NREL’s new chief talks about the path to a carbon-neutral future — Denver Business Journal

Click here to read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

“We need to innovate and do research on all different forms of energy,” [Martin Keller] said. “It would be a mistake to write off any — as long as the energy is carbon neutral. That’s the biggest thing, [because] burning fossil fuels is changing the environment.”

Keller took the reins at NREL, part of the network of laboratories run by the U.S. Department of Energy, at the end of November 2015. He hails from a sister DOE facility in Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he served as the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences.

He succeeds Dan Arvizu, who announced plans in March 2015 to retire from the lab after more than 10 years as its director.

Battle lines form over oil shale — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

As my friend Ed Quillen once said, “Oil shale has been the ‘Next big thing’ in Colorado for over a hundred years.”

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The White River meanders through Utah on its way to joining the Green River, flowing slowly through land on which an energy company hopes to develop its oil shale holdings.

Opponents and supporters of the proposal by Enefit American Oil have drawn familiar lines in the sandstone of the Colorado Plateau.

Opponents contend that the project threatens the local environment and that development could unbalance the global climate.

Supporters say the project would prop up local economies in two states still reeling from the fall in oil prices that slowed production and put a virtual halt to exploration.

Enefit is seeking a right of way across federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, which listed the route as a preferred alternative in its environmental study of the request.

Oil shale development is a greater threat to the atmosphere than other fossil-fuel development, said John Weisheit of Living Rivers.

“It’s not a contribution to society,” Weisheit said. “It’s a detriment to society.”

More like a lifeline to struggling northwest Colorado and northeast Utah, said Lannie Massey, natural resource specialist for Rio Blanco County.

“This Enefit deal is a good deal for everybody involved,” Massey said. “It would lessen our dependence on foreign sources” of energy and pump new life into the moribund energy industry.

Enefit’s project has attracted an array of opposition, including the Grand Canyon Trust, Earthjustice, Western Resource Advocates, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, as well as Living Rivers.

The northwest Colorado town of Rangely stands to benefit from Enefit’s project because of the town’s proximity. Rangely is about 30 miles from the area via Rio Blanco County Road 23, which could connect to Dragon Road in Utah, and then into the project site.

The project is expected to require about 2,000 jobs, which would be “a huge boost for this area and for this region, eastern Utah and western Colorado,” said Tim Webber, executive director of the Western Rio Blanco County Metro Recreation and Park District.

Bonanza, Utah, and Rangely are the nearest towns and they sit 20 miles apart as the crow flies, 28 miles apart by road. The rough-and-tumble territory in between is pockmarked with drillpads and Gilsonite mines that cut deep, straight-edge swaths into the earth.

Enefit’s oil shale project sits on private land as well as state land set aside for development to benefit Utah schools and other institutions.

Enefit is planning to mine oil shale under 27,243 acres, most it privately held.

The project under consideration by the BLM is a utility corridor over federal land that Enefit would use to extend utilities to serve the project, which projects production of 50,000 barrels of oil per day for as many as 30 years.

Enefit is planning to build three pipelines, expand an existing road and run a 138-kilovolt power line to the project area 12 miles southeast of Bonanza.

“I fly over that area a lot,” said Bruce Gordon of Aspen-based EcoFlight. The corridor land is “relatively pristine” with good habitat for animals, Gordon said.

The area is “pretty industrialized and disturbed already,” said Enefit Chief Executive Officer Rikki Hrenko-Browning.

Enefit could develop its private holdings without crossing federal land, but that would require a constant stream of heavy trucks and other heavy equipment, resulting in reduced air quality, the BLM said in its draft environmental impact statement.

The BLM needs to better understand the oil that would be produced by Enefit, as well as take into account the potential effects on water quality and of spent shale, said Anne Mariah Tapp of the Grand Canyon Trust.

The possible effects of a spill of oil into the White River or Evacuation Creek — and how to clean it up — have gone unstudied, Tapp said.

“Water quality is as important as water quantity,” Tapp said.

The BLM also should have a better idea of what will happen with 23 million tons of spent shale produced every year, Tapp said.

Spent shale — as the rock left over after the process is referred to — contains poisons, such as arsenic, as well as minerals, such as lithium.

Enefit is planning a “zero-liquid discharge” process in which all water to be used will be captured, treated and reused, said Hrenko-Browning. [ed. emphasis mine]

Plans also call for Enefit to have ongoing reclamation in areas of surface mining, Hrenko-Browning said.

Once the BLM completes its process, Enefit will seek permits from the state, including the state mining permit.

Rangely and western Rio Blanco County are working hard to diversify the regional economy, said Massey.

There is more at stake than that, however, Massey said.

Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contain the largest oil shale resources in the world.

“If we can get somebody to commit money and improve the retort process,” Massey said, “it would be a benefit to all of us in the oil shale region.”

Business voices come out in support of Clean Power Plan — GreenBiz #keepitintheground

Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

From GreenBiz (Barbara Grady):

Tech titans Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon as well as global brand companies Ikea, Mars, Adobe and Blue Shield Blue Cross Massachusetts told a U.S. court Friday that they need the federal Clean Power Plan for economic reasons.

In two separate Amici Curiae briefs filed in U.S. Circuit Court supporting the EPA’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent, the corporate giants said without a “national carbon mitigation plan,” they face “undesirable business risk,” energy price volatility and higher costs.

With these arguments, the businesses seem to have flipped prospects for the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate change policy, which only a month ago looked dim after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to delay its enforcement.

