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November 06, 2017

Good Monday morning! We have some Axios news to share that matters to us in the energy world. Sinocism's Bill Bishop, one of the world's most wired experts on China, is moving his weekly newsletter to Axios this week! Bill will bring Axios China subscribers the most important U.S.-China news and analysis. Sign up here.

My latest Harder Line column throws some cold water on the idea of peak oil demand, just in time for OPEC's outlook Tuesday, and a forthcoming report on the issue from IHS Markit. I'll share that, and then Ben will get you up to speed on the rest of the news.

The misguided notion of peak oil demand

The new conventional wisdom suggests the world is approaching peak oil demand. That's a misleading term for a more stubborn dependency.

Bottom line: The world's appetite for oil is like a huge hill, and we're still going up it. The extent to which this hill flattens out, it will be a long, slow and gradual descent down. Short of an apocalyptic event that wipes out large swaths of the world economy, the moment that global oil demand peaks and falls will never happen. Our lives are too dependent upon the oil.

Read the rest of the Harder Line column here.

Parsing Trump’s Aramco listing push

Let's spend a little more time with President Trump's weekend push to have Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil giant select New York as the venue for its massive IPO, which could happen as soon as next year.

ICYMI: Trump tweeted Saturday that he would "very much appreciate" the listing on the New York Stock Exchange, calling it "important to the United States." It's among the many topics that surfaced in his call Saturday with Saudi Arabia's King Salman, and Trump told reporters on Air Force One that "they will consider it."

Why it matters: Selecting a U.S. exchange for the listing of the company that Saudi officials hope is valued at $2 trillion (though many analysts believe the value is much lower) would bring massive listing fees for the winning exchange. The Saudi's plan to sell 5% of the company to investors.

And successfully courting such a massive piece of global business would be seen as a win for the Trump administration. But the Saudis are wary of New York for a few reasons, including litigation risks.

Be smart: I chatted Sunday with Joe McMonigle, an analyst with Hedgeye Research, about what might be motivating Trump's decision to go public with the push for a U.S. listing. A couple takeaways...

  • The high tensions in the region mean Trump senses that it's a good moment to try and wield U.S. influence. The U.S. is a key Saudi ally and major military supplier, and indeed the White House summary of Trump's weekend call with King Salman notes that they discussed the missile intercepted from Yemen and "the continuing threat of Iranian-backed Houthi militias."
  • "I think he [Trump] thinks from a geopolitical standpoint, he has a lot of leverage and he is going to try and utilize it," said McMonigle, who was the Energy Department's chief of staff during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Trump's pressure comes as Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (also known as MBS) is seeking to highlight his reformist credentials, and U.S. listings require more corporate disclosure. "He's testing [MBS'] reformist policies in promoting transparency and anti-corruption by ratcheting up the pressure for the U.S. listing," McMonigle said.
  • McMonigle called Trump's move "wily" but believes the IPO is still unlikely to occur in the U.S. "He probably breathed some new life into the potential U.S. listing," McMonigle said. "He probably thought he had nothing to lose."

The official word: "A range of options, for the public listing of Saudi Aramco, continue to be held under active review. No decision has been made and the IPO process remains on track," the company said in statement.

Taking stock of the Saudi shakeup

Big changes in oil epicenter: There's lots of news emerging from Saudi Arabia as MBS had dozens of influential people arrested, including 11 of his royal cousins and billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in what was announced as a "crackdown on corruption."

But what does it mean for oil markets?

  • "[W]e continue to see Saudi Arabia actively supporting market management, extending the OPEC cut deep into 2018, and moving ahead with the planned sale of a stake in Aramco," RBC Capital Markets said in a note Sunday evening which predicts no "immediate" changes in oil policy.
  • Yes, but: The same note is titled "move fast and break things" and looks at how MBS' evident penchant for shaking things up could hint at future policy. They note that the planned Neom megacity is slated to be powered by clean energy and that Saudi Arabia's huge public investment fund is looking to make major investments in those sectors.
  • "[T]here may be a question mark over the role that conventional fossil fuels will play in the MBS modernization plan as he is clearly focused on all things disruptive."

