Sunday, April 14, 2019

global oil surplus persists in March, despite OPEC 1st quarter output cuts exceeding 1.6 million barrels per day

oil prices rose for a 6th straight week and are now up 38% since the beginning of the year, with this week's increase underpinned by a new OPEC report that showed they'd cut their output to the lowest in 4 years...after rising nearly 5% to $63.08 a barrel on tighter supplies and improving economic news last week, contract prices for US crude for May delivery rose $1.32, or more than 2%, to $64.40 a barrel on Monday, their highest level since the end of October 2018, driven higher by supply restraints due to U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, OPEC's output cuts, and renewed fighting in Libya...however, oil prices fell from those 5 month highs on Tuesday, after the International Monetary Fund cut its global economic growth forecasts, and as Russia signaled it may retreat from its production-cutting deal with OPEC, with US crude finishing down 42 cents at $63.98 a barrel...prices then rose on Wednesday towards another new five-month high after OPEC reported their oil production had plunged to four-year low in March and held those gains despite a whopping 7 million barrel increase in US crude inventories, with May crude settling 63 cents higher at $64.61 a barrel...oil prices then retreated from that 5 month high on Thursday, sliding $1.03 to $63.58 a barrel, after sources said OPEC might raise output if Venezuelan and Iranian supplies fall further and prices keep rising...prices recovered a bit of those losses Friday, gaining 31 cents to $63.89 a barrel, as involuntary cuts from Venezuela and Iran and conflict in Libya led to perceptions of a tightening crude market, with May US oil thus ending up 1.3 percent for the week overall...

natural gas prices, on the other hand, ended little changed for the second week in a row...after rising two-tenths of a cent to $2.664 per mmBTU to begin the so-called shoulder season last week, natural gas for May delivery fell four tenths of a cent over the five trading sessions of this week to end the week at $2.660 per mmBTU, as even a bullish miss of expectations on the EIA storage report was not enough to outweigh weak supply/demand balances...the natural gas storage report for the week ending April 5th from the EIA indicated that the quantity of natural gas held in storage in the US increased by 25 billion cubic feet to 1,155 billion cubic feet over the week, which still left our gas supplies 183 billion cubic feet, or 13.7% below the 1,338 billion cubic feet that were in storage on April 6th of last year, and 485 billion cubic feet, or 29.6% below the five-year average of 1,640 billion cubic feet of natural gas that have typically remained in storage as of the first weekend in April in recent years....this week's 25 billion cubic feet injection into US natural gas storage was less than consensus expectations of a 29 billion cubic foot addition to storage, while it was quite a bit more than the 5 billion cubic feet of natural gas that are normally added to gas storage during the first week of April....

for the coming week, the EIA's natural gas storage dashboard indicates that 131 billion cubic feet of natural gas were consumed in residential and commercial use; that compares to the 186 billion cubic feet used by residential and commercial accounts in the week we've just reported on...if other demand factors are little changed otherwise, we should see an injection of around 80 billion cubic feet of natural gas into storage with next week's report..

The Latest US Oil Supply and Disposition Data from the EIA

this week's US oil data from the US Energy Information Administration, reporting on the week ending April 5th, indicated a modest increase our refinery usage of crude, with a corresponding decrease in our oil exports, and hence there was another surplus to add to our commercial supplies of crude for the third week in a row...our imports of crude oil fell by an average of 166,000 barrels per day to an average of 6,599,000 barrels per day, after rising by an average of 223,000 barrels per day the prior week, while our exports of crude oil fell by an average of 374,000 barrels per day to 2,349,000 barrels per day during the week, which meant that our effective trade in oil worked out to a net import average of 4,250,000 barrels of per day during the week ending April 5th, 210,000 more barrels per day than the net of our imports minus exports during the prior week...over the same period, field production of crude oil from US wells was reported to be unchanged at a record 12,200,000 barrels per day, so our daily supply of oil from the net of our trade in oil and from well production totaled an average of 16,450,000 barrels per day during this reporting week...

meanwhile, US oil refineries were using 16,100,000 barrels of crude per day during the week ending April 5th, 251,000 more barrels per day than the amount of oil they used during the prior week, while over the same period the EIA reported that 1,004,000 barrels of oil per day were being added to the oil that's in storage in the US.....therefore, this week's crude oil figures from the EIA would seem to indicate that our total working supply of oil from net imports and from oilfield production was 654,000 fewer barrels per day than what was added to storage plus the oil refineries reported they used during the account for that disparity between the supply of oil and the disposition of it, the EIA inserted a (+654,000) barrel per day figure onto line 13 of the weekly U.S. Petroleum Balance Sheet to make the reported data for the daily supply of oil and the consumption of it balance out, essentially a fudge factor that is labeled in their footnotes as "unaccounted for crude oil"....with that much oil unaccounted for, we have to figure that one or more of this week's oil metrics is in error by a statistically significant amount.. (for more on how this weekly oil data is gathered, and the possible reasons for that "unaccounted for" oil, see this EIA explainer)....  

further details from the weekly Petroleum Status Report (pdf) indicated that the 4 week average of our oil imports fell to an average of 6,709,000 barrels per day last week, now 15.5% less than the 7,943,000 barrel per day average that we were importing over the same four-week period last year.... the 1,004,000 barrel per day increase in our total crude inventories was all added to our commercially available stocks of crude oil, as the oil stored in our Strategic Petroleum Reserve remained unchanged...this week's crude oil production was reported to be unchanged at 12,200,000 barrels per day because the rounded estimate for output from wells in the lower 48 states was unchanged at 11,700,000 barrels per day, while a 2,000 barrel per day increase in Alaska's oil production to 484,000 barrels per day was not enough to make a difference in the rounded national total...last year's US crude oil production for the week ending April 6th was at 10,525,000 barrels per day, so this reporting week's rounded oil production figure was 15.9% above that of a year ago, and 44.8% more than the interim low of 8,428,000 barrels per day that US oil production fell to during the last week of June of 2016...    

meanwhile, US oil refineries were operating at 87.5% of their capacity in using 16,100,000 barrels of crude per day during the week ending April 5th, up from 86.4% of capacity the prior week, but still quite a bit lower than before Venezuelan imports of heavy crude that Gulf Coast refineries are optimized to use were cut off....similarly, the 16,100,000 barrels per day of oil that were refined this week were down by 5.4% from the 17,019,000 barrels of crude per day that were being processed during the week ending April 6th, 2018, when US refineries were operating at 93.5% of capacity... 

with the increase in the amount of oil being refined, the gasoline output from our refineries was likewise higher, rising by 356,000 barrels per day to 10,169,000 barrels per day during the week ending April 5th, after our refineries' gasoline output had increased by 156,000 barrels per day the prior week....but even with those back to back increases in gasoline output, this week's gasoline production was only a bit more than the 10,150,000 barrels of gasoline that were being produced daily during the same week last the same time, our refineries' production of distillate fuels (diesel fuel and heat oil) rose by 168,000 barrels per day to 5,038,000 barrels per day, after that output had decreased by 55,000 barrels per day the prior week...but even after this week's increase, the week's distillates production was still 4.1% less than the 5,256,000 barrels of distillates per day that were being produced during the week ending April 6th, 2018.... 

even with the increase in our gasoline production, the supply of gasoline left in storage at the end of the week fell for the 8th week in a row, decreasing by 7,700,000 barrels to 229,129,000 barrels over the week to April 5th, after supplies had fallen by 1,781,000 barrels over the prior week....the draw from our gasoline supplies was much greater this week than last because the amount of gasoline supplied to US markets increased by 675,000 barrels per day to 9,806,000 barrels per day, after increasing by 7,000 barrels per day the prior week, and because our exports of gasoline rose by 41,000 barrels per day to 656,000 barrels per day while our imports of gasoline fell by 32,000 barrels per day 714,000 barrels per day...after having reached an all time record high ten weeks ago, our gasoline inventories are now 4.1% lower than last April 6th's level of 238,935,000 barrels, and have now fallen back to the five year average of our gasoline supplies at this time of the year...

even with the increase in our distillates production, our supplies of distillate fuels fell for the 21st time in twenty-eight weeks, but just by 116,000 barrels to 128,053,000 barrels during the week ending April 5th, after our distillates supplies had decreased by 1,998,000 barrels over the prior week...the draw on our distillates supplies was smaller this week because the amount of distillates supplied to US markets, a proxy for our domestic demand, fell by 377,000 barrels per day to 3,779,000 barrels per day, while our exports of distillates rose by 231,000 barrels per day to 1,374,000 barrels per day, while our imports of distillates fell by 46,000 barrels per day to 98,000 barrels per day...after this week's inventory decrease, our distillate supplies were fractionally lower than the 128,447,000 barrels that we had stored on April 6th, 2018, while remaining roughly 6% below the five year average of distillates stocks for this time of the year...

finally, with record oil production, lower oil exports, and ongoing sub-par refinery runs, our commercial supplies of crude oil in storage increased for the ninth time in 12 weeks, rising by 7,029,000 barrels over the week, from 449,521,000 barrels on March 29th to 456,550,000 barrels on April 5th...that increase was enough to lift our crude oil inventories fractionally above recent five-year average of crude oil supplies for this time of year, while rising to 33.3% above the prior 5 year (2009 - 2013) average of crude oil stocks after the first week of April, with the disparity between those comparisons arising because it wasn't until early 2015 that our oil inventories first rose above 400 million barrels...since our crude oil inventories had mostly been rising since this past Fall, after generally falling until then through most of the prior year and a half, our oil supplies as of April 5th were 6.5% above the 428,638,000 barrels of oil we had stored on April 6th of 2018, but at the same time still 14.4% below the 533,377,000 barrels of oil that we had in storage on April 7th of 2017, and 9.6% below the 505,232,000 barrels of oil we had in storage on April 8th of 2016...        

OPEC's Monthly Oil Market Report

next we're going to review OPEC's April Oil Market Report (covering March OPEC & global oil data), which was released on Wednesday of this past week and was a major factor in the price rally we saw that day...this report is available as a free download, and hence it's the report we check for monthly global oil supply and demand data...the first table from this monthly report that we'll look at is from the page numbered 58 of that report (pdf page 68), and it shows oil production in thousands of barrels per day for each of the current OPEC members over the recent years, quarters and months, as the column headings indicate...for all their official production measurements, OPEC uses an average of estimates from six "secondary sources", namely the International Energy Agency (IEA), the oil-pricing agencies Platts and Argus, ‎the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the oil consultancy Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) and the industry newsletter Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, as an impartial adjudicator as to whether their output quotas and production cuts are being met, to thus resolve any potential disputes that could arise if each member reported their own figures...

March 2019 OPEC crude output via secondary sources

as we can see from this table of official oil production data, OPEC's oil output fell by 534,000 barrels per day to 30,022,000 barrels per day in March, from their revised February production total of 30,557,000 barrels per day...however that February figure was originally reported as 30,549,000 barrels per day, so that means their production for March was, in effect, a 526,000 barrel per day decrease from the previously reported figures (for your reference, here is the table of the official February OPEC output figures as reported a month ago, before this month's revisions)...

once again, output cuts of 324,000 barrels per day by Saudi Arabia and 289,000 barrels per day by Venezuela alone accounted for this month's production reduction, with the drop in the oil output from Venezuela being largely involuntary, due to US sanctions on their addition, the 126,000 barrels per day cut in the output from Iraq now brings them pretty close to the output allocations assigned to each member after their December 7th meeting, when OPEC agreed to cut 800,000 barrels per day as part of a 1.2 million barrel per day cut agreed to with Russia and other oil producers, leaving Nigeria as the sole OPEC member who is still producing in excess of their quota to any degree....this can be seen in the table of OPEC production allocations we've included below:

February 6 2019 Platts on OPEC allocations

the above table came from a February 6th post on Saudi cuts and OPEC allocations at S&P Global Platts, and shows average daily production quota in millions of barrels of oil per day for each of the OPEC members for the first 6 months of this year, as was agreed to at their December 2018 meeting...note that Venezuela and Iran, whose oil exports are being sanctioned by the Trump administration, and Libya, which has been beset by disruptive civil strife, are exempt from any production quotas, and that only Libya had produced any more than they did in the 4th quarter of 2018, as shown in the fifth column of the OPEC production table above...

the next graphic we'll include shows us both OPEC and world oil production monthly on the same graph, over the period from April 2017 to March 2019, and it comes from page 59 (pdf page 69) of the April OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report....on this graph, the cerulean blue bars represent OPEC oil production in millions of barrels per day as shown on the left scale, while the purple graph represents global oil production in millions of barrels per day, with the metrics for global output shown on the right scale...

March 2019 OPEC report global oil supply

OPEC's preliminary estimate indicates that total global oil production fell by 0.14 million barrels per day to 99.26 million barrels per day in March, but that came after February's total global output figure was revised up by 25​0​,000 barrels per day from the 99.15 million barrels per day global oil output that was reported a month ago, as non-OPEC oil production rose by a rounded 390,000 barrels per day in March after that revision, with increased oil output from US and Brazil the major reasons for the non-OPEC production increase.... the 99.26 million barrels per day produced globally in March was also 1.05 million barrels per day, or 1.1% higher than the revised 98.21 million barrels of oil per day that were being produced globally in March a year ago (see the April 2018 OPEC report online (pdf) for the originally reported March 2018 details)...after the March decrease in OPEC's output, their March oil production of 30,022,000 barrels per day represented just 30.2% of what was produced globally during the month, down from the 30.8% share they reported for February....OPEC's March 2018 production was reported at 31,958,000 barrels per day, which means that the 13 OPEC members who were part of OPEC last year, excluding Qatar from last year's total and new member Congo from this year's, are now producing 1,674,000 fewer barrels per day of oil than they were producing a year ago, when they accounted for 32.6% of global output, with a 756,000 barrel per day drop in the output from Venezuela and a 1,116,000 barrel per day decrease in output from Iran from that time more than offsetting the year over year production increases of 195,000 barrels per day from the Emirates, 130,000 barrels per day from Libya, and 96,000 barrels per day from Iraq...   

however, despite the 0.14 million barrels per day decrease in global oil output seen during March, the upward revision to February's global output meant we still had a small surplus in the amount of oil being produced globally during the month, as this next table from the OPEC report will show us... 

March 2019 OPEC report global oil demand

the table above comes from page 34 of the February OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report (pdf page 44), and it shows regional and total oil demand in millions of barrels per day for 2018 in the first column, and OPEC's estimate of oil demand by region and globally quarterly over 2019 over the rest of the table...on the "Total world" line in the second column, we've circled in blue the figure that's relevant for March, which is their revised estimate of global oil demand during the first quarter of 2018...        

OPEC has estimated that during the 1st quarter of this year, all oil consuming regions of the globe have been using 99.02 million barrels of oil per day, which was the same as their estimate for the 1st quarter a month ago....meanwhile, as OPEC showed us in the oil supply section of this report and the summary supply graph above, OPEC and the rest of the world's oil producers were still producing 99.26 million barrels per day during March, which means that there was a surplus of around 240,000 barrels per day in global oil production as compared to the demand estimated for the addition, the upward revision of 25​0​,000 barrels per day to February's output​ that's implied in this report means that the global oil output surplus for February would now be revised to 380,000 barrels per day....that follows a 290,000 barrel per day global oil output surplus in January, so despite OPEC cuts now totaling more than 1.​6 million barrels per day​ over the first quarter of this year​, the global oil glut still persists...

we should also note that the previous estimate for 2018's oil demand was revised 20,000 barrels per day lower with this report, a figure which we've highlighted in a green ellipse...the 2018 demand table on page 33 of the March OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report (pdf page 43) shows that ​was because ​demand for the 4th quarter was revised 80,000 barrels per day lower, while oil demand for the remainder of 2018 was unrevised from previously published figures...that revision means that for all of 2018, global oil demand exceeded production by roughly 7,090,000 barrels, a comparatively tiny net oil shortfall that would be the equivalent of less than one hour and forty​-​five minutes of global production at the December production rate...  

This Week's Rig Count

US drilling rig activity decreased for the seventh time in eight weeks, with a surprising number of this week​'s ​changes ​occurring ​among natural gas rigs, while oil rigs ​still ​managed to eke out an increase for the 2nd week in a row.....Baker Hughes reported that the total count of rotary rigs running in the US fell by 3 rigs to 1022 rigs over the week ending April 12th, which was still 14 more rigs than the 1008 rigs that were in use as of the April 13th report of 2018, while well down from the shale era high of 1929 drilling rigs that were deployed on November 21st of 2014, the week before OPEC announced their attempt to flood the global oil market...  

the count of rigs drilling for oil rose by 2 rigs to 833 rigs this week, which was also 18 more oil rigs than were running a year ago, while it was still well below the recent high of 1609 rigs that were drilling for oil on October 10th, the same time, the number of drilling rigs targeting natural gas bearing formations decreased by 5 rigs to 189 natural gas rigs, which was also down by 4 rigs from the 192 natural gas rigs that were drilling a year ago, and way down from the modern era high of 1,606 natural gas targeting rigs that were deployed on August 29th, 2008...

drilling activity offshore in the Gulf of Mexico increased by 1 rig to 23 rigs this week, which was also 7 more rigs than the 16 rigs active in the Gulf a year ago, which was coming off a record low at that time...meanwhile, the number of active horizontal drilling rigs decreased by 12 rigs to 899 horizontal rigs this week, which was the least horizontal rigs deployed since April 20th of last year, but still 6 more horizontal rigs than the 883 horizontal rigs that were in use in the US on April 13th of last year, while down from the record of 1372 horizontal rigs that were deployed on November 21st of 2014.....on the other hand, the directional rig count increased by 8 rigs to 78 directional rigs this week, which was also up by 8 rigs from the 70 directional rigs that were in use during the same week of last addition, the vertical rig count increased by 1 rig to 55 vertical rigs this week, which was the same as the number of vertical rigs that were operating on April 13th of 2018... 

the details on this week's changes in drilling activity by state and by shale basin are included in our screenshot below of that part of the rig count summary pdf from Baker Hughes that shows those changes...the first table below shows weekly and year over year rig count changes for the major oil & gas producing states, and the second table shows the weekly and year over year rig count changes for the major US geological oil and gas both tables, the first column shows the active rig count as of April 12th, the second column shows the change in the number of working rigs between last week's count (April 5th) and this week's (April 12th) count, the third column shows last week's April 5th active rig count, the 4th column shows the change between the number of rigs running on Friday and the number running before the equivalent weekend of a year ago, and the 5th column shows the number of rigs that were drilling at the end of that reporting week a year ago, which in this week’s case was the 13th of April, 2018...   

April 12 2019 rig count summary

as you can see, this week's ​rig count decrease was driven by the drop of 6 natural gas rigs in the Marcellus shale, 5 of which came out of Pennsylvania, and one of which was pulled from West Virginia...Pennsylvania's pullback was limited to 3 rigs, however, with the addition of two natural gas rigs in the Utica shale, one in Lawrence county and the other in Beaver county, with the latter going to a depth of less than 10,000 feet, strongly suggesting it was drilling in the Ohio valley or adjacent lowlands...meanwhile, the Utica shale also saw a rig addition in Ohio, to account for the 3 rig increase you see for the Utica above...on the other hand, two more natural gas rigs were pulled out of the Haynesville shale in northern Louisiana, while another natural gas ​rig​ was also pulled out of the Arkoma Woodford of Oklahoma, which also saw an oil rig shut down at the same time...lastly, a natural gas rig was added in an "other" basin not tracked separately by Baker Hughes, to leave us with the net decrease of 5 natural gas rigs that we reported earlier...note, however, that ​came by way of shutting down 8 rigs in the traditional dry gas plays of the Marcellus and Haynesville, and adding back three natural gas rigs in the liquids heavy Utica...that suggests that at least some of the drillers in the area may be shifting away from the underpriced dry natural gas into the more lucrative natural gas liquids, either to supply the Mariner East pipeline across Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook refinery​,​ or​ to the coast​ for export, or ultimately as feedstock for the petrochemical crackers that are planned for the Ohio valley...

meanwhile, the two rig increase in the Permian basin masks quite a bit of movement​ inside the basin​, as 4 rigs were added in Texas Oil District 8, which corresponds to the core Permian Delaware, and 2 rigs were added in Texas Oil District 8, or the northern Permian Midland basin, while two Permian rigs were concurrently shut down in Texas Oil District 7C, or the southern Permian Midland basin...hence, since Texas added 4 Permian rigs, the two rigs shut down in New Mexico ​would have been in the Permian Delaware on their side of the state line..

in addition to the changes in the major producing states shown in the table above, we also have to note that Alabama had a rig added back this week after 5 weeks without, which was still down from the 2 rigs deployed in the state a year ago, that Mississippi also added a rig and now has 4 rigs drilling in the state, up from 2 rigs a year ago, and that the lone rig that started up in Nebraska last week was shut down this week...Nebraska has only seen drilling activity two other weeks out of the past year; one week in July and one week in October...


