President Biden suspended new oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands. A judge in Louisiana ruled those leases could not be temporarily halted.
Oil and gas giants are selling off their most-polluting operations to small private companies. Most manage to escape public scrutiny.
Over the past month the Biden administration has defended three significant oil and gas projects, raising concerns among environmentalists that climate policy is being undermined
Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s office knew of looming natural gas shortages on February 10, days before a deep freeze plunged much of the state into blackouts, according to a new report from E&E News.
Abbott’s office first learned of the likely shortfall in a phone call from the then-chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, DeAnne Walker. In the days leading up to the power outages that began on February 15, Walker and the governor’s office spoke 31 more times.
Walker also spoke with regulators, politicians, and utilities dozens of times about the gas curtailments that threatened the state’s electrical grid. The PUC chair’s diary for the days before the outage shows her schedule dominated by concerns over gas curtailments and the impact they would have on electricity generation. Before and during the disaster, she was on more than 100 phone calls with various agencies and utilities regarding gas shortages.
The country relies less on foreign oil than it used to, but pipelines and grids are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks and extreme weather.
The country relies less on foreign oil than it used to, but pipelines and grids are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks and extreme weather.
The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline rose 2 cents on Tuesday, and some airlines began to take small measures in response to the shutdown.
But some energy warned of possible shortages and higher prices if the suspension continues into the week.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday will use a once-obscure law to resurrect Obama-era regulations on methane that the Trump administration had wiped away.
The two founders of Crusoe Energy think they may have a solution to two of the largest problems facing the planet today — the increasing energy footprint of the tech industry and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the natural gas industry.
Crusoe, which uses excess natural gas from energy operations to power data centers and cryptocurrency mining operations, has just raised $128 million in new financing from some of the top names in the venture capital industry to build out its operations — and the timing couldn’t be better.
Methane emissions are emerging as a new area of focus for researchers and policymakers focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping global warming within the 1.5 degree targets set under the Paris Agreement. And those emissions are just what Crusoe Energy is capturing to power its data centers and bitcoin mining operations.
The reason why addressing methane emissions is so critical in the short term is because these greenhouse gases trap more heat than their carbon dioxide counterparts and also dissipate more quickly. So dramatic reductions in methane emissions can do more in the short term to alleviate the global warming pressures that human industry is putting on the environment.
And the biggest source of methane emissions is the oil and gas industry. In the U.S. alone roughly 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas is flared daily, said Chase Lochmiller, a co-founder of Crusoe Energy. About two thirds of that is flared in Texas with another 500 million cubic feet flared in North Dakota, where Crusoe has focused its operations to date.
For Lochmiller, a former quant trader at some of the top American financial services institutions, and Cully Cavmess, a third generation oil and gas scion, the ability to capture natural gas and harness it for computing operations is a natural combination of the two men’s interests in financial engineering and environmental preservation.
The two Denver natives met in prep-school and remained friends. When Lochmiller left for MIT and Cavness headed off to Middlebury they didn’t know that they’d eventually be launching a business together. But through Lochmiller’s exposure to large scale computing and the financial services industry, and Cavness assumption of the family business they came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way to address the massive waste associated with natural gas.
Conversation around Crusoe Energy began in 2018 when Lochmiller and Cavness went climbing in the Rockies to talk about Lochmiller’s trip to Mt. Everest.
When the two men started building their business, the initial focus was on finding an environmentally friendly way to deal with the energy footprint of bitcoin mining operations. It was this pitch that brought the company to the attention of investors at Polychain, the investment firm started by Olaf Carlson-Wee (and Lochmiller’s former employer), and investors like Bain Capital Ventures and new investor Valor Equity Partners.
(This was also the pitch that Lochmiller made to me to cover the company’s seed round. At the time I was skeptical of the company’s premise and was worried that the business would just be another way to prolong the use of hydrocarbons while propping up a cryptocurrency that had limited actual utility beyond a speculative hedge against governmental collapse. I was wrong on at least one of those assessments.)
