Factbox: After 100 Days, Trump's Energy Path Has More Hurdles Than Triumphs

S&P Global Platts
Written By: Brian Scheid, Meghan Gordon and Maya Weber
S&P Global Platts
Written By: Brian Scheid, Meghan Gordon and Maya Weber

On Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at opening up areas of federal waters to oil and natural gas drilling.

The order, however, faces numerous hurdles going forward, including seemingly tepid interest from industry in expanding U.S. offshore operations beyond the Gulf of Mexico and a host of legal questions over whether the White House can reverse drilling prohibitions put in place by the Obama administration.

In many ways, Friday's order typifies the president's early forays into energy policy.

Celebrating his 100th day in office on Saturday, Trump has attempted to push an agenda geared towards boosting domestic output, reducing OPEC imports and reducing regulation on U.S. producers. The policy shift is widely seen as a stark reaction to the Obama administration's energy policy goals, which largely focused on efforts to combat climate change. But Trump has frequently found the reality of federal policymaking to be more challenging than campaign trail promises.

Here's a look at Trump's energy policy difficulties since his January 20 inauguration:

Dakota Access/Keystone XL

Trump's approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline is one of the few White House actions to have immediate market impact. The system starts up May 14, cutting the cost and time needed to move Bakken crude to markets in the Midwest and Gulf Coast. In contrast, the administration's approval of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline revived the Alberta-to-Nebraska oil sands project but does not guarantee it will get built. It still faces landowner opposition in Nebraska and new market dynamics.

Pipeline Reviews

Aspirations of speeding pipeline reviews are stymied by the lack of a quorum at the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission needed to approve natural gas infrastructure permits, ever since the Trump team pulled the chairmanship from the sitting Democrat, Norman Bay, prompting him to leave February 3. While FERC swept through a host of major projects before Bay's exit, the timeline for one major pipeline, the 256-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d NEXUS Gas Transmission project, is in question, although for now the company is sticking with its targeted in-service date. With no nominees yet, timelines could come under pressure for the next batch of projects nearing the stage for FERC sign-offs, depending on how long the process of Senate confirmation drags out.

OPEC Imports

Trump came into office talking of commitments to "achieving energy independence from the OPEC cartel and any nations hostile to our interests." In January, the month Trump moved into the White House, the U.S. imported nearly 3.58 million b/d of crude oil from OPEC nations, up 763,000 b/d from January 2016 and the highest import rate since August 2013 when 3.62 million b/d of OPEC crude was imported, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Import levels from February, Trump's first full month in office, were not yet available, but Trump has seemingly toned down his rhetoric on OPEC imports. After a meeting with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March, the White House said that Trump and Saudi Arabia have committed to a path that could boost Saudi imports and investment in the U.S.

Iran Deal

During his campaign, Trump criticized the nuclear deal the Obama administration brokered with Iran as the "worst deal ever" claiming he would negotiate a "better" deal, without offering specifics. On April 18, however, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Iran has complied to date with its requirements under the deal, while calling the deal a failure a day later.

Rather than abandoning the deal, however, a 90-day National Security Council-led review of the nuclear deal is underway.

Russia

The Treasury Department has ended any speculation it might grant waivers allowing ExxonMobil or other U.S. drillers to resume Russian upstream joint ventures currently prohibited under sanctions against Moscow. The administration has no plans to ease the restrictions unless Russia stops violating international norms -- dashing Western oil companies' hopes during the election that Trump's desire for friendlier relations would lead to a return to drilling.

U.S. Steel Pipelines

In his first week as president, Trump signed an executive memo which he has claimed requires pipelines within U.S. borders to be made with U.S. steel. But that memo only calls for Trump's Commerce Department to develop a plan for new pipelines to be made with U.S. steel "to the extent permitted by law." The directive faces opposition from pipeline companies and the administration has already limited the reach of the memo, claiming that Keystone XL will be exempt from any U.S. steel obligations. In addition, international trade obligations will likely prevent any substantial requirements from taking root.

Trump's Steel-Fatuation Timeline

Clean Power Plan

In March, Trump issued an order which included a provision aimed at overturning the Clean Power Plan, a rule which sought to reduce carbon emissions from existing power. But that effort, which Trump said will end the "war on coal" likely faces a lengthy path forward. A new rulemaking process is required and the administration will need to justify the legal, economic and scientific basis for moving away from the rule. A legal challenge from environmental groups is expected and the issue may not be solved before Trump is up for re-election in 2020, legal experts believe.

Paris Agreement

As a candidate, Trump promised to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement, but his senior advisers are reportedly divided on the path of U.S. involvement in the global accord. Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has called for an "exit" from the agreement while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stressed the importance of remaining in the pact for diplomatic purposes. Trump is expected to make a decision on the agreement by late May.

Regulatory Rollback

Trump and Congress have used the Congressional Review Act to repeal several Obama administration energy regulations, including rules on coal mining, resource management and an anti-corruption transparency rule for U.S.-traded oil and natural gas companies. But a resolution aimed at repealing methane emission rules has been stalled in the Senate for weeks and transparency advocates and many in Congress argue that the administration will still need to put forward a new anti-corruption rule, since the law mandating remains intact. In addition, the failure of House Republicans in March to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature health care policy, may have exposed the limits of Trump's future policy efforts even with a Republican-controlled Congress.

Biofuel Mandate

Refiners had hoped Trump's appointment of two critics of the Renewable Fuel Standard to his team signaled a quick rollback of the biofuel mandate, but no major changes are expected in the near term. However, refiners have benefited from a first-quarter plunge in Renewable Identification Number prices driven by expectations of policy changes. RINs prices started rising again in March.