Some say local profits from Rover pipeline have Biblical significance (VIDEO) - — The Rover Pipeline paid more than $3 million to Richland County in annual property taxes for 2018, with more than $69 million paid across the state, according to a press release by the company last week.  Some say the pipeline coming to the economically-stagnant region can be attributed to GOD’s hand of blessing following diplomatic efforts by clergy that took international stage.The massive 713 mile natural gas pipeline was approved for construction thru north central Ohio ten daysafter a clergy apology letter was sent by 103 leading area clergymen to Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu.In the letter, the clergy apologized for the role of the United States played under President Barack Obama in the anti-Semitic U.N. Resolution 2334 . The resolution stated Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, have “no legal validity,” and constitutes a ‘flagrant violation’ under international law.One of the signers of the clergy letter, Reverend Robert Kurtz of Mansfield Temple Baptist, believes the uncanny timing of the Rover Pipeline approval could not have come at a better time, especially when energy projects often go contested. “There is something precious and beautiful about seeing GOD’s hand of blessing as a community seeks Him and His direction,” said Kurtz. “We can be grateful for the leadership that GOD has provided in Richland County and all glory goes to GOD for this injection of income.”Co-authors of the clergy correspondence stated to the Ashland Times Gazette that they believe the favor of the Lord can occur with people who bless Israel and the Jewish people. It appears this favor has manifested itself as natural gas. Describing the abundance of natural resources like natural gas as a “blessing” is not foreign in the marketplace of ideas.

Eight New Permits Issued in Utica Shale– The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has issued eight new permits for horizontal wells in the Utica shale during the week ended April 6, according to the latest data provided by the agency. Ascent Resources Utica LLC secured five permits for wells in Belmont County, while Eclipse Resources was awarded three permits to drill new wells in Monroe County, ODNR reported. ODNR did not issue any new permits during the previous week. As of April 6, ODNR reported there are 3,046 horizontal well permits issued in the Utica shale. Of that number, 2,568 are drilled and 2,179 wells are in production. The rig count – the number of rigs operating across the Utica during a single day – stood at 16. There were no new permits issued in the northern Utica during the week, which includes Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. And the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection did not issue permits last week for Utica shale wells in neighboring Mercer and Lawrence counties in western Pennsylvania.

Ohio's Utica shale drilling numbers staying consistent - Akron Beacon Journal - Oil and gas companies have drilled more than 2,500 horizontal shale wells in Ohio, causing the state’s oil and natural gas production to surge.  Drillers came to Ohio planning to explore the Utica and Marcellus shales beneath the eastern half of the state, but most horizontal drilling — sometimes called fracking — has concentrated in the Utica Shale deposits in counties near the Ohio River.  In the early days of shale drilling, the average well was 6,000 feet deep and 4,000 feet long. Now, the average well is being drilled 8,500 to 10,000 feet deep and 12,000 feet long; some wells are as long as 20,000 feet, Simmers said. Last year, 358 new horizontal shale wells were drilled, according to the Division of Oil and Gas, which is part of the Department of Natural Resources. “These numbers, we project, are going to be pretty consistent for the next two years,” Simmers said.Utica Shale wells have caused Ohio’s natural gas production to surge. Last year, they produced 2.35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, more than twice what the state consumes in year.“Gas production is growing very, very quickly,” Simmers said, explaining that natural gas production had increased every quarter since ODNR began quarterly tracking in 2013.Pipelines and processing plants have been built throughout the region to handle all of that natural gas, and four gas-burning electric power plants have been built, with more in the planning stage.Ohio has gone from producing less than 14 percent of the natural gas it consumed in 2011, to producing more than twice what it used last year.Although the Utica Shale primarily produces natural gas, the  formation also contains a significant amount of oil, Simmers said. Last year, shale wells produced almost 20 million barrels of oil.

Extending Utica gas play into Pennsylvania remains possibility — A recent acquisition by a privately held oil and natural gas producer might be an early indication that Appalachian operators remain interested in producing gas from western Pennsylvania wells targeting the Utica shale, although large-scale development of that potential play remains years away. Pin Oak Energy Partners earlier this month closed on the acquisition from Shell affiliate SWEPI LP of about 43,000 acres in northwestern Pennsylvania, which Pin Oak views as prospective for Utica shale development.Mark Van Tyne, Pin Oak cofounder and chief business development officer, said the deal bolsters the company's deep Utica rights in both the wet gas and oil windows of the play."We clearly understand the impact and nature of the Utica and Marcellus," Van Tyne said in an interview. "Our portfolio is a mix of conventional wells, predominantly in Ohio, and Utica and Marcellus wells across Ohio and Pennsylvania."As a result of the acquisition, Pin Oak Energy increased its net acreage position in the deep Utica play in the northeastern Pennsylvania counties of Mercer, Crawford and Venango to a total of 60,000, 5,500 and 7,100, respectively. The acquisition also includes drilled and completed, but not online, horizontal Utica Shale wells along with previously built, but not drilled, well pads.  To date, virtually all of the drilling targeting the Utica Shale is been concentrated in a few counties in eastern Ohio, close to the state's borders with Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The vast majority of these wells are concentrated in nine eastern Ohio counties, stretching from Columbiana County on the northern edge of the play to Noble and Monroe counties on the south. In contrast, the bulk of drilling activity conducted in western Pennsylvania is concentrated in three counties in the southwestern corner of the state -- Washington, Greene, and Westmoreland -- where producers are targeting the shallower Marcellus shale formation.  While most production from the Utica Shale has been focused on eastern Ohio, the aerial extend of the play extends far beyond that region, encompassing most of the areas of two states, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as well as large swaths of Ohio and New York and extending northward into Quebec. However, across much of its extent Utica drilling is constrained by the depth of the play. The Utica formation underlies the prolific Marcellus shale by several thousand feet over much of its geographic footprint. Several larger Appalachian exploration-and-production companies, such as EQT, have drilled a few Utica wells, Leo Mariani, an analyst with KeyBanc Capital Markets, said in an interview. "Generally speaking, the wells have been pretty good, but the big hang-up has been they're very expensive to drill," he said. "Given the lower oil price environment, a lot of a guys have put that on hold."

The shale boom may be a semi-bust: study - -- The “boom” the oil and gas industry associates with the shale revolution in the U.S., is more like the pffffttt sound a balloon make as it flies around a room losing air and altitude, a recent study postulates. A trio of professors, including assistant economics professor Amanda Weinstein from the University of Akron (Ohio), and Alexandra Tsvetkova and Mark Partridge from The Ohio State University, researched the flow of money in energy “boomtowns” nationwide. The authors looked at earnings in oil and gas extraction and mining support activities in four regions comprising 26 states between 2001 and 2013. Their research found $1 of every $5 in earnings leave the counties where the booms are ongoing, as commuting men and women takes their money back home, or spend it in nearby counties. Growth in the oil and gas sector generally boosted earnings and employment in drilling counties. In non-metropolitan counties, every additional dollar earned in oil and gas boosted earnings in other industries by 30 cents. Metropolitan counties saw an increase of 10 cents per dollar. The study didn’t consider the impact of oil and gas royalty or lease payments, and noted the quality of data might be lower in counties where the oil and gas sector was small. The impact on earnings varied from region to region, according to the study. In the Marcellus Shale play, including Ohio, oil and gas development had crowded-out other economic activity, the study found.  “Ultimately, our findings are in line with the previous research on previous energy booms,” Weinstein told Kallanish Energy. “The economics literature on the impact of energy booms like this fairly consistently shows that the economic impact of energy booms is more modest than initial predictions from the energy industry suggest, and that long-run outcomes are an issue for most energy-dependent areas.”

Environmentalists question Pennsylvania's new methane rule -- The administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is pushing a regulation to control methane emissions from existing natural gas facilities that doesn't directly target the potent greenhouse gas, raising alarm among environmental groups. Instead, the proposed rule sets limits on smog-forming volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, emitted by Pennsylvania's enormous gas industry, with methane reduction listed as a "co-benefit." The rule, which is working its way through the regulatory process, doesn't establish specific emissions standards for methane, the primary component of natural gas and a key contributor to climate change. Administration officials say they're under a federal mandate to do something about VOCs, a component of ground-level ozone that can worsen bronchitis and asthma and contribute to premature death from respiratory disease. They say that controlling VOCs will also help reduce fugitive methane emissions since both are a result of gas production. "The techniques for reducing VOCs are the same as the ones for reducing methane, so you're getting at the problem by doing the VOC regulation," Environmental groups criticize that approach, however, questioning why the state wouldn't directly regulate the gas industry's methane emissions. Pennsylvania is the nation's No. 2 gas-producing state after Texas. The proposed regulation "took the focus completely away from the methane part of the equation, which, by greenhouse gas emission standards, is the largest issue at natural gas operations in Pennsylvania," The proposed rule, which goes before an advisory committee on Thursday before heading to the Environmental Quality Board, the state's primary environmental rulemaking body, is part of Wolf's 2016 plan to curb gas industry methane emissions. 

Pennsylvania governor under scrutiny for role in approving pipeline - Internal government records obtained by the Guardian raise questions about the role of Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf in permitting construction of a controversial fossil fuel pipeline that now faces two criminal investigations stemming from widespread environmental and property damage.Tom Wolf, who is a Democrat, has received substantial donations from companies with a financial stake in the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline.  The 350-mile, $2.5bn Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline through southern Pennsylvania has sparked growing outrage. It has caused roughly 140 documented industrial waste spills into wetlands and waterways, destroying numerous residential water wells, and opening large sinkholes just steps from residents’ homes. Emails, text messages and regulatory records show that the secretary of Pennsylvania’s department of environmental protection (DEP), Patrick McDonnell, directed staff to cut short their environmental review even as numerous shortcomings remained in the project’s permit application. The department also appeared to be under pressure from Wolf’s office at the time. DEP staff internally circulated two “deficiency letters” on 20 January 2017 that they were preparing to send to an ETP subsidiary, Sunoco Logistics, citing inadequacies in the company’s plans concerning earth disturbance activities and drilling beneath water bodies. Five days later, a senior official in Wolf’s office, Yesenia Bane, texted McDonnell to request the agency refrain from sending a deficiency letter, pending a meeting involving Wolf, the governor’s chief of staff, and McDonnell.“Understood,” McDonnell wrote in response. Less than an hour later, McDonnell emailed several staff members involved in the pipeline review that “Govs [sic] office needs a list of the outstanding issues ASAP”.Roughly two weeks after that, the DEP approved the pipeline without requiring many of the environmental safeguards it had initially sought. A DEP senior official who was involved in the Mariner East 2 project, John Stefanko, noted in a later legal deposition that McDonnell had directed staff “that we needed to make a decision by February 10th”, although the review had been scheduled to persist for at least several additional months.The text messages and a handwritten note from a DEP staff member show that the then CEO of Sunoco, Mike Hennigan, regularly talked to McDonnell in the lead-up to the permit authorization, and that McDonnell reported to the governor’s staff on those conversations.

Chester County sues Sunoco over Mariner East pipeline - Chester County has sued Sunoco over its controversial Mariner East pipelines, asking the court to prohibit the company from starting construction on two county-owned properties, the county commissioners said Wednesday.This marks the first time county officials have initiated a civil suit over the project, although in February they intervened in an existing legal challenge brought by several residents from Delaware and Chester Counties against Sunoco and its parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, involving safety risks. On Friday, Sunoco representatives told county employees that they intended to begin open trench construction of Mariner 2 on Chester County Library property in West Whiteland Township, the commissioners said. That excavation method, however, is not permitted on county land without special permission.“Sunoco must understand that the county owns this property,” Michelle Kichline, chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement, “and we have the right to ensure as they cross county land that adjacent neighbors and our citizens are not adversely affected in any way.” The commissioners are asking Chester County Court to restrict Sunoco from constructing pipelines on the library land in Exton, as well as on nearby Chester Valley Trail property. Sunoco’s $5.1 billion plan is to build three adjacent pipelines, which would transport natural gas liquids such as propane from western Pennsylvania to the Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook. Over the last several months, Chester County District Attorney Thomas P. Hogan, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland have launched criminal investigations into the project’s construction, citing environmental risks and safety concerns.

Judge orders tiny Pa. township to pay $103000 in expenses - A federal judge has ordered a tiny Pennsylvania township to pay nearly $103,000 in legal fees and expenses to an independent producer behind a proposed injection well after the township’s fracking-waste bans were thrown out by the courts.The payment will come from Grant Township in Indiana County in west-central Pennsylvania, roughly 70 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The producer involved in Warren, Pennsylvania Pennsylvania General Energy Co (Pge). Grant Township, with just 698 residents must pay a portion of Pge’s legal fees after the company successfully challenged the township’s fracking waste bans that had asserted rights of nature/home rule by the township and claimed sweeping rights to self-government, Kallanish Energy reports.  U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter in Erie, Pennsylvania, awarded the money to Pge. The township has told Pennsylvania media it does not have the money to make such a payment. “This is not great. This is a terrible thing to put a community through,” Stacy Long, a member of the Grant Township’s board of supervisors, told StateImpact Pennsylvania. The township has not decided if Baxter’s decision will be appealed. The Indiana Gazette newspaper says the cost would be equal to $147.53 per resident.  The decision is also a major blow to the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (Celdf), a non-profit public interest law firm that has pushed its rights of nature/community bill of rights movement in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and New Hampshire. It has worked with more than 200 communities.

Haunting Poems and Photos From a State Torn by Fracking - When Julia Spicher Kasdorf pulled off Pennsylvania’s Route 15 on her way upstate in 2012, she noticed something she’d never seen before. Across the highway, by the restaurant where she and her husband stopped for lunch, helicopters dangling strange pendants were hovering over the mountainside. Kasdorf, a poet and English professor at Pennsylvania State University, asked her server what was going on. “Those guys are here because of fracking,” the waitress said. Oil and gas companies were doing seismic testing for a new pipeline.Kasdorf grew up in central Pennsylvania surrounded by dairy farms. She’d seen the way coal mining had ravaged the state’s southwest, but this destruction was new. Determined to keep an open mind, she began seeking out stories from people affected by fracking. Her curiosity turned into a six-year project and a collaboration with documentary photographer Steven Rubin that culminated in their recent book, Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields. In her university town, State College, Kasdorf was cloistered from the realities of fracking. As she began her research, however, she became aware of the discord between rural residents she spoke with, who saw fracking as a lifeline in poor communities, and her friends in East Coast cities, who questioned why Pennsylvania would allow extraction companies to destroy the state’s natural environment. “I was really determined to keep an open mind,” Kasdorf says. “My impulse was to defend rural people for whom making a living has become increasingly difficult. If fracking means you can keep your farm, am I going to stand in judgment about that? I didn’t know.”

The Energy Edge: Marcellus/Utica Country Now Largest Global Source of Natural Gas - Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have solidified their place atop the natural gas production food chain, and this growing dominance is showing no signs of slowing down. Doubters of the potential of this world-class resource now seem like a distant memory and operators continue to more efficiently develop the resource.The Marcellus and Utica shale formations found across the tri-state region have become the largest sources of natural gas and natural gas liquids in the world. Now, new research shows that energy production from these sites will grow exponentially over the next 20 years. According to IHS Markit, 41 percent of the natural gas produced in the U.S. will come from this tri-state area by 2040, up from 31 percent this year. Other profitable natural gas liquids, such as ethane, propane and butane are expected to nearly double in production over this same period. By 2040, production of those liquids in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will account for 19 percent of the nation’s total by 2040, up from 14 percent in 2018. We’ve seen this regional dominance coming for some time now. Natural gas production across the tri-state area has grown significantly over the last several years by the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s count. In fact, the Marcellus Shale area recently surpassed Texas in natural gas production earlier this year, a development almost no one thought possible a decade ago.  Combined with the nation’s increasing reliance on gas and the natural resource’s favorable economics, energy production in this area of the country is experiencing unprecedented growth. These trends are attracting the attention of investors. Officials from Ohio have indicated the abundance of natural gas and gas liquids has drawn in additional projects as companies seek to expand and construct new production plants in the region.  The next step is bringing this vast resource downstream, enabling the cost-effective energy supply to reach more consumers through various fuels, petrochemicals and other products.  Public and private leaders now face an historic opportunity to continue to build off of prior job-creating investments in the region to attract new investment through smarter and more predictable permitting, tax policy and highlighting the region’s vast supply of available sites for new construction.

The Fracking Hub: Is Appalachia the Next Cancer Alley? - When it comes to boom-and-bust extractive industries, Appalachia has been there, done that. It’s endured coal mining, clearcutting, and most recently, the fracking boom.  Now, as the country is moving toward renewable energy and mountain towns are leaning into outdoor recreation, politicians and international investors are putting their weight behind a fossil-fueled plan to turn the Ohio River Valley into a petrochemical powerhouse.A development group is seeking a $1.9 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy to build the Appalachia Storage and Trading Hub—a network of underground caverns to store petrochemical byproducts of the natural gas fracking in Appalachia. In December, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry wrote an op-ed in support of the hub, calling it “an opportunity we can’t afford to waste.” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said it’s the “number one economic focus of my office today.” And U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia identified it as a priority in his agenda as ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If the Appalachia Development Group, the developers behind the hub, can secure the necessary funding, it will still be several years before the hub is up and running. Communities within the region, however, already are seeing the petrochemical infrastructure beginning to take shape.In November 2017, China Energy Investment Corp. Ltd. agreed to invest $83.7 billion in natural gas development in West Virginia, including in chemical byproducts. Royal Dutch Shell is pursuing a $6 billion ethane plant in southwestern Pennsylvania, while PTT Global Chemical and South Korea-based Daelim Industrial Co. is planning a similar plant in southeastern Ohio. Another company, Mountaineer NGL, is working its way through permitting for six salt caverns to store natural gas liquids near Wheeling, West Virginia.Each one of those announcements represents a major industrial project that has inspired both hope and fear. Paired with the Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub, however, they amount to a massive buildout of extractive infrastructure with the potential to affect the five million people who rely on the Ohio River for drinking water, not to mention the growing outdoor economy built around the waterway.

Marcellus and Manufacturing conference draws People Over Petro protestors - As the gas industry celebrated its progress inside the Marriott at Waterfront Place, outside by the rail-trail close to 40 people assembled to protest the expansion of the plastics industry. They called themselves People Over Petro, and the three-hour protest was coordinated by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. OVEC Project Coordinator Dustin White told the group, “They scream jobs and like a carrot on a stick, and politicians chase them.” Out-of-state and out-of-country companies come to capitalize on West Virginia’s people. They minimize the health impacts, such as cancers and neurodevelopmental defects. There’s an aspect of futility in developing the industry here, he said, because 40 percent of plastics are single use. “Where is the market?” He led the group in a short chant, “No more toxic jobs in Appalachia!” Protestors carried a variety of signs: “People and environment over plastic”; “People before pipelines”; “End death by plastic”; “The Ohio River is not a sacrifice zone.” One protestor in a red parrot costume carried a colorful sigh: “Poly doesn’t want a cracker.” B.J. McManara spoke at length about petrochemical plant pollution and possible health effects. “We are here as water protectors, protectors of the future for the next seven generations.” The balancing act of health and environmental concerns versus the reality of daily living was evident: One protestor carried a plastic-bodied camera, carried her notes on a plastic clipboard and stored her goods in a synthetic-fiber backpack. Other protestors wore plastic-frame eyeglasses and synthetic shoes and carried plastic cell phones. Ethan Cade is a WVU student and member of the WVU Sierra Student Coalition. “The young people of West Virginia are tired of the big corporations pillaging our state,” he said. They have no concern for West Virginia or its people. They come, pollute the land and make people sick “for a quick buck.” Following the organized speaking portion of the protest, the group moved to the front of the hotel to make its presence known to passersby.

Officials Push Petrochemical Expansion, Protestors Fight Back - State and federal politicians announced initiatives this week to move forward an effort to build a major underground natural gas liquids storage facility in the Ohio Valley, an effort opposed by environmental activists who fear a petrochemical expansion in the region will threaten not only the environment, but public health. The Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub has been in the works for almost a decade. Developers are seeking billions in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy.  This week, Gov. Jim Justice met with officials from the U.S. Department of Energy to discuss the hub and developing the petrochemical industry in West Virginia. In a press release the governor said he would appoint a liaison to work with Energy Department officials on these issues.“It is absolutely vital that we create a petrochemical industry in West Virginia versus building more pipelines that leave our state without creating any long-term manufacturing jobs,” Justice stated.Officials from West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania support efforts to bring cracker plants and other plastics manufacturing infrastructure to the Ohio Valley, which sits upon two of the nation’s most productive natural gas and natural gas liquids repositories, the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.A 2018 study by the Department of Energy estimates the largest growth in natural gas liquids production is expected from this region. "Ethane production in Appalachia is projected to continue its rapid growth in the coming years, reaching 640,000 barrels per day in 2025 – more than 20 times greater than regional ethane production in 2013," the report state.   “Petrochemicals are not energy. It's plastic,” said Belmont County, Ohio resident Bev Reed. “It's a dead product that doesn't go anywhere except to poison people.”

