The lizard already is “functionally extinct” across 47 percent of its range. Photo via Getty Images

Federal wildlife officials declared a rare lizard in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas an endangered species Friday, citing future energy development, sand mining and climate change as the biggest threats to its survival in one of the world’s most lucrative oil and natural gas basins.

“We have determined that the dunes sagebrush lizard is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. It concluded that the lizard already is “functionally extinct” across 47 percent of its range.

Much of the the 2.5-inch-long (6.5-centimeter), spiny, light brown lizard's remaining habitat has been fragmented, preventing the species from finding mates beyond those already living close by, according to biologists.

“Even if there were no further expansion of the oil and gas or sand mining industry, the existing footprint of these operations will continue to negatively affect the dunes sagebrush lizard into the future,” the service said in its final determination, published in the Federal Register.

The decision caps two decades of legal and regulatory skirmishes between the U.S. government, conservationists and the oil and gas industry. Environmentalists cheered the move, while industry leaders condemned it as a threat to future production of the fossil fuels.

The decision provides a “lifeline for survival” for a unique species whose “only fault has been occupying a habitat that the fossil fuel industry has been wanting to claw away from it,” said Bryan Bird, the Southwest director for Defenders of Wildlife.

“The dunes sagebrush lizard spent far too long languishing in a Pandora’s box of political and administrative back and forth even as its population was in free-fall towards extinction,” Bird said in a statement.

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association and the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association expressed disappointment, saying the determination flies in the face of available science and ignores longstanding state-sponsored conservation efforts across hundreds of thousands of acres and commitment of millions of dollars in both states.

“This listing will bring no additional benefit for the species and its habitat, yet could be detrimental to those living and working in the region,” PBPA President Ben Shepperd and NMOGA President and CEO Missi Currier said in a joint statement, adding that they view it as a federal overreach that can harm communities.

Scientists say the lizards are found only in the Permian Basin, the second-smallest range of any North American lizard. The reptiles live in sand dunes and among shinnery oak, where they feed on insects and spiders and burrow into the sand for protection from extreme temperatures.

Environmentalists first petitioned for the species' protection in 2002, and in 2010 federal officials found that it was warranted. That prompted an outcry from some members of Congress and communities that rely on oil and gas development for jobs and tax revenue.

Several Republican lawmakers sent a letter to officials in the Obama administration asking to delay a final decision, and in 2012, federal officials decided against listing the dunes sagebrush lizard.

Then-U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at the time that the decision was based on the “best available science” and because of voluntary conservation agreements in place in New Mexico and Texas.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in Friday's decision that such agreements “have provided, and continue to provide, many conservation benefits” for the lizard, but “based on the information we reviewed in our assessment, we conclude that the risk of extinction for the dunes sagebrush lizard is high despite these efforts.”

Among other things, the network of roads will continue to restrict movement and facilitate direct mortality of dunes sagebrush lizards from traffic, it added, while industrial development “will continue to have edge effects on surrounding habitat and weaken the structure of the sand dune formations.”

The Spring, Texas-based company's revenue totaled $83.08 billion, down from $86.56 billion a year earlier. Photo via exxonmobil.com

ExxonMobil profit declines in Q1 as natural gas prices fall

trending down

ExxonMobil's profit declined in its first quarter as natural gas prices fell and industry refining margins dropped.

The energy company earned $8.22 billion, or $2.06 per share, for the three months ended March 31. A year earlier it earned $11.43 billion, or $2.79 per share.

The results didn't meet Wall Street expectations, but Exxon does not adjust its reported results based on one-time events such as assets sales. Analysts polled by Zacks Investment Research were expecting earnings of $2.19 per share.

Shares declined slightly before the market open on Friday.

The Spring, Texas-based company's revenue totaled $83.08 billion, down from $86.56 billion a year earlier. Wall Street forecast revenue of $86.6 billion.

Production in Guyana reached more than 600,000 oil-equivalent barrels per day, a higher-than-expected level, the company said.

