Tag Archives: fossil fuel

The Evolving International Gas Industry: A Brief Comment on Decarbonisation and Matters Arising

 

Tade Oyewunmi, Doctoral Researcher, oyetade.oyewunmi@uef.fi

IN A forthcoming paper on the topic- ‘Examining the Instrumental Role of Regulation in the Development of Gas Supply Markets: Highlights from the US and EU’ (2017)[1] I considered the effectiveness of regulation in the path towards restructuring and the development of competitive gas markets in which parallel policy objectives such as security of supply and sustainability are being pursued.

IN A climate change and decarbonisation context, debates relating to the effectiveness and implications of market-based mechanisms like carbon tax and emissions trading scheme (ETS) as opposed to standard-setting or rule-making conventional approaches to regulation have gained significant attention recently.[2] Pollution resulting from operations in the energy and petroleum industry are often considered as a major cause of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change.[3] In an increasingly international gas industry which is now ever more interconnected with electricity markets in major industrialized economies, the disposition of the major energy-related GHG emitting countries such as the US, Russia, and China becomes highly relevant.

THE NORTH American shale gas revolution over the past eight years undeniably positions the US as the leading oil and gas producing country globally.[4] It is therefore not surprising to see several legal disputes between environmental protection groups against energy firms who are seeking to take advantage of the boom in unconventional hydrocarbon production to obtain approvals for gas commercialisation and LNG projects. Recently, in Earthreports, Inc., et al. vs. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Dominion Cove Point LNG, et al. (2016).[5] a US Court of Appeal for the DC Circuit rejected the claims of such environmental groups who contested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’s conditional authorization of the conversion of the Cove Point LNG facility from an import maritime terminal to a mixed-use, import-and-export terminal. The environmentalists had argued that the FERC failed to consider the indirect environmental impacts that the Cove Point LNG conversion into a gas export facility might have, and therefore failed to satisfy its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. The Court held that under NEPA, the FERC is not required to consider indirect effects of increased natural gas exports through the Cove Point facility, including potential climate impacts.[6] Assuming this decision indicates the current disposition in the US to gas utilisation and commercialisation, it may be argued that conventional and prescriptive standard-setting or rule-making regulatory approaches may not necessarily hinder the shale gas production and commercialisation boom. However, as with any conventional regulation approach, it does create additional compliance and monitoring costs. Another important issue in the scheme of things is the possibility of the US pulling out of the 2016 Paris Agreement following the recent elections and subsequent change in government.[7]

Conventional Regulation vs. Market-based Pricing of Carbon Emissions
ADVOCATES OF market-based mechanisms like the ETS and carbon tax contend that placing a strong and predictable price or charge on carbon emissions is the most cost-effective and efficient path to GHG emissions reductions.[8] It is noted that the ETS framework seem to have come under stronger criticisms, while carbon tax proponents seem to be gathering more support.[9] Arguably, there are justifiable concerns about the de facto effectiveness of the ETS and its ‘cap and trade’ mechanism.[10] Such concerns relate to whether it actually limits GHG emissions or it is just another theoretical economic construct which in reality depends on perfect markets and effective balancing of demand and supply of trading allowances and permits. Another problem with carbon pricing, especially carbon tax is the socio-political challenge of curtailing pass-through costs on final energy (gas and electricity) consumers. Hence the question- who eventually pays for the ‘charge’ on carbon? According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the main reasons for low carbon prices generally includes: (i) economic downturn which led to lower-than-anticipated emissions, resulting in a surplus of emissions allowances; (ii) the socio-political challenge of setting tight emissions cap or high carbon prices vis-à-vis industrial competitiveness and rising consumer electricity prices; (iii) flattening or falling electricity demand (resulting in reduced demand for ETS allowances) due to the positive effects of energy efficiency policies in many jurisdictions.[11]

IN COMPARING carbon tax with subsidies as plausible market-based mechanisms for the US, it has been posited that: “A carbon tax is superior to subsidies for carbon-free energy sources [e.g. renewables] in two important respects. First, it has the opposite effect on the budget deficit. While subsidies increase the deficit, a carbon tax would decrease the deficit. Second, it is much easier to design and to implement. To be effective, a carbon tax need only deter consumption of hydrocarbons. Consumers are left with complete discretion with respect to the ways in which they reduce their consumption of hydrocarbons. For example, by increasing the efficiency of their use of energy or by substituting for hydrocarbons some mix of carbon-free fuels like wind power, solar power, or nuclear power.”.[12]