'Virtually No Risk of Drilling Restrictions,' West Virginia Official Tells Fracking-Reliant Petrochemical Industry – DeSmog  This week, at an industry conference focused on wooing petrochemical producers to West Virginia, officials from the state and federal government made clear their support for continuing fracked shale gas extraction and petrochemical industry development near the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale. Why should petrochemical companies build in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio? For one thing, don’t expect regulation of shale gas drilling, Michael Graney, executive director of the West Virginia Development Office, predicted in his presentation. “Contrasted to other U.S. regions, Tri-State region is industry-supportive and industry-friendly,” read a slide that Graney, who was appointed by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice in September 2018, presented to the conference. “Virtually no risk of drilling restrictions.” Graney also elicited “hallelujahs” from the crowd after describing West Virginia's low worker turnover rates. “We have earned an A from the Cato Institute in fiscal policies,” he told representatives from fossil fuel and petrochemical companies, referring to a libertarian think tank that Sourcewatch describes as “founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.” Officials from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) offered the petrochemical industry the services of the federal government. “And what we're going to do is everything within the government's power to shine a bright light on this and help get this over the finish line,” Steven Winberg, the Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, told the conference. “With regard to DOE, there's a couple of things that we can do. One is, private sector investors can take advantage of the DOE's loan guarantee program.” “We can walk you through that process, the loan guarantee process that the DOE has,” he continued. Second, the Department of Energy hired a full-time staffer to push for petrochemical projects, according to Winberg, a former vice president for the coal and natural gas producer CONSOL Energy. “Secretary Perry gave me instructions to get somebody on board full time to work on behalf of the federal government to make this happen. And that somebody is Ken Humphreys.”“I want to put a name with a face — so this is your guy here,” Winberg said, asking Humphreys to stand. “It is his job to do whatever the federal government can to help make this a reality.”

MarkWest Sherwood Complex in Doddridge County, WV, plans further capacity expansion in 2019 — The operators of the MarkWest Sherwood Complex in Doddridge County plan to further expand the facility’s capacity this year. Randall Eastham, facility manager of the Sherwood Complex, said it has 2.2 billion standard cubic feet per day of processing capacity, making it the largest gas-processing facility in the nation. “We plan to expand it by another 400 million cubic feet per day this year,” he said. “Gas processing removes the heavier and more valuable hydrocarbon components of natural gas, which are extracted as a mixed natural gas liquids (NGL) stream, which includes ethane, propane, butane and natural gasoline.” Liquid natural gas has multiple commercial applications, Eastham said. “They are used as inputs for petrochemical plants, burned for space heating and cooking and blended into vehicle fuel,” he said. “In addition, Sherwood has a 60,000-barrel per day de-ethanization plant, which removes ethane from the other NGLs. We plan to expand this de-ethanization capacity by 20,000 barrels per day this year.” MarkWest is a wholly owned subsidiary of MPLX. The complex is part of MPLX’s system that provides gas gathering and processing in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions. “We employ about 220 people and retain the services of hundreds of contract workers as well,” he said. The company has spent more than $10 billion building infrastructure in the region over the last decade, Schupbach said. In 2017, MPLX entered into a partnership with Antero Resources, which allowed it to expand the Sherwood Complex’s capacity, Schupbach said. “We formed a joint venture with Antero Midstream Partners LP to support Antero Resources’ development in the Marcellus Shale,” he said. “At the time we formed the joint venture, Sherwood’s six cryogenic processing facilities had a total capacity of 1.2 billion cubic feet per day. “At the time the joint venture was formed, ongoing development of gas processing infrastructure included three new joint-venture processing facilities totaling an additional 600 million cubic feet per day of processing capacity for Antero Resources. Since then, another 400 million cubic feet per day of capacity has been added.” MPLX has plans in the works for another natural gas facility in Doddridge County to be called the Smithburg Complex, which will have the capacity to process 1.2 billion cubic feet per day, Schupbach said.

WV oil and gas production projections optimistic; industry continues to set, break records — The evidence of North Central West Virginia’s continued oil and gas boom is hard to miss. From parking lots filled with heavy-duty pickup trucks to campsites packed with recreational vehicles, the signs of the industry’s activities are everywhere. Industry experts say production levels for both oil and gas remain on the rise, with new records being set year after year, and projections for the future remain positive.Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil & Natural Gas Association, said it’s impossible to overstate the importance of the role the state’s extractive industries play in its economy.“The oil and natural gas industry is a major economic driver in the state and has the potential to grow even more significantly over the coming years and decades,” she said. “We have only begun to scratch the surface of developing this enormous resource beneath us.”According to information complied by WVONGA, natural gas production increased by more than 9 percent between 2016 and 2017, while oil production grew by 14.6 percent during the same time period.A total of 1,514,277,709 thousand cubic feet of natural gas and 7,558,169 barrels of oil were produced in the state in 2017, the most recent year for which production data is available.During fiscal year 2018, severance tax collections increased by nearly 4.4 percent over the previous fiscal year. Collections for fiscal year 2017 were $133,052,031 and rose to $138,844,391 for fiscal year 2018.Natural gas pipeline construction jobs — including work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline  projects — increased over 400 percent between the first quarter of 2017 and the second quarter of 2018.

Trump Said to Seek Limit on State Power Over Pipelines - Developers have been trying for six years to build a 124-mile natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New York. Despite winning a federal approval in 2014, the project is still no closer to reality. Enter President Donald Trump, who on Wednesday is poised to issue two executive orders to promote energy infrastructure, including projects like the long-stalled Constitution Pipeline, according to an administration official. The orders will direct federal agencies to make specific changes meant to remove bottlenecks to natural gas transport in the Northeast and streamline federal reviews of border-crossing pipelines and other infrastructure. One of the orders seeks to short-circuit regulators in New York who have denied the planned pipeline a crucial permit, invoking their powers under the Clean Water Act to reject projects they deem a threat to water supplies and the environment. Other states and tribes have wielded the power to restrict a coal export terminal and hydropower project on the U.S. West Coast -- which has frustrated the industry.   Trump’s orders comes as the president continues to chafe at regulatory barriers he says throttle the full potential of American “energy dominance.” One of the executive orders is aimed at facilitating the shipments of U.S. natural gas in the Northeast, where limited pipeline capacity and legal constraints prompted the region to import natural gas from Russia last year, according to the administration official who asked not to be identified. It would ask the Department of Transportation to propose a new regulation to treat liquefied natural gas like other cryogenic liquids, allowing it to be shipped by rail in approved tank cars, something that isn’t allowed today. Trump will also direct regulators to develop a master agreement for placing energy infrastructure in federal rights-of-way -- a move aimed at expediting approvals and renewals.

Trump talks fracking with NY Gov. Cuomo - -President Trump Tuesday told New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo he should open his state to hydraulic fracturing to improve its economy, various media reported Wednesday.The two spoke at the White House after Cuomo requested a meeting to discuss a provision in the Republicans' 2017 tax-cut law that caps state and local tax (Salt) deduction at $10,000.Cuomo is blaming Salt for a $2.3 billion plunge in New York State tax receipts.Deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement Trump listened to Cuomo's concerns about Salt, and "reiterated the negative impact that high taxes in states like New York have on hardworking families and job creators.""The President discussed economic growth opportunities for the State of New York, including helping lower energy prices throughout the entire Northeast by allowing low-cost, American energy to thrive with fracking and pipeline systems," Deere said. "The two also discussed the need to update America’s outdated infrastructure system."Cuomo signed a law effectively banning fracking in New York State roughly four years ago, citing health risks. The governor has faced criticism for the stagnating economy in parts of Upstate New York, especially from counties on the Pennsylvania border, where residents can look across the border and see the impact of drilling and fracking in the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays.Trump earlier this month suggested those in Upstate New York struggling to find prosperity should "go to another state where they can get a great job." "It's ironic that the same Democrats who criticized the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for supposedly benefiting only the wealthy are now advocating for a change to the law that would primarily benefit the wealthy,” said Michael Zona, a spokesman for Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, Fox News reported.

Trump executive order will aim to prevent states from blocking pipelines, energy infrastructure --President Donald Trump will issue an executive order that aims to prevent states from blocking pipelines and other energy infrastructure by using authority granted to them under the Clean Water Act.Senior administration officials on Tuesday previewed the action and several others, which are contained in two executive orders that Trump will sign during a trip to Texas on Wednesday. They are the latest in a series of executive orders by Trump meant to roll back energy regulations and promote fossil fuel development.The new executive order represents a shot from the White House in the ongoing battle between beltway Republicans and Democratic governors opposed to fossil fuel developments in their states. It has been anticipated for nearly three months and is expected to be challenged in court.The state powers are laid out in federal law, and a presidential order cannot override them, some lawyers and energy analysts have said.Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, companies must obtain certifications from the state before they can build federally-approved infrastructure, like pipelines, within that state's borders.States can refuse to issue the certifications if they determine the project will have a negative impact on water quality within their jurisdiction, even if the project has gotten the green light from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the independent panel that regulates interstate pipelines and transmission lines. Republican lawmakers have accused Democrat-controlled states of abusing their power under Section 401 to block FERC-approved infrastructure tied to fossil fuels.

Trump signs orders making it harder to block pipelines (AP) — President Donald Trump’s support for shifting more power to states on Wednesday faded next to his affinity for oil and gas production, as he aimed to make it harder for states to block pipelines and other energy projects due to environmental concerns. At the urging of business groups, Trump signed two executive orders designed to speed up oil and gas pipeline projects. The action came after officials in Washington state and New York used the permitting process to stop new energy projects in recent years, prompting complaints from Republican members of Congress and the fossil fuel industry. “Too often badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists,” Trump complained before signing the orders. The Trump administration insisted it was not trying to take power away from the states but, rather, trying to make sure that state actions follow the intent of the Clean Water Act. Under a section of the law, companies must get certification from the state before moving ahead with an energy project. Washington state blocked the building of a coal terminal in 2017, saying there were too many major harmful effects including air pollution, rail safety and vehicle traffic. Tap to unmuteNew York regulators stopped a natural gas pipeline, saying it failed to meet standards to protect streams, wetlands and other water resources. Less than a week ago, nearly a dozen business groups told Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler that the environmental review and permitting process for energy projects “has become a target for environmental activists and states that oppose the production and use of fossil fuels.” The groups said in an April 5 letter that individual states shouldn’t be able to use provisions of the Clean Water Act “to dictate national policy, thereby harming other states and the national interest and damaging cooperative federalism.” 

WV senators applaud President Trump's orders on pipelines — West Virginia lawmakers are applauding President Donald Trump’s efforts to speed up natural gas pipeline projects. Trump issued a pair of executive orders Thursday aimed at making it harder for states to block pipelines and other energy projects due to environmental concerns. “Too often, badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists,” Trump said before signing the orders. Both Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., issued statements voicing their approval of the president’s actions. Manchin praised the role of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who the senator said took steps to recognize the importance the Appalachian region plays in the nation’s energy industry. Manchin said he is hopeful the orders will help accelerate development of the proposed the Appalachian Storage Hub, a long-discussed project that many see as the future of the state’s oil and natural gas industry. “After talking with Secretary Perry this week and after today’s executive order, I am more confident than ever that the administration is serious about being a partner in helping us develop the Appalachian Storage Hub,” Manchin said. “Since 2017, I have been working with the administration and Secretary Perry to make sure they understood the positive economic impact and the potential energy security an Appalachian Storage Hub will bring to West Virginia and the country,” Manchin said. “I have long said that the Appalachian Storage Hub is a vital project that will help us capitalize on our state and region’s abundant natural resources, growing infrastructure and innovative spirit.” Capito said she also believes the executive orders are a positive development for West Virginia. “Political games are preventing West Virginia energy from being sent to places that need it. The United States is energy rich, and we should make it easier to use energy resources produced in West Virginia to meet demand across America,” she said. “We should also facilitate coal and liquid natural gas exports to promote West Virginia jobs. Earlier this year, I sent Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (Andrew) Wheeler a letter voicing my concern with certain states blocking natural gas pipelines for political reasons, and I have worked hard to end the previous administration’s war on coal. I’m glad to see the president once again asserting American leadership in energy today.” Representatives of Dominion Energy, the company leading the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, declined to comment for this article.

Trump executive order could affect future of stalled Constitution Pipeline -President Donald Trump wants to make it easier for companies to transport natural gas from places like Pennsylvania to the Northeast. He signed an executive order this week that would speed up pipeline permitting. It takes aim at states like New York that have blocked pipeline projects that would carry Marcellus Shale gas to markets in the Northeast, where gas is not always readily available. Trump’s order also opens the door to natural gas being transported by rail. “Too often, badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists,” the president told a crowd gathered Wednesday at an International Union of Operating Engineers facility in Crosby, Texas before he signed several executive orders related to oil and gas. Trump’s directive stems in part from New York’s denial of a water quality permit for the Constitution Pipeline, among other projects blocked by states under the federal Clean Water Act. New York in 2016 halted the Constitution project, which would carry gas north from Susquehanna County. The fight over the pipeline continues to play out in court and among regulatory agencies. In his executive order, Trump directs the Environmental Protection Agency to issue new permitting guidance to states. He did not explicitly say how states’ authority should change, but he said the EPA’s review should focus on “the need to promote timely Federal-State cooperation and collaboration” and “the appropriate scope of water quality reviews.” Trump also asked the EPA to go a step further by formally revising its rules surrounding that portion of the Clean Water Act. Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry welcomed Trump’s order. “If you have the rules in place where the game is fair in terms of siting pipelines and critical infrastructure projects, then I think it opens the door for new development,” said David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group. Still, the fate of the Constitution Pipeline is unclear. Williams, the lead developer of the project, said in a statement that it “supports efforts to foster coordination, predictability and transparency in federal environmental review and permitting processes for energy infrastructure projects.” The company, however, declined to comment specifically on the president’s order and what it means for the future of the pipeline.

Trump executive orders to speed up gas, oil projects draw rebuke from Maryland, Delaware officials -  Aiming to streamline oil and gas pipeline projects, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed two executive orders making it harder for states to block construction because of environmental concerns.The orders were prompted by fossil fuel industry pressure after officials in New York and Washington state had stopped new projects with permitting processes in recent years. “Too often, badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists,” Trump said before signing the orders in Texas at the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center.In 2017, Washington state blocked construction for a coal terminal, citing air pollution, rail safety and vehicle traffic concerns. Regulators in New York likewise blocked a natural gas pipeline because of standards to protect streams and wet lands, despite the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approving the project in 2014. Trump called out New York, saying “obstruction” by the state “was hurting the country.” Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo described the orders as a gross overreach threatening environmental protections. One order requests the Environmental Protection Agency meet with states and tribes before creating new rules for complying with the Clean Water Act. It also calls for proposing a rule allowing liquefied natural gas to be shipped in approved rail tank cars. The move has drawn sharp criticism by Delmarva politicians, including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. "This top-down order threatens to undermine good environmental stewardship. It could seriously jeopardize our historic Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, including our regional partnership to reduce pollution and debris at the Conowingo Dam," Hogan said a news release. "From day one, our administration has worked with the federal government to ensure responsible environmental protections and safeguards when permitting dams, pipelines, and other infrastructure projects. State sovereignty should never be shortchanged under the guise of government streamlining.

Study: Natural gas pipelines leaking in Danbury, other cities - A new survey of natural gas pipelines in Danbury and other Connecticut cities shows methane is seeping into the air from underground pipes and could cause a disaster similar to the explosions last year that rocked three Massachusetts towns. “It’s just a matter of rate and time and situation that determines if any of these leaks are going to be dangerous,” said Nathan Phillips, a University of Boston professor who participated in the study conducted for the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club. The study found an average of 3.6 leaks per mile of underground gas lines in Danbury. The Hartford results showed an average of 4.3 leaks per mile and 2.6 leaks per mile in New London. “The potential for what happened in the Merrimack Valley [in Massachusetts] exists in Connecticut,” Phillips said. “It was the same kind of low pressure gas line that the study surveyed.” Last September, exploding underground gas lines in Massachusetts damaged as many as 40 homes and caused over 80 individual fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. The cause of the explosions was blamed on human error related to nearby construction work. Sierra Club members and others said it’s time to strengthen laws regarding leaks while transitioning from carbon-based energy sources to renewable energy. “This report shows again that Connecticut has a real problem with gas leaking from pipes, and that we urgently need legislation that incentivizes gas companies to repair this ongoing hazard,” said Leah Lopez Schmalz, chief program officer for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.  An earlier survey by the Sierra Club found similar leak frequency levels in Hartford. Martha Klein, a past Sierra Club president, said the state has not improved leak regulation or detection since the club’s previous study

Containership may have leaked 100,000 gals. of oil along East Coast - A containership discovered to be leaking fuel oil in New York may have spilled up to 100,000 gals. during a transit up the U.S. East Coast from Florida, Coast Guard officials said. The 922’x102’x33’, 54,155-dwt Dublin Express, operated by Hapag-Lloyd, was identified as the source of a March 28 spill in the Arthur Kill waterway, at the Global New York Container Terminal near the Goethals Bridge between Staten Island, N.Y., and New Jersey. Oil sheens and tar balls showed up on New York beaches in the following days. A 15” hole was found in a fuel tank with 300,000 gals. capacity, and chemical analysis by the Coast Guard confirmed Dublin Express oil matched what cleanup teams had found. About 35,000 gals. of oily water was recovered from the Arthur Kill. Based on what its investigators found and information from ship operators, Coast Guard officials believe the containership may have lost as much as 100,000 gals. of fuel oil through the leak. The cause has not been determined. Environmental damage appeared to be minor, with four oiled birds recovered and delivered for rehabilitation to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, Newark, Del. “This response was a joint effort between state and federal agencies and the responsible party,” said Capt. Jason Tama, the Coast Guard captain of the port in New York and the federal coordinator for the spill response. “We take any release of oil into the maritime environment extremely seriously, and we are thankful for the quick and efficient response from all agencies involved.”

Lawmakers endorse ban on oil and gas drilling off Maine’s coast — A legislative committee Friday endorsed a bill that aims to send a message to federal officials by prohibiting exploration or drilling for oil and gas in Maine’s state-owned waters.Members of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 7-4 to support a ban on “any oil and natural gas exploration, development or production in, on or under the waters of the state.” The state’s jurisdiction extends only three miles from shore, but supporters say the bill, L.D. 955, also would prohibit transportation of oil and gas through state waters to onshore facilities. Committee members supporting the bill stressed Friday that they do not want that language to interfere with importation of heating oil, natural gas or other petroleum products to existing facilities in Maine, such as the South Portland oil terminal. As a result, they directed the committee’s legislative analyst to draft additional language – subject to final approval – ensuring existing facilities are not affected. “I think we need to be careful and clarify that that’s not the intent of this bill,”   Several other states in New England and the Mid-Atlantic have adopted or are debating similar prohibitions in response to the Trump administration’s stated intent to dramatically expand offshore oil and gas development.The U.S. Department of the Interior, which administers oil and gas leases in federal waters, is finalizing a five-year energy plan that, as originally proposed in early 2018, would reopen the North Atlantic and 90 percent of the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf to fossil fuel exploration. Governors, legislators and citizens all along the Eastern Seaboard have objected to the plan. All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation oppose fossil fuel exploration off Maine’s coast. And Gov. Janet Mills withdrew Maine from a coalition of governors that supported expanded offshore oil and gas drilling.

Fatal Natural Gas Explosion Rocks Durham, NC -- One person was killed and 17 were injured after a natural gas explosion in Durham, North Carolina Wednesday morning. The explosion occurred at 10:07 a.m., about 30 minutes after firefighters responded to a 911 call reporting the smell of gas in the 100 block of North Duke Street, Fire Chief Robert J. Zoldos II told The Durham Herald-Sun. The firefighters had begun evacuating nearby buildings when the blast destroyed one building and damaged four others, sending up a plume of dark smoke."It looks like the front of the Pentagon on 9/11 — but on a very, very small scale," Zoldos, who was a first responder during the attacks, told CBS. Witness Jim Rogalski, who was working in a nearby office, described the scene to CNN in a text message."Half the block is destroyed," Rogalski wrote. "Lots of injuries. Our office across the street was blown out. It was terrifying. Glass and debris everywhere. No one killed in our office but several injuries — deep cuts, head lacerations."Zoldos told the Durham Herald-Sun that he contacted Dominion Energy, the company that supplies gas to Durham, after receiving the 911 call. Dominion tweeted that its subsidiary PSNC Energy "responded to a call about third-party damage to a natural gas line and the explosion occurred shortly thereafter." Additional PSNC crews shut off gas to the area following the blast. Dominion has been the driving force behind the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would bring fracked natural gas through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Dominion has said it will appeal to the Supreme Court after an appeals court tossed key permits for the project over environmental concerns. For anti-pipeline group No ACP!, the explosion underscored the dangers of using gas as an energy source. "They tell us gas is safe but it's clearly not," the group tweeted.

