Quotes of the Week
“US crude oil production reached 11.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in August 2018, up from 10.9 million b/d in July. This is the first time that monthly US production levels surpassed 11 million b/d. US crude oil production exceeded the Russian Ministry of Energy’s estimated August production of 11.2 million b/d, making the United States the leading crude oil producer in the world.”
US EIA monthly report
“We thought that we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of CO2 that we emitted. But we were wrong. The planet warmed more than we thought. It was hidden from us just because we didn’t sample it right. But it was there. It was in the ocean already.”
Laure Resplandy, Princeton University research team leader
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
The plunge in oil prices, which began in early October, continued last week with New York oil futures closing Friday at $63.14, down about $14 a barrel in the past month. London futures have followed a similar pattern falling from $86 to $72.83 on Friday. During September the threat of the renewed US sanctions on Iranian exports forced world prices into the high $80s with many predicting that we would soon see $100 oil again. During the past month, however, market sentiment changed as it appeared the sanctions might not be as effective as some hoped, the global oil production increase, higher prices and the brewing US-China trade war threaten demand in the coming years.
Most of the world’s top oil trading houses expect prices to decline next year as slowing global economic growth and rising oil supply compensates for fewer Iranian crude barrels on the market. Speculators second this sentiment with hedge funds closing out the bulk of their long positions in the oil market during October. There are a few outliers such as Goldman Sachs which sees oil prices back to $80 a barrel by the end of the year, but for now, the sentiment that demand for oil will fall in the coming year seems to be predominant.
A $14 decline in world oil prices is starting to pressure the budgets of the world’s largest exporters and is likely to restrain in growth in investment in finding and producing from new oil fields.
OPEC: A Reuters survey says OPEC increased oil production in October to the highest since 2016, as higher output led by the United Arab Emirates and Libya more than offset a cut in Iranian shipments due to US sanctions. The cartel pumped 33.31 million b/d last month, up 390,000 b/d from September. Defacto OPEC member Russia added another 50,000 b/d to the total, and the rapid growth of US shale oil production helped too. Early reports of OPEC production are not necessarily valid, and it may be many weeks before a more accurate picture emerges. For example, there are reports that Venezuelan exports fell as much as 200,000 b/d last month.
US Shale Oil Production: Rystad Energy, an oil industry consulting firm, says the oil market should expect significantly better US oil production then found in the EIA’s predictions. “Long-term oil production potential from the US remains dramatic as long as oil prices stay above $50 per barrel. Even in a scenario of $55 per barrel we see US oil output growing to 16.5 million b/d by 2030. Moving to a price environment of $75 per barrel would unlock an additional 5.3 million b/d of volumes in 2030, but it also results in faster acceleration of base decline and an earlier plateau in production.
“The shale industry is still in the middle of a long-term investment cycle,” says Per Magnus Nysveen, Senior Partner and Head of Analysis at Rystad Energy. “If a favorable price environment persists, we will see US oil adding the equivalent of one Saudi Arabia over the next ten years and with healthy profits seen as soon as the early 2020s.” The firm’s report includes the following chart showing US oil production climbing as high as 22 million b/d in the coming decade even at moderate oil prices of $75 a barrel.
Such a report, which was likely produced to encourage more investment in the oil industry, contrasts sharply with other forecasts that take into account the growing problems of the shale oil industry. While all indications suggest that the US shale oil industry will continue to grow for the next few years, the profitability of the industry is coming under ever-increasing scrutiny. Last week, Chevron reported that its production from the Permian Basin increased by 80 percent in the third quarter over the same period in 2017, based on tweaks made to its method of drilling and completing wells. As usual, there was no mention as to what these new techniques cost or whether the increased production came from drilling only in a declining pool of “sweet spots.”
While there currently is a shortage of pipeline capacity to move oil from the Permian to markets, several pipeline companies have reported progress in building or expanding their capacity, and most expect that with 18 months there will be sufficient capacity to handle the increased production from the Permian Basin. The downside to this pipeline expansion is that the rapid depletion of the Bakken’s wells will result in excess capacity for the pipeline companies who will be left with unprofitable “stranded assets.”