Since the eight companies collectively employ about 1 million people, account for nearly $2 trillion in market capitalization and are major energy consumers — the tech companies alone use 10 million megawatt hours of electricity a year — they have clout.

Their briefs refute some claims made by 27 states that are plaintiffs in the State of West Virginia, et al vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency case challenging the Clean Power Plan as an overreach of federal authority by the EPA in a way that would harm jobs and raise electricity prices.

Among the companies’ most interesting refutations? Their expansion plans depend partly on how they can procure low-carbon electricity.

@USGS: Map of Assessed Continuous (Unconventional) Oil Resources in the U.S., 2014

The truth behind oil shale’s water demands — Anne-Mariah Tapp and David M. Abelson #ColoradoRiver

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Anne-Mariah Tapp and David M. Abelson):

As the new Congress ramps up in the coming weeks, energy policy will quickly top the list of priorities. Debates over the Keystone Pipeline, natural gas exports, and climate change may dominate, but they won’t be the only issues demanding Congress’ attention. In the West, the link between energy development and water use has never been more dire. And for the Colorado River Basin’s 40 million residents —and the water they depend on — a critical piece of legislation on the docket is the PIONEERS Act.

The PIONEERS Act seeks to jumpstart the non-existent oil shale industry in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for private gain at the expense of Colorado River Basin water resources. Oil shale, the poor cousin of the shale oil and fracking boom, is technically feasible to extract, but in 100 years of dogged attempts by the federal government and the oil industry, extracting it has never turned a profit. Now provisions in the PIONEERS Act attempt to improve the economics by providing federal subsidies in the form of cheap public land and below-market royalties.

In securing passage of the PIONEERS Act in the past three sessions of Congress (each time the bill has been thwarted in the Senate), Colorado Reps. Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton have maintained that oil shale development, should the technologies be successfully commercialized, would require little water. This claim seems to be based solely on public assurances made by the oil industry. However, recent water court filings by oil shale developers now cast doubt upon these assurances, and it’s time for Lamborn and Tipton to reconsider their endorsement of the industry.

In recent months, oil shale industry leaders Chevron Oil and ExxonMobil have undercut Lamborn and Tipton’s lead talking point. Chevron filed a lengthy report in Colorado water court showing that the company’s proposed oil shale development activities alone would require up to 125,000 acre-feet of water per year. That’s enough to supply more than half of Denver Water’s 2.3 million customers. ExxonMobil is seeking rights to even more water than Chevron, saying oil shale’s water demands “are anticipated to be higher than that of other sectors.” Other companies across the Colorado River Basin are also pursuing water rights to support oil shale operations.

For those of us who actually depend on Colorado River water to live, from the headwaters in Colorado to the delta in California, these projected water demands are alarming. By 2050, when oil shale supporters predict a mature industry might flourish, the competition for water could be extreme, pitting vital agriculture and recreation economies against a burgeoning population and water-intensive energy demands. If oil shale indeed develops at a large-scale, the family farm — the bedrock of our rural communities and a critical economic driver for our region — will face a full-court press from industry for water rights.

Even without oil shale development, water providers throughout the Colorado River Basin will be hard-pressed to meet existing and future demand. Colorado’s Water Plan, published in December 2014, indicates that by 2050, the gap between water availability and demand will be roughly 500,000 acre-feet, more water than the cities of Denver, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque collectively use in a year. Oil shale gets scant attention in this analysis, but developing these deposits would increase the gap and further strain water supplies.

As James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, has noted, “No single issue will have a more direct impact on Colorado’s future than our ability to successfully and collaboratively manage our life-giving water.” This challenge is not unique to Colorado. States throughout the West are grappling with complex supply and demand questions.

As Congress takes up the PIONEERS Act and considers whether to fast-track oil shale development in the Colorado River Basin, it’s time to examine supporters’ key talking point that oil shale won’t use much water. We must remember the court filings and hold our elected officials accountable. There is too much riding on the myth that oil shale wouldn’t require much of a far more precious resource: water.

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Shale industry scales back potential in region — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #ColoradoRiver

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

An oil shale industry in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming is likely to be about one-third the size it had been envisioned, an industry association said. Instead of a 1.5-million barrel-per-day industry, the more likely scenario is a 500,000-barrel-per-day industry, according to estimates by the National Oil Shale Association. The estimates were dramatically reduced “in light of a more pragmatic view of what an industry might look like in 50 years or so,” the association said, in an estimate that also noted that oil shale production would demand less water than had been previously believed.

The United States in 2013 consumed 6.89 billion barrels of petroleum products or 18.89 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The oil shale association’s estimate is based on production of 225,000 barrels per day from in-situ means, or heating shale deep below the surface; 200,000 barrels per day from retorting shale on the surface; and 75,000 barrels per day from modified techniques, such as heating it in an earthen capsule, which is left in place.

Additional information about water demands of each technique sharply lowered the association’s estimate of water use from its 2013 estimate of 1.7 barrels of water per barrel of oil. Depending on approach, production from oil shale could require between 0.7 barrels of water per barrel of oil to 1.2 barrels of water per barrel of oil. Production of 500,000 barrels per day could demand between 16,400 acre feet to 28,900 acre feet of water per year…

The reduction in the anticipated size of an oil shale industry is the result of new information that came to light this year, the association said.

“Projects have matured, and some developers have taken a new look into technologies that dramatically reduce water needs,” the association said. “However, estimates are still preliminary and may change as projects reach commercialization.”

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.