Helping America Navigate a New Energy Reality

Peak Oil Review – 18 Apr 2016

By on 18 Apr 2016 in Peak Oil Review

Contents
1.  Oil and the Global Economy
2.  The Middle East & North Africa
3.  China
4.  Russia
5. The Briefs

1.  Oil and the Global Economy

Oil prices climbed to recent highs early last week on hopes that the Doha meeting would eventually lead to some sort of production cut, a weaker dollar, and scattered production problems. Later in the week prices fell as the US crude glut continued to grow and expectations that something meaningful would come from the Doha meeting subsided. At week’s end, New York oil was at $40.36 and London at $43.10 up 2.8 percent for the week.

As many had predicted, the meeting in Doha on Sunday to freeze oil prices ended without an agreement. Even with the deal watered down to only last six months, the rivalry between Iran and the Saudis was too much for an agreement to reached.  Some commentators believed that a minimum some sort of face-saving agreement would have been contrived, but even this did not happen. From now on oil price movements may be based more on fundamentals and less on wishful thinking about a nearly meaningless production freeze.

Last week, the IEA, EIA, and OPEC issued their prognostications as to what was going to happen to oil production and prices in coming months. There is clearly considerable disagreement about the immediate future. The IEA has become the most optimistic, saying that the oversupply of oil which currently is about 1.5 million b/d will shrink to 200,000 b/d in the third and fourth quarters of 2016 thereby nearly eliminating surplus production. The Agency sees much of this decline in production coming from the US shale oil industry. This assessment is a shift in outlook, as a few weeks back the IEA was expecting overproduction to extend well into 2017. The agency remains confident that world oil consumption will increase by 1.2 million b/d this year.

Other observers are not so sure that overproduction will shrink rapidly as the IEA is forecasting in the next six months.  OPEC now sees global demand foroil as being less than previously thought. This is in line with an IMF projection that world economic activity will contract during the remainder of the year. OPEC says that its production will remain about the same for the remainder of the year, but that non-OPEC production will slip by 730,000 b/d during 2016.  This is clearly a considerably smaller drop than the IEA is talking about. The EIA, in Washington, projects that US crude production which averaged 9.4 million b/d in 2015, will now come in at 8.6 million in 2016 and 8.0 million in 2017. The Administration’s recent numbers currently put US production just below 9 million b/d.

New numbers from South Dakota released last week show crude production falling by only 4,000 b/d from January to February and that the state still has a backlog of some 900 wells that have been drilled and not yet completed. Oilproducers in the state could continue without much of a drop in production just by completing already drilled wells along with a minimal amount of new drilling in sweet spots using the 29 drill rigs still in operation. The issue of just how fast US shale oil production will drop is still open. Deepwater production in the Gulf is expected to continue growing as drillers complete wells started years ago in which they have too much invested to delay production.

The US shale oil industry, however, does not seem to be as impressed as speculators by the recent increase in prices and continues to reduce the number of rigs in operation. Much of this is due to serious financial problems. Hardly a day goes by now without a declaration of bankruptcy by a company in the US oil business. Many of these companies are billions in debt and have little hope of drilling themselves out of their problem unless oil prices return to record levels well above $100 a barrel. US bank earnings started to come out last week, and they are mostly down due to writing off billions in loans to oilcompanies that are now bankrupt. Numerous shale oil drillers have had their lines of credit sharply curtailed or subjected to harsh regulation by their bankers who are tiring of pouring money into losing operations with little prospect of profitability.

In recent weeks, large numbers of oil tankers have been noted accumulating in unprecedented numbers just off of many major oil ports. Some of these tankers, such as those off Basra, Iraq, are waiting to load, but more oil is now being produced than the port facilities can handle, especially in bad weather. Off several Chinese oil ports, many tankers have been waiting for weeks for a chance to unload due to the boom in oil imports by China’s small independent refiners.

In other places, oil that has already been sold profitability on the futures market is simply being stored aboard tankers until in is time for delivery. The final reason for the long lines of waiting tankers is that the onshore terminals are nearing capacity and that oil must be shifted around to make room for incoming shipments. Whatever the reason, anchored crude carriers are very expensive propositions and a few weeks’ delay in unloading can easily erase any profit the owners had hoped to make from the voyage. In the last two months, similar accumulations of an unusually large numbers of tankers have been reported off Rotterdam, Houston, and Venezuela. This situation may be another sign that some of the overproduction of oil that is taking place in the world is, for the time being, simply ending up sitting on oil tankers longer than usual.