“Regarding questions about sustainability, Crusoe has a clear standard of only pursuing projects that are net reducers of emissions. Generally the wells that Crusoe works with are already flaring and would continue to do so in the absence of Crusoe’s solution. The company has turned down numerous projects where they would be a buyer of low cost gas from a traditional pipeline because they explicitly do not want to be net adders of demand and emissions,” wrote a spokesman for Valor Equity in an email. “In addition, mining is increasingly moving to renewables and Crusoe’s approach to stranded energy can enable better economics for stranded or marginalized renewables, ultimately bringing more renewables into the mix. Mining can provide an interruptible base load demand that can be cut back when grid demand increases, so overall the effect to incentivize the addition of more renewable energy sources to the grid.”
Other investors have since piled on including: Lowercarbon Capital, DRW Ventures, Founders Fund, Coinbase Ventures, KCK Group, Upper90, Winklevoss Capital, Zigg Capital and Tesla co-founder JB Straubel.
The company now operate 40 modular data centers powered by otherwise wasted and flared natural gas throughout North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Next year that number should expand to 100 units as Crusoe enters new markets such as Texas and New Mexico. Since launching in 2018, Crusoe has emerged as a scalable solution to reduce flaring through energy intensive computing such as bitcoin mining, graphical rendering, artificial intelligence model training and even protein folding simulations for COVID-19 therapeutic research.
Crusoe boasts 99.9% combustion efficiency for its methane, and is also bringing additional benefits in the form of new networking buildout at its data center and mining sites. Eventually, this networking capacity could lead to increased connectivity for rural communities surrounding the Crusoe sites.
Currently, 80% of the company’s operations are being used for bitcoin mining, but there’s increasing demand for use in data center operations and some universities, including Lochmiller’s alma mater of MIT are looking at the company’s offerings for their own computing needs.
“That’s very much in an incubated phase right now,” said Lochmiller. “A private alpha where we have a few test customers… we’ll make that available for public use later this year.”
Crusoe Energy Systems should have the lowest data center operating costs in the world, according to Lochmiller and while the company will spend money to support the infrastructure buildout necessary to get the data to customers, those costs are negligible when compared to energy consumption, Lochmiller said.
The same holds true for bitcoin mining, where the company can offer an alternative to coal powered mining operations in China and the construction of new renewable capacity that wouldn’t be used to service the grid. As cryptocurrencies look for a way to blunt criticism about the energy usage involved in their creation and distribution, Crusoe becomes an elegant solution.
Institutional and regulatory tailwinds are also propelling the company forward. Recently New Mexico passed new laws limiting flaring and venting to no more than 2 percent of an operator’s production by April of next year and North Dakota is pushing for incentives to support on-site flare capture systems while Wyoming signed a law creating incentives for flare gas reduction applied to bitcoin mining. The world’s largest financial services firms are also taking a stand against flare gas with BlackRock calling for an end to routine flaring by 2025.
“Where we view our power consumption, we draw a very clear line in our project evaluation stage where we’re reducing emissions for an oil and gas projects,” Lochmiller said.
A major United Nations report will declare that slashing emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, is far more vital than previously thought.
Texas’ deep freeze didn’t just disrupt natural gas supplies throughout Lone Star country—its effects rippled across the country, extending as far north as Minnesota. There, gas utilities had to pay $800 million more than they anticipated during the event, and Minnesota regulators are furious.
“The ineptness and disregard for common-sense utility regulation in Texas makes my blood boil and keeps me up at night,” Katie Sieben, chairwoman of the Minnesota Public Utility Commission, told The Washington Post. “It is maddening and outrageous and completely inexcusable that Texas’s lack of sound utility regulation is having this impact on the rest of the country.”
The gas and electric markets in Texas are lightly regulated and highly competitive, which has pushed companies to deliver energy at the lowest possible cost. But it also means that many companies were ill-prepared when the mercury dropped. To save money, they had skimped on winterizing their equipment. As a result, gas lines across the state—which has about 23 percent of the country’s reserves—quite literally froze. The spot price of natural gas soared to 70-times what it would normally be in Minnesota, and gas utilities paid a hefty premium when they used the daily market to match demand.
