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SHALE ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: President Joe Biden and European Union leaders unveiled in Brussels today a much-anticipated initiative to team up on increasing natural gas supplies to the region to help displace those coming in from Russia, while promising the whole thing would tag right along with the green agendas of everyone involved.
But the dire energy situation EU members face and the course of action taken today and in recent weeks by leading EU economies compete with their climate change goals, frustrating environmental groups who want to see an approach more heavily favoring green energy.
Under the new strategy, the U.S. and European Commission are starting a “joint task force” to secure additional liquefied natural gas shipments to supplement the EU, where commissioners are currently proposing a swift filling up of gas stores before winter.
It puts a hard number of 15 billion cubic meters on the amount of additional LNG the task force will seek for the bloc this year, to be provided by the U.S. and other international partners, per a White House fact sheet. It also will seek an additional 50 bcm of U.S. LNG to the EU annually through 2030.
The announcement says it will also try to reduce greenhouse gas intensity of new gas infrastructure, for example by powering pipeline operations with green energy, and to promote more energy efficient technologies to reduce gas demand.
Biden said the approach with the EU “will occur in a way that is consistent — that is not in conflict with — the net zero goal that we share.”
Climate pushback: But green groups are arguing the new initiative and the West’s climate change goals don’t mesh.
Raphael Hanoteaux, senior policy advisor on gas transition at U.K.-based E3G said the new energy strategy is “a very expensive, short sighted security measure, not a long-term transition option.”
The announcement from the White House was light on particulars but acknowledged that new infrastructure would be built to support more LNG imports, something the administration had been opposing on the grounds that such assets would become stranded under the greener economy of the future.
Such new infrastructure “would take years to build and would operate for decades, far beyond a timeline compatible with meeting climate goals,” said Collin Rees, program manager for Oil Change International, in response to the announcement.
Jonathan Stern, who has represented the EU during the EU-Russia Gas Advisory Council and now works in Oxford University’s Institute for Energy Studies, made reference to the Germans’ decision during this wartime push for finding LNG alternatives to Russia to pick back up with construction of an LNG facility that had earlier been tabled.
“Germany has aggressive carbon reduction targets. Now, you're spending 2 billion euros to invest in a facility, which in order to pay off has got to run for 20 to 25 years,” Stern told Jeremy. “Now, how is that consistent with meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets?”
Stern said leaders are panicking about supplying energy to consumers and entire economies and that they’ve forgotten about climate change.
“Five months after COP 26 when we were all telling each other fossil fuels were finished,” he said, “and we basically had to get out of them as quickly as possible — and even more quickly than we thought before. Now we're running around saying, ‘Let's build new fossil fuel infrastructure.’ And by the way, let's go to all kinds of countries and say could you please give us more of these fossil fuels.”
One final thought: The U.S. and its partner countries will provide Europe with roughly the same amount of LNG as Russia did in 2021, according to the AP. But some have noted it’s a bit of a drop in the bucket, as LNG represents just 10% of Europe’s total Russian gas imports, which are largely delivered via pipeline.
Some industry officials also expressed concern about how to get the additional LNG to Europe––or how to distribute across Europe, absent a large system of pipelines. Though the U.S. has majorly stepped up its exports in recent years, many of its facilities are already operating at capacity, and new facilities are still in the planning stages, the AP reports. However, others noted that the U.S. still has opportunities to reroute its existing LNG supply.
“Most U.S. shipments already go to Europe, according to the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, … Even if all Europe’s facilities were operating at capacity, the amount of gas would likely be only about two-thirds of what Russia delivers through pipelines.”
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TOP HOUSE ENERGY REPUBLICAN RESPONDS: Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, praised BIden’s announcement while also imploring the U.S. to further ramp up its domestic production.
In an exclusive statement provided to Breanne, McMorris Rodgers urged Biden to “lift the oil and natural gas drilling moratorium on federal lands and waters, approve permits for pipelines and LNG export facilities, and end the regulatory uncertainty that is keeping our vast energy resources in the ground.”
“The administration must do more,” she said. Taking these steps “will strengthen our geopolitical power and help our allies diversify away from Russian supplies. We must come together around strong American leadership so Vladimir Putin can never again hold the world hostage over energy.”
MEANWHILE, IN UKRAINE: The International Atomic Energy Agency warned that Russian forces have been shelling Ukrainian checkpoints near the Chernobyl nuclear facility––a move that it said could potentially prevent further rotation of staff at the facility, which was seized by Russian troops late last month.
"Ukraine informed the [IAEA] today that Russian forces were shelling Ukrainian checkpoints in the city of Slavutych where many people working at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant live, putting them at risk and preventing further rotation of personnel to and from the site," IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement.
Ukraine’s state nuclear operator Energoatom said the Russian shelling is endangering “the homes and families of those operational personnel that ensure the nuclear and radiation safety” of the Chernobyl facility.
The news comes days after staffers at the plant were allowed to rotate out with other employees for the first time in four weeks––during which they worked at Russian gunpoint and under conditions of extreme fatigue and hunger. Also this week, Energoatom reported that it was unable to monitor radiation levels around the Exclusion Zone –– which it warned could cause radiation to rise “significantly” in the area and in nearby countries.
