Quote of the Week
“If we stay (at $55 a barrel), the world’s biggest oil companies start to make money again. If we go back down to $50 (or lower) in 2017…then those companies are in the negative territory and they go back into survival mode where they have been in the last two years.”
Angus Rodger, Wood Mackenzie’s research director for upstream oil and gas
Graphic of the Week
1. Oil and the Global Economy
2. The Middle East & North Africa
7. The Briefs
1. Oil and the Global Economy
For the last two weeks, oil prices have hovered around $53 a barrel in New York, and a couple of dollars higher in London. Optimism that an agreement among the major oil producers will actually lead to a 1.8 million b/d production cut during 2017 is being balanced off by a stronger dollar, the revival of Libyan and Nigerian oil production, and a steady increase in the US shale-oil rig count.
For now, conventional wisdom seems to be saying that substantial cuts in oil production will take place in the 1st half of the year, followed by a rebalancing of the oil markets in the 2nd half. This belief is backed by a major drop in short futures positions held by hedge funds and by the forward futures price spreads which are saying the markets expect the three-year oil glut will be over by the end of the coming year. Oil exporters from Moscow to Riyadh continue to issue optimistic statements that the production agreement will be upheld and that their financial situations will be much better by the end of the year.
There is, however, a substantial body of opinion that believes oil prices will not get out of their current trading range around $55 a barrel, and that whatever production cut takes place will be overwhelmed by other factors. These commentators point to the likelihood of a stronger US dollar in the coming year that will kill off any oil price strikes and the poor track record OPEC has in carrying through on oil production cuts in past years. Some are saying that the exporters’ alliance will be lucky if 50 percent of the 1.8 million b/d production cut comes to pass and that this will be easily overcome by increased production from Libya, Nigeria, Iran and US shale oil producers.
The global demand for oil is also an issue in where prices go in the next year. While China has cut its domestic production substantially, its economy is showing few signs of rebounding and could be in for a long period of slower than usual growth. The recent smog that closed down much of Northeastern China’s industrial production is not helping the situation. The prospects for a trade war with the new US administration is another factor. As the Chinese economy slows, so will those of the many Asian countries that supply Beijing with its raw materials and partially finished products.
Several potential developments could drive oil prices substantially higher in the next year or two. First. the Venezuelan situation which continues to deteriorate daily. The possibility of a total economic collapse, which would reduce or even completely halt Caracas’ oil exports, has become more likely in the last few months. A major geopolitical upheaval in the Middle East that would lead to increased fighting or even a slowing of oil exports is another possibility that could lead to higher prices.
As the year unfolds, the policies implemented by the Trump administration in the US are likely to have an impact. For now, the mixed signals coming from President-elect Trump’s transition team do not give a basis to judge its impact or whether it will be able to implement quickly some of its more radical proposals to increase domestic US oil production and reduce environmental controls.
As the decade draws to a close, there should be signs that the massive cuts in capital spending on finding and developing new oil fields are having an impact.
The world is still consuming some 35 billion barrels of oil each year. Without steadily exploiting new sources of oil production, normal depletion, which is much faster in shale oil fields, is likely to become a serious concern by the end of this decade. In the next decade, the possibility of major demand reductions due to increasing use of electric cars or environmental restrictions could become a major issue.
2. The Middle East & North Africa
Iran: Tehran’s oil exports are expected to fall to a five-month low of 1.88 million b/d from 2.04 million in December. Foreign observers are saying that Iran has pushed oil production as high as it will go following the lifting of the sanctions and that further increases will require large investments from foreign oil companies. Total and Shell have signed agreements for oil production with Iran, but so far these deals do not seem to involve large investments by the EU countries. Gazprom Neft has signed a deal to study the potential for oil production from two Iranian fields, but this agreement does not seem to involve significant investment.
European governments are quietly warning the incoming Trump administration that there is no interest in Europe in upsetting the nuclear agreement by imposing more sanctions on Iran. Tehran too has warned that additional sanctions will force it to withdraw from the agreement. It has already announced that it will start work on a nuclear-powered boat in response to recent US legislation making it easier to impose sanctions on Iran. The EU is further warning that if the agreement is discarded because of actions by the Trump administration, the US would be responsible for the consequences if Tehran resumes its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
Last week Tehran announced that it had signed an agreement with Airbus to acquire $18 billion worth of jetliners. Should the Trump administration increase pressure on Tehran for what it considers a more “satisfactory” deal, the Boeing deal likely would be in danger.