Up in North Dakota’s Bakken, drillers reported record-breaking crude oil output of 1.29 million b/d in the third quarter and announced plans to ramp up production in the play. Hess produced 118,000 b/d of oil equivalent in Q3 and plans to increase output to more than 175,000 barrels of oil equivalent within three years. Keep in mind that the barrel of oil “equivalent” includes a lot of natural gas, some of which is being flared off for lack of pipelines to carry it to market. Continental Resources, the state’s largest oil producer, doubled its Bakken oil recovery estimates, claiming that as much as 40 billion barrels of crude may ultimately be produced from the play.
Despite the increase in US shale oil production, there continues to emerge a stream of reports describing in great detail the lack of profitability in drilling for shale oil. The situation will only get worse as drillers run through their inventory of productive “sweet spots” in which to drill for oil and are forced to drill in less and less productive areas. In short, the industry is not profitable now and is doomed by the facts of the situation to become even less so in the future as it is forced to drill less productive wells at the same cost as the profitable ones.
The only question is when the people financing shale oil drilling will realize that there is no future and stop supplying the capital which keeps the industry running at a loss.
2. The Middle East & North Africa
Iran: This week, the US will issue temporary sanctions waivers allowing eight countries to keep importing Iranian oil. Two countries have agreed to end those deals within months while the other six have agreed to “greatly reduced levels,” according to Secretary of State Pompeo. He also said that US actions have already cut Iran’s oil exports by more than 1 million b/d before the sanctions take effect. A million-barrel decline—more than a third of international sales—is twice the level achieved over the same period in the Obama era.
The US believes that global oil supplies will exceed demand next year making it easier for countries to cut Iranian oil imports to zero, without a large increase in oil prices according to a senior US official.
The Iranian economy, with oil accounting for 80 percent of its tax revenue and a quarter of gross domestic product, is in trouble. Europe’s largest companies have pulled out. Iranians have rushed to exchange their rials, plunging the currency’s value to record lows and sparking a surge in consumer prices. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting that Iran’s economy will contract by 3.6 percent next year.
The efficacy of the sanctions after they are imposed, and the ability of the US to detect large-scale avoidance is the subject of endless debate in the financial press. It’s been six months since President Trump announced the sanctions, and since then a lot of data has accumulated suggesting that the initial forecasts of losses of between 1.5 and 2 million b/d in Iranian exports may be too high, but it will take several months until the situation sorts itself out. Tehran is already turning off the transponders that track the movement of oil tankers around the world, but improved satellite tracking and big-data technology that weren’t available just a few years ago may make it more difficult to hide the movements of anything as large as an oil tanker.
The EU is firmly against Washington’s re-imposition of sanctions and has been working on ways to circumvent the US financial regulations that would make it difficult for European refiners to keep on purchasing Iranian oil. Last week, however, Danish diplomats briefed EU ambassadors on efforts of Iran’s intelligence services to kill the leader of an Arab separatist group in Denmark. Copenhagen is calling for action to punish Tehran and at least eight countries, including Britain and France, are supporting Danish calls for new sanctions. Tehran’s hope of maintaining customers in the EU seems to have taken a turn for the worse.
Tehran sold 280,000 barrels of crude oil to private companies for export last week as part of its strategy to counter US sanctions. In the past, private refining companies could buy Iranian crude oil for export only if it were to be turned into oil products, leaving the state the monopoly on crude exports. Iran said in July, however, that it would start crude oil sales to private firms as part of its efforts to bypass the sanctions. Analysts point out that this would still leave foreign entities buying the crude liable for penalties from Washington for doing business with Iranian firms.
Iraq: The new Cabinet is proposing a $24 billion in spending increases in a 2019 draft budget, marking a dramatic shift away from the austerity budgets initiated after the price of oil crashed.