There is clearly much confusion as to where oil prices, production, and consumption are going in the next year. Optimists are saying the oil price plunge of the last two years is now over and that the markets will rebalance before the end of the year. Pessimists still foresee the possibility that the overproduction of crude, now put at circa 1.5 million b/d, will continue into next year. They note that the oversupply is reported as increasing in March. Some see recent indications that China’s economy could be bottoming out as a hopeful sign of better economic growth ahead and some are talking of a major economic disaster in the coming year.

2.  The Middle East & North Africa

Iran: Exports seem to be picking up with new tanker data indicating that they may jump by 600,000 b/d between March and April.  Some of this crude may be coming from reserves accumulated aboard tankers during the sanctions. Many are skeptical as to just how fast Tehran’s aging oil infrastructure can ramp up production to pre-sanctions levels. A new Reuters poll of analysts concludes that Iran will only be able to boost oil production modestly this year, which means Iran will only increase production from its current 3.2 million b/d to about 3.5 million by the end of the year. This, however, may be enough to offset much of the decline in non-OPEC production that is expected to take place this year.

Some oil trading firms say that ambiguity regarding the remaining sanctions is making them reluctant to do business with Tehran for fear of running afoul of US law. This has led Iran to start warning the West that unless the remaining restrictions on money transfers are lifted, the nuclear agreement will be in danger. The Iranians are confident that their growing friendship with Russia and China will make it impossible ever to impose sanctions again.

India says it is now willing to invest as much as $20 billion in Iran’s oil industry, provided it can get favorable terms and the benefits of the increased oilproduction.

Syria/Iraq: The situation in Syria remains the same. The peace talks do not seem to be going anywhere; the ceasefire is on the verge of breaking down; Iran is sending more troops to help what is left of the Assad government; and finally, the New York Times call the place a “black hole of instability.” The bombing of ISIL positions continues. Washington says that numerous air strikes on the oil fields and infrastructure have virtually destroyed oil as a source of revenue for ISIL. The Caliphate simply has too many enemies these days.

The political situation continues with Prime Minister al-Abadi unable to come up with a new and hopefully less corrupt cabinet. Negotiations, sometimes violent, continued over the weekend with no progress. The radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has been sponsoring demonstrations by his followers in Baghdad and has given the prime minister 72 hours to vote in a new government. If his demands are not met, al-Sadr is threatening nationwide demonstrations to drive the government from power.

With many of the world’s air forces bombing ISIL positions in northern Iraq, government troops continue to make slow progress in their drive on Mosel. Once the government forces get to the city, the situation will change as ISIL will then be imbedded among 2 million or more civilians and offensive action will become far more difficult.

As the foreign oil companies working and increasing oil production in southern Iraq is one of the few things Baghdad has going for it these days, Baghdad is trying to keep the foreigners happier as the political situation deteriorates.  A deal signed recently will give a consortium led by Kuwait direct payments for the oil it discovers and produces rather than the method used under the current contracts which allow the foreign oil companies little immediate profit – only hopes that the situation will change.

Low oil prices and the pressing need to fight ISIL means that the Iraqi Kurds have little money left to invest in developing their oil fields. Gulf Keystone Petroleum, which is operating some of the Kurds’ oil fields, warns that without more capital expenditures, oil output will soon be dropping due to depletion.

Saudi Arabia/Yemen Both sides in the Yemeni civil war which has been going on for more than a year are sending conciliatory signals before the UN-supported peace talks that begin in Kuwait on Monday. Bombing and fighting continue in many parts of the country and a tangled political situation means that an agreement involving all sides will be difficult to reach. For now, the military situation seems stalemated with neither side having much hope of making substantial military gains.

The Saudis are on the verge of launching a new “National Transformation Plan” which is aimed at revamping the economy to lower its dependence on oil. The details of the plan will be announced on April 25th and its implementation is to begin a month or so later. As part of the plan, Saudi Aramco will be converted into an energy and industrial conglomerate and a Public Investment Fund that will be involved in many businesses besides oil. The royal family hopes to increase non-oil revenues to $100 billion per year by 2020. Part of the plan seems to including selling off less than 5 percent of Saudi Aramco to domestic and foreign investors.

Many observers note that this is a terrible time for the Saudis to start on revamping their economy. Oil prices are far too low to support the government budget and the Saudis are spending through their sovereign wealth fund. Part of the reforms involves more taxes and fewer subsidies for the Saudi people. In the past, the royal family has been very reluctant to go this route for fear of provoking unrest.

