Energy Brief: ‘Consequences’ if U.S. Pulls Out of Paris Deal

Today’s Washington Brief

  • If the U.S. reneges on the Paris climate agreement, there could be “diplomatic consequences,” Todd Stern, the special envoy for climate change at the State Department, told BBC News. According to the BBC, Stern has been in Europe to reassure countries that America will stick to pledges it made during December’s climate talks. (BBC News)
  • The next president could have a powerful impact on future climate change cases. Nominees such as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have already indicated a potential Republican pick for the Supreme Court’s empty position would have similar ideologies as recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. (E&E)
  • The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week on the roles of state and federal regulators in electricity markets. The high court’s decision, paired with a rule on demand response that the Supreme Court recently upheld, could set the ground rules for how advanced energy technologies will be included in electricity markets. (The Energy Collective)

Today’s Business Brief

  • Southern California Gas Co.’s gas leak has been permanently sealed, the California Department of Conservation said Thursday. The well, located in SoCalGas’s Aliso Canyon storage field near the Porter Ranch neighborhood in Los Angeles, had been leaking since Oct. 23. (The Huffington Post)
  • U.S. crude oil imports increased 795,000 barrels per day from the previous week, according to the Energy Information Administration’s weekly petroleum status report. U.S. crude oil inventories rose 2.1 million barrels last week to a peak of 504.1 million barrels in the third week of hitting record highs in the last month. (Reuters)
  • Duke Energy has engaged advisers to sell power plants in Central and South America after drought conditions and economic issues in Brazil have negatively impacted its international energy unit operations. Results in Brazil were impacted by drought conditions which have hurt the company’s hydroelectric generation in Sao Paulo, according to an official. (Bloomberg News)

Today’s Chart Review

Mark Your Calendars (All Times Eastern)

Friday
The Atlantic Council holds a discussion on low oil prices and economic and political stability in Latin America @ 12:30 p.m.
Resources for the Future holds a conversation on leadership on climate change @ 12:45 p.m.

 

General

GOP Prospects Include Powerful Critics of Enviro Regs
Robin Bravender, E&E

There’s a shot the replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will be made by the next president, and the nominee’s leanings on environmental issues — and everything else — will be shaped by the party that wins the White House. Legal and political analysts are zeroing in on President Obama’s forthcoming nominee for the coveted seat on the high court, but it’s uncertain whether that candidate would be allowed confirmation hearings or overcome entrenched opposition in the GOP-led Senate.

The Surprisingly Huge Energy Footprint of the Booming Marijuana Industry
Chelsea Harvey, The Washington Post

As legal marijuana markets continue to expand in the United States, some experts are arguing that growers have both the need and the opportunity to make their operations, well, greener. A new report, published by data analysis firm New Frontier, highlights the huge energy footprint of marijuana cultivation and outlines strategies to make production more energy efficient — a transition that the authors claim is not only good for the environment, but good for business, too.

Zika Outbreak Could Be an Omen of the Global Warming Threat

Justin Gillis, The New York Times

The global public health emergency involving deformed babies emerged in 2015, the hottest year in the historical record, with an outbreak in Brazil of a disease transmitted by heat-loving mosquitoes. Can that be a coincidence?

Oil & Natural Gas

Officials: California’s Enormous Methane Leak Permanently Sealed
Matt Ferner and Lydia O’Connor, Huffington Post

State officials announced Thursday that the broken natural gas storage well that has been leaking tens of thousands of metric tons of methane gas for months has been permanently sealed[…] Southern California Gas Co., which operates the facility, is obligated to complete a safety review of the storage facility before further injection will be allowed.

U.S. Crude, Gasoline Inventories Extend Build to Record Highs- EIA
Josephine Mason, Reuters

U.S. crude oil and gasoline inventories rose last week to new record highs as imports of crude grew and refineries increased output, data from the Energy Information Administration showed on Thursday. Crude oil inventories rose 2.1 million barrels in the week to Feb. 12, lower than analysts’ expectations for a 3.9 million-barrel build, to a peak of 504.1 million barrels in the third week of hitting record highs in past month.

A Gas Leak is Capped, but Neighbors Are Wary
Ian Lovett, The New York Times

With a mix of pride and great relief, state officials here announced on Thursday that the leaking natural gas well near the Porter Ranch neighborhood — which over the last four months had pumped thousands of tons of methane and other chemicals into the atmosphere, sickening residents and prompting more than 6,000 households to flee — had finally been capped permanently.

