Renewables Need Nat’l Gas, DOE’s Brouillette Tells Colorado Roundtable, But Activists Hold Up Infrastructure
Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said there’s no need for duplicative federal permitting for critical infrastructure projects and remains optimistic about American energy production despite a global pandemic and galvanized anti-fossil fuel activism domestically.
Brouillette joined American Petroleum President and CEO Mike Sommers in Denver this week at a socially-distanced roundtable. He told western energy producers, labor unions, and elected officials that the federal government could help drive innovation and research while removing regulatory red tape to deliver energy to consumers in the United States and across the world.
“The important thing for us [DOE] and the administration is we have to begin to appropriately reopen the economy and create the demand curves for these products, and as we do that, this industry is going to come back on the other side of the pandemic perhaps even stronger than it was pre-pandemic,” Brouillette said.
Panelists included elected officials State Rep. Bri Buentello (D-Pueblo), State Sen. Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction), Mayor Raye Miller (Artesia, N.M.). Business leaders on the panel included Kelly Brough, president of Denver Metro Chamber; Debbie Brown, president of Colorado Business Roundtable; and Andrew Browning, president of Western States and Tribal National Natural Gas Initiative were panelists.
The web-only discussion in Denver followed a visit by the department head to one of DOE’s most prominent research laboratories, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden. Both visits, according to the energy secretary, demonstrate the interconnected need for all-of-the-above approaches to energy generation, especially electricity.
Brouillette stressed that the oil and gas industry will continue to provide baseload electricity generation and will provide support to emerging technologies like those he observed at NREL for many years to come.
“As we think about what we need to do in the future, some of the activism that’s occurring in the courts and the legislatures across the country that’s preventing the development of this infrastructure, it’s often around the notion that this industry is a dirty industry. Then there’s another clean industry on the other side, and that’s usually associated with renewable energy,” Brouillette said.
“These two industries, in fact, go hand-in-glove. The provision of renewable energy for the purposes of generating electricity—wind energy and solar energy—today is dependent upon the production of natural gas and the use of natural gas to produce electricity, baseload electricity,” he added.
“Until we reach a day in America that we have battery technologies that allow grid-scale storage, which is not in the near term, we still have a ways to go, the renewable industry will, in fact, be dependent upon this industry. We can’t lose sight of that,” Brouillette said.
Sommers said the United States was producing 13 million barrels of oil per day when the pandemic hit earlier in the year. The country continues to outpace Saudi Arabia and Russian production, doubling output while reducing emissions.
A bigger threat than either foreign energy markets or a global pandemic is opposition to clean, domestic energy production, Sommers said.
“Activists are trying to stand on that hose in the middle and prevent that energy from where it is to where it’s needed,” he added.
Among the key projects still on the table are the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project that would send Colorado natural gas to Oregon for global markets, and the presence of worldwide demand for better-sourced energy that doesn’t come with entanglements in foreign policy.
“More and more countries are coming to that same conclusion,” said Brouillette. In a recent trip to India, the benefits of American natural gas for a burgeoning Indian market was apparent. “We would be deaf, dumb, and blind not to pursue that opportunity on behalf of U.S. gas producers,” he said. Indian representatives appreciated the comparative advantages offered by U.S. companies in terms of contract certainty and non-adversarial foreign policy agreements.
Gary Arnold, UA Pipefitters Local 208 Business Manager, told the group, “I think you hit the nail on the head, the importance of oil and gas in the energy sector and good middle-class family-sustaining jobs is critical.”
“When we look at things it’s usually from a jobs focus,” he added. He hoped for more emphasis on apprenticeship programs that avoid student loan debt and promote well-paying jobs. But those jobs are at risk when infrastructure projects like Jordan Cove are halted or sidelined for years due to court decisions and activist opposition beyond the required environmental permitting periods.
“How do we get pipeline projects through the approval and permitting process. We’re all very concerned about protecting the environment because our members live here in Colorado in both rural and urban areas and they care about it,” Arnold said, adding, “they like to enjoy the natural resources.”
“We don’t want to rush things through but providing certainty so we don’t have a bunch of workers sitting around waiting for a project to go whether it be replacing existing pipelines, which help address environmental concerns,” he continued. Idling a productive labor force for months or years as lawsuits drag on doesn’t match with realities of demand for energy.
“The product has to move,” Arnold said emphatically. Replacing and maintaining pipelines and working with NREL to add capacity production with clean-burning natural gas. “Those projects are critical to actually making them function correctly and provide energy to those communities,” he said.
Arnold’s pipefitter members in both Colorado and New Mexico look to regulators, communities, and technology development like that found at NREL to promote both short- and long-term projects that employ thousands of workers and satisfy global demand—and achieve immediate and cumulative reductions in emissions worldwide.
“India and China are bringing on coal-fired energy plants every day. If we really want to be serious about reducing carbon emissions, we can’t influence their legislative policy, but we can influence the market by putting a product out there at a price point that just makes sense for everybody,” Arnold said.
Apart from ongoing court battles over project permitting for Jordan Cove or the Dakota Access Pipeline, Brouillette said reducing regulatory red tape was a key component of his department tenure.
“We were very supportive of the reforms recently announced regarding NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] process,” Brouillette said. “If another agency, perhaps FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has conducted a NEPA analysis for the same project, well does it really make sense for DOE to conduct a second, separate NEPA analysis? Or should we just rely on the work that was already done by the actual regulator?”
“There’s no need for us to replicate this at the federal level,” he added.