The elephant in the room: Endangerment finding missing from Trump order
An elephant stood in the room watching over President Donald Trump as he picked up his pen to sign an executive order directing the repeal of the Clean Power Plan and turning back other environmental initiatives put in place by his predecessor. That elephant has been the talk of Washington, D.C., energy policy wonks and was the topic du jour at a recent conference questioning the science underlying climate change. Members of Congress have been mulling whether to hold a hearing to discuss it — a public meeting that is likely to be met with protests but also fierce efforts to support the politicians' right to even talk about it in the first place.
PHMSA concerned about de-emphasized safety risks to gas transmission pipes
The federal pipeline safety regulator chastised gas transmission pipeline operators for not properly categorizing risks on their systems, finding that some have inappropriately deprioritized safety threats. Operators categorize pipeline risks or threats to determine how much monitoring a particular issue requires. But, PHMSA noted in an advisory bulletin, some pipeline companies "have opted to eliminate threats from consideration based on a lack of data, including missing, incomplete, or unsubstantiated data. Using insufficient data to eliminate a threat is not technically justified."
Coal pleased by Trump orders, but skepticism on comeback remains
The coal industry is applauding sweeping changes to U.S. energy policy the sector hopes will allow President Donald Trump to unwind the regulatory restraints of the Obama administration, though its exact benefits are unclear. A March 28 executive order from the White House directs the U.S. EPA to begin rescinding its Clean Power Plan, orders a moratorium on federal coal leasing lifted and takes down other regulations. A senior White House official told reporters March 27 that Trump "made a pledge to the coal industry and he's going to do whatever he can to help those workers."
* Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC. and certain of its subsidiaries and affiliates have filed voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, according to a news release. The troubled U.S. nuclear unit of Toshiba Corp. said it has secured $800 million in debtor-in-possession financing from a third-party lender to support its core businesses during reorganization, of which Toshiba will provide a maximum $200 million as a backstop guarantee. Meanwhile, an administration official told Reuters that this bankruptcy could be a"potential natural security issue."
* Separately, the owners of V.C. Summer nuclear power project reached an agreement with Westinghouse Electric that calls for continued work on the nuclear expansion project. "This agreement with Westinghouse allows progress to continue to be made on-site while we evaluate the most prudent path to take going forward," said SCANA Corp. Chairman and CEO Kevin Marsh. SCANA co-owns the facility with the South Carolina Public Service Authority, doing business as Santee Cooper.
* National Grid USA is proposing a new transmission project, dubbed Granite State Power Link, to bring up to 1,200 MW of clean energy from Canada to the New England power grid, according to a news release. The project will consist of two segments: a new high-voltage, direct current overhead line in Vermont to a proposed converter station in Monroe, N.H.; and an upgrade of its existing overhead line that runs from Monroe to southern New Hampshire. The transmission project will be funded by the company and its investors.
* The Missouri Court of Appeals overturned a decision by the state Public Service Commission that authorized Ameren Transmission Co. of Illinois to build the Mark Twain Transmission Line, the Kirksville (Mo.) Daily Express reports. The court said the PSC cannot give its consent ahead of approval from the affected counties.
* NTE Energy has been given a conditional go-ahead by North Carolina state regulators to move forward with a 500-MW natural gas-fired energy project planned for Rockingham County.
* The Energy and Utilities Subcommittee of the Florida House of Representatives voted 9-6 to advance a bill that would allow electric utilities to recover costs for natural gas reserve investments. The bill would authorize the state Public Service Commission to approve cost recovery through an "adjustment clause," according to the staff analysis.
* Exelon Corp. has asked FERC to allow it to sell some of the power from its Byron nuclear power plant, located outside of Chicago, into markets operated by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc.
* The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is extending the public comment period for the draft regulatory guide on preparing environmental reports for nuclear power stations to May 31, according to a notice published in the Federal Register.
* Four cases challenging LNG export orders issued by the U.S. Department of Energy could make for "interesting times" as a federal appeals court decides whether the agency had done enough to evaluate the far-reaching indirect impacts of increased LNG shipments from the U.S., a department official said.
* Rystad Energy analyst Espen Erlingsen believes Saudi Arabia government's decision to cut the tax rate for Saudi Arabian Oil Co. raised the value of the state-owned company by $1 trillion, Reuters reports. "By drastically reducing the tax rate, more cash will go to the potential owners of Saudi Aramco compared to the government," Erlingsen said.