As part of the discussions surrounding the Doha negotiations, the Deputy Crown Prince, who seems to be running things these days, noted that his country could increase oil production to 11.5 million b/d immediately and could achieve a further increase to 12.5 million in six to nine months.

A bill is making its way through Congress that would allow lawsuits against the Saudi government for damages caused by the 9/11 attacks. Despite al-Qaeda and the Saudi royals being bitter enemies for decades, the theory is that so many of the attackers were Saudi citizens, that Riyadh should be held responsible. Needless to say, the Saudis are outraged and are threatening to dump some $750 billion in US securities they hold in retaliation.

3.  China

The major news last week was the release of another round of figures on China’s economy. The official GDP growth for the 1st quarter was 6.7 percent, a new low, but an increase in March exports of 11.5 percent in dollar terms offered some hope that the various stimulus measures the government has implemented in recent months are taking hold. Imports, however, continued to slump – down 7.6 percent in March year over year. The change in China’s official GDP figures over the last seven quarters – 7.1 percent, 7.2 percent, 7.0 percent, 7.0 percent; 6.9 percent, 6.8 percent, and 6.7 percent – are seen as ridiculous during a time of sagging oil prices, and declining industrial production. In all other advanced economies, GDP shows far more volatility, suggesting that the numbers are simply made up for political purposes. Beijing claims that its services sector has been growing so rapidly that it is offsetting declines in coal production, falling imports and overcapacity in numerous basic industries.

In the past, increases China’s electricity production has always closely tracked the growth of its economy and many consider this number to be more indicative of progress or decline than the GDP “growth” which is an amalgam of much diverse economic activity. In the first quarter of this year electricity production was up by only 1.8 percent year over year.  For March, it was up 4 percent. Beijing would claim that in its new service-oriented economy, electricity production is not as important, but in a China that has been growing its electricity at double-digit rates for many years it is doubtful that relevance of this number could wither so rapidly. Many western observers are still saying that it is far more likely that China is growing at 3-4 percent each year rather at the official rate of circa 7 percent.

4. Russia

Much of the news last week dealt with Moscow’s efforts to put together some sort of oil exporter freeze agreement that would drive oil prices higher. From Moscow’s viewpoint the effort has been a remarkable success as oil prices have risen some 50 percent in the last couple of months just talking to like-minded governments and an occasional leak or hint. There were, of course, some fundamentals behind the increase in oil prices, but hope that was spurred by the prospect of any kind of an international agreement on oil prices was a major factor in the price increase. What happens in the next few weeks following the collapse of the meeting will be interesting.

The Russian ruble which had been trading around 80 to the dollar this year is now up to 66 based largely on higher oil prices. Although Moscow’s economy may do better this year, it is not out of trouble. The lack of foreign investment is still an impediment to growth. Increased military spending and participation in an active war in Syria is not helping.

Moscow’s efforts to double the capacity of the Nord Stream pipeline which brings Russian natural gas under the Baltic and into Western Europe is meeting opposition from the EU. Europe believes that it is already too dependent on Russian gas and would be better off diversifying its source of supply by bringing in gas from Central Asia and the Middle East or by LNG carriers from many places around the world.

5.  The Briefs

Debt bomb: Global policy makers need to guard against a self-reinforcing “spiral” of weakening growth and rising debt that could require a coordinated response by the world’s major economies, according to the IMF’s top fiscal watchdog. Most countries are on a higher debt path than they were a year ago. Fiscal deficits in 2015-2016 in emerging economies are projected to exceed levels during the global financial crisis, as countries struggle with low oil prices, cooling investor sentiment and intensifying geopolitical tensions. (4/14)

Tanker traffic jams: As ports struggle to cope with a global oil glut, huge queues of supertankers have formed in some of the world’s busiest sea lanes, where some 200 million barrels of crude lies waiting to be loaded or delivered. The vessels, filled with oil worth around $7.5 billion at current market prices, would stretch for almost 40 km (25 miles) if formed up in one straight line. It’s not just the Persian Gulf though: shocking sights can be seen in in Asia, where many ports have not been upgraded in time to deal with ravenous demand as consumers take advantage of cheap fuel. (4/14)

Offshore UK: Premier Oil said the Solan field, which is situated about 85 miles off the coast of Shetland, is expected to reach a production rate of between 20,000 and 25,000 barrels of oil per day during the second half of 2016. (4/14)

