Brazilian prosecutors threw investors into a panic on Wednesday after demanding $44 billion (155 billion Brazilian Reais) from major mining companies Vale SA and BHP Billiton over the collapse of a dam at their Samarco joint venture last year that ranked as the country’s worst environmental disaster and killed at least 17 people.
The 359-page civil lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors on Monday and announced late on Tuesday came as a shock to many investors, who had hoped that a settlement signed with the government in March worth 10 billion Real would draw a line under the bulk of claims relating to the disaster. However, a Brazilian judge on Thursday ratified the original settlement between BHP Billiton and Vale and Brazil’s federal government. The move potentially saps some of the energy from the $44 billion lawsuit, but it’s still very much alive.
China Begins Closing Coal Projects
China will take stronger action against illegal coal projects as it tries to tackle a massive capacity glut in the sector, the country’s state planning agency said, after ordering the closure of 38 projects. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) ordered the immediate closure of the projects for breaching industry policies, it said in a notice posted on its website on Friday.
New investigations of cut-to-length steel plate from several countries were announced Friday and the Texas Supreme Court rejected a new law that, the court said, preceded the state’s authority to enforce its own air quality laws.
Steel Plate Anti-Dumping Investigation
The Commerce Department has initiated anti-dumping duty investigations of imports of carbon and alloy steel cut-to-length plate from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Taiwan, and Turkey and countervailing duty Investigations of imports of carbon and alloy steel cut-to-length plate from Brazil, China, and Korea.
The petitioners are ArcelorMittal USA LLC, Nucor Corporation and SSAB Enterprises, LLC. The products covered by these investigations include carbon and alloy steel hot-rolled or forged flat plate products (not in coils), whether or not painted, varnished, or coated with plastics or other non-metallic substances (cut-to-length plate).
Texas Supreme Court Rejects Houston Air Quality Law
The Texas Supreme Court said Friday that the heart of a Houston air quality law is preempted by the state’s Clean Air Act, handing a victory to an industry group including ExxonMobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.
Attorneys for the city of Houston argued that the city was simply trying to enforce the standards set out by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a state agency, by putting in place a parallel enforcement mechanism that would impose fines on the companies even if the Commission chose not to act.
On the one hand, popular protests due to increasing levels of pollution are an expression of growing unrest among China’s rising middle classes, all conscious of environmental issues.
Too Much Pollution
Pollution is a source of international shame that has prompted Beijing to take the drastic steps of closing down coal-fired power generation and coal-consuming heavy industry around cities hosting major events such as the Olympic games and flower festivals, so that the People’s Republic can show a clean face to the world.
On the other hand, that same coal is mined by some 5 million coal workers who have already come onto the streets to protest loudly and publicly about proposed rationalization in the industry and Beijing is nothing if not sensitive to public protest.
Coal-fired power continues to dominate Chinese power generation. Source: Adobe Stock/Snap Happy
So, what to do? close coal mines and coal-fired power stations or keep them open and suffer the atmospheric pollution and health hazards that involves?
The answer, as with so much else in China, is export it so it’s someone else’s problem. In this case, the policy appears to have been to export the pollution and hence the problem westwards and centrally to less-affluent and less-populated areas.
According to the Financial Times, pollution has decreased in Beijing and Shanghai while it has increased in the interior. Beijing’s smog has been lifting, the average concentration fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) is down 28% year-on-year in the first three months of this year. Read more
Just a month after BMW proudly announced it was shifting its development strategy toward more all-electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous technology in order to address a “new era” in the industry, the company was rocked by the defection of the core development team of its i3 and i8 electric vehicle lineup.
The embarrassing part is the defection isn’t to another automotive major but to Future Mobility Corp., a Chinese startup backed by Tencent Holdings, a Chinese investment company. The move underlines how established “old world” firms in the automotive sector are struggling to compete with start-ups and newcomers in the EV and hybrid market.
Who Left BMW for Future Mobility?
The WSJ reports that Carsten Breitfeld, a 20-year BMW veteran who developed the company’s i8 plug-in hybrid sports car, left the Munich-based automaker last month to become chief executive of the Chinese electric car company. Now, three key executives from the “BMW i” electric car group are following him. Dirk Abendroth, who developed electric powertrains for the i-series, Benoit Jacob, who was head of design at BMW i, and Henrik Wenders, head of BMW i product management.
BMW is betting on electric cars for its future, but Future Mobility just poached its entire i team. Source: Adobe Stock/Joel 420.
