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How Big Oil is trying to change its image

Grist | Posted on March 27, 2019

To the untrained eye, it looks like the major oil companies that helped get us into this whole climate mess — conglomerates like ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell — are starting to envision a world beyond fossil fuels. A few of them have launched their own campaigns charting a path to a greener future — and, surprisingly, even more have backed a carbon tax proposal. Is Big Oil trying to hasten its own demise, or are these companies just ensuring that they will dominate the energy sector for decades to come?ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP, and Total have collectively spent more than a billion dollars on branding and lobbying since the signing of the Paris Agreement — the moment when the companies sensed a permanent turning of the tide against their industry. That’s according to a report published by the U.K.-based InfluenceMap, a group that analyzes climate policy lobbying.The report illuminates a two-pronged approach by Big Oil: While the companies market themselves as socially and environmentally conscious to the public, they’re actively working against climate regulations behind the scenes. Since the global climate accord’s adoption in late 2015, European-based Shell, Total, and BP — followed shortly thereafter by U.S.-based ExxonMobil and Chevron — “initiated a campaign of top-line positivity on climate,” the report said.

How co-ops are bringing solar power to rural America

Scientific American | Posted on March 26, 2019

It was aimed at what might be needed if the price of solar-powered electricity came down. NRECA began working with a small group of local and wholesale co-ops. It published training manuals like “The Communicator’s Toolkit,” which suggested ways to minimize the risk of using solar while capturing its benefits. That was timely because in 2015 the price of solar energy began to crash. “We happened to be in the right place at the right time to pull together our co-ops,” Spiers explained in an interview.Previously, the niche for solar in rural areas was mainly individuals putting rooftop solar on their homes. The new goal that emerged among co-ops was to connect as many local members as possible to nearby arrays.Some members lived in apartments without solar. Co-ops developed “virtual net metering,” which meant customers could still buy access to a solar project and get credit on their utility bill without connecting to the array.Meanwhile, Tri-State has built the largest wholesale solar supply system serving co-ops in the United States, even as it has tried to limit the amount of solar that co-ops can generate. Another wholesaler, Great River Energy of Maple Grove, Minn., built 19 solar arrays that served co-ops across the breadth of the state.Then Great River had to figure out how to adjust its system to cope with cloud patterns that slowly drifted across the state, cutting electricity at one co-op and increasing it at another.The Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association in northern Colorado built two solar arrays that were quickly sold out. Then it developed a cheaper third array by bringing in an outside group called Grid Alternatives that used volunteers and donated materials. That helped Poudre attract more low- and moderate-income families and nonprofits.Finding cleaner, closer power sources has helped trim NRECA’s traditional reliance on coal from 54 percent in 2014 to 40 percent in 2017.


Floods shut nearly a sixth of U.S. ethanol production

Reuters | Posted on March 26, 2019

Massive flooding in the U.S. Midwest has knocked out roughly 13 percent of the country’s ethanol production capacity, as plants in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota have been forced to shut down or scale back production following the devastation.

Residents Seek Answers About Health Risks Near Frac Sand Mines

Investigate Midwest | Posted on March 26, 2019

Public health researchers disagree on the impact the dust has on the long-term health of residents living in an near silica sand mining communities like the tiny Mississippi River town of Clayton, which is in the Iowa county by the same name, and in southwest Wisconsin.Researchers and citizens have become concerned in recent years about the health effects because fracking, and the frac sand mining that helps drive it, only appeared on the national stage in the last 30 years. Silica-rich sand is a key ingredient in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, acting as a structural support for water and chemicals pumped into natural shale reservoirs to stimulate the production of natural gas.Silica sand mining, however, produces a dangerous by-product: silica dust. Prolonged exposure to the tiny mineral particles can scar lung tissue resulting in irreversible and sometimes fatal respiratory damage. About 2 million U.S. workers remain potentially exposed to occupational silica, the American Lung Association reports.

Analysis: New wind, solar cheaper than operating most existing coal plants

Energy News Network | Posted on March 26, 2019

Locally generated solar and wind energy could already replace almost three-fourths of electricity made by U.S. coal plants for less than the cost of continuing to operate those plants. By 2025, the share of “at risk” coal generation will jump from 74 percent to 86 percent, adds the report by Energy Innovation Policy & Technology in San Francisco and Boulder-based Vibrant Clean Energy.

New Mexico governor signs landmark clean energy bill

AP News | Posted on March 26, 2019

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed landmark legislation that will mandate more solar panels and wind turbines as the state sets ambitious new renewable energy goals. The measure requires that investor-owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives get at least half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. That would jump to 80 percent by 2040.A 100 percent carbon-free mandate would kick in five years later for utilities. Electric co-ops would have until 2050 to meet that goal.

After Paris agreement, big oil and gas companies invested $110 billion in fossil fuels

CBS News | Posted on March 26, 2019

In the three years since most of the world's nations signed on to the Paris climate agreement, major oil and gas companies have poured more than $100 billion into their fossil-fuel infrastructure. That's more than 10 times the amount the same companies have spent on low-carbon investments, despite lip service toward that area, according to a new report.The five biggest—ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total—will collectively spend $115 billion on capital investments this year, according to the report. Just 3 percent of that spending will go to low-carbon investments, like hydrogen batteries or electric-car charging stations.

Recording reveals oil industry execs laughing at Trump access

Reveal News | Posted on March 26, 2019

Gathered for a private meeting at a beachside RitzCarlton in Southern California, the oil executives were celebrating a colleague’s sudden rise. David Bernhardt, their former lawyer, had been appointed by President Donald Trump to the powerful No. 2 spot at the Department of the Interior. “We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues,” Naatz said, according to an hourlong recording of the June 2017 event in Laguna Niguel provided to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.The recording gives a rare look behind the curtain of an influential oil industry lobbying group that spends more than $1 million per year to push its agenda in Congress and federal regulatory agencies. The previous eight years had been dispiriting for the industry: As IPAA vice president Jeff Eshelman told the group, it had seemed as though the Obama administration and environmental groups had put together “their target list of everything that they wanted done to shut down the oil and gas industry.”

EPA Wants Refinery Information Sealed

DTN | Posted on March 25, 2019

The EPA wants to keep from the public eye an opening brief and some records to be filed in a small-refinery waivers case, claiming in a court motion the information is subject to a protective order on confidential business information. The agency made the motion in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver last Friday, where a lawsuit filed by several ethanol and agriculture interest groups last year argues the EPA did not publish in the Federal Register what were final agency actions in granting waivers to two refineries owned by HollyFrontier and a third by CVR Energy.

EPA Grants Five More '17 RFS Waivers

DTN | Posted on March 25, 2019

The EPA granted five additional 2017 small-refinery exemptions (SREs) to the Renewable Fuel Standard on Thursday, raising the agency total for that year to 34, according to an update posted to EPA's online dashboard. The dashboard also indicates it has two more waiver requests pending for that year.