Syria/Iraq: Now that what is left of Aleppo has been retaken from the insurgents, the fighting moves to more rural areas that are less vulnerable to Russian and Syrian air attacks. Despite talk of a major victory driving the insurgents from Aleppo, Moscow is now faced with supporting a client state that has little left in the way of an economy. Food production in Syria is down by two-thirds from pre-uprising levels.
Baghdad announced that it has firm plans to cut oil production by 210,000 b/d; it is not saying whether these cuts will take place on January 1st as required by the agreement. Oil loading schedules suggest that the Iraqis are planning to increase exports in January. Many observers believe that Iraq is among the most likely OPEC members not to adhere to the agreement. Baghdad says that the international oil companies working in Kurdistan, as well as the rest of Iraq, have agreed to cut oil production to comply with the 210,000 b/d cut. Russia’s Lukoil working in southern Iraq says it has not received any directive to cut production.
Rivalries among the various Shiite blocs in southern Iraq continue to cause problems. Last week violent demonstrations in Basra cut short a speaking tour by former Prime Minister al-Maliki on behalf of the Dawn Party. Intra-Shiite disputes are weakening the government of Prime Minister al-Abadi to run an effective government.
Hacked emails reveal that Exxon gave up half of its rights to drill for oil in Kurdistan because of disappointing results. The decision came five years and $1.1 billion dollars after Exxon decided to pull out of southern Iraq and to invest in Kurdistan, because of the better terms offered by the Kurds.
Iraq has asked for bids on the first phase of a new oil pipeline that will transport crude from Basra to Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba. That is a rather long, 1000 miles, vulnerable, and expensive pipeline. Its main advantage would be to bypass the Iranian-dominated Straits of Hormuz.
Saudi Arabia: Riyadh is expressing optimism about the oil production ending the supply glut in 2017; Saudi leaders are already saying their oil revenues increasing by 47 percent next year. A remark by the Saudi oil minister that his country will do “whatever it takes” to drive oil prices higher has some speculating that the kingdom is willing to make steeper cuts than those that have been announced to offset a resurgence of Libyan oil production, or perhaps even against increased US shale oil production. For now, Aramco seems to be maintaining its oil shipments to Asia where it is competing with Iraq, Iran, and Russia for markets, but cutting back on sales to refineries in the EU.
The government continues to take steps to move its economy away from nearly complete dependence on oil and to get its state budget back into balance after two years of living on its foreign exchange reserves. The government is considering a price increase for retail gasoline which was increased by about 50 percent to 20 cents a liter at the beginning of 2016 – very low by world standards. Solar power seems to be in the Saudi’s future. The government is expected to issue tenders for some 500 megawatts of solar-generated power in the 1st quarter. The Saudis are the world’s largest consumer of oil-generated electricity in the world. Consumption can reach 900,000 b/d in the peak summer months. The total loss of revenue from using its oil to produce power is estimated to be on the order of $16 billion annually.
Relations between Riyadh and Washington are starting to deteriorate as the Saudis are becoming increasingly concerned about what will happen to the 70-year oil partnership under the Trump administration. Washington has recently cut back on selling some types of arms to the Saudis on the grounds that they have been misused to kill thousands of civilians in air attacks on dubious targets in Yemen. The issue of the IPO for Saudi Aramco is back in the news. The Saudis are supposed to be selling off about 5 percent of the company, estimated to be worth $2 trillion, in 2018. This sale of stock could bring in some $100 billion. There are now rumors that, given the deteriorating relations with the US, the Saudis are looking for places other than Wall Street to sponsor the initial IPO. A story that the Saudis may sell 49 percent of the company over a ten-year period has been vehemently denied.
There are reports of increasing unhappiness within the Saudi royal family which is the last major country on earth ruled by an autocratic hereditary king. King Salman will be 81 years old next week and is said to be suffering from Alzheimer’s. Over the decades the Saudi family has been very successful in transferring power to one of their own without generating much dissent. This may not always be the case. Should an intra-family struggle over who will be the next king ever develop, the world’s oil supply could be seriously disrupted.
