Energy Brief: Benzene Detected in Houston Area After Hurricane-Related Leak at Oil Refinery


Government Brief

  • The United States, Mexico and Canada are largely in agreement on energy-related issues, according to Mexico’s economy minister. The countries finished their second round of talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement but have not determined if a revised version will include energy as its own chapter again or weave the topic throughout the entire agreement. (Reuters)
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot restart efforts to license a long-term nuclear waste storage facility until Congress renews funding for such plans, said Edward McGinnis, acting assistant secretary for nuclear energy at the Department of Energy. McGinnis, who was speaking an industry event in Las Vegas, did not discuss Yucca Mountain, the controversial Nevada site designated by Congress as a nuclear waste repository in 1987. (The Las Vegas Review-Journal)
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency is said to have $541 million remaining to handle disaster management related to Hurricane Harvey as it prepares for Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm forecast to hit Puerto Rico. The House plans to give the agency $7.4 billion for disaster relief from Harvey, although Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has warned that storm-related damage could cost as much as $180 billion in his state. (The Hill)

Business Brief

  • The city of Houston and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are investigating a plume of benzene — a carcinogenic substance that’s a component of crude oil and gasoline — after Valero Energy Partners LP reported a Hurricane Harvey-related leak at a nearby refinery. Additional sampling from air monitors is said to be needed to track the concentration and source of the gas. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Nissan Motor Co. executives introduced an electric vehicle model with a range of 150 miles that will be sold for about $31,000, well below rival electric cars. The Nissan Leaf, said to be ready for sale in Japan next month, will be competing with the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the Tesla Model 3, other long-ranging electric vehicles. (The Los Angeles Times)
  • The Lingang solar energy plant project in Shanghai began operations this past weekend, the first of a dozen projects approved for funding by the New Development Bank created by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The bank extended a loan of almost $80 million to the Lingang project. (Quartz)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Wednesday
Atlantic Council panel discussion on modernizing NAFTA, North American energy sector 9 a.m.
EPA public hearing on mid-term evaluations for greenhouse gas emissions standards 9 a.m.
House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on PURPA objectives 10 a.m.
House Science Committee subcommittee hearing on the EPA’s IRIS program 10 a.m.
House Natural Resources Committee legislative hearing on federal leasing bills 10 a.m.
House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on unimplemented recommendations from the GAO, OIG for the EPA 10:15 a.m.
Georgetown University event on energy inclusion and its economic, social, financial challenges 3 p.m.
Thursday
Western Governors’ Association webinar on species conservation 10:30 a.m.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing for FERC, DOI nominees 10:30 a.m.
Friday
Atlantic Council panel discussion on U.S.-Iran science exchanges 12 p.m.
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General

Mexico economy minister sees common ground on energy in NAFTA talks
Dave Graham, Reuters

The United States, Mexico and Canada are largely in agreement on issues related to the energy sector, Mexico’s economy minister said Tuesday, as the second round of talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement comes to a close. Speaking at a press conference, Mexican minister Ildefonso Guajardo said the countries are still discussing whether to devote a separate chapter to energy in the agreement, or whether to weave it in across the board.

FEMA’s Harvey funding down to $541M
Niv Elis, The Hill

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has just $541 million left for disaster management related to Hurricane Harvey, according to a FEMA spokesperson on Tuesday. The combined $1.013 billion in the Disaster Relief Fund is unlikely to be enough for the extreme challenges created by Harvey and the other disasters.

Harvey and the future of energy
Edward Klump and Nathanial Gronewold, E&E News

The flooding that overwhelmed much of this city last week didn’t spare the energy industry. Ultimately, Hurricane Harvey and its remnants cemented both the vulnerability of Texas’ energy infrastructure and the crucial role electricity plays in keeping the economy and everyday life running.

Pruitt for governor? Senator? President?
Robin Bravender, E&E News

President Trump’s U.S. EPA boss isn’t ruling out a future run for office. He’s been in the national spotlight for his prominence in Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate deal, and he spent much of the summer traversing the country in a trip that some view as politically motivated.

