Energy Brief: Zinke Issues Order to Speed Public Land Oil and Gas Permits

Washington Brief

  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered the Bureau of Land Management to speed permits for drilling on federal land and hold more frequent auctions for drilling leases as part of the Trump administration’s plans for “energy dominance.” (The Washington Post)
  • President Donald Trump expressed great confidence in an export deal with Poland for U.S. liquefied natural gas, though Polish President Andrzej Duda said private companies would ultimately negotiate the deal — not presidents. (The Hill)
  • Advocacy groups looked to the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act after reporting that Texas penalized less than three percent of air polluting companies between 2011 and 2016. (The Guardian)

Business Brief

  • Inside sources reported Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s energy program made progress in acquiring Texas energy transmission company Oncor. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • The Saudi government delayed plans to raise the price of gasoline and other energy sources to ensure the planned increases won’t hurt industrial activity. The kingdom last raised prices at the end of 2015. (Bloomberg News)
  • The outdoor retailer REI began encouraging visitors in-store and online to submit a comment regarding drilling leases on public land to the Interior Department. Patagonia and REI spoke out against the Interior’s national mountain review. (CNN)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

International Solar Fuels Conference in California 9 a.m.



Trump says gas deal with Poland should take ’15 minutes’
Timothy Cama, The Hill

President Trump said Thursday that he wants American and Polish companies to sign a long-term liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal quickly. In a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda, both said that they want a long-lasting deal to export LNG regularly from the United States to Poland’s import terminal in the Baltic Sea.

Texas companies penalized in less than 3% of illegal air pollution cases – report
Tom Dart, The Guardian

Texas companies involved in illegal air pollution releases were penalized by the state in fewer than 3% of all cases,according to a new report. The figure underscores the need for strong federal oversight in a period when the Trump administration is seeking to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and roll back rules, said Ilan Levin, associate director of the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

The Latest: Trump, Merkel consult ahead of G20 summit
The Associated Press

Trump spent the first half of the day in Poland, delivering a speech and holding a joint press conference with Poland’s president. He’s set to meet later Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and attend a Northeast Asia Security Dinner with South Korean President Moon Jae-in (jah-yihn) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Merkel has been open about her disappointment with Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from an international climate agreement.

Rex Tillerson in focus as Exxon investigation intensifies
Steve Peoples, The Associated Press

“Wayne Tracker” cannot be forced to testify under oath. He does not exist. But the man who used the “Tracker” alias, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, can be questioned — and is increasingly expected to be — as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman expands his sweeping probe into whether Tillerson’s former employer, ExxonMobil, misled investors about the impact of climate change.

States join lawsuit over EPA pesticide decision
Devin Henry, The Hill

Five states and the District of Columbia have joined a lawsuit over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) March decision not to ban a controversial pesticide. In a court filing Thursday, the states said the EPA has a responsibility to ban the use of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to health problems in humans that is used to kill insects and pests on crops.

Oil prices fall 2 percent on signs market still oversupplied
Karolin Schaps, Reuters

Oil prices fell more than 2 percent on Friday after data showed U.S. production rose last week just as OPEC exports hit a 2017 high, casting doubt on efforts by producers to curb oversupply. Global benchmark Brent futures were down $1.07, or 2.2 percent, at $47.04 a barrel at 0929 GMT, after falling to as low as $46.75, its weakest level in more than a week.

Oil and Natural Gas

Interior aims to speed oil and gas permitting on public lands with 30-day reviews
Dino Grandoni and Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

The Interior Department, intent on boosting oil and gas production on federal lands, issued an order on Thursday designed to speed up the permitting process for drilling. Coming on the heels of the Trump administration’s self-styled Energy Week in late June, Secretary Ryan Zinke’s order is its latest effort to loosen restrictions on the fossil fuel industry. The White House is pushing for more domestic oil, natural gas and coal production so that the United States can become a net energy exporter as part of President Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda.

OPEC can’t save oil market alone—the U.S. has to step in, says Morgan Stanley
Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch

OPEC and other major oil producers have taken on an ambitious battle to rebalance the oversupplied oil market, but despite the best intentions their efforts aren’t enough, Morgan Stanley warns. In a Thursday research report, the Wall Street bank called on U.S. shale-oil producers to join in efforts to tackle the global supply glut that has pummeled prices since the summer of 2014.