NOTABLY, IN most market and developed economies, who also happen to be the leading GHG emitting countries seemingly due to high energy utilisation and industrialisation, there has been a general disenchantment with the interventionist and seeming highhandedness of traditional regulatory forms. Consequently, there has been a preference for more deregulation and to adopt alternative regulatory approaches which encourages the desired behaviour by economic and financial incentives rather than by legal compulsion or sanctions. In this regard, such incentives can be: (i) negative i.e. the conduct is legally unconstrained unless the a firm chooses to act in an undesired way, then it must pay a charge e.g. carbon price; or (ii) positive i.e. if a firm chooses to act in a desired way it is awarded a subsidy or allowed a more cost-efficient tariff such as feed-in tariffs for renewables or energy conservation.

THE APPARENT flexibility of market-based instruments should incentivize innovation and technological development. What it, however, does not guarantee ipso facto is accountability and trust unless such factors are built into the market structure and framework. It has also been argued that while the conventional command-based regulatory approaches may lead to more uncertainties about the apprehension, prosecution, and level of sanctions; market and economic instruments, on the other hand, could provide more a definite and predictable level of compliance motivating charges and payments. As far as developed market economies are concerned, it appears there is strong argument in favour of placing a price or a charge on energy-related GHG emissions. Although the main caveat or pragmatic concern is the credibility of the carbon emissions market, and whether such approaches will effectively curtail negative environmental and climatic impacts without imposing avoidable costs on operators and energy consumers. Also, as inquired earlier, who pays for the price of carbon emissions in an increasingly international gas supply and energy context?

 

[1] This paper will be published in a forthcoming 2017 issue of the Houston Journal of International Law.

[2] Brittany A Harris, ‘Repeating the Failures of Carbon Trading’ (2014) 23(3) Pac Rim L & Pol’y J 755 – 793; the International Energy Agency (IEA), ‘Energy, Climate Change and Environment 2016 Insights’ (IEA Publications, 2016) 1 – 133; Adam Whitmore, Can Emissions Trading Produce Adequate Carbon Prices? Energycollective, January 23, 2017.

[3] Energy industry related GHG emissions include CO2, methane (CH4) from natural gas production and nitrous oxide (N2O). These gases are quantified in terms of their global warming potential relative to CO2. For instance, gas flaring and venting is one of the main hydrocarbon exploration and production processes with environmental implications to the extent that CH4 is one of the main components of natural gas. Flaring is the controlled burning of natural gas produced in association with oil in the course of routine oil and gas production operations. Venting is the controlled release of unburned gases directly into the atmosphere. In addition, water management, including water usage during drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and the protection of surface and ground water during drilling, fracturing, production and disposal activities, is a central environmental issue for unconventional gas production. See the International Energy Agency (IEA), ‘Energy Policies of IEA Countries: The United States 2014 Review’ (IEA Publications, 2014) at 209 – 211; IEA, ‘Energy, Climate Change and Environment 2016 Insights’ (IEA Publications, 2016) 1 – 133.

[4] Proven gas reserves in the US has increased by almost three-quarters since 2000, up to 9.1 trillion cubic metres (or 323 trillion cubic feet) by end 2012, or the equivalent of more than 100 years of production at 2012 consumption rates. Natural gas production is projected to continue to increase over the period to 2040. Improvements in advanced crude oil production technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing, are widely expected to continue to lift domestic supply into the medium term. The renaissance that the oil industry is undergoing is largely the result of growth in light tight oil (LTO) production, a boom that is expected to continue until 2020 at least. According to Forbes, ‘The 25 Biggest Oil and Gas Companies in The World’30 March, 2016: “The U.S. has seven companies in the top 25, more than any other country” Other countries/companies in the list includes Russia’s Gazprom and Rosneft as well as China’s Petro China.

[5] Earthreports, Inc., et al. vs. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Dominion Cove Point LNG, et al, No. 15-1127 (D.C.  Cir., 2016)

[6] Ibid.

[7] The previous US government administration, signed and ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change on 22 April 2016. According to Platts, Fact Box: Global energy implications of Tillerson as top US diplomat, 1 February 2017 at <www.platts.com/latest-news/oil/washington/fact-box-global-energy-implications-of-tillerson-21766883> accessed 09/02/2017, it seems the new administration may be more favourably disposed to Carbon Tax and intends “to keep a seat at the table of global climate talks to understand the impacts on Americans and US competitiveness”.

