I’ve gotten four email alerts related to the Keystone XL pipeline from my local chapter of the Sierra Club. They talk about wolves, water quality, and toxins, but other than one reference to the Boreal Forest storing 11 percent of the world’s carbon, they make no mention of climate change. Here’s a sampling:
Russell, can you help? Wolf mothers and cubs are already cowering from helicopters dispatched to shoot them – all in the name of protecting tar sands mining sites.
The image has already been seared into my memory: wolves shot dead from helicopters to keep them away from the mines. I don’t want to see more of them dead, and I’m sure you don’t either.
Wolves are already at risk of being shot, but if Keystone XL is built, their quiet refuge in Canada will be all but decimated.
Sometimes the written word is easy to misinterpret. More than once I have written an article to find that some minor point I made became the focus, or that the point I was making was just lost. Most of the time that’s my fault, but sometimes it’s because an editor wanted to spice up the title and make it a bit more controversial. In that case, that can inflame the reader before they even begin to read, and they either make comments based on a misleading title, or they read the article with significant bias.
I think there is a risk of misinterpretation with today’s article, so I want to spell out my intent up front. This should not be read as a defense of ExxonMobil or their business practices, because that’s not what it is. It’s an attempt to get the reader to understand how they think, and why they do some of the things they do. Importantly, you may not be able to understand their actions given your view of the world. It’s not because they are simply denying reality so they can keep making money, they just don’t see the same things you see. Here is my attempt to explain that.
A Carbon Asset Bubble?
The 2009 Copenhagen Accord on climate change stipulated that if the worst impacts of climate change are to be avoided, we have to stop taking fossil fuels from the ground and burning them. Doing so has been increasing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for the past two centuries. Former Vice President Al Gore has been but one high profile voice advocating for leaving those fossil fuels in the ground, which would create a big problem for fossil fuel companies whose value is based on their fossil fuel reserves. Gore outlined his position last year in a Wall Street Journal editorial The Coming Carbon Asset Bubble. CONTINUE»
Shareholders Quiz ExxonMobil on Climate Risks
Last fall I devoted a lengthy post to the notion that future policies to address climate change expose investors in companies producing fossil fuels to a bubble in asset valuations. So I was particularly interested to see that ExxonMobil (XOM) issued a report this week responding to specific shareholder concerns along these lines. Although the term “carbon asset bubble” did not appear in XOM’s report, the latter’s references to carbon budgets and the risk of stranded assets in a low-carbon scenario were aimed directly at this emerging meme.
Unsurprisingly, ExxonMobil’s management reassured investors that, “none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become ‘stranded’.” Wisely avoiding past tendencies to question interpretations of climate science, the company’s analysis appears to be grounded in mainstream views of climate change. It focuses on the costs and achievability of an extreme low-carbon scenario, and on the resilience of the company’s portfolio under various climate policies.
You Can’t Get There from Here without Breaking the Economy Again
XOM’s analysis is based on the company’s latest Outlook for Energy, an annual global forecast broadly similar to the main “New Policies” scenario of the International Energy Agency (IEA). It has fewer similarities to the IEA’s “450″ scenario that underpins carbon bubble claims. The company expects energy demand to grow at an average of about 1% annually over the next three decades–faster than population but much slower than the global economy–with increasing efficiency and a gradual shift toward lower-emission energy sources: Gas increases faster than oil and by more BTUs in total, while coal grows for a while longer but then shrinks back to current levels. Renewables grow fastest of all, producing about as much energy in 2040 as nuclear power does today. As a result of these shifts global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions peak around 2030 and then decline gradually.
How We Can Industrialize the Internet of Things
By Kevin Klustner
A number of thoughtful people – including Cisco CEO John Chambers – believe that the Smart Grid will ultimately be bigger than the Internet, by a magnitude of 100 or 1,000.
That’s a fairly audacious prophecy.
And, if you asked a wide range of industrial companies with energy-intensive facilities right now, they might not necessarily agree with this prediction.
But their skepticism is understandable – and it’s also based on current reality.
Indeed, many energy-intensive businesses today aren’t able to interact fully with Smart Grid signaling and pricing for the highest cost efficiency because of a lack of real-time knowledge and a lack of technology integration with their automation systems. CONTINUE»
Gazprom, the Russian energy crown jewel, has seen its valuation drop considerably in the last few months in tandem with the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. Investors are having mixed reactions about Russia’s investment environment, though some are still playing roulette. Sanctions against Russian-linked investments must be carefully watched as they have significant valuation outcomes. Russia is now excluded from the June G-8 meeting, which has been moved from its original venue of Sochi.
Interestingly, markets reacted Tuesday, March 25th, by raising the stock price of Gazprom and Lukoil. In fact, Lukoil spiked 6% before coming back down. Markets have settled into the current state of the Russia-West standoff. Shorting Russia, so to speak, potentially shorts many other firms like British Petroleum (BP), Exxon (XOM), Chevron (CVX) and Shell (RDS.B) (RDS.A). Washington could extend sanctions in key industries, which includes Russian energy, if any further challenges are initiated by Russia.
