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WALKER: New Speaker Is Good for Energy

For the first time, the House of Representatives removed its leader by a vote instigated by one of the majority party’s own. After a few failed attempts to elect a successor, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana slid in to clinch the speaker’s post by garnering support from his party. Perhaps a lesser-known figure, Johnson has a solid record of supporting oil and gas exploration in a Gulf state with a significant fossil fuel industry.

Johnson has the backing of energy groups eager to work with him on such issues.

The Energy Workforce & Technology Council president said, “From our perspective, Speaker Johnson has been an ally to the oil and gas industry and could play a major role in changing the narrative surrounding the vilification of the industry.”

Independent Petroleum Association of America said it looks forward to working with the new speaker “on the issues that impact independent oil and natural gas producers across the country.”

Other groups were not thrilled and were quick to issue statements regarding Johnson’s perceived energy prowess. It didn’t take long for the attacks to mount.

The Sierra Club claims Johnson has “extreme views on climate change and science.” Others say he’s a “zealot,” “anti-science” or a “climate denier.” And some don’t like his stance on wind and solar because they are “inefficient sources of energy.” But receiving so much angst from those groups might make Johnson a great choice regarding good energy policy.

Whatever one’s opinion of the new speaker, it seems clear he will prioritize energy production at home. He recognizes that fossil fuels are still critical to our energy needs and the production should be ramped up rather than scaled back. As nice as the idea is of having wind and solar to power our needs, Johnson points out that those sources just aren’t adequate.

Criticizing the Inflation Reduction Act as “green energy slush funds,” Johnson’s first major legislation passed among House Republicans would cut billions of dollars in consumer rebates for energy efficiency upgrades included in President Biden’s signature climate law. It also slashes funding for the Energy Department’s energy efficiency office.

While this legislation is not likely to pass the Senate nor receive the president’s signature without some changes, it represents a starting point as Republicans negotiate spending with Democrats ahead of a mid-November government shutdown deadline and a more reasonable approach to energy. Johnson understands that such subsidies are not in the best interests of the typical American and a waste of taxpayer funds.

Regarding renewables, the speaker is not the only one to question their efficiency and reliability. There’s plenty of evidence to showcase the shortcomings of wind and solar.

The biggest examples are winter Storms Uri and Elliot that ripped through Texas and the Southeast in the last few years. Both left millions without power. And it was the use of coal that prevented the energy systems from total collapse. Weather-dependent resources failed and were insufficient to handle the substantial energy output those storms demanded.

In fact, Energy Ventures Analysis issued a report this year analyzing the energy needs and pitfalls of Storm Elliot. It states that wind “is not a reliable form of electricity generation during these weather events. … The only form of power generation that can increase output significantly to meet high electricity demand is powered by fossil fuels.”

Johnson is correct to say that wind and solar are inefficient sources of energy. More of our elected officials should take note.

Energy policy is obviously not going to change overnight with a new House speaker, especially with a thin majority and a Democratic Senate and executive branch. Much is to be done to pull us back from the disastrous policies of the last three years. But it would appear that Johnson is not about to let the safety and security of the American people be sacrificed on the altar of climate change or some political agenda. This is good news for the energy industry and for the American consumer.

Feds’ New Focus on Pipeline Safety Raises Concerns of Overregulation

When it comes to moving fossil fuels as safely as possible from where they are produced to where they are needed, the data is clear that pipelines are the best choice, particularly over long distances.

“As long as we’ve made the choice to use natural gas, oil — name your fossil fuel resource — the only practical and safe way to move it at scale is to move it through pipelines,” said Keith Coyle, a D.C.-based attorney who advises clients throughout the United States on energy matters.

But the National Transportation Safety Board believes more can be done, in particular, to protect people and property from pipeline explosions. At issue is the potential impact radius (PIR) for a pipeline. While explosions are rare when compared to the millions of miles of active pipelines in the U.S., they do happen.

An analysis highlighted by E&E News looked at 17 pipeline explosions between 2017 and 2022. One such case was in 2019 when an explosion in Kentucky killed a woman in a nearby mobile home approximately 640 feet from the blast.

In 2000, 12 family members died in New Mexico after a pipeline ruptured and caused a blast 675 feet from where they were camping. The federal government considers 600 feet to be a safe distance, and now officials want regulators to update their calculations.

“Pipeline operators must know and understand their pipeline systems and use appropriate technologies and procedures to address risk to prevent pipeline failures while considering the inherent limitations of technology,” wrote Tristan H. Brown, Deputy Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) at Department of Transportation in a November 2022 letter. “PHMSA prescribes factors that must be addressed to mitigate risk and conducts inspections to ensure adequate measures are carried out effectively.”

That includes potentially recalculating the formula for an acceptable PIR.

But energy insiders note that, however necessary this update may be, the Biden administration has been openly hostile to the fossil fuel industry from the outset. There is concern that the legitimate debate about re-calculating the PIR might be used to make siting more difficult for future fossil-fuel infrastructure projects. Siting is already one of the most challenging aspects of expanding pipeline capacity.

“If regulators are looking at this from an analytical perspective, and what is the actual risk, that’s OK,” said Coyle. “But if they’re using it to push an agenda, to make pipelines appear less safe than they actually are, well — look, when you actually look at the data, by any measure, this is the safest choice. In terms of injuries, fatalities, the amount of product moved, etc.”

No system is entirely without risk, of course, but the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) says consumers need to understand that pipelines are safe and “accidents are rare.”

“According to the most recent numbers available, 99.99 percent of gas and crude oil is moved safely through interstate transmission pipelines,” says AFPM. “This achievement is the result of a culture that values safety above all, throughout the pipeline lifecycle,” which they say includes “pipeline operators constantly monitoring pipeline performance using state-of-the-art technology.”

But an administration that began with President Joe Biden killing a major pipeline project — the Keystone XL — and a plunge in energy leases has supporters of fossil fuel production wary about regulatory changes.

If you ask Dan Kish at the Institute for Energy Research (IER), onerous government regulations are precisely the reason people are now pushing for new calculations on the “safe distance” from pipelines.

“The goal is to make it so expensive or so impossible to use any of the U.S.’s world-class energy resources that Americans are forced to use renewable energy technology, which unfortunately only works part-time and is largely dependent upon Chinese production,” says Kish.

Still, news outlets such as Politico note energy industry groups have often been the ones to dictate policy. Pointing to a 2015 Politico investigation, Politico’s Arianna Skibell wrote that PHMSA “lacked the resources to inspect the country’s millions of miles of oil and gas lines, and that it had granted the industry it regulates significant power to influence the rulemaking process.”

“In the last decade, more than 2,600 pipeline leaks killed 122 people across the country, causing more than $4 million in damage and releasing 26.6 billion cubic feet of planet-warming pollution,” wrote Skibell, citing a 2022 study by U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

Once again, Coyle notes, what is the alternative? Rail and trucks have their own safety risks, and shipping is limited both by geography and the Jones Act, which makes moving oil and gas between U.S. ports nearly impossible.

And Kish sees political opportunism at work.

“One week it’s banning gas stoves, the next it’s a proposal that would make it impossible to build and operate pipelines.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article misidentified the NTSB as the federal agency that regulates pipelines. We regret the error.

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