The promoter of a multi-billion-dollar plan to drill thousands of gas wells in the Southern Tier to store CO2 and extract methane insists his business partners and financial backers must remain anonymous.
“I can’t go into that with you. That is a third rail at the moment,” Bryce Phillips told WaterFront.
Phillips, a 56-year-old Texan, sounded more open about his professional team in a pre-taped radio interview aired Tuesday on Albany-based WCNY’s Capitol Pressroom program. When asked to describe his backers, he told the radio audience, that his company was owned by CO2 To Clean Energy Solutions “out of Wyoming.”
But Phillips later explained to WaterFront that his corporate parent, a limited liability company with that exact name, does not have a website and is not currently active in Wyoming “in any visible way.”
Phillips is president of Southern Tier CO2 to Clean Energy Solutions LLC, which does have a website. Southern Tier Solutions has made a splash in the region by mailing information packages to 6,500 landowners in Broome, Tioga and Chemung counties inviting them to lease their property for intense energy development.
Phillips said today that he has scheduled a catered open house on Saturday, Dec. 16, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Binghamton Club at 83 Front St. in Binghamton.
In response to questions from their constituents about the unsolicited offers, state Sen. Lea Webb (D-Binghamton) and Assemblymember Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell) held a press conference and wrote the state Department of Environmental Conservation with questions of their own.
“We’re talking about carbon capture facilities, we’re talking about thousands of new gas wells, we’re talking about pipeline infrastructure, and with everything this community has been though with the Marcellus and Utica shale, we obviously have some questions,” Lupardo said.
Phillips said he’s met with staffers for Webb and Lupardo but not with those or any other elected state officials. Neither has he made a concerted effort to win over state and federal regulators.
Instead his energies have been focused on convincing landowners to sign leases that allow his company to drill wells on their land for a flat $10 and the prospect of future payouts from CO2 storage and methane extraction.
Those payments would flow, he says, once the company achieves its vision of drilling thousands of wells linked by a series of CO2 and methane pipelines. The pipelines would connect to ten new 300-megawatt gas-fired power plants and several direct air capture (DAC) facilities, which would minimize or eliminate the plants’ greenhouse gas emissions.
Phillips’ anonymous team figures the entire project would cost well over $10 billion and take decades to develop. He argues that it would help the state meet the goals of its 2019 climate law by providing “the electrical backbone for the state of New York” without spiking greenhouse gas emissions.
Southern Tier Solutions’ pitch to New York landowners comes as the Biden Administration is pouring billions into carbon storage initiatives.
“Removing legacy carbon pollution from the air through direct air capture and safely storing it is an essential weapon against the climate crisis,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said last year in announcing a $3.4 billion program to support new DAC hubs.
Meanwhile, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon is touting carbon storage as a way to address climate change without harming his state’s fossil fuel industry. Wyoming generates 71 percent of its power by burning coal, a major source of CO2 emissions.
Phillips concedes that his New York project is extraordinarily ambitious, a moonshot that might flop.
“There is no way unless you have widespread community support and support from local and state governments, and also the federal government, that this will ever work,” Phillips told WCNY listeners. “We’re really looking at (leasing) a minimum of about 100,000 acres. We’d like to see that in the works by March or April.”
The leased parcels also need to be connected to each other, he added.
“We need blocks of between 30,000 and 50,000 acres,” he added. “Ultimately, we’d like to see a million (acres).”
If those initial leasing goals are met, the company would begin drilling test wells to inject ‘supercritical’ CO2 (a quasi-liquid) into the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. In theory, the shale will absorb (and store) the CO2, forcing out marketable methane.
Phillips says the process won’t conflict with the state’s ban on high-volume hydrofracking, which prohibits the use of more than 300,000 gallons of water per well. STS wells wouldn’t need nearly that much water.
Before the state’s fracking ban went into effect in 2014, energy companies like Chesapeake and Fortuna paid up to $5,000 per acre to lease land from Southern Tier residents. Phillips defended STS’s decision to offer only a tiny fraction of that — a flat $10 regardless of the size of the parcel.
“I cannot imagine a situation where this area will be developed where operators will write checks similar to back in those days,” he said. “It’s economically unsound…. I think that was just the heyday, just the boom, and everyone got ahead of each other and everybody wanted to show off …”
Phillips said he’s an old hand in the oil and gas industry, one who’s worn various hats ranging from landman to geologist to operations manager across various westerns states since the 1990s.
While his Fort Worth, TX, residence was reportedly offered for sale at $7.9 million last year, he hasn’t yet settled in the Southern Tier, or opened an office in the region, or even gotten a business phone number.
Does that suggest that Southern Tier Solutions is, as they say in Texas, ‘all hat and no cattle’? When will Phillips and his secret team will decide to stay or go?
“As long as we see it’s moving forward and there’s not a line in the sand that’s drawn by some regulatory agency … We’re here until somebody shows us the door, or in 50 years we’ll wrap it up.”
Peter is a three-time Pulitzer nominated reporter covering environmental issues through his first-of-its-kind digital publication The Water Front. He’s won an array of Associated Press, UPI, and Society of Professional Journalist awards. His reporting on environmental issues continues to be featured in prominent New York publications and is available on FingerLakes1.com through an exclusive content partnership. Have a question or lead? Send it to [email protected].