Editors: Tom Whipple, Steve Andrews

Quote of the Week

“Some geologists harbor doubts about ANWR’s prospective resources.  ‘I don’t see (in the refuge’s geology) what I hear in the political talk,’ about the refuge’s potential, said Richard Garrard, an Alaskan-based exploration geologist. said.  Geologically, the region is an extension of the Brooks Range, which is to the south.  ‘How many oil fields have been discovered in the Brooks Range? None.’”

From S&P Global Platts

Graphic of the Week

1.  Oil and the Global Economy

It was a volatile week for oil prices with WTI falling on Monday to nearly $42 a barrel and London falling to $51.  Oil surged on Wednesday, after posting on Christmas day its strongest daily gain in more than two years from the steep losses on Monday that pushed crude benchmarks to lows not seen since 2017.  Both US and Brent crude rose about 8 percent, their largest one-day increase since Nov. 30, 2016, when OPEC signed a landmark agreement to cut production.  The week closed out with oil at $45.33 a barrel in New York and $53.21 in London.

By Friday, oil was selling for some $8-10 a barrel lower than where it had been trading in the first weeks of December.  The decline was motivated by a sharp drop in global equities which in turn was caused by concerns over economic growth next year and the US government shutdown.  US shale oil production continues to surge while the Iranian sanctions and the OPEC+ production cuts will take several months to become fully effective.

The EIA’s weekly stocks report, which was delayed until Friday due to the Christmas holiday, showed almost no change in US petroleum stocks as rising production just balanced an increase in exports. Analysts surveyed by S&P Global Platts on Wednesday expected a 1.4 million-barrel decline, while the American Petroleum Institute on Thursday called for a 6.9 million-barrel build.  Crude inventories along the Gulf Coast declined by 2.46 million barrels as US exports increased by 644,000 b/d to 2.97 b/d. Stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, storage depot grew by 799,000 barrels to a 49-week high at 41.3 million barrels.

Despite the surge in US exports two weeks ago, US crude exports to Europe fell to an 11-month low this month as a shrinking discount and rising shipping costs cut the demand for US oil.  Only 17 tankers carrying about 298,000 b/d departed from Texas and Louisiana for European ports this month, the fewest since last January.  This is down from 404,000 b/d last month.  The spread between US crude and Brent has narrowed from above $10 per barrel in November to $6.63 on Friday, the smallest discount for US crude since early August.

Most major investment banks are forecasting a rebound in oil prices in 2019.  However, forecasts vary widely.  Bank of America Merrill Lynch, for instance, sees WTI averaging $59 per barrel in 2019; Citi is at the bearish end with a forecast of oil averaging $49 per barrel; and Barclays, along with half a dozen others, says the WTI benchmark will average around $72 next year.

The OPEC Production Cut:  The continued decline in oil prices this month has raised concerns among oil exporters who had been expecting that their announcement of a 1.2 million b/d production cut would send prices higher.  Implementation of the production cut, however, has been somewhat lackadaisical, with exemptions for several members, and Moscow is waiting until spring before fully lowering its.  Now we are told that OPEC and allied oil producers are ready to hold an extraordinary meeting and will do what is needed if the current cut in oil output by 1.2 million b/d does not balance the market next year.

The United Arab Emirates’ energy minister said last week “If we are required to extend for (another) six months, we will do it … I can assure you an extension will not be a problem.”  Saudi Arabia’s OPEC governor, Adeeb Al-Aama, said his country is fully committed to the reduction agreement, adding that Saudi production in January was seen at 10.2 million b/d, lower than its output target of 10.3 million b/d under the recent pact.  The kingdom has over-committed with previous cuts, reducing by more than its share and reaching compliance of 120 percent from January 2017 until May 2018, Al-Aama said.

OPEC and Russia-led non-OPEC oil producers are unlikely to create a formal joint organization for managing the oil market, Russia’s Energy Minister Novak said last Thursday.  Although Russia and OPEC have been touting the idea of “institutionalizing” their cooperation in the oil market by forming some kind of organization, Novak said the idea had now been discarded.

“There is a consensus that there will be no such organization. That’s because it requires additional bureaucratic brouhaha in relation to financing with the US side,” Reuters quoted Novak as saying at a briefing with reporters.  Russia has been concerned with the possibility that the US could pass the so-called No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels (NOPEC) Act that could pave the way to antitrust lawsuits in the US against the cartel and its national oil companies.  According to analysts, the possibility of a NOPEC Act has been a big concern for OPEC members lately as it could damage their relations with the US and result in sanctions similar to those imposed on Iran.

