Thanks to the fracking boom, we’re wasting more money than ever on fossil fuel subsidies

Grist – July 14, 2014
[Full Article]

You probably know that the U.S. government subsidizes fossil fuel production. But here’s something you probably don’t know: Those subsidies have recently increased dramatically. According to a report released last week by Oil Change International, “Federal fossil fuel production and exploration subsidies in the United States have risen by 45 percent since President Obama took office in 2009, from $12.7 billion to a current total of $18.5 billion.” We are, as the report observes, “essentially rewarding companies for accelerating climate change.”

At first glance, this seems strange. Why would there be such a big increase under a Democratic president who has committed his administration to combatting climate change, and who has even repeatedly called for eliminating exactly these kinds of dirty energy subsidies?

The short answer: fracking. The fracking boom has led to a surge in oil and natural gas production in recent years: Oil production is up by 35 percent since 2009, and natural gas production is up by 18 percent. With more revenues, expenditures, and profits in the oil and gas industries, the value of the various tax deductions for the oil industry has soared. So, for example, the deduction for “intangible drilling costs” cost taxpayers $1.6 billion in 2009, and $3.5 billion in 2013.




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McAuliffe reconvenes climate panel, which includes Michael Mann

Richmond Times Dispatch – July 1, 2014

Gov. Terry McAuliffe created a state climate commission Tuesday, directing it to find ways to address global warming and effects such as rising seas and flooding streets.

The 35-member panel is made up of General Assembly members, scientists, environmentalists and industry representatives.

[Full Article]

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Landowners voicing concerns on proposed natural gas drilling

Bristol Herald Courier – May 9, 2014
[Full Article]

BRISTOL, Va. — Some landowners whose properties lie in the proposed natural gas drilling overlay zone in Washington County have banded together to voice their concerns over the practice and ask the county to slow down and look at potential effects.

“A lot of people don’t even realize this drilling is going to take place,” said Jimmy Hobbs, who lives in the zone, which is north of Bristol in an area designated for agriculture south of the North Fork of the Holston River, and includes much of Rich Valley Road. “Our concern is not about the money so much; it’s about saving our way of life.”

Hobbs and several others spoke to the Bristol Herald Courier’s editorial board Friday about their concerns. Some are members of the Washington County chapter of Virginia Organizing.

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Uranium mining is just too dangerous

Richmond Times Dispatch – March 29, 2014

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

Virginia Uranium’s Walter Coles’ recent attack on the supporters of the ban on uranium mining and milling in Virginia is downright deceptive (Commentary column, “Uranium offers clean path to economic revival”).
He says “overwhelming scientific evidence” has proven its safety. The National Academy of Sciences’ study he cites actually concluded that there are serious obstacles to uranium extraction and processing in Virginia because of the state’s unique topography and climate and its dense population.

Coles says environmental groups are thwarting economic prosperity and entrepreneurialism. But towns, cities, chambers of commerce and economic development entities are among the strong opponents of lifting the ban. They are joined by small businesses, farmers, religious organizations, chapters of the NAACP and the Medical Society of Virginia.

To understand why, look no further than Southside, where Duke Energy’s coal ash spilled into the Dan River. And coal ash is nothing compared with uranium’s radioactive and toxic tailings and waste. Millions of Virginians depend on drinking water from the Kerr Reservoir and Lake Gaston downstream from Virginia Uranium Inc.’s dream mine. An accident or a spill would be a nightmare we cannot risk.

Blair Curcie. Montpelier.


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RTD Guest-columnist Walter Coles claims “Uranium offers clean path to economic revival.”

Richmond Times Dispatch – March 24, 2014
[Full Article]

Virginia Uranium Inc. has made encouraging progress in advancing the Coles Hill project in Pittsylvania County over the past seven years. Unfortunately, recent veto threats by Gov. Terry McAuliffe caused us to take a step back and not pursue legislation in 2014 as we had hoped.

