Moniz visit: U.S. energy secretary aware of Bakken challenges
BISMARCK — U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz hasn’t been to North Dakota since 1999, but he said he’s aware of the infrastructure challenges facing the nation’s second-leading oil producer and looks forward to learning more about them during his visit to Bismarck today.
“North Dakota obviously is a place which is booming in terms of in particular the Bakken production,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “But we also know that there are infrastructure challenges which run from venting-flaring of methane — which of course the state is addressing that flaring issue — but also the issue of transportation by rail.”
The Bismarck meeting is one of 11 meetings the Department of Energy is holding across the country to help the Obama administration develop a national policy for energy infrastructure as part of the Quadrennial Energy Review established by presidential memo in January.
North Dakota originally wasn’t on the list of QER meeting sites, but Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said she urged DOE officials to schedule a meeting here, “and it didn’t take too long for them to say yes.”
The Democrat said North Dakota’s development of oil, gas, wind, geothermal and solar power and biofuels demonstrates the “all of the above” energy strategy for which the administration says it’s striving.
“We think we can produce a lot of energy. Our trick is transporting it,” she said.
Joining Moniz as speakers at today’s meeting will be U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Gov. Jack Dalrymple. The governor said Wednesday he intends to ask Foxx why an analysis by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration singled out Bakken crude oil as being more volatile and riskier to transport than other U.S. crudes — in contrast to an industry study that yielded similar data but came to the opposite conclusion — and to explain proposed oil-by-rail regulations announced last month by the Department of Transportation.
About 63 percent of total oil shipments from the Bakken and 100 percent of Bakken shipments to the West Coast went by rail in April, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. An Energy Department memo says of particular concern is the effect rail congestion is having on the transport of agricultural products, with thousands of grain cars being delayed by weeks.
Heitkamp said that more than anyone else in the Obama administration, Moniz understands the need to look at all forms of energy, noting he “readily accepted” her invitation to participate in a symposium on clean coal technology in June.
“I think that he could be and is a good ally on the issue of fossil fuels,” she said.
Moniz, whose last visit to North Dakota was to Minot Air Force Base as part of a Strategic Air Command visit while serving as DOE undersecretary from 1997 to 2001, said the Department of Energy is taking “a very aggressive posture” in advancing fossil energy technology — principally for coal but also for other fuels — to achieve a low-carbon environment. North Dakota coal companies and utilities have warned that the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed emission regulations for new and existing coal-fired power plants could threaten the industry’s future.
The DOE has invested $6 billion in large-scale demonstrations of carbon capture utilization and sequestration, much of it based around using carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery, which is producing an additional 300,000 barrels per day, he said. An $8 billion loan guarantee program also supports development of fossil fuel technologies that will lower emissions, he said.
“So we have a pretty active program to secure a place for fossil fuels in a low-carbon economy,” said Moniz, whose appointment by President Barack Obama was confirmed in May 2013.
Today’s meeting, which begins at 11 a.m. at Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence, will include panel discussions on infrastructure constraints and solutions in the Bakken, responding to changing infrastructure needs and workforce development. Public comment also will be taken at 4:30 p.m.
Other speakers will include John P. Holdren, policy director for the White House Office of Science and Technology; Janice M. Schneider, assistant secretary of the interior for land and minerals management; and North Dakota’s congressional delegation.
Moniz will speak at a QER meeting in Chicago this morning before flying to Bismarck. After the Bismarck meeting, Heitkamp and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., will take him on tours of the Great Plains Synfuels coal gasification plant near Beulah and, on Saturday, Hess Corp.’s natural gas processing plant near Tioga.
“It’s going to be extremely, extremely informative I think, as we think about infrastructure challenges in the country,” Moniz said of his visit.
The first report from the QER meetings will be issued in January, he said.
Reach Mike Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@ forumcomm.com.