[8] See IEA, ‘Energy, Climate Change and Environment 2016 Insights’ ibid. In the power sector, carbon prices can influence the economic choices of investors, technology developers and consumers. They can moderate energy demand, deter new high-carbon investment and encourage low-carbon instead, and curtail the operation of existing high-emitting assets. Carbon pricing also plays a role in shifting corporate behaviour: by making climate change a financial rather than environmental reporting issue, it directly engages top management.

[9] Tade Oyewunmi, ‘Emissions trading scheme and gas flaring in the United Kingdom Continental Shelf: a comment’ (2011)(5) International Energy Law Review 193-199; Adam Whitmore, Can Emissions Trading Produce Adequate Carbon Prices? Energycollective, January 23, 2017. In Brittany Harris, Repeating the Failures of Carbon Trading, (2014) 23(3) Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal pp. 755 – 793. the author also points to the de facto ineffectiveness of the carbon trading mechanisms as applied in the pacific rim countries. See also Richard J. Pierce Jr., ‘The Past, Present, and Future of Energy Regulation’ (2011) 31(2) Utah Environmental Law Review pp. 291-308.

[10] Ibid.

[11] IEA, ‘Energy, Climate Change and Environment 2016 Insights’ note 3 supra.

[12] Pierce Jr., note 9 supra.

A Nudge Towards Low-Emission Mobility – A Glance at the AFI Directive’s Approach to End Oil Dependence in the European Transport Sector

 

 

 

Sara Kymenvaara, Researcher, Climate Change Law, LL.M.

A FAMOUS metaphor on climate change politics refers to people’s unrelenting driving of SUVs, disconnected from the threat of climate change they are contributing to. Although a lot has changed on the political arena with the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on 4 November 2016, the transport sector’s current state of play, in certain aspects, still corresponds to the metaphor’s dystopian features. The sector plays, however, an important role in achieving the Paris Agreement’s climate change mitigation objectives.

IN THE EU, transport is set to contribute to the overall emission reduction target of 30% by 2030 from 2005-levels. The Commission has also set out a specific goal for the transport sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% from 1990-levels by the year 2050.

HOW TO achieve these ambitious objectives?  Transport remains the only sector in EU where GHG emissions have risen since 1990. Emission reductions achieved by new motor vehicles’ improved energy efficiency as a result of the EU Regulations on passenger cars and vans are forecast to be offset by increased mobility demand. In fact, it seems that the 60% emission reduction target for the transport sector will require a “systemic change” in the transport system and sector as a whole.

ONE OF the key measures to achieve the necessary systemic change is to end the transport sector’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels and start using cleaner vehicles and fuels. To this end, a key EU-level policy instrument is Directive 2014/94/EU on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure (the “AFI Directive”), a main legislative measure to implement the Commission’s alternative fuels strategy.

ALTERNATIVE FUELS include, for example, electricity, hydrogen, natural gas and sustainable biofuels, and the AFI Directive’s main objective is to promote the construction of the infrastructure needed for the vehicles running on these fuels. However, installing infrastructure for vehicles using alternative fuels should correspond to the amount and types of vehicles in use. Such vehicles are not currently sold in amounts large enough to develop sufficiently competitive prices. Thus, the combination of high prices and lack of infrastructure discourages consumers from buying them.

THEAFI Directive aims to end this vicious circle by obliging EU Member States to promote the development of their national markets for alternative fuels and set objectives and targets for the related infrastructure. The AFI Directive contains, however, no binding targets for infrastructure and the Member States’ objectives can be revised at a later stage. Thus, the AFI Directive ‘nudges’ rather than obliges Member States to develop markets and infrastructure for low-emission fuels and vehicles.

CONCERNING ELECTRIC mobility, for example, the EU Member States must ensure that an “appropriate” number of public charging points are installed for electric vehicles in densely populated areas by 2020. The “appropriate number” is determined largely by the Member States themselves in relation to their national estimates of, and objectives for, the number of electric vehicles to be registered by 2020.

ACHIEVING THE ambitious emission reduction goals in the transport sector also requires that policy incentives that counteract these objectives are identified and abolished. For long, the tax benefit to diesel fuels in many EU Member States has created such an incentive, let alone the failure to consider diesel’s external costs of air pollution on human health. Over half of all newly registered passenger cars in the EU run on diesel while alternative fuel vehicles currently only account for 4.9% of all passenger cars in use.

THE FIGURES indicate that EU currently is far from achieving the objective of a Low-emission Mobility. Interestingly, however, certain estimates, mainly concerning Norway, predict that electric vehicles are set to conquer the markets extensively in the near future. However, Norway seems to be an exception to the otherwise increasing share of diesel vehicles in the rest of Europe; Norway’s share of electric vehicles in new car sales currently is currently almost 30%, while the same figure is 1.5% for Western Europe. In addition, hardly no other European country has a state budget robust enough to afford the fiscal incentives for electric vehicles that have stimulated their surge in Norway.

