Oil

Sheila McNulty

Alaska’s decision to host the largest oil and gas lease sale of any US state this year is good news for the oil and gas industry, which has been pressing for more access. And while the resulting exploration and production certainly will be good for the overall economy – creating jobs and boosting activity – it is a pity that it is not against a backdrop of better news on the environmental front.

By this I mean concerted steps by the US government to reduce the use of oil as part of a larger effort to curtail carbon emissions. This issue has long disappeared from the political radar, despite being a key platform on which President Barack Obama was elected.

Sheila McNulty

The issue of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has taken on a life of its own. But with so much misinformation, it is hard for the general public to know whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. The truth is – as with any polarising issue – somewhere in the middle. New York appears to have accepted that and decided to move forward to permit fracking in all but the most sensitive areas of the state.

But even as New York is poised to lift its moratorium on fracking, New Jersey’s legislature has moved to impose one. What this illustrates is just how divisive this issue has become.

Let us look at some of the pros: Hydraulic fracturing in a series of stages, combined with horizontal drilling, has given the US oil and gas industry a new lease of life. After years of declining production, the technology has enabled the country to grow not only natural gas but oil production. And with a country that consumes so much energy and has yet to make any serious attempt to scale back its usage, this can only be a good thing. It means more domestic supply to meet demand, which translates into less money leaving the country for imports and heightened energy security. And more drilling, of course, means more jobs and more economic activity.

Now here are the cons: if drillers are irresponsible about how they use the technology – and with far more than 1,000 operators drilling and producing across the country there will always be some who are – it hurts everyone. The damage to the environment and people could be very real. One only needs to think of Macondo, BP’s well at the centre of last year’s accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

As the EPA investigates the environmental risks associated with fracking, the industry must ensure it has no Macondos. By proving the industry can safely and responsibly develop the US’ domestic resources, companies eventually win over the public, and politicians, who are so afraid of the technology they are banning it outright.

But the industry cannot do this if it is not permitted to frack at all. Take New Jersey, which has just  passed a ban on fracking this week. While New Jersey is not a major gas producer – and does not seem to have the geology ever to be – this is, nonetheless, a symbolic gesture that might well ensure that what it does have is never developed.  That leaves the burden to other states, such as Texas, to continue producing the gas used by those in New Jersey.

While this is not fair, the industry will say it would rather deal with states individually than have a restrictive federal law passed down that might, in the end, restrict the use of fracking in industry-friendly places such as Texas.

Certainly there are risks of that happening, but it seems to make the most sense for the US to approach this issue on the federal level. If a fair, science-based investigation can be conducted, and the industry be given an opportunity to defend itself against the charges of environmentalists, perhaps a workable solution can be found - one that permits fracking to continue across the country with the necessary safeguards to prevent a disastrous onshore event, such as Macondo was to the offshore industry.

That way states like New York – which was among the first of a string of places to put a temporary ban on fracking - and New Jersey will not scare off the public and politicians in other states from permitting something that might well be done safely  – and limit imports and grow energy security as much as possible. For a country that consumes so much energy and cannot seem to get its arms around a comprehensive plan to reduce carbon emissions with a real committment to renewables and energy efficiency, this seems the best course to take.

Smart meters and BG Group in Brazil

In this week’s podcast: Smart meters in the UK will save energy companies billions – but consumers only £23 per year. And BG Group revises the oil reserve estimates in Brazil. Good fortune for the company, but what does it mean for the energy market?

Presented by Pilita Clark, with David Blair, energy correspondent, and Vincent Boland, Lex writer. Produced by Rob Minto.

Sheila McNulty

While oil patches from the Bakken shale to the Eagle Ford have been getting a lot of attention in recent years, the oil industry is focussed increasingly on one of the oldest and richest basins in the country – the Permian Basin. Permian formations have long trapped hydrocarbons in shale and other tight sands and rock in what was formerly the Permian Sea, an area of what is now 110-degree-heat desert that stretches 100,000 square miles across West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico.

