Monthly Archives: January 2012

Improving New York’s Proposed Hydraulic Fracturing Regulations

Around the country, states are taking a serious look at their regulations to manage shale gas development.  New York has the potential to be a leader among these states. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) believes that strong regulations and aggressive enforcement is critical to protecting public health and the environment from high-volume hydraulic fracturing and other hydrocarbon extraction activities in New York State. To that end, we have submitted detailed comments on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)’s proposed rules and permitting conditions for hydraulic fracturing. The NYSDEC can put New York at the forefront of safe and clean shale gas development by implementing our suggestions in several critical areas:

1)      Chemical Disclosure: Full public disclosure is rapidly becoming the industry norm across the country, but the proposed NYSDEC disclosure rules for chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process only covers chemicals with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), thus failing to capture perhaps half or more of the chemicals used. This is especially problematic because MSDS only explore hazards in occupational settings and do not consider implications for public health or the environment. Further, the proposed rule only requires disclosure of additive products proposed to be used in hydraulic fracturing, as opposed to the chemicals actually used during the hydraulic fracturing process. EDF feels strongly that operators should disclose all hydraulic fracturing chemicals used on a well-by-well basis, posted on a searchable, publically accessible website.

2)      Well Construction: Properly constructed, tested and maintained wells are critical to protecting New York’s precious groundwater and surface water aquifers from contamination by drilling fluid, wastewater and natural gas seepage. The proposed well construction regulations and permitting conditions need improvement to meet industry best practice standards. Furthermore, some of the proposed rules represent potential safety hazards for well pad workers. A model regulatory framework EDF, and others, are developing could be used to greatly improve NYDEC’s proposed well construction regulations.  

3)      GHG Emissions/Methane Leakage: EDF is a leading advocate of strict standards on limiting methane emissions from natural gas production. Methane is a pernicious greenhouse gas, many more times more powerful than carbon dioxide.  To reduce the peak warming and improve air quality, it is critical to minimize the amount of methane vented or flared at the production site or leaked during storage and transmission. We strongly urge the NYSDEC to impose specific Green Completion and other emission-reducing requirements on operators, and to formulate hard emissions targets that provide incentives for operators to reduce methane leakage even further.

4)      Wastewater: Hydraulic fracturing produces huge volumes of potentially toxic and radioactive wastewater. New York recognizes this problem but does not seriously address the lack of capacity for processing or safely storing hydraulic fracturing waste materials within the state. Current technology does not allow for safe, cost-effective purification of hydraulic fracturing wastewater at treatment centers for re-introduction into the water system, and should be banned. Insofar as it appears that the final disposition of the bulk of the wastewater produced in New York will be trucked out of state to deep injection wells, the proposed regulations and permitting conditions must grapple with this expensive and perhaps unsustainable practice. Finally, since wastewater recycling will likely be the dominant treatment option undertaken by shale gas operators in New York, this practice needs to be more thoughtfully and transparently regulated.

5)      Phase-in: Even with the best rules on the books, it will take time to hire and train the necessary staff to implement and enforce the rules properly.  New York is essentially building a regulatory program from scratch.  EDF believes the NYSDEC should learn how to walk before it can run.  Our suggestion is that New York phase in the regulatory program region by region.  In this way, the state can be sure that the pace of drilling activity will not outpace its ability to adequately administer the regulations.  So, too, this phase-in approach will allow the state to acquire valuable experience in step-wise fashion. The key is not doing it quickly, but doing it correctly.

These and other adjustments to the proposed rules and permitting conditions are necessary to protect public health and the environment in New York. Shale gas extraction can be made safe through strong regulations and aggressive enforcement to protect communities. EDF is committed to working with the NYSDEC on these issues to produce the most responsible hydraulic fracturing regulatory framework in the nation.

EDF’s full comments on New York’s hydraulic fracturing regulations are available here.

Posted in Natural Gas, New York / Tagged , | Read 6 Responses

State Of The Union Address: A Mixed Bag On Natural Gas

In President Obama’s State of the Union address last night, he laid out his plans for the expanded role that natural gas will play in the future. The President stated:

“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use.”

I am pleased to see a commitment to the full disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals, but this is only the first step in getting the rules right for natural gas. As we discussed back in November, EDF President Fred Krupp sat on the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (Subcommittee), which provided strong recommendations for strengthening environmental management in the shale gas industry and developing this abundant energy source in ways that safeguard public health and the environment. 

I would have liked to have seen the President speak directly to implementing the Subcommittee’s recommendations, beginning with the Department of the Interior (DOI). Simply committing to the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals isn’t enough. The recommendations included strict requirements for everything from well construction and the reduction or elimination of methane venting to groundwater protection to methane leakage and emissions flares, among others.  These recommendations are ready to be implemented, and DOI has an opportunity to demonstrate best practice in its leasing and oversight of unconventional natural gas development on federal lands.