Oil and Natural Gas

After Oil Refinery Is Damaged by Harvey, Benzene Is Detected in Houston Area
Melanie Evans, The Wall Street Journal

The city of Houston, the Environmental Protection Agency and an environmental advocacy group are investigating a potentially hazardous plume of a carcinogenic substance in one neighborhood after a nearby oil refiner reported its operations suffered hurricane-related damage. The city and the Environmental Defense Fund said extra air monitors they dispatched to Houston’s Manchester region on Monday detected the presence of benzene, a component of crude oil and gasoline.

Oil Gains Amid New Hurricane Threats
Christopher Alessi, The Wall Street Journal

Oil prices extended gains Wednesday on fears of potential damage to U.S. oil production from Hurricane Irma, as well as renewed demand for crude from restarted refineries in the Gulf Coast. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was up 0.4%, at $53.61 a barrel in London midmorning trading—its highest level in over three months.

Shell Invests to Boost Global Gas Demand
Perry Williams et al., Bloomberg

Europe’s biggest energy company is investing in projects to boost global gas demand and aims to continue feeding the market it’s nurturing with new liquefied natural gas export plants. Royal Dutch Shell Plc is supporting the development of gas use in heavy transport such as shipping and is also helping smaller and less credit worthy customers begin importing LNG, Maarten Wetselaar, the company’s director of integrated gas and new energies, said at an event at Bloomberg’s Sydney office Wednesday.

Asian traders look to snap up U.S. crude in wake of Hurricane Harvey
Florence Tan, Reuters

Some oil traders in Asia are looking to snap up crude cargoes from the United States after Hurricane Harvey closed U.S. refineries, denting local demand and pushing out the price spread between U.S and Atlantic Basin crude benchmarks. Hurricane Harvey barreled into the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast around 10 days ago, closing nearly a quarter of the nation’s refining capacity, although some of that is now coming back online.

Harvey Has America’s Only Shale Gas Export Plant Cutting Flows
Naureen Malik, Bloomberg

Cheniere Energy Inc.’s Sabine Pass terminal, the only one liquefying U.S. shale gas and sending it overseas, hasn’t been able to load tankers since Tropical Storm Harvey hit the U.S. Gulf Coast last month. With rivers swollen to record levels, LNG tankers are piling up off Louisiana’s coast and the terminal’s bringing in the least amount of gas in 10 months.

Environmental and health groups gear up to defend Obama EPA’s gas-mileage standards
Brady Dennis, The Washington Post

The Environmental Protection Agency is holding an all-day hearing on its proposal to reconsider requirements that the U.S. car and light-truck fleet achieve an average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. In another sign that the Trump administration intends to chart a starkly different course on climate change, the EPA announced plans earlier this year to withdraw the Obama administration’s final decision on strict fuel-efficiency standards for future cars and light trucks.

Why is Trump holding a tax speech at a North Dakota refinery?
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

President Trump will be making his remarks on tax reform Wednesday in the shadow of a large oil refinery owned by the company Andeavor, which recently went from being the fifth to the fourth largest refiner in the nation. The White House approached Andeavor about using the refinery for the speech last Thursday, and “of course it is always an honor to host the President of the US,” Brown said.

Utilities and Infrastructure

FPL warns of ‘prolonged outages’ from Hurricane Irma
Mary Ellen Klas, The Miami Herald

Florida Power & Light urged its customers Tuesday “to prepare for potentially prolonged power outages” as Hurricane Irma is on a path to make landfall within the utility’s giant’s 5 million-customer region — which encompasses nearly half the state. Hurricane warnings are in effect for the Leeward Islands and Irma is also expected to affect Puerto Rico & the British and U.S. Virgin Islands on Wednesday.

Dems ask Trump to reinstate Obama flood standard after Harvey
Timothy Cama, The Hill

A trio of Senate Democrats is asking President Trump to reinstate the flood standard for infrastructure that he rolled back just a few weeks ago. Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) say Hurricane Harvey shows how important it is for federal policies to incentivize building in a way that accounts for sea-level rise and extreme flooding.

