Science, Space and Technology Committee of the US House of Representatives released a report detailing how Russia used Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to exacerbate tensions over American energy policy and climate change.  For example, Russians created a group called “Native Americans United” which put out an ad showing a young girl looking out over the prairie with the caption “Love Water Not Oil, Protect Our Mother, Stand with Standing Rock.”  This tension obviously benefitted Vladimir Putin.

In this country, gas prices remain so low that many of the suppliers are hurting badly.  As one of the producers told me yesterday, after fixed costs just about every place production is sold is negative.  In the very short term that’s good for the consumer.  In the long term that’s not.  Were more export terminals operating, the price could rise to a sustainable level, more gas could be sent overseas to break the energy vice grip of countries like Russia and the chances of gaining effective leverage over Russia and other rogue states would increase.

Since the Cold War we’ve had a debate over which is more important, soft power or hard power.  Here’s a tip for the “soft power’ proponents:  Soft Power works best when you have it.  Internationally, our current energy policy seems to be unilateral disarmament.  Again, that raises the possibility that the only way we can project force internationally and protect our allies and our vital interests is through hard power.  In English that means your sons and daughters and mine being sent overseas to fight.

When an “environmentalist” asks why you support hydraulic fracturing, you can answer very simply.  “I love my children.”