To slow down climate change, new coal projects need to end. A global forecast this week shows demand rising sharply.
An effort to pass on costs in Texas will echo the wildfire strategy by arguing that power companies should have taken protective steps after past cold snaps.
Andium, a company focused on remote field monitoring of assets including oil and gas wells has just raised some not-insignificant cash in an investment round led by OGCI Climate Investments, a firm formed by the largest oil companies in the world.
Launched in 2014 to “support” the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement to limit global greenhouse gas emissions, OGCI has invested in 21 projects to date.
With Andium, the oil majors join existing investors including Tom Miglis, the former chief investment officer of Citadel Securities and Talis Capital in backing a company developing technologies for natural gas flare monitoring, tank telemetry and object detection.
The company said it provides oil and gas companies with real-time information from remote locations at a far lower cost than other solutions.
Few technologies are less exciting than sensors and monitoring equipment, but there are also few tech services that are more vital to staunching the flow of greenhouse gas emissions. As Mark Tomasovic, a partner at the renewable investment firm, Energize tweeted (to me), “A few companies are involved in monitoring and reducing methane emissions from producing oil and gas wells… Given that there are over [1 million] wells in the U.S. and methane is 28x more potent than CO2, these startups have had more of an impact on global climate change then Tesla.”
“We believe that visibility is paramount in change leadership and operational excellence, and our remote monitoring technologies are specifically designed to offer companies an expedited path to achieve their sustainability goals,” said Jory Schwach, the chief executive of Andium, in a statement.
Schwach, a serial entrepreneur whose previous forays into the business world included GlobalRim, a solar global positioning system company, and an offline communications service, started out developing a battery-powered tracking system for the logistics industry.
“I spent the better part of two years building a battery-powered tracking solution for long haul trailers so the market could replace brokers with ‘shared assets’. I failed fast and often on the hardware and realized that the real value was in the continually changing product requests that would be much more easily solved with a software change,” Schwach told the Medium publication Authority Magazine. “I decided that building a new kind of operating system for small devices could be big business if I leveraged the OS to customize products based on changing use cases while managing the hardware and infrastructure on behalf of the client.”
Andium’s technology uses off the shelf cameras and microphones with an artificial intelligence overlay to provide real-time monitoring of all sorts of industrial assets.
“The transparency created by monitoring and measuring methane is essential to reducing emissions,” said Pratima Rangarajan, CEO of OGCI Climate Investments. “Andium’s low-cost innovative solution lowers the barrier for operators of all sizes to adopt and implement best practices and we are pleased to support their growth.”
Frigid temperatures last month froze pipelines and forced companies to flare vast amounts of planet-warming gases that they suddenly had nowhere to send.
From distributed homes in Cambridge, Mass. and Cambridge, England, inBalance Research is joining Y Combinator as it looks to accelerate its business as the oracle for independent energy providers, utilities, and market makers.
Selling a service it calls Delphi, the very early stage startup is hoping to provide analysis for power producers and utilities on the demand forecasts of energy markets.
The orchestration of energy load across the grid has become a more pressing issue for utilities around the country after witnessing the disastrous collapse of Texas’ power grid in response to its second “once-in-a-century” storm in the last decade.
“If we want to address the solution longterm, it’s a two part solution,” said inBalance co-founder and chief executive, Thomas Marge. “It’s a combination of hardware and software. You need the right assets online and you need the right software that can ensure that markets operate when there are extreme market shocks.”
Prices for electricity change every 15 minutes, and sometimes those pries can fluctuate wildly. In some places, even without the weather conditions that demolished the Texas grid and drove some companies out of business, prices can double in a matter of hours, according to inBalance.
That’s what makes forecasting tools important, the company said. As prices spike, asset managers of finite responsive resources such as hydro and storage need to decide if they will offer more value to the market now or later. Coming online too early or too late will decrease the revenue for their clean generation and increase peak prices for consumers.
The situation is even worse, according to the company, if storage and intermittent renewables come online at the same time. That can create downward price pressure for both the storage and renewable assets, which, in turn, can lead to increased fossil fuel generation later the same day, once cleaner sources are depleted.
