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Senate Democrats Spill Some Ink on Natural Gas in New Energy Bill

Senate Democrats' new 437-page national energy bill mentions "greenhouse gas" on 30 pages and "natural gas" on 33. Natural gas gets more pages than runners-up "oil" (30), "solar" (29) and "geothermal" (24), and far more than wind, coal or nuclear. Not all natural gas mentions convey good news for gas interests, though.

Natural gas references in the bill (The Energy and Innovation Act of 2015) relate to determining the quantity and availability of gas storage; assessing the gas transmission and distribution system for leaks; cybersecurity for gas and other energy networks; natural gas vehicle technologies; retail gas and electricity suppliers; and measures to "save" natural gas/reduce consumption.

State-level grants would be provided to reduce gas distribution leaks and promote safety. The draft says $3.5 billion would be authorized for fiscal years 2016 through 2019.

However, flared gas would be subject to royalties, while Outer Continental Shelf deep water/deep gas royalty relief (sections 344 and 345 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005) would be repealed.

According to a summary of the bill, the legislation would "...strengthen the Energy Information Administration's ability to collect data on the physical holdings of the 50 largest oil traders and on the commercial storage capacity for oil and natural gas in the United States. The bill requires the Energy Information Administration to work in cooperation with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

"It also formally establishes a Financial Market Analysis Office within the Energy Information Administration to study and report on the financial aspects of the energy markets. The office would identify if any additional resources are needed to more fully integrate financial market information into the Energy Information Administration."

The legislation would also implement recommendations from the Obama administration's Quadrennial Energy Review to improve the resilience of the U.S. electric grid, natural gas distribution systems and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (see Daily GPIApril 21).

According to Democrats, the bill addresses the need for new jobs, updated infrastructure and technological innovation. "...[T]he bill includes programs essential to renewed economic growth in the energy sector that empower consumers, modernize infrastructure, cut carbon pollution and waste, invest in clean energy, and support research and development," they said.

American innovation in energy would be unleashed and new technologies spurred, they said, as national security is enhanced, jobs are created and pollution is reduced.

"By tackling energy efficiency in sectors ranging from trucks and buildings to the electric grid, we are targeting our best opportunities for job growth, consumer savings and carbon dioxide reductions," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) said the plan would modernize the nation's electric grid and advance deployment of clean energy. "By making these investments and cleaning up our polluting energy sources, we are creating jobs, investing in a future in which our children can breathe clean air, and averting the worsening extreme weather and disasters caused by climate change," he said.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) praised the draft for offering tax incentives to advance clean energy. "This bill is built around the proposition that the law ought to reward clean energy with incentives that spark innovation in the private economy," Wyden said. "Our proposal makes it possible to get more clean, renewable energy for less money and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to get it through the Senate."

Republicans have introduced more than a dozen energy bills this year (see Daily GPI, July 23May 7). Lately, their focus has been on repealing a ban on the export of U.S. crude oil (see Shale DailySept. 10).

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