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Interior to review Obama-era rules; Coal foes gear up for fight to protect CPP

Top News

Westinghouse bankruptcy casts shadow over US nuclear projects

Toshiba Corp.'s U.S.-based nuclear construction arm Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors, formalizing a major blow to the U.S. nuclear industry. Buckling under the weight of $6.3 billion of cost overruns from building four AP1000 nuclear reactors in Georgia and South Carolina, Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy on March 29 with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York in New York City.

Interior will 'trust but verify' as it re-examines Obama-era rules, Zinke says

All regulations put in place by the Obama administration's Department of the Interior, including those involving methane emissions from oil and gas wells, are "on the table" for review, said new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. During a conference call March 29, a day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order setting a time frame to roll back emissions guidelines for methane from oil and gas production, Zinke used terminology former President Ronald Reagan once used during negotiations with the Soviet Union.

Sierra Club: Trump can't undo progress on transition from coal to clean energy

The Sierra Club and other opponents of the coal industry are digging in for a fight to protect the Clean Power Plan from President Donald Trump, even though emissions are expected to hit the policy's targets more than a decade early. "Perhaps no single regulation threatens our miners, energy workers and companies more than this crushing attack on American industry," Trump said March 28 before signing an order that asks the U.S. EPA to begin a process that would rescind the Clean Power Plan.


* Several U.S. lawmakers have sent a highly critical letter to U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry over the treatment of a nuclear safety whistleblower who was dismissed from her job after cooperating with a government-ordered investigation into whistleblower treatment at the agency.

* Guggenheim Securities LLC downgraded Spark Energy Inc. to "neutral" from "buy" due to valuation. The firm, however, maintained its $34 price target on the company.

* The Department of Energy's Office of International Climate and Clean Energy has reportedly prohibited staff to use phrases like climate change, emissions reduction and Paris Agreement in written communication, according to Politico.

* A bank representing SunEdison Inc. creditors objected to settlement agreements that lay the groundwork for a pair of proposed deals that would allow the renewable energy company to exit bankruptcy.

* The Committee on Appropriations of the Oklahoma State Senate has recommended passing an amended bill that will end the state's zero-emission tax credit by July 1. The current rule allows assets that are placed in operation before Jan. 1, 2021, to qualify for the credit.

* The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017 on a 228-194 vote. "The HONEST Act requires EPA to base new regulations on sound science that is publicly available, and not hidden from the American people. The days of 'trust me' science are over," Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, who introduced the bill, said in a statement.

Natural gas/midstream

* The Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Saudi Aramco, has selected JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley and HSBC to serve as international financial advisers for its planned initial public offering next year, Reuters reports.

* LINN Energy Inc.'s failure to survive as an upstream master limited partnership reflects the challenges of applying the MLP model to the exploration and production sector, which faces more volume and price volatility than the companies that transport oil and gas.

* Eversource Energy is investing $65 million in Massachusetts and $50 million in Connecticut for gas line improvement projects this 2017. These investments are intended to modernize the company's natural gas distribution system.

* Cenovus Energy Inc. reached an agreement to acquire a suite of ConocoPhillips Co.'s Canadian assets in a deal valued at C$17.7 billion. Cenovus said after market hours March 29 that it agreed to acquire Conoco's 50% stake in the FCCL Partnership, a joint venture between the two companies in the Canadian oil sands operated by Cenovus. The company is also buying Conoco's Deep Basin conventional assets in Alberta and British Columbia.

* The West Virginia Senate approved a proposed legislation to amend gas-drilling rights, The Associated Press reports. Under the bill, natural gas producers will be allowed to drill the mineral property when they are able to secure the consent of three-fourths of those who own the royalty rights and have reasonably negotiated with those who are not in favor.

* Oregon Gov. Kate Brown fired three of the five members of the state's Environmental Quality Commission and named their replacements, The Oregonian reports. The new appointees will be considered by the state Senate for confirmation. "As an oversight body, Oregonians expect the EQC to take decisive action to create rules and guide policies that are protective of human health and preserve vital habitats of diverse species by ensuring our air and water is clean and available to future generations of Oregonians. Amid uncertainty at the federal level, these goals could be at risk. It’s essential that the EQC work collaboratively with the governor’s office in meeting these new challenges," Brown said in a statement.


* Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced March 29 that the moratorium on new federal coal leases has been lifted and a committee has been created to advise him on the value taxpayers get from resources on public land.

* Coal production in the U.S. rose during the second half of 2016, with the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming seeing the largest increases, U.S. EIA data showed. According to the agency, production grew due to an increase in coal-fired electricity generation, which occurred as natural gas prices climbed.

* The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to reissue a regional general permit for surface coal mining in North Dakota. The Omaha District of the Army Corps sought a regional general permit in 2012 when the Army Corps was considering not reissuing a nationwide permit program for coal mining.

* Canadian coal production totaled 60.4 million tonnes in 2016, representing the lowest output since 1987, according to the National Energy Board.


* The weekly natural gas inventory report to be released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration at 10:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, March 30, is expected to show a double-digit drawdown that should mark the end of withdrawal season. Analysts and traders surveyed ahead of the release of the upcoming EIA storage report anticipate a withdrawal from 32 Bcf to a 55 Bcf, with the consensus expectation being 44 Bcf.

* Price action for next-day power could be choppy Thursday, March 30, as jumbled demand forecasts for the close of the workweek conspire with recent volatility at the natural gas futures arena. Tacking on more than 5 cents in the prior session, the new front-month May natural gas futures contract was aimed lower in early trading Thursday.

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* Parties to Delmarva Power & Light Co.'s pending electric distribution rate case filed a settlement on March 28 with the Delaware PSC calling for a $31.5 million rate increase.

* Capital expenditures throughout the U.S. power and gas sectors in 2017 are projected to reach an all-time high of $117.5 billion.


* "Building a nuclear plant is a complex enterprise, and historically, such projects have seen changes in mid-stream including companies entering bankruptcy," said John Keeley, spokesman with the Nuclear Energy Institute, responding to the bankruptcy filing by Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC.

The day ahead

* Vistra Energy Corp. will hold its fourth-quarter 2016 earnings conference call at 11 a.m. ET.

* The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing at 2:30 p.m. ET in Room 366 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building to examine the potential infrastructure improvements to create jobs and reduce the cost of living through all-of-the-above energy and mineral production in Alaska.

* Early morning futures indicators pointed to a lower opening for the U.S. equity markets. To view more SNL equity market indexes, click here. To view more SNL Energy commodities prices, click here.

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