2012 – Another Trip Around the Sun

31 Dec

New Year

The year-end is traditionally the time to spend both looking back and thinking about the future. I’m no different than most. I find myself doing much the same, sans resolutions.

I began my adventure into the blogosphere this year, writing about energy issues. So, I’m compelled to close out 2012 with a post listing some of the year’s most significant developments along with a few forward looking comments. No particular order, just some random thoughts over a seasonal glass of eggnog.

Without a doubt, the expanding application of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing unlocking our vast shale reserves was the single most important event of the year and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Next year, look for Monterey shale to be added to our lexicon along side Bakken, Eagle Ford, and Marcellus shale. Farewell to the notion of Hubbard’s Peak, LNG imports, and any Oscars for “Promised Land.”

Politics seemed to overshadow virtually everything this year, including energy. Thankfully, we all survived the Presidential silly season. Neither candidate offered much new with respect to energy policy or ideas for the next four years. We’ll likely continue to do much the same…blunder along with a purported strategy of, “all of the above,” and an unhelpful dose of regulatory intrigue and interference.

In the competition to fuel power generation in 2012, coal was displaced in ever increasing proportions by lower priced natural gas. In addition to market forces, newly proposed regulations by this administration and the environmental lobby’s “war on coal” took a toll on King Coal.

Emissions of CO2 in the United States fell this year to levels not seen since 1992. Much of this drop is directly attributable to the increased use of cleaner burning natural gas in power generation as well as depressed economic activity leading to lower energy demand.

In 2012, Keystone XL was the first oil pipeline to become a household name. After years of intensive regulatory review and on the eve of final State Department approval of the Canadian border crossing, the administration took the bold political move to further study it. The southern leg was subsequently approved while the Chinese entered preliminary agreements with Canada to buy the Alberta produced oil instead. A Pyrrhic victory at best for environmentalists with an economics lesson that oil is a global commodity that will flow to willing buyers.

Intermittent renewable wind projects once again teeter on the brink of intermittent profitability with the looming loss of the Production Tax Credit. Even if the wind subsidies are eventually reinstated, 2013 looks to be a difficult year for wind promoters because of the uncertain political landscape.

Oddly enough, shortly after nixing leases to explore for oil and gas in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”), the administration made plans for an OCS renewable energy lease sale (primarily for offshore wind that is even more expensive than onshore). Talk about a party that no one attends.

It’s not inconceivable that if we fall off the fiscal cliff tomorrow, less federal money flowing to the states in 2013 could prompt state legislators to reconsider all measures impacting their state’s economy. The high cost of renewable energy mandates may well lead some states to some repeal their REM’s.

A DOE sponsored study by independent consultant, NERA Economic Consulting, was released this month. In examining the economic impacts of U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (“LNG”), it found that some increases in the price of domestic natural gas will occur, but there will be net economic benefits from allowing LNG exports. There are 15 pending applications seeking a license from DOE to export LNG to non-FTA countries. While DOE now has an independent analysis of the impacts, the question remains, “what is this administration’s position on exporting LNG?” Stay tuned.

Internationally, Japan is once again looking to restart its nuclear power generation. All nuclear power generation in Japan was shut down following the Fukushima incident, forcing Japanese utilities to rely primarily on power produced from imported LNG. As expected, the cost of LNG in Japan has skyrocketed forcing the new government to reconsider the nuclear ban. I trust this event is in the risk register of those looking to export LNG from the U.S.

The Chinese were successful in buying into the North American oil and gas industry this year. The Canadian government approved Chinese National Offshore Oil Company’s (“CNOOC”) purchase of Calgary-based petroleum company, Nexen, for $15 Billion. In 2005, CNOOC attempted an $18.5 Billion purchase of Unocal, but political tensions over China-U.S. trade relations ended that deal.

Finally, recent reports indicate the western hemisphere’s most notorious dictator, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, is suffering from complications after cancer surgery in Cuba. His condition is described as “delicate.” When Mr. Chavez no longer rules Venezuela, there will be a scramble to control Venezuela’s petroleum resources. The country is estimated to have oil reserves that exceed Saudi Arabia’s. In addition, Venezuela delivers approximately 9 million Bbls of crude oil per day to the U.S. making it our fourth largest crude oil supplier. This situation is definitely a vital strategic interest for the U.S.

While there are numerous other significant events in energy not listed here, this is only a mere blog post. Besides, I’ve finished my eggnog and there’s New Year’s Eve celebrating yet to do.

For those of you who have followed my blog this inaugural year…a big THANK YOU!  To everyone else, I hope you find it worth your time to visit throughout the coming year.

Happy New Year!  May it be a healthy, fulfilling, and prosperous one.

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