LNG a test case for Trump’s energy ‘dominance’
Peter Behr and Jenny Mandel, E&E News

In his visit to the Energy Department last week, President Trump reveled in the “America First” image of the United States as the new global energy superpower, with rising cargoes of U.S. oil, coal, natural gas and petroleum products criss-crossing the seas. At this point, however, the president and Energy Secretary Rick Perry find themselves riding a wave of increased U.S. oil and natural gas production from unconventional drilling operations that has been growing for a decade, despite the “stifling” environment and climate policies of President Obama.

Crude climbs as oil, gasoline inventories decline
Collin Eaton and James Osborne, The Houston Chronicle

Oil prices climbed as much as 3 percent Thursday after the Energy Department reported a sharp drop in crude and gasoline inventories, but they retreated somewhat as traders shifted their focus to rising production that could slow the draining of the worldwide oil glut. Crude settled in New York at $45.52, up 39 cents, or about 1 percent, after Wednesday’s plunge of about 4 percent.

Ships Exporting Iranian Oil Go Dark, Raising Sanctions Red Flags
Sarah McFarlane and Benoit Faucon, The Wall Street Journal

Ships transporting almost a fifth of Iran’s oil exports in the second half of last year either turned off their radio-signal tracking systems or gave misleading information about the origin of their cargo, red flags for governments seeking evidence of evasion of international sanctions against Tehran.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Buffett’s Berkshire Nears Deal to Buy Electric-Grid Giant Oncor for Over $17.5 Billion
Dana Mattioli et al., The Wall Street Journal

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s energy business is nearing a deal to buy Oncor, one of the country’s largest electricity-transmission businesses, according to people familiar with the matter. A deal by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co. to take over Oncor could be announced as soon as Thursday, the people said. The deal’s exact financial terms couldn’t be learned, but one of the people said it was worth more than $17.5 billion.

Construction costs are falling for renewable and natural gas plants
Megan Geuss, Ars Technica

Numbers from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reflect the extent of renewable energy development in the US over the past several years. Construction costs per kilowatt for solar, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric projects have fallen, in some cases steeply, since 2013, and natural gas generators are also getting cheaper to build despite getting more expensive year-over-year from 2013 to 2014. Only petroleum liquid generators have shown an increase in cost per kilowatt between 2013 and 2015.

EIA: Gas plant construction costs fell 30% in 2015
Robert Walton, Utility Dive

The declining cost of renewable resources has been touted for some time now, but EIA’s analysis illustrates that it isn’t just carbon-free generators benefiting from the trend. Natural gas plants saw the steepest decline in construction costs, in part due to the growth of highly-efficient combined cycle plants. Overall, EIA said the average cost of natural gas generators installed in 2015 was $696/kW— a 28% decline from 2013.


Tesla to build world’s largest lithium ion battery in Australia
BBC News

An Australian state will install the world’s largest lithium ion battery in a “historic” deal with electric car firm Tesla and energy company Neoen. The battery will protect South Australia from the kind of energy crisis which famously blacked out the state, Premier Jay Weatherill said. Tesla boss Elon Musk confirmed a much-publicised promise to build it within 100 days, or do it for free.

EU authorities suspect GE, Merck, Canon of merger violations
Angela Charlton, The Associated Press

EU authorities are accusing General Electric, German drugmaker Merck and electronics manufacturer Canon of violating European rules to push through mergers or acquisitions. Based on preliminary investigation, the Commission says it suspects GE failed to provide full information about its wind products ahead of its $1.6 billion acquisition of Danish energy company LM Wind this year.

Panda power! China is building the world’s cutest solar station
Mark Molloy, The Telegraph

China really loves its giant pandas and the adorable black and white bear is the inspiration behind a new green energy station helping power the Asian nation. The world’s first panda solar station in Datong, Shanxi, has just been connected to the grid, covering a total area of 248 acres. It will have a capacity of 100MW when fully connected, providing 3.2 billion kWh of green electricity in 25 years. That’s equivalent to saving 1.056 million tons of coal, or reducing 2.74 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.


Perry says coal-fired power plants important in US future
Michael Virtanen, The Associated Press

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Thursday that coal-fired power plants are important for the country’s future, and he suggested that energy supply will spark demand. After touring a coal-fired power plant, Perry was asked about the economics of coal when natural gas is far cheaper.