While we are disappointed, we are not deterred. We will move forward, committed to finding common-ground solutions that focus on safety, environmental stewardship, private property rights and private-sector job creation.    [Full Article]

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What’s in the fish? Virginia’s DEQ begins testing fish in Dan River

Danville Register and Bee – February 20, 2014

First tests of coal ash-related contamination — such as arsenic, mercury, lead and zinc — to fish began Thursday with a team from the State Department of Environmental Quality pulling about 175 fish out of the Dan River in Danville.

Jason Hill, a member of the DEQ team, said testing the fish tissue at the state lab normally takes 45-90 days, but the Feb. 2 coal ash spill at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C., is a priority, so the fish will be sent to a private lab for faster turnaround time.

Hill said the team hopes to have the test results in about two weeks.

Once test results come back, DEQ chemist Gabriel Darkwah — also on the trip to coordinate the fish tissue collection — said he would be responsible for analyzing the data collected from the assortment of largemouth bass, channel catfish, redbreast sunfish and golden redhorse taken Thursday.

Hill said the team uses two boats for fish collection — one a “shock boat” that would stun the fish and a “sweeper boat” to pick them up.

The fish collection went smoothly, despite the season.

“We typically do this in the summer,” Hill said. “In the winter, they’re lethargic and hiding in deep places in the river.”

The boats launched from Abreu-Grogan Park at 10 a.m. and brought the haul back about two and a half hours later.

Testing of fish in the Dan River is not new.

Rick Browder, a biologist with DEQ’s Richmond office, said fish tissue in all the state’s rivers is tested every three to five years, depending on prior history of contaminants.

Browder said Dan River fish were checked last summer for mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) — chemicals once used heavily in manufacturing, but banned in 1979 due to their cancer-causing properties.

The DEQ and the Virginia Department of Health have had advisories warning of PCBs and mercury in fish posted at boat ramps from Anglers Park to Kerr Reservoir since 1999. People are warned not to eat catfish longer than 32 inches and to have no more than two meals per month of other fish.

While on the Thursday trip, one of team member Scott Hasinger’s objectives was to check that the warning signs at the boat ramps were intact and replace any that were missing or damaged.

In a news release Thursday, VDH said it has not expanded the consumption advisory since the coal ash spill because “… contaminant levels [of metals] in the Dan River are low and are unlikely to eventually accumulate in fish tissue at levels of concern.

“When a much larger amount of coal ash was released to the Emory River in Tennessee in 2008, fish tissue sampling results[for metals] collected the following year were all well below human health protection standards except for two catfish samples.”

The agency plans to “evaluate any available fish tissue data and update fish consumptions advisories as needed.”

The VDH news release also confirmed that Danville’s drinking water remains safe, with both raw and treated samples tested several times a day — but the agency is recommending “exercising caution” with swimming or boating on the river, thought it also says “The monitored levels [of coal ash] indicate that no illness will result from accidental ingestion of river water.”

The VDH also advises there is currently no risk to livestock of horses that drink from the Dan River because “sampling results [for various metals] are several orders of magnitude below the level that could cause clinical illness in livestock or horses.”

Direct contact with coal ash can cause skin irritation and should be washed off with soap and water, the agency said.

Thibodeau reports for the Danville Register & Bee.

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EPA officials visit South Boston Thursday to meet with public

Representatives with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be visiting South Boston this week to field questions and listen to community concerns in the wake of the Duke Energy coal ash spill into the Dan River.

EPA officials plan to provide an update on the agency’s response to the disaster, which saw an estimated 82,000 tons of coal ash escape from a waste lagoon at the retired Dan River Steam Station on the banks of the Dan in Eden, N.C.

The spill, first reported Feb. 2, took a week to plug. Duke Energy, owners of the decommissioned coal-fired plant, has said it will clean up the coal wastes in conjunction with environmental agencies — a possible topic of discussion at the meeting.

Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 and other state and local responders will meet with the public at the Washington-Coleman Community Center on Thursday, Feb. 20 from 6:30-8:00 p.m. Parking will be available in the rear of the building, located at 1927 Jeffress Boulevard.