Baghdad currently trucks small quantities of crude oil from its northern Kirkuk oil field into Iran in exchange for Tehran delivering the same amount of its oil to Iraq’s southern ports. Both sides benefit from avoiding shipping costs. This month, however, Iraq will halt trucking of crude to Iran to comply with the US sanctions. Although only less than 30,000 b/d is involved, Iraq won’t risk the wrath of Washington which provides much of its security and training of its forces.
Saudi Arabia: Diplomatic pressure from the United States and Britain for a cease-fire in the Yemen war intensified last week. The calls for a halt to the conflict were made by Secretary of State Pompeo, UK Foreign Minister Hunt, and Secretary of Defense Mattis. The request for a ceasefire came against the backdrop of rising global criticism of Saudi Arabia, which has been conducting an ineffective bombing campaign that is a major cause of civilian deaths and widespread destruction in Yemen.
The new initiative comes as relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States have cooled in the month since Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi security personnel. The operatives had close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, architect of the Yemen War.
Saudi Arabia reported a fiscal deficit of $1.95 billion for the third quarter, down from $1.97 billion in the previous quarter. Over the first nine months of the year, the deficit shrank by 60 percent, thanks to the improvement in oil revenues and a small increase in non-oil revenues.
Libya: Libya has restarted the eastern al-Bayda oilfield, the latest facility in the so-called Oil Crescent region to resume work after heavy fighting in June. The field has a production capacity of about 12,400 b/d.
Despite frequent production outages as various armed groups vie for a bigger share of the pie, Libya’s National Oil Corporation plans to pump 1.6 million b/d of crude by the end of the year. This was the level of production before the 2011 civil war resulted in chaos across the country. The company says it would like to boost output to 2 million b/d by 2022. To this end, the company has signed agreements with BP and Eni to resume drilling in the country. Libya still has large undrilled reserves, but the question of political instability remains the main roadblock to increasing production anytime soon.
For example, just last week a group of tribesmen staged a protest at the southern El Sharara oil field, threatening to close down production unless their living conditions improve. The field, in Libya’s remote southwest, normally produces around 300,000 b/d but has suffered frequent shutdowns caused by security problems in the past, including raids, kidnappings, and blockages by tribesmen and state-paid guards.
China’s imports of Iranian crude dropped in September compared to the same month last year and to August, while crude oil imports from the US doubled year-on-year in September despite the trade war, according to data from China’s General Administration of Customs. Oil imports from Iran slumped by 34 percent on the year to 518,300 b/d in September while imports averaged 798,423 b/d in August. Key Asian buyers of Iranian oil dramatically cut their purchases from Iran in September to the lowest level since the previous sanctions on Tehran were lifted in January 2016.
Beijing’s manufacturing sector barely grew last month after stalling in September, while an extended contraction in export orders highlighted rising pressure on the economy as a trade war intensified. The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for October, released last Thursday, edged up to 50.1 from 50.0 in September. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a reading of 49.9, just off the 50-mark that divides expansion from contraction. The rather slight growth last month was in line with an official PMI survey showing that China’s manufacturing sector expanded at the weakest pace in over two years.
Though readings above 50 still indicate an expansion in activity, the fall was more precipitous than economists projected, with the October reading at the lowest since July 2016. “Overall, the data confirms that economic fundamentals are weakening. I’m afraid the softness will remain for a long period,” said, an economist at Founder Securities. Indicators and other economic data in recent weeks have shown that the Chinese economy is slipping faster than many officials expected. As the world’s largest oil importer, a sagging Chinese economy has serious implications for world oil prices.
The head of the Japanese steel industry group said on Monday that he is worried about signs of a slowing Chinese economy. “The U.S.-China trade spat still has limited impact on Japanese steelmakers’ business, but we are concerned about signs of a weakening economy in China.” China’s iron ore prices fell for a fourth day on Friday amid expectations that the oncoming winter season will see reduced demand for steel.