Marathon Oil to Focus Diminished Budget on Eagle Ford
Robert Grattan, The Houston Chronicle

Marathon Oil Corp. detailed Thursday a diminished drilling plan, as the company continues to pull back on its spending amid cheap crude oil. The Houston-based independent driller said it would spend $1.4 billion drilling and exploring for oil in 2016, a 52 percent reduction from 2014 and a 75 percent reduction from 2014.

The Stressed-Out Oil Industry Faces an Existential Crisis
Dan Murtaugh, Bloomberg News

The Saudis may go public, OPEC’s in disarray, the U.S. is suddenly a global exporter, and shale drillers are seeking lifelines from investors as banks abandon them. Welcome to oil’s new world order, full of stresses, strains and fractures. For leaders gathering in Houston next week at the IHS CERAWeek conference — often dubbed the Davos of the energy industry — a key question is: what will break first?

Oil-Field Workers Turn to Uber Employment Amid Price Plunge
Brian Wingfield, Bloomberg News

Lynn Helms, North Dakota’s top oil regulator, made a startling discovery when he recently used Uber Technologies Inc., the private car service: three of his drivers were laid-off oil and gas workers. Oil producers and services companies in his home state, already hit by job cuts in the sector, are telling him more winnowing may be on the way.

Oil Prices Fall on Oversupply Concerns After U.S. Crude Stocks Hit Record
Keith Wallis, Reuters

Oil futures fell in Asian trade on Friday as a record build in U.S. crude stocks stoked concerns about global oversupply, outweighing moves by oil producers including Saudi Arabia and Russia to cap oil output. U.S. crude inventories rose by 2.1 million barrels last week, to a peak of 504.1 million barrels, the third week of record highs in the past month, data from the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed on Thursday.

Oil Gives Up Gains as Inventories Build
Nicole Friedman and Georgi Kantchev, The Wall Street Journal

U.S. oil prices eked out a gain Thursday as the U.S. government’s weekly oil-inventory report showed another increase in stockpiles of crude oil. U.S. crude inventories rose by 2.1 million barrels last week to 504.1 million barrels, a new weekly record high, the Energy Information Administration said.

‘Selfish’ Oil Firms Relish New Production Despite Glut
Ron Bousso, Reuters

As oil firms scrap dozens of billions worth of mega projects essential for supplies in decades ahead, fresh output from huge fields already being developed is set to weigh for many more months on an oil market struggling to shake off a glut. A collapse in oil prices over the past 20 months to below $30 a barrel has taken a heavy toll on production around the world, reversing spectacular growth in U.S. shale oil and halting plans to develop costly and complex fields deep in oceans or treacherous seas such as the Alaska Arctic.

Tenaska to Sell 1,452-MW Portfolio to Avenue Capital Group
Amy Poszywak, SNL

Tenaska Energy Inc., through Tenaska Power Fund LP and TPF Generation Co-Investment Fund LP, is selling an approximately 1,452 MW portfolio of assets to an affiliate of Avenue Capital Group LLC, according to an application for authorization of the transaction filed with FERC on Feb. 16. The portfolio comprises Big Sandy, a natural gas-fired facility in Wayne County, W.Va., with a current operating capacity of 342 MW; High Desert, an 824.5-MW combined-cycle natural gas-fired facility in San Bernardino County, Calif.; and Wolf Hills, a 285-MW natural-fired gas facility in Washington County, Va., according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.

Utilities & Infrastructure

Electricity Regulation is Back at the Supreme Court, Again
Ari Peskoe, The Energy Collective

On February 24th, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case involving, once again, the roles of state and federal regulators in electricity markets.  The argument will come less than one month after the Court upheld federal (FERC) authority to set compensation for demand response in wholesale electricity markets.

Duke Energy Engages Advisers to Sell South American Power Plants

Naureen Malik, Bloomberg News

Duke Energy Corp., the largest U.S. utility owner, has engaged advisers to sell its Central and South American power plants after drought conditions and an economic downturn in Brazil hurt operations. Duke’s international energy unit saw adjusted income fall about 30 cents a share last year from 2014, Chief Executive Officer Lynn Good said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Beyond Net Metering: How Location Can Help Put a Value on DERs
Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive

In the 1990s, utilities and their regulators in a number of states across the country settled on retail rate net metering as a simple and convenient way to encourage the growth of distributed solar. It seemed like a good idea at the time — consumers would earn credits equal to the retail rate of electricity for any extra energy they exported back to the grid from their rooftop solar systems.

