Oct 10, 2018

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning and welcome back!

Situational awareness: Hurricane Michael — now a category 4 storm — has prompted oil-and-gas companies to evacuate 75 Gulf of Mexico production platforms, according to the Interior Department.

  • Almost 40% of Gulf oil production and 28% of its gas production has been paused. The Financial Times has more.

Onward to music. On this day in 1992, R.E.M.'s "Automatic for the People" hit #1 on the U.K. album charts. So they've got today's beautiful intro tune...

1 big thing: Oil industry's next climate moves

ExxonMobil's pledge Tuesday to put $1 million into carbon tax lobbying is the latest of several industry moves lately — including Exxon and Chevron joining the wider Oil and Gas Climate Initiative and more low-carbon energy investments by some big players.

Reality check: With the big UN report highlighting the unprecedented global energy transition needed to limit the extent of global warming — something far more seismic than the changes occurring today — now is a good time to explore what further steps the industry could take in the near(ish) term.

What to watch: Among other topics, we are keeping an eye on the following questions...

  • Lobbying and advocacy: Will more U.S. companies — including Chevron — be willing to join Exxon and several European majors pushing for U.S. carbon pricing?
  • Low-CO2 energy: Europe-based majors — Shell, BP, Total and Equinor — have been making a series of moves in the renewable power and electric vehicle charging space. "All of us know we have to help renewables push coal out of the power sector," BP CEO Bob Dudley said at a London conference today. As Bloomberg NEF discusses here, will U.S. counterparts eventually follow?
  • Scale: Consider last year's pledge by Shell, one of the more aggressive players, to spend $1 billion–$2 billion annually on its new energies division through 2020. That's a very small fraction over their overall budget, so keep an eye out for whether the majors increase their scale.
  • Lobbying and advocacy, part 2: Another sign that the majors are getting more serious about climate would be if they put pressure on powerful K Street trade groups to reverse opposition to climate regulations.
  • States: As Axios' Amy Harder writes here, Shell is sitting out the Washington State ballot fight over a CO2 tax, while BP and other oil companies are opposing the proposed tax. Let's see how the industry plays things in similar fights that could surface in other states in the future.

Meanwhile, another important dynamic is the disconnect over the role of natural gas in the future.

  • This Reuters piece gets into how the industry is bullish on expanding demand for natural gas for decades. As one executive puts it, it's not a transition fuel but a "destination fuel."

Yes, but: The new UN analysis of what's likely needed to hold the global temperature rise to 1.5ºC above preindustrial levels shows that steep reductions in fossil fuels are needed.

  • That includes natural gas, even though it emits less CO2 when burned than coal or oil.
  • Check out this UN comparison of "pathways" for staying within 1.5ºC (or this explainer from Carbon Brief).
  • In a nutshell, steep cuts in the share of gas in the global energy mix will be needed by mid-century absent major deployment of carbon-trapping technologies.
2. Parsing Trump's UN response

President Trump expressed suspicion regarding the United Nations' new, landmark climate change report, saying that he'll look at the study but also wants to look at "which group drew it," Axios' Michael Sykes and Andrew Freedman report.

  • It was the president’s first acknowledgement of the widely covered report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The intrigue: Yet, as their piece notes, representatives of global governments approved each word of the new report’s summary, including officials from the State Department. It was also co-authored by U.S. scientists — and the U.S. was one of the countries to request the new report when the Paris Agreement went into effect.

My thought bubble: Trump's response underscores a wider dynamic — while the White House plans to abandon the Paris agreement and agencies like EPA and the Interior Department are scuttling Obama-era climate work, other parts of the federal government are continuing to be involved.

  • Also, Trump's unfamiliarity with it shows how climate change simply isn't really on the White House radar screen.

What Trump said:

"It was given to me.  It was given to me. ... And I want to look at who drew it. You know, which group drew it. Because I can give you reports that are fabulous, and I can give you reports that aren’t so good. But I will be looking at it."

