November 8, 2015

Inside Energy Reads: Week of 11/2

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Top of the news this week came at the end of the week with President Barack Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.  The decision was not unexpected, nor was it surprising to industry or industry watchers.  The Keystone XL pipeline had become a largely symbolic issue galvanizing the “keep it in the ground” environmentalists against it and the oil and gas industry in support. And in fact Obama’s rejection of the pipeline came down to symbol as well: the pipeline was not in the “national interest,” the President said, and by rejecting it the U.S. could “lead by example in the fight against climate change.”

Following the announcement, speculation quickly turned to what’s next for TransCanada, the company that has already invested billions in the project.  As Geof Koss and Robin Bravender of E&E News report, the company’s legal options are limited.  A lawsuit is unlikely to succeed, they report, because the decision itself states that Obama’s authority over the pipeline stems from the Constitution, not from Congress.

A more likely outcome would be for TransCanada and pipeline supporters to wait out this presidency and see if a Republican administration may be more favorable to a new application in a few years. Here’s how anti-Keystone activist Bill McKibben put it on NPR:

the minute a new president takes over, TransCanada could, you know, announce some new version of this. They could call it the Super Duper Patriot Freedom Burn-All-the-Oil-You-Can pipeline, and maybe they’d be able to get it through.

At that point, oil prices may have sprung back to where recovering oil from Canadian tar sands actually makes economic sense as it did when oil was at $100 per barrel.


Another story that caught our attention this week also zeroed in on the issue of climate change.  InsideClimate News’ investigation of Exxon Mobil continues to bubble to the surface, this time with the announcement that the New York Attorney General has launched an investigation into whether or not the energy giant had misled investors over the risks of climate change. Even more interesting was the revelation in the same story that New York’s AG was also investigating the country’s largest coal company for similar failings. Corbin Hiar of E&E News dove into Peabody Energy’s 10K filings with the Security and Exchange Commission to reveal that Peabody had disclosed the Attorney General’s inquiry in every report since 2008. In its 2014 report, Peabody also revealed that the Attorney General’s office requested additional information and documents in late 2013.  Hiar quotes Peabody’s Vic Svec, the company’s senior vice president of global investor and corporate relations:

Peabody continues to work with the New York attorney general’s office regarding our disclosures, which have evolved over the years.

While publicly traded companies like Peabody often acknowledge financial risks in their SEC reports in order to avoid litigation or regulatory oversight, that acknowledgement hasn’t stopped many of these companies from continuing to deny or cast doubt on climate change science.

Hiar quotes Michael Burger, the executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.  He accused fossil fuel companies of conducting “a long-running and extensive disinformation campaign, intentionally designed to muddy the waters of the climate debate. These are sophisticated companies with top-notch science and engineering talent — there is no reason to believe that they ever seriously questioned the science of climate change.”

No doubt the Exxon story as well as other investigations into fossil fuel companies and their potentially “stranded assets” will continue through this election year.

Editor’s Note:  On Monday, November 9, Peabody Energy and the New York Attorney General announced that they had resolved “Longstanding Questions Regarding Climate Change Disclosures.” Peabody says it has agreed to modify its financial disclosures to “to enhance its disclosure around all the published scenarios when referencing IEA’s World Energy Outlook,” and will examine impacts of “hypothetical” future laws on coal markets.