Exxon went on a bit of a shopping spree last year when oil prices were surging.

In July, the company said it would pay $4.9 billion for Denbury Resources, an oil and gas producer that has entered the business of capturing and storing carbon and stands to benefit from changes in U.S. climate policy.

In October Exxon topped that deal by announcing that it would buy shale operator Pioneer Natural Resources for $60 billion. Two months later, the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces federal antitrust law, asked for additional information from the companies about the proposed deal. The request is a step the agency takes when reviewing whether a merger could be anticompetitive under U.S. law. Pioneer disclosed the request in a filing in January.

Elevated levels of cash for all big producers drove a massive consolidation in the energy sector. In October Chevron said it would buy Hess Corp. for $53 billion.

Oil markets are being stretched by cutbacks in oil production from Saudi Arabia and Russia, and the war between Israel and Hamas still potentially runs the risk of igniting a broader conflict in the Middle East. While attacks on Israel do not disrupt global oil supply, according to an analysis by the U.S Energy Information Administration, “they raise the potential for oil supply disruptions and higher oil prices.”

Elsewhere in the sector, Chevron Corp. reported a first-quarter profit of $5.5 billion, or $2.97 per share. Its adjusted profit was $2.93 per share.

The results surpassed Wall Street expectations, but Chevron also does not adjust its reported results based on one-time events such as asset sales. Analysts surveyed by Zacks predicted earnings of $2.84 per share.

The oil company posted revenue of $48.72 billion, which fell short of Wall Street's estimate of $49.94 billion.

Chevron's stock dipped in premarket trading.

The lawsuits are Oklahoma's first against natural gas operators over earnings during the 2021 Winter Storm Uri. Photo by Lynn in Midtown via CultureMap

Oklahoma sues 2 Texas natural gas companies over price spikes during 2021 winter storm

taking action

Two Texas-based natural gas companies are being sued by Oklahoma, which alleges they fraudulently reduced gas supplies to send prices soaring during Winter Storm Uri, making huge profits while thousands shivered across the state.

The lawsuits are Oklahoma's first against natural gas operators over earnings during the 2021 storm. The suits were filed against Dallas-based ET Gathering & Processing, which acquired Enable Midstream Partners in 2021, and Houston-based Symmetry Energy Solutions.

Both lawsuits seek actual and punitive damages, as well as a share of any profits that resulted from wrongdoing. Oklahoma's Republican attorney general, Gentner Drummond, said his office intends to pursue additional litigation against other companies that may have engaged in market manipulation.

“I believe the level of fraud perpetrated on Oklahomans during Winter Storm Uri is both staggering and unconscionable,” Drummond said in a statement. “While many companies conducted themselves above board during that trying time, our analysis indicates that some bad actors reaped billions of dollars in ill-gotten gains."

A Symmetry spokesperson said in a statement that the company "adamantly denies the unfounded allegations in the lawsuit, which it will vigorously defend.” A message seeking comment left with ET was not immediately returned. The lawsuits were filed in Osage County, Oklahoma.

The devastating storm sent temperatures plummeting across the country and left millions of people without power.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach filed a similar lawsuit in federal court in December against a natural gas marketer operating in that state. In Texas, which was also hit hard by the deadly storm, the electric utility Griddy Energy reached a settlement with state regulators over crushing electric bills its customers received.

The data shows the biggest leaks are in the Permian basin of Texas and New Mexico. Photo via Getty Images

US energy industry methane emissions are triple what government thinks, study finds

by the numbers

American oil and natural gas wells, pipelines and compressors are spewing three times the amount of the potent heat-trapping gas methane as the government thinks, causing $9.3 billion in yearly climate damage, a new comprehensive study calculates.

But because more than half of these methane emissions are coming from a tiny number of oil and gas sites, 1% or less, this means the problem is both worse than the government thought but also fairly fixable, said the lead author of a study in Wednesday's journal Nature.

