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The Energy 202: Trump gets one thing right when it comes to energy and Russia – Washington Post

THE LIGHTBULB

While getting many of the finer points wrong, President Trump delivered a larger message Wednesday night about U.S. oil and gas production while defending himself from charges of collusion with Russia during his campaign that is  — somewhat uncharacteristically for this president on this topic — correct.

In an off-the-record conversation with reporters on Air Force One that the White House in part made public on Thursday, the president promised that he is “going to produce much much more energy than anyone else who was ever running for office. Ever.” 

After moving slightly off-topic, as the president is wont to do, Trump continued: 

Now, why does that affect Russia? Because Russia makes its money through selling of oil, and we’ve got underneath us more oil than anybody, and nobody knew it until five years ago. And I want to use it. And I don’t want that taken away by the Paris accord. I don’t want them to say all of that wealth that the United States has under its feet, but that China doesn’t have and that other countries don’t have, we can’t use. So now we no longer have the advantage. We have a tremendous advantage. We have more natural resources under our feet than any other country. That’s a pretty big statement. Ten years ago, five years ago even, you couldn’t make that statement. We’re blessed. I don’t want to give it up. I don’t want to say oh, okay, we won’t use it. But think of it. So, if Hillary is there, you’re going to have a far less amount of fuel. Therefore, energy prices will be much, much higher. That’s great for Russia.

Trump does get a few details wrong in his description. First, it’s doubtful that any one country today, including the United States, can make energy prices “much, much higher” by withholding its energy supply. In an earlier era, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel of oil-producing nations, could spike oil prices and cause long lines at gasoline pumps by keeping its product from international buyers. But in the current world economy, even OPEC has lost control the world’s oil market.

Elsewhere in the conversation, Trump also claimed that if Hillary Clinton were president, “you’d be doing no fracking.” This is difficult to imagine. During the campaign, some environmentalists criticized the Democratic candidate for failing to promise to ban or significantly curtail hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in the United States. Indeed, as secretary of state, Clinton established an initiative prompting countries to open their borders to fracking projects by U.S. oil and gas firms.

Trump also claimed, among other things, that “we’ve got underneath us more oil than anybody” (according to Trump’s own government, the United States is actually No. 11 in reserves) and that the Dakota Access pipeline, which Trump revived after the Obama administration shut it down, “takes it to the Pacific” (in fact, the pipeline stretching from North Dakota to Illinois links up to an existing pipeline network that delivers oil to Midwestern and Gulf Coast refineries). Politico catalogued even more inaccuracies here.

But in very broad strokes, Trump is correct. Indeed, Russia would very much prefer to be in the position of exporting oil and gas to the United States — or practically any other country — instead of having the United States produce its own fuel. Selling off oil and gas keeps Russia’s underdeveloped economy chugging along. And it is from that position as energy supplier that Russia has kept Ukraine and other Eastern European nations in its grip by occasionally threatening to cut off their pipelines.

Instead, the Trump administration is pushing to export more U.S. natural gas to countries that currently buy from Russia, like South Korea and Poland. In a report published Thursday, the International Energy Agency predicted U.S. gas exports will be on par with Russia’s by 2022 as shale gas production ticks up over the next five years.

And the Dakota Access pipeline could play a role in that export boom — by connecting Bakken oil in the United States and Canada to international markets through the Gulf of Mexico — though that is, again, not how Trump described it.

Of course, using Trump’s pro-fossil-fuel push as an argument for why Trump ultimately doesn’t have Russia’s interests at heart is complicated by ExxonMobil. For years, the largest U.S. oil and gas company has sought to work with Rosneft, a Russian state-owned oil company, to drill in the Russian Arctic only to be foiled by Obama-era sanctions after Russia annexed Crimea and used force in east Ukraine. So far, Exxon and the White House both have raised concerns over the Russian sanctions package that passed the Senate last month and is stalled in the House.

Still, Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda could be marshaled as a counter-message as the Russia scandal engulfs the White House — if only Trump didn’t undermine himself by getting the details wrong.