In addition to NOPEC, the cartel is facing several other problems in the coming year. Its rotating presidency is due to fall to Venezuela who will send a general with zero oil industry experience to lead the cartel.  The alliance with Russia means that any effective policy will require that Moscow be on board indicating that the Saudis and their allies are no longer in complete control.  The continuing growth of US shale oil production in the coming year suggests that the US alone could nullify much of an OPEC+ production cut.  Oil traders are becoming apathetic to announcements from OPEC as to what the cartel plans to do.  In the past, a leak or hint from an OPEC official was enough to send oil prices off in the desired direction.  In today’s world, this is no longer true.

US Shale Oil Production: The shale oil industry has a fan in Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).  Birol told the Turkish news agency last week that total US oil production around 2025 will almost equal the combined production of Russia and Saudi Arabia or some 20 million+ b/d.  US production is seen growing by 3.7 million b/d by 2023, more than half of the total global production capacity growth of 6.4 million b/d expected by then.  Total liquids production in the United States—including conventional oil, shale, and natural gas liquids—will reach nearly 17 million b/d by 2023, “easily making it the top global producer, and nearly matching the level of its domestic products demand,” the IEA said in March this year.  The US’s EIA sees US crude oil production averaging 10.9 million b/d this year, jumping from 9.4 million b/d in 2017.  The forecast for next year’s US crude oil production currently stands at 12.1 million b/d.  These forecasts were made before the recent price drop which makes much of the US shale oil industry unprofitable and cast doubts on some of the more optimistic forecasts.

The financial model that has dominated the US shale oil industry has been that of exploration and production companies using debt raised from bond markets and bank loans secured on oil and gas reserves.  Often, they use derivatives to hedge some or all of their revenues, giving lenders confidence in their ability to make interest payments if oil and gas prices fall.  For most of the shale boom, that financial infrastructure has been underpinned by the low-interest rates and quantitative easing that followed the financial crisis.

As its output has grown, the industry has been unable to finance its drilling programs from its operating cash flows, and a constant inflow of capital has been essential for keeping it afloat. Now, with stock markets and oil prices falling, and while the Federal Reserve is still signaling its intention to keep raising interest rates, the financial conditions that have kept the shale industry afloat may be evaporating.

It is standard practice in the shale oil industry for companies to put a floor under the effective price of some or all of their production by buying put options.  The investment banks and others that sold those put options have to hedge their own positions, typically by selling oil futures.  The more likely it is that the options will be exercised, the more oil the finance companies have to sell, in a practice known as “delta hedging.”  That creates a positive feedback loop: as prices fall, financial companies that have sold puts need to sell more oil, which drives the price down further.  Once oil prices started to fall, because of the US administration’s decision to ease off on blocking exports of Iranian oil, and concerns about global growth, the delta hedging effect turned falling prices into a rout.

While prices may be bottoming out, it may become more difficult for shale oil companies to hedge their output and borrow money in the coming year.  All this seems to imply that the growth foreseen by the IEA and the EIA may not be as robust as forecast.

A discussion has begun on the recent US Geological Society (USGS) report stating there are an estimated 46.3 billion barrels of theoretical, technically recoverable, as yet undiscovered shale oil in various sections of the Permian Basin.  Texas geologist, Art Berman, reviewed the study in detail and found that the USGS itself estimates it will take 318,000 wells to recover this oil, costing over $3.0 trillion.

The US shale oil industry has drilled almost 70,000 wells the past decade across the US and is fast exhausting its sweet spots in the major shale oil basins.  It has recovered a little less than 10 billion barrels of oil so far and is somewhere around $300 billion in long-term debt.  There seems to be a good reason to be skeptical about this assessment.

2.  The Middle East & North Africa

Iran: Iran’s proposed state budget for the coming year points to a 3.7 percent decline in revenues, as US sanctions continue to cut oil revenues.  Expectations of lower oil exports as a result of Mr. Trump’s moves prompted the IMF to predict a shrinkage of 3.6 percent in Iran’s economy next year. Expectations of lower oil exports as a result of the US sanctions led the IMF to predict shrinkage of 3.6 percent in Iran’s economy next year.  President Rouhani said in a televised speech, “No one can say sanctions don’t inflict a negative impact on the country’s economy and people’s lives, but no one can say that the US will achieve its objectives either. The US will definitely fail.”