Libya: The National Oil Company confirmed that the western Sharara and El-Feel oil fields have been reopened and connected to export pipelines after a two-year long blockade by local militias. Combined production from the fields is supposed to be about 420,000 b/d. If these fields can reach full production shortly, Libya could be producing some 720,000 b/d in the next few months. The government is still talking about getting to 1.1 million b/d next year. If this goal can be reached, it would offset a large part of OPEC’s 1.8 million b/d production cut. Throw in an another two or three hundred barrels of Nigeria production if it can keep its insurgents under control, some additional US shale oil production, and we are back into an overproduction situation again.
Libyan officials traveled to Cairo last week to explore the possibility of Egyptian firms helping to get Libya’s oil industry moving again. Egypt is desperate for access to more oil, has a population of 95 million –15 times that of Libya, and while not in the class of international oil companies, could provide trained workers and some technical expertise.
Last week Beijing was preoccupied with some of the worst smog on record in Northeast China. Over 500 million people living in over 20 major cities were subjected to long periods of extremely hazardous air conditions. In some cities, the tiny, yet deadly, 2.5-micron particles hit 1000 per cubic meter which is 20 times greater than the safe level for humans to breath. Millions of sick and elderly are likely to be dying prematurely from these conditions which lasted for nearly a week. Schools and factories had to be closed and motor vehicle use was cut in half. In the Beijing area alone some 1200 factories were closed as were thousands more across northeastern China. This situation obviously did not help economic growth this quarter and already has China’s foreign trading partners concerned about the future of their markets.
On Thursday, China’s parliament approved a new law that will go into effect in 2018, imposing taxes on polluters for the first time. The issue was hotly debated in government circles, with some maintaining that it would be cheaper to pollute than to pay for pollution control equipment. This suggests that economic growth often still trumps the environment as the main driver of Chinese policies and that the environmental situation could continue to get worse.
Beijing, however, has been making a major effort in recent years to clean up its air, but for a country that burns around 4 billion tons of coal annually to maintain its economic viability, change will come slowly. Whether the recent bout of smog has caused enough concern in government circles to spark more meaningful efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels remains to be seen. Balancing economic growth against hazardous pollution of its land, water, and air remains China’s major dilemma.
Some observers are noting that China has reduced its oil production by about 300,000 b/d in the last year or and has been forced to pick up the slack with imports. This cut in oil production, which was due to unacceptably high costs of production as compared to imported oil, was nearly double the cuts that the OPEC/Russia alliance was able to produce. In November, however, China managed to increase its production by 3.4 percent month over month to 3.93 million b/d in response to the recent price increases.
With the Trump transition still talking about high tariffs on Chinese goods and busies itself appointing people dedicated to “better trade deals” with the Chinese, Beijing is starting to react with threats of its own. This year Boeing sold 164 planes to China and the company projects that the country will need some 6,000 new planes in the next 20 years. Beijing is already threatening targeted retaliation that would do the most harm to the US economy if the Trump administration follows through on its rhetoric to reduce imports from China. Transferring the purchase of aircraft to the EU’s Airbus would one of the first significant retaliatory measures that could be taken.
China is still trying to get its hands on as many foreign sources of oil as it can. Last week deals were reported that would give China more access to oil from Brazil, Kurdistan, and Curacao. As domestic production withers, Beijing has not choice but to make deals with foreign sources of crude.
Moscow has pledged to cut oil production by 300,000 b/d, and there have been numerous official statements claiming this will take place. However, there has been enough ambiguity in these statements to leave open the possibility that the Russians are not planning to decrease production by 300,000 b/d next year, but simply slow or not carry out plans to increase growth. The official line is that the cuts will be made gradually, leaving what is happening difficult for outsiders to track. Moscow’s oil companies are supposed to be setting up a monitoring group in ensuring production cuts but given the nature of Russia’s governance today, this could be for show.
How Moscow will get along with the new US administration is a matter of much discussion. Exxon is very anxious to help Moscow exploit its Arctic reserves since the effort was cut short by the Ukrainian sanctions. There is speculation that the Trump administration and its new secretary of state may be willing to abandon the Ukraine in return for access to Russia’s Arctic oil.
