Jun 15, 2018

Axios Generate

Happy Friday!

Exactly 20 years ago, Brandy and Monica were atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts with this song that takes us into the weekend...

1 big thing: The promise and peril of CO2 pricing
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Data: National Surveys on Energy and Environment, June 2018; Chart: Axios Visuals

A wide-ranging new report on a decade's worth of public opinion surveys shows that backing for taxing carbon emissions has grown but remains limited and deeply split along partisan lines.

Why it matters: The findings are another sign of why carbon pricing in the U.S. faces massive hurdles, despite the view among many advocates and economists that it's an essential tool for fighting climate change.

  • "While the increase in support marks a significant shift in public attitudes, there is no evidence of a groundswell of support for a carbon tax among Americans in general," according to the National Surveys on Energy and Environment, conducted by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College.

Check out the chart above: It shows how Republicans surveyed still oppose CO2 taxes, but the level of that opposition has lessened significantly between 2013 and 2016.

By the numbers: Some of the report's new fall of 2017 data of all participants shows...

  • 47% supported taxing CO2, compared to 44% in opposition.
  • That's similar to a survey the prior year and much higher than surveys in 2013 and 2014.
  • More broadly, support levels in 2016–2017 were substantially higher than their joint surveys showed over the past decade in any year except 2012.

The intrigue: A new and instantly controversial essay in Foreign Affairs by Jeffrey Ball argues that carbon pricing, via taxes or emissions-trading, has been ineffective — sometimes even counterproductive — as an emissions-curbing tool where it has taken hold. He writes:

"The result is that a policy prescription widely billed as a panacea is acting as a narcotic. It’s giving politicians and the public the warm feeling that they’re fighting climate change even as the problem continues to grow."

Go deeper: Read the full story in the Axios stream.

2. Pope and Big Oil come together on CO2 taxes

Pope Francis waves to those gathered in St. Peter's Square. Photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Axios' Amy Harder and contributor Eric J. Lyman report ... Top energy and investment executives attending a conference last weekend hosted by Pope Francis at the Vatican agreed a price on carbon emissions was essential in transitioning to cleaner sources of energy, according to multiple officials at the meeting.

Why it matters: This takeaway underscores how this particular policy is cementing itself as the preferred path among global oil companies in addressing climate change — even while it remains far out of reach in Washington, D.C.

Between the lines: Some big producers, particularly ExxonMobil, have been increasingly vocal about their support for a carbon tax, but so far their rhetoric hasn’t been backed up by active lobbying on the issue in Congress. On the other side of the Atlantic, Europe already has a carbon-pricing system.

More details:

  • Ernest Moniz, energy secretary under former President Obama, attended the meeting and said that “one of the areas of focus was carbon pricing to create market incentives for the transition to a low-carbon system,” according to an interview with MIT.
  • Two industry officials said that — despite some narratives emerging from the meeting indicating the pope lectured companies on climate change — it was a genuine two-way dialogue with church officials moderating the discussion more than anything.

Go deeper: Read the post in the Axios stream.

3. Petro news: Exxon, OPEC, shale

Litigation: The Houston Chronicle has a deep dive into ExxonMobil's legal strategy for countering a wave of lawsuits against major oil companies over global warming.

  • "With a surprising procedural victory in a Texas court recently, Exxon is attempting to gain greater latitude in what it and other oil companies can say — or not say — about climate change and the impact on their businesses, seeking to build on legal rulings that have expanded corporations’ free speech rights in recent years, legal scholars say," the paper reports.

Back to the future: An interesting Reuters feature looks at how oil companies are using know-how gained from the shale revolution to start wringing more oil from other geologic formations once thought to be tapped out.

  • Why it matters: "If they are successful, the U.S. energy boom could find another gear as producers find profitable ways to extract the billions of barrels of oil remaining in older fields," the story states.
  • The piece focuses on a limestone and clay formation called the Austin Chalk in Texas and Louisiana, but notes activity in other geologic settings too.

OPEC: Via S&P Global Platts, "Saudi Arabia and Russia said Thursday they will develop a 'comprehensive bilateral agreement' on energy cooperation, suggesting that even if the OPEC/non-OPEC production-cut agreement falls apart, they will continue their market-management efforts."

4. What ANWR drilling can and can't achieve


The administration's plans to sell drilling leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could eventually boost U.S. oil production, but that won't happen for a long time even if huge hydrocarbon deposits are found, according to a new Energy Information Administration analysis.

  • The report is referring to potential development in ANWR, which the GOP-led Congress and the White House opened via legislation late last year after a decades-long battle.

By the numbers: EIA's analysis looks at existing resources estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey in the slice of ANWR opened for development, which range from 5.7 billion to 16 billion barrels of technically recoverable crude oil with a mean estimate of 10.4 billion.

  • "In all three cases, production from ANWR does not start until 2031 because of the time needed to acquire leases, explore, and develop the required production infrastructure," EIA notes.

However, once oil starts flowing, it could have a significant effect on total U.S. output, adding an estimated 2 billion to 5 billion barrels of cumulative production from 2031 through 2050.

Yes, but: Needless to say there are almost too many variables here to count, such as the extent of industry interest in the region, future policy and future crude demand.

5. Latest in EVs: Renault, batteries, cobalt

Renault ramps up: Via the Financial Times, the automaker is investing over one billion euros (around $1.2 billion) to bolster electric vehicle production at four plants in France.

  • "The group, which is already the world’s largest electric car company when paired with alliance partner Nissan, aims to make France the 'centre of excellence for Renault’s electric vehicles within the Alliance,'" the paper reports.

Batteries, part 1: MIT Technology Review looks at the rise of Chinese battery giant Contemporary Amperex Technology — which went public this week — and what it says about the country's aggressive positioning in the electric vehicle and EV battery space.

  • "These efforts have largely followed the same playbook China used to get ahead in solar panels, including highly automated manufacturing; aggressive efforts to lock in global supply chains; foreign acquisitions and licensing; and hefty doses of government support and protectionism," they report.

Batteries, part 2: Per Reuters, "Panasonic Corp expects to more than triple its cobalt consumption in five years’ time, industry sources said, even as the company aims to develop cobalt-free automotive batteries in the near future."

6. Captain Kirk backs solar-powered bitcoin


Another voyage: Via the Washington Post, William Shatner is working on an initiative aimed at making energy-intensive bitcoin mining a bit more sustainable, starting with a modest solar project.

  • "Shatner is a spokesman for Solar Alliance, a Canada-based solar energy company that on Wednesday said it had acquired a 165,000 square-foot warehouse in Illinois. Its plan? To equip the warehouse with a 3-megawatt solar panel array and rent the space to bitcoin miners," the paper reports.