Moscow’s oil production increased to 11.41 million b/d in October from 11.36 million in September, setting a new post-Soviet record high. Russia has been raising its production since OPEC, and its allies agreed in June to relax compliance rates with the cuts to 100 percent from the previous over-compliance. The respective leaders of the OPEC and non-OPEC nations part of the deal—Saudi Arabia and Russia—have been interpreting the eased compliance as adding a total of 1 million b/d to the market. Moscow has already reversed its entire 300,000-b/d cut that was pledged as part of the initial deal and has been adding production in recent months. Energy Minister Alexander Novak recently said on Saturday there was no reason for Russia to freeze or cut its oil production levels, noting that there were risks that global oil markets could be facing a deficit.
Russia is set to suffer a large revenue loss from the regulation mandating cleaner marine fuels starting in 2020. Moscow is the world’s top exporter of the sulfurous residual oil that powers ships and is not ready for the change despite many years of notice that it was coming. Refineries across the world are bracing themselves for the once-in-a-generation shift intended to reduce pollution caused by ships. European and the US Gulf Coast refineries are ready to make the change to low-sulfur fuel oil, but Russian companies have done little to prepare.
There seems to be no end to the corruption and general malfeasance that plagues Nigeria’s oil industry. A new report that was recently leaked to the press says that $22.06 billion and N481.75 billion in oil and gas revenues are yet to be remitted to the government by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, the Nigeria Petroleum Development Company, and some companies in the oil and gas sector. Audits of the oil industry by foreign accounting firms, including well-known US auditors, have been unable to locate the missing billions due to a lack of an adequate audit trail showing what happened to the money after foreign oil companies pay for the oil they purchase from the national petroleum corporation.
The National Petroleum Corporation said last week that it had signed a six-month crude-for-product deal with BP to supply Nigeria gasoline ahead of the upcoming Christmas celebrations and the February 16, 2019, general elections.
Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro will sell its 50 percent stake in a Nigerian oil and gas exploration venture to a consortium led by oil trading firm Vitol for $1.53 billion. This divestment is the latest step in the Brazilian state-controlled oil company’s debt reduction drive.
Exports from Venezuela in the first weeks of October were down to 0.99 million b/d, according to Kpler data. This is down some 300,000 b/d from September 2018. While this is a preliminary report, all data sources point to a downward trend. At the beginning of 2018 the average weekly loading volume was between 10 and 12 million barrels; now it is about 6-7 million barrels per week. Venezuela’s production has fallen back 70 years to 1940s levels.
The fuel shortages have expanded across the country as PDVSA’s refineries run at the lowest rates seen this year because of the lack of crude oil and as Cardon, the country’s largest refinery, remains closed after an Oct. 15 blackout. The oil company’s five refineries are operating at less than a quarter of their capacity. Shortages tend to be less frequent in the capital, where the government is trying to prevent unrest. Gasoline lines are one more problem for Venezuela’s people, which includes scarce food, hyperinflation, regular power outages, and lack of public transport.
More than a million Venezuelans have been living in Colombia, taking a heavy toll on its public services in border regions. The World Bank, which praises Colombia’s “open arms” policy and its efforts to register the new arrivals, says the crisis has cost the country around $1.2 billion this year alone. However, the Bank says it could be good for Colombia’s economy in the long run as many of the new arrivals are well educated and possess a range of skills.
At least 6,000 Venezuelans were lined up at Peru’s northern border last week in hopes of entering the country before a deadline for acquiring residency. Another 4,000 were due to arrive by now, according to Peru’s ombudsman’s office. Peru was one of the first countries to offer temporary residency cards for Venezuelans who have been fleeing their crisis-stricken homeland and crossing Colombia and Ecuador to reach Peru. As the number of Venezuelans in Peru has surged to nearly half a million, the government moved the deadline from the end of the year to the end of October.
The collapse of Venezuela’s health system has left many of the emigres with highly contagious diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, diphtheria, dengue and tuberculosis, and AIDS, as they flood into neighboring countries. By early October, nearly 1,000 Brazilians who lived along the road out of Venezuela had contracted measles here and about 2,000 in the region. All had been infected by infected Venezuelans who crossed into Brazil, the Health Ministry said.