The government says that oil production is now around 1.8 million b/d up from 1.5 million in August. This production level is still 400,000 b/d lower than before insurgents began blowing up pipelines again. President Buhari told parliament last week that he wants to restore production to 2.2 million b/d, which would be another blow to the OPEC agreement. There have been no reports of new insurgent attacks since early November but, as years of experience have taught us, these are rather easy to carry out in the swamps of the Niger Delta.
The Nigerian economy continues to slump with a growth of only 2.5 percent last year. Airlines operating in West Africa are becoming increasingly concerned about shortages of jet fuel in the region. Shortages in Nigeria have forced the airlines to use Ghana as a major hub, but in recent weeks jet-fuel shortages have started to develop there as well.
The US State Department last week warned US citizens that the situation in Venezuela has become so unstable that that it is dangerous to live there or even visit the country. Rumors persist that the Maduro government is planning to disband the parliament after the first of the year and rule by decree. The country is dealing with one crisis after another. Last week efforts to issue to higher denomination currency came to naught after much of the old currency was collected, but the new bank notes were not available for distribution. This led to riots and looting in towns where there is no useable currency to buy food.
Las week it was reported that the Venezuelan national oil company has mortgaged the rest of its ownership of the US Citgo oil company to Russia as collateral for a loan. Citgo was the last valuable asset the oil company had. Last month, the company pledged 51 percent of Citgo as collateral to back up extending its bond payments.
The food situation remains the worst problem. Most observers expect to turmoil to continue indefinitely and the possibility of sharply reduced oil exports remains large.
7. The Briefs
(date in parentheses after each item refers to daily issue of Peak Oil News)
Britain’s High Court ruled on Tuesday that a local government’s shale gas fracking permit award to developer Third Energy was legal, claimants Friends of the Earth said in a statement. North Yorkshire County Council was the first local authority to grant a shale gas fracking permit since a moratorium was lifted in 2012. (12/20)
Deadly diesel: London’s overreliance on diesel-powered vehicles has given it a dubious distinction: a global leader in nitrogen dioxide, a particularly noxious pollutant that shortens the lives of thousands of Londoners a year. European mayors are declaring war on diesel, hoping to give their cities a clean start. This month, mayors of three major European capitals, plus Mexico City, announced ambitious plans to ban all diesel vehicles within the next decade. (12/21)
BP growing: With the rebound in oil prices underway and the astronomic costs stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the rearview mirror, BP is once again looking to make large investments. In just the past few days, BP announced a rash of deals in different parts of the world, signaling the British oil major’s intent to grow after several years of shrinking. Bloomberg calculates that BP has spent $3.8 billion on acquisitions in 2016. (12/20)
BP has come close to at least two potentially lethal accidents as a result of shortcomings in the way it monitors the safety of its refineries and petrochemicals plants, according to an internal report seen by the Financial Times. (12/13)
Israel, Greece, and Cyprus have decided to take their proposal for a pipeline from gas fields offshore Israel and Cyprus to Europe, Israeli energy sources said late Thursday. (12/12)
Offshore Israel: Partners behind one of the larger natural gas fields off the coast of Israel unveiled plans to start formal production operations in roughly three years. Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration said their boards have approved a development plan for the Leviathan natural gas field. (12/13)
Saudi Arabian Oil Co. signed contracts with U.S. companies to build dozens of oil rigs over 10 years as the kingdom prepares for the long-term future of its most prized industry even while coordinating with other producers to cut output for six months to stabilize crude. The Saudi state producer signed a contract with Nabors Industries to form an equally shared joint venture to build 50 onshore rigs over a decade. (12/14)
Saudi Arabia will turn to solar for electricity, which could allow it to export a lot more oil. Solar traditionally competes with natural gas, coal, and nuclear power. However, that is not the case in Saudi Arabia, where during the hot summer 900,000 b/day oil is still burned for electricity, an increasingly uncommon practice throughout the world. In fact, Saudi Arabia is the largest consumer of oil for electricity, a weakness that Saudi officials believe they can no longer afford. (12/23)
In Abu Dhabi, BP cemented its 77-year relationship by swapping about $2.2 billion of its own shares for a stake in one of the emirate’s largest onshore oil concessions. (12/17)