One would like to think they are not being simply lured by money, creative professionals of this caliber will be more motivated by being at the cutting edge of development and technology than euros in the pocket and BMW, for all their media hype, have failed to make a success of their electric vehicles division.
BMW Slows Electric Car Development
According to the WSJ, BMW has slowed development of future models. Last year, BMW sold 24,057 i3 models, and 5,456 i8 models, a 66% increase in BMW i division sales but paltry by the standards of a volume automaker. Read more
Once the fastest-growing U.S. renewable energy developer, SunEdison embarked on an aggressive acquisition strategy that left it struggling with $12 billion in debt.
In its bankruptcy filing, the company said it had assets of $20.7 billion and liabilities of $16.1 billion as of Sept. 30.
China’s Zombie Mills Fire Up Production
The rest of the world’s steel producers may be pressuring Beijing to slash output and help reduce a global glut that is causing losses and costing jobs, but the opposite is happening in the steel towns of China.
While the Chinese government points to reductions in steel making capacity it has engineered, a rapid rise in local prices this year has seen mills ramp up output. Even “zombie” mills, which stopped production but were not closed down, have been resurrected.
OSHA says the rule will help prevent lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease in workers by limiting their exposure to crystalline silica, which can cause all of the above diseases and disorders when inhaled. The final rule is written as two standards, one for construction and one for general industry and maritime.
This pile of white silica sand is now being more tightly regulated by OSHA. Source: Adobe Stock/Coprid.
Construction companies have until June 23, 2017 to comply with most of the new requirements, such as:
Reducing the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift.
Mandating employers to use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) and provide respiratory protection when controls are not able to limit exposures to the permissible level.
Limiting access to high exposure areas . Training workers to recognize exposures.
Provide medical exams to highly exposed workers.
OSHA says the new regulations, which replace ones established in 1971, provide greater certainty and ease of compliance to construction employers — including many small employers — by including a table of specified controls they can follow to be in compliance without having to monitor exposures.
As we’ve mentioned before, the new rules are the culmination of 45 years of debate and consideration of a new silica rule. Regulators have sought to strengthen the 1971 since its inception as silica, in its natural sand state, is pretty much everywhere on construction sites.
The Steel Recycling Instituterecently released the first industry-wide Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for cold-formed steel studs and track manufactured in the U.S. and Canada. The EPD quantifies the “cradle-to-gate” life-cycle environmental impacts, and can be used by architects and engineers to document their impacts for certification of buildings under the U.S. Green Building Council‘s LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and other credit-based green building certification systems.
What Are EPDs?
EPDs are a standardized way of quantifying the environmental impact of a product or system. Declarations include information on the environmental impact of raw material acquisition, energy use and efficiency, content of materials and chemical substances, emissions to air, soil and water and waste generation.
An EPD is created and verified in accordance with the International Standard ISO 14025, developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). An EPD is also based on a peer-reviewed life-cycle assessment (LCA).
LEED has accepted EPDs for building products since version 4 of its system was released. Having EPDs opens steel products up to specification in a much wider range of building projects. Having them not only earns green credits, but it also is viewed by industry professionals as a measure of supply chain transparency.
Cold-formed steel studs and track can now be declared and tracked for LEED projects. Source: Adobe Stock/ft2010.
This is the first industry-wide assessment of full life cycle environmental impacts of steel commercial building products in North America. Roll-formed from galvanized steel sheet into a variety of shapes, cold-formed steel studs and track are being as the primary structural system for buildings up to nine stories in height and have been used for curtain walls and interior partitions for decades.
“Environmental impacts of materials are critical decision factors for architects, engineers and builders,” said Lawrence Kavanagh, president of Steel Market Development Institute, a business unit of American Iron and Steel Institute. “With the construction industry moving to comprehensive assessments of a product’s entire life cycle, it’s important this EPD is now being added to the resources we and our partners have developed for our customers in the construction industry.”
Cold-Formed Studs and Track, the First of Many EPDs
Kavanagh also said this is the first of several EPDs that will be released this year and next and that SMDI hopes to, eventually, have declarations available for all steel building products manufactured in the US.
The ability of steel to be recycled has always been a strong selling point in getting it specified into LEED and other green buildings but EPDs could help certain products be much more easily specified by architects into building projects.
Following on from our post Monday reporting on BP’s forward-looking Global Energy Outlook report we thought, with the current turmoil in the fracking industry bought on by OPEC induced low prices, it would be interesting to look at what the oil major has to say about the prospects for that business model.