The same issue is happening globally. Large methane emissions events around the world detected by satellites grew 50% in 2023 compared to 2022 with more than 5 million metric tons spotted in major fossil fuel leaks, the International Energy Agency reported Wednesday in their Global Methane Tracker 2024. World methane emissions rose slightly in 2023 to 120 million metric tons, the report said.

“This is really an opportunity to cut emissions quite rapidly with targeted efforts at these highest emitting sites,” said lead author Evan Sherwin, an energy and policy analyst at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab who wrote the study while at Stanford University. “If we can get this roughly 1% of sites under control, then we're halfway there because that's about half of the emissions in most cases.”

Sherwin said the fugitive emissions come throughout the oil and gas production and delivery system, starting with gas flaring. That's when firms release natural gas to the air or burn it instead of capturing the gas that comes out of energy extraction. There's also substantial leaks throughout the rest of the system, including tanks, compressors and pipelines, he said.

“It's actually straightforward to fix,” Sherwin said.

In general about 3% of the U.S. gas produced goes wasted into the air, compared to the Environmental Protection Agency figures of 1%, the study found. Sherwin said that's a substantial amount, about 6.2 million tons per hour in leaks measured over the daytime. It could be lower at night, but they don't have those measurements.

The study gets that figure using one million anonymized measurements from airplanes that flew over 52% of American oil wells and 29% of gas production and delivery system sites over a decade. Sherwin said the 3% leak figure is the average for the six regions they looked at and they did not calculate a national average.

Methane over a two-decade period traps about 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide, but only lasts in the atmosphere for about a decade instead of hundreds of years like carbon dioxide, according to the EPA.

About 30% of the world's warming since pre-industrial times comes from methane emissions, said IEA energy supply unit head Christophe McGlade. The United States is the No. 1 oil and gas production methane emitter, with China polluting even more methane from coal, he said.

Last December, the Biden administration issued a new rule forcing the U.S. oil and natural gas industry to cut its methane emissions. At the same time at the United Nations climate negotiations in Dubai, 50 oil companies around the world pledged to reach near zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in operations by 2030. That Dubai agreement would trim about one-tenth of a degree Celsius, nearly two-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit, from future warming, a prominent climate scientist told The Associated Press.

Monitoring methane from above, instead of at the sites or relying on company estimates, is a growing trend. Earlier this month the market-based Environmental Defense Fund and others launched MethaneSAT into orbit. For energy companies, the lost methane is valuable with Sherwin's study estimate it is worth about $1 billion a year.

About 40% of the global methane emissions from oil, gas and coal could have been avoided at no extra cost, which is “a massive missed opportunity,” IEA's McGlade said. The IEA report said if countries do what they promised in Dubai they could cut half of the global methane pollution by 2030, but actions put in place so far only would trim 20% instead, “a very large gap between emissions and actions,” McGlade said.

“It is critical to reduce methane emissions if the world is to meet climate targets,” said Cornell University methane researcher Robert Horwath, who wasn't part of Sherwin's study.

“Their analysis makes sense and is the most comprehensive study by far out there on the topic,” said Howarth, who is updating figures in a forthcoming study to incorporate the new data.

The overflight data shows the biggest leaks are in the Permian basin of Texas and New Mexico.

“It's a region of rapid growth, primarily driven by oil production,” Sherwin said. “So when the drilling happens, both oil and gas comes out, but the main thing that the companies want to sell in most cases was the oil. And there wasn't enough pipeline capacity to take the gas away” so it spewed into the air instead.

Contrast that with tiny leak rates found in drilling in the Denver region and the Pennsylvania area. Denver leaks are so low because of local strictly enforced regulations and Pennsylvania is more gas-oriented, Sherwin said.

This shows a real problem with what National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association methane-monitoring scientist Gabrielle Petron calls “super-emitters."

“Reliably detecting and fixing super-emitters is a low hanging fruit to reduce real life greenhouse gas emissions,” Petron, who wasn't part of Sherwin's study, said. “This is very important because these super-emitter emissions are ignored by most ‘official’ accounting.”

Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson, who also wasn't part of the study, said, “a few facilities are poisoning the air for everyone.”

