Overnight Energy: Judge blocks permits for Alaska oil project

Overnight Energy: Judge blocks permits for Alaska oil project
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HAPPY THURSDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, your source for the day’s energy and environment news.

Please send tips and comments to Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin. Reach Zack Budryk at zbudryk@thehill.com or follow him at @BudrykZack.

Today we’re looking at a ruling against a project that could have extracted hundreds of millions of barrels of oil from the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, the launch of a review of federal coal leasing and a study on fracking’s impacts on water.



NO GO: Federal judge rules against Trump-era approval of Alaska drilling project

A federal judge in Alaska ruled against the Trump administration’s approval of a massive oil drilling project in the state, arguing that the Interior Department did not adequately measure the true environmental impact the project could pose. 

In her opinion, Judge Sharon Gleason of the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska faulted the department’s Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) environmental assessment of the ConocoPhillips’s Willow project, which was granted approval under former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new social media network called 'TRUTH Social' Virginia State Police investigating death threat against McAuliffe Meadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report MORE and was subsequently backed by the Biden administration. 

She vacated both the BLM’s approval and a biological opinion from the Fish and Wildlife Service, and remanded the project back to the agencies for further proceedings. 

OK, but why? Gleason argued that the bureau's decision to exclude levels of greenhouse gas emissions in its environmental impact report was “arbitrary and capricious.” 

The Obama-appointed judge also said that the agency acted on the position that “ConocoPhillips had the right to extract all possible oil and gas from its leases” and also did not specify in its environmental analysis how polar bears would be impacted by the project. 

Some background info: The Trump administration in October finalized plans for the Willow project despite widespread pushback from environmental activists, allowing ConocoPhillips to extract about 100,000 barrels per day from Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. 

Under the project, the company would be able to produce up to 590 million total barrels over a 30-year period. 

The Biden administration backed the project in May, writing in a court filing that environmental and indigenous groups challenging the project in court were “cherry-picking” federal agency records to inaccurately claim that the analysis violated environmental laws.

And some politics: Alaska’s congressional delegation — including key moderate Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate will vote on John Lewis voting bill as soon as next week Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Manchin, Tester voice opposition to carbon tax MORE (R) — has been particularly vocal about supporting the Willow Project. Both Murkowski and Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanAlaska man accused of threatening senators to remain detained ahead of trial Alaska tribal groups race to spend COVID-19 relief money Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Senators slam Pentagon officials MORE (R-Alaska) have previously discussed the project with President BidenJoe Biden White House: US has donated 200 million COVID-19 vaccines around the world Police recommend charges against four over Sinema bathroom protest K Street revenues boom MORE

Read more about the ruling here.


A CLOSER LOOK: Biden administration launches review of coal leasing on federal lands

The Interior Department is kicking off its review of leasing federal lands for coal mining, asking questions about climate change and rate of return for taxpayers. 

The department had previously said it planned to review its federal coal leasing program, but the review’s official launch was announced in a Federal Register notice that will be published Friday. 

“Given previous concerns about the lack of competition in the lease-by-application system, as well as consideration of the Biden Administration’s environmental goals, the BLM is beginning a new review of the Federal coal leasing program,” the notice stated. 

It said the Bureau of Land Management would consider whether current regulations should be changed to improve how it decides when and where to lease coal, as well as how the process should work. 

Specifically, the review will look at whether taxpayers are receiving a fair return under the current system and whether it’s being done in a way that’s consistent with the country’s climate goals, as well as potential environmental effects.

According to a department spokesperson, the review isn’t expected to affect lease sales, lease changes or permitting for existing leases. 

Read more about the review here.



DISCLOSURE TIME: Boebert reveals husband's earnings as consultant for energy firm

Rep. Lauren BoebertLauren BoebertRepublicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district MORE’s (R-Colo.) husband made more than $400,000 a year as an energy consultant in 2019 and 2020, information she reportedly did not reveal while on the campaign trail but did so in a new financial disclosure form.

The financial disclosure report, filed on Tuesday, showed the lawmaker's husband, Jayson Boebert, received $478,000 from Terra Energy Productions last year for “consulting services” and $460,000 from the same firm in 2019.

Lauren Boebert, a first-term lawmaker and one of the most outspoken Republicans in Congress, did not disclose her husband’s earnings during her 2020 campaign, according to The Associated Press, which first reported on the new filing. Previous earnings filings reportedly listed his income source as “N/A,” the news service noted.

"Mr. Boebert has worked in energy production for 18 years and has had Boebert Consulting since 2012,” Jake Settle, Boebert’s press secretary, told The Hill on Thursday when reached for comment.

Read more about the revelations here.



SOMETHING IN THE WATER: Fracking linked to surface water quality for first time in new study

The effects of fracking on nearby water sources may be worse than previously thought, according to a new study that found hydraulic fracturing can alter the composition of surface water and not just groundwater.

The study, published Thursday in Science, is the first to link fracking to small increases in salt concentrations in surface water, particularly during the early stages of production. While the highest salt levels were well below what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers harmful, researchers identified a robust association between new wells and water quality changes, triggering public health concerns.

How’d they do it? The authors analyzed almost 61,000 surface water measurements that had been taken from 2006 to 2016 near about 46,000 hydraulic fracturing wells across 408 watersheds. They investigated the presence of bromide, chloride, strontium and barium, the ions most common in high concentrations in frack “flowback” — the fluid that returns to the surface following fracking operations. Their findings indicated a small but consistent increase in barium, chloride and strontium, but not in bromide.

Study co-author Christian Leuz  acknowledged that the concentrations might not be alarming at face value, he warned that measurements taken in rivers are susceptible to considerable dilution. In addition, monitors are sometimes situated a couple miles downstream from a fracking site and across entire watersheds — which can be almost as big as a county, he added.

Some key elements of the story: Higher concentrations of barium in drinking water can lead to increases in blood pressure, while chloride can increase water conductivity — the ability of water to conduct electricity — and lead to unpleasant tasting water, as well as potential threats to aquatic life, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.


Elevated strontium levels can have adverse impacts on bone development. 

Read more about the study here.



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Formaldehyde causes leukemia, according to EPA assessment suppressed by Trump officials, The Intercept reports

As temperatures rise, so do the health risks for California's farmworkers, The Desert Sun reports

Wind project would double Idaho’s turbine energy output, The Associated Press reports

Apple backs Biden’s proposal to eliminate greenhouse gases from power plants by 2035, CNBC reports



Government suspends permit for controversial Louisiana plastics plant

Environmental group sues to declare 'toxic time bomb' PVC a hazardous waste

Wildfire burns across Sierra Nevada for first time in recorded history

Boebert discloses husband's earnings as consultant for energy firm



FROM THE HILL’S OPINION PAGES: July was a Frankenstein month created by the fossil fuel industry, writes Michael Mann, professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University