Williston Herald: Infrastructure bill includes wins for Bakken energy, agriculture in MonDak

by Renee Jean

Much has been written about the $550 billion in new federal spending aimed at revitalizing America’s transportation system, but the bipartisan infrastructure bill that has advanced to the floor of the U.S. Senate also contains billions of dollars for energy and agriculture as well.

For agriculture, there’s $65 billion for rural broadband, $2 billion of which is headed to the USDA. There’s also billions for carbon removal, firefighting and forest management resources, tree planting and more.

Where the MonDak really wins big, however, are in the energy provisions the bill offers, largely originating from West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, Energy Chair’s, Energy Infrastructure Act. A number of amendments to the bipartisan infrastructure bill – nearly 50 in all – came straight from Manchin’s bill.

Manchin, of course, hails from a state where coal and other fossil fuels are still important sources of low-cost, affordable energy as well as jobs.

Among the key provisions for the region is one directing $12.5 billion to carbon capture projects and their commercialization. Of that, $2.1 billion is dedicated to carbon dioxide pipelines.

That could benefit major carbon capture and utilization projects in North Dakota, including the $1 billion Project Tundra, which will need significant assistance to prove out its commercial viability.

Rainbow Energy Center is another high-profile project that could potentially benefit from this federal funding. The 1.151 MW generating plant in Underwood was recently been sold, and its new owners have said their plans include a focus on carbon capture utilization and storage.

Successes there would point the way for other coal plants in both North Dakota and Montana.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill also defines “clean” hydrogen as emitting no more than 2 kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of hydrogen. The “blue” hydrogen that North Dakota is working to advance will qualify under that definition.

Of course, most environmentalists oppose this definition, preferring instead zero emission or “green” hydrogen. But advocates point out this is still an 80 percent reduction in carbon dioxide intensity, so it moves the needle in the right direction sooner, rather than later.

Many experts believe blue hydrogen will be important for the aviation and other industries which have high intensity energy needs that will be difficult if not impossible to sustain with 100 percent renewable sources.

There’s also, on the subject of hydrogen fuel, $1 billion for demonstrations of hydrogen electrolyzers. This is the chief piece of equipment used in making renewable or “green” hydrogen, so this type gets advancement as well.

Biden’s proposed $16 billion for cleaning up abandoned mines and orphaned oil and gas wells is another big survivor in the bill. That figure includes $3 billion to address hardrock mines across the West, including Montana.

Sen. Steve Daines was a proponent of including the hardrock mining cleanup program in the bill.

Orphaned wells would meanwhiel get $4.7 billion for plugging and reclaiming wells, an idea that has proven popular among both Democrats and Republicans. Biden has touted the idea as a way to create jobs for oil and gas workers while addressing leaking methane gas, which is a much more intense greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Rep. Senator Kevin Cramer, meanwhile, has introduced legislation that essentially takes North Dakota’s Bakken restart and makes it national.

The EPA has estimated there are more than 3 million orphans in the United States today. On average, each of these is leaking literal tons of greenhouse gases each year. Some studies have shown there’s enough abandoned oil and gas wells to keep oil and gas workers employed another 20 years plugging and reclaiming them.

Another win for the MonDak is the inclusion of a measure that directs the Department of Energy to study the job loss and impacts on consumer energy costs of Biden’s decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline. While the study is not likely to revive the beleagured pipeline, the results will no doubt be part of the next election cycle.

The MonDak’s congressional delegation has so far made comments suggesting they will support the bipartisan bill, although the Republican members do note that they are reserving judgement on that until they see the details.

“Investing in our roads, bridges, railways, airports, broadband, flood protection and other traditional infrastructure is a bipartisan priority, which is why I voted to proceed to debate on the bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Sen. John Hoeven said. “As I’ve said throughout the negotiations, there is broad support for a targeted infrastructure package to update our traditional infrastructure, but we must find responsible ways to pay for the legislation. As debate gets underway on this legislation, these are the factors that will determine whether or not I support final passage.”

Cramer, too, voted to approve the measure moving forward with debate, but said also said he would have to wait and see.

“There are some good things in (the infrastructure bill). If we’re going to spend money on anything, it ought to be on assets that the American people own after the fact,” he said. “Assets like roads, bridges, waterways, internet, rail, transit, and all the other things that have – as their primary purpose – the movement of goods and services which continue to grow the economy and pay people to go to work, not to stay home.”

Montana’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, meanwhile, was more enthusiastic.

“This is a big step forward in the process that will allow Montanans to see exactly what’s in this legislation and the critical, targeted investments it will make in our state and our economy,” he said. “For months, I’ve worked with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to ensure this legislation will upgrade Montana’s aging infrastructure, create good-paying jobs, and help us maintain our competitive edge over China-all without raising taxes on working families. This legislation does that and more, and I’m going to roll up my sleeves and keep working with my colleagues across the aisle to get this bill across the finish line.”