The software to predict those pressures is what inBalance claims to provide. Marge and his fellow co-founders, Rajan Troll and Edwin Fennell have always been interested in the problems associated with big data and energy.
For Marge, that began when he worked on a project to optimize operations for wind farms during a stint in Lexington, Mass.
“Fundamentally we’re a data science solution,” said Marge. “It’s a combination of knowing what factors influence every single asset on every single market in North America. We have a glimpse into how those assets are going to be working one day before to one hour before in order to do price forecasting.”
So far, one utility using the company’s software in the Northeast has managed to curb its emissions by 0.2%. With a focus on renewables, inBalance is hoping to roll out larger reductions to the 3,000 market participants that are also using its forecasting tools for other services. Another application is in the work inBalance is conducting with a gas peaker plant to help offset the intermittency of renewable generation sources.
The reduction in emissions in New England is particularly impressive given that the company only began working with the utility there in December. Given its forecasting tools, the company is able to provide a window into which assets might be most valuable at what time — including, potentially, natural gas peaking plants, hydropower, pumped hydropower (basically an energy storage technology), battery or flywheel energy storage projects and demand response technologies that encourage businesses and consumers to reduce consumption in response to price signals, Marge said.
Already, six companies have taken a trip to see the Delphi software and come away as early users. They include a global renewable asset manager and one of the top ten largest utilities in the U.S., according to Marge.
“We use machine learning to accurately forecast electricity prices from terabytes of public and proprietary data. The solution required for daily power system stability is both hardware—like storage and electric vehicle charging—and the software required to optimally use it. inBalance exists to be that software solution,” the company said in a statement.
Just 50 or so remain, eking it out in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast.
As Deb Haaland, President Biden’s choice for Interior secretary, heads toward a showdown vote, the department she would head is moving ahead on environmental policies.
Texas has refused to join interstate electrical grids and railed against energy regulation. Now it’s having to answer to millions of residents who were left without power in last week’s snowstorm.
After a public outcry from people like Scott Willoughby, whose exorbitant electric bill is soon due, Gov. Greg Abbott said lawmakers should ensure Texans “do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills” caused by the storm.
When post-truth politics meets energy policy.
Texas is now entering its third day of widespread power outages and, although supplies of electricity are improving, they remain well short of demand. For now, the state’s power authority suggests that, rather than restoring power, grid operators will try to shift from complete blackouts to rolling ones. Meanwhile, the state’s cold weather is expected to continue for at least another day. How did this happen?
To understand what’s going on in Texas, and how things got so bad, you need quite a bit of arcane knowledge—including everything from weather and history to the details of grid structure and how natural gas contracts are organized. We’ve gathered details on as much of this as possible, and we also talked to grid expert Jeff Dagle at Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL). What follows is an attempt to organize and understand an ongoing, and still somewhat chaotic, situation.
Why is Texas so much worse off?
While other states have seen customers lose power, Texas has been hit the hardest, with far more customers losing power for substantially longer.
The state’s massive blackouts are the result of a failure to insure against extreme weather.
Power outages, natural gas shortages and icy conditions made it hard for automakers, retailers and delivery carriers to operate across much of the South and Midwest.
It’s becoming harder for the U.S. to ignore the very real effects of global climate change — and despite the efforts of naysayers, it’s not a push to renewables that’s to blame for the outages sweeping the nation. It’s the country’s energy infrastructure.
Severe weather conditions caused by global warming have now caused massive blackouts across some of the largest cities in the United States. The inability of the U.S. power grid to withstand the stresses caused by extreme weather events show that the nation needs a massive investment plan to upgrade energy infrastructure in an effort to make it more resilient.
These problems are now painfully apparent to the 29 million residents of Texas who are now subject to rolling blackouts caused by the frigid weather sweeping across the country.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said it had “entered emergency conditions and initiated rotating outages at 1:25 a.m. today,” in a statement. The Texas grid shed 10.5 gigawatts of load — or enough to power 2 million homes at its peak.
