Energy Brief: Tillerson Makes No Promises on Climate at Arctic Meeting

Washington Brief

  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a meeting with leaders of Arctic nations the Trump administration is in no rush to determine its exact stance on climate change, and that officials will “make the right decision for the United States.” (Reuters)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency reached a settlement allowing a Canadian company to apply for permits to build a major gold, copper and molybdenum mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed. (The Washington Post)
  • Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she will call for hearings “as soon as possible” on the Trump administration’s two nominations for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. (Washington Examiner)

Business Brief

  • A federal judge said he would approve Volkswagen’s $1.2 billion settlement with owners of six-cylinder diesel-engine vehicles that were not included in its settlement with car owners. (USA Today)
  • The U.S. and China reached a deal to promote the sale of American natural gas and beef. (Bloomberg News)
  • OPEC increased its projection for oil output from countries that aren’t in the organization by more than 60 percent, indicating rising U.S. production is undermining the group’s attempts to lift prices. (The Wall Street Journal)

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Events Calendar (All Times Local)

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Obama blocked this controversial Alaskan gold mine. Trump just gave it new life.
Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, The Washington Post

The Environmental Protection Agency has reached a legal settlement with a Canadian company hoping to build a massive gold, copper and molybdenum mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, clearing the way for the firm to apply for federal permits. The settlement reached late Thursday between the EPA and the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., could revive a controversial project that was effectively scuttled under the Obama administration.

Volkswagen emissions settlement approved: $1.2B in buybacks, repairs, cash
Nathan Bomey, USA Today

A federal judge said Thursday that he would approve Volkswagen Group’s $1.2 billion buybacks-and-repairs settlement with owners of six-cylinder diesel engine vehicles that were not included in the company’s separate deal for car owners. The move paves the way for the automaker to begin buying back about 20,000 polluting diesel vehicles, providing free fixes for another 63,000 and delivering extra payouts to each group.

EPA chief: Obama was no ‘environmental savior’
Timothy Cama, The Hill

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tore into former President Barack Obama’s environmental record Thursday, saying he failed in important areas. Speaking on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show, Scott Pruitt accused the Obama administration of “poor leadership” and “poor focus,” resulting in bad air quality, more contaminated sites under the Superfund cleanup program, and water pollution crises.

EPA slams brakes on Obama’s new pesticide rules
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday stopped new pesticide regulations for farmers, meant to be put into effect this year by the Obama administration. “In order to achieve both environmental protection and economic prosperity, we must give the regulated community, which includes farmers and ranchers, adequate time to come into compliance with regulations,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Environmentalists Split on GOP Efforts to Alter Endangered Species Act
Jack Fitzpatrick, Morning Consult

Democrats and environmentalists are divided over whether it’s worth working with Republicans on changes to the Endangered Species Act, a law supporters say is underfunded and critics say is ineffective and bureaucratic. Republicans indicated early this year they want changes to the law.

Weather Service Employees File Unfair Labor Charge Over Restrictions on Social Media Use
Charles S. Clark, Government Executive

A Commerce Department directive from March that laid out restrictions on employees’ personal use of social media has prompted the National Weather Service Employees Organization to file an unfair labor practices complaint. In a charge document submitted Monday to the Federal Labor Relations Authority, NWSEO General Counsel Richard Hirn argued that Commerce’s March 16 broadcast guidance—which was unsigned and sent “under the pretext” of welcoming new employees in the middle of a hiring freeze—“is interfering with and restraining employees’ rights under the Federal Service Labor Management Relations Statute.”

Commodity Rout Shows Signs of Easing as Gold Rises
Robert Brand, Bloomberg News

Gold climbed a second day amid a rebound for metal prices that helped ease a commodity rout even as oil remained depressed. Bonds extended gains.

Oil and Natural Gas

U.S. Inks Trade Deal With China Promoting Natural Gas, Beef
Toluse Olorunnipa and Dan Murtaugh, Bloomberg News

The U.S. and China reached agreement to promote shipments of American natural gas and beef that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said was part of a broader effort to begin reshaping the trade relationship between the world’s two largest economies. The agreement covers 10 areas where negotiators from the two sides have reached consensus, including agricultural trade and market access for financial services.

OPEC Raises Forecast for Rival Oil Output
Summer Said, The Wall Street Journal

OPEC on Thursday boosted its forecast for 2017 oil-production growth from countries outside the cartel by more than 60%. It is the latest evidence that surging U.S. production is dragging down efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to raise oil prices by limiting output.

Rising US shale production keeps pressure on crude prices – Opec
Anjli Raval, Financial Times

US shale oil output is growing at a faster than expected rate, keeping pressure on prices despite steep supply curbs from some of the world’s biggest producers, Opec said in its monthly market report on Thursday. Despite countries inside the cartel and outside, such as Russia, making big cuts to output as part of a deal agreed late last year, global excess inventories remain stubbornly high, the group’s research arm said.