The jury is out on whether states will embrace the Subcommittee’s recommendations and it will take a concerted effort on the part of organizations like EDF and concerned citizens to demand swift action to improve the quality and effectiveness of state regulations.  Implementation of the Subcommittee’s recommendations at the state level is a good place to start and some states are beginning to take a lead role.  For example, on the issue of disclosure, Colorado recently set the bar for requiring the full disclosure of all chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing by making this information available on a searchable database. On the other hand, states like New York have proposed weaker requirements, asking companies to disclose only half of the proposed additive products instead of the chemicals actually used in the hydraulic fracturing treatment. For these reasons, it is crucial that the DOI disclosure requirements set a leading example that will influence states to do better.  The DOI should start with Colorado, but can do even better.

Last night, the President demonstrated his commitment to domestic energy production through natural gas development and said that “America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.” The federal government and the states have a shared responsibility to ensure that our air, land and water are safe wherever hydraulically fractured wells are drilled.

Posted in Natural Gas, Washington, DC / Comments are closed

Shutting Down Dirty Coal

Source: Cleanwater

EDF helped write another chapter in the history book on polluting coal generation this week.   Along with our partners, we announced a settlement with North Carolina-based Duke Energy that will legally require the utility to retire more than 1,600 megawatts of coal-fired generation.

The retiring plants represent about 4.5 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and over 5,000 tons of nitrogen dioxide (NOx) annually.  People who live near or downwind of one of those plants have reason to celebrate.

Retiring the oldest, dirtiest and least efficient facilities requires Duke Energy to head toward cleaner generation and modernization of its fleet.  That’s good news for everyone, considering Duke’s proposed merger with Progress Energy will create the largest utility in the country.

Posted in General / Comments are closed

Getting ‘Smart’ About Your Energy Use Just Got Easier

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF California Dream 2.0 Blog.

Source: Green Button

On Wednesday, I attended a presentation of the Green Button at EMC2, hosted by Silicon Valley Leadership Group, OSIsoft and SolarCity, and moderated by Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Tech Officer and Advisor to the President.  

In essence, Green Button is literally a green button on utility customer interface websites that customers can click to instantly download their historical energy use data in a simple, standardized electronic format.  Customers can then upload the data into software applications, or give it to consultants that provide services such as identifying how to save money by using less energy. 

All of the big California utilities – SCE, SDG&E and PG&E – have embraced the concept and will offer the Green Button to their millions of customers. There is a hope that utilities across the country will also adopt it.

One presenter observed that Americans, on average, waste 20% of the energy that they purchase. This creates a huge opportunity to save money on energy and help to protect the environment by avoiding demand for energy generated by dirty sources, including coal-fired power plants.

Yesterday’s event revealed what can be accomplished when software innovators, government leaders and utilities focus on a common goal. Chopra is widely recognized as an IT innovator in government and he challenged the utility industry to develop access to consumer data in September 2011. Now Green Button is a fully operational, widely embraced standard that will provide a buffet of energy use data for hungry software application developers. 

Testimonials were provided by up-and-coming CEOs in the energy sector, including oPower, Tendril, Lucid Design Group and Simple Energy.  Each company demonstrated how Green Button will drive innovations in energy use software applications.  For example, Tendril announced that its platform, Tendril Connect, will “connect utilities and energy service providers, consumers and app developers to achieve smarter energy usage.”

One question I was left with was, “just how green is the Green Button?” Currently, only the color pallet is green; no pollution information (such as greenhouse gas emissions) is associated with the energy use data. 

While Dr. David Wollman, Deputy Director of Smart Grid & Cyber-Physical Systems, and Manager, Smart Grid Standards and Research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), indicated that the Green Button standards do have accommodations for emissions information, there will need to be positive pressure to fully develop that piece of the button. 

And that’s where EDF and you can come in.  We need to encourage efforts to rigorously link emissions information with energy use, in both time and place.      

As part of EDF’s smart grid work, we are working with utilities, regulatory agencies and third parties in California and across the country to ensure that innovators have access to an emerging and competitive utility market.  Access to standardized energy use data is an essential piece.  Why?  So they can provide consumers with new tools that help them better understand and manage their energy use, which can save money, cut pollution and help protect the planet.

Posted in California, Energy Efficiency, Grid Modernization / Read 3 Responses

EDF Honored As An Innovative Leader Actively Making A Difference In The Clean Energy Sector

EDF got thrilling news today from Abu Dhabi (home to Masdar, one of the world’s first smart grid pilots): Zayed Future Energy Prize announced that Environmental Defense Fund received its $500,000 second runner-up award in the Small-to-Medium Size Enterprises (SME) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) category for our impact, long-term vision, leadership and innovation in renewable energy and sustainability.  Carbon Disclosure Project received the $1.5 million prize in the NGO/SME category and Orb Energy received the $1 million first runner-up award.

Source: Zayed Future Energy Prize

Power generation is the source of 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  Over the next two decades, the U.S. will invest two trillion dollars to replace our aging, inefficient electricity infrastructure — but there is no guarantee that this investment will move ahead in ways that maximize environmental benefit and secure the clean, low-carbon energy system we need to avoid a climate catastrophe.  Indeed, a recent International Energy Agency report warns that “without a bold change of policy direction [in the next five years], the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system.”