In Pakistan, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to office in 2013, rolling power outages across the country were plunging homes and businesses into darkness for up to 12 hours a day. Now the Pakistani leader is betting on a $21 billion Chinese-backed splurge on energy projects to boost the economy. More than 10,000 Chinese workers are now building at least 10 partly Beijing-financed energy projects across Pakistan that are set to grow the country’s energy output by 60% within two years in the first major boost to supply in two decades. (12/20)
India’s crude oil imports in November rose 12.7 percent year on year to an average 4.58 million b/d. The imports in November were 3.3 percent higher than October. Domestic refiners have been trying to run refineries at over 100 percent of capacity as local demand soars. (12/20)
Italian energy company Eni has agreed to sell a 30 percent stake in a giant Egyptian offshore gas field to Russia’s Rosneft for $1.575 billion, pressing ahead with asset sales to fund investment amid weak oil prices. (12/13)
In the waters off Malaysia, Royal Dutch Shell is finding gas quickly and cheaply to replenish depleting fields where only a few years ago geologists had lost hope of discovering any new reserves. Shell is combining the latest technology with the wisdom of industry veterans to unlock new oil and gas deposits where it already operates, usually within 20 km of existing platforms. The result has been a string of finds which, while modest in size, can generate cash rapidly to suit an era of drastically reduced exploration budgets across the energy industry. (12/14)
Arctic partnership: Japanese company Marubeni Corp. said it signed a memorandum of understanding with Novatek, Russia’s largest independent natural gas company. Under the terms of the understanding, both sides will explore options for supplies of liquefied natural gas possibly from an Arctic line. (12/17)
A Colombian energy company, a US subsidiary of Ecopetrol, said it was involved as a minority holder in a new oil discovery in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico, its fifth so far. Anadarko Petroleum is the operator of the well. The Colombian company said drilling ran through a 210-foot column of oil in the Warrior well, confirming it as a discovery. (12/17)
Brazil’s state-controlled oil company Petróbras said Friday it signed a $5 billion financing deal with the China Development Bank, the latest example of a troubled Latin American issuer reaching to deep-pocketed Chinese institutions for help. The 10-year financing arrangement coincided with the signing of a commercial contract whereby Petrobras will supply 100,000 barrels of oil a day to three Chinese firms. (12/17)
French’s Total said it was building up its prospects in South America in a partnership that gives it access to some of Brazil’s biggest oil fields. In a deal valued at $2.2 billion, the French supermajor gained access to two of Brazil’s largest oil fields in an acquisition of interests from state-supported Petrobras. (12/23)
Union fading: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez proclaimed a decade ago that they presided over a single country, combining Cuba’s educated workforce with Venezuela’s oil wealth to challenge US power across Latin America. Now Mr. Castro is gone, three years after Mr. Chávez’s death, and the union between their two countries, while still strong on paper, is withering away fast. Daily shipments of more than 100,000 barrels of subsidized Venezuelan oil, the lifeblood of Cuba’s economy, have dropped by more than half since 2013. (12/15)
How is it that Canada could be dependent on US oil production? As of 2015, 36 percent of total US crude imports come from Canada. As Canada continues to exports over 3 million b/d of oil to the U.S., what direct role does the U.S. have in allowing Canadian oil to flow southward? (12/15)
US Gulf Coast refiners are cashing in on rising fuel demand from Mexico, shipping record volumes to a southern neighbor that has failed to expand its refining network to supply a fast-growing economy. The fuel trade could top a million b/d at times in 2017 as Mexico becomes increasingly dependent on the United States for strategic energy supplies. (12/22)
Cushing Okla.: For OPEC, there are few enemies more fearsome than the tiny Oklahoma town of Cushing. With oil inventories at Cushing creeping near an all-time high, U.S. benchmark futures prices are struggling to advance despite the promised production cuts agreed to by OPEC, Russia, and other producers. And the storage tanks are likely to stay full as refiners park crude in Oklahoma to lower their tax bills. (12/15)
The US oil rig count increased the week to Dec 16 by 12 rigs, bringing the total oil rig count to 510. It was the seventh week in a row of such increases. The nation’s gas rig count rose by one to 126 in the past week. (12/17)
The US oil rig count increased for the eighth straight week, growing by 13 rigs to 523 Baker Hughes Inc. said Friday (Dec 23). Drillers have added 207 rigs since the count hit a seven-year low on May 27. Most of the recovery in drilling has been in the prolific Permian Basin, which has been a hotbed for acquisitions this year. The nation’s gas rig count rose by three to 129 in the past week. (12/24)
