Daily Archives: August 30, 2011

An EPA Moratorium

Obama has the power to delay new rules that will shut down 8% of all U.S. power generation.

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Since everyone has a suggestion or three about what President Obama can do to get the economy cooking again, here’s one of ours: Immediately suspend the Environmental Protection Agency’s bid to reorganize the U.S. electricity industry, and impose a moratorium on EPA rules at least until hiring and investment rebound for an extended period.

The EPA is currently pushing an unprecedented rewrite of air-pollution rules in an attempt to shut down a large portion of the coal-fired power fleet. Though these regulations are among the most expensive in the agency’s history, none were demanded by the late Pelosi Congress. They’re all the result of purely bureaucratic discretion under the Clean Air Act, last revised in 1990.

As it happens, those 1990 amendments contain an overlooked proviso that would let Mr. Obama overrule EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson‘s agenda. With an executive order, he could exempt all power plants “from compliance with any standard or limitation” for two years, or even longer using rolling two-year periods. All he has to declare is “that the technology to implement such standard is not available and that it is in the national security interests of the United States to do so.”

Both criteria are easily met. Most important, the EPA’s regulatory cascade is a clear and present danger to the reliability and stability of the U.S. power system and grid. The spree affects plants that provide 40% of U.S. baseload capacity in the U.S., and almost half of U.S. net generation. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, which is charged with ensuring the integrity of the power supply, reported this month in a letter to the Senate that 81 gigawatts of generating capacity is “very likely” or “likely” to be subtracted by 2018 amid coal plant retirements and downgrades.

That’s about 8% of all U.S. generating capacity. Merely losing 56 gigawatts—a midrange scenario in line with FERC and industry estimates—is the equivalent of wiping out all power generation for Florida and Mississippi.

In practice, this will mean blackouts and rolling brownouts, as well as spiking rates for consumers. If a foreign power or terrorists wiped out 8% of U.S. capacity, such as through a cyber attack, it would rightly be considered an act of war. The EPA is in effect undermining the national security concept of “critical infrastructure”—assets essential to the functioning of society and the economy that Mr. Obama has an obligation to protect.

He would also be well within the law to declare that the EPA’s rules are technologically infeasible. Later this year, for example, the EPA will release regulations requiring utilities to further limit mercury and other hazardous pollutants. Full compliance will be required by 2015, merely 36 months after the final rule is public, and plants that can’t be upgraded in time will be required to shut down.

Yet this is nearly impossible to achieve. Duke Energy commented to the EPA that its average lead time for retrofitting scrubbers was 52 months, including the design, purchase and installation of equipment and the vagaries of the environmental permitting process. For Southern Co., another big utility, it was 54 months, over 16 scrubber systems. Filter systems usually take anywhere from 34 to 48 months end to end.

The environmental regulatory system is so rigid that once a rule is in motion it is almost impossible to stop or roll back in a way that can withstand scrutiny in the courts. Mr. Obama allowed Ms. Jackson to begin the process, but we rehearse these details to show that he has the legal authority to minimize her damage. An executive order would not make these rules more rational or change them in any way. All it would do is delay them, giving businesses more time to prepare and to amortize the costs over a longer time.

The larger issue is whether the Administration’s green campaign is more important than economic growth. The EPA’s own lowball cost estimate for the mercury rule is $11 billion annually, though the capital expenditures to meet the increasingly strict burden will be far higher. That investment could be put to more productive uses than mothballing coal assets and replacing them with more expensive sources like natural gas. With nearly a tenth of America out of work, $11 billion year after year adds up.

We don’t expect Mr. Obama to take our advice and tell his regulators to cool it, but no one should believe the excuse that his hands are tied. Whatever he decides will speak volumes about his real economic priorities.

Original Article

New Frontiers: the attention turns to some up-and-coming plays

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If 2008 was the Year of the Shales, 2011 is shaping up to be the Year of Liquids-Rich Plays–and there are still four months to go.

A major recurring theme in second-quarter conference calls was oil companies’ news of positions amassed or initial test wells drilled in new shale and unconventional fields containing oil and natural gas liquids.

Plays such as the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, Mississippi Lime, Lower Smackover/Brown Dense and Utica shales–both in Ohio and to the west in Michigan–are lining up to be the emerging fields of 2012 and 2013, analysts said.

“We’ll see a movement in some of these plays and it’s not going to slow down–if anything, it will be a pretty tight market for services, fracturing crews and pipeline access,” Michael Bodino, head of energy research for Global Hunter Securities, said.

Arguably, the Utica Shale was the showpiece of the quarter, particularly because its cachet resembles that of Northwest Louisiana’s giant Haynesville Shale, which took Wall Street by storm when Chesapeake Energy trumpeted it in March 2008.

Chesapeake again took the lead in showcasing the Utica late last month, relating the news that the play economically “looks similar, but is likely superior to the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas…because of the quality of the rock and location of the asset” near eastern US population centers, CEO Aubrey McClendon said.

Like the Eagle Ford, which stands out as one of the US’ most sizzling shale plays at present, the Utica has oil and “dry” natural gas and “wet gas” (gas liquids) windows, he said.

Jeff Ventura, chief operating officer at Range Resources, which pioneered the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, said his company already has drilled two Utica wells. At least on its acreage, Utica is at the bottom of a pancake stack of three play zones, with the Upper Devonian Shale on top and the Marcellus in the middle. The Upper Devonian shales contain about as much gas in place as the Marcellus zone, Ventura said, adding that the Marcellus gas field has been called one of the US’ largest.