The attention there is not coming so much from companies going out in search of new acreage. Many of them have held acreage in the Permain for decades. Others have accumuated it over the years through a series of mergers and acquisitions. Everyone has known the area held oil – lots of oil – and it was just a matter of time before advances in technology meant they could get a little bit more of it out.

BP, EU emissions, India

In this week’s podcast: BP looks to settle potential claims over the Gulf spill; global airlines prepare to be included in EU emission targets; and we talk to Sangram Nayaka, organiser of the Energy Investment Summit in Dehli about India’s energy policy – nuclear vs renewables?

Presented by Sylvia Pfeifer with Pilita Clark and Vincent Boland in the studio in London, and Andrew Charlton from Aviation Advocacy in Geneva.

Produced by LJ Filotrani

Audio ENRC, Cairn Energy, UK prices
In this week’s podcast: ENRC, the FTSE100 miner implodes; Greenpeace continues its campaign to kick oil companies out of the Arctic; and, energy prices in the UK.

Presented by Sylvia Pfeifer with William MacNamara, Chris Thompson in Greenland and Adam Scorer from Consumer Focus

Produced by LJ Filotrani

Sylvia Pfeifer

It’s been a fortnight of corporate comebacks for former BP executives. First out of the blocks was Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of the UK oil group, with the launch last week of his energy fund, Vallares. And this week, Andy Inglis, his former colleague who used to run BP’s exploration and production arm, made his first public appearance in front of City investors in his new job at Petrofac, the oil and gas service provider. Both men left BP last year in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico spill.

As head of BP’s upstream business based in Houston, Texas, Mr Inglis was in charge of its exploration activities at the time of the gulf accident. He resigned from the board of BP after Bob Dudley, who took over as chief executive officer from Tony Hayward after the accident, initiated a wholesale restructuring of the upstream division.

Mr Inglis heads Petrofac’s new Integrated Energy Services division which brings together the company’s solutions, energy developments and training services businesses. The division is focused on so-called ‘resource holders’ or national oil companies that own small and medium-sized undeveloped fields. Unlike other service companies, IES will not only provide straight-forward services such as engineering and construction but, where appropriate, it will also provide capital.

William MacNamara

The movement to enforce a higher standard of transparency in the oil and mining sectors gained ground last week during the G8 meetings, when the head of the European Commission said he expected mandatory disclosure laws to be tabled in October.
The final declaration from Deauville, where G8 group of industrialised countries concluded meetings on Friday, included a commitment “to setting in place transparency laws and regulations or to promoting voluntary standards that require or encourage oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose the payments they make to governments.”

Sylvia Pfeifer

I am in “Gas City” or Doha, the capital of the state of Qatar. Located halfway along the Western coast of the Gulf, Qatar has been enjoying a construction boom fuelled by its hydrocarbon riches, in particular the world’s largest single gas field, the North Field. The field contains more than 900 trillion cubic feet of gas, equivalent to 150bn barrels of oil, or more than 10 per cent of worldwide gas resources.

The field was first discovered in the early 1970s by what is now Royal Dutch Shell and in just a few week’s time the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas giant will make history when it starts up its Pearl Gas-To-Liquids (GTL) plant. Via pipelines feeding from two offshore platforms 60km off the Qatar coast, the plant will take gas from the North Field and turn it into valuable liquids such as cleaner-burning diesel and aviation fuel, oils for advanced lubricants and naptha used to make plastics.

Sylvia Pfeifer

George RoseThe board of Tony Hayward’s new energy fund, Vallares, which will see the former head of BP return to British corporate life, is taking shape. George Rose, the former finance director at BAE Systems, the defence contractor, is in talks to take up the position of chair of the audit committee.

If he agrees, it would be a good catch for Hayward. Rose, who stepped down from the board of BAE in March this year, was well-respected during his time at the defence company. He is currently also a non-executive director at National Grid, a position he has held since 2002, and where he chairs the audit committee, and was until recently a candidate for its chairmanship.

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