Mar 25, 2020

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,108 words, 4 minutes.

Situational awareness: Here's a good list of organizations helping restaurant workers facing economic jeopardy from the COVID-19 crisis.

🎵This weekend marks 35 years (!) since 'Til Tuesday released today's intro tune...

1 big thing: The Beltway's coronavirus deal

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The White House and Senate struck a deal on a roughly $2 trillion economic rescue package early Wednesday that lacks separate energy provisions sought by Republicans and Capitol Hill Democrats.

Driving the news: It omits $3 billion to buy roughly 77 million barrels of oil for the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a plan Democrats called a "bailout" for the oil industry, per Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

  • The money was in the prior GOP-crafted Senate bill that stalled earlier in the week.

But, but, but: The plan also apparently does not include provisions that renewable power companies sought as they warn of widespread project delays and layoffs due to COVID-19 and the economic slowdown.

  • The industry's asks included flexibility around deadlines to use tax credits and the ability to quickly monetize the incentives.

What they're saying: A Democratic aide familiar with the talks says Schumer and Democrats told Republicans that they either cut the SPR provision or "give Dems a litany of clean energy tax credits, including solar and wind energy tax credits."

What we don't know: I have not yet seen the final bill text. Also unclear is the fate of provisions in the House Democrats' package that would impose new carbon emissions requirements on airlines receiving aid.

  • I'd be very surprised if that made it into the deal, because climate strings attached to the aid, which some Senate Democrats also wanted, became a big focus of GOP criticism. But stay tuned.

What's next: I'll be looking to see if negotiations around the jettisoned oil and renewables provisions resume if and when — probably the latter — there are subsequent economic packages.

2. Everything slows way down except COVID-19
Reproduced from Descartes Labs; Chart: Axios Visuals

A new analysis from the data science company Descartes Labs helps provide a window onto how the global coronavirus pandemic is forcing dramatic changes to daily life and energy use.

Why it matters: From an oil standpoint, the huge cutbacks in travel and economic activity have caused global oil demand to crater by millions of barrels per day.

What they did: Analysts used a tracking tool that collected data from mobile devices reporting throughout the day, calculating the maximum distance moved from the first reported location.

  • Check out the chart above, which reflects a mobility metric for each country based on the median distance across all devices in their sample.

What they found: The data for the U.S. shows how the steep drop in mobility didn't begin until around March 14, "corresponding roughly with the start of widespread school closings and social distancing."

The big picture: It's part of a wider analysis published this week of changes in travel, pollution, supply chains and more.

  • In a separate part of the tracking initiative, they looked at changes in device counts at different airports for March 9–13, relative to Feb. 10–14.
  • "Airports on the West Coast, and California in particular, showed decreases of 50% or more. The decrease in device counts at most other airports ranged from 20% or 40%," they note.
3. Tracking the oil fallout from coronavirus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Analysts and oil industry officials are racing to keep up with how much oil consumption is falling as more countries and regions impose restrictions.

What's new: This morning Russell Hardy, CEO of oil trading giant Vitol, said he sees demand loss peaking at 15 million–20 million barrels day over the next few weeks. That's in the context of a roughly 100 million barrel per day market (!).

  • He told Bloomberg TV that he sees a 5 million barrel per day decline on an annualized basis.
  • But Hardy also cautioned that there's obviously uncertainty about when demand will start to pick back up.

The bottom line: "It's pretty huge in terms of anything we've had to deal with before," he said.

Where it stands: That's just one metric of how coronavirus and the collapse of the Saudi-Russia output limiting deal is rapidly transforming the oil landscape — and creating economic jeopardy.

Threat level: Rystad Energy now estimates that over 1 million jobs in the oilfield service industry are likely to be shed this year, representing about 21% of its global workforce.

  • The sector currently employs about 5 million people worldwide, according to the consultancy, but will be hard hit by the price collapse.
  • "Some 13 percentage points are attributed to oil-price-driven cuts and the remaining 8% reductions will be layoffs caused by measures taken by contractors who are forced to slow down project developments fearing the spread of COVID-19 on their worksites," they said in an analysis Wednesday.
4. Gates on coronavirus and climate

Bill Gates said the coronavirus will "delay the urgent innovation agenda that exists over in climate,” but not irrevocably.

Driving the news: The billionaire philanthropist, in a "TED Connects" interview yesterday, said...

“I have freed up a lot of time to work on climate. I have to say for the last few months that’s now shifted and until we get out of this crisis, COVID-19 will dominate and some of the climate stuff, although it will still go on, it won’t get that same focus.”

But, but, but: He added that once the current crisis passes, "I don’t think this has to be a huge setback for climate."

  • Instead, Gates said there are also useful lessons for climate that can be drawn from the pandemic crisis, which has emphasized the need to listen to scientists who can often see when there's a "disaster looming."

Why it matters: It's the latest sign of how the coronavirus is sapping attention from other priorities in the near-term, while the long-term effect on global warming policy is harder to game out.

The big picture: Climate just had a brief role in the wider interview with Gates, whose philanthropy does a lot of health-related work. CNBC has more here.

5. Oil heavyweights' latest cutbacks

Equinor is the latest oil-and-gas giant to announce it will cut spending in response to coronavirus and the steep decline in oil prices.

Driving the news: The Norway-based multinational said Wednesday morning that its planned 2020 capital spending will now be around $8.5 billion this year, down from $10 billion–$11 billion.

  • The company's action plan includes cutbacks to exploration and operating costs.

Why it matters: It shows how companies are drastically overhauling their plans to cope with the new market landscape.

  • Equinor said its overall goal is to be cash-flow neutral for 2020 with Brent crude oil prices averaging around $25-per-barrel for the remainder of the year.
  • Brent is trading in the $26-per-barrel range on Wednesday morning.

What's next: U.S. activities are in the crosshairs. "Within U.S. onshore activities, drilling and completion activities are being halted to produce the volumes at a later period, reducing investments significantly for 2020," the company said.

  • Reuters has more on the plans here.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reviewed an internal email from the huge U.S.-based producer Occidental Petroleum which reveals plans to cut salaries for U.S. employees by up to 30% to save money.

  • "Chief Executive Vicki Hollub’s salary will be cut by 81% and the oil-and-chemical company’s top executives’ pay will be cut by an average of 68%, according to the email."
Ben GemanAmy Harder