BP Russia:  said in 2014 that international sanctions against Russia could hurt its business there. Didn’t happen. Instead, London-based BP has found a haven in Russia, buttressed by a falling ruble, lower taxes and the lowest operating costs among the world’s biggest oil companies. BP earned 22 percent of adjusted pretax profit from its share in Moscow-based OAO Rosneft last year. (4/13)

Running from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, Nord Stream 2 is planned to run like the initial pipeline. The project should double the current capacity of the pipeline.  The main reason for the opposition is the persistent worry among EU members that any further gas transportation capacity built by Gazprom will only strengthen its foothold on the continent. (4/14)

Turkmen tiff: In January 2016, the Russian media reported that Russia’s gas giant, Gazprom, had discontinued all purchases of natural gas from Turkmenistan and was not planning to resume imports any time soon. What had led to a sudden rift between Gazprom and state-owned Turkmengas? Gazprom had previously sought to alter the contractual price of natural gas it had been buying from Turkmenistan, given that its own gas deliveries to Europe, whose price is tethered to the price of crude oil, have been significantly discounted since the middle of 2014. (4/13)

Iraqi and Iranian officials began laying a natural gas pipeline across the Shatt al-Arab waterway dividing the two countries – a concrete step toward implementing a plan to fuel Basra power plants with Iranian gas. The project aims to increase power generation in Basra in time for hot summer months and larger demand. (4/14)

India may invest as much as $20 billion in Iran’s energy industry and ports and boost imports of crude from the Persian Gulf nation if it gets favorable terms. (4/11)

China mined 293.8 million tons of coal in March, down 4.5 percent on year, according to figures released Friday by the National Bureau of Statistics. In January-March, China’s mined coal was down 5.3 percent year on year. China generated 477.9 billion kWh of electricity in March, up 4.0 percent on year, of which coal-fired power accounted for 76%. In January-March, China generated a total of 1,355.1 billion kWh of electricity, up 1.8 percent on year, of which coal-fired power accounted for 1,049.3 billion kWh (77 percent), down 2.2 percent. (4/16)

In China, more than 80 percent of the water from underground wells used by farms, factories and households across heavily populated plains is unfit for drinking or bathing because of contamination from industry and farming, according to new statistics that were reported by Chinese media. (4/12)

Offshore Senegal, an oilfield may be viewed as a world-class reservoir following an update to the reserve estimate, Australia-based explorer FAR Ltd. said. FAR announced that an independent assessment of the SNE field raised the reserve estimate by about 20 percent to 561 million barrels of oil. A string of exploration successes at the field meant the company was able to plan for more drilling. (4/14)

Nigeria is becoming a symbol of how fast and far low oil prices have dragged emerging markets down. Months of dwindling oil revenue have prompted a scarcity of dollars here, as the government hoards foreign currency to safeguard shrinking reserves. That is starting to hit Nigerians rich and poor alike. Meanwhile, the World Bank said Nigeria’s economic growth slid to 2.8 percent in 2015 from 6.3 percent the year before. (4/12)

Nigeria is currently dealing with one of its worst fuel shortages in years. The crisis has been dragging on for over a month already, and it’s starting to hamper economic activity. Drivers have been lining up for days at petrol stations across the country, and the lines of traffic were so bad in the capital city of Lagos that they blocked traffic. Some people couldn’t make it to work. Such shortages are particularly disruptive in Nigeria because stagnating electricity output and frequent power cuts leave consumers and businesses dependent on diesel-powered private generators. The current energy shortage will strangle growth in the vital non-oil sector. (4/11)

In Nigeria in February 2016, Royal Dutch Shell announced in its fourth quarter 2015 financial statement that it was postponing the final investment decision on the Bonga South West/Aparo deep water project, in an effort to curtail spending in the current price environment.  Shell’s decision to postpone comes after Shell’s affiliate announced last year that it was still committed to the project. (4/13)

In Venezuela, Schlumberger will reduce activity after the world’s largest oilservices provider failed to collect enough payments from the national oilcompany. Venezuela has been battered by the collapse of prices as most of the government’s revenue comes from petrodollars. (4/13)

Mexico will use $13.6 billion from a central bank surplus to pay down debt and boost its rainy day fund, shoring up finances as it prepares a support plan for the beleaguered state oil company Pemex. The government’s response comes after Pemex reported a record $32 billion-loss for 2015, which prompted Moody’s Investors Service to cut its credit rating two notches in March. (4/12)