Renewables

Nissan reveals a new Leaf, putting pressure on electric car rivals
Charles Fleming, The Los Angeles Times

The battle for control of the small but increasingly competitive electric vehicle market got a little hotter Tuesday night, as Japanese car company Nissan unveiled a new Leaf with a stronger battery and longer range — at a price well below rival electric cars. That makes the new Leaf, set to go on sale in Japan next month and globally not long thereafter, a serious competitor to current EV leaders, namely the recently introduced Chevrolet Bolt EV and the just-arriving Tesla Model 3.

The first BRICS bank project to be up and running is, symbolically, a renewable energy plant
Echo Huang, Quartz

In 2015, the BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—set up a jointly funded alternative to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, calling it the New Development Bank. This past weekend, they watched as the first project it financed began operations. Symbolically, the project involves solar energy, generating power from distributed rooftop installations in the Lingang industrial area of Shanghai.

Coal

Consol expects coal, E&P separation in 4Q
Patty Tascarella, Pittsburgh Business Times

Consol Energy Inc. on Tuesday said it plans to execute the separation of its coal and E&P businesses at the “earliest possible time,” expected to occur in the fourth quarter. It was among several updates announced by Consol, including restated guidances and the authorization of a $200 million share repurchase program, in advance of its participation in the Barclays CEO Energy-Power Conference in New York on Tuesday afternoon.

Electricity market struggling as coal-fired power stations shut down, regulator says
Stephen Dziedzic, ABC News

Australians could face higher power bills and more blackouts this summer because of deep-seated problems in the national electricity market, the energy regulator has warned. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)’s long-awaited report into the grid comes as the Coalition tries to hammer out a new energy policy.

Nuclear

Energy official says Yucca Mountain ball in Congress’ court
Henry Brean, The Las Vegas Review-Journal

The Trump administration is committed to finding a long-term disposal solution for the nation’s nuclear waste, but Congress first needs to fund the effort, a top Department of Energy official said Tuesday in Las Vegas. Speaking at a radioactive waste conference, acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Edward McGinnis said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot restart the licensing process for a permanent nuclear waste dump without an appropriation from Congress.

Audit gives South Carolina lawmakers ammunition in failed nuclear plant probe
Andy Shain, The Charleston Post and Courier

South Carolina lawmakers say they are ready to tackle findings of a newly released secret audit that detailed numerous problems with the expansion of a Fairfield County nuclear plant and confirmed their understanding that a lack of oversight doomed the $9 billion project. Legislators wondered why the utilities fought to keep the audit, finished 19 months ago, hidden until state-owned electricity provider Santee Cooper released it to Gov. Henry McMaster on Monday.

Climate

Industrial pollution spikes in Harvey’s wake
Gregory Wallace, CNN

Texas’ dominant energy industry has spewed millions of pounds of pollution into the air in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, documents show. Experts say the quantities of pollution are massive and are steadily rising as the oil and gas industries perform the pollution-intensive process of restarting operations that were halted by the storm.

Those 3% of scientific papers that deny climate change? A review found them all flawed
Katherine Foley, Quartz

Some skeptics have suggested that the authors of studies indicating that climate change is not real, not harmful, or not man-made are bravely standing up for the truth, like maverick thinkers of the past. Broadly, there were three main errors in the papers denying climate change.

Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals
Damian Carrington, The Guardian

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health. The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

If Donald Trump won’t tackle climate change, then Chicago will
Rahm Emanuel, The Guardian

While the Trump administration is dropping the mantle of leadership on climate change, American cities from coast to coast are picking it up. Rather than accepting the White House’s wrongheaded withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, cities are redoubling our efforts to meeting the landmark accords’ benchmarks.

Don’t let zombies into the tax code — dead handouts for green energy should stay dead
Christine Harbin, Washington Examiner

Politically-connected special interests have consistently looked to these must-pass bills crossing the floors of Congress as vehicles for their handouts to catch a ride. One prime case in point is ongoing efforts over the past two years to renew a package of tax giveaways for green energy.

Research Reports

Glacier shrinkage driving global changes in downstream systems
Alexander Milner et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Glaciers cover ∼10% of the Earth’s land surface, but they are shrinking rapidly across most parts of the world, leading to cascading impacts on downstream systems. Here, we synthesize current evidence of how glacier shrinkage will alter hydrological regimes, sediment transport, and biogeochemical and contaminant fluxes from rivers to oceans.