Energy Tomorrow Blog
Posted April 27, 2015
Wall Street Journal op-ed (John Hess): While one can debate the reasons for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ decision in November to continue flooding the oil markets, the fact is that this is squeezing many U.S. shale oil producers out of business. Oil prices have dropped by 50% in the past six months, and crude oil inventories in the U.S. have grown from 350 million barrels last year to more than 480 million barrels today.
Part of the reason inventory has ballooned is that crude produced in the U.S. is literally trapped here, because American firms are not allowed to sell it overseas. An antiquated rule bans crude oil exports from the lower 48 American states, even though producers could earn $5-$14 more per barrel by selling on the world market. At this moment the U.S. government is considering lifting sanctions on Iranian crude oil exports. Why not lift the self-imposed “sanctions” on U.S. crude exports that have been in place for the past four decades?
The export ban is a relic of a previous era, put in place around the time of the 1973 Arab oil embargo against the U.S., when Washington thought very differently about ensuring America’s energy needs. Other measures related to the 1973 embargo, such as price controls and rationing, were eliminated decades ago, as policy makers realized that they impeded, rather than aided, American energy security. But the ban on crude oil exports persists.
There is no defensible justification for the continued ban on the export of U.S. crude oil.
Posted April 24, 2015
The Hill Op-ed (U.S. Reps. Calvert and Israel): These days there doesn’t seem to be many things Democrats and Republicans can agree on, but after a recent bipartisan Congressional Delegation trip to Ukraine, we came back in agreement on one thing. Visiting Kiev, and speaking with Ukraine’s leaders it is clear that while their economy is faltering, there are steps that we can take, in addition to sanctions, that will hamper Russia’s economy and future border advances. …
… It has become clear to us, and many others, that the U.S. is sitting on a unique opportunity to advance our economic and national security goals. By increasing our ability to export natural gas – in the form of liquefied natural gas or LNG – to Europe, the U.S. can weaken Russia’s strategic stronghold while boosting our domestic economy by increasing energy exports.
Posted April 17, 2015
BloombergBusiness: The U.S. pumped crude last month at the fastest pace since February 1973, sending March inventories to the highest level in 85 years.
Crude output climbed 13 percent from a year earlier to 9.32 million barrels a day in March, the American Petroleum Institute said in a monthly report Thursday. Production of natural gas liquids, a byproduct of gas drilling, climbed 9.1 percent to 3.05 million, a record for March. The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has unlocked supplies from shale formations in the central U.S.
“Production of both crude oil and natural gas liquids last month remained at the highest levels in decades even as rig counts reached a five-year low,” John Felmy, chief economist at the API in Washington, said in an e-mailed statement.
Posted April 16, 2015
The Wall Street Journal: A former White House economic adviser is calling for changes to a 2005 law mandating increased use of alternative fuels in the nation’s transportation supply, adding a key voice to a growing chorus of people who say the policy is not working.
In a report published Thursday, Harvard University professor Jim Stock, who served on President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers in 2013 and 2014, proposes several reforms to the biofuels mandate, known as the renewable fuel standard, including some requiring congressional approval.
The report adds to a growing body of politicians and experts who are questioning the law’s effectiveness amid regulatory uncertainty and lower oil prices.
Posted April 8, 2015
NOLA.com: Five years after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil and gas industry can respond and contain well blowouts offshore faster than ever before, said Don Armijo, CEO of the Marine Well Containment Co. But he said work remains to make sure containment equipment keeps pace with industry's push to drill in deeper waters.
Armijo, who spoke Tuesday (April 7) at a business lunch at The Roosevelt Hotel in downtown New Orleans, said Marine Well Containment Co. has the equipment to respond to oil gushers in up to 10,000 feet of water. The industry will outgrow that equipment, he said.
"We know there has been drilling proposed in areas much deeper than 10,000 feet of water," Armijo said. "That's the big thing. How do we actually get the technology put together so we can be deeper? These are the kind of things that are on our minds all the time."