“For more than a decade, we’ve been showing that the industry emits far more methane than they or government agencies admit," Jackson said. “This study is capstone evidence. And yet nothing changes.”

Honeywell’s European launch follows a Dutch test of the smart gas meter, which the company touts as the world’s first commercially available hydrogen-ready gas meter. Photo via honeywell.com

Honeywell plans to launch world's first of hydrogen-ready gas meter

smart tech

A Houston-based unit of industrial conglomerate Honeywell has unveiled a gas meter capable of measuring both hydrogen and natural gas.

Honeywell’s European launch follows a Dutch test of the EI5 smart gas meter, which the company touts as the world’s first commercially available hydrogen-ready gas meter.

“Honeywell’s hydrogen-capable meters are key to facilitating a seamless transition to hydrogen energy across European utility networks,” Kinnera Angadi, chief technology officer of smart energy and thermal solutions at Honeywell, says in a November 28 news release. “We’re enhancing operational efficiency with meters that are ready for the future, helping our customers stay ahead in a market that’s swiftly transitioning toward greener energy solutions.”

Among other products, Honeywell’s Houston-based Process Solutions unit supplies connected utility and metering technology like the new EI5 gas meter. In the Netherlands, Honeywell’s meters will be installed at residences by Dutch energy company Enexis Group.

A 2022 report from the Hydrogen Council indicates that hydrogen costs are expected to fall by 2030, making it competitive with other low-carbon option. This insight helped lead Enexis Group to commit to converting its main gas lines to hydrogen within the next three years.

“The transition to clean energy is as necessary as it is complex,” says Ruud Busscher, program manager for energy transit and Hydrogen at Enexis. “This project aims to challenge the way we operate by using an alternative to natural gas. We are finding out how the existing grid will be influenced by hydrogen and what new paths can be taken for a sustainable future.”

Energy sources are often categorized as renewable or not, but perhaps a more accurate classification focuses on the type of reaction that converts energy into useful matter. Photo by simpson33/Getty Images

How is energy produced?

ENERGY 101

Many think of the Energy Industry as a dichotomy–old vs. new, renewable vs. nonrenewable, good vs. bad. But like most things, energy comes from an array of sources, and each kind has its own unique benefits and challenges. Understanding the multi-faceted identity of currently available energy sources creates an environment in which new ideas for cleaner and more sustainable energy sourcing can proliferate.

At a high level, energy can be broadly categorized by the process of extracting and converting it into a useful form.

Energy Produced from Chemical Reaction

Energy derived from coal, crude oil, natural gas, and biomass is primarily produced as a result of bonds breaking during a chemical reaction. When heated, burned, or fermented, organic matter releases energy, which is converted into mechanical or electrical energy.

These sources can be stored, distributed, and shared relatively easily and do not have to be converted immediately for power consumption. However, the resulting chemical reaction produces environmentally harmful waste products.

Though the processes to extract these organic sources of energy have been refined for many years to achieve reliable and cheap energy, they can be risky and are perceived as invasive to mother nature.

According to the 2022 bp Statistical Review of World Energy, approximately 50% of the world’s energy consumption comes from petroleum and natural gas; another 25% from coal. Though there was a small decline in demand for oil from 2019 to 2021, the overall demand for fossil fuels remained unchanged during the same time frame, mostly due to the increase in natural gas and coal consumption.

Energy Produced from Mechanical Reaction

Energy captured from the earth’s heat or the movement of wind and water results from the mechanical processes enabled by the turning of turbines in source-rich environments. These turbines spin to produce electricity inside a generator.

Solar energy does not require the use of a generator but produces electricity due to the release of electrons from the semiconducting materials found on a solar panel. The electricity produced by geothermal, wind, solar, and hydropower is then converted from direct current to alternating current electricity.

Electricity is most useful for immediate consumption, as storage requires the use of batteries–a process that turns electrical energy into chemical energy that can then be accessed in much the same way that coal, crude oil, natural gas, and biomass produce energy.