Massive gas explosion in Durham, North Carolina leaves 1 dead, 17 injured - One person is dead and 17 more are injured, 6 critically, following a gas line explosion Wednesday morning in downtown Durham, North Carolina. The cause of the explosion has yet to be determined. Initially, Durham Police Department spokesman Wil Glenn stated the blast was caused when a contractor digging under the sidewalk struck a 2-inch gas pipe. Subsequent reports and statements by city officials, however, have walked back that statement, “pending a complete investigation.”Durham firefighters responded to an emergency services call regarding a gas leak at approximately 9:38 a.m. The leak was limited to the 100 block of North Duke St. After firefighters arrived they contacted Dominion Energy to begin the process of isolating the gas leak and determining if an evacuation was necessary. Witnesses downtown at the time stated they could smell the characteristic odor permeating the area. Firefighters began evacuating persons near the leak at approximately 10:00 a.m.Less than ten minutes later a fireball leveled the building located at 115 N. Duke St. and caused significant structural damage to four other nearby buildings. By 10:26 a.m. additional utility crews from PSNC Energy, a subsidiary of Dominion, arrived to assist in turning off the gas, which was still leaking. One PSNC worker was injured in the explosion.Over a quarter million people live in Durham, which is home to several colleges including Duke and North Carolina Central University. Seven of those injured were taken to Duke University Hospital, while one person is being treated at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at the University of North Carolina in neighboring Chapel Hill.The concussion from the blast caused glass to shatter and at least one door blew off its hinges several blocks away from the initial blast zone. Local weather radar was able to detect the fire that raged for hours afterwards as firefighters sought to contain the damage as gas continued to fuel the inferno.

Trump Plan to Ship Natural Gas by Rail Stokes 'Bomb Train' Fears - President Donald Trump wants to allow natural gas to be shipped in railroad cars, a move that would open new markets hungry for the fuel but could risk catastrophic accidents if one were to derail.Trump on Wednesday ordered the Transportation Department to write a new rule permitting super-chilled natural gas to be shipped in specialty tank cars. The order follows a multiyear lobbying campaign by railroads and natural gas advocates, who argue it is needed to serve customers in the U.S. Northeast, where there aren’t enough pipelines, and making it possible to use the gas to power ships and trains.“There are all sorts of new opportunities where you can use rail much more efficiently,” said Charlie Riedl, head of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gastrade group.The effort, which could help offset falling rail shipments of coal, mirrors how the oil industry turned to trains to ship crude when there weren’t enough pipelines to meet demand. But a series of spills and other accidents -- including a runaway oil train that derailed and killed more than 40 people in a small Quebec town in 2013 -- have safety advocates warning against putting gas on the rails. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said Emily Jeffers, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, who added that Trump’s initiative evokes earlier concerns about crude-filled “bomb trains” traveling through American cities. “You’re transporting an extraordinarily flammable and dangerous substance through highly populated areas with basically no environmental protection.” LNG is natural gas that has been chilled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 167 Celsius) in a process that removes water, carbon dioxide and other compounds, leaving mostly methane in a fluid that takes up less than 1/600th the space it previously occupied as a gas. It is already shipped across oceans around the globe, ferried across the U.S. in trucks and stashed in storage tanks to ensure natural gas is on hand when demand escalates. LNG does not burn on its own, and it can’t ignite in its liquefied state. The risk comes if a tank car were ruptured and LNG were exposed to the air, triggering the LNG to rapidly convert back into a flammable gas and evaporate.

Consumers Energy submits report on compressor station fire  (AP) — Consumers Energy says a release of natural gas led to a compressor station fire that sparked concerns about keeping fuel flowing to millions of people during a bitter cold snap in January.The Jackson-based utility said it submitted its report on the fire Friday to the Michigan Public Service Commission . It said a plume of natural gas was released by a safety fire-gate system, mixed with air outside because of high winds, and was ignited by “extremely hot equipment” at the Ray Natural Gas Compressor Station in Macomb County.Consumers says those were the findings of its two-month internal investigation and confirmed by a third-party consultant. It says the fire “was precipitated by a safety venting fire-gate process that is proven safe and effective” but became hazardous in extreme weather.

Walz administration renews challenge to Line 3 oil pipeline (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz said Monday that his administration has renewed its challenge to a regulatory panel’s approval of Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, saying he wants to let the legal process play out. Walz told reporters the Commerce Department refiled its appeal last week with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which had dismissed earlier appeals in the case on procedural grounds. The independent Public Utilities Commission last month gave its final reaffirmation of its earlier approvals of the project, clearing the way for the department and the environmental and tribal groups to refile appeals that began under previous Gov Mark Dayton’s administration. “We think that that appeal should simply be heard, and that’s fair,” he said. The Democratic governor said the state’s appeal doesn’t delay the timeline for the permitting process for or construction on the replacement pipeline because the state isn’t seeking an injunction. Regulators have told Enbridge that they expect to certify all remaining state permits by November. The company hopes to put the new pipeline into service in the second half of 2020.  Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge wants to replace Line 3, which was built in the 1960s, because it’s increasingly prone to cracking and corrosion. Native American and environmental groups argue that the project risks oil spills in pristine areas of the Mississippi River headwaters region, and that the Canadian tar sands oil that the line would carry accelerates climate change. Enbridge said in a statement that it believes the courts will affirm the commission’s decisions, “which were made in accordance with the law based on full and complete evidence developed and presented over years of open and transparent regulatory and environmental review processes.” Walz was critical of lawmakers who’ve tried unsuccessfully to prohibit the state from spending taxpayer money on the appeal, calling their efforts “a gross violation of the separation of powers.” The legal issue at the heart of the Commerce Department’s appeal is whether Enbridge provided legally adequate long-range demand forecasts to establish the need for the project. The Public Utilities and Enbridge say the company did. Walz said the statutory language is ambiguous, and that there would no basis for the state’s appeal if lawmakers clarified the statute.

Minnesota Supreme Court weighs Winona County frac sand case -- A sand mining company argued before the state Supreme Court on Wednesday that it should be allowed to mine silica sand in Winona County despite a local ban on the practice. Attorneys for Minnesota Sands have argued that Winona’s 2016 ban, the state’s first, violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and violates the company’s property rights to extract minerals. The county ban focuses on silica sand, sometimes called frac sand, which is valued by the fossil fuel industry for its strength and uniform shape, qualities that make it useful for the extraction of natural gas, oil and other natural gas liquids through fracking. The company’s arguments were rejected at the district court and appeals court levels, with appeals court justices issuing a 2-1 split decision last year in favor of the county. Wednesday’s hearing, held at the University of Minnesota Law School, lasted about an hour. The justices typically release an opinion three to five months after hearing arguments, according to the court’s website.

Pipeline owner announces safety testing "successfully completed” — On Monday, officials from Energy Transfer announced that it successfully completed its safety testing of its Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line in Audrain County. The testing was done along a 15-mile pipe section that runs west to east starting at Panhandle’s Centralia Compressor Station near Missouri Highway Z and ending near Missouri Highway J.The hydrotest, using water, was completed on Monday afternoon. Representatives from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration were onsite during the testing. Energy Transfer stated that PHMSA is the regulating body for this pipeline. All tests confirming the integrity of the pipeline are now complete and the line will be prepared to return to service. Updates on timing will be provided through press releases. Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line’s transmission system consists of four pipelines extending approximately 1,300 miles from producing areas in the Anadarko Basin of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and into Michigan.A little more than a month has passed since the Panhandle Eastern pipeline ruptured just north of Mexico, sending a fireball into the night sky. Nobody was hurt in the incident.  On Friday, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said the pipe section that ruptured has failed four hydrostatic tests. The tests involve running a gas or liquid through a pipe at 125 percent of the pipe's maximum operating pressure for 4 hours, plus another 4 hours at 110 percent of maximum operating pressure for pipes that are not visible. KRCG 13 reviewed the parent company's safety records and found the pipeline has had a series of ruptures.

Bullish Natural Gas Storage Data No Deterrent for Bears; Permian Cash Climbs Again -  After a couple of days at a stalemate, natural gas bears took control over the futures market Thursday as they brushed off slightly bullish storage data and looked ahead to what could be a substantial improvement in storage deficits in the weeks ahead. The Nymex May gas futures contract fell 3.6 cents to settle at $2.664/MMBtu, and June slipped 3.4 cents to $2.708. Cash prices in the Permian Basin and in Western Canada continued to strengthen in an otherwise soft spot gas market where most other regions posted declines. The NGI Spot Gas National Avg. fell a penny to $2.365. With only modest changes seen in weather data during the last few days, all eyes were on Thursday’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report. The EIA reported that implied flows reflected a 29 Bcf injection into storage inventories for the week ending April 5. The net change week/week, however, was a smaller 25 Bcf build, due to multiple reclassifications in the Pacific and South Central regions that moved some stocks into base gas, rather than working gas. The EIA’s reported build came in much larger than last year’s 20 Bcf withdrawal and the five-year average injection of 5 Bcf. It was, however, smaller than estimates that had pointed to a build of a few more Bcf. Nevertheless, Bespoke Weather Services viewed the EIA report as neutral. Even though the implied flow was a miss to the bullish side this week, the firm believes the miss simply negates the bearish miss the market saw in last week’s report. “Even at 29 Bcf, it is still reflective of balances that are currently quite loose.” Other analysts also noted that this week’s EIA data was likely a true-up of last week’s overstated injection. “Average the last two weeks together, and everything makes sense,” said Jacob Meisel, head of gas fundamental research at a New York energy trading firm. “Each week in isolation is harder to justify.” Meanwhile, continued loose balances point to another hefty injection versus the five-year average next week as well, according to Bespoke. On Wednesday, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. said there was a potential for the EIA to report a 100 Bcf-plus build, which would be five times the five-year average. Most analysts, however, are estimating a build closer to around 90 Bcf. Broken down by region, the EIA reported a 1 Bcf withdrawal in the East and in the Midwest, a 6 Bcf net injection in the Pacific after a 1 Bcf reclassification to base gas and a 21 Bcf net injection in the South Central. Salt facilities reported 12 Bcf in implied flows, although 2 Bcf was reclassified to base gas. Working gas in storage as of April 5 stood at 1,155 Bcf, 183 Bcf below last year and 485 Bcf below the five-year average, according to EIA.

The Permian Basin, as Vast as South Dakota, Becomes World’s Highest Producing Oilfield “Things like horizontal drilling and fracturing, the shale revolution, oil derricks that dot the landscape all throughout the Permian Basin, new drilling technology and greater energy output are transforming American life and lives all around the world,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently. Just two months after the New York Times reported that Texas and New Mexico’s Permian Basin could surpass Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar oilfield to become the highest producing oilfield in the world in the next three years, data released this week provides a new take: It already has.The Permian, as vast as South Dakota, is distinct from other shale fields because of its enormous size and thickness of its multiple shale layers — some as fat as 1,000 feet — as well as its proximity to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. The Permian is rich in oil, and its shales are relatively easy to tap with today’s rigs. Now we know the Permian basin is now the most productive oil field in the world. As Bloomberg explains,“The new maximum production rate for the Ghawar oil filed in Saudia Arabia [3.8 million barrels a day] means that the Permian in the U.S., which pumped 4.1 million barrels a day last month according to government data, is already the largest oil production basin. “The comparison isn’t exact – the Saudi field is a conventional reservoir, while the Permian is an unconventional shale formation – yet it shows the shifting balance of power in the market.” The most recent Energy Information Administration (EIA) drilling productivity report shows the Permian produced 4.1 million barrels of oil per day in March and will come close to 4.2 million barrels per day in April.

‘Really Smart Guys’ Push to Make Biggest Oilfield Even Bigger - Standing at the center of the prolific Permian Basin, Scott Hodges explains how the future of the world’s largest oil field may very well depend on what he calls jokingly calls the "really smart guys." Hodges, a 57-year-old manager with Occidental Petroleum Corp., runs a cluster of installations at the Hobbs oil field, where dozens of wells don’t pump a single barrel of oil but instead do the opposite: push stuff -- lots of it -- into the ground. Occidental runs the operation in southeast New Mexico as part of its so-called enhanced-oil-recovery program, injecting carbon dioxide and water underground to force out crude that might otherwise languish in the reservoir. EOR already works in conventional oil fields -- now the company is trying to make it work commercially in shale rock. If Occidental and its rivals’ experiments with similar techniques are successful -- a big if, in the view of many others -- it could further transform the Permian, which is already the world’s largest oil patch. To do that, knowing how the oil, gas, CO2 and water work together thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface is crucial. "The guys who know what’s happening underground is the RSG," Hodges says in reference to the company’s Reservoir Study Group. "That stands for the really smart guys," he adds, laughing. While the U.S. shale revolution has boosted American oil production to a record, it’s also leaving lots of crude in the ground. At best, fracked wells only recover about a 10th of what the industry calls the oil-in-place. "We are trying to be very conservative, but certainly we believe that we can improve from 10-11 percent to 17-18 percent," Occidental Chief Executive Officer Vicki Hollub said in an interview in Houston. "It’s a lot. When you consider the scale of the Permian basin, to do that will be amazing."

Chevron to buy Anadarko Petroleum in a $33 billion cash and stock deal - Chevron announced on Friday it will acquire oil and gas driller Anadarko Petroleum in a cash and stock deal valued at $33 billion, marking one of the biggest energy sector mergers in years and a transformative moment for one of the industry's dominant players. The transaction will expand the second biggest U.S. energy company's operations in U.S. shale oil and gas production, offshore drilling and liquefied natural gas exports. The deal represents the 11th biggest ever for an energy and power company, according to Refinitiv. The acquisition launches Chevron to a new competitive level, establishing the San Ramon, California-based company as a more formidable challenger to rival oil giants Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, says energy and mining research firm Wood Mackenzie. After the deal closes, Chevron will go from being the fourth biggest international oil major by production to the second largest. "This is the biggest upstream deal since Shell and BG in 2015," said Roy Martin, senior analyst at Wood Mackenzie. "Chevron now joins the ranks of the UltraMajors — and the big three becomes the big four." In a sign of the value the industry places on Anadarko's assets, fellow mini-major Occidental Petroleumattempted to buy the company, sources told CNBC's David Faber. Occidental was prepared to pay $70 a share for Anadarko and is currently exploring its options, the sources said. Shares of Anadarko rose 33.6% following the news. Chevron shares were down 4.7% from Thursday's close of $125.99 a share. Chevron's deal values Anadarko at $65 per share, a 37% premium to its Thursday close. Based on Anadarko's closing price of $46.80 on Thursday, Anadarko shareholders will receive 0.3869 shares of Chevron and $16.25 in cash for each Anadarko share. Chevron will assume $15 billion of Anadarko's debt.

Why oil giant Chevron is buying Anadarko Petroleum for $33 billion - To understand why Chevron struck the biggest oil and gas deal in years to purchase Anadarko Petroleum, you should probably pull out a globe. Start in Texas, where Chevron will expand its presence in the top U.S. shale field. Then trace a line to the Gulf of Mexico, where the energy giant will grow its offshore drilling operations. Next, skip across the Atlantic to southern Africa, where Chevron will acquire a massive natural gas export project that's currently under development.The $33 billion blockbuster acquisition — $50 billion including debt — ranks as the sixth-largest oil and gas deal on the books, according to Drillinginfo and Dealogic. It's the largest deal since 2015, when Royal Dutch Shell bought British energy giant BG Group for $82 billion in enterprise value.Here's why Chevron thinks Anadarko is worth the record-setting price tag. Shale drilling, or extracting oil and gas from rock formations, is fueling a boom in U.S. production. Small, independent drillers pioneered U.S. shale production, but the new rule is "the shale game is a scale game," according to Chevron CEO Michael Wirth.Now that the industry has refined technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the next frontier is industrializing the shale process. That's where companies such as Chevron come in.Oil majors have the scale and financial wherewithal to essentially turn shale fields into factories. They do that by stringing together large parcels of continuous acreage, which allows them to do highly efficient pad drilling on a massive scale. Pad drilling involves drilling multiple horizontal wells from a single location.Chevron says it can produce oil and gas from a one-square-mile area from a single drilling pad. On Friday, Chevron highlighted that the Anadarko deal creates a 75-mile-wide corridor in the Delaware Basin portion of the larger Permian Basin, the biggest U.S. shale field.The 2014-2016 oil price crash sparked a land rush in the Permian, where drillers can produce crude at low breakeven costs compared with other regions. With the best land spoken for, energy companies are now turning to mergers and acquisitions to enhance their positions in the region underlying western Texas and eastern New Mexico.That's illustrated in the Chevron-Anadarko deal, which connects a large patch of Chevron's Permian acreage in Culberson County, Texas, with Anadarko's holdings in neighboring Reeves and Loving counties. Wirth says Chevron plans to add more rigs, expand pad drilling and introduce his company's digital analysis to the Anadarko-held land.

‘Big Oil’ is rapidly becoming ‘Big Shale’ -- It is not often that routine corporate updates can rattle nations but that is exactly what happened this week. ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two largest US energy supermajors, both raised their guidance for the amount of oil they expect to squeeze out of the Permian Basin, the heartland of the US shale boom, over the next five years. In the process they sent a signal to Opec countries that any hopes that the shale revolution might falter are grossly misplaced. The scale of the revisions are hard to overstate, with “Big Oil” increasingly becoming “Big Shale”. Operators are bringing expertise and efficiency earned over decades in far-flung corners of the globe to an area previously dominated by wildcatters and domestically-focused US oil companies. By 2024 Exxon and Chevron now expect to be pumping almost 2m barrels a day combined from the Permian, which straddles Texas and New Mexico. That is 60 per cent more than previously forecast. The Permian as a whole will already produce about 4m b/d this year, meaning that this one region — if it were an Opec country — would be the third-largest producer in the cartel, behind only Saudi Arabia and Iraq. For Opec this spells trouble. Members, including Saudi Arabia, have consistently downplayed shale’s longevity, arguing that higher prices are still needed to foster investment in production and avoid a future supply crunch. It is a line of reasoning still favoured by many oil company chief executives too. But it looks, at best, outdated. While the shale industry has undoubtedly relied on a gusher of Wall Street money to grow, often leaving investors disappointed by its ability to generate cash, Big Oil is now leading the way not just in getting production up, but in getting costs down. Chevron says that returns on its shale investments are now “north of 30 per cent”, even with lower prices. Exxon says it could make a return of 10 per cent even if oil fell to $35 a barrel. For Opec this means the days when members could rely on $100 crude to top up government coffers look like an anomaly, rather than a mean to which the market will one day revert. 

Occidental bid more than $70 a share for Anadarko and is now considering options: Sources --There was another bid for Anadarko Petroleum, the oil and gas explorer that Chevron said it was buying for $65 a share in cash and stock.Before Friday's announcement of the deal, Occidental Petroleum had bid more than $70 a share for Anadarko in cash and stock, people familiar with the situation told CNBC, but the company ultimately decided to go with Chevron.In addition to being higher, the Occidental bid contained more cash than the Chevron offer and would have required a shareholder vote, the people said.However, the people familiar said there were some structural issues with the Occidental bid with which Anadarko may not have been as comfortable.Occidental is now considering its options, people familiar with the matter told CNBC, but it's unclear if the company will launch a hostile bid for Anadarko. The Chevron-Anadarko breakup fee is said to be 3% of the deal price, which is nearly $1 billion. That transaction will expand the second biggest U.S. energy company's operations in shale oil and gas production, offshore drilling and liquefied natural gas exports. The deal also would be the 11th biggest in history for an energy and power company, according to Refinitiv.

Rig count sails past one year above 1000 mark - The North American Rig Count cruised past one year above the 1,000 mark as crude oil prices continue to hover in the mid-$60 per barrel range. Exploration and production companies are now using 1,022 drilling rigs in North America, according to figures released Friday in the Baker Hughes Rig Count. Although the figures mark a decrease of three drilling rigs in operation compared to last week, they represent a year and a week above the 1,000 mark.West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices suffered a dramatic drop during the fourth quarter of 2018 but have been trading above the $60 per barrel mark for the past three weeks, allowing the rig count to remain relatively steady.  Exploration and production companies removed nine rigs from operations in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, New Mexico and West Virginia over the pas week but put six of them into service in Texas, Ohio, Kansas and the Gulf of Mexico. The Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania and West Virginia lost six drilling rigs, which was partially offset by a gain of three rigs in the Utica Shale, which lies beneath a large area of the Marcellus.Gains to the Texas rig count were made in areas outside of the state's four shale basins. Although the Permian Basin gained two drilling rigs, the Haynesville Shale lost two and the Eagle Ford Shale lost another. Compiled by Houston oilfield service company Baker Hughes, the weekly rig count is considered to be a barometer of exploration and production activity.