Mexico said it will support troubled state-oil firm Pemex with $4.2 billion in fresh capital and money to make this year’s pension payments, a step some analysts saw as insufficient if oil prices remain low. Depressed oil prices and declining oilproduction have led to a liquidity crunch in recent months for Pemex, the world’s eighth-largest oil producer. (4/14)

In Canada’s oil sands, the era of megaprojects is probably over as crude is seen staying lower for longer. Producers that envisioned multibillion-dollar expansions when oil was over $100 a barrel are now opting for bite-sized additions. While some production growth is still expected in a market rebound as companies cut costs with new technology, massive developments are on hold. (4/14)

The Canadian unit of PetroChina is on track to start operations at a new 35,000-barrel-per-day oil-sands plant later this year despite crude prices being below break-even levels for the project. PetroChina’s Brion Energy unit plans to begin steaming operations at its MacKay River oil-sands site in northern Alberta later this year and produce first oil in early in 2017. The startup will mark the first production from PetroChina’s nearly $5 billion-Canadian-dollar ($3.9 billion) investment in two oil-sands projects in northern Alberta. (4/15)

Canada exported 3.2 million barrels of crude per day to the United States last year, the EIA reported, a 10 percent annual increase and an all-time record high. In addition, Canadian oil exports to the US increased to account for 43 percent of the 7.4 million b/d that the US imported during 2015. (4/15)

The US oil rig count declined by 3 to 351 in the week to April 15, Baker Hughes said. That compares with 734 oil rigs operating in the same week a year ago. In 2015, drillers cut on average 18 oil rigs per week for a total of 963 for the year. The gas rig count stayed unchanged for the week at 89.  The total U.S. rig count of 440 is the lowest since at least 1940. (4/16)

Monthly US natural gas production reached a record high level of 79 billion cubic feet per day in 2015, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year, even as natural gas prices remained relatively low. Production from five states—Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and North Dakota—was responsible for most of this growth, offsetting declines in much of the rest of the United States. (4/16)

Working US natural gas inventories ended the winter heating season at 2,478 billion cubic feet (Bcf), exceeding the previous end-of-March record high of 2,473 Bcf, set in 2012. Inventory withdrawals during the traditional heating season (November through March) were relatively limited this year because of winter weather that was the warmest on record and continued high levels of domestic natural gas production. Heading into the winter heating season, inventories were at a record high of 4,009 Bcf on November 20, 2015. (4/15)

The U.S. Gulf of Mexico may return as the primary source of additions to crude oil production as onshore production fades.  The US EIA writes that production will decline in most of the Lower 48 states and Alaska. GOM supply should increase from 1.5 million b/d to 1.9 million by 2017, in part because the offshore areas are less sensitive to short-term volatility in crude oil prices. EIA estimates output from the Gulf of Mexico will account for about 20 percent of total U.S. crude oil production by next year. Total U.S. crude oil production, meanwhile, declines from the 9.1 million bpd expected during the first quarter of 2016 to an average 7.9 million b/d by third quarter 2017. Eight fields started production in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Four are expected to enter into operations in 2016. (4/14)

Wells Fargo’s whoops: in May 2014, with oil trading at $102 a barrel, Wells Fargo & Co. boasted that in just two years it had almost doubled its energy exposure and seized the title of Wall Street’s top oil and gas banker. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Wells Fargo has downgraded 38 percent of its energy loans and set aside $1.2 billion to cover potential losses, according to company filings. The energy loans, however, make up only 2 percent of the bank’s portfolio. (4/12)

Job cuts: The US oil industry handed out 23,200 pink slips in the first three months of the year as companies began cutting their once-flush spending budgets deeper than in the ferocious mid-1980s oil bust. The latest round of layoffs, including recent cuts by Chevron, BP and Anadarko Petroleum, has brought oil-and-gas job cuts across the nation to nearly 118,000 since the beginning of 2015. That’s more than one in every five workers the industry had when crude prices began to tumble. (4/11)

Goodrich Petroleum Corp. said on Friday it has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, joining the ranks of a number of energy companies that have fallen victim to volatile oil and gas prices. (4/15)

Energy XXI filed for protection under the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Code in US Bankruptcy Court after signing a financial restructuring agreement with a certain number of its senior lenders that aims to reduce its debt by more than $2.8 billion and provide extra financial flexibility. (4/15)

The traditional oilfield services business is broken and the only way to fix it is a complete rethink on how the industry does business. At least that’s what the Paal Kibsgaard, the CEO of industry leader Schlumberger is telling the world. To reverse the situation, Kibsgaard says that the industry needs to moveoil field service firms and E&P firms closer together. (4/11)