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EPA official says tests show Danville-area water is safe

Roanoke Times – February 12, 2014

Bartos said drinking water tests from the Danville Water Treatment Plant have been consistently good since the coal-ash spill at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C., on Feb. 2.

Asked if the city has plans in case the water goes bad, Barry Dunkley, director of water and wastewater treatment, said the city keeps a two- to three-day supply of treated drinking water.

If a problem lasted longer than that, water for some customers could be routed through the Pittsylvania County Service Authority and bottled water would be brought in.

The coal ash leak has been contained, Bartos said.

A dam of sandbags was set up to contain any further drips as the pipe is fully filled with concrete, and a pump is in place to send that water back to the secondary storage basin. Once the pipe is completely filled, the dam and pump will no longer be needed.

One attendee asked if people who have wells need to be concerned, saying his well is only about 200 feet from the Dan River.

John Aulbach, director of the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water, said wells likely would not get water from the river, and the dirt and sand at the bottom would filter impurities should some get in.

Kevin Eichinger, on-scene coordinator for the EPA, said the EPA is overseeing work being done now and coordinating with Duke Energy, Danville officials and all of the government agencies involved in response to the spill. It was a unified command with Duke Energy, with the EPA being the 51 percent partner.

Many people expressed concerns about fish and wildlife, and Sarah Ward, of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, said a team from her organization had been on the river but had not spotted any fish kills — but people at the meeting reported finding dead turtles along the riverbank.

Ward said she would try to set up an emergency hotline so people can report finds of dead animals and fish.

People also asked about having signs put up along the river to let people know not to swim in the water or eat the fish. Officials said they would talk to Duke Energy about having those installed.

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Game, set and match for VUI?

GoDanRiver Editorial Board – February 2, 2014

At this time of the year, the General Assembly is in session. If both houses of the legislature were to pass a bill allowing uranium mining to proceed in Virginia and Gov. Terry McAuliffe were to sign it, it would still take five years or more before mining could start at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County.

Of course, none of that is going to happen.

Since Virginia Uranium Inc. announced its plans in 2007, no uranium mining bills have passed the General Assembly.

During that time, counties, cities and towns have come out against uranium mining, including those is the Dan River Region. They have been joined by a unique coalition of business and environmental groups and now Gov. McAuliffe, who has pledged not to sign any uranium mining bill that passed the General Assembly.

From a political standpoint, uranium mining in Virginia is dead, killed off in part by some of the very scientific studies VUI said it wanted to allay the public’s concerns.

But we learned this week that the project may no longer be economically viable because of falling uranium prices.

Those prices fluctuate, sometimes wildly, but at this time, the price for a pound of uranium has fallen to around $50 — not the $64 per pound VUI needs to make its Pittsylvania County project viable.

“There is no guarantee the proposed operation would be economically viable given the uncertainty of future uranium prices in combination with permitting risk related to the current moratorium on uranium mining,” according to one report.

The volatility of uranium prices was one of the arguments mining opponents had: if Virginia had allowed the mining of uranium in Pittsylvania County, what would have happened to that mine if the price of uranium dropped below a certain point? The company probably would have drastically curtailed its operations — or even shut down its mine and mill for months or even years at a time.

“It’s very well-known that the long-term price of uranium will [rise],” Virginia Uranium Inc. President Walter Coles Sr. responded. “The long-term outlook is very positive.”

We don’t agree with Coles on this.

There has been an energy revolution in this country, but it hasn’t been the “nuclear renaissance” predicted in 2007. Natural gas, not nuclear power, has become the energy story of the past few years. There’s a great push to expand the use of renewable energy sources, and energy conservation has made a big difference in the long-term demand for electric power in this country.

The people have spoken, and they don’t want uranium mined in Pittsylvania County. The market has spoken, and it doesn’t need uranium from Pittsylvania County.

Is VUI finally ready to listen?