U.S. shale producers turn to jobs cuts as investor pressures mount (Reuters) - Having slashed spending plans and run out of willing buyers for assets, some U.S. shale producers are turning to workforce cuts as investors step up demands for returns. Pioneer Natural Resources Co, one of the largest producers in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, and Laredo Petroleum Inc another Permian producer, this week disclosed plans to shed workers. Irving, Texas-based Pioneer declined to say how many of its about 3,200 employees would be cut. The company has not had a layoff since 1998. Severance packages will be offered and the company said it expects to dismiss workers by June. Pioneer has been trying to sell assets in South Texas to concentrate on the Permian for more than a year. In February, it released fourth-quarter financial results that fell short of Wall Street expectations and that same month Chief Executive Tim Dove agreed to retire. Shale firms have pushed U.S. oil output to record levels. But years of heavy spending led to investor pressure to reduce spending and use the cash to provide payouts, rather than produce more oil. Pioneer employees told a Midland, Texas, TV station that the company wanted to cut about 300 workers, or about 10 percent of its workforce. Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Laredo Petroleum said on Tuesday it cut about 20 percent of its 340 employees, which would save the firm around $30 million per year. It also replaced its finance chief. Laredo had to make the staff cuts to “focus on increasing corporate-level returns and growing within cash flow from operations,” CEO Randy A. Foutch said in a statement. 

$3.7B Gas Pipeline Would Combat Permian Flaring - Tellurian Inc. reported Monday that it is holding a binding open season to secure prospective shippers for its proposed Permian Global Access Pipeline (PGAP), an approximately $3.7 billion conduit that would deliver Permian natural gas to Southwest Louisiana. The proposed 42-inch diameter interstate natural gas pipeline would originate at the Waha Hub in Pecos County, Texas, and terminate at Gillis, La., which is located north of Lake Charles – where Tellurian has proposed building its $15.2-billion Driftwood LNG export facility. Tellurian noted that the 625-mile-long pipeline would be able to transport at least 2 billion cubic feet of gas per day. The company added that construction could start as soon as 2021 and that the pipeline could begin service as early as 2023. “Permian producers have recently paid $9.00 per mmBtu (million British thermal units) to move their natural gas away from the wellhead, reflecting the acute need for infrastructure development in the basin,” Tellurian President and CEO Meg Gentle said in a written statement. “By contrast, Southwest Louisiana is a market expected to grow 300 percent in the next five years. The Permian Global Access Pipeline is critical infrastructure that will interconnect stranded Permian gas production with growing markets, reduce flaring and provide a valuable cleaner fuel to reduce urban pollution and carbon globally.” In early Dec. 2018, the energy research and business intelligence firm Rystad Energy reported that the “persistent rise” in Permian production coupled with “severe takeaway challenges” caused gas flaring to hit an estimated average of 407 million cubic feet per day (MMcfd) during the third quarter of 2018. At the time, Rystad called that figure an “all-time high” but predicted that Permian flaring would likely hit “at least 600 MMcfd” by the middle of this year – assuming a West Texas Intermediate crude oil price of $60 per barrel.

Trump Signs Two Executive Orders Giving Himself “Sole Approval” on Pipelines - During a day of fundraisers and rallies across Texas, President Donald Trump signed two executive orders intended to speed up the approval process for oil and gas projects. The orders also limit states’ ability to intervene in these projects. “My action today will cut though destructive permitting and delays,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd at the International Union of Operating Engineers. Trump stated that he “ended the war on energy” since entering the White House. One of Trump’s executive orders is aimed at streamlining the approval process for energy infrastructure that crosses international borders. Trump said pipelines, roads, and railways along the border will take no more than 60 days to be approved or denied and that the decision will now come directly from the President himself. “The President will have sole approval, not the bureaucracy,” Trump told his supporters at the union. This order changes previous rules which gave the Secretary of State the authority to issue permits for cross-border pipelines and similar infrastructure—a process that has, in some cases, taken years. Trump blamed the delay of pipeline projects on states like Washington and New York for restrictive policies on oil and gas. “New York is hurting the country because they are not allowing the pipelines to get through,” Trump said. He also blamed “radical activists” for slowing down the completion of pipeline projects around the nation, including the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The DAPL faced heavy resistance from environmental groups, indigenous communities, and allied activists from around the world in 2016. In late March, the Trump administration approved the equally controversial and long-delayed TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline by ignoring previous court rulings and issuing a new presidential permit for the project. Trump had approved the pipeline two years ago but the project was mired in legal challenges. While the southern portion of the project was completed years ago, construction of the portion from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, has been delayed. “We approved the Keystone XL pipeline, almost on day one,” Trump stated at Wednesday’s event. “We got the Dakota Access Pipeline out of a lot of trouble. They had a little problem, they didn’t have a permit but I gave it to them.” Wednesday’s executive orders are an indication that Trump wants to speed up construction of the Keystone XL.

Trump Is Rewriting the Rules to Favor the Pipeline Industry  - Domestic oil and gas production is soaring, and nowdays, it’s not enough to simply pull the stuff from the ground. With the fossil fuel boom comes demand for new pipelines and refining infrastructure, putting the expanding industry on a collision course with communities across the country. Major pipeline projects are facing resistance from a public worried about accidents and climate disruption, so President Trump wants to rewrite the rules in the industry’s favor.  On Wednesday, Trump announced two executive orders designed to speed up approvals for fossil fuel infrastructure and make it easier for energy firms to transport oil and gas from the nation’s booming fracking fields to domestic and international markets. One order seeks to limit the role of state governments in approving federal clean water permits, a move that environmentalists say undermines states’ ability to delay or block fossil fuel projects that threaten wetlands and waterways, as New York and Washington have done. “This executive order shows the administration’s commitment to states’ rights is hollow; once again, the administration is putting profit above all else,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of the Waterkeeper Alliance in a statement on Wednesday.  Trump announced the new executive orders in Texas, where the oil and gas industry has a long history of dominating economies, landscapes and politics. Texas lawmakers are currently considering legislation that environmentalists say is designed to intimidate environmental protesters and landowners fighting a pipeline company’s attempt to seize their property under eminent domain. Similar legislation passed last year in neighboring Louisiana, allowing police to charge water protectors with felonies for visiting pipeline construction zones in pristine swamplands. Welcome to the pipeline wars. The U.S. is simultaneously poised to dominate oil and gas production for decades to come and coming under heavy political pressure to stave off the worst impacts of climate disruption and switch to renewables. As the encroaching fossil fuel industry enriches some communities and tramples over others, new pipelines and other infrastructure projects are becoming the real-life points of conflict in the debate over the nation’s energy future.

Pipeline opponents ask judge to strike down Trump’s permit (AP) — Opponents of the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline asked a federal court Friday in a lawsuit to declare President Donald Trump acted illegally when he issued a new permit for the project in a bid to get around an earlier court ruling. In November, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that the Trump administration did not fully consider potential oil spills and other impacts when it approved the pipeline in 2017. Trump’s new permit, issued last week, is intended to circumvent that ruling and kick-start the proposal to ship crude oil from the tar sands of western Canada to U.S. refineries. White House officials have said the presidential permit is immune from court review. But legal experts say that’s an open question, and the case could further test the limits of Trump’s use of presidential power to get his way. Unlike previous orders from Trump involving immigration and other matters, his action on Keystone XL came after a court already had weighed in and blocked the administration’s plans. “This is somewhat dumbfounding, the idea that a president would claim he can just say, ‘Never mind, I unilaterally call a do-over,’” said William Buzbee, a constitutional scholar and professor at Georgetown University Law Center. The pipeline proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada has become a flashpoint in the debate over fossil fuel use and climate change. Opponents say burning crude from the tar sands of Western Canada would make climate change worse. The $8 billion project’s supporters say it would create thousands of jobs and could be operated safely. The line would carry up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude daily along a 1,184-mile (1,900-kilometer) path from Canada to Nebraska. Stephan Volker, an attorney for the environmental groups that filed Friday’s lawsuit, said Trump was trying to “evade the rule of law” with the new permit. “We have confidence that the federal courts_long the protectors of our civil liberties_will once again rise to the challenge and enforce the Constitution and the laws of this land,” Volker said. 

Colorado lets oil and gas companies pollute for 90 days without federally required permits that limit emissions - Colorado public health officials have let oil and gas companies begin drilling and fracking for fossil fuels at nearly 200 industrial sites across the state without first obtaining federally required permits that limit how much toxic pollution they can spew into the air.Air pollution control officials at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment allow the industry to emit hundreds of tons of volatile organic chemicals, cancer-causing benzene and other pollutants using an exemption tucked into the state’s voluminous rules for the industry — rules that former Gov. John Hickenlooper, state leaders and industry officials long have hailed as the toughest in the nation. Overall, companies are polluting without permits at 193 sites in Colorado, mostly concentrated in Weld County, according to a document reviewed by The Denver Post and information state health officials provided in response to Post queries. Industry officials say they run their facilities to meet state health standards whether they are operating within the 90-day exemption period or have obtained permits — but need the flexibility to determine how much a site will pollute before limits are set.

Oil and Gas Emissions, Health Research Suggests Pollution Standards Are Inadequate - A paper published this month suggests recent air quality study models and pollution level recommendations are inadequate to gather appropriate data to inform policy or explain unhealthy symptoms in people living near active oil and gas development. The paper in the Annual Review of Public Health was written by California and New York researchers and included analysis of 37 peer-reviewed journal articles on oil and gas emissions published between 2012 and February 2018, several of which studied extraction site data measured on Colorado’s Front Range. Data observed in seven other states and Poland also was reviewed. Because recommended safe limits for individual air pollutants are usually set by accounting for health risks caused by exposure to just one substance at a time, standards might need to become more stringent to protect people against impacts that are possibly worsened and expedited by contact with and ingestion of multiple substances simultaneously and over time, which is possible near drilling, the paper states. “We don’t have much research on what happens when you’re exposed to a cocktail of pollutants,” said Diane Garcia-Gonzales, an author of the paper. “I think using the methods that we’ve used in the past to understand impact, which is basing ambient air quality concentrations of a single pollutant and comparing it to a health-based standard, would be inadequate and misleading to describe health effects potentially associated with extraction,” she said. The paper also concluded that hazardous air pollutants — for which there are no regulatory standards, but only recommended thresholds to avoid exposure to — are associated at possibly dangerous levels with the production phase of oil and gas development, and not just the fracking stage, as commonly thought. “Hydraulic fracturing has received the greatest attention for its potential impact to human and environmental health,” the paper stated. “In the context of hazardous air pollutants, however, we did not find evidence to support the common assumption that the discrete hydraulic fracturing phase itself is associated with the highest risk of exposure.” Instead, the paper said, the production phase of oil and gas, or the actual harvesting of underground minerals, involves the largest number of air pollutants that could be emitted and has the potential to spew the highest concentrations and most varied mixtures of pollutants over the longest time period — wells can remain productive for years. Even the storage phase for energy mined and wastewater once used to access it has a chance of exposing people to harmful contaminants, the paper stated.

A Former Oil Lobbyist Is Now Officially in Charge of America’s Public Lands - The Senate voted to confirm former oil-and-gas lobbyist David Bernhardt as Secretary of the Interior Thursday, despite calls from Democrats and government watchdogs to investigate his past conduct, The New York Times reported. The confirmation vote was 56-to-41, making Bernhardt—who has so many conflicts of interests he has to write them on an index card to make sure he doesn't deal with former clients—the least popular Interior Secretary in 40 years, the Center for American Progress (CAP) told The Washington Post. The second least popular was Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump's first pick to lead the Department of Interior (DOI), whoresigned last year amidst a series of ethics investigations. A CAP analysis showed that Bernhardt bested his former boss in another respect: he has the most conflicts of interests of all 31 Trump cabinet-level nominees."It still amazes me," New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said of Bernhardt's nomination, as The New York Times reported. "Donald Trump campaigns on cleaning up the swamp and he does exactly the opposite when in office. An oil and gas lobbyist as head of the Department of Interior? My God. That's an example of the swampiness of Washington if there ever was one. And when are Donald Trump's supporters going to understand this?" Bernhardt worked for the DOI under President George W. Bush, contributing to efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. He then spent seven years as a lobbyist with severalfossil fuel clients including Halliburton; another of his clients was the powerful California utility Westlands Water District. Trump nominated him to serve as deputy secretary at DOI in April 2017, he was confirmed in July of that year and he has been acting as interior secretary since Zinke's resignation in December of 2018.

House Democrats Voted for a Natural Gas Future, and Nobody Noticed - Last week, a video went viral of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) offering up an impassioned rebuke to Senate Republicans for bringing her Green New Deal to a premature vote the day before. Something that got less attention, however, was the vote the environmental champion and the vast majority of her Democratic colleagues cast two days earlier. Ocasio-Cortez had been one of 224 House Democrats to back a bill that, if passed, would allocate roughly $580 million in federal funding over two years to public and private energy development projects in Europe and Eurasia, including natural gas infrastructure.   Disguised as a measure to crack Russia’s energy dominance in Europe and Eurasia, it passed the House easily on March 25 with a margin of 391-to-24 and no Democratic opposition—though 10 Democrats did not vote, including six members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The bill’s true intention, however, seems to be opening up new energy markets to American fossil fuel companies, enabling the easy export of liquid natural gas. In fact, it practically said so in its statement of policy. […]  In service of this aim, the bill resolved to provide “diplomatic and political support to the European Commission and such countries, as necessary to—A, facilitate international negotiations concerning cross-border infrastructure; B, enhance Europe’s and Eurasia’s regulatory environment with respect to energy; and C, develop accessible, transparent, and competitive energy markets supplied by diverse sources, types, and routes of energy.”  In addition to U.S. political backing, the bill pledged “early-stage project support and late-stage project support for the construction or improvement of energy infrastructure” which included “natural gas infrastructure, such as interconnectors, storage facilities, liquefied natural gas import facilities, or reverse flow capacity.”

2019 Oil and Gas Exploration Off to Flying Start - Oil and gas exploration is off to a flying start in 2019, according to independent energy research and business intelligence company Rystad Energy. Global discoveries of conventional resources in the first quarter reached 3.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe), Rystad revealed Monday in a statement sent to Rigzone. Most of the gains were recorded in February, which saw 2.2 billion barrels of discovered resources, Rystad highlighted. Majors reported more than 2.4 billion boe of the discovered resources for the quarter, Rystad outlined in the statement. ExxonMobil was the most successful, with three offshore discoveries accounting for 38 percent of total discovered volumes. “If the rest of 2019 continues at a similar pace, this year will be on track to exceed last year’s discovered resources by 30 percent,” Rystad Upstream Analyst Taiyab Zain Shariff said in the company statement. The total volume of global conventional discoveries in 2018 was 9.1 billion boe, according to Rystad. Total global conventional discoveries were 10.3 billion boe in 2017 and 8.4 billion boe in 2016. No Signs of Slowing DownIn the statement, Rystad said the push for “substantial” new discoveries shows no signs of slowing down, with another 35 “high impact” exploration wells expected to be drilled this year, both onshore and offshore. Rystad highlighted that three such wells are already underway; the Shell-operated Peroba well off Brazil - with pre-drill prospective resource estimates of 5.3 billion boe, Eni’s Kekra well in Pakistani waters -with pre-drill prospective resource estimates of 1.5 billion boe and the Total-operated Etzil well off Mexico -with pre-drill prospective resource estimates of 2.7 billion boe. “If these wells prove successful, 2019’s interim discovered resources will be the largest since the downturn in 2014,” Shariff stated.

Alberta, Canada's tar sands is the world's most destructive oil operation—and it's growing -- AS THE WORLD’S largest industrial project, the scale of Alberta’s tar sands operations is hard to grasp. Imagine driving on a highway and to either side behind a thin screen of trees is a vast industrial landscape as far as the eye can see. Now imagine 500 miles of that highway. If Alberta, with its population of four million people, was a country it would be the fifth largest oil producing nation. While it produces conventional oil, most comes from the Alberta oil sands, the world’s third largest proven oil reserve at 170 billion barrels.The local and national Canadian governments are pushing to expand oil extraction operations in the vast tar sands region, which already has a footprint roughly the size of England, even as they promote action on climate change on the world stage. And although the relationships between local people and the extraction operations are complex, involving jobs and services, a growing chorus of environmentalists and indigenous people are speaking out against pollution and degradation in the oil sands. Many are digging in for a fight against proposed expansions, including a major pipeline project. Against the brewing fight in the oil sands region, Canada pushed for the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) global warming target at the Paris climate summit in 2015—but when protestors blocked construction of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline in 2018, the Justin Trudeau government bought the pipeline from its Texas owners. Canada’s national carbon tax to cut its global warming emissions went into effect April 1, 2019. And yet the country spent U.S. $3.4 billion (C $4.5 billion) last year to buy the only oil pipeline from Canada’s west coast to the Alberta oil sands to ensure future growth of its oil exports, and allow expansion of operations in the oil sands. Texas-based Kinder Morgan, owners of the 65-year-old Trans Mountain oil pipeline, had been building a much larger pipeline along the same 715-mile (1,150-kilometer) route along the banks of numerous major rivers and through world-renowned Jasper National Park, but were bitterly opposed by indigenous and environmental groups. Frustrated by lawsuits and protests Kinder Morgan announced last April they were abandoning the project. The Trudeau government stepped in knowing it will cost billions more to complete the project.

Oil pipeline explodes in Leon, Mexico after thieves try to steal fuel - An oil pipeline has exploded in the Mexican city of Leon in the aftermath of a botched attempt to steal fuel by one of the country's notorious drug cartels. Flames reaching as high as sixteen feet were the only lights some residents of the central Mexican city could see on Saturday night as the explosion caused mass blackouts. The explosion occurred after a group of 'huachicoleros' - cartel bandits who steal petrol and adulterated alcohol - were trying to pilfer oil from the pipeline when they accidentally caused the explosion. Fifteen foot flames were seen in Leon, Mexico after criminals caused an explosion while trying to tap into an oil pipeline The Mexican Army was called in to the town to guard the perimeter and keep watch over the fire. No one was injured in the incident The country's army was called in to keep watch over the blaze to ensure the safety of Leon's residents. Firefighters eventually got the blaze under control without any recorded injuries. The pipeline in question belongs to the state-owned oil firm Pemex, which is one of the world's largest petroleum companies. Theft from oil pipelines has become a large industry in Mecixo for the country's notorious cartels. Gangs of 'huachicoleros' scale the country, drilling into unguarded pipelines to steal thousands of litres of oil at a time. Oil theft is a large trade for the country's notorious drug cartels. The practice saps more than £1 billion worth of state revenue annually With Pemex's status as Mexico's largest oil company, the practice has become a drain on the nation's public finances. It has been reported that the cartel's activities deprive the state of more than £1 billion in revenue every year.

Another Pemex Pipeline Explosion, This Time in Guanajuato --Another Pemex pipeline exploded in the Mexican causing a major fire and explosions, according to local media. A section of pipeline of the Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) state company exploded late Saturday night in Guanajuato state, inciting a major fire that reach 15 meters into the air, torching a vehicle parked nearby. No fatalities or injuries have been reported, says El Universal newspaper. According to the media outlet the area that exploded, near the capital city of Leon, was being illegally tapped for fuel. The Leon city fire department says it has activated "a series of actions to mitigate the magnitude of its effects and avoid a tragedy," including blocking off the exploded pipeline area that runs through La Providencia community.  The intensity of the flames has decreased. @BomberosdeLeon is cooling down the explosion so that @Pemex security can enter the area. @Proteccion_leon, @vialidad_leon and police are maintaining the area blocked off. A Jan. 18 oil pipeline explosion in the state of Hidalgo left as many as 135 people dead from the initial combustion and subsequent burn wounds.On the day of the tragedy, people gathered around a leaking pipeline in Tlahuelilpan at about 5 pm with bottles and containers to collect the fuel for use and sale amid national gasoline shortages meant to combat fuel stealing in the first place. On Dec. 27 President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) launched a crackdown on fuel theft ordering the temporary closedown of certain pipelines, including the one in Tlahuelilpan, to prevent the illegal oil taps that have cost the heavily-indebted and corrupted Pemex US$3.4 billion in losses in 2018 alone.

Amid Blackouts and Food Shortages, Pence Unveils New Sanctions Targeting Venzuelan Oil Exports to Cuba -- – Despite Venezuela’s worsening humanitarian crisis fueled by political unrest and economic sanctions, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced new sanctions targeting the government and companies that transport oil to Cuba as part of the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.Recognizing that “oil is the lifeblood” of the Venezuelan government, Pence said in Houston on Friday that the United States is sanctioning 34 vessels owned or operated by Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA)—the state-run oil company—and two international businesses and a vessel that have recently shipped crude oil to Cuba, a key ally of Maduro.“Cuba is a major importer of crude oil from Venezuela,” the U.S. Treasury Department noted in a statement Friday, “and in return, sends assistance to Venezuela in the form of political advisers, intelligence and military officials, and medical professionals, all of whom are used to ensure Maduro’s hold on power.”Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez immediately spoke out against the sanctions. “I strongly reject new measures of economic piracy adopted by Washington to damage #Venezuela and steal its resources,” he tweeted in Spanish on Friday. “They will fail.”  “These measures are an act of extraterritoriality, interference, and imperial arrogance,” Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez added on Saturday.  The administration’s move on Friday came after President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said, in an interview with Reuters last weekend, that the administration was considering the so-called “secondary sanctions.” After Pence’s announcement, the women-led peace advocacy group CodePink highlighted Bolton’s interview and tweeted Saturday, “Reminder: sanctions are an act of war. #HandsOffVenezuela.”

