Aug 29, 2019

Axios Generate

Hello again! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,094 words, ~ 4 minutes.

Good listen 1: Axios' Dan Primack, on his latest Pro Rata podcast, explores Tesla's troubled solar business in a conversation with Vanity Fair's Bethany McLean about her deep dive on the topic.

Good listen 2: At this moment in 1988, Tracy Chapman was atop the Billboard album charts with her self-titled debut that provides today's beautiful intro tune...

1 big thing: Alaska's cloudy crude future
Expand chart
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Axios Visuals

BP's decision to offload its Alaska holdings highlights the uncertainty around whether the state — once at the heart of U.S. production — will ever regain its crude mojo.

What's next: Hints of the answer will come when the Interior Department sells leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as soon as this year, after a 2017 GOP tax bill opened the region following decades of political battles.

Why it matters: It could hold over 10 billion barrels of oil in a state where the oil industry is a large part of its economic well-being. But, environmentalists strongly oppose drilling in the ecologically sensitive region.

The big question: While BP has signaled that it's done with Alaska, it's unclear how many other companies will look to buy leases in ANWR. Either way, any actual production would likely be at least a decade off.

The big picture: The state has lots of oil in other areas of the North Slope, including the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), which is one of the places where the state's biggest producer ConocoPhillips has acreage.

  • But oil companies, especially giants with deep pockets like BP, have cheaper alternatives in the lower-48 at a time of modest oil prices and uncertain future demand.

What they're saying: I spoke with IHS Markit analyst Kareemah Mohamed about the wildlife refuge and the wider future of Alaskan crude.

  • ANWR “would appeal to companies who are comfortable with that type of frontier exploration risk and also companies who know the Alaska north slope really well," she says.
  • One example is Hilcorp, already a big player in Alaska even before its deal this week with BP.
  • But the majors face shareholder pressure on the environment and pledges to slow emissions — a poor fit with frontier Alaskan development.
  • “While they are the ones who are capable of absorbing exploration risk on that scale, I am not sure they would be the ones to expand their presence at this time," she says.

Turning to the future of Alaska overall, she doesn't expect a return to the "golden years" of huge output (see chart above).

  • But, that said, "My outlook generally isn’t negative on the North Slope.”
  • She notes Alaska offers large resources, existing data and infrastructure that enables shorter cycle and less capital-intensive opportunities.

The bottom line: "We would expect to see stable production for the next decade or so," she says. After that, it's impossible to say.

Go deeper: BP’s Alaska exit not a good sign for ANWR drilling (Washington Examiner)

2. EPA poised to roll back methane regs

The EPA is expected to unveil proposed rules today that are designed to ease Obama-era rules on methane emissions from the oil-and-gas business.

  • The Trump administration will say "the federal government overstepped its authority when it set limits on what scientists say is a significant contributor to climate change," the Wall Street Journal reports ($).

Why it matters: Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. The oil-and-gas industry is a significant source of emissions from wells plus natural gas pipelines, compressors and other equipment.

The intrigue: Oil companies aren't all on the same page. According to the New York Times, the powerful lobbying group American Petroleum Institute praised the forthcoming plan.

  • Yes, but: The NYT piece notes that Shell, ExxonMobil and BP support federal restrictions.
  • Go deeper: Axios' Amy Harder looked at Exxon's positioning here.
3. Dems' worries rising over climate change
Expand chart
Data: Pew's July 10-15 survey on 1,502 adults, with a margin of error of ±3.0 percentage points for U.S. adults and ±4.4 percentage points for Republicans/lean Republican and Democrats/lean Democrat; Chart: Axios Visuals.

Pew Research Center data shows that public concern about climate change has risen over the last 6 years — but the angst isn't exactly shared across political lines.

Why it matters: The latest survey comes as Democratic White House hopefuls are floating expansive (and expensive) climate platforms, while the Trump administration is continuing efforts to unwind Obama-era policies.

What they found: The percentage of adults polled in July who agree climate change is a "major threat" to the well-being of the U.S. has risen significantly to 57%, compared to 40% in 2013.

  • But as the chart above shows, that's largely because Democrats are getting more concerned.

Go deeper: Read Pew's full report here.

* * *

Speaking of climate politics, Reuters reports: "U.S. presidential hopeful Kamala Harris’ campaign is finalizing a plan to tackle climate change that will center on cracking down on fossil fuel companies and protecting poor neighborhoods from the worst impacts of global warming."

  • Why it matters: Harris hasn't been as outspoken thus far as some rivals. Reuters reports that the plan is meant to differentiate her by "drawing on her experience prosecuting polluters as a California attorney general and district attorney."
4. Tesla launches insurance business

Tesla yesterday rolled out an insurance line for vehicles in California and plans to eventually expand it to other states.

Why it matters: The electric automaker said it's "designed to provide Tesla owners with up to 20% lower rates, and in some cases as much as 30%."

  • "This pricing reflects the benefits of Tesla's active safety and advanced driver assistance features that come standard on all new Tesla vehicles," the announcement states.

The big picture: Bloomberg reports that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has "bristled for years at some Tesla customers’ complaints that they’re paying high insurance rates."

  • "Costlier coverage undercuts the case the company frequently makes that its cars are the safest in the industry and its driver-assistance system Autopilot helps drivers avoid crashes," they report.

What they're saying: Jalopnik's Aaron Gordon writes that it's a "risky bet" in light of Tesla's wobbly finances.

  • "Given that auto insurance is a low-margin business, offering discounts as steep as 20 percent, to say nothing of 30 percent, is a big bet that their data isn’t just a little bit better, but a lot better," he notes.
5. Catch up fast: Mexico, nuclear, climate

Oil: "Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador is set to allow the struggling state oil company to resume joint ventures with the private sector next year, a senior government official said, in what would be a reversal of his previous fierce opposition to the country’s energy reform," per FT ($).

Nuclear: South Carolina's The State reports that an abandoned and very expensive nuclear power project "could be revived by a group of South Korean and U.S. companies."

  • "In an interview with The State this week, new Santee Cooper CEO Mark Bonsall confirmed the state-owned utility is in discussions with 'a party from the outside' that wants to finish the mammoth V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion," they report.

Greta: "Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York City on Wednesday after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to call attention to the need for quick action to save the planet," Time magazine reports.

  • She's attending the United Nations climate summit next month.