Cost cutting: Offshore oil majors could shave nearly a third off their exploration and development costs by simply agreeing to industry-wide equipment standards. US shale oil drillers, whose rise was partly responsible for crashing crude prices in 2014, have halved their cost base to around $30-40 a barrel, thanks in part to standardization of drilling equipment. (12/22)
Shale oil cash flow neutral: Oil prices are probably already high enough to spark a rebound in shale production. The IEA says that in the third quarter of 2016, the U.S. shale industry became cash flow neutral for the first time ever. That isn’t a typo. For years, the drilling boom was done with a lot of debt, and the revenues earned from steadily higher levels of output were not enough to cover the cost of drilling, even when oil prices traded above $100 per barrel in the go-go drilling days between 2011 and 2014. Even when U.S. oil production hit a peak at 9.7 million barrels per day in the second quarter of 2015, the industry did not break even. (12/23) [Question: is this break-even point before or after the extensive suite of allowable deductions?]
Shale gas rebound: A nearly $2 billion natural gas deal could signal a sign that companies are interested in gas drilling again after a long downturn. Gulfport Energy announced plans to issue new shares in order to finance a $1.85 billion acquisition of acreage in Oklahoma’s SCOOP basin. The SCOOP has emerged as arguably the next most exciting shale play, with acreage still largely undeveloped. (12/24)
Proved U.S. reserves of crude oil declined by 4.7 billion barrels or 11.8 percent from their year-end 2014 level to 35.2 billion barrels at year-end 2015. Natural gas proved reserves decreased 64.5 trillion cubic feet to 324.3, a 16.6 percent decline. Average oil and gas prices in 2015 dropped 47 percent and 42 percent, respectively, from 2014, resulting in more challenging economic and operating conditions. (12/19)
Bankruptcies: Bonanza Creek Energy Inc., Memorial Production Partners LP and oilfield services provider Forbes Energy Services Ltd announced on Friday plans to file for bankruptcy in coming weeks, joining a long list of U.S. energy companies that have succumbed to a drop in oil prices. As of Dec. 14, 114 oil and gas producers had filed for bankruptcy in 2016 with $57 billion in total debt, more than double the number of filings in 2015, according to Haynes & Boone. (12/24)
Landlocked: President Obama moved to solidify his environmental legacy Tuesday by withdrawing hundreds of millions of acres of federally owned land in the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean from new offshore oil and gas drilling. Obama used a little-known law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to protect large portions of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic and a string of canyons in the Atlantic stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia. (12/21)
The next lease sale planned by the US government for oil and gas reserves in the Gulf of Mexico will be streamed live on the Internet, an agency said. On March 22, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to stream the next lease for the rights to drill into 48 million acres of territorial waters off the coast of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. (12/24)
Sell the SPR? Members of a House energy panel said they wanted a federal investigation into whether or not the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve should be maintained. The US Strategic Petroleum Reserve was established in 1975 in response to the oil embargo enacted by Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. With a design capacity of more than 720 million barrels, it’s the largest emergency supply of oil in the world. (12/24)
Changing demand: For decades, automakers have been able to count on a fundamental fact of American life: You pretty much need a car to get around. But lately, novel technologies, including ride-hailing services like Uber and advances in self-driving cars, are creating new alternatives for commuting, shuttling children and going to the store — particularly in urban settings. There are also demographic and economic trends in play. Many younger Americans do not consider owning a car a goal or necessity — or a necessary expense. (12/23)
Texas, the No. 1 oil producer in the United States, showed a slight decline in September from the previous month at 2.38 million barrels per day. The Texas Railroad Commission reported preliminary figures for October at 2.37 million barrels per day. September production was 1.5 percent lower than last year. (12/23)
In North Dakota, a ruptured pipeline has spilled more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil into a hillside and a Little Missouri River tributary about 150 miles west of Cannon Ball, where thousands of activists have spent months fighting construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. (12/13)