AGAINST THIS backdrop, the national objectives and policy measures of the EU Member States to implement the AFI Directive will be essential for cutting oil dependence in the transport sector. If these national policy frameworks are sufficiently ambitious, the AFI Directive’s adaptive strategy may indeed solve the deadlock concerning lack of infrastructure and alternative fuel vehicles’ market penetration – and thus contribute to the decarbonisation of the transport sector within the timeframes set out by the EU’s climate policy objectives.

Reflections on Rhetoric: Discussing ‘Sustainable Development’ in Northern Regions at Arctic Circle Forum 2016

 

 

 

Dr. Sabaa A. Khan, Postdoctoral Researcher

THE FOURTH Arctic Circle Forum took place in Canada from 11 to 13 December 2016, hosted by the Government of Quebec. The Forum compliments the larger Arctic Circle Assembly held in Reykjavik, Iceland, each year. Its objective is to convene international stakeholders to consider specialized issues pertaining to Arctic cooperation. Earlier forums hosted in Alaska, Singapore and Greenland addressed shipping and ports, as well as economic development.

IN 2016, the Forum focused on Sustainable Development in Northern Regions: An Integrated and Partnership-based Approach and provided an opportunity for Quebec to share the Plan Nord. This is an ambitious mining, energy, forestry, wildlife and tourism development plan covering all of Quebec territory that lies north of the 49th degree of latitude. The Forum also included a special plenary session on Climate Change in Arctic and Northern Regions.

David Miller, President and CEO of WWF Canada draws attention to caribou survival in decline across Canada, at the Special Plenary Session on Climate Change.

 

THE FORUM’S opening session focused on what sustainable development means for the fragile northern regions of the globe. Philippe Couillard, Premier of Quebec, emphasized the importance of harnessing developmental opportunities in Quebec’s vast untapped forests and mineral reserves, while Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Arctic Circle Chairman and former President of Iceland, acknowledged a group of protesters outside the Forum and reminded that citizens had to be brought along in the process of sustainable development as central participants.

VITTUS QUJAUKITSOQ, Minister of Commerce, Employment, Trade, Energy and Foreign Affairs, Greenland addressed what is arguably the most important Arctic climate change issue: oil and gas exploration. Casting aside the issues of conservation and climate change, he expressed optimism for the US President-elect Donald Trump’s economic development plans in the Arctic region and stated his hope for a US Secretary of State appointment “with a comprehensive experience from the private sector.” In light of the subsequent nomination of Exxon Mobil’s chief executive Rex Tillerson as the US Secretary of State, Greenland’s desire for enhanced regional cooperation on Arctic oil and gas development may very well become a reality.

THIS STANDS in stark contrast to the Canadian and outgoing US Administration’s approach to sustainable development in the Arctic.  In fact, a week following the Arctic Circle Forum in Quebec, the US and Canada released a joint statement banning offshore oil and gas development in their respective Arctic waters. The US has imposed an indefinite ban on oil and gas leasing on the majority of US waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, while Canada imposed an indefinite ban on offshore oil and gas licensing in all Arctic Canadian waters, to be reviewed every five years through a lifecycle assessment based on climate and marine-science.

THE ISSUE of oil and gas development also arose in the Forum’s special plenary session on climate change. David Heurtel, Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and the fight against Climate Change, Quebec, expressed the province’s desire to move away from drilling. David Miller, President and CEO, World Wildlife Fund, Canada, emphasized the clarity of climate change science on the importance of eliminating fossil fuel dependence and of embracing renewable energy industries that do not negatively impact conservation of flora and fauna, especially the protection of wildlife habitats. His Serene Highness Albert II, Prince of Monaco insisted upon the “irreplaceable” role of scientific knowledge as the only “solid and incontestable basis” for Arctic development. Addressing hydrocarbon exploration in particular, he noted that we could not hope but for a limitation of these activities.

WHILE CLEARLY demonstrating there is no consensus between Arctic nations on halting oil and gas exploration in the Arctic as a measure to respond to the urgency of climate change, the Forum made it clear that Arctic development will not be left to federal authorities and top-down processes. Overall, the salient and most widely embraced idea affirmed at the Arctic Circle Quebec Forum was that sustainable development of the Arctic region has to be a broadly inclusive and science-driven process duly integrating the knowledge and participation of local communities.