Iran began selling crude oil to private companies for export in late October, just before the US sanctions came into effect.  “Those who bought oil on the bourse have been able to export, and there have been no problems in this regard,” according to Oil Minister Zanganeh.

Syria/Iraq: Before the war, Syria produced 387,000 b/d of which 140,000 b/d were exported.  Most of this oil came from Eastern Syria, which is now under the control of the U.S.-backed SDF.  Government forces have regained control over much of Syria with the aid of Russian air support and Iranian ground forces.  Only Idlib and the territories east of the Euphrates river remain out of the hands of President Assad’s regime.  With the US planning an imminent withdrawal from Syria, things could soon shift again.

Iraq is making progress in negotiations with ExxonMobil and the China National Petroleum Corp for a multi-billion-dollar deal that is key to expanding the country’s oil production and export capacity.  Talks over the “Southern Iraq Integrated Project” have been ongoing since at least 2015, but for the first time, officials on both sides are expressing optimism that a contract will be signed in 2019.

Iraq is willing to extend the OPEC+ oil production cut agreement in April, oil minister Thamir Ghadhban said on Sunday.  Ghadhban said he agreed with the Saudi oil minister’s expectation that the decision would be renewed.

Exports from Iraq’s northern Kirkuk oilfields to the Turkish port of Ceyhan will stay at between 80-90,000 b/d as most of the crude produced is being diverted to refineries in the north, Iraq’s oil minister said last week.  Current production at the Kirkuk oilfields is around 370,000 b/d.  BP’s technical team is now in Kirkuk and is preparing a study for increasing production by the end of 2019.

Saudi Arabia:  King Salman shook up the kingdom’s cabinet on Thursday, naming new ministers and security chiefs but keeping the levers of power firmly in the hands of his son and designated heir, Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  Saudi officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.  The moves show that the Saudi monarchy is rallying behind Prince Mohammed despite the widespread international criticism that followed the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The recent drop in oil prices could have serious consequences for the Kingdom.  After the decision in late 2014 to ramp up production in the midst of an oil supply glut mostly due to increased US shale oil production, prices dipped below the economically damaging $30 per barrel.  The results were cataclysmic, with problems ranging from historically high budget deficits to being forced to institute politically unpopular austerity measures and holding its first international bond sale to raise funds.  Whether the OPEC+ production cut will be enough to make the Riyadh solvent again remains to be seen.

China’s crude imports from Saudi Arabia rose to 1.596 million b/d in November, making the Saudis China’s largest crude supplier.  Russia was in second place, supplying 1.593 million b/d of crude to China last month.

Libya: Despite crude output recently hitting a five-year high of 1.15 million b/d and expectations that production could average just over 1 million b/d next year, the critical risk of civil conflict is unlikely to fall anytime soon.  Areas like the southwest of the country where the Sharara and El Feel oil fields are located remain particularly prone to outages caused by chronic fuel shortages and security problems.  Last week, suicide attackers hit the headquarters of Libya’s foreign ministry in Tripoli, opening fire before blowing themselves up after killing three people and wounding six.  (The health ministry confirmed one dead and nine wounded.) The three attackers were suspected to be Islamic State militants.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation chairman Mustafa Sanalla and the country’s internationally recognized Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj agreed last week to a new security plan to protect El Sharara oilfield, which is still closed.  The plan includes establishing green zones inside the oil facilities to prevent anyone from entering without a permit.  Until Libya can establish a national government with enough military power to control the numerous well-armed militias and “security guards” that have been running rampant since the end of the Gadhafi regime, these plans are likely to be ineffective, and oil production will continue to see a series of ups and downs.

3.  China

Profits fell at China’s industrial concerns for the first time in nearly three years last month, the latest sign of an economic slowdown from weak consumption and lower infrastructure investment.  Beijing announced last week its intention to enact new fiscal and monetary stimulus measures, in a bid to mitigate a weakening economy and the US threat to raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of exported goods to 25 percent.  One Chinese economist noted that the trend toward slower credit growth would probably result in further deterioration of corporate profitability and economic fundamentals.

The slump in car sales is leaving China’s foreign automobile makers with idle factories.  At a Ford plant, workers’ shifts have been reduced to a few days a month, according to employees.  In recent years, China became the world’s biggest motor vehicle market, with sales often growing by double digits; in 2016, auto sales grew 14 percent to 28 million, eclipsing the US’s 17.5 million sales.  Global automakers rushed in, despite rules requiring them to take on Chinese partners.  Domestic auto companies proliferated, too, building plants of their own.  China now has enough factories to build 43 million cars but will produce fewer than 29 million this year, according to consulting firm PwC.