New Mexico’s PNM says to exit coal-fired generation by 2031
Ethan Howland, Platts

In what is becoming a trend in the Western US, Public Service Co of New Mexico plans to exit coal-fired generation by 2031 in favor of renewables and natural gas-fired generation, according to its integrated resource plan.

Carbon Capture Not Ready to Save Coal, but May Work for Others
Iulia Gheorghiu, Morning Consult

Supporters of carbon capture technology have pinned their hopes on applying the novel process to energy production in order to boost jobs and make coal more competitive in a lower-carbon future.


Hackers Are Targeting Nuclear Facilities, Homeland Security Dept. and F.B.I. Say
Nicole Perlroth, The New York Times

Since May, hackers have been penetrating the computer networks of companies that operate nuclear power stations and other energy facilities, as well as manufacturing plants in the United States and other countries. Among the companies targeted was the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, which runs a nuclear power plant near Burlington, Kan., according to security consultants and an urgent joint report issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week.


U.S., other G-20 nations near compromise on climate
Andrew Restuccia, Politico

After days of preliminary talks, G-20 negotiators are increasingly hopeful they can settle on a joint communique in which the United States underscores its intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement while the other nations emphasize their support for the pact, according to a senior diplomat involved in the discussions. Diplomats stressed that the text remains fluid and could be rewritten at the insistence of President Donald Trump and other world leaders, who will join the closed-door discussions in Hamburg over the next 48 hours.

Jerry Brown Announces a Climate Summit Meeting in California
Lisa Friedman, The New York Times

Gov. Jerry Brown of California on Thursday reinforced his reputation as America’s de facto leader on climate change, announcing to cheering crowds in Hamburg, Germany that his state would gather leaders from around the world for a global warming summit next year.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

An Energy-Focused Economic Growth Plan a Divided Country Can Agree On
Albert Wynn, Morning Consult

The Trump administration declared the last week of June to be “Energy Week,” announcing that it would focus on “utilizing our abundant domestic energy resources both to create jobs and a growing, prosperous economy at home and to strengthen America’s global influence and leadership abroad.” Interestingly, that sentiment is closely mirrored by a statement issued by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to describe the Obama administration’s position on the same subject.

The Economic Reality Of Proposed Tariffs On Solar
Tom Werner, The Huffington Post

With America’s energy future in mind, President Donald Trump’s Administration has a unique opportunity to embrace a solar sector that is helping to grow our nation’s economy, creating high-paying jobs and reinforcing a competitive free market. Unfortunately, a new trade action by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) would move the United States away from the free market and toward regulated solar markets that prevailed in the past.

Clean energy is a matter of national security; even the military knows it
Adam Browning and Jon Power, Washington Examiner

The Trump administration appears to be taking a swing at both states’ rights and national security. A forthcoming Department of Energy study on grid reliability ordered by Energy Secretary Rick Perry appears to be designed to undermine state’s renewable energy leadership based on purported national security concerns. This position goes against everything the national security community has learned about energy security over the past few decades.

Mississippi power plant’s shutdown confirms that ‘clean coal’ as an industry savior is a myth
Michael Hiltzik, The Chicago Tribune

The faith of coal advocates in the doctrine of “clean coal”— technology that would allow utilities to burn coal for electricity without somehow poisoning the environment — has suffered a possibly fatal blow. Southern Co., which has been building a “clean coal” plant in eastern Mississippi since 2010, has just pulled the plug on the project and is preparing to take a loss of as much as $3.4 billion.

With healthcare reform stalled, Trump and Pruitt want to repeal and replace clean water standards
The Editorial Board, The Los Angeles Times

Another bid by President Trump to “repeal and replace” a major Obama administration achievement recently got a boost when the Environmental Protection Agency, now led by anti-environmentalist Scott Pruitt, moved to repeal a 2015 clean water rule. That’s a shame. The Waters of the United States rule was meant to protect the drinking water supply for more than 100 million Americans by clarifying which waterways are covered by the landmark Clean Water Act of 1972, which limits the chemicals and other pollutants that can be discharged into “navigable” U.S. waters.

Research Reports

Climate Change in the American Mind: May 2017
Anthony Leiserowitz et al., Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Our most recent nationally representative survey finds that More than half of Americans (58%) believe climate change is mostly human caused. That’s the highest level measured since our surveys began in 2008. By contrast, only 30% say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment, matching the lowest level measured in our November 2016 survey. Four in ten Americans (39%) think the odds that global warming will cause humans to become extinct are 50% or higher.