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Energy Secretary Brouillette hears from N.D. coal, oil representatives

Energy secretary hears from N.D. coal, oil representatives

Jill Schramm/MDN Sen. John Hoeven speaks at an energy roundtable as Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette looks on at right.

An improved economy and a fair shake would go a long way toward bolstering North Dakota’s hard-pressed oil and coal sectors, industry representatives told the nation’s energy leader Tuesday.

U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette was the guest of Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford at coal and oil-and-gas roundtables in Minot. He heard from an industry concerned about affronts from environmentalists, regulators and subsidies for renewables but also optimistic about the potential in an “all of the above” energy strategy.”

Brouillette, a former oil pipeline worker who became Energy Secretary 10 months ago, appeared attuned to the message.

Brouillette said President Trump’s directive has been to produce all the energy the nation can.

“The policy that we will adopt in the Trump Administration – and it’s going to include not only the Department of Energy but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – is to ensure that we have all forms of energy available to us. And to the extent that we can eliminate market distortions, we want to look at that and we want to address those head on,” he said. “These are not free markets. These are government markets. We created these markets. So what we can create, we can uncreate.”

Jill Schramm/MDN Kathy Neset with Neset Consulting speaks during a oil and gas industry roundtable. Behind her is Mike Rud with the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association, along with other roundtable participants.

Kathy Neset, president of Neset Consulting, a Tioga oilfield company diversifying into wind, said the energy future is about balance and partnering.

Neset added that Washington needs a plan so oil companies have a way forward and can recover from the struggles they face.

“Something north of $50 crude oil will certainly help bring it back. We are not going to see it happen below $50,” Neset said. “But I think it’s not just a number. I think it’s also a way forward for this industry.”

Kevin Black, president of Creedence Energy Services in Minot, said the industry needs help on the demand side because at $43 a barrel for oil, capital won’t flow into North Dakota.

“And we need to get capital flowing back to North Dakota,” he said. “Simply put, we’ve got to get demand back. We’ve got to get the economy open again.

“It’s not just big oil that suffers during a time like this. It’s the hundreds of small business owners and the thousands of employees that they employ,” Black said.

North Dakota’s oil industry saw prices drop below zero earlier this year as world production pressures squeezed America producers and COVID-19 sank the national economy. A court order – later put on hold – to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline while additional environmental study is done also rattled the Bakken.

Meanwhile, economic pressures on the coal industry became apparent when Great River Energy announced plans to close Coal Creek Generating Station in the second half of 2022.

North Dakota Public Service Commission members voiced concern about keeping up with electrical demand.

“We are running into more and more frequent times when an an organization struggles to generate enough energy,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann. “I think not of gigawatts but terawatts of coal and nuclear baseload power that will be gone within a decade. I don’t know how we keep up, not only the low cost but also the reliability of our energy grid.”

Mac McLennan, president of Minnkota Power Cooperative, which operates the Milton R. Young plant, said the industry can figure out the technology to address the environmental concerns of coal. The challenge is getting investors and bankers comfortable with the idea that carbon waste can be sequestered or reused in ways that make coal a more valuable resource, he said. Getting investors to commit to Project Tundra, a carbon sequester project at the Young plant, is difficult when economics make it hard to guarantee a coal-fired plant will still be operating in another decade and half, he said.

Charles Gorecki, CEO with the Energy & Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks, said the state’s oil industry can benefit from enhanced recovery with carbon.

“In order to do enhanced oil recovery on the scale that we need to make a difference, we’re going to need a lot of carbon dioxide. We could take every molecule that we produce here in North Dakota from our coal-fired facilities and put it to work in the Bakken,” he said.

Brouillette spoke about the creation of a new federal Office of Technology Transfer, which is tasked with moving technology from the research shelves of the 17 national laboratories to the private sector.

“It’s going to be the private sector that moves us beyond this pandemic and into this new world, or whatever world we face in the next 10 or 15 years,” he said. “You will be the tip of the spear. You will be the driving force. You will make it happen. I will help you. I’ll be there every step of the way, but it’s going to be important that each of you lead the effort.”

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