Measles is already spreading beyond the Brazilian Amazon to other Brazilian states, as well as Colombia, Peru and as far south as Argentina, according to recent Pan American Health Organization reports. Other diseases racing through communities in Venezuela are now crossing borders and raising concerns among health authorities as far away as the US. One US medical official called the situation “a perfect storm condition for a catastrophic medical situation.”
7. The Briefs (date of the article in Peak Oil News is in parentheses)
Risks to oil exporters: A changing energy system is posing “critical questions” for many of the world’s largest oil and gas producing countries, the IEA says. The rise of shale gas and oil in the US, global improvements in energy efficiency, and the response to climate change are leading to “sustained pressure” on countries that rely heavily on hydrocarbon revenues. (11/2)
In northwest England, Cuadrilla extracted its first shale gas after it began fracking operations there just over two weeks ago. Cuadrilla said the gas flows were small but coming at such an early stage of the project were evidence of the potential of the site. (11/3)
Germany will speed up its plans to build a liquefied natural gas terminal as Europe’s largest economy seeks to diversify its energy supply. Chancellor Angela Merkel also said that Ukraine would remain an important gas transit country once the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is built. Critics of the new pipeline project say it will deprive Ukraine of lucrative gas transit fees and increase the dominance of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom. (11/3)
Offshore Turkey, a ship will start drilling for oil and gas in the Mediterranean, a move that could create tensions with neighboring Cyprus and Greece over jurisdiction. Turkey and the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government in Cyprus have overlapping claims of jurisdiction for offshore oil and gas research in the eastern Mediterranean, a region thought to be rich in natural gas. (10/31)
Zimbabwe’s President Mnangagwa yesterday officially announced the discovery of oil and gas in the greater Muzarabani area by Australian company Invictus Energy, stretching over 200km. The size of the land makes the discovery the largest undrilled gas deposits in Africa so far. The President said if all goes according to plan, Zimbabwe would have its first oil exploration well by 2020. (11/2)
Angola, whose stability was sent reeling by the oil price crash of 2015-2016, is making strides in transforming the national champion Sonangol into a more accountable and competitive business entity. With this, the new presidential administration hopes, the whole of Angola’s oil production would swing back to growth (or at least settle for a lengthy stagnation); its oil production fell from a 2008 level of 1.89 million b/d to the current 1.48 million. (10/30)
Brazil’s state energy giant Petrobras has decided not to go through with a drilling plan at a field operated by Chevron, effectively ruining the supermajor’s plans for the field. Chevron has a 52-percent stake in the Frade field and Petrobras has 30 percent, but for the Brazilian company, this field is not a priority. (11/1)
Mexico’s crude oil production fell to 1.83 million b/d in the third quarter, compared with 1.87 million b/d in the preceding three months, keeping a trend toward a decline that has been going on for several years. (10/30) [Ed. note: production peaked at 3.5 million b/d back in 2004 and is down roughly 48% since then.]