Laidlaw’s Neptune snaps up Engie production assets for $3.9bn
Andrew Ward, Financial Times

After two years of hunting, Sam Laidlaw has finally bagged his prey. Neptune Oil & Gas, the London-based company run by the former Centrica chief executive, agreed on Thursday to buy the exploration and production assets of France’s Engie for $3.9bn.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Murkowski: Hearings ‘soon’ on Trump’s FERC nominees
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski said Thursday that she will announce confirmation hearings soon for President Trump’s nominees to the nation’s lead energy watchdog, which has been shut down for more than three months because it doesn’t have enough members. “I welcome the president’s announcement of two well-qualified nominees and look forward to restoring FERC’s quorum as soon as possible,” the Alaska Republican said after the White House formally sent the nominations to the Senate Wednesday night.

U.S. Virgin Islands Utility to Test Bond Market
Andrew Scurria, The Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Virgin Islands’ public utility is asking Wall Street to help finance an upgrade of its energy infrastructure as unpaid bills pile up and conflict with its regulator escalates. The Virgin Islands Water & Power Authority, or WAPA, expects to privately sell up to $85 million in debt by next month, according to people familiar with the matter.


SolarWorld Files for Insolvency, Citing ‘Ongoing Price Erosion’
Julia Pyper, Greentech Media

SolarWorld AG, parent of the largest U.S. crystalline-silicon solar manufacturer, announced today it has filed for insolvency. In a brief statement, management said it concluded, following a diligent review, “that due to the ongoing price erosion and the development of the business, the Company no longer has a positive going concern prognosis, is therefore over-indebted and thus obliged to file for insolvency proceedings.”

Maryland approves two offshore wind projects
Krysti Shallenberger, UtilityDive

The Maryland Public Service Commission awarded offshore renewable energy credits to two offshore wind projects after attaching nearly 30 conditions to their approval, including a jobs-creation requirement. The offshore wind projects represent a combined capacity of 368 MW and could yield $1.8 billion in in-state spending, according to a press release, while bringing nearly 9,700 indirect and direct jobs.


Convicted Coal Mine CEO Is Taking His Case To The U.S. Supreme Court
Howard Berkes, NPR News

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is marking his release from federal custody with an appeal for vindication by the U.S. Supreme Court. Blankenship served a one-year federal prison sentence after being convicted of conspiracy to violate federal mine safety laws.


Energy chief: Hole filled at Hanford Site
The Associated Press

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry says a hole that developed in the top of a nuclear waste storage tunnel in Washington state has been filled. Perry announced Thursday morning that the 400-square foot (37 square meter) hole was filled swiftly and safely.


Tillerson gives nod at Arctic meet to climate change action
Timothy Gardner, Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed an agreement recognizing the landmark Paris climate accord at a meeting of Arctic nations in Alaska on Thursday, but said President Donald Trump was not rushing to decide whether to leave or weaken U.S. commitments to the pact. Trump’s efforts to dilute U.S. climate policies have made the country an outlier on the issue and put Tillerson in an awkward position at a meeting of the Arctic Council.

To Simulate Climate Change, Scientists Build Miniature Worlds
Carl Zimmer, The New York Times

Climate change will alter the ecosystems that humanity depends upon in the coming century. But given the complexity of the living world, how can you learn what may happen? A team of Australian scientists has an answer: miniature ecosystems designed to simulate the impact of climate change.

Climate change-denying booklets are landing in the mailboxes of thousands of teachers
Victoria Pasquantonio, PBS

Science teacher Matthew Fox approached the climate change materials he had received in his school mailbox in the same way he had taught his students to think like scientists — with an objective frame of mind. Fox was part of the first wave of 25,000 science teachers in March who received an unsolicited package from the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank, which casts doubt on the role humans play in climate change.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

President Trump, ethanol is bad for your voters
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

“Ethanol is here to stay,” newly confirmed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced this weekend. “And we’re going to work for new technologies to be more efficient.”

Oil Investors Love Those Single Malts
Liam Denning, Bloomberg Gadfly

Oil investors seem to be into single malts these days, not blends.It wasn’t always thus. For the longest time, success in the oil game meant spreading your bets: Get into several countries to balance your political risks; build a refining business to hedge your price risk; produce some natural gas to manage your fuel or, latterly, carbon risk.

Research Reports

Climate-related Financial Risk and the Oil and Gas Sector
Daniel Yergin, et al., IHS Markit

This IHS Markit report seeks to contribute to the dialogue resulting from the draft recommendations from the Financial Stability Board’s (FSB) Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD or “Task Force”). As a leading independent provider of information and analysis on the energy industry, including the oil and gas sector, IHS Markit is concerned that requirements for inappropriate disclosures could cause mispricing of risk and distort markets.

Three-dimensional holey-graphene/niobia composite architectures for ultrahigh-rate energy storage
Hongtao Sun, et al., Science

Nanostructured materials have shown extraordinary promise for electrochemical energy storage but are usually limited to electrodes with rather low mass loading (~1 milligram per square centimeter) because of the increasing ion diffusion limitations in thicker electrodes. We report the design of a three-dimensional (3D) holey-graphene/niobia (Nb2O5) composite for ultrahigh-rate energy storage at practical levels of mass loading (>10 milligrams per square centimeter).