“Extreme weather conditions caused many generating units – across fuel types – to trip offline and become unavailable,” the energy provider said in a statement.
Part of the problem lies with natural gas generators that supply much of the power to the grid in Texas, according to Princeton professor, Jesse Jenkins, who has a joint appointment in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment.
Citing a market participant, Jenkins noted on Twitter that roughly 26 gigawatts of thermal energy is offline because natural gas is being diverted to provide heat instead of power. Only about 4 gigawatts of wind is offline because of icing, Jenkins noted.
The current blackouts have nothing to do with renewables and everything to do with cold weather slowing down natural gas production because of freeze offs and spiking demand for heating at the same time.
As Dr. Emily Grubert, an assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and, by courtesy, of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, noted, the problem is more of a total systems issue than one associated with renewable power.
“Let us be absolutely clear: if there are grid failures today, it shows the existing (largely fossil-based) system cannot handle these conditions either,” Grubert wrote on Twitter. “These are scary, climate change-affected conditions that pose extreme challenges to the grid. We are likely to continue to see situations like this where our existing system cannot easily handle them. Any electricity system needs to make massive adaptive improvements.”
Renewable energy and energy storage can potentially provide a solution to the problem and help contribute to a more resilient grid. Residential energy developer Swell Energy raised $450 million in financing late last year to begin development of several projects across three states that would pair distributed, residential solar energy generation with battery storage to create what are called virtual power plants that can ease stress on energy grids in times of increased demand.
“Utilities are increasingly looking to distributed energy resources as valuable ‘grid edge’ assets,” said Suleman Khan, CEO of Swell Energy, in a statement, at the time of the announcement. “By networking these individual homes and businesses into virtual power plants, Swell is able to bring down the cost of ownership for its customers and help utilities manage demand across their electric grids.”
Other companies, like Evolve Energy or Griddy, try to help consumers manage costs by charging them wholesale rates for power. Those companies can only be economical when the rates for wholesale power are low. Right now, with demand for power skyrocketing, prices for energy in the ERCOT have surged above $5,000 per MW and hit the $9,000 cap in many nodes, according to Bloomberg Energy reporter Javier Bias.
The blackouts in Texas today and in California in January show that the current grid in the United States needs an overhaul. Whether it’s heavily regulated markets like California or a free market like Texas, current policy can’t stop the weather from wreaking havoc and putting people’s lives at risk.
A broad move away from coal power was an important factor in pushing down global greenhouse gas emissions, researchers said, and could help accelerate a shift toward renewable energy.
Automating and controlling devices and energy usage in homes has potentially become a bit easier thanks to an integration between Span, the startup making a digital fusebox replacement, and Amazon’s voice recognition interface, Alexa.
Through the Alexa integration, homeowners using Span’s electrical panels can turn on or off any circuit or appliance in their home, monitor which appliances are using power, and determine which electrical source is generating the most power for a home.
Questions like “Alexa, ask Span what is consuming the most power right now?” will get a response. The Alexa integration opens up new opportunities for home owners to integrate their devices and appliances, because of the connection to the home’s wiring, according to Span chief executive, Arch Rao.
Rao sees the Alexa integration as a way for Span to become the home automation hub that tech companies have been promising for a long time. “There are far too many devices in the hoe today… with too many apps,” Rao said. “The advantage we have is, once installed, we’re persistent in the home and connected to everything electric in the home for the next 30 to 40 years.”
In addition to monitoring energy usage and output, Alexa commands could turn off the power for any device or switch that a homeowner has programmed into the system.
“The most material way to state it is, our panel is providing a virtual interface to the home in the build environment,” said Rao. “We’re building a very capable edge device… it becomes sort of a true aggregation point and nerve center to give you real-time visibility and control.”
Going forward, Rao envisions Span integrating with other devices like water sensors, fire alarm sensors, and other equipment to provide other types of controls that could be useful for insurers like Munich Re.
With the $20 million that the company raised, Rao intends to significantly increase sales and marketing efforts working through partners like Munich Re and Amazon to get Span’s devices into as many homes as possible.