In Mexico, BP and Total are among international gasoline retailers that are facing a supply shortage because of weather issues, especially Hurricane Willa, and soaring fuel theft from illegal taps into pipelines. Repairing pipeline taps takes time and requires pipeline shutdowns, leading to supply shortages. Authorities detected 1,852 illegal taps on pipelines in Guanajuato last year, more than any other state in the country. (11/3)
Pemex’s total refining utilization rate during the third week of October has reached a record low of 25.7%. The company processed 425,800 b/d of crude oil in the second week of October. Light crude oil shortages at simple-configuration refineries and technical problems in the 190,000 b/d Madero and 285,000 b/d Minatitlan refineries have been interfering with Pemex’s overall refining activities. (10/31)
In Canada, drilling for oil and gas will likely decline by 5 percent in 2019, the Petroleum Services Association of Canada has forecast, blaming pipeline capacity shortages and the resultant discount in Canadian heavy to the West Texas Intermediate benchmark for the outlook. The biggest effect of the natural gas shortage will be felt by the Canadian industrial sector, which consumed about double the amount of natural gas used by residential and commercial users according to data gathered by the provincial government in 2016. (11/3)
Canada’s pipeline bottlenecks are pushing Canadian crude prices to the lowest in at least a decade. The highways of Saskatchewan show just how desperate Canadian oil producers are to get their crude to market. Tanker trucks laden with oil are journeying almost 500 miles (800 kilometers) to pipeline and rail terminals. (11/1)
In British Columbia, the pipeline explosion on October 9th has caused FortisBC, one of British Columbia’s largest utilities, to declare that their supply of natural gas will be reduced by a whopping 50 to 80 percent throughout the coldest months of the year. The City of Vancouver will halt work at its gas-guzzling asphalt plant and turn down the thermostats at all buildings occupied by city staff, with the exception of public spaces and libraries. Large agricultural users, such as food-growing greenhouses, may skip the winter growing season. (11/1)
The US oil rig count decreased by 1 to 874 while the active gas rig count held steady at 193, according to Baker Hughes. The combined oil and gas rig count is now 169 up from this time last year. (11/3)
US record production: Monthly US crude oil production reached 11.3 million b/d in August 2018. Monthly crude oil production reached a record high in several states. Texas had the highest record level at 4.6 million b/d, followed by North Dakota at 1.3 million b/d. Other states that had record-high production levels were New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, and West Virginia. Production in the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico also hit a record high of 1.9 million b/d. (11/3)
LNG exports: Sempra Energy will join Cheniere Energy and Dominion Energy as a US exporter of LNG produced from shale gas when it ships its first cargo, which is expected to occur in early 2019. The activity comes as the US is poised to become a major player in the global LNG market, providing spot and contract cargoes to high-demand countries in Asia and Europe and greater optionality for traders. Besides Sempra, Kinder Morgan’s Elba Island LNG export facility in Georgia and Freeport LNG’s terminal in Texas are expected to start up in 2019. (11/3)
Exxon Mobil Corp on Friday reported a quarterly profit that topped analysts’ estimate on higher prices received for its oil and natural gas, but its production volumes fell on a year-over-year basis. The company’s third-quarter net income rose 57 percent to $6.24 billion, yet oil production fell 3 percent to 3.8 million barrels of oil equivalent and natural gas output dropped 4 percent. The company’s oil and gas output has dropped in nine of the last 10 quarters. (11/3)
Coal exports out of the terminals in the Hampton Roads region in Virginia were at 3.71 million tons in October, up 20.2% from the eight-month low 3.09 million tons in September. October also marked the eighth time in 2018 that exports out of the region were higher than in the corresponding month of the last three years. (11/3)
A fleet of new coal plants in Asia threatening to derail global emissions targets has exposed the growing “disconnect” between energy markets and climate goals, the IEA said. Asia has 2,000GW of coal-fired power plants that are operating or under construction — more than 10 times as much as the EU — and many of them are inefficient plants. While the coal-powered generating plants in the US and Europe are older, 42 years on average, and near the end of their life, Asia’s coal plants are just 11-years-old on average and most still have decades left to operate. (10/31)
German coal crank down: Vattenfall is considering converting its German coal-fired power stations to use fuels including gas or biomass as utility companies in the country brace for a government deadline for phasing out coal altogether. Vattenfall, owned by the Swedish state, operates 2.9 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power stations in Germany, including the 1.7 GW Moorburg site that only opened three years ago and supplies 80 percent of Hamburg’s electricity. Investors are jittery ahead of a December announcement from a government-appointed commission about how coal plants will be phased out of Europe’s largest economy. (10/29)