Posted April 7, 2015
Following on yesterday’s post on increased domestic energy production that is backing out imports, we see that the U.S. remained No. 1 in the world in the production of petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The government agency responsible for quantifying all things energy says that U.S. oil and natural gas production has been trending higher than the output of Russia and Saudi Arabia, the second- and third-largest producers:
Since 2008, U.S. petroleum production has increased by more than 11 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu), with dramatic growth in Texas and North Dakota. Despite the 50% decline in crude oil prices that occurred in the second half of last year, U.S. petroleum production still increased by 3 quadrillion Btu (1.6 million barrels per day) in 2014. Natural gas production—largely from the eastern United States—increased by 5 quadrillion Btu (13.9 billion cubic feet per day) over the past five years. Combined hydrocarbon output in Russia increased by 3 quadrillion Btu and in Saudi Arabia by 4 quadrillion Btu over the past five years.
Posted March 25, 2015
Amid the continuing public discussion over improving the safety of crude oil delivered by rail, it’s important that everyone – the energy industry, railroads, regulators, policymakers – stay focused on the facts and the science. This is key to making meaningful improvements to freight rail transportation – which already delivers 99.998 percent of materials like crude oil without incident. We say meaningful improvements because, as with everything we do, the oil and natural gas industry’s safety goal is zero incidents.
First, the science. A new Energy Department report found no data showing correlation between crude oil properties and the likelihood or severity of a fire caused by a train derailment. Also from the report:
No single parameter defines the degree of flammability of a fuel; rather, multiple parameters are relevant. While a fuel with a lower flashpoint, wider range of flammability limits, lower auto-ignition temperature, lower minimum ignition energy, and higher maximum burning velocity is generally considered more flammable, the energy generated from an accident has the potential to greatly exceed the flammability impact of these and any other crude oil property based criteria.
That last point highlights the importance of preventing derailments in the first place because, according to the department’s report, the kinetic energy created by a derailment can play a bigger role in the size of a fire than the commodity the train is hauling.
Posted March 20, 2015
Bloomberg: Two former Obama administration officials said a four-decade-old ban on oil exports limits U.S. geopolitical influence and makes it harder to get other nations to embrace free trade.
The issue of the ban “arose constantly” in negotiations with other countries, including when the U.S. sought support for sanctions on Iran’s oil production to halt its nuclear ambitions, said Carlos Pascual, a former top energy envoy at the U.S. State Department.
“It’s those kinds of restrictions that in the end affect American credibility, and in the moment when we have to put through an important policy, makes it much more difficult to negotiate,” Pascual said at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Thursday called to build support for ending the ban in place since the 1970s Arab oil embargo.
Posted March 20, 2015
The case for lifting the 1970s-era ban on U.S. crude oil exports, in a nutshell:
The ban is a relic of the past, of an era when the U.S. was producing less and less of its own oil and importing more and more of oil produced by others. Crude exports would add to global crude supplies, putting downward pressure on the cost of crude. A number of studies project that lifting the export ban would lower domestic gasoline prices. Exports would stimulate domestic production, protecting U.S. jobs and creating more in the future. Exports would strengthen U.S. economic power that underlies American global influence.
There are more reasons, more details to the affirmative export case, a number of which were aired at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing this week. In its totality, it’s a strong, strong case.
Posted March 10, 2015
A postscript to our post explaining that the crude oil the Keystone XL pipeline would deliver is comparable to other heavy crudes already being refined in the U.S.: Oil sands crude would replace other heavy oils – most significantly, crude currently imported from Venezuela.
The point is made in the U.S. State Department’s most recent (of five) environmental reviews of Keystone XL:
Gulf Coast refiners’ traditional sources of heavy crudes, particularly Mexico and Venezuela, are declining and are expected to continue to decline. This results in an outlook where the refiners have significant incentive to obtain heavy crude from the oil sands. Both the EIA’s 2013 AEO (Annual Energy Outlook) and the Hart Heavy Oil Outlook (Hart 2012b) indicate that this demand for heavy crude in the Gulf Coast refineries is likely to persist throughout their outlook periods (2040 and 2035 respectively).