It may be that BP, still largely an oil and gas major, is looking at energy use through their own rose-tinted lens subscription. Many are heralding recent efficiency improvements in solar cells and the drop in prices as the start of a new golden age in solar power generation that, in a world so focused on rising carbon emissions, will sweep away older, more-polluting forms of power generation. BP doesn’t see it like that, and that does not mean to say they are wrong, but it does challenge us to ask if the current enthusiasm for a carbon-free world is misplaced.
About That Shift to Renewables…
History and the current sources of energy suggest that even by 2035 80% of our energy will continue to come from fossil fuels, that may be not what we want to see but it is what the data is telling us BP’s chief economist said in the presentation.
He went on to say disruptive as renewables will eventually become over the next twenty years, it is highly unlikely the integrated technologies will develop far enough or the costs come down sufficiently for a dramatically greater penetration of power generation than BP is already predicting. In its best case scenario tight oil and shale gas each contribute as much of a rise in energy supply as renewables such as wind and solar combined.
Just as surprising is the extent to which the oil major sees the transformational change that fracking will continue to be to the energy markets. Rather than consign tight oil and shale gas to the past, as Saudi Arabia had hoped would be the result of its purposeful depressing of the oil price, BP sees any demise as a temporary phenomena followed by continued growth in a couple of years.
How Low Prices Spurred Innovation
In fact the low price has further spurred innovation forcing energy firms to operate at lower and lower break-even points. Globally, technically recoverable resources are estimated to be around 340 billion barrels for tight oil and 7,500 trillion cubic feet for shale gas, the report says. Although Asia has the largest resources, North America will remain the largest producer by far, even out to 2035.
Although unconventional resources are spread across the globe, production is likely to remain concentrated in North America. Cumulative North American production of tight oil and shale gas between 2013-35 is roughly equivalent to 50% of tight oil and 30% of shale gas, technically recoverable resources. The comparable numbers for the rest of the world are expected to be just 3% and 1% respectively. Read more
BP’s Energy Outlook 2035 may not be an accurate view of the future Energy landscape over the next twenty years — with so many variables it would be surprising if it was — but it is the basis the oil major is pinning its own long-term strategy on so we can be assured it is well researched, and as a result is about as good as it gets as an exercise in energy market crystal ball gazing.
Not surprisingly, the report states that power generation is expected to account for an ever-increasing share of primary energy consumption as the world continues on a long-term trend of electrification.
The Electric Share
The share coming from electricity rises from 42% today to 47% by 2035 and, as a result, power generation will become an increasingly important driver of how the global fuel mix evolves. The report points out that oil rose in the 1960’s, then nuclear in the 70’s and 80’s and, finally, natural gas in the 90’s and 2000’s.
The expectation going forward is, not surprisingly, that renewables will play an increasingly important role. The surprise is, rather, that they will not rise as fast or become as dominant as many would expect based on the current focus by governments and other authorities. By 2035 BP sees a more balanced and diversified portfolio of fuels for electrical power generation.
Surprisingly, with so much focus on carbon emissions and the rapid closure of coal-fired power generating capacity in Europe and parts of the U.S., the report sees coal remaining the dominant fuel, accounting for more than a third of the inputs to power generation, a share it holds at 44% today. With continuing global growth in coal use of 0.8% per it is expected to remain a significant contributor with the gap between the shares of coal and of other fuels simply narrowing.
Source: BP Energy Review 2016
As a result — and not what the climate change lobby would be hoping to hear, total carbon emissions from energy consumption will increase by 25% between 2013 and 2035 (about 1% per year), with the rate of growth declining from 2.5% over the past decade to 0.7% in the final decade from 2025 to 2035. Read more
The Atlantic writes that while it’s unlikely that the SCOTUS will revisit its stay — which keeps the new regulations from being enforced until the SCOTUS, itself, or the D.C. Circuit Appellate Court rules — it does draw into question if the High Court, itself, will rule the same way if it takes the case on appeal, essentially because Scalia’s death turns that 5-4 majority into a 4-4 tie. The legality of the Obama administration’s plan is being challenged by 29 states and several power and energy industry groups.
In the language of the Court, taking up a case is “granting a writ of certiorari,” often shortened to “granting cert.” Unlike in a decision on a case, in which five justices determine how the court rules, only four justices need to vote to grant cert in a case. Most experts thought it was likely that the Court—whatever its makeup—would eventually hear the case before Scalia’s death.