Both Range and Chesapeake also have scored success in Northern Oklahoma’s Mississippi Lime play. “In the past year it has become more clear that we have a major play on our hands,” said McClendon, with Chesapeake holding 1.1 million acres there, running six rigs, aiming for 10 rigs by year-end and 30 to 40 by end-2014 or 2015.

Range’s Ventura suggested the play, found at relatively shallow depths of 5,000-6,000 feet, is also highly profitable; it boasts a 100% rate of return at $100/b oil, and he added that even at $90/b it yields a roughly 80% return. Range, which has completed seven horizontal wells, sees its main near-term activity there as nailing the optimal lateral length and well spacing.

Ventura said liquids make up 70% of a well’s recoverable hydrocarbons. McClendon estimated 415,000 barrels of oil equivalent per well, at an average finding cost to date of roughly $11/b, which he called “very, very attractive results.”

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Meanwhile, in its late July conference call, Southwestern Energy CEO Steven Mueller said his company has acquired 460,000 net acres in an unconventional horizontal play targeting the Lower Smackover Brown Dense formation.

“This happens to be almost the exact same number of acres we had when we announced the Fayetteville Shale play back in August 2004,” Mueller said. That news kicked off an industry rush to that gas play, Mueller said.

But having reviewed the results of more than 70 wells that penetrated the Brown Dense zone, “we currently have more data about [it] than we had on the Fayetteville Shale when it was announced,” he said.

Mueller said the Brown Dense is an oil reservoir in Northern Louisiana and Southern Arkansas, at 8,000-11,000 foot depths and below the Haynesville Shale which is also a gas play. Brown Dense is “extensive over a large area and ranges in thickness from 300 to 530 feet,” he said.

Southwestern plans its first Smackover/Brown Dense well in Columbia County Arkansas, before the end of September, with a second well later in the year in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana.

In addition, Goodrich Petroleum in early August said it had begun drilling the Buda Lime, beneath the Eagle Ford. The small company averaged a respectable 900 boe/d oil from those wells, against 800 boe/d from its 11 Eagle Ford wells so far.

Rob Turnham, Goodrich chief operating officer, also touted the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, along the horizontal Mississippi-Louisiana border, where both Encana and Devon Energy have large positions and are drilling wells. Tuscaloosa “has a lot of similarities to the Eagle Ford–similar permeability and porosity” of the rocks, he said. Goodrich will begin drilling in early 2012.

He said nine older wells in the play have flowed oil but “none of them have been properly stimulated.” If the vertical wells were to be taken horizontally several thousand feet, fractured with current technology, and properly stimulated, “we’re very optimistic,” said Turnham.–Starr Spencer in Houston

Original Article

Job loss: Obama to blame

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By JOSHUA SEGALL

The question looming in everyone’s mind is, “Where are the jobs?” The answer to this question appears to be China. Last week, President Barack Obama’s jobs czar, CEO and Chairman of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt, announced that he was launching a joint venture between GE and China. This partnership will send medical and aviation manufacturing jobs to China, rather than keep them here in the United States. This further adds to the poor choices Obama and his administration have made when “attempting” to reduce the unemployment rate.

When Obama took office in 2008, he ran on the idea of change. With an economy in the slums and a global recession on the brink, Obama was voted in to transform the way the United States operates. Shortly after he was elected, he went on the record to state that “we need to act with the urgency this moment demands to save or create at least 2.5 million jobs so that the nearly 2 million Americans who’ve lost them know that they have a future.” At the time the unemployment rate was at 5.8 percent.

Now we are well into 2011, and the unemployment rate is 9.1 percent. The economy is still failing and jobs haven’t been created. Many people immediately turn the blame over to President George W. Bush. The truth is that the unemployment rate only rose from 4.7 percent in 2001 to 5.8 percent in 2008. That’s a total of only 1.1 percent. Obama is not even a full three quarters of the way into his first term, yet the unemployment rate has gone up 3.3 percent.

The unemployment rate only accounts for people who have actively sought work within a prior four-week period. People who are unemployed but do not actively seek employment are known as discouraged workers. This group of people, believed to be more than one million, do not factor into the unemployment rate.

To further add to our problems, Obama does not have a solution. In 2009, as part of his American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, he announced his new energy team and boasted about “shovel-ready projects all across the country.” He repeatedly made mention of the term “shovel-ready” and claimed to have met with governors that all had projects that were ready to break ground. In 2011, when asked about these “shovel-ready” jobs, Obama laughed and said “shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.”

One of the biggest issues with job creation today is the regulations imposed on employers. Since the Obama administration has taken office, employers now have to be compliant with a number of different regulations that include the new healthcare laws and newer Environmental Protection Agency restrictions. Everyone from the family farmer to the small business to the large corporation is being hindered by these regulations. As a result, companies are fearful of hiring because of the uncertain future and the impact on their businesses.

The best thing that Obama and his administration could do today is listen to the companies that do the hiring. There are a number of plans that have been introduced by members of Congress, such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) who presented a bill declaring a moratorium on major regulations until unemployment drops below 7.7 percent.

The only way to get the job market growing again is to encourage businesses to hire. Offering incentives to businesses is key to promoting job growth. While the president might think he offered hiring incentives, American companies are proving him wrong. It is time for Obama to honor the promises he made and get more Americans back to work.

Joshua Segall is a management information systems senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

Original Article

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