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Tough Times for VUI? Report reveals uncertain future for mining company

Danville Register and Bee – Jan. 31, 2014

A continued drop in the projected long-term price of uranium — combined with Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s recent statements affirming his opposition to uranium mining — has been a one-two punch to uranium mining efforts in Virginia.

Virginia Uranium Inc. recently announced it would not pursue legislation in the 2014 General Assembly that would have drafted regulations for uranium mining in the state. While Virginia’s moratorium on the practice would have remained in place, the move would have been a huge step toward the company’s goal of mining a 119-pound uranium ore deposit on Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County.

Shortly after McAuliffe’s election, the new governor announced he planned to veto any such legislation that might pass the General Assembly. The move prompted VUI to stall legislative efforts and “re-evaluate [their] options” moving forward.

But legislative hurdles aren’t the only concern facing the company. According to the most recent data, declines in the global price of uranium may also affect the mining conglomerate’s future plans.

Uranium prices are calculated in two ways: the “spot price” — or the price the uranium can be sold at any given moment — and long-term price. Like many companies across multiple industries, VUI’s project summary is based on the assumed long-term price of uranium.

According to Cameco Resources, the largest uranium producer in the country, uranium’s long-term price is currently projected to be $50 per pound.

But the most recent preliminary economic assessment of the Coles Hill project bases the site’s entire economic potential on an assumed $64-per-pound uranium value — well below current predictions.

“There is no guarantee the proposed operation would be economically viable given the uncertainty of future uranium prices in combination with permitting risk related to the current moratorium on uranium mining,” the report adds.

The assessment was included in a quarterly management analysis released in November by Virginia Energy Resources, VUI’s parent company.

Virginia Uranium Inc. President Walter Coles Sr. said while he accepts the current long-term value of uranium is around $50, he fully expects the price of uranium to rebound.

“It’s very well-known that the long-term price of uranium will [rise],” he said. “The long-term outlook is very positive.”

Coles said his prediction is based on a resurgence of national interest in nuclear power, which he said is the cheapest and cleanest form of energy currently available. He also pointed to the launch of new nuclear power plants in countries like Russia as indicators that nuclear power is being globally embraced.

When Virginia Uranium Inc. was founded in 2006, uranium prices were on the rise — reaching as high as $95 per pound throughout 2007. But the price of uranium began dropping steadily in April 2011, one month after an earthquake and subsequent tsunami triggered a major disaster at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

The price has hovered around $50 per pound since September, and has remained below VUI’s desired price of at least $60 since October 2012.

Coles said while he believes the industry will bounce back, that largely depends on the continued response in Japan.

According to the economic assessment report, a $5-per-pound price change could result in a $110 million fluctuation in the Coles Hill project’s net present value, which is estimated at $427 million under the current project plan of $64-per-pound.

But Coles said the drop in uranium prices isn’t the primary cause for the company’s decision not to pursue legislation in this year’s General Assembly, blaming that move on McAuliffe’s vow to veto the bill.

“What you have to remember is that even if the moratorium were lifted today, there would still be a five or six year period to get the permits,” Coles said, explaining he believes that’s easily enough time for the industry market to bounce back.

“We were very positive that we would have gotten legislation through this year [to draft regulations] if the governor had been more positive,” he added.

In the meantime, the company’s only revenue at the Coles Hill site currently stems from interest on cash and land rental, according to the management analysis report.

But the economic assessment doesn’t paint an entirely positive picture of VUI’s future, stating the “company’s ability to continue … is dependent on [its] ability to raise additional equity financing and the ultimate attainment of profitable operations.”

The report also states the “company believes it has sufficient resources in combination with cost-cutting measures, to fund its planned activities for the next twelve months.”

In addition, the report acknowledges the “possibility of lifting the uranium mining moratorium will be a significant challenge” during McAuliffe’s four-year term.

To help cut down costs, Coles said VUI has made big cuts to its previous operations.

“We’ve ceased to do the technical work on the baseline studies for water and the environment, and any future [exploratory] drilling would not take place,” Coles explained, adding, “We expect to move forward.”

Hughes reports for the Danville Register & Bee.

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