* Alex Pourbaix will retire as COO of TransCanada Corp. in May, Reuters reported, citing a company spokesman. Some industry players viewed Pourbaix as "a potential successor" to TransCanada CEO Russ Girling.
* The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued a water quality certification for the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline project, according to a news release. The project would include about 300 miles of new pipeline from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. The pipeline would tap into gas supplies from the Marcellus and Utica shale, providing firm transmission for markets in the Mid-Atlantic and south Atlantic areas.
* Hess Midstream Partners LP began its initial public offering of 12,500,000 common units March 27, with units expected to be priced between $19 and $21, part of a bid to capitalize on growing Bakken Shale production and pursue acquisitions of complementary midstream assets.
* Samson Resources II LLC, engaged Jefferies LLC as lead advisor and Houlihan Lokey Capital Inc. as co-advisor to conduct a strategic review of the company's assets, according to a news release. The Tulsa, Okla.-based onshore E&P company owns about 490,000 net acres and produces about 135 MMcfe/d of oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids.
* Patricio Sanchez has been elected president and COO of Sanchez Production Partners LP's general partner, according to a news release.
* While President Donald Trump is rolling out efforts to help coal on a domestic front, a cyclone hitting Australia could prove more pressing in the short-term for U.S. producers. Cyclone Debbie has struck the northeastern coastline of Australia, an area that plays a key role in metallurgical coal markets.
* Murray Energy Corp. and one of its affiliates purchased 9,628,108 common units of Foresight Energy LP for $60.6 million, according to a Form 8-K filing. Proceeds were used to repay $54.5 million of second-lien notes.
* Westmoreland Coal Co. announced March 28 that Capital Power Corp., Westmoreland's joint-venture partner in the Genesee mine in Alberta paid Westmoreland $52 million, representing an accelerated repayment of all capital expenditures receivables for the term of the arrangement.
* Ramaco Resources Inc. posted a net loss of $1.5 million for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2016, with revenues of $3.8 million during the period. For the full year, the company reported a net loss of $7.5 million, or 19 cents per share on a pro forma basis, on revenues of $5.2 million, according to a company filing.
* U.S. lawmakers have reintroduced competing bills in Congress that would revive efforts to provide jobs and economic revitalization centered on coal mine reclamation.
* During the week that ended March 27, secondary market CO2 allowance prices under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative continued to move higher. Over-the-counter broker data showed the March 2017 vintage 2017 contract was pegged in a bid-and-offer spread of $3.14/ton to $3.19/ton as of March 27, rising about 5 cents from its prior weekly assessment.
* Following finishing 4.4 cents higher at $3.096/MMBtu on March 28, NYMEX April natural gas futures extended gains overnight ahead of the Wednesday, March 29, open in short covering ahead of the contract's roll off the board at the close of business. Exchanged from $3.082/MMBtu to $3.140/MMBtu, the contract was 3.6 cents higher at $3.132/MMBtu at 7:24 a.m. ET (1124 GMT).
* Next-day power markets could see choppy to higher moves at midweek Wednesday, March 29, as traders look to mixed demand forecasts for the end of the workweek. Participants will also watch natural gas markets for pricing direction. Rising 4.4 cents in the previous trading day, the NYMEX April natural gas futures contract was 3.3 cents higher early Wednesday ahead of the opening bell and the afternoon expiration of the contract.
New from RRA
* Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power Co. was within the top-10 best-performing utilities for all four major metrics in this report: pretax interest coverage, fixed charge coverage, return on equity and return on total capital.
"Trying to undo the endangerment finding would be like trying to un-brew tea — it's not likely to work, and the agency, the public, and even individual polluters would likely get burned in the process," said Denise Grab, a senior attorney with the New York University School of Law's Institute for Policy Integrity, on the EPA’s 2009 finding that carbon is a threat to public health and the environment.
The day ahead
* Ramaco Resources Inc. will hold its fourth-quarter 2016 earnings conference call at 9 a.m. ET.
* The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space & Technology will hold a hearing on "Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method" at 10 a.m. ET in Room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
* U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will host a media call at 12 noon ET to discuss actions taken by President Donald Trump, including the end of a moratorium on federal coal leases.
* SCANA will host a call with financial analysts at 3 p.m. ET to provide an update on the impact of Westinghouse Electric's bankruptcy on the V.C. Summer nuclear power project.
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