In Japan, government authorities have announced new plans to start dumping highly radioactive wastewater from the failed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility directly into the Pacific Ocean. Though the amount of radiation in the water far exceeds legally-permitted levels, there’s apparently no other place to put it at the site, which is on the verge of seeing its storage capacity completely maxed out. (11/1)
EV sales concentrated: 25 cities were home to nearly 1.4 million of the world’s 3.1 million passenger electric vehicles. These 25 cities, representing just 12% of world passenger vehicle sales, account for 44% of the world’s cumulative electric vehicle sales through 2017. China is home to half of the global electric market and 11 of the 25 top electric vehicle market cities. The EV capitals use multi-faceted strategies to spur infrastructure investment, such as adopting building and parking codes to ensure broad access to charging over the longer term. (11/1)
Solar boost for EVs: Kia Motors and Hyundai Motor plan to introduce solar roof charging technology on selected Hyundai Motor Group vehicles. Electricity-generating solar panels will be incorporated into the roof or the hood of vehicles and will support internal combustion, hybrid and battery electric vehicles with additional electrical power, increasing fuel efficiency and range. Hyundai will launch the first generation of this technology into its vehicles after 2019. (10/31)
Battery innovation ongoing: In battery development, some undeniable trends have emerged, and chief among them is that lithium-ion battery improvements are nearing their limit. The main problems with Li-ion batteries remain relatively high cost, insufficient energy density in a context of ever-higher energy density demand, and safety issues because of the liquid electrolyte these batteries use. The batteries of tomorrow—perhaps using an air-breathing zinc battery, or silicone anodes instead of graphite, or solid polymer instead of liquid electrolyte, or sodium ion batteries—seek to solve these problems. The air-zinc battery maker NantEnergy announced that its air-zinc battery will move out of the lab to commercialization. (10/30)
CA driverless test: Alphabet’s Waymo has been granted California’s first permit to test fully driverless vehicles on public roads as it races towards commercializing autonomous technology. The permit from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles will allow Waymo’s cars to test without a human operator during the day and at night on city streets, rural roads and highways with speed limits up to 65 miles an hour. (10/31)
GM’s profits and share prices jumped on news of strong sales for pricier pickups and SUVs. That, along with the strong results in China, where new-car demand is cooling, offered relief to investors worried about GM’s ability to navigate a potential slowdown in global auto sales. (11/1)
New climate data: The world’s oceans have been soaking up far more excess heat in recent decades than scientists realized, suggesting that Earth could be set to warm even faster than predicted in the years ahead. Over the past quarter-century, Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than scientists previously had thought, said Laure Resplandy, a geoscientist at Princeton University who led the startling study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The higher-than-expected amount of heat in the oceans means more heat is being retained within Earth’s climate system each year, rather than escaping into space. In essence, more heat in the oceans signals that global warming is more advanced than scientists thought. The research was conducted with experts from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and several other institutions in the United States, China, France, and Germany. (11/1)
Climate states: North Carolina has committed to upholding the landmark Paris climate agreement by slashing greenhouse gas emissions, a move that comes a little over a month after Hurricane Florence devastated the state. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed an executive order on Monday pledging to slash North Carolina’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. North Carolina joins 17 other governors who have signed onto the US Climate Alliance. (11/1)
Toxic air: India’s most fabled cities are now among the world’s most polluted. According to some recent rankings, India holds nine of the top 10 spots. Toxic air has become a global menace that kills seven million people each year, the United Nations Environment Program said in a bleak report released Tuesday. The bulk of these deaths are in the Asia Pacific region. (10/31)
Trains powered by hydrogen could be a reality in the UK by the “early 2020s”, according to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. They’re seen as a cleaner – but pricier – alternative to diesel trains, as the exhaust emission is pure water. The BBC’s Roger Harrabin reports from Germany, where hydrogen trains are already running. (10/29)
Brazilian enviro concerns: Conservationists say Brazil’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro will merge the ministries of agriculture and the environment, an aide says, in a move which critics say could endanger the Amazon rainforest. Brazil’s highly biodiverse Cerrado is being destroyed for soybean production; critics expect more of the same. (10/31)
Crude oil production from onshore federal lands reached a record high over the first seven months of this year. Reuters reported in June that crude oil production from federal lands and waters rose 7 percent in 2017 to the highest since at least 2007 if not longer. The average daily production stood at 2.22 million barrels, compared with 2.07 million barrels daily a year earlier. Washington has been doing its best to stimulate a second shale boom by rolling back Obama-era regulations that restricted drilling on federal lands. (10/30)