Venezuela reports collapse in oil supply, tightening global market: OPEC (Reuters) - Venezuela’s oil output sank to a new long-term low last month due to U.S. sanctions and blackouts, the country told OPEC, deepening the impact of a global production curb and further tightening supplies. Supply cuts by OPEC and partners led by Russia, plus involuntary reductions in Venezuela and Iran, have helped drive a 32 percent rally in crude prices this year, prompting pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump for the group to ease its market-supporting efforts. In a monthly report released on Wednesday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said Venezuela told the group that it pumped 960,000 barrels per day (bpd) in March, a drop of almost 500,000 bpd from February. The figures could add to a debate within the so-called OPEC+ group of producers on whether to maintain oil supply cuts beyond June. A Russian official indicated this week Moscow wanted to pump more, although OPEC has been saying the curbs must remain. OPEC, Russia and other non-member producers are reducing output by 1.2 million bpd from Jan. 1 for six months. The producers are due to meet on June 25-26 to decide whether to extend the pact. One of the key Russian officials to foster the pact with OPEC, Kirill Dmitriev, signaled on Monday that Russia wanted to raise output when it meets OPEC in June because of improving market conditions and falling stockpiles. OPEC+ returned to supply cuts in 2019 out of concern that slowing economic growth and demand would lead to a new supply glut. OPEC’s report said the economic backdrop was weakening and lowered its estimate of global growth in demand by 30,000 bpd to 1.21 million bpd. “Newly available data has confirmed the recently observed downward trend in global economic activities,” the report said. In a development that will ease OPEC concern about a new glut, the report also said inventories in developed economies fell in February, after rising in January. Stocks in February exceeded the five-year average - a yardstick OPEC watches closely - by 7.5 million barrels, less than in January. The report suggests that if OPEC kept pumping at March’s rate it would slightly undersupply the world market in 2019, even with the lower demand outlook. 

Comptroller warns Colombia is not ready for fracking - Colombia is not prepared to begin fracking and should at least temporarily ban the controversial activity, the country’s comptroller general said in a report on Thursday. According to the comptroller report, the state is unprepared to avoid the potential environmental consequences of fracking. Surface and underground water reservoirs can become contaminated, increased risk of earthquakes, and spillage of hazardous substances used for hydraulic fracking all need tight regulations and strong institutions to enforce them, the report said. The report contradicts the finding of a panel of experts convened by the government earlier this year and advised the government to move forward. The Alliance for a Fracking-Free Colombia criticized the panel for not being comprised of independent experts and instead of being full of industry professionals. The panel allegedly investigated fracking for three months and held only three meetings with regional communities. There is currently no fracking in Colombia, and no regulations to govern the production phase of a fracking operation, which could prevent Colombia running out of oil within a decade. President of state-run oil company Ecopetrol Felipe Bayon estimated that fracking could increase Colombian reserves between two and seven billion barrels. Colombia now has about two billion left. The comptroller general highlighted what it called legal uncertainty in the regulation. Colombia has only 16 regulations, which the comptroller general’s office criticized for being too vague to adequately enforce the activity. It is inconceivable that the national agency of hydrocarbons could block exploration and exploitation of the resources when the state lacks the environmental knowledge and regulations, the report said. Former Comptroller General Edgardo Maya asked the government to put a complete moratorium on fracking for the same reasons last year.

Indigenous Peoples Go to Court to Save the Amazon From Oil Company Greed - On Feb. 27, hundreds of Indigenous Waorani elders, youth and leaders arrived in the city of Puyo, Ecuador. They left their homes deep in the Amazon rainforest to peacefully march through the streets, hold banners, sing songs and, most importantly, submit documents to the provincial Judicial Council to launch a lawsuit seeking to stop the government from auctioning off their ancestral lands in the Pastaza region to oil companies. An eastern jungle province whose eponymous river is one of the more than 1,000 tributaries that feed the mighty Amazon, Pastaza encompasses some of the world's most biodiverse regions. Co-filed with the Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador–Pastaza (Pastaza CONCONAWEP), a political organization of the Waorani, and the Ecuadorian Human Rights Ombudsman against the Ecuadorian Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, the Secretary of Hydrocarbons and the Ministry of Environment, the lawsuit alleges that the Waorani's rights granted to them under the Ecuadorian constitution "were violated due to an improper consultation process prior to an oil auction which would offer up the Waorani's lands in the Pastaza region to the highest bidding oil company,"according to Amazon Frontlines, a nonprofit advocacy group supporting the Indigenous peoples living in the Amazon rainforest. The government's auction, announced in February of last year, included 16 new oil concessions covering nearly seven million acres of roadless, primary Amazonian forest across southeast Ecuador.  A hearing to argue the lawsuit was held in Puyo on March 13, but according to Amazon Frontlines, the group of assembled Waorani women "broke into song in court and did not stop" until the judge, "unable to be heard over the songs of the Waorani women ... called the parties' lawyers to the bench and declared the suspension of the hearing until a translator was found." The Waorani said that, in keeping with Waorani tradition, they would only accept a translator approved by their elder leaders.

Brazil Will Pay Petrobras $9 Billion in Oil Contract Settlement - Brazilian oil giant Petrobras will get $9.06 billion to settle a deep-water contract dispute with the government, ending years of negotiations and paving the way for Big Oil to access enormous crude deposits in the area. Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque told reporters on Tuesday that compensation for a 2010 contract review will be paid in one settlement, and the resolution will allow for an Oct. 28 auction to develop excess oil reserves beyond the 5 billion barrels Petrobras is allowed to produce under the 2010 Transfer of Rights contract, also known as TOR. The government expects to pay Petrobras after the Oct. 28 auction is held, Albuquerque said. Any winners in the auction will need to compensate Petrobras for investments the state-controlled company has already made in the areas being sold off. Rules for the compensation will be announced next week, along with the value of the singing bonuses and criteria for the auction, he said. “This brings an important, positive end towhat had become a prolonged negotiation process that was continually monitored by the markets,” Banco Santander SA analysts including Christian Audi and Gustavo Allevato said in a note to clients. “The company will likely pursue not only the October but also other pre-salt auctions to make sure that its reserve and production growth outlook keep improving.” 

Norway Is Walking Away From Billions of Barrels of Oil - Western Europe’s biggest petroleum producer is falling out of love with oil. To the dismay of the nation’s powerful oil industry and its worker unions, the opposition Labor Party over the weekend decided to withdraw its support for oil exploration offshore the sensitive Lofoten islands in Norway’s Arctic, creating a solid majority in parliament to keep the area off limits for drilling. The dramatic shift by Norway’s biggest party is a significant blow to the support the oil industry has enjoyed, and could signal that the Scandinavian nation is coming closer to the end of an era that made it one of the world’s most affluent. Oil companies led by state-controlled Equinor ASA, the biggest Norwegian producer, have said that gaining access to Lofoten is key if the country wants to maintain production as resources are being depleted. Estimates suggest that 1 billion to 3 billion barrels could be hiding off the archipelago, which is also considered a natural wonder. “The whole industry is surprised and disappointed,” said Karl Eirik Schjott-Pedersen, head of the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association. “It doesn’t provide the predictability we depend on.” Yet Labor’s decision wasn’t a big surprise. Norwegians are starting to question their biggest export and source of wealth amid growing concerns over climate change. Even some oil executives had already given up on Lofoten, which has been kept off limits for years thanks to political compromises. But the battle will now likely move on to whether drilling should continue in the Barents Sea. The oil industry also fears that Labor now could be willing -- or forced -- to compromise on other issues the next time it takes the reins of government, such as petroleum taxes and an attractive exploration refund for companies that aren’t profitable. Norway’s biggest oil union, Industry Energy, a long-time ally of Labor, lashed out at the party’s new stance on Lofoten, which was adopted less than two years after an internal party compromise on the issue. “It creates imbalances in the policy discussions for an industry that’s dependent on a long-term perspective and we can’t accept that,” Frode Alfheim, the union’s leader, said by phone on Monday. “There’s probably a lot of people in the industry who are wondering what Labor actually stands for.”

MSC boxship spills oil at Port of Sines - Work is ongoing to contain a “large oil spill” that contaminated waters in Port of Sines, Portugal late on Thursday night during a routine refuelling operation. MSC Sandra Panama-flagged container ship, operated by Swiss Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has reported leakage of marine fuel oil while bunkering in the Sines harbour late on 4 April. "The authorities were immediately informed and action was swiftly taken to minimize the environmental impact of the incident. We understand that removal of the oil from the water has progressed at a good pace," said a press note from MSC. MSC will continue to cooperate fully with the relevant authorities and provide full support and expertise to assist with any enquiries, it said. The causes of the incident are still being analyzed. Customers with cargo onboard MSC Sandra are being notified of any schedule changes incurred as a result of this incident, the press note pointed out. As a responsible, sustainable business MSC takes environmental stewardship extremely seriously and is dedicated to minimizing such incidents, MSC said. Anti-pollution operation was put in to place and the oil spill was quickly contained. Authorities are currently carrying out clean-up activities and an investigation into the incident is underway. 

EPA charges Darwin company over oil spill - An industrial company has been charged over a large oil spill that killed wildlife and damaged bushland around Darwin. The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority has begun prosecution proceedings against Norblast Industrial Solutions, a company that provides protective coating, cleaning and other services. The company has been charged following a large oil spill in February last year that spread from its industrial premises in Pinelands. The company allegedly discharged oil into bushland, contaminating a significant area of public land which required clean up and killed native birds including rainbow bee eaters, an EPA statement said. The company did not have a licence to collect, store or treat liquid wastes including waste oils, according to the EPA. Norblast, including an employee and director, has been charged with contravening the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act, including causing environmental harm, obstruction of authorised officers and operating without environmental authorisation. "It is concerning that the company was operating without an environment protection licence which would have set environmental operating conditions to prevent such an incident from occurring," EPA director Peter Vasel said.

Shell Breaks Market Mold With LNG Deal-- Royal Dutch Shell Plc agreed to sell liquefied natural gas to a Japanese utility at prices that include a link to coal, the latest innovation in the booming LNG market where buyers are seeking to diversify risks. In what Shell and its customer, Tokyo Gas Co., said Friday is the world’s first such contract, the 10-year deal includes a pricing formula that is based on coal indexation. By diversifying its price exposure for LNG, which has historically been linked to oil, costs of the fuel will be stabilized, Toshio Kawamura, a general manager with Tokyo Gas, said in a briefing Friday. This type of deal would allow a utility to align the pricing of its LNG with changes in the coal market, and therefore better compete in its own power market, said Christopher Goncalves, chair of the energy practice at Berkeley Research Group. This is “a risk management strategy for somebody who is competing with coal-fired generation in the home market,” Goncalves said. “That is attractive in places which have a lot of coal-fired generation, such as China, India and Japan.” Coal and natural gas face off as power generation fuel in several markets. In the U.S., cheap and abundant gas has decimated coal’s share from more than 50 percent as recently as 2008 to less than 25 percent last year, according to the Energy Information Administration. In Europe, utilities must add the cost of carbon emissions, which weighs more on coal users because it emits nearly twice as much carbon dioxide. The rivalry hasn’t been as prevalent in Asia, where coal is typically the cheapest fossil fuel and most utilities in the region lack the ability to switch quickly to gas. Buyers like Japan, South Korea and China usually pay a premium for gas that is liquefied and shipped on ocean-going tankers. Spot LNG in early 2014 cost nearly $80 per barrel of oil equivalent more than coal, but has tumbled to a discount as wide as $12 last month, according to Bloomberg calculations. The deal also highlights a growing diversity of pricing options in the LNG market as demand and spot trading booms. And it’s Shell’s second foray into unorthodox gas pricing this week. The company earlier announced a deal with NextDecade Corp. to buy U.S. LNG, which is usually linked to the American gas benchmark Henry Hub, on a Brent oil-linked basis. Shell’s Singapore general manager last week piqued interest in the possibilities of coal-linked contracts when he mentioned in a panel discussion that it had reached such a deal with a Japanese buyer, which he said helped the company decide to build a gas-fired plant, rather than coal.

Egypt's gas exports can give it a foreign policy edge, petroleum minister says --Egypt's goal to be a net gas exporter by the end of this year will strengthen it politically, Egypt's petroleum minister said Saturday, stressing the opportunities for growth that would come from the recently-launched Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum. "We cannot deny that if we are able to have our own energy this will give us some — not independence but let us say some strength, edge," Tarek el Molla told CNBC.   "The destiny of each country is at its own decision, however, you get to capitalize on what you have — so if you have the resource, the gas, you can play smart. And of course it would be a tool, or a card, that you can play with in politics, definitely," el Molla said. "When I talk about the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, and we talk about the hub, I say that we will together be the hub," the minister stressed. "Egypt will not ever be able to be the hub, no, it will be the hub together with its neighboring countries, allies, partners … we are complementing each other in this field." The forum, which aims to establish a regional gas market and offer more competitive prices, consists of Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and the Palestinian Authority, with its headquarters in Cairo. El Molla has described high investor interest in the opportunities the forum will offer. Hit by revolution and terrorist attacks from 2011 onward, Egypt ceased exporting its gas for several years, but has now made a comeback, becoming a key player in what many energy experts have called the "Eastern Mediterranean gas gold rush." Cairo is expected to become a net gas exporter by the end of 2019 and the country has seen widespread interest in its natural gas potential — particularly after the success of Egypt's Zohr gas field, an offshore natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea operated by Italian energy firm Eni.

India delays May order for Iran oil, awaits clarity on sanctions waiver: sources (Reuters) - Indian refiners are holding back from ordering Iranian oil for loading in May pending clarity on whether Washington will extend a waiver from U.S. sanctions against the OPEC-member, four sources said. In November, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed broad economic sanctions. Washington, however, gave a six-month waiver to eight nations including India, allowing them to import some Iranian oil until early May. India, Iran’s top oil client after China, was allowed to buy about 9 million barrels a month. India hopes to get clarity in seven to 10 days on any extension of the waiver, as well as the amount of oil that could be purchased if an extension is given, the sources said. “We don’t know about U.S. thinking, whether they will allow India to buy oil or not,” said one of the sources, all of whom declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. Under the current waiver, India can buy about 300,000 bpd of Iranian oil - about half the amount before the sanctions were imposed - and New Delhi wants to keep buying Iranian oil at that level, Indian sources said last month. Since November only state-run Indian Oil Corp, Bharat Petroleum Corp, Hindustan Petroleum and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals have been buying Iranian oil. . Brian Hook, the special U.S. envoy for Iran, in March said Washington is pursuing its plan to bring Iranian crude exports to zero. Last week Hook said three of eight importers granted waivers by Washington have cut shipments to zero. 

Trump wants to drive Iran's crude exports to zero. The oil market is not cooperating - Just one month ago, President Donald Trump's top envoy for Iran told a major energy conference that oil market conditions are making it easier to choke off the Islamic Republic's crude exports without causing a price spike. "When you have a better supplied oil market, it allows us to accelerate our path to zero," U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said at CERAWeek by IHS Markit in Houston. Since then, the cost of U.S. crude oil has jumped 12%, international Brent crude is trading above $70 a barrel, and the national average gasoline price is up 30 cents a gallon. The primary reason for the run-up is simple: The market is tightening. That means a global oversupply of crude is draining, bringing supply and demand into balance and putting the market at risk of flipping into shortage. On Thursday, the International Energy Agency said global oil supplies are tightening in the second quarter as OPEC and its allies slash production and U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela look increasingly effective. "Tightness in the oil market, however, is not just a supply story. In recent months, the resilience of demand has received less attention than the vicissitudes of production, but it is very important too," said IEA, a Paris-based energy policy adviser. That tightening will make it more difficult for Trump to justify significantly curtailing Iran's crude shipments next month. In just a few weeks, the president must decide whether to extend waivers that allow several countries to import oil from Iran, which is under wide-ranging U.S. economic sanctions. To be sure, analysts doubt Trump will refuse to extend the waivers, despite administration officials repeatedly invoking the administration's goal of driving Iran's oil exports to zero. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — pressed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, to stop issuing the waivers — appeared to indicate that the move is not imminent. "I think we've been clear about our objective of getting Iran to zero just as quickly as we possibly can, and we will continue to do that," Pompeo said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. But the question remains how much crude the Trump administration will allow to flow to countries like China and India.

Iran, Iraq forge ahead with collaboration amid US pressure - Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi visited Tehran April 6-7, his first official visit to the neighboring country since assuming office in October 2018. Accompanied by a large delegation of high-ranking Iraqi officials and representatives of the private sector, Abdul Mahdi came to Tehran at the formal invitation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Apart from meeting with Rouhani, the Iraqi leader also met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and attended a joint meeting of the Iranian and Iraqi business sectors at the Iran Chamber of Commerce. The visit came less than a month after Rouhani’s visit to Iraq — the first by the Iranian president since taking office in 2013 — in which the two sides reached a number of important agreements, mostly on economic issues. The increased frequency of high-level meetings between Iranian and Iraqi officials, as well as Abdul Mahdi's busy schedule while in Tehran, sparked fresh discussion on the growing ties between the two neighbors. In fact, taking into account Abdul Mahdi’s agenda in Iran, as well as the regional and international circumstances surrounding the visit, it could be said that the visit was important from three main aspects. First and foremost, the visit came amid increased pressure from the United States to limit Iran’s influence in Iraq, giving the visit a symbolic aspect. Although the US administration agreed on March 20 to extend the sanctions waiver for Iraq, so it can import gas and electricity from Iran for a 90-day period, it has been pressuring Baghdad to eliminate its energy dependence on Tehran.  However, Iraq’s parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi said March 30 that his country needs at least three years to become “economically independent.” Until then, Iraq needs to continue importing energy. Furthermore, Abdul Mahdi himself previously emphasized that his country is "not obliged" to abide by US sanctions against Iran. One of the main topics of discussion during both Rouhani’s visit to Baghdad and Abdul Mahdi’s visit to Tehran was how to bypass the sanctions in bilateral economic ties.

Saudi Arabia denies that it threatened to strip the US dollar from oil trading - Saudi Arabia on Monday denied a report that the kingdom is threatening to sell its oil in currencies other than the U.S. dollar if American lawmakers pass legislation targeting OPEC. Reuters reported last week that the Saudis had raised the issue within OPEC and with U.S. officials. Most crude oil is traded in U.S. dollars, and selling crude in other currencies could chip away at the greenback's dominant role in the international financial system. On Monday, the kingdom called the report inaccurate, saying it does "not reflect Saudi Arabia's position on this matter." "The Kingdom has been trading its oil in dollars for decades which has served well the objectives of its financial and monetary policies," the Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources said in a statement. According to Reuters, the plan to marginalize the dollar in oil trading was a response to potential passage of the bipartisan No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act in Congress. The so-called NOPEC legislation would enable the Justice Department to sue OPEC for coordinating production. The 14-nation producer group helps to drain oversupply from the oil market and boost crude prices by cutting output. The group is currently partnering with Russia and other nonmember oil producers to keep 1.2 million barrels per day off the market. The Saudi Energy Ministry on Monday suggested that targeting the dollar could disrupt OPEC's objectives. "Furthermore, the Ministry reaffirms the Kingdom's commitment to its role as a stabilizing force of energy markets, and its desire not to risk such a key policy priority through a fundamental change to the financial terms of oil trading relationships around the world," it said.

Saudi Arabia says no change to policy of trading oil in dollars (Reuters) - Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Monday there was no change to the kingdom's long-standing policy of trading oil in U.S. dollars. "Absolutely not. There is no change whatsoever to our long-standing policy," Falih said when asked to comment on the possibility that Saudi Arabia could ditch the dollar.Saudi Arabia is threatening to sell its oil in currencies other than the dollar if Washington passes a bill exposing OPEC members to U.S. antitrust lawsuits, three sources familiar with Saudi energy policy told Reuters last week.

UAE says changing oil trading currency from dollar can't be done overnight - (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates' energy minister said on Monday that the use of the U.S. dollar as the main oil trading currency could not be changed overnight. "Trading with the U.S. dollar is something you don't change overnight ... Let's not jump into some of those ideas," Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui said when asked about the possibility that OPEC members may move away from trading oil in dollars. Saudi Arabia is threatening to sell its oil in currencies other than the dollar if Washington passes a bill exposing OPEC members to U.S. antitrust lawsuits, three sources familiar with Saudi energy policy told Reuters last week. "OPEC did not say that, OPEC did not claim that they will change the currency in the trading and I have no views on the doability of that," Mazroui said at an energy conference in Dubai. He added that compliance with a supply-cutting agreement between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC members, an alliance known as OPEC+, was expected to be good in April. "OPEC and its allies are achieving balance in the oil market ... OPEC and OPEC+ will always do whatever (is) necessary to achieve that balance in the market," the minister said. On whether OPEC+ would extend the production cuts for three months or more and whether Russia would be part of that decision, Mazroui said: "It is not one country's prediction or decision ... OPEC is unanimous and non-OPEC is also unanimous." "We will do always the right decision for the market." Russia is a reluctant participant in its agreement with OPEC to withhold output, and it may increase production if the deal is not extended before it expires on July 1, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday.