FERC TO RECONSIDER PIPELINE STATEMENTS AS DRAFTS: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is reconsidering its two recently adopted policy statements governing its approvals of gas infrastructure projects following a torrent of complaints from the oil and gas industry and Republicans.
FERC unanimously decided yesterday during its monthly open meeting to designate its revised pipeline certificate policy statement and interim greenhouse gas emissions policy statement as drafts, opening them up for comment through May.
Chairman Richard Glick, a Democrat, said the commission vote was designed to collect additional public input “in light of concerns that the policy statements created further confusion about the Commission’s approach to the siting of natural gas projects.”
Republican lawmakers, as well as the oil and gas industry, were supremely critical of FERC’s moving forward with the policy statements, which would have put additional environmental hurdles on pipeline projects via new emissions requirements and expanded the criteria when considering the effects of a pipeline on local populations.
Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin, who also opposed the policy statements, said in a statement he appreciated the “course correction” from FERC and said the commission must maintain “clear and predictable policies” for project developers.
Ranking Member John Barrasso, also especially critical of FERC’s new policy jaunt, said separately the vote yesterday was a good start but said the commission should altogether start over.
The biggest change: Notably, the commission decided that its two draft policy statements will not apply to pending project applications or to applications filed before the commission finalizes its guidance, whereas the initial rollout had them applying to pending and new projects.
That amendment was deemed “exceptionally big” by ClearView Energy Partners, which wrote in a note yesterday it “provide[s] certainty of a sort to projects currently pending before the Commission at least inasmuch that the new requirements do not apply now.”
BILL PROPOSES NEW MINING SCHOOL FUNDING: Speaking of Manchin and Barrasso, the duo put forward a bill yesterday that would create a grant program funding mining school recruiting, research, and demonstration projects and meant to strengthen the mining workforce.
The lawmakers said the U.S. needs a stronger mining industry in order to make renewable energy more widely available and make U.S. energy supplies more secure.
EU DISMISSES PUTIN RUBLE-FOR-GAS DEMAND: European officials are shrugging off Vladimir Putin’s demands that their countries pay for natural gas with the Russian ruble, the Washington Examiner’s Zach Halaschak reports.
“What we have learned so far is that there are fixed contracts everywhere, which include the currency in which payments are made,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during a press conference yesterday.
Putin had declared on Wednesday that “unfriendly” countries would have to pay with rubles for gas purchases.
Market speculators responded in kind and benchmark gas shot up after Putin’s comments before settling.
As of this writing, Dutch TTF gas is trading around less than half the $250 per megawatt hour rate at which the market closed on March 6.
MAJORITY WANTS MORE HOMEGROWN ENERGY PRODUCTION: POLL: Some 60% of Americans want to see more domestic energy production in response to high gasoline prices, according to a new poll from the Consumer Energy Alliance.
Meanwhile, 63% said the Biden administration is doing too little to lower gasoline prices.
Gasoline prices are down this week over last on an national average per-gallon basis, but they remain at their highest on record.
The Biden administration has pressed producers to extract more oil, and the industry generally has said they intend to but have blamed various culprits for standing in the way, including supply chain issues, trouble getting workers, and the White House’s policies. Uncertainty generated by the latter in particular has made financing new drilling difficult, industry groups and oil executives have argued.
Total oil production has remained pretty steady at around 11.6 million barrels per day all year long, per numbers from the Energy Information Administration.
DUTCH BANK WILL HALT ITS FUNDING OF NEW OIL AND GAS PROJECTS: The energy chief of the Dutch bank ING said yesterday that it will no longer finance new oil and gas projects––making it the biggest bank yet to commit to such a move, and ramping up pressure on other global financial institutions to do the same. Reuters reports: ING energy chief Michiel de Haan said the bank “would not finance projects approved after Dec. 31, 2021 but would still fund energy firms, although ING is already phasing down financing to the oil and gas industry and scaling up lending for renewables.”
"We can make the decision to discontinue our involvement in new greenfields, but we (will) continue our existing involvement in oil and gas across the world because we need to meet those other two targets,” he told Reuters of the decision.
Politico Russian spies indicted in worldwide hacks of energy industry, including Kansas nuclear plant
AP European atom-smashers ponder response to Russia’s invasion
E&E News Calif. takes first moves to limit ‘Erin Brockovich’ chemical
Reuters EU's biggest economy Germany blocked Russian coal ban, sources say
Washington Post Sen. Manchin launches new push for ‘all of the above’ energy bill
MONDAY | MARCH 28
10:00 a.m. Members of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, Maritime, Freight, and Ports will hold a field hearing in Detroit on the future of the auto industry and semiconductor chips.
TUESDAY | MARCH 29
10:00 a.m. 2141 Rayburn The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on oversight of the FBI’s cyber division, where questions will almost certainly include the threat of Russian cyberattacks on U.S. critical infrastructure.
THURSDAY | MARCH 31
10:00 a.m. 366 Dirksen The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing about domestic critical mineral supply chains.