Pipeline protest meets winter: Thousands of environmental activists from the US and around the world have come to support the Native Americans’ battle against the pipeline, many mobilized by the campaign’s popular Facebook pages. Yet many people at the camp arrived totally unprepared for the brutal North Dakota winter. (12/23)
A 2013 massive oil spill in North Dakota still isn’t fully cleaned up, three years and three months later. The company responsible hasn’t even set a date for completion. Though crews have been working around the clock to deal with the Tesoro Corp. pipeline break, which happened in a wheat field in September 2013, less than a third of the 840,000 gallons that spilled has been recovered – or ever will be. (12/19)
BP will be moving its US business headquarters from Houston to Denver, which the company believes will be an important energy hub of the future. David Lawler, CEO of BP Lower 48, noted that two-thirds of BP’s operated oil and natural gas production and proved reserves are in the Rockies, as well as close proximity to top universities and industry expertise. (12/15)
Southern California Gas has urged customers to reduce natural gas use to help lower the risk of possible gas and electricity shortages due to what it described as severe cold weather throughout the U.S. Southwest. The notice came as the utility continues to have only limited access to fuel in its giant Aliso Canyon gas storage facility in Los Angeles following a massive methane leak between October 2015-February 2016. (12/20)
Growth in global coal demand will slow over the next five years due to lower consumption in China and the United States and as renewable energy sources gain ground, the International Energy Agency said on Monday. (12/12)
Wind thriving: A year after Congress extended generous tax credits for renewable energy projects, the US wind industry is thriving. Solar power companies, meanwhile, are hunkering down for a rough 2017. The tax credit renewal has boosted the long-term outlooks for both industries. But in the short term, the subsidies are far more attractive for wind power, which has spurred utilities to launch wind projects while they scale back or delay solar installations. Advances in wind turbine technology are also opening up new locations for development and driving a wave of spending to upgrade existing projects. (12/16)
Solar still strong? Renewable energy policy faces a future of uncertainty with a new fossil fuel-friendly administration set to take office, but the US solar industry just marked its best quarter to date. In the third quarter, the U.S. saw 4,143 megawatts of new solar PV installations. (12/15)
Geothermal: There are few places on earth as geothermal-friendly as the island nation of Iceland, with 25 percent of its total electricity production coming from geothermal facilities. So it makes sense that Iceland is now the place for an attempt by Statoil and The Iceland Deep Drilling Project to drill the world’s deepest geothermal borehole. The drilling, which began in August, has already reached depths of 4,500 meters, with a stated aim of hitting 5 kilometers before the end of the year. At that depth, the extreme pressure and heat is expected to create ‘supercritical steam’, a substance that is neither liquid nor gas and holds the potential to create 10 times the energy of a conventional geothermal well. (12/21)
Fukushima delays: Work to retrieve spent nuclear fuel in the No. 3 reactor building storage pool of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant will again be postponed due to a delay in clearing radioactive debris at the site. TEPCO planned to begin removing 566 spent nuclear fuel assemblies in the storage pool in January 2018. However, the government and the plant operator decided on the postponement. They will decide on a new timetable in a few weeks. (12/24)
Arctic warning? For the second year in a row in late December and for the second time in as many months, temperatures in the high Arctic will be freakishly high compared to normal. Computer models project that on Thursday, three days before Christmas, the temperature near the North Pole will be an astronomical 40-50 degrees warmer-than-normal and approaching 32 degrees, the melting point. (12/23)
Melting: Scientists at institutions in the United States and Australia on Friday published a set of unprecedented ocean observations near the largest glacier of the largest ice sheet in the world: Totten glacier, East Antarctica. And the result was a troubling confirmation of what scientists already feared — Totten is melting from below. (12/17)
Research in Antarctica indicates that the continent’s immense ice shelves could be subject to the risk of what researchers call “hydro-fracturing”: When a lot of meltwater forms atop the shelf and pushes inside of it, eventually leading to a crackup. (12/13)
Trumping climate: Canadian “guerrilla” archivists will be assisting a rushed effort to preserve US government climate data. Environmentalists, climate scientists, and academics are collaborating to protect what they view as fragile digital federal records and research. They want the data saved before Donald Trump takes office. (12/15)