Oil Traders Hail Output Cuts But Wary On Economic Outlook- Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers are becoming progressively more bullish on the outlook for crude and gasoline prices, but they are turning increasingly against diesel, notwithstanding the IMO marine fuel deadline at the end of the year. Hedge funds and other money managers were net buyers of 23 million barrels of futures and options linked to crude and refined products in the week to April, according to exchange and regulatory position records. Fund managers have raised their overall bullish position in the six most important petroleum-linked futures and options contracts to a total of 745 million barrels, an increase of 444 million barrels in the last 12 weeks. But the overall bullish trend masks sharply differing fortunes for crude and U.S. gasoline on the one hand and middle distillates such as U.S. diesel and European gasoil on the other ( Portfolio managers purchased 27 million barrels of Brent and 8 million barrels of WTI-linked derivatives in the week to April 2, while there was essentially no change in their position on U.S. gasoline. Fund positions now total 600 million barrels in Brent and WTI and 98 million barrels in U.S. gasoline, with long positions outnumbering short ones by 6.5:1 in crude and almost 15:1 in gasoline. By contrast, hedge funds were net sellers of 4 million barrels of U.S. diesel and 8 million barrels of European gasoil, cutting the long-short ratio in those two contracts to just 0.86 and 4.79 respectively. Hedge funds now hold an overall net short position in U.S. diesel of almost 5 million barrels, their most oversold position since July 2017. 

Oil markets will see 'much more upside than downside,' Citi strategist says- Edward Morse, the global head of commodities research at Citi Group, gave a bullish outlook for global oil markets Sunday, saying that current inventories were at a "constructive" level. Crude futures have surged in recent months, with Brent and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) both rallying more than 20 percent since the start of 2019. International benchmark Brent crude stood at $70 a barrel on Friday, with WTI trading at around $63. Morse believes that more upside is in store with supplies being taken off the market in Iran and Venezuela, as well as major oil cartel OPEC. "I think there's much more upside than downside," he told CNBC's Dan Murphy in Dubai Sunday. "I think it's under bought, I think it was oversold ... The market is very constructive, it's fairly tight and we think it's going to be in the $70 range through the second quarter and into the third quarter depending on what happens. And there's a lot of variables between now and then." One variable is whether the President Donald Trump administration will extend sanctions waivers on eight countries importing Iranian oil and he has until May 2 to decide. Morse believes that the focus for the U.S. will be sanctions and Venezuela and this would likely see "kinder" actions on those importing Iranian oil. Meanwhile, Fereidun Fesharaki, the chairman of leading consulting group FGE, backed up Citi's forecast, telling CNBC Sunday that the supply and demand fundamentals will likely push the oil price up to $75 and $80 for the second half of this year.

Oil won't be going back up to $80 levels, Goldman Sachs' commodities head Jeff Currie says  — Oil won't be returning to the peak levels it saw last year when global benchmark Brent crude hit $86 a barrel, Goldman Sachs' top commodities analyst said Monday."We've had a really bad fourth quarter, so the question is 'how much have we recouped thus far?'" Jeff Currie, Goldman Sachs' head of commodities research, told CNBC's Dan Murphy at the 27th Annual Middle East Petroleum and Gas Conference in Dubai."Looking at oil more broadly... We don't think you're going to get back to those $80 levels again, so you've got some modest upside here.""It's been a fundamental deficit, lower inventories pushing cash in physical prices higher," Currie said. "This market is in a million barrel per day deficit right now, and we think upside price is $70 to $75 (per barrel), but the back end anchored around $60," he said." That back end low, he explained, is based on three things: expansion of pipelines in Texas's shale-rich Permian Basin in the third quarter of this year, OPEC potentially exiting its oil cut program because investments are likely to reach the five-year average sometime in May, and more supply coming in from non-OPEC members."That's what is going to keep the back end under pressure, lower inventories pushing prices to $70, to $75, that's where the investment opportunity is — but it's not going to be like what we saw in quarters three or four of last year."Crude futures have surged in recent months, with Brent and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) both rallying more than 20 percent since the start of 2019. International benchmark Brent crude stood at $70 a barrel on Monday, with WTI trading at around $63.Numerous analysts believe that more upside is in store with supplies being taken off the market in Iran and Venezuela, as well as potentially continued supply cuts from major oil organization OPEC.

Oil hits Nov. 2018 highs amid OPEC supply cuts, US sanctions -- Oil prices rose to their highest level since November 2018 on Monday, driven upwards by OPEC's ongoing supply cuts, U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, fighting in Libya as well as strong U.S. jobs data. International benchmark Brent futures were up 31 cents at $70.65 per barrel around 8 a.m. ET (1200 GMT) on Monday, up 28 cents, or 0.4 percent from their last close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude were up 27 cents at $63.35 per barrel. Brent and WTI both hit their highest since November at $70.86 and $63.53 a barrel, respectively, early on Monday. To prop up prices, OPEC and non-affiliated allies like Russia, known as OPEC+, have pledged to withhold around 1.2 million barrels per day of supply this year."OPEC's ongoing supply cuts and U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela have been the major driver of prices throughout this year," said Hussein Sayed, chief market strategist at futures brokerage FXTM."However, the latest boost was received from an escalation of fighting in Libya which is threatening further supply disruption," he added.Strong U.S. jobs data on Friday also still supported markets on Monday.Despite the host of price drivers, there remain factors that could bring oil down later this year.Russia is a reluctant participant in its agreement with OPEC to withhold output and it may increase production if the deal is not extended before it expires on July 1, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday.  Another key architect of the OPEC-Russia deal, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia's direct investment fund, said on Monday OPEC and allies should raise output from June. Dmitriev previously said it was too early to pull back from cuts. Russian oil output reached a national record high of 11.16 million bpd last year.In the United States, crude production reached a global record 12.2 million bpd in late March. U.S. crude exports have also risen.

Oil gains up to 2% to five-month high as Libyan output threatened (Reuters) - Oil prices rose up to 2 percent on Monday, hitting five-month highs on expectations that global supplies would tighten due to fighting in Libya, OPEC-led cuts and U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. International benchmark Brent futures rose 76 cents, or 1.1 percent, to settle at $71.10 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained $1.32, or 2.1 percent, to settle at $64.40 a barrel. Brent’s session high of $71.19 a barrel and WTI’s of $64.44 were the highest since November. Traders said prices extended gains after data from market intelligence firm Genscape showed crude stockpiles at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for WTI, fell by about 419,000 barrels last week. Investors already were focused on supply during the session as fighting in oil-rich Libya threatened to disrupt exports. Eastern forces were advancing on the country’s capital, disregarding global appeals for a truce. “The violence in Libya is captivating the market,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. “Given the intense efforts of Saudi Arabia and other countries to restrict output, there is a sense that losing the Libyan oil, again, has the makings of a supply crunch.” To prop up prices, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies such as Russia pledged to withhold around 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of supply from the start of this year. The group, led by Saudi Arabia, has exceeded those expectations so far this year.  Despite the factors boosting prices, there are still factors that could bring oil prices down later this year. Russia is a reluctant participant in its agreement with OPEC, and Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s direct investment fund, signaled on Monday that Russia wanted to raise oil output when it meets with OPEC in June. He added that it could be appropriate for Russia to increase output by 228,000 bpd, by which it had previously cut production, “and maybe even further.” 

Oil Prices Spike On Libyan Violence - The Libyan National Army (LNA) has launched a campaign to take over Tripoli and oust the internationally-recognized government, the latest phase in a long-running civil war that has simmered since the fall of Gaddafi eight years ago. The LNA, led by Khalifa Haftar, is marching on Tripoli after solidifying control of vast swathes of territory in Libya’s east. Haftar ordered the offensive last week, and there are reports of fighting near Tripoli over the weekend, with the LNA having conducted at least one airstrike as of Sunday. It’s unclear how the situation will play out. The LNA is widely thought to be more organized than its counterpart in Tripoli, but Haftar is disliked in and around the capital. Libya’s internationally-recognized government vowed to fight back and “cleanse all Libyan cities of the aggressors,” a spokesman said.“At the moment it’s too early to come to any firm conclusion, and ultimately fighting could drag for weeks,” said Mohammad Darwazah, a director at Medley Global Advisors, according to Bloomberg. The rival factions had made progress on political talks in recent months, pushed along by the UN. The fighting now underway erases all of that goodwill and it seems that UN officials were caught off guard with how quickly the situation deteriorated.  A contingent of U.S troops supporting U.S. Africa Command temporarily exited the country due to “declining security” in Libya. “The security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander, U.S. Africa Command, in a statement. The turmoil could threaten Libya’s oil supplies. On and off civil war, as well as more minor skirmishes involving pipelines and oil fields, has repeatedly disrupted Libya’s oil production and exports. For now, Libya’s main oil fields, pipelines and export terminals do not lie in the path of the fighting, although there is one major port nearby. “Oil operations have been largely normal but any sustained fighting could quickly bring Libya back below one million barrels a day,” Darwazah said. The irony is that Libya’s oil sector has rebounded strongly over the past year, and the head of the National Oil Corp. has laid out ambitious goals of continuing to ratchet up output this year and in 2020.  Last year, the LNA tried to block oil exports and take control of shipments. Also, just a few months ago Libya’s Sharara oil field – the country’s largest – went offline amid unrest.

Brent Breaks $70 On Libya Violence -Oil prices hit a five-month high on Monday, with WTI surging above $64 per barrel and Brent topping $71. “The mood is increasingly turning bullish, but several feedback loops are about to start spinning that stand in the way of a prolonged oil rally,” Norbert Ruecker of Swiss bank Julius Baer told Reuters. “Russia already signaled its willingness to raise oil output from June. Fuel remains costly in emerging markets, with soft currencies adding to high oil prices.” Battling in and around Tripoli has intensified in recent days, with the Libyan National Army (LNA) conducting some airstrikes on the city and its airport. The international community, including the U.S., called on the LNA to cease fighting. Libya’s main oil fields are away from Tripoli and are already in territory controlled by the LNA. They don’t face immediate disruption, but because the LNA could become stretched by fighting for Tripoli, the potential for outages is on the rise. Oil prices spiked on Monday as a result of uncertainty.  A Wall Street Journal survey of 12 investment banks finds rising expectations for oil prices. The banks average forecast puts Brent at $68 per barrel this year, up $1 from the same survey in February. Indian refiners are holding off on buying oil from Iran ahead of the expiration of U.S. waivers on sanctions, according to Reuters. India had been granted a waiver by the Trump administration to buy about 300,000 bpd, which was about half of what India was importing prior to sanctions. Until the White House offers clarity on next steps, India is delaying purchases, Reuters reports.    A blockbuster report from the Wall Street Journal posits that the shale industry, in its quest to aggressively ramp up output from wells, could be front-loading production but reducing overall output over time. “In effect, frackers have jumped on a treadmill and ratcheted up the speed, becoming ever more dependent on new capital to keep oil production humming, even as Wall Street is becoming more skeptical of funding the industry,” the WSJ wrote. Some wells are exhibiting an increasing proportion of natural gas output relative to oil, a sign of dropping reservoir pressure. 

Oil prices hit highest in five months as fighting in Libya tightens supply -- Oil prices hit fresh five-month highs on Tuesday, supported by concern that violence in Libya could further tighten supply, although Russian comments signaling willingness to pump more dampened the rally.Supply curbs led by OPEC have underpinned a more than 30 percent rally this year for Brent crude, despite downward pressure from fears of an economic slowdown. Brent, the global benchmark, rose to $71.34 a barrel, the highest since November. Around 9:45 a.m. ET (1345 GMT), it was down 50 cents at $70.60. U.S. crude also hit a high going back to November 2018 at $64.79 and was later down 24 cents at $64.16.   "The mood is increasingly turning bullish, but several feedback loops are about to start spinning that stand in the way of a prolonged oil rally," "Russia already signaled its willingness to raise oil output from June. Fuel remains costly in emerging markets, with soft currencies adding to high oil prices."Russia, a participant in the OPEC-led supply cuts that currently expire in June, signaled on Monday it wanted to raise output when it meets with OPEC because of falling stockpiles.Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday there would be no need to extend the supply-curbing deal if the market was expected to be balanced in the second half of the year.U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela have deepened the OPEC supply cut and concern has grown this week about the stability of Libyan output. The OPEC member pumps around 1.1 million barrels per day, just over 1 percent of global supply. "The oil market is already undersupplied, so if supply from Libya also falls away the supply deficit will become even bigger," On Monday, a warplane attacked Tripoli's only functioning airport as eastern forces advancing on the Libyan capital disregarded international appeals for a truce. Yet despite generally bullish sentiment, concerns that an economic slowdown this year will hit fuel consumption have been preventing crude prices from rising even higher, traders said.

Oil dips on global growth worry, possible output rise (Reuters) - Oil fell from five-month highs on Tuesday after the International Monetary Fund cut its global economic growth forecasts and as Russia signaled it may retreat from its production-cutting deal with OPEC. A threat by Washington to slap tariffs on hundreds of European goods halted a rally in global equities, which also dragged on oil futures. Brent settled 49 cents lower at $70.61 a barrel, after hitting $71.34, its highest since November. U.S. crude ended at $63.98 a barrel, down 42 cents on the day, after also reaching a five-month high of $64.79. “I think the IMF lowering global growth is really the biggest headwind today that oil futures are seeing,” The IMF cut its global economic growth forecasts for 2019 and warned growth could slow further due to trade tensions and a potentially disorderly British exit from the European Union. The IMF downgrade, its third since October, added to concerns a slowdown this year will hit fuel consumption and prevent crude prices from rising even higher. Prices also faltered as Russia, a participant in the OPEC-led supply cuts that expire in June, signaled on Monday it wants to raise output when it next meets with OPEC because of falling stockpiles. On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin said Russia did not support an uncontrollable rise in oil prices and that the current price suited Moscow. “We are ready for cooperation with OPEC in decision-making ... But whether it would be cuts, or just a stoppage at the current level of output, I am not ready to say,” Putin told an Arctic conference in St. Petersburg. U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela have deepened the OPEC supply cut and concern has grown this week about the stability of Libyan output. The OPEC member pumps around 1.1 million barrels per day, just over 1 percent of global supply. Rising U.S. crude production and inventories continued to weigh on the market. 

OPEC's oil production plunges to four-year low in March as Saudis slash output --  Oil supplies from OPEC sank by half a million barrels a day in March, hitting a four-year low, as Saudi Arabia continued to slash output and Venezuela's production plunged amid ongoing economic crisis.The monthly production decline amounts to roughly half a percent of global oil demand. The drop is greater than the total monthly output of four of OPEC's 14 members.The producer group, along with Russia and other nonmember countries, is trying to keep 1.2 million barrels per day off the market through June, following a collapse in crude prices at the end of 2018. The production curbs by the so-called OPEC+ alliance aim to drain oversupply from the oil market and boost prices.OPEC's output fell by 534,000 bpd in March to 30.02 million bpd, according to independent sources cited by the group in its monthly report. This year, supply from the group has fallen by more than 1.5 million bpd, helping to drive international Brent crude prices 30 percent higher.  The headline OPEC output was the lowest since February 2015, when the group pumped 29.97 million bpd, though its membership has changed several times since then.Much of the March decline is due to Saudi Arabia's willingness to aggressively cut production. In March, the Saudis took another 324,000 bpd off the market, bringing output to just under 9.8 million bpd and delivering on Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih's vow to pump well below 10 million bpd.Saudi output has now fallen by about 1.3 million bpd from its all-time high at 11.1 million in November, when the kingdom's production surged to offset U.S. energy sanctions on OPEC-member Iran.The terminal decline in Venezuelan output continues to help OPEC+ cut global oil supplies. Following a series of blackouts that disrupted oil operations, Venezuela's production plunged by 289,000 bpd to 732,000 bpd in March.Venezuela, already mired in a years-long economic crisis, is now grappling with U.S. sanctions against state-owned oil giant PDVSA and a political standoff between socialist leader Nicolas Maduro and opposition figure Juan Guaido.The next biggest decline came from Iraq, which cut production by 126,000 bpd in March to just over 4.5 million barrels. That brought OPEC's second-largest producer roughly in line with its production cap for the first time this year.The declines were offset by Libya, where output surged by 196,000 bpd to nearly 1.1 million bpd. The nation's production often fluctuates due to unrest, and its supplies are now in question after an insurgent Libyan general sent his troops into Tripoli, the seat of the rival United Nations-recognized government.

Trump discussed Iran, human rights with Saudi crown prince: White House (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by phone on Tuesday, discussing Riyadh’s role in Middle East stability, maintaining pressure on Iran and the importance of human rights issues, the White House said. Washington’s Middle East ally faces rising pressure over its handling of the war in Yemen and moves to stifle internal dissent, including the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and prosecution of women’s rights activists. A bipartisan chorus of U.S. lawmakers has called on the White House to harden its stance toward Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence believes the crown prince ordered the killing, which Saudi officials deny. Trump has said the U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia is important for the U.S. economy and maintaining stability in the region. The U.S. State Department on Monday publicly designated 16 people for their role in Khashoggi’s death and said they and their families would be barred from entering the United States. The United States on Monday also designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, drawing an angry reaction from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. The White House said Trump used the call with the crown prince to discuss ways of “maintaining maximum pressure against Iran.” Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition battling Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents in Yemen. 

High oil supply disruptions set stage for next slump- Kemp (Reuters) - Global oil output is being hit by expanding U.S. sanctions and other unplanned disruptions which, in an echo of market conditions around five years ago, are pushing prices higher in the short term but also setting the stage for the next slump. Unplanned factors reduced global production by 2.8 million barrels per day in March, down from 3.3 million bpd in February, but up from 1.8 million bpd a year earlier, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Disruptions among members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reached 2.49 million bpd in March, double the same month last year. In recent months, OPEC and total disruptions have been running at the highest levels for almost three years and near some of the highest for a decade (“Short-Term Energy Outlook”, EIA, April 2019). And the EIA figures do not include Venezuela, where output has been erratically declining and too variable to define a "normal" undisrupted level. Nor do they take into account the potential impact of renewed fighting in Libya, which could upset production and exports in the next few months if it intensifies. The figures therefore understate the extent to which involuntary production cuts - actual and threatened - have caused the oil market to tighten in recent months ( ). Sanctions and unplanned problems can help make Saudi Arabia’s role as swing producer more effective by simplifying coordination with other producers and reducing the risk of cheating. But unplanned problems can also cause the oil market to over-tighten temporarily, pushing prices higher and masking underlying imbalances between production and consumption, contributing to a subsequent slump. 

Oil rises amid OPEC supply cuts, US sanctions - Oil prices rose on Wednesday towards five-month highs hit the previous day as OPEC production cuts andU.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela continued to tighten supply, though economic worries increased.International benchmark Brent futures were at $70.85 per barrel at 8:19 a.m. ET, up 24 cents, or 0.34%, from their last close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $64.31 per barrel, up 33 cents, or 0.52%. Oil markets have tightened this year because of U.S. sanctions on oil exporters Iran and Venezuela, as well as supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and some non-affiliated producers including Russia, a group known as OPEC+. Supplies from OPEC dropped by half a million barrels a day in March to a four-year low as Saudi Arabia continued to curb production. The monthly output cut totals about half a percent of global crude demand. The drop is greater than the total monthly output of four of OPEC's 14 members.Brent and WTI crude oil futures have risen by around 30% and 40% respectively since the start of the year."The global oil market is clearly moving back towards balance thanks to OPEC+ production cuts," ING bank said.The Dutch bank said the reduction was not only down to voluntary supply cuts, which the group started this year to prop up prices, but also involuntary curbs from Venezuela and Iran - which are exempt from the OPEC cut pact - due to U.S. sanctions."Declines from these two exempt countries account for almost 47% of the reduction seen from OPEC," ING added.But Russia's role in the pact came into focus after a senior Russian official signalled Moscow might seek to raise output, though President Vladimir Putin indicated on Tuesday that current prices suited Russia. "The Russian camp is increasingly coy about extending supply cuts. Suffice to say, this may throw a spanner in the works for a sustained price recovery," said PVM analyst Stephen Brennock.Not all regions are in tight supply, however. U.S. crude stocks rose by 4.1 million barrels in the week to April 5 to 455.8 million barrels, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday, though gasoline and distillate inventories fell more than expected.