Many in Washington are wishing they had unlocked U.S. natural gas exports earlier. But the issue is receiving center stage with testimony happening today about accelerating liquified natural gas (LNG) exports. As a way to strengthen energy positions, the North American energy trifecta of the U.S., Canada and Mexico need steadfast, well-conceived policies, keeping recent events in mind, but long-term goals front and center. U.S. exports of LNG will not start officially flowing until the end of 2015 through Cheniere’s Sabine Pass facility located on the Louisiana side of the Gulf of Mexico. Another new LNG facility was approved on March 24th in Oregon.
… We Should be More Ambitious
Licensing exports of natural gas would help American diplomacy – but this is not really about the gas, it is about American support for free trade. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has been the world’s champion in creating a free, global trading system. The U.S. is a beneficiary of the global, open trading system and it is not in our interest to restrict trade.
The debate in the U.S. has become solely focused on natural gas exports because the Obama Administration has been negligent about promptly approving gas export licenses and opaque about the process and requirements for approving the backlog of applications. This restriction should be lifted because it tarnishes the free-trade credentials of the United States.
However, this debate must be about more than just natural gas exports. Recent statements by some Members of Congress portray U.S. natural gas exports as a “weapon” against Russia, but this overstates the influence that U.S. energy can have on this crisis in Ukraine.
Even if the U.S. government approved every export terminal application currently pending and if construction times and costs were reduced to zero, instantly giving the U.S. new Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export capacity, we would not see that much gas flowing to Europe because geopolitics also have to work with economics. Remember, this is not the U.S. government sending gas to Ukraine or the EU as economic aid: this is a private exchange between businesses. Because the demand for LNG is much higher in Asia, where prices are as much as double the price in Europe, we should not expect to see many tankers full of gas sailing to Europe any time soon.
This spring, the EPA will likely reduce the amount of corn ethanol that must be blended into our fuel supply by about 1.3 billion gallons (for a total of about 13 billion gallons) simply because our transportation system can’t absorb any more of it without exceeding a 10% blend, risking damage to cars. This is called the “10% blend wall.” Unlike beef, or chicken, gasoline, or smart phones, ethanol consumption isn’t consumer driven. In general, because consumers could care less about corn ethanol, fuel blenders also could care less about it except as an economically viable anti-knock additive in more modest quantities. They have to be forced to blend more of it by the government. Unless or until some unforeseen consumer demand arises, mandated blending will be necessary to keep the corn ethanol industry solvent.
And just as importantly, where is future growth going to come from? We can’t use all of our corn crop. This isn’t new technology. We’ve been making moonshine by distilling ethanol from fermented seeds and fruit for thousands of years. CONTINUE»
In January of this year, as I do each year, I made several predictions for 2014. One was that natural gas prices would be higher. That prediction is looking pretty solid, with natural gas inventories this week dropping below 1 trillion cubic feet for the first time since 2003 — 49% below the level of one year ago. As I have argued in recent articles, this is likely to mean a year of higher natural gas prices than what we have become accustomed to over the past couple of years.
Among the other predictions I made for 2014 was “KiOR will declare bankruptcy in 2014.” While it is still a bit early to write KiOR’s (NASDAQ: KIOR) obituary, the patient is looking pretty unhealthy. I have been getting a lot of emails asking for comment on their recently released annual report, and I would have had something posted already, but I was traveling during the first half of the week. So let’s dissect what has happened. CONTINUE»
LNG As the Next Battle after Keystone
A collection of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and 350.org apparently just sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to require a Keystone-XL-style environmental review — presumably entailing similar delays — for the proposed Cove Point, Maryland liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal. Given the President’s “all of the above“ approach to energy and his recent remarks in support of wider natural gas use, the hyperbole-laden letter seems likelier to rev up the groups’ activist bases than to influence the administration’s policies.
Either way, its timing could hardly be coincidental, coming just as opinion leaders across the political spectrum have seized on LNG exports as a concrete strategy for countering Russian energy leverage over Europe in the aftermath of President Putin’s seizure of Crimea. If, as Robert Rapier and the Washington Post have suggested, the Keystone XL pipeline is the wrong battle for environmentalists, taking on LNG exports now is an even more misguided fight — at least on its merits.
Wrong on Science, Wrong on Scale
Referring to unspecified ”emerging and credible analysis”, the letter evokes the thoroughly discredited argument that shale gas, pejoratively referred to here as “fracked gas”, is as bad or worse for the environment as coal. In fact, in a similar letter sent to Mr. Obama one year ago, some of the same groups cited a 2007 paper in Environmental Science & Technology that clearly showed that, even when converted into LNG, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of natural gas in electricity generation are still significantly lower than those of coal, despite the extra emissions of the liquefaction and regasification processes. The current letter also implies that emissions from shale gas are higher than those for conventional gas, a notion convincingly dispelled by last year’s University of Texas study, sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund, that measured actual — not estimated or modeled — emissions from hundreds of gas wells at dozens of sites in the US.
Natural Gas Update
Two weeks ago I wrote about the abnormal situation with natural gas inventories in Natural Gas Inventories are Headed Toward Zero. I got a number of questions and comments about that essay, and since then we now have another two weeks of inventory data, let’s update the picture.
First, I want to deal with some misconceptions that a few people had. I don’t think we are going to run completely out of natural gas in storage. My point was that this winter marked the sharpest decline trajectory and we have made the largest ever withdrawals from storage in history, and barring a sudden warm spell we are going to go into injection season with very low natural gas inventories.
This has implications. Why? Because historically a significant deviation of inventories from normal will have a lingering impact on natural gas prices. CONTINUE»