Another view: A Wall Street Journal piece this morning takes the pulse of what it all means for oil...

  • "Oil markets seem to be interpreting the arrests as a sign of the crown prince's strength, and that makes it more likely the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco — his pet policy — will go ahead," Nathaniel Taplin writes.
  • But Taplin also cautions that that Saudi elite politics are a "black box," adding: "If this cloak-and-dagger intrigue ushers in a significant period of instability at the top echelons of Saudi government, pushing through a contentious $2 trillion IPO might prove tricky, to say nothing of enforcing painful oil production cuts which might starve the treasury of revenue."

Latest in climate: Talks open amid fresh warning on finance

Starting today: The big annual United Nations climate summit — the first of the Trump era — gets underway in Bonn, Germany.

Warning: New analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance out today cautions that "countries on both side of the rich-poor divide are falling short on promises made to address climate change through clean energy investment."

  • Big picture: "Total new clean energy investment in non-OECD countries fell by $40.2 billion to $111.4 billion in 2016 from $151.6 billion in 2015," they note.
  • Go deeper: Read the new BNEF reports here and here.

Silence: Via this Reuters primer on the two-week talks, a U.S. official said Thomas Shannon — the career diplomat heading the American delegation — currently plans to not give interviews.

White House posture:



late last week that the Trump administration, which is walking away from the Paris agreement, will use the UN meeting to promote nuclear power and more efficient use of coal and gas as its preferred climate policies.

Big in Congress: enviro nominees, taxes, Puerto Rico

Under the microscope: Trump's nominees to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and to serve as EPA's deputy administrator will appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday.

  • Crystal ball: Expect CEQ pick Kathleen Hartnett White and EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler to face questions from Democrats about the multi-agency federal scientific report released Friday that finds overwhelming evidence that humans are the dominant cause of warming since the mid-20th century — a finding at odds with climate skepticism of the president and multiple Cabinet officials.

Taxes: The House Ways and Means Committee begins marking up the GOP's tax overhaul bill today.

  • Why it matters: The bill would make several changes to energy policy, such as ending the electric vehicle credit. More on that here.

Puerto Rico: On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold an oversight hearing on Puerto Rico with witnesses including Ricardo Ramos, the head of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

Arctic: It hasn't been announced yet, but a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup of legislation to open a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling could come later this week.

  • Why it matters: Republicans are using the budget process to push ANWR legislation that will not be subject to Senate filibusters, which means that backers of ANWR drilling are closer to opening the region to exploration than at any time since legislation narrowly failed 12 years ago.

More drilling: The Natural Resources Committee will mark up bills Tuesday including measures designed to bolster onshore oil-and-gas leasing on federal lands, cut regulations, and revenue-sharing from offshore development with coastal states.

One telling anecdote

My Axios colleague Jonathan Swan reports on a remarkable White House meeting in June that highlights Trump's goal of paring back or getting around restrictions on energy development.

Here's part of his story in Axios stream...

"Just do it": In late June, Trump hosted a group of Native American tribal leaders at the White House and urged them to "just do it" and extract whatever they want from the land they control.

The exchange turned out to be an unusually vivid window into the almost kingly power that Trump sees himself as holding, and which he has begun describing with increasing bluntness. The scene was recounted by a source in the room and confirmed by another. The White House didn't dispute the story.

What happened: The chiefs explained to Trump that there were regulatory barriers preventing them from getting at their energy. Trump replied: "But now it's me. The government's different now. Obama's gone; and we're doing things differently here."

One emerging trend: hybrid yachts

If you have $30 million or more lying around, Bloomberg has an interesting item from the "who among us" files — a look at the emergence of hybrid technology in the luxury yacht industry.

Their piece describes a model from the Dutch company Heesen that blends electric technology with diesel generators to use less fossil fuels than traditional models.

  • "Yachts are still not the greenest things in the world, obviously, but we're making inroads to try to be more conscientious," Thomas Conboy, North America sales agent for Heesen, tells Bloomberg.