New offshore rules: The Obama administration is imposing tough new regulations for offshore drilling nearly six years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster vividly illustrated the potential damage when things go wrong. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell unveiled the new rules Thursday, estimating the cost to industry at $890 million over 10 years and insisting it was essential to boost the safety of offshore energy development. (4/15)

Rules fight: The world’s biggest oil explorers are fighting the new US plan to toughen offshore drilling rules that Exxon Mobil said will cost $25 billion over 10 years and render many offshore discoveries worthless. The changes would arrive amid the worst oil slump in a generation. (4/15)

Fracking hot seat: Saying it’s a danger to the air and water supply, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders upped his rhetoric on hydraulic fracturing Monday by calling for a nationwide ban on fracking. Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said she supports fracking that meets certain criteria when it is favored by the communities in which it would occur. (4/12)

Easy rider: Americans driving on their summer vacations will enjoy the cheapest gasoline in 12 years as prices stall just above $2 a gallon. Drivers will pay 59 cents a gallon less at the pump this summer than a year ago and $1.55 below 2014, when oil prices peaked above $100 a barrel. (4/13)

A high level of gasoline supplies on the US market helped push retail gasoline prices lower despite a rally in crude oil prices. AAA reports a national average retail price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline at $2.05 per gallon. (4/13)

The volume of coal shipments by CSX—a key metric for all railroads—declined 31 percent during the first quarter, leading to a drop in total revenues. CSX expects coal volume to decline more than 20 percent during 2016. The company has responded by cutting costs, laying off workers and mothballing railcars. (4/13)

Peabody Energy said Wednesday it’s the latest coal industry leader to face sector-wide pressures and seek U.S. bankruptcy protection. The EIA said coal consumption in the United States is on pace to decline 7 percent this year. (4/14)

Iowa, which already gets more of its power from wind than any other US state, will become more reliant on the electricity source under a $3.6 billion plan announced Thursday by a utility owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.  MidAmerican Energy Co. said it is planning to build up to 2,000 additional megawatts of wind turbines with a goal of generating 85 percent of its power from wind. (4/15)

Zambia’s Kariba Dam was always a steady source of something rare in Africa: electricity so cheap and plentiful that Zambia could export some to its neighbors. The power generated from the Kariba — one of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams, in one of the world’s largest artificial lakes — contributed to Zambia’s political stability and helped turn its economy into one of the fastest growing on the continent. But today, as a severe drought magnified by climate change has cut water levels to record lows, the Kariba is generating so little power that blackouts have crippled the nation’s already hurting businesses. (4/13)

Demand for lithium—the hottest commodity on the planet and the only commodity to show positive price movement in 2015—is poised to continue on its upward trajectory, becoming the world’s new gasoline and earning the moniker of ‘’White Petroleum’’. Driven by the rise of battery giga-factories and game-changing Powerwall and energy storage businesses, the world now finds itself at the beginning of a lithium super cycle that is all about securing new supply, much of which is poised to come from lithium superstar Argentina. (4/14)

Autonomous cars: On 14 April, the transport ministers of all 28 EU member states signed the Amsterdam Declaration, laying down agreements on the steps necessary for the development of connected, autonomous driving technology in the EU. The signatories pledge to draw up rules and regulations that will allow autonomous vehicles to be used on the roads. (4/16)

Climate cover-up? The U.S. oil and gas industry was working as early as the 1940s to spin the narrative on the role fossil fuels played in influencing the climate, a report finds. A series of documents reviewed by the Center for International Environmental Law suggests the oil and gas industry in the US was examining the link between the burning of fossil fuels and harmful pollution as early as 1919. By the 1940s, the study suggests, a committee of executives from companies that later became Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Shell, among others, worked to control public opinion. The CIEL claims a so-called Smoke and Fumes Committee was using its research “to shape public opinion about environmental issues.” (4/15)

Environmentalists backing a Big Tobacco-style government probe of oilcompanies plotted their strategy for targeting companies like ExxonMobil at a closed-door meeting in Manhattan earlier this year, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The report sheds new light on an evolving campaign against the fossil fuel industry that has drawn in several attorneys general who are now investigating ExxonMobil. (4/15)

Climate vs. Exxon: Investors holding more than $5 billion in Exxon Mobil shares are urging the company to disclose how its business would be affected by the global push to slow warming atmospheric temperatures. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System is planning an effort to put its muscle behind climate-related shareholder proposals for the first time. (4/13)

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