The company has significant tailwinds thanks to home automation and energy efficiency upgrade efforts that are now wending their way through Washington, but could mean subsidies for the deployment of technology’s like Span’s electric panels.
Rao also intends to boost headcount at Span. The company currently has 35 employees and Rao would like to see that number double to roughly 70 by the end of the year.
Span’s growth is part of a broad movement in home technologies toward increasingly sustainable options. In many cases that’s the penetration of electrical appliances in things like water heaters and stove tops, but also the integration of electric vehicle charging stations, home energy storage units, and other devices that push energy generation and management to the edge of electricity grids.
“It’s cutting that pipe that’s bringing natural gas to the home and bringing all electric everything… as consumers are continuing to cut the cord on fossils, your existing home system is not efficient. That’s one ecosystem of products where we are starting to see partnership opportunities,” Rao said. “When it comes to applications like monitoring the health of your appliances… and services to the home. Having the data that we provide will be unprecedented.”
Earlier this week, the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) released figures on the new generating capacity that’s expected to start operating over the course of 2021. While plans can obviously change, the hope is that, with its new additions, the grid will look radically different than it did just five years ago. This includes the details, where a new nuclear plant may be started up, although it will be dwarfed by the capacity of new batteries. But the big picture is that, even ignoring the batteries, about 80 percent of the planned capacity additions will be emission-free.
The EIA’s accounting shows that just under 40 Gigawatts of capacity will be placed on the grid during 2021, but there are a number of caveats to this. First and foremost is the inclusion of batteries, which account for over 10 percent of that figure (4.3GW). While batteries may look like short-term generating capacity from the perspective of “can this put power on the grid?”, they’re obviously not actually a net source of power. Typically, they’re used to smooth over short-term fluctuations in supply or demand rather than a steady source of power.
Still, given the rarity of grid-scale batteries even a few years ago, 4.3GW of them is striking.
A last-ditch effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling is underway.
Students and recent graduates struggle to get hired as the oil industry cuts tens of thousands of jobs, some of which may never come back.
After a year when climate-related disasters seemed to become the norm, the team will be monitoring a 2021 that is pivotal for the world.
Exxon Mobil is struggling to find its footing as demand for oil and gas falls and world leaders and businesses pledge to fight climate change.
The comptroller’s threat to pull billions from fossil fuel investments is a big victory for climate activists.
It’s not just party balloons. A huge Siberian production plant is expected to reshape the market for a gas that’s essential to many critical industries.
Ellen Brennan Reiche, 23, and Samantha Frances Brooks, 27, were accused of tampering with train tracks to disrupt signals and possibly cause derailments, according to a criminal complaint.
Congress should raise the royalty rates on federal lands.
Also this week: Solutions for cities, and a Times investigation
FTI, a global consulting firm, helped design, staff and run organizations and websites funded by energy companies that can appear to represent grass-roots support for fossil-fuel initiatives.
Amid growing alarm about methane’s role in driving global warming, a Canadian firm has begun selling a service to detect even relatively small leaks. At least two rivals are on the way.
Canada’s oil patch has nearly 100,000 suspended wells, neither active nor capped, and they’re a worrying source of planet-warming methane.
After the candidate called for a “transition” away from oil and gas, executives said the country would need fossil fuels for decades to come.
With the price of a barrel stuck around $40 and no recovery in sight, companies are combining to cut costs and ride out the pandemic.
The oil giant’s takeover of Noble Energy gives it a foothold in an emerging energy hot spot: the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The negotiations will be their first on nonsecurity issues in three decades but officials do not expect them to lead to peace talks.
A group of more than 60 donors is urging Joe Biden to renounce advisers with ties to the fossil fuel industry.
While BP and other European companies invest billions in renewable energy, Exxon and Chevron are committed to fossil fuels and betting on moonshots.
Daniel Yergin’s “The New Map” is a comprehensive look at the world of energy, its past, present and future.
At a meeting last year, industry leaders contradicted public claims that emissions of climate-warming methane are under control
Evidence that the Russian opposition leader was attacked with a military-grade nerve agent has placed new pressures on the German chancellor.