Renewables

SunEdison Faces ‘Damages’ for Canceled Hawaii Solar Contract
Brian Eckhouse, Bloomberg News

SunEdison Inc., the worst-performing renewable-energy company, faces a fee of $2.45 million after utility Hawaiian Electric Co. canceled plans to buy power from a solar farm it’s developing in the state. Hawaiian Electric is due “damages calculated by multiplying the contract capacity by $50/KW,” for the Kawailoa solar farm, the utility said in a regulatory filing. Kawailoa will produce 49 megawatts, according to Hawaiian Electric’s measurement.

Coal

Wyoming Says its Coal Mine Cleanup Policy is Flawed
Patrick Rucker, Reuters

A program that has allowed U.S. coal companies to forego cleanup insurance on massive western mines is flawed and needs to be fixed, Wyoming officials have told federal regulators. Coal companies must restore the land around spent mines, but roughly $3.6 billion in liabilities could fall to taxpayers under a subsidy called ‘self bonding’ that allows large coal companies to go without some cleanup insurance, federal officials have warned.

Cloud Peak Energy Records $205 Million Loss for 2015; Outlook for Asian Exports Dims
Benjamin Storrow, The Billings Gazette

Cloud Peak Energy reported Wednesday a $205 million loss for 2015, as coal shipments fell and weak prices ate into the company’s profits. The Gillette, Wyo.-based firm is the most financially stable of the publicly traded mining companies in the Powder River Basin.

Nuclear

N.J. Nuclear Reactor Back Online After Problem in Generator Fixed
Bill Gallo Jr., The Star-Ledger

The Salem 2 nuclear reactor is back online after its second shutdown in less than a month due to a generator-related problem, an official said. The unit, operated by PSEG Nuclear, started sending electricity out over the regional power grid at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, according to Joe Delmar, a spokesman for the utility.

Climate

Inside the Uphill Battle Against Carbon Trading
Emily Holden, E&E

Those experiences in school and in the first few years of her career drove Gearon toward the environmental justice movement and her position as executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, which advocates for native water rights and against fossil fuel development on Navajo land. That’s part of why she is now working with a national coalition of groups that oppose using carbon trading to cut greenhouse gas emissions under U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

‘Consequences’ for the US if it Quits Paris Climate Deal

Matt McGrath, BBC News

The US faces “diplomatic consequences” if a new President decides to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. American climate envoy Todd Stern said the reaction would be far greater than when the US left the Kyoto Protocol under President Bush.

Measuring the Planet’s Health in Vibrant Shades of Green
Tatiana Schlossberg, The New York Times

From space, Earth appears as a blue marble. But some researchers have been studying the planet through a different-colored lens: green. They have tried to determine which regions are particularly susceptible to some variations in climate, and which are more resilient.

Opinions, Editorials & Perspectives

No Surprise: Wind Energy is Cheap and Reliable
Kelley Welf, Morning Consult

Reliability and cost: these are the top two things that grid operators, utilities and consumers think about most when it comes to our nation’s electric system.  Thanks to some amazing innovations in wind turbine technology in recent years, wind energy is growing rapidly, increasingly becoming an important part of our electric mix.

California’s Gas Gusher is Stanched, But Where are Tougher U.S. Rules on Leaks
Andrew C. Revkin, The New York Times

What does it take to jog federal and state leaders to toughen rules curbing industrial pollution? When the industry is energy and the pollutant, methane, is invisible to the naked eye, it seems to take an awful lot.

Coal Industry’s Fight with EPA is a Red Herring

David Schlissel and Tom Sanzillo, The Hill

The Supreme Court’s stay against enforcement of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan comes as a potential setback to the Obama administration’s initiative to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants. The court, by putting a hold on the new rules, is responding sympathetically for the moment to opponents who argue that the EPA is being too tough on the coal-fired utility industry and that Obama is waging a “war on coal.”

Facts & Figures: January’s Record-Breaking Heat
The Editors, The New York Times

Last month was the warmest January worldwide since recording began in 1880. What’s more, the temperature anomaly for January — a measure of how much the temperature differed from an average of past temperatures for the month — was also the largest ever calculated.

Coal Miners Movement Emerges in Southern Illinois
Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio

The co-owner of S & L Industries in Saline County, Illinois, Sandidge does contract work in coal mines. He said even small business owners in the area are beginning to feel the effects of coal’s downturn.

Research Reports, Issue Briefs & Case Studies

Preliminary Factual Report Plains Pipeline, LP, Failure on Line 901
U.S. Department of Transportation

The mission of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is to protect people and the environment by advancing the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials that are essential to our daily lives. PHMSA continues to investigate the Plains Pipeline, LP Line 901 pipeline failure in Santa Barbara County, California, that occurred on May 19, 2015, to identify all of the factors that contributed to the release and expects to release its final accident investigation report in late Spring 2016.

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