Trump’s monumental decisions, by the numbers:

  •  Two down, 25 to go: On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that two national monuments — one in the state of Washington, the other in neighboring Idaho — are no longer being considered for removal or reduction in size as part of a review of 27 national monuments. Zinke’s recommendations are just that; the ultimate decision is up to Trump. According to The Post’s Darryl Fears, Zinke did not offer much up in the way of explanation for why these two were removed from consideration:
    • Of Craters of the Moon in Idaho, he said: “I realize Craters of the Moon is a living timeline of geologic history.”
    • And of Hanford Reach in Washington, he said people “from all over the country go to Hanford Reach for some of the best fishing and bird hunting around.”
  • 2.7 million: That’s roughly the number of comments submitted to the Interior Department supporting the national monument designations, according to the League of Conservation Voters. The environmental organization, along with Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Schatz and Tom Udall (N.M.), held a news conference announcing that number in the sweltering heat outside the Capitol on Tuesday.

— The more you NOAA: If you’re an environmentalist, there’s some good news and bad news coming out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

The good news: Even before Trump has appointed a director, the administration has chosen a leader of NOAA’s fisheries agency who is remarkable in terms of some of the administration’s environment and energy picks because he is so uncontroversial. Conservationists and fishing industry representatives alike praised the appointment of fisheries biologist Chris Oliver to the job of overseeing NOAA Fisheries, which is tasked with ensuring that sustainably managing the nation’s fish populations, reports David Schiffman in The Post.

The bad news: On Tuesday, NOAA released its annual tally of greenhouse-gas concentrations, and found that they rose more quickly last year than they have over the past three decades. That is, of course, not good if you care about the planet overheating. But the NOAA news release accompanying the report is also notable for what it’s missing: “NOAA’s announcement this year does not directly link human activity to emission,” reports Lisa Friedman at the New York Times.

This was not the case with NOAA under Obama, which last year stated that “human activity has increased the direct warming effect of carbon dioxide” in a similar announcement. NOAA has maintained its climate-related social media accounts since Trump’s inauguration.

This is not a first such omission: In May, Interior Department officials removed a line from a news release promoting a study on coastal flooding that read: “Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding.”

Climate work at Defense Department defended: In a 234-185 vote, the House rejected a measure that would have deleted from the annual defense authorization bill a requirement that the Department of Defense study its vulnerability to climate change.  

Was Trump joking about using solar panels on his proposed border wall? No, he was not, he said.

“Look, there’s no better place for solar than the Mexico border — the southern border,” Trump said. “And there is a very good chance we can do a solar wall, which would actually look good,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One.

Actually: There are better places to put solar panels. The sun shines bright along the U.S.-Mexican border, but with only 2 percent of U.S. population within 40 miles of the proposal wall, there just isn’t the energy demand down there for the proposal to make much sense.

Mr. Smith goes to Greenland: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) has often put himself in the media spotlight by sparring with climate scientists from his position as chair of the House Science Committee. But BuzzFeed News reports of a more clandestine engagement Smith made in May with the Arctic researchers studying climate change.

Smith and at least eight other lawmakers, including some who, like Smith, have doubts about the scientific consensus around climate change, traveled to Alaska and Greenland to meet with scientists studying climate change. Though it was officially billed as a part of Smith’s congressional oversight duties, Smith did not seem to want to talk much about the trip, or what he learned from it.

“Smith’s team canceled a call with BuzzFeed News two minutes before it was scheduled, and subsequently did not respond to questions about the purpose of the trip or his impressions of Arctic research,” the news website’s Zahra Hirji wrote.

Eni way you can get the oil: This week, the Trump administration gave its first greenlight to a drilling plan in the Arctic. The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management granted an exploratory leases to Eni, Italy’s largest oil and gas company, to drill four offshore wells in the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska.

There are two issues that may complicate Eni’s plans: 

  • Environmental: Unsurprisingly, green groups are concerned about the decision. “Approving this Arctic drilling plan at the 11th hour makes a dangerous project even riskier,” Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. Eni will drill already strained populations of marine mammals, including bowhead whales, polar bears and ringed seals, the environmental center said.
  • Economic: More surprising is that Eni is interested at all. The running consensus among analysts is that oil prices remain too low for expensive Arctic drilling projects to be economically viable. Indeed, Dutch Royal Shell cited cost overruns when it pulled out of its $7 billion Arctic drilling project.