Oil Prices Rise as Libya, Growth Forecast in focus - - Oil prices rose on Wednesday in Asia as traders weighed the impact of the IMF’s latest economic growth forecast cut and geopolitical concerns in Libya. U.S. Crude Oil WTI Futures were up 0.3% to $64.14 by 1:06 AM ET (05:06 GMT). International Brent Oil Futures inched up 0.1% to $70.79/ Brent and WTI crude oil futures have risen by around 40% and 30% respectively since the start of the year. In Libya, forces loyal to renegade general Khalifa Haftar continued their advance on the capital, striking Tripoli's only working airport and ignoring international calls for a truce. Haftar's forces are already in control of oil fields that produce half or more of Libya's total output of about 1.1 million barrels of crude a day. Any disruption in Libyan oil volumes will further squeeze a global crude market already in panic mode from U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. In addition to concerns over the ongoing conflict in Libya, John Driscoll, chief strategist at JTD Energy Services, told CNBC in an interview that Venezuela and Iran are other potential sources of risks for the oil markets. For Venezuela, he said: “Things are terrible there, oil output is plummeting, then you’ve got this wave of electrical outages that have halved their exports.” “Libya has come back into play, Iran, Venezuela, it’s all getting stronger,” he said. On the demand side, concerns that an economic slowdown will soon hit fuel consumption intensified after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgraded its outlook for global economic growth for 2019 to 3.3% from the previous 3.5%.

US Crude Oil Inventories Increase By A Whopping 7.0 Million Bbls -- April 10, 2019 --  EIA's weekly petroleum report, link here:

  • US crude oil inventories up a whopping 7.0 million bbls
  • LOL -- at 456.5 million bbls, the US crude oil inventories are at the five year average -- going unreported is that that the 5-year average now includes the Saudi $1 trillion mistake / Saudi surge of 2014 - 2016
  • at 456.5 million bbls, largest inventory in 20 weeks
  • but look at this: total motor gasoline inventories decreased by 7.7 million bbls just as the US starts to enter its annual driving season; it can all be traced back to the Obama policies; not enough heavy oil to counter al that light oil, and, there are some refineries "down" due to "unexpected" maintenance; gasoline will get expensive;
  • refineries operating at 87.5% capacity; at the far low end of the continuum
  • crude oil imports are 15.5% less than the same four-week period last year -- this is not trivial; if that is mostly heavy oil, it's a problem for refiners
  • WTI after the report: up 24 cents, at $64.22.

Oil rallies as U.S. gasoline inventory draw offsets crude build - (Reuters) - Oil futures climbed more than 1 percent on Wednesday after U.S. data showing a deep decline in gasoline stocks overrode a rise in crude inventories to 17-month highs, and as an OPEC report showed further tightening of Venezuela’s crude supply. International benchmark Brent futures settled at $71.73 a barrel, gaining $1.12, or 1.59 percent, after hitting a five-month high of $71.78 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures settled at $64.61 a barrel, rising 63 cents, or 0.98 percent, holding just below its strongest level since mid-November. “At the end of the day, that big gasoline stock draw was more important to the market than the build in crude stocks because I think the crude build could easily be largely reversed next week,”  U.S. crude stockpiles last week rose to their highest level since November 2017 as imports grew, while gasoline inventories posted the steepest drawdown since September 2017, the Energy Information Administration said. Crude inventories swelled by 7 million barrels last week, far surpassing forecasts for an increase of 2.3 million barrels. Gasoline stocks, however, fell 7.7 million barrels, more than triple the 2-million-barrel drop analysts had expected.   U.S. sanctions on oil exporters Iran and Venezuela, as well as supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, known as OPEC+, also boosted prices. “With geopolitical risks continuing to impact production from Venezuela and Iran and now also potentially Libya and even Algeria, the crude oil market is likely to remain supported until the price reaches a level that is satisfactory for OPEC and Russia,”  An OPEC monthly report released on Wednesday showed that Venezuela’s oil output sank last month to a long-term low below 1 million barrels per day, due to U.S. sanctions and blackouts. The figures could add to a debate within OPEC+ about whether to maintain oil supply cuts beyond June. .

Oil prices dip on surging US crude stockpiles - Oil prices fell on Thursday, but prices continued to find a floor as OPEC-led cuts and free-falling Venezuelan output tighten global supplies. International benchmark Brent futures were down 63 cents, or nearly 1%, at $71.10 a barrel around 7:45 a.m. ET (1345 GMT). Brent hit a more than five-month high at $71.78 on Wednesday. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures fell 59 cents, or 1%, to $64.02 per barrel. WTI was not far off Tuesday's high of $64.79 going back to Nov. 1. U.S. crude inventories surged by 7 million barrels to a 17-month high of 456.6 million barrels last week, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. However, U.S. gasoline stocks fell by a whopping 7.7 million barrels, sending U.S. gasoline futures higher by 3.5 percent on their close on Wednesday. "While U.S. crude stocks built last week, a massive draw on (gasoline) inventories likely buoyed the whole complex," Vienna-based consultancy JBC Energy said. U.S. crude oil production remained at a record 12.2 million barrels per day, according to preliminary weekly data, making the United States the world's biggest oil producer ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia. Oil markets are tightening amid the increasing effectiveness of U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, the International Energy Agency said on Thursday. U.S. sanctions and power outages pushed OPEC member Venezuela's crude output to a long-term low of 870,000 bpd, IEA says. On Wednesday, OPEC reported Venezuela's March output sank to 732,000 bpd, citing independent sources, while figures provided by the country put production at 960,000 bpd. Overall output from OPEC, which has agreed with allies to withhold 1.2 million bpd of crude from the market since the start of 2019, fell 550,000 bpd in March to 30.1 million bpd, the IEA said. OPEC's official report on Wednesday put the group's output at a four-year just over 30 million bpd. 

Oil markets are tightening amid 'increasing effectiveness' of US sanctions, IEA says -- Oil markets are tightening at the start of the second quarter amid a flurry of intensifying risk indicators, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Thursday. But, the group warned an "extraordinarily" wide range of views about the health of the global economy was making it difficult to forecast oil prices. It comes at a time when energy market participants are concerned surging U.S. crude stockpiles and an economic slowdown could soon dent fuel consumption. However, global oil markets remain firm, amid OPEC-led supply cuts, U.S. sanctions on oil exportersVenezuela and Iran and escalating fighting in Libya. "The huge increase in oil production we saw in the second half of 2018 has reversed following the implementation of the new Vienna Agreement and the increasing effectiveness of sanctions against Iran and Venezuela," the Paris-based IEA said Thursday. "This turnaround in supply has contributed to a dramatic increase in prices, with Brent crude rising from $50 a barrel at the end of December to more than $70 a barrel today." International benchmark Brent crude traded at around $71.21 Thursday morning, down 0.7 percent, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $63.95, around 1 percent lower. Brent and WTI crude futures have risen by approximately 30 and 40 percent respectively since the start of the year. "In a world where we saw Brent at $86 a barrel in October, $50 a barrel in December and now back to over $70, I think it is a very brave person that attempts to forecast what the price will be at the end of the year," Neil Atkinson, head of the oil industry and markets division at the IEA, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Thursday. This year's oil price rally has prompted President Donald Trump to call on OPEC to hike output and tamp down prices. The producer group has so far ignored Trump's warnings. OPEC, along with Russia and other non-member countries, is trying to keep 1.2 million barrels per day (b/d) off the market through June, following a collapse in crude prices at the end of 2018.

A 'forecasting nightmare': Volatile oil prices are virtually impossible to predict, analysts say - A flurry of intensifying risks in the energy market has made it "virtually impossible" to confidently forecast the price of oil, industry experts told CNBC on Thursday.Oil prices have soared since the start of the year, due to a number of risk factors such as OPEC-led supply cuts, U.S. sanctions on oil exporters Iran and Venezuela and escalating fighting in Libya.But, alongside mounting concerns about the health of the global economy, surging U.S. crude inventories appears to have capped further gains."There are so many uncertainties surrounding the oil market that it makes it virtually impossible to predict developments for the rest of the week let alone for months or a year ahead," Tamas Varga, senior analyst at PVM Oil Associates, said in a research note published Thursday."There are economic and geopolitical developments to deal with and these can change almost on a daily basis," Varga said. He described oil market conditions at present as a "forecasting nightmare."International benchmark Brent crude traded at around $71.15 Thursday afternoon, down 0.8%, while U.S.West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $64.05, around 0.9% lower.Brent and WTI crude futures have risen by approximately 30% and 40% respectively since the start of the year. A dramatic upswing in prices so far this year has prompted President Donald Trump to call on OPEC to ratchet up supply.

Oil prices firm amid OPEC supply cuts, US sanctions on Iran and Venezuela - Oil prices rose on Friday as involuntary supply cuts from Venezuela and Iran plus conflict in Libya supported perceptions of a tightening market, already underpinned by production cuts from OPEC and its allies. Brent crude oil futures rose 57 cents to $71.40 per barrel around 10:45 a.m. ET (1445 GMT), heading for a weekly gain of 1.5%, their third weekly gain in a row. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were up 51 cents at $64.09 per barrel, set for a weekly rise of 1.6 percent, their sixth straight week of gains. Oil markets have been lifted by more than a third this year by supply cuts led by OPEC, U.S. sanctions on oil exporters Iran and Venezuela, plus escalating conflict in fellow OPEC member Libya. The head of Libya's National Oil Corporation warned on Friday that renewed fighting could wipe out crude production in the country. "We see Brent and WTI prices averaging $75 per barrel and $67 per barrel respectively through the rest of this year, but risk is asymmetrically skewed to the upside," RBC Capital Markets said in a research note. "Geopolitically infused rallies could shoot prices toward or even past the $80 per barrel mark for intermittent periods this summer," the Canadian bank said. OPEC and its allies will meet in June to decide whether to continue withholding supply, and while OPEC's de-facto leader, Saudi Arabia, is seen to be keen to continue cutting, sources within the group said it may raise output from July if disruptions elsewhere continue. On the demand side, most of the world's growth in fuel consumption is coming from Asia, where China's economic growth is expected to slow to a near 30-year low of 6.2 percent this year, a Reuters poll showed on Friday. But concerns over such a slowdown were muted on Friday.

Inventories Still Significantly Above Normal Level - Inventories are still significantly above what the Saudi Energy Minister would consider a normal level. In a recent television interview with Bloomberg, Saudi Arabia Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih revealed that inventories are still significantly above what he would consider a normal level. “The last I checked [it] was 70 to 80 million barrels,” Al-Falih stated in the interview, which was published on Monday. In the interview, Al-Falih told Bloomberg the objective of bringing inventories to a reasonable level remains unchanged. “Everybody I talk to agrees with the same, that we do want to bring inventories down. We saw how sensitive oil markets are to inventories,” Al-Falih stated in the interview. “When we increased production in the second half [of 2018], for the reasons we all know, we saw how quickly the markets reacted and therefore we want to avoid that scenario materializing again,” he added. Last month, in a speech at the 13th meeting of the JMMC in Azerbaijan, Al-Falih said market fundamentals had been slowly improving since the latter part of last year but added that “much more work still needs to be done”. “Inventories in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United States continue to fluctuate, and our goal is to bring global inventory levels down to more normal levels—and even more importantly, to proactively protect against a glut,” Al-Falih stated in his speech. Al-Falih has been chairman of the board of Saudi Aramco since April 2015. From 2009 to 2015, he served as the president and chief executive officer of Saudi Aramco and previously held a range of roles at the company. Al-Falih has a Master of business administration from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, and a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University

Saudi energy minister expects Aramco bond demand at 'north of' $30 billion --Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al Falih expects robust demand for state oil giant Saudi Aramco's first-ever bond issuance, the deal for which is expected to close on Wednesday. Demand for the bond should be "north of" $30 billion, al Falih said while speaking at the inaugural Gulf Intelligence Saudi Arabia Energy Forum in Riyadh on Monday. Saudi Arabia's state-controlled energy giant Aramco plans to tap bond markets this week, marking the first-ever debt issuance from the world's largest oil firm and enabling greater visibility into its financial performance. Initial media reports put the Aramco bond issuance amount at $10 billion, which sources have told CNBC is "reasonable as a minimum." An Aramco oil tank is seen at the Production facility at Saudi Aramco's Shaybah oilfield in the Empty Quarter, Saudi Arabia. The move is designed to help raise funds for a down payment on the oil giant's $69.1 billion purchase of a majority stake in Saudi petrochemicals firm Sabic. Aramco, the world's top oil producer, earlier this month received an "A+" rating from Fitch and an "A1" rating from Moody's in its first ever credit ratings, following 2018 earnings that dwarfed those of international oil majors. Saudi Arabia has already seen formidable success in its recent tapping of the bond market: It issued $7.5 billion in sovereign bonds in January which drew an impressive $27 billion in orders. Saudi Arabia has "A1" and "A+" ratings from agencies Moody's and Fitch, respectively, a sign of reliability and low risk for investors.

Aramco’s True Breakeven Price - Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, is by far the largest oil company in the world. The company produces around 13 percent of the world’s oil, but its business operations have been notoriously opaque for decades. This week Saudi Aramco lifted the veil on its financial condition in a bond offering for the company. (PDF link here).There are many important financial details in the filing. The company is indeed the world’s most profitable, earning $111 billion on $356 billion in revenue in 2018. This is nearly double the $59.4 billion made by Apple, the world’s second-most profitable company, in 2018. It’s also over five times the $20.8 billion made by ExxonMobil last year. Bloomberg points out that Aramco’s “funds flow from operations” was $26 per barrel last year, which they note was worse than Shell or Total which reported $38 and $31, respectively. However, I found the most significant item in the prospectus to be that Saudi Aramco struggled to break even in 2016 when Brent crude averaged about $45 per barrel. Net income in 2016 was only $13 billion, and free cash flow a mere $2 billion. Contrast that with the $111 billion in income and $86 billion in free cash flow the company made in 2018 (when Brent crude averaged $71.34/bbl), and it looks like Aramco’s breakeven price is just about $40/bbl. No wonder OPEC threw in the towel in 2016 and decided to abandon its price war with U.S. shale. OPEC’s largest member saw its income dry up and was on the verge of posting a loss if oil prices didn’t turn around. I once characterized OPEC’s decision to declare war on U.S. shale oil producers as a trillion dollar miscalculation, and at least now we can see that it likely cost Saudi Aramco alone several hundred billion dollars. The implications of this news are that we will likely never again see an extended period of time with world oil prices below $45, because OPEC will have to take action at that point to prop up prices as the cartel did in 2016. Otherwise, they will quickly find themselves in deep financial trouble, unable to balance government budgets.

The monster Aramco bond offering may have just doomed the Saudi oil giant's IPO -Aramco's hugely successful bond offering on Tuesday may be the final nail in the coffin for the Saudi oil giant's much-anticipated and long-delayed stock market debut.Just three years ago, the Saudis cast the initial public offering for Aramco as the key to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious plan to diversify his nation's oil-dependent economy. By offering investors the opportunity to own a piece of the world's largest oil company, the kingdom hoped to raise $100 billion to seed investments in new industries and turn the petrostate into a technology and entertainment hub.Market watchers were already questioning the IPO after Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund struck a $69.1 billion deal last month to sell Aramco its 70% stake in petrochemicals giant Sabic. Aramco's first-ever bond offering only raised further doubts about the need to go public. "What the Aramco bond offering shows you is you have an underleveraged giant that you can use to juice up your capital when you need it." -Roger Diwan, vice president for financial services, IHS MarkitSeeking to raise $10 billion in its first debt sale, Aramco attracted more than $100 billion in bids from bond investors. While the bond offering will reportedly fund a portion of the Sabic acquisition, it also suggested there is plenty of appetite for future debt sales."To the degree to which the goal of the IPO was seen as providing more funding for the Public Investment Fund ... if you can do this with a bond offering, the question is do you need an IPO?" said Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, referring to the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

High-Hyped $12B Aramco Bond Sees Disappointing First-Day Moves - After seeing significant interest with an unprecedented $100 billion in orders on Tuesday, Aramco’s bond saw but mild upward moves on Wednesday, its first day out of the gate.The lackluster response suggests, according to Reuters sources, that the initial demand was inflated.Despite the $100 billion in orders, only $12 billion of debt was issued—this huge disparity in the two led many to believe that first-day activity would have been stronger than it was. The reason for this, according to a trader who spoke to Reuters, is that many had already anticipated that the demand would be significant and orders would go unfilled, so traders placed additional orders in hopes of elbowing their way past other traders who were also scrambling for a piece of the Aramco pie.Still an overall success, if not somewhat disappointing, the bond sale has dispelled any notion that traders are overly concerned with getting into bed with Saudi Aramco, which for all intents and purposes is the same thing as The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.Some see yesterday’s bond issuance success as a measure of the interest that Aramco’s massive IPO would generate, should the oil company ever overcome the host of challenges that come with such an undertaking. Others think it’s possible that the IPO will not take place at all now that Aramco has pulled off the bond in what not only could be construed as a face-saving move, but as taking the place of the IPO’s cash generating purpose. The hope? That the IPO would generate a hard-fought $100 billion—harder than issuing bonds, anyway. The official word on Aramco’s IPO is that it is still on track, but quite a ways out, in 2021.

US-Backed Coalition Bombs Another Yemen School, Killing Mostly Children — With a War Powers resolution that would end U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s assault on Yemen currently on President Donald Trump’s desk, the Saudi-led coalition on Sunday reportedly bombed a residential area in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, killing at least 11 and injuring dozens more.According to local medical officials, most of those killed were young children after Saudi airstrikes hit a Yemeni school.“Everyone was hysterical, some were crying and shouting in panic,” Fatehiya Kahlani, principal of Al Raei school, told Al Jazeera. “The situation was horrible as the school population is 2,100. Some girl students were killed and others were wounded and are in a hospital as a result of the missile strike. The school building was destroyed too.”Just imagine that your kids were among students in this school.  Footage taken today in Sana'a after Saudi led coalition air strikes hit al-Raei school, killing 11 girl studets and wounding 35 others. #Yemen#YemenCantWait— Fatik Al-Rodaini (@Fatikr) April 7, 2019  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who helped lead the Senate effort to end U.S. complicity in Saudi Arabia’s atrocities in Yemen, once again called on Trump to sign the Yemen Wars Powers resolution. “Another horrific attack in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. More children dead,” tweeted Sanders, a 2020 presidential candidate. “President Trump, I urge you to sign the resolution Congress passed last week ending U.S. support for this conflict. Yemen needs humanitarian aid, not more bombs.”   Reacting to the latest Saudi-led attack on Yemen—which comes around two weeks after the coalition bombed a Yemeni hospital—Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) demanded to know whether the Trump administration provided the Saudis with “targeting or other assistance… for this airstrike that killed girl students.”

US-Backed Saudi Coalition Launches New Round of Airstrikes on Yemen’s Capital— Saudi coalition officials have announced a new round of airstrikes against an industrial area in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Thursday. The strikes centered on the al-Jeraf neighborhood. According to the coalition statement, the attack targeted two industrial buildings. They claimed one was manufacturing drones and the other contained launch pads. The locals, however, told a very different story. According to locals, the strikes hit a plastics factory, starting a large fire, and a neighboring warehouse. On top of that, an additional strike hit a nearby house, though there were no casualties reported. Still, the strikes caused a panic in the neighborhood, and the fires caused a fair bit of damage. Such strikes have been increasingly common across northern Yemen, where the Saudi forces have been carrying out such strikes for over four years.

Iran rebukes US over rumoured IRGC ‘terrorist’ designation --Iranian officials have cautioned the United States against pushing ahead with a rumoured move to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a "terrorist" group, warning it could destabilise the region and draw a tit-for-tat response. The expected shift in Washington's policy was initially reported by the Wall Street Journal on Friday, which cited unnamed US officials claiming it could be rolled out as soon as Monday. Seen as part of a broader effort to make good on US President Donald Trump's vow to take a tougher line against Iran, the proposal would - if implemented - mark an unprecedented step against an entire institution of a foreign government. It would also go far beyond pre-existing sanctions put in place by the US to target entities linked to the IRGC, including the Quds Force, which is in charge of the force's operations abroad. On Sunday, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said such a measure was "another US disaster" in the making, and warned of the consequences it could have. "#NetanyahuFirsters who have long agitated for FTO designation of the IRGC fully understand its consequences for US forces in the region," Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, Iran's regional archenemy. "In fact, they seek to drag US into a quagmire on his behalf. @realDonaldTrump should know better than to be conned into another US disaster," Zarif added. 

Iran Revolutionary Guard Commander Warns US Carrier- Stay Away From Our Speed Boats --  It begins: unprecedented tit-for-tat formal "terror" designations exchanged between Washington and Tehran on Monday could soon enter a hot war on the ground. A mere hours after President Trump formally designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization on Monday, Iran's foreign ministry responded in kind by immediately putting forward a bill placing the US Central Command (CENTCOM) on a list of organizations designated as terrorists, akin to ISIS. This means each side has given its armed forces authorization to target the other as part of "war on terror" operations. And already on Tuesday an IRGC commander has put the US Navy in the Persian Gulf on notice, warning it not to come anywhere near Revolutionary Guards speed boats. Specifically, according to Iran's ISNA