ICYMI: The report dives deep into the severe and deadly consequences the global community could face in just a few years if temperatures are allowed to move past 1.5°C, or 2.7°F, of warming relative to preindustrial levels.

  • It also details preventive measures the world's governments can take.
  • Trump, however, remains skeptical.
3. Money is pouring into Chinese EV players

Bloomberg NEF has new data on the scope of financing for EV players in China, where the market is growing as government policy pushes more EVs into the world's largest auto market.

By the numbers: The major takeaway from their wider quarterly report on clean energy finance trends — the 6 largest private equity or venture capital deals of 2018 so far have all financed Chinese EV firms, Bloomberg NEF said.

  • That includes two big VC rounds during the third quarter, where Guangzhou Xiaopeng Motors Technology raised $585 million and Zhejiang Dianka Automobile received $294 million in funding.
  • Beyond VC and private equity, another recent big financing move in the EV space is Chinese startup Nio raising $1 billion in its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange.

The big picture: It's another sign of growing activity in the space. A recent International Energy Agency analysis looked at VC money flowing into transportation-related startups.

4. A quietly important emissions source
Graphic via Third Way report on emissions from industrial sector

Amy reports ... Emissions from manufacturing plants making essential materials like cement and steel are an overlooked problem in addressing climate change, according to a new report released today by centrist think tank Third Way, AFL-CIO and the Council on Competitiveness.

Why it matters: Carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. industrial sector are set to rise 23% by 2050 — and they are the hardest to turn green because renewable energy can’t fill the void and the chemical processes are quite carbon-intensive. Per the report:

The lesson here is that transitioning the grid to renewables and other low-carbon power sources is helpful in addressing industrial emissions, but it can only do so much. Successfully cutting carbon in this sector will require significant onsite action at these facilities.

By the numbers:

  • If America’s top 5 manufacturing sectors were their own country, they’d rank 9th in the world in terms of energy used.
  • While U.S. industrial emissions are set to rise between 2017 and 2050, all other sectors — including transportation, electricity, commercial and residential — are set to decrease over that same time period.

What's next? The report lays out ways emissions can be cut from manufacturing plants — and create jobs while doing it:

  • Use more energy-efficient technologies. This can range from using more efficient light bulbs to installing whole new ways of generating heat to power the chemical processes.
  • Install technology that can capture carbon dioxide emissions from facilities. While this is technically feasible, it's not widely available for commercial use.

Yes, but: Any changes to the manufacturing sector as it relates to its carbon footprint are unlikely to come about without action in Washington, which appears to be unlikely soon.

Go deeper: Read the report.

5. On my screen: EPA controversy, ethanol, coal

EPA: Per Bloomberg, "EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has used his private social media accounts to interact with incendiary content online, including 'liking' a racist image of former President Barack Obama and posts from conservative provocateurs."

Ethanol: Via Politico, "President Donald Trump ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to expand sales of corn ethanol on Tuesday, delivering a gift to farm state Republicans a month before the midterm elections."

  • Yes, but: Refiners are likely to sue the administration over the move, the Washington Examiner reports.

Coal: The Wall Street Journal reports, "Westmoreland Coal Co. filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday with an agreement to sell the mining business to a group of lenders, subject to better bids, in a transaction intended to reduce its $1.4 billion in debt."

  • The company said in court papers that it's North America's sixth-largest coal miner, with 19 mines spanning six states and Canada, the WSJ reports.
  • The big picture: "Westmoreland ... is the fourth major coal company to file for bankruptcy in the past three years, joining Peabody Energy Corp., Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources," per AP.
6. One wild statistic

Via the Energy Department, the number of vehicle per thousand people in China is rising fast and in 2016 was similar to the United States. That is, the U.S. in 1923.

  • This short graphical report from DOE's Vehicle Technologies Office shows that China was approaching 150 vehicles per 1,000 as of 2 years ago

Why it matters: China is already the world's largest auto market and, as that factoid shows, there's room for massive growth.

  • How much of that growth is met with EVs will play an important role in the future air quality and CO2 emissions of the world's most energy-hungry nation.
Ben GemanAmy Harder