Oil prices: So far, 2015 looks a lot like 2014 [Recharge]

Oil prices continue their downward spiral; The Obama administration pushes back on climate and energy against new Republican leadership in Congress; Global investment in renewable energy rises for the first time in years. Catch up on global energy with Recharge.

An employee of Indonesian oil company Pertamina walks on the top of drums at the oil storage depot in Jakarta. Oil prices continue to fall in 2015.

Recharge is a weekly email digest of energy news and analysis written by Monitor reporters.

$50: In oil markets, the new year is looking much like the old one. Saudi Arabia’s strategy grew even murkier this week when it actually raised prices for Asian customers, seemingly in contradiction with its efforts to preserve market share. It could signify the Saudis are tapping the brakes on a price collapse that has shown few signs of slowing. That would be welcome relief for producers across the globe that have financed complex operations in far-flung locales with mounting debt.

Veto power: The Obama administration is flexing its muscle on energy and climate in the face of a newly Republican-led Congress. The Keystone XL veto threat is the most overt show of power, but the administration is also signaling it isn’t budging on a far more significant issue: power plant carbon limits. The EPA’s decision to delay the rollout of rules on new power plants gives the agency some protection from GOP opposition. It is also indicating it will draft rules for states that do not do so themselves. It throws some cold water on the theory that Republicans will quickly chart a new course for US energy policy in 2015.

Two for one: Global investment in renewable energy is on the rise again for the first time since 2011. Last year, investors poured $310 billion into wind, solar, biofuels and other low-carbon energy technologies, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance – a 16 percent rise over 2013 levels. And while total investment nearly matched 2011 levels, new installed capacity levels were double those in 2011, a testament to the rapid decline in costs for renewables. Investors are getting more bang for their buck, and appear so far undeterred by a new era of cheaper fossil fuels.

In the pipeline

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Drill deeeeeper

Some of our favorite reads you might have missed from over the break: 

How oil price slump is putting a squeeze on Hezbollah, Iran's Shiite ally
[The Christian Science Monitor]
Cheap oil means lower crude revenues for Iran, and that means less money to spare in aiding militant group Hezbollah. The Shiite group has cut personnel salaries and slashed payments to political allies in Lebanon.

Are low oil prices good or bad? [The American]
What goes up must come down. Vaclav Smil reminds us of the timeless axiom that applies even to something as unpredictable as oil markets. Given recent, similar collapses, perhaps this most recent crash isn’t as “shocking” and “unprecedented” as it’s made out to be.

The Wreck of the Kulluk [ Deca via The New York Times Magazine ]
“I felt this attachment to succeeding,” Craig Matthews, a tugboat engineer, tells McKenzie Funk. “We’re trying keep this chunk of metal off a beach, where a chunk of metal shouldn’t be. But otherwise it’s just a chunk of metal that belongs to a rich oil company. It’s bottom line to them. Why does it matter to me? Is this important? … I felt tears welling up in my eyes when I had to let go of the Kulluk.”

One More Reason to Raise the Gas Tax Now
[Council on Foreign Relations ]
Low oil prices may make a US gas tax hike more politically tenable, Michael Levi writes, but it also makes more economic sense. By smoothing out the price collapse, higher taxes could help avert a devaluation of fuel efficient cars, homes in city centers, and public transit investments.

If cyberwar erupts, America's electric grid is a prime target
[CSM Passcode ]
Last year's Sony hack again raised a perennial concern among cybersecurity analysts: Is the nation's power sector doing enough to protect critical infrastructure from cyberattacks? Passcode takes a look at past attempts to reduce vulnerabilities, and where we stand today.

Energy sources

  • Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America: "It remains rare for hydraulic fracturing to cause larger earthquakes that are felt by humans. However, due to seismic monitoring advances and the increasing popularity of hydraulic fracturing to recover hydrocarbons, the number of earthquakes – felt and unfelt – associated with hydraulic fracturing has increased in the past decade."
  • The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd.: "From the outset, we’ve accepted responsibility for the two deeply regrettable operational spills in Bodo. We’ve always wanted to compensate the community fairly and we are pleased to have reached agreement … However, unless real action is taken to end the scourge of oil theft and illegal refining, which remains the main cause of environmental pollution and is the real tragedy of the Niger Delta, areas that are cleaned up will simply become re-impacted through these illegal activities."
  • Petróleos Mexicanos: "Under the proposed scheme, Mexico would import up to 100,000 barrels per day of light crude and condensates from the United States for the purpose of mixing them with our oil and improving the process in the Salamanca, Tula, and Salina Cruz refineries – which are configured for cracking – instead of exporting Mexican heavy crude to be processed in US refineries using coking." [Translated from Spanish]


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