The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) singled out "energy extraction activities" as one of the agency's top national enforcement priorities for 2011 to 2013, according to the Washington, DC, law firm of Steptoe & Johnson. The EPA has not had much of an appetite for a producer technique known as hydraulic fracturing -- in which fluids injected at high pressure are used to stimulate the production of natural gas from shales -- but it did not single out the technique, according to the law firm. The EPA said an "unprecedented acceleration of oil and gas leasing and development" has prompted air pollution concerns, particularly in the West. In addition to oil and gas, the agency said it also will focus on New Source Review compliance among major emitters of air pollution, especially the coal-fired utility, cement, glass and acid sectors. The EPA has not yet developed the specifics of its enforcement strategy for the energy extraction industries, but will be doing so in the near future. In the meantime, increased inspections and enforcement for noncompliance are likely, according to Steptoe & Johnson.

Construction has begun on the Fayetteville Express Pipeline, a 50-50 joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners LP and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP. The approximately 185-mile, 42-inch diameter pipeline will serve the Fayetteville Shale region in Arkansas with an initial capacity of up to 2 Bcf/d. Fayetteville Express will originate in Conway County, AR, continue eastward through White County, AR, and terminate at an interconnection with Trunkline Gas Co. in Panola County, MS. Contracts have been awarded to Houston-based Willbros Group Inc. and Tulsa-based Sheehan Pipe Line Construction Co. for construction. Houston-based EMS-USA Inc. is constructing the Russell Compressor Station near Russell, AR. Energy Transfer Partners is managing the construction and will operate the pipeline.

Spectra Energy Partners has signed a precedent agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for an expansion of its East Tennessee Natural Gas (ETNG) pipeline system to provide firm transportation service of up to 150 MMcf/d to TVA's proposed 880 MW combined-cycle power plant in northeast Tennessee. The Northeast Tennessee Project, which has an estimated cost of $135 million, includes expanding or modifying existing facilities on the ETNG system and building an 8.5-mile mainline extension that would generally follow TVA's existing transmission line corridor. The expansion, which is expected to be in service during the second half of 2011, is subject to Spectra Energy Corp. and Spectra Energy Partners board and regulatory approvals. The new power plant, approved by the TVA board last June, is to be constructed adjacent to the existing John Sevier Fossil Plant near Rogersville.

Chevron Corp. plans to reduce its workforce by 2,000 in 2010 and cut the staff further in 2011 as part of an announced restructuring that will focus more on upstream operations and less on refining and marketing. The producer, which made the announcements at the company's annual analyst meeting, also said it plans to take bids on some of its European assets, as well as properties in the Caribbean and some Central American countries. CEO John Watson said his goal is to raise gas and oil production 1% this year from output at new wells in the Gulf of Mexico, Angola and Brazil. The San Ramon, CA-based major is spending almost $60 million a day to fund its exploration program.

Xcel Energy, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and a coalition of state lawmakers, energy companies and environmentalists reached an agreement on legislation that could close some older coal-fired power plants, with facilities fueled by natural gas and other lower-emitting or nonemitting energy sources. The proposed Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act would require the Minneapolis-based utility holding company to retire, retrofit or repower 900 MW of Front Range coal-fired power plants by the end of 2017. The Front Range area includes Colorado Springs, Golden and Boulder. Xcel, the state's largest utility, would work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to submit plans by Aug. 15 to the state Public Utilities Commission to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions at coal plants by up to 80% over the next eight years. The proposed legislation has the support of America's Natural Gas Alliance, which said the plan should serve as a model for other states.

Looking to keep up with the explosion of exploration and production activity coming into the Marcellus Shale, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) will hold a special en banc hearing on April 22 to examine jurisdictional issues related to natural gas development in the play. The commission noted that it has jurisdiction over certain safety aspects as it pertains to natural gas pipelines, but that the hearing will not examine issues outside of its jurisdiction such as water quality or other environmental issues. The four PUC commissioners will conduct the en banc hearing to solicit comments from specific parties who are being invited. As part of the informal en banc hearing process, the commissioners said they may pose questions to speakers after their testimony.

Houston-based Helix Energy Solutions is evaluating strategic alternatives to sell all of its natural gas and oil properties to refocus on deepwater contract services. Cal Dive International Inc., which had its hand in exploration and production (E&P) but was known principally as a subsea services contractor, renamed itself Helix Energy Solutions in early 2006 to expand its onshore and offshore opportunities. However, in December 2008 Helix announced that it would sell some or all of its noncore assets. Since the announcement Helix has divested most of its interest in the original Cal Dive business and sold all of its reservoir consulting business, Helix RDS. Still to be sold are portions of the Gulf of Mexico shelf assets.

The American Gas Association (AGA) announced that the "World Shale Gas Summit" will take place on Nov. 3-5 at the Gaylord Texan Resort in the Dallas, TX, metro area. Organized by the CWC Group and hosted by AGA and the International Gas Union, the summit will bring together shale resource holders, governments regulators, operators, technology companies and pipeline and distribution firms from around the world -- North America, Europe, Argentina, South Africa, India and China -- to share knowledge, form partnerships and promote the development of shale gas. For information on exhibiting at or registering for the summit, go to

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