Energy Produced from a Combination of Reactions

Hydrogen energy comes from a unique blend of both electrical and chemical energy processes. Despite hydrogen being the most abundant element on earth, it is rarely found on its own, requiring a two-step process to extract and convert energy into a usable form. Hydrogen is primarily produced as a by-product of fossil fuels, with its own set of emissions challenges related to separating the hydrogen from the hydrocarbons.

Many use electrolysis to separate hydrogen from other elements before performing a chemical reaction to create electrical energy inside of a contained fuel cell. The electrolysis process is certainly a more environmentally-friendly solution, but there are still great risks with hydrogen energy–it is highly flammable, and its general energy output is less than that of other electricity-generating methods.

Energy Produced from Nuclear Reaction

Finally, energy originating from the splitting of an atom’s nucleus, mostly through nuclear fission, is yet another way to produce energy. A large volume of heat is released when an atom is bombarded by neutrons in a nuclear power plant, which is then converted to electrical energy.

This process also produces a particularly sensitive by-product known as radiation, and with it, radioactive waste. The proper handling of radiation and radioactive waste is of utmost concern, as its effects can be incredibly damaging to the environment surrounding a nuclear power plant.

Nuclear fission produces minimal carbon, so nuclear energy is oft considered environmentally safe–as long as strict protocols are followed to ensure proper storage and disposal of radiation and radioactive waste.

Nuclear to Mechanical to Chemical?

Interestingly enough, the Earth’s heat comes from the decay of radioactive materials in the Earth’s core, loosely linking nuclear power production back to geothermal energy production.

It’s also clear the conversion of energy into electricity is the cleanest option for the environment, yet adequate infrastructure remains limited in supply and accessibility. If not consumed immediately as electricity, energy is thus converted into a chemical form for the convenience of storage and distribution it provides.

Perhaps the expertise and talent of Houstonians serving the flourishing academic and industrial sectors of energy development will soon resolve many of our current energy challenges by exploring further the circular dynamic of the energy environment. Be sure to check out our Events Page to find the networking event that best serves your interest in the Energy Transition.


------

Lindsey Ferrell is a contributing writer to EnergyCapitalHTX and founder of Guerrella & Co.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

mixed reviews

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

———

This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

New collaboration to build data center microgrid in Houston

coming soon

Two companies are teaming up to build a natural gas microgrid in Houston that will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

Provider of prime and backup power solutions RPower has teamed up with Houston’s ViVaVerse Solutions to build a 17-megawatt (MW) microgrid at the ViVa Center campus in Houston, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of the year.

The microgrid plans to employ ultra-low emissions and natural gas generators to deliver Resiliency-as-a-Service (RaaS), and this will connect to ViVaVerse's colocation data center operations during utility outages.

RPower will also deploy the microgrid across different ERCOT market programs, which will contribute to assist with essential capacity and ancillary services for the local grid. ERCOT has increased its use of renewable energy in recent years, but still has faced criticism for unstable conditions. The microgrids can potentially assist ERCOT, and also help cut back on emissions.

“RPower's pioneering microgrid will not only deliver essential N+1 resiliency to our data center operations but will also contribute to the local community by supplying necessary capacity during peak demand periods when the electric grid is strained,” Eduardo Morales, CEO of ViVaVerse Solutions and Morales Capital Group, says in a news release.

ViVaVerse Solutions will be converting the former Compaq Computer/HPE headquarters Campus into an innovative technology hub called the ViVa Center, which will host the High-Performance Computing Data Center, and spaces dedicated to mission critical infrastructure and technical facilities . The hub will host 200 data labs.

“We are thrilled to partner with ViVaVerse to deploy this `first of its kind' microgrid solution in the data center space,” Jeff Starcher, CEO of RPower, adds. “Our natural gas backup generation system delivers the same reliability and performance as traditional diesel systems, but with a 98 percent reduction in emissions. Further, the RPower system provides critical grid services and will respond to the volatility of renewable generation, further enabling the energy transition to a carbon free future.”