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2014’s Booms, Bans, and Busts #10: Carbon Emissions Regulations

This year has been an eventful year for the energy industry. So eventful, in fact, that in the upcoming two weeks, Shale Plays Media will be unveiling 10 major topics from 2014. Today’s topic: carbon emissions.

Emissions regulations were a heavy topic in 2014. Amidst discussion of global warming and climate change, public health and pollution, many decried the impact of the energy industry on our environment, prompting President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to roll out new emissions regulations in June. The new Clean Air Act mandates that the United States must cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

Despite previous statements that each state was responsible for deciding how to cut the emissions, states railed against the emissions regulations almost immediately. Wyoming, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, North Dakota and many others scrambled to determine how they could reach the emissions bar without spending billions on plant conversions or cutting hundreds of jobs, meanwhile claiming that the standards were unobtainable. Debates arose regarding flaring, carbon capture technology, coal plants, natural gas plants and renewable energy.

Louisiana appeared to be ahead of the game early on. Given the state’s minimal coal usage and well-developed natural gas industry—the general idea has been to transition from coal-based power to natural gas-based power—officials felt the state had little to worry about. However, information from the EPA showed that Louisiana would actually have to cut emissions by 39 percent to reach the new standards.

Texas also leered at the regulations, despite continued controversy over air quality regulation shortcomings. A lack of air monitors and enforcement from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality left the state’s air quality in a cloud of controversy. Flaring is a common practice in the Eagle Ford Shale, and studies showed that flaring emitted more pollution than refineries. However. Texas began to step up its game. October saw the installation of a new air monitor in Karnes County at the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale, a step in the right direction for the improvement of Texas’ air quality.

The emissions debate prompted discussion about technology aimed at reducing the amount of emissions produced by the energy industry. New generators that used Y-grade natural gas provided an alternative to flaring and innovative ideas were highlighted in carbon capture technology. A coal-fired power plant in Texas even installed carbon capture technology to reduce emissions while it continues to burn coal.

Positive steps have been made in recent months to lessen the power sector’s carbon footprint. The EPA announced in October that emissions from hydraulic fracturing wells were down 73 percent from 2011, but simultaneously noted that power plants accounted for 32 percent of total pollution levels in the United States.

However, many states are still opposed to the Clean Air Act. Murray Energy, an Ohio-based energy company, has filed a lawsuit against the EPA for the regulations, and plenty of states are choosing sides in the matter. West Virginia, Alabama, Alaska, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming have all backed Murray Energy, but 14 other states and the District of Columbia have chosen to support the EPA. The Supreme Court has also agreed to hear arguments on the issue.

Between new, developing technologies and EPA’s time in the courtroom, 2015 will undoubtedly be an interesting year for carbon emissions. One year closer to the daunting deadline of 2030, the power sector will continue to work at becoming more environmentally conscious.

Emissions isn’t the only environmental issues pertaining to the oil and gas industry. Another prominent concern is the disposal of the waste that it creates. Issues ranging from what to do with the radioactive material the industry creates to the debate of whether or not disposal wells cause earthquakes will be discussed in tomorrow’s Shale Plays Media countdown post.