Oct 16, 2018

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning and welcome back!

And happy birthday to Flea, the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with today's intro song...

1 big thing: the immense climate disconnect

As midterm elections get closer, the partisan divide over climate change is becoming increasingly clearer.

Driving the news: 72% of registered voters backing Democrats in the upcoming elections view climate change as a "very big" problem, compared to just 11% of GOP supporters, new Pew Research Center polling shows.

Why it matters: It demonstrates the persistence of the partisan gulf on climate change at a time when scientists are increasingly sounding the alarm about the dangers of a warming planet.

By the numbers: That 61-point gap is tied for largest among 18 topics Pew asked about in the newly released survey that also addressed the economy, education, immigration and many other areas.

  • Pew conducted the survey just before release of major UN scientific report on the consequences if warming goes above 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.
  • The 1.5°C threshold is one that the UN warns the planet is almost certain to cross absent extremely deep emissions cuts in coming years.

Quick take: The divide in Pew's poll, taken in concert with the sobering UN conclusions, is just one example of a wider political disconnect over climate change that's also apparent in policy circles.

  • For instance, ExxonMobil recently threw its lobbying weight behind a proposal for a $40-per-ton carbon tax that would be married to repeal of climate regulations.
  • However, Exxon's move arrived just a day after release of the UN analysis, which found that a vastly higher carbon price is needed to rein in emissions, unless combined with a "complimentary mix of stringent policies."

Go deeper:

2. Report: White House shelves coal bailout

Trump administration plans to directly intervene in power markets to prop up economically struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants have been "shelved" for now, Politico reported last night.

Why it matters: The story underscores the challenge of finding legally and politically viable policy levers to directly keep these plants afloat, even as the White House pushes ahead with efforts to aid the coal sector by scaling back Obama-era pollution rules.

Where it stands: An Energy Department-led effort has been seeking ways to use sweeping federal national security powers to aid plants facing severe market pressures from cheap natural gas, renewables and regulations.

  • "But the White House has shelved the plan amid opposition from the president’s own advisers on the National Security Council and National Economic Council," Politico reports, citing 4 sources with "knowledge of the discussions."

The intrigue: Politico reports that one of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s biggest problems is "figuring out who would pay the billions of dollars needed to keep money-losing power plants operating" and the prospect of the plan raising consumer costs.

The big picture: The administration — in an argument hotly disputed by numerous experts — says that it's essential to aid these coal and nuclear plants to ensure grid reliability, especially as officials review gas pipelines' vulnerability to cyber and physical attacks.

  • The White House did not comment when contacted by Axios last night.

Separately in coal policy, the Associated Press reports ...

The Trump administration is considering using West Coast military bases or other federal properties as transit points for shipments of U.S. coal and natural gas to Asia, as officials seek to bolster the domestic energy industry and circumvent environmental opposition to fossil fuel exports.
3. Offshore wind CEO bullish on U.S. market

Thomas Brostrøm, CEO of North American operations for Ørsted, the Danish wind giant, is in Washington to speak at an offshore wind conference this week. Axios' Amy Harder caught up with him ahead of the event.

Why it matters: Last week, Brostrøm’s company bought the U.S. company behind America’s only operating offshore wind farm, Deepwater Wind. Ørsted represents a growing number of European energy companies seeking to lead in the U.S. offshore wind market.

Interview with Brostrøm, lightly edited for length and clarity...

On America’s growing offshore wind industry:

“We have been on U.S. soil for little more than three years. At that point in time it was a little bit of a risk. … When we came in early 2015, it was very, very slow, almost a dead market. … Now, up and down eastern seaboard, whether it’s New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New England, even down to the Carolinas, there is increasing belief and support for offshore wind.”

On one big thing that has changed:

“When you look at the cost, it’s a different animal this time around, three or four years ago, when the costs were more than twice what we’re seeing today.”

On the similarities between offshore oil and offshore wind:

“Both install complex projects at sea. Working offshore is not easy, in harsh conditions. Working at heights offshore. That kind of skill you already have from the oil and gas industry. Some engineering and design components are similar.”