One such analyst, Emily Stromquist at the Eurasia Group, has a first take as to what might be going on, which she sent by email:

Since they already hold these leases, this was likely a pitch to reserve their presence in the area and see what some initial exploration drilling reveals. Alaskan Arctic leases are only 10 years, and generally less flexible than the leasing terms offered in other parts of the world. This move may buy some time to see where global oil prices are at and make decisions at that point about costs, regulatory risks, and whether this fits into their upstream profile. Companies are looking for ways to diversify and grow reserves in this challenging price environment; this requires some creativity given universally lower risk appetite among oil majors.

Exploration costs in the Arctic, particularly in the Western Hemisphere Arctic, remain extremely (and usually prohibitively) high given the amount of ice cover in the region during the year. Their drilling plans (extended-reach from a man-made island) are also different from Shell’s, so it will be interesting to see whether this facilitates the acquisition of requisite permits, and whether this helps contain costs by comparison.

Winds of change in WyomingThe Casper Star Tribune took a look at a wind manufacturer and wind developer holding seminars across the state to pitch workers on joining a booming industry for wind technicians. Goldwind Americas and Viridis Eolia are offering free training programs for technicians, hoping to establish a workforce for a wind-turbine farm that may be years down the road.

The Tribune’s report cites a former director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority: “Wyoming was blessed with a coal resource during the last 40 years, but that industry is being challenged by cheaper sources of power, from natural gas to renewables. Now the state has a new blessing, he said: wind.”

— Unbearable climate conditions: A new academic paper outlines the implications of climate change on polar bears’ feeding habits, and as The Post’s Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reports, it’s not looking so good for humans.

Polar bears use floating ice as a way to hunt for one of their best source of food — seals. The predator waits on ice for seals to pop up to the surface — or, conversely, hides beneath the ice looking for seals resting above.

But as warmer temperatures reduce sea-ice cover, those bears must hunt on shore more. Since the polar bear exclusively eats meat, it needs to look for prey at other land-based animals.

“A bear’s still got to eat,” Polar Bears International’s Geoff York, one of the study authors, told The Post. “They’re more likely to try new things, and sometimes, that might be us.” (York himself has survived three encounters with aggressive polar bears.)

Analyzing decades of bear-attack data, researchers found that “the greatest number of polar bear attacks occurred in the partial decade of 2010 — 2014, which was characterized by historically low summer sea ice extent and long ice-free periods.”

Not a good record to break: A record 200 people were murdered across 24 countries last year for protecting area land, water and wildlife, a new report has found, in what one co-author called “just the tip of the iceberg for what’s really happening.”

These killings are rarely prosecuted, the new report from nonprofit Global Witness points out, according to National Geographic. But some of the 200 may have been killed by police, military, or private actors like security guards and hit men.

 “We have strict criteria for documenting murders of land and water defenders but many other killings go unreported,” said Billy Kyte, campaign leader for Global Witness told National Geographic. 

The report also looked at escalating tensions toward protesters in the United States. While no environmental protesters were killed in the United States last year,  the story describes protests that turned violent, such as when demonstrators were attacked at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation over the Dakota Access pipeline. The story notes about 800 people now face prosecution for those protests. 

From National Geographic: “At the same time North Dakota politicians came close to passing a law allowing drivers to run over and kill environmental protesters without facing jail. North Carolina is about to pass a similar law. The report documents 18 states currently working on new anti-protest laws since the election of President Trump.”

Today

  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands will hold a legislative hearing on four bills.

President Trump tells French President Emmanuel Macron’s wife: “You’re in such great shape”

Here’s what Parisians think of President Trump: 

Why did two GOP senators just introduce a competing health-care plan?

Fire ants use their bodies to build wriggling Eiffel Tower-like columns:

Sri Lankan Navy rescues elephant swept out to sea:

The Energy 202: Trump gets one thing right when it comes to energy and Russia – Washington Post

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