Electric vehicles may make the situation worse. A government plan to make China the world leader in EVs is opening up floodgates of financing for domestic companies.  At least 32 new car plants with a combined yearly capacity of more than 7.5 million vehicles—mostly electric—are in the pipeline, according to announcements made by 26 firms.

Chinese LNG imports soared by 48.5 percent in November 2018, compared to the same month last year, as China continues to have parts of the country switch to natural gas from coal for heating.  LNG imports into China in the first eleven months of this year jumped by 43.6 percent compared to January-November 2017, to 47.52 million tons and on course to easily beat the full-year LNG import record of 38.13 million tons from 2017.

4. Russia

The state budget has received an additional $120 billion since Moscow’s cooperation deal with OPEC started two years ago, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said last week.  Discussing the initial and the latest deals between OPEC and the cartel’s Russia-led non-OPEC partners, Novak noted that although the specific price of oil is not as important for Russian companies as it is for other countries, low oil prices create additional challenges for Russia’s state budget.

One of the key reasons for Moscow’s relative immunity to higher oil prices is that the Russian currency is flexible, so it weakens when oil prices fall.  That cushions the blow during a downturn, allowing Russian oil companies to pay expenses in weaker rubles while still taking in US dollars for oil sales. Second, tax payments for Russian oil companies are structured in such a way that their tax burden is lighter with lower oil prices.

Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday that oil prices, which fell by more than a third this quarter, would become more stable in the first half of 2019.  “I think that during the first half, due to joint efforts, which were confirmed by the OPEC and non-OPEC countries this December, the situation will be more stable, more balanced,”

5. Venezuela

Offshore oil discoveries since 2015 by an Exxon-led consortium, accounting for 5 billion barrels of crude, have turned Guyana into one of the Latin America’s hottest oil frontiers.  However, the discovery of oil in Guyanese waters has resurfaced a century-old border controversy stemming from Venezuela’s claims of two-thirds of Guyana’s territory.  Although the claims were settled years ago by an international court, the Maduro government seems intent on getting a share of the new oil finds.

A seismic-survey vessel owned by Norway’s Petroleum Geo-Services, and bearing a Bahamian flag, was stopped by a Venezuelan Navy ship in Guyanese waters, about 90 miles from a provisional border and told that they had no authorization to work in the area and that their permit from the Guyanese government was invalid in waters claimed by Caracas.  The work of the vessel was briefly halted, but on Wednesday Exxon said its oil drilling and development activities offshore Guyana were unaffected by the weekend incident.

In exchange for modest loans and bailouts over the past decade, Russia now owns significant parts of at least five oil fields in Venezuela, which holds the world’s largest oil reserves, along with 30 years’ worth of future output from two Caribbean natural-gas fields.  Venezuela also has signed over 49.9 percent of Citgo, its wholly owned company in the United States — including three Gulf Coast refineries and a countrywide web of pipelines — as collateral to Russia’s state-owned Rosneft for a reported $1.5 billion in desperately needed cash.  Russian advisers are working inside the Venezuelan government, helping direct the course of President Nicolás Maduro’s attempts to escape from bankruptcy.

However, Venezuela may well turn out to be a money-loser for Russia. The IMF estimates that inflation could surpass 1 million percent by the end of 2018 and that its economy will suffer a third straight year of double-digit decline in gross domestic product.  Oil production continues to fall.

6.  The Briefs(selections from the press – date of article in Peak Oil News is in parentheses – see more here: news.peak-oil.org)

World LNG growth: Uncontracted demand by the world’s seven largest liquefied natural gas buyers could increase four-fold to 80 million tons per annum by 2030, according to Wood Mackenzie.  As China pushes on towards a lower-emission economy, its demand for gas and LNG has grown significantly; that trend should continue. (12/29)

Asian LNG boom: Since the start of December, LNG imports into China, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea have reached 20.5 million tons, breaking the previous record of 19.5 million tons, set last January.  Cold weather and China’s consistent gasification efforts drove the increase. (12/28)

In Australia, Royal Dutch Shell said on Wednesday it has begun output at its Prelude floating liquefied natural gas facility, the world’s largest floating production structure and the last of a wave of eight LNG projects built in the country over the last decade.  Though the project started up later and cost more than originally estimated, it is expected to further cement Australia’s lead as the world’s biggest LNG exporter, after the country took the crown in November. (Dec 26)

