Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,128 words, 4 minutes.
Heads up: This week on “Axios on HBO:” A peek into Joe Biden's secret governing plan, and Housing Secretary Ben Carson on cutting housing programs and why Trump should tweet less (see a clip here).
And tomorrow marks the 1975 release date of David Bowie's album "Young Americans," which provides today's intro tune...
A worker at a Saudi Aramco oil processing facility. Photo: Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS via Getty Images
Crude oil prices are falling again this morning as OPEC and Russia are reportedly locked in a standoff over the cartel's push to significantly deepen their joint production cuts.
Why it matters: The high drama in Vienna is the biggest test yet of the three-year-old OPEC+ alliance, which is grappling with cratering oil demand — and cratering prices — due to spread of the novel coronavirus.
Where it stands: Oil prices are now at their lowest levels since mid-2017, with the global benchmark Brent crude trading in the $47-per-barrel range this morning, but edged just above $48 as we sent this newsletter.
Driving the news: Per Reuters, Russia is resisting OPEC's push to deepen their joint production-cutting pact by 1.5 million barrels per day through the end of the year.
What they're saying: Bob McNally of the Rapidan Energy Group, speaking on Bloomberg TV, said one deal that could emerge is Russia agreeing to that level of cuts through the end of the second quarter, which OPEC had floated earlier.
The turmoil over the OPEC+ decision is just the latest manifestation of an oil market under severe pressure this year from the novel coronavirus.
Check out the chart above, which shows the downward slide in prices as the illness has stunted economic activity — and thus oil demand — in China and elsewhere.
A big reason the novel coronavirus-fueled economic slowdown is hammering oil demand is because China — the center of the outbreak — has grown into such a powerhouse petroleum consumer.
The big picture: Check out the chart above that's a version of data found on the International Energy Agency's website. It goes through 2018, and 2019 continued the trend of China's growing demand.
What they're saying: IEA executive director Fatih Birol said China's slowdown is a key reason why on Monday IEA is slated to announce a major downward revision in this year's global oil demand estimates. He spoke at a Washington, D.C., press briefing yesterday.
Last year China accounted for 80% of total global oil demand growth, he said.
Exxon CEO Darren Woods has put quite an exclamation point on something we wrote about earlier this week: U.S.-based oil majors aren't getting into an arms race with European rivals over long-term climate ambition.
Driving the news: Woods defended the company's approach at yesterday's investor day in New York, telling analysts that Exxon looks at the topic on a "global scale" rather than engaging in a "beauty match."
Why it matters: The comments come as multinational giants headquartered in Europe have recently expanded their longer-term pledges, including BP's recent pledge to become a "net-zero" company by 2050.
Big European players like Equinor, BP, Shell and Eni are also setting targets around Scope 3 emissions (that is, emissions from the use of their products in the economy), which is something Exxon and U.S.-based rival Chevron have not done.
The big picture: Woods and other officials defended Exxon's approach, citing projections of rising oil-and-gas demand for decades while highlighting their investments in low-carbon energy R&D in areas like algae-based biofuels and carbon capture.
Woods also said the company is on track to meet its target of a 15% cut in its methane emissions and a 25% cut in gas flaring this year compared to 2016 levels.
Edward Mason, head of responsible investment of the Church Commissioners for England, blasted Woods' comments about Exxon's climate posture.
Another comment that caught my eye came from Noah Brenner, the Houston bureau chief with Energy Intelligence.
Photo: Courtesy of Lucid Motors
The EV startup Lucid Motors has a strategy for drumming up interest in its upcoming Lucid Air luxury EV that begins production late this year: ultra-designed retail spaces that offer virtual reality test drives.
Driving the news: The company yesterday announced a "direct-to-consumer" model with planned retail spaces that will "enable customers to experience the brand and its products in locations that underscore its unique design aesthetic."
Why it matters: The luxury EV market is getting more crowded. Startups like Silicon Valley-based Lucid — a largely unknown brand in what's still a very small market — need a way to differentiate themselves and gain cachet.
What's next: Lucid has one customer studio open in Silicon Valley and plans to open eight more this year in New York, Florida and several more places in California.
Coal: "U.S. coal use plunged more than 13% in 2019, the most in 65 years, as power plants shut down across the country. That’s poised to happen again this year." (Bloomberg)
Coronavirus: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last night canceled next week's big Regulatory Information Conference, a major gathering of nuclear energy professionals that draws thousands of people.
Legislation: "Members of the Senate reached an impasse over the energy bill before them this week, delaying floor action on the legislation until next week, the Republican senator behind the bill said Thursday." (Roll Call)