Decisions being made now on energy and infrastructure investments will make — or break — the path to climate stability, meaning we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity right now to revolutionize how we generate, distribute and use electricity. 

This award will help us ensure that the smart grid will also be a green grid, one that increases efficiencies across the entire system, is open to innovation and new market entrants and intelligent enough to enable far greater penetration of clean energy and electric vehicles in the U.S., and ultimately throughout the world.  It will also accelerate our work in energy efficiency to create a vibrant market for energy savings by tearing down barriers to private capital investment and showing companies how they can improve their bottom line by reducing energy waste.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Grid Modernization / Comments are closed

Demand Response: A Key Component In Texas’ Electricity Market. Why Isn’t The State Taking Advantage Of It?

On Monday, the Texas Senate Business and Commerce Committee took up the critical issue of the impact of extreme drought conditions on electric generation capacity and state officials’ plans to respond to those risks.   A number of important issues and policy solutions were raised, from on-bill financing of energy efficiency to renewable energy to send the right ‘market signals’ to incentivize the construction of new power plants.  Public Utility Commission (PUC) Chair Donna Nelson singled out, in particular, the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy goals.  These policies have helped reduce pollution, saved customers money and have the added benefit of reducing our dependence on water for electricity production.

Another important part of the solution discussed was raised by a number of panelists: demand response (aka load management).  The ability of end-use customers to reduce their use of electricity in response to power grid needs or economic signals has helped the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) avoid rolling blackouts and, in other regions of the country, it has helped markets avoid the need for new capacity.  As ERCOT CEO Trip Doggett and PUC Chair Nelson pointed out in their testimony, demand response is a market competitive resource that uses no water and, as such, it may prove to be a valuable resource in view of the state’s record drought. 

The Texas Capacity Crunch – Obstacles and Opportunities
The historic drought of 2010-2011 has put Texas’ conventional power plants at risk, threatening a return of the rolling blackouts caused by extreme winter conditions just a year ago.  State Climatologist, Perry appointee John Nielsen-Gammon says, “Statistically we are more likely to see a third year of drought.” 

At the same time, ERCOT faces a challenging capacity crunch caused largely by “low natural gas prices, an influx of low marginal cost wind power, increased wholesale market efficiencies, low wholesale power prices, tight credit markets” and other issues according to TXU Energy.  With limited ability to invest new capital given the current market conditions, and over 11,000 MW of power dependent on water sources at historically low levels, Texas needs to tap into resources that can be deployed rapidly and require less capital and much less water.

Demand Response – Low Cost, Zero Water Resource
Fortunately Texas has ample resources to meet these needs with demand response.  If allowed to participate fully in Texas’ energy markets as it does in other regions, demand response can benefit customers and increase grid reliability.  Unfortunately Texas continues to lag behind other states and regions, which have seen market-competitive demand response grow rapidly as market barriers have been removed. 

    • The definition of “demand response” is “end-use customers reducing their use of electricity in response to power grid needs or economic signals from a competitive wholesale market.”
    • The potential for cost competitive demand response is tremendous – according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Texas could add as much as 19 GW in capacity by 2019 if we open up our electric market to allow customers to compete alongside generators.

Texas currently is among the lowest states in terms of load management, despite having the highest potential by far according to FERC and the Brattle Group. 

Source: FERC

Why Does Texas Lag the Nation in Demand Response?

  • In 2011, demand response amounted to 9% of the PJM’s (a grid operator in the Mid-Atlantic/Midwest) system peak demand, greatly benefitting customers and improving reliability. 
  • At ERCOT, despite great potential, demand response only amounted to just over 2% of peak demand, limited by unnecessary market barriers. 
  • Texas leads the nation in smart meter deployment, intended by the legislature to “facilitate demand response initiatives.”  Why is ERCOT so far behind?

Market Barriers Prevent Customers from Competing in ERCOT

  • ERCOT’s legacy demand response program is capped at 1150 MW and is effectively limited to large industrials within ancillary services markets.
  • ERCOT’s Emergency Reliability Service is the only program in the market that allows any customer to participate if they qualify.  The program is limited in scope (it can only be called on twice per year) and to date has been unable to reach the original goal of 500 MW.  Despite these limitations, the program helped avoid rolling blackouts last summer.

Source: NERC

Regulators are Focused on Building New Power Plants

  • Instead of looking to all possible solutions, regulators seem focused only on how to get new power plants built.
  • Other grid operators have successfully created programs for smaller commercial and residential customers to compete through aggregation.  In Texas, residential and small commercial customers have been put on the back burner.
  • Despite the PUC’s reluctance to act on other clean energy opportunities, such as the 500 MW non-wind RPS or increasing the energy efficiency standards, it is clear that these programs have been successful in creating clean, “water-proof” power.
  • In the midst of a capacity crunch caused by extreme drought and market structure problems, demand response provides an opportunity to address both by enabling cheaper, water-free capacity by simply opening markets to customers.
Posted in Energy Efficiency, Grid Modernization, Renewable Energy, Texas / Tagged | Read 1 Response