Archive for the ‘Washington watch’ Category

The steel sheet market undercuts suggestions of overall weakness

There were two interesting news items in the American steel world this week: year-to-date US imports are up 37% from last year while domestic mill capability utilization recently topped 80%, after being in the 70-79% range most of the last few years, climbing from sub-50% levels seen in 2009.

Neither of these items is particularly surprising, as they are the culminations of year-long trends, but they fly in the face of suggestions that American steel consumption has been lackluster this year.

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Regulation & Environment: Debating the success of US federal land policy

Is the federal government in Washington boosting or hindering exploration hydrocarbon exploration on federal lands? Brian Scheid looks at that issue in this week’s Oilgram News column, Regulation & Environment.

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A small Maine city may have set off a big fight over oil movements

The next big fight in the war over oil and gas development in the US — or at least one of the next big fights – will be over local control. That issue ramped up this week and appears to raise a significant question of federalism.

The city council in South Portland, Maine, voted this week to approve a package of zoning restrictions that would affect the handling of crude oil in the city. But the laws were drawn to impact the handling of oil being put on to tankers. It doesn’t affect oil being taken off tankers.

Why this is significant is because South Portland is the eastern terminus of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline, which takes crude oil imported into Maine and brings it to Montreal near the St. Lawrence Seaway. It can be refined in Montreal, or moved down Line 9 to Canadian refineries in Ontario.

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The political calculations of ethanol in Iowa and in Washington

Conventional political wisdom has held that given Iowa’s importance in US presidential contests as host of the first-in-the-nation nominating caucuses, the Renewable Fuel Standard is pretty much unassailable.

The federal biofuels mandate enjoys immense bipartisan support in the state, where corn is king.

Candidates hoping to curry favor with state voters would need to wholeheartedly endorse the RFS or at least pay lip service to the law while campaigning there. Iowa, after all, leads the nation in biofuels production, with 41 ethanol plants in the state, along with 18 biodiesel facilities.

But, if RFS opponents are to be believed, the political landscape could be changing.

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Did the US Commerce condensate export rulings mean nothing?

Two US Commerce Department rulings giving a pair of Eagle Ford players legal backing to export processed condensate have been viewed as a dramatic loosening of America’s 40-year ban on crude exports, or at least a sign that long-awaited export policy changes were near.

But what if these private letter rulings really only impact the companies that received them and nothing more?

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On US oil exports, offshore safety, crude-by-rail, how long will the government delay?

It has become a routine in Washington to explain the government’s inability to react to changes in the marketplace by blaming the swift pace of technological change. The latest such admission came last week when Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker spoke about US crude exports.

“Technology is advancing faster than existing regulations,” Pritzker said during an appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival. She said there was a “serious conversation” going on within the administration on crude export policy. “The question is what [are] the right exports and what is the right amount of exports.”

Similar admissions have come from other officials on the topic of transporting crude by rail and ensuring the safety of offshore drilling. In all three cases, industry has wisely not waited for Washington to act. Innovation marches on and companies put huge amounts of capital at risk to advance new ways to produce and move energy resources.

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Foreign-owned steelmakers in the US go native and sue “foreigners”

A funny thing happened on the way to international free trade.

If you know what a NIMBY is, that should provide a clue. When foreign steel mills started buying American producers some thought they might eventually see an end to costly and disruptive unfair trade case filings as a more international perspective flourished in the market. (If you don’t know, NIMBY stands for “Not in my back yard.”)

But the filing of American steel dumping and countervailing duty cases never ended. There has been a resurgence in recent years, and more are expected to be filed or finalized this year and next. Steel has been the most litigated product in human history and likely still holds that honor.

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US Supreme Court opens the “BACT” door for EPA on CO2, but it could swing two ways

The US Supreme Court last week rejected the methodology the Environmental Protection Agency used to implement its first-ever regulations on carbon dioxide emissions, but did lay out a path the agency can follow to achieve the same end by using the Clean Air Act’s the “Best Available Control Technology,” or BACT, provisions.

And although the ruling could be viewed as a win for EPA, it may end up being a victory that does not advance the agency toward its ultimate goal.

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BOEM chief leaves an agency much changed since he arrived

When Tommy Beaudreau arrived at the US Interior Department to oversee the reorganization of the Minerals Management Service in the wake of the Macondo disaster, he found an agency more focused on revenue than safety.

Offshore leasing in federal waters was bringing MMS more than $10 billion each year in rents and royalties, and Congress seemed to judge an MMS director’s job performance strictly on how much revenue new oil and gas leasing could bring in to government coffers, said Beaudreau.

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National Response Center shuts down website, transparency

Media outlets and other curious parties have been in the dark about pipeline leaks and other environmental disturbances since mid-February, and the lights could be kept off for another month.

The National Response Center’s website has been under maintenance since February 21st and could remain that way until the end of May.

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