Texas Environmental News

Future greenhouse gas emissions

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week voted to apply more stringent reviews of future greenhouse gas emissions on gas projects. These new obstacles could slow the Texas flow of oil and gas infrastructure. FERC Chairman Richard Glick said, “If we continue to turn a blind eye to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, we are only going to add more legal uncertainty. My hope is this policy statement provides developers, consumers, landowners and residents of impacted communities with a more legally durable path forward.” According to the Houston Chronicle, Joe Manchin called the decision “reckless” and added that it “puts the security of our nation at risk.” In its decision, FERC did not set restrictions on how much greenhouse gas a natural gas project could produce. Several natural gas projects in Texas could see added drama in their march toward certification. Last year a court of appeals found that FERC failed to take into account greenhouse gas emissions in approving the Texas LNG pipeline and loading terminal in Brownsville. The court, however, allowed it to continue construction.

Don’t mess with Texas

Austin, Berkeley and New York City received affirming support from the federal government in terms of prohibiting methane hook-ups for new construction. The U.S. Department of Energy last week told an appeals court that federal law does not preempt local governments from passing bans to protect its citizenry. New York City is the largest city to have a methane hook-up ban in place. In the case of Berkeley, a restaurant association sued the city council, claiming a federal statute prohibited such bans. Now Berkeley is free to carry out and enforce their ordinance as California state law has shown no interest in the case. But the 2021 Austin mandate to ban methane hook-ups was crushed by a state law, a few weeks after the city ordinance passed, banning such bans. The plastic bag ban passed by 13 Texas municipalities, including Laredo and Fort Stockton, was vacated by the Texas Supreme Court in 2014. Ninety-eight percent of all plastic in America is made from fossil fuel. The question then remains, in light of climate change awareness or lack of, when will smart municipal rules override a state government that is hell-bent on mining and burning as much fossil fuels as possible?

Bad actor?

Dallas-based Exxon Mobil has flared 15.1 billion cubic feet of gas as of July 2021 in the offshore Liza oil fields of Guyana, according to the Guyanese government. The agreement to allow Exxon to produce oil in Guyana, signed in 2016, explicitly stated, according to Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, that Exxon would not flare or vent gas but re-inject gas back into the well. At the time this technology was considered ground-breaking – unfortunately, it did not happen. Guyana has fined Exxon 4.5 million dollars for flaring — a pittance — but now a Guyana court is considering whether to shut the project down in light of Exxon’s gross failure to perform under the terms of the contract. In light of the no-flare agreement, the flaring fines are now simply a cost of doing business — a cost much more affordable for Exxon than fixing the problem –– and IEFFA is asking: What did the corporation know about the ability of the project and its relevant technology to achieve zero flaring when they signed the contract and agreed to the zero flaring provisions?

Blame it on Mexico

El Paso is the new sister listed by the EPA with seven other Texas cities for non-compliance with the Clean Air Act. Non-compliance requires cities to clean up their air and often truncates plans for new industrial projects. Three months after the federal government announced the non-compliance rating, the pro-business, pro-fossil fuel Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, appealed it, citing pollution from Mexico as the real problem. Attorney David Baake, who represents Familias Unidas del Chamizal, a coalition that sued the EPA to enforce the Clean Air Act in 2018, suggested that the air problem in El Paso was not necessarily Mexico-induced. He told Noticias Telemundo, “We have seen a trend toward worsening ozone quality in the last five, six years after a period of pretty steady improvement.” He said the “explosion of oil and gas production” in the Permian Basin was mostly to blame for El Paso’s worsening air quality. Noticias Telemundo also wrote that according to a report from the Clean Air Task Force, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Hispanic Medical Association, 1.81 million Latinos in the U.S. live within half a mile of an oil and gas facility. About 1.7 million Latinos live in counties that face a cancer risk above the EPA’s level of concern from toxins emitted by oil and gas facilities.