On what might be next:

“[I expect to] see the oil and gas majors step in very soon in some of the upcoming lease auction rounds because I think they can see it’s becoming a big market.”

Go deeper: Danish wind giant makes big U.S. move

4. Chart of the day: Big Oil's shale future
Chart in the new Wood Mackenzie report titled, "The Majors in US uncons: how do they stack up?"

Wood Mackenzie has a new report on the outsized role that U.S. shale oil and gas production will play in the future of Exxon, Chevron, BP and other giants.

Why it matters: The analysis of the majors' growing investments in these so-called unconventional sources shows how acreage in the Permian basin and elsewhere is an increasingly important part of their portfolios.

  • For Chevron, it could represent 30% of their worldwide output by 2030, while Exxon has the highest amount of absolute production.
  • BP also greatly increased its shale footprint with its July announcement that it's buying up most of BHP's onshore U.S. assets.

By the numbers: Per WoodMac's analysis of Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell and Equinor...

[B]y the middle of the next decade, US unconventionals will be generating US$15 billion to US$20 billion of annual cash flow for the group, and will account for around 20% of total upstream value.
5. Big Oil's climate club eyes CO2 sinks

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a coalition of 13 of the world's biggest players, is eyeing investments in technology that naturally absorbs atmospheric CO2, a top official said.

Why it matters: Pratima Rangarajan, CEO of OGCI Climate Investments, offers a window into how the group may evolve in the future via a new episode of the Columbia Energy Exchange podcast.

  • “We will be looking at, with our policy and strategy group, is there a way to approach natural sinks for CO2 in carbon management and how can we leverage those and is there an economic business model for an investor,” she says.
  • Rangarajan casts it as a longer-term idea for the group, whose members include Shell, Exxon and Saudi Aramco.

Where it stands: Rangarajan also discusses nearer-term focus areas for the group that Amy has reported on, notably methane, carbon capture and storage, and a deepening emphasis on efficiency.

  • OGCI Climate Investments is collectively steering over $1 billion into various climate-friendly tech startups.

What's next:

  • In the new podcast, Jason Bordoff — who's founding director of Columbia's Center on Global Energy Policy — points out that $1 billion is actually a pretty small sum relative to the companies' overall budgets.
  • Rangarajan says the total will grow as the startups they're funding scale up their work. She says...
"I think they’ll all participate in it at a much greater level than the billion, the billion is the tip of the iceberg."

Flashback: Amy points out that the "iceberg" comment is a shift in how the group is talking about its future spending. When asked a similar question at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event in June, Rangarajan said she thought $1 billion was enough money...

“A billion makes us do a couple things right. We’re not in a rush to spend this money without finding effective technology."

Go deeper:

6. On my screen: EVs, crude, climate lawsuit

Batteries: From the no-free-lunch files, Bloomberg reports that lots of future battery manufacturing for electric vehicles will be drawing on fossil fuel-heavy power grids, which eat into the climate benefits of the vehicles. The article states:

By 2021, capacity will exist to build batteries for more than 10 million cars running on 60 kilowatt-hour packs, according to data of Bloomberg NEF.
Most supply will come from places like China, Thailand, Germany and Poland that rely on non-renewable sources like coal for electricity.

U.S.-Saudi conflict: MarketWatch has a helpful piece this morning about why oil markets have shrugged off the U.S.-Saudi tensions over the disappearance and apparent killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Here's one of the voices in their story...

With the U.S. and Saudi Arabia “actively pursuing damage control,” it’s likely that the oil market could be left unmoved, said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service.
“It does resurrect the ‘oil-as-weapon’ concept which has been idle since 1973-74, but that just means that we should all be on ‘hyperbole-watch.’”

Climate litigation: Via Reuters, "A group of young Americans suing the federal government over lack of action to fight climate change can proceed with their lawsuit, but U.S. President Donald Trump cannot be named as a defendant, a federal judge ruled on Monday."

Ben GemanAmy Harder