Offshore Senegal and Mauritania, BP has made a final investment decision to move ahead with the first phase of the project to develop the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim gas field located in the shared ultradeep waters.  The project involves extraction of the gas by a floating production storage platform that will ship the fuel to a floating liquefied natural gas facility near the shores of the Mauritania and Senegal maritime border. (12/25)

In Ghana, sixteen oil and gas firms have submitted applications for one or more of five offshore blocks in the West African country’s first exploration licensing round.  The interest is a major vote of confidence in Ghana, which is keen to unlock more resources after it began pumping from its flagship offshore Jubilee field in 2010. (12/25)

Shell Argentina, which two months ago sold a refinery and fuel stations, said Thursday it will move to develop unconventional oil fields in the Vaca Muerta basin, aiming at 70,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day by 2025.  The first phase of development will consist of drilling and infrastructure expansion to increase production and processing capacity.  Argentina’s state-run YPF will also be investing as much as $30 billion over the next four years, with stated expectations of increasing daily production by 5 percent a year. (12/28)

In Mexico, the downward trend in output from Pemex continued in November as oil and gas production fell 2.7 percent and 2.3 percent respectively, from the previous month.  November oil production fell by 47,500 b/d month on month to 1.71 million b/d.  Year on year, production fell by 150,000 b/d.  This was the lowest production level since 1980. (12/27)

Solving Canada’s conundrum: As the US oil industry reels from the collapsing oil prices, Canada’s oil business is seeing its oil prices rallying.  How can that be?  It is the result of strong political intervention in Alberta’s oil business in an attempt to save it from devastation.  When the oil price differential between Western Canadian Select and West Texas Intermediate swelled to $52 a barrel in November, the impending devastation of the Canadian oil industry demanded swift and decisive action.  Following an OPEC-like production cut, the oil price differential has shrunk to only $16.60 a barrel, in line with what existed last spring.

Between 2016 and 2018, Canada’s oil production grew by nearly 800,000 barrels a day, a 20 percent increase.  The increased output, especially this year, contributed to ballooning of oil storage volumes. Today, Canada has roughly 35 million barrels of oil in storage, twice the normal volume.  Without more export egress, Canadian wellhead prices fell as US shale oil output soared, cutting the need for more Canadian oil.

In May, Canada’s WSC sold at a $17.25 a barrel discount to WTI.  By September, the differential had expanded to over $30.50, and in November it averaged $39.25.  At times, the differential reached $52 a barrel, as wellhead prices fell to $11 a barrel.  The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that cost the Canadian economy $13 billion for the first 10 months of 2018.  Daily cost estimates for the industry ranged upwards of $80 million a day – cash flow critical to the operation of companies and the health of the entire Canadian oil business.  When oil prices failed to react to announcements about expanding rail movement of oil, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley embraced an 8.7 percent mandated production cut for the province’s producers.  Oil prices soared in response, even though the cuts are not effective until January 1, 2019.

Western Canada is producing 365,000 b/d more crude oil than current pipeline capacity can handle, National Energy Board reported.  As of September this year, Western Canada produced a daily average of 4.30 million barrels of crude, while pipeline capacity stood at 3.95 million barrels per day.  Alberta, the largest oil producer in Canada, has turned to oil trains to offset the pipeline capacity shortage. (12/29)

The Canadian oil industry could be in for another turbulent year in 2019, depending on how some pivotal events pan out.  Government-mandated production cuts and the potential startup of a key crude pipeline during the fourth quarter are among key developments to watch for next year. (12/28)

Canada’s oil and gas rigs for the week decreased by 61 rigs this week after losing over 50 rigs in the two weeks prior.  Canada’s total oil and gas rig count is now just 70, which is 66 fewer rigs than this time last year, with a 43-rig decrease for oil rigs, and a 18-rig decrease for gas rigs for the week as Canada’s oil patch gears up for winter season. (12/29)

The US oil rig count grew by two to 885 while the gas rig count increased by one to 198, Baker Hughes reported.  For the month the rig count fell by two, its first decline in six months.  But for the quarter, the count was up 22, the fourth increase in a row.  For the year the count was up 138.  That compares with an increase of 222 rigs in 2017 and a decline of 11 rigs in 2016. (12/29)

Alaska’s upstream oil industry expects a surge in exploration and development in 2019 as companies drill to delineate new North Slope and National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska discoveries.  But some are concerned that high-profile federal initiatives, like exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the opening of prospective parts of NPR-A, could get bogged down by increased opposition as Democrats gain a majority in the US House of Representatives.  Alaska oil production is expected to increase in 2019 (to 529,000 b/d) and 2020 to (533,000 b/d) thanks to new North Slope oil discoveries being brought online, up from 505,000 this year. (12/29)

US LNG exports vs. imports: The US may be exporting natural gas at a record clip, but that hasn’t stopped it from accepting new imports.  A tanker with fuel from Nigeria has berthed at Maryland’s Cove Point import terminal, while a second ship with Russian gas is idling outside Boston Harbor. Pipeline constraints, depleted stockpiles and a 98-year-old law barring foreign ships from moving goods between US ports is opening the way for liquefied natural gas to be shipped from overseas with prices expected to spike as the East Coast winter sets in. (12/29)

Free natgas? Shale drillers in the Permian Basin are producing vast amounts of natural gas as a byproduct of prospecting for oil.  But there aren’t enough pipelines to take all the gas to market, causing some of it to become landlocked, and sending local prices into free fall.  Gas prices in parts of the prolific region hovered near zero last month and some trades went negative, to as low as a negative 25 cents per million British thermal units. (12/27)

When refiners can make significant sums selling diesel and heating oil (distillates), they become less sensitive to the profitability of each barrel of gasoline, which typically accounts for about half of US oil use. Today, refiners are generating plenty of distillate and storing the gasoline.  As a result, US gasoline inventories have climbed about 3 percent above their five-year seasonal average.  If the gasoline overhang gets too large, it could push refiners to cut back on processing rates, reducing a key element of demand for crude and likely further weighing on US oil prices that have already fallen about 40 percent since early October. (12/24)

Exxon Mobil Corp., its stock price down about 20 percent for the year, is headed for its worst annual performance since 1981, when the U.S was in recession and a 20-year crude glut was just beginning. The decline comes as Exxon pursues one of the largest restructurings in its modern history, a seven-year, $200 billion push for oil in South America and natural gas in Mozambique and Papua New Guinea. (12/28)

Peak car? It is quite possible that we have reached Peak Car in North America and Europe. Companies that want to succeed in this new environment will need to be different, and especially better in some way.  If car volumes drop by 30 per cent over the next 10 years, there better be something special about the car company that hopes to survive, let alone prosper —like better technology, better comfort or better service. (12/26)

US generation: Coal made up 29.6 percent of US electricity generation during the month, up from 27.1 percent in September and 28 percent last year.  Natural gas made up 38.1 percent of US power generation in October, down from 40 percent in the previous month and 33.4 percent last year.  Total US generation at utility-scale facilities was up 3.3 percent from the five-year average for the month, while year-to-date generation is up 4.3 percent compared with last year.  Wind made up 6.5 percent of total US power generation in October, down 14.8 percent from last year, while utility-scale and distributed solar made up 2.3 percent of US generation, up from 2.1 percent last year. (12/27)

CO2 emissions from the US electric power sector have declined 28 percent since 2005 because of slower electricity demand growth and changes in the mix of fuels used to generate electricity, according to the US Energy Information Administration.  EIA calculated that CO2 emissions from the electric power sector totaled 1,744 million metric tons in 2017, the lowest level since 1987. (12/24)

Weekly US coal production totaled 15.9 million tons in the week ended December 22, reaching the 2018 peak in weekly production unless the final week of the year tallies higher, data from the US EIA showed Thursday. (12/28)

Easing coal rules: The Trump administration announced on Friday a plan designed to make it easier for coal-fired power plants to release into the atmosphere more mercury and other pollutants linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses. The limits on mercury, set in 2011, were the first federal standards to restrict some of the most hazardous pollutants emitted by coal plants and were considered one of former President Barack Obama’s signature environmental achievements.  The vast majority of utility companies have said the proposed changes are now of little benefit to them, because they have already spent the billions of dollars needed to come into compliance and have urged the Trump administration to leave the mercury measure in place. (12/29)

Air pollution hits children hard: Researchers at Columbia University, with colleagues at Boston University and Abt Associates, have identified concentration-response (C-R) functions for a number of adverse health outcomes in children associated with air pollutants largely from fossil fuel combustion. The study organized the available scientific evidence on the effects of air pollution on children’s health. The paper is the first comprehensive review of the associations between various fossil fuel combustion pollutants and multiple health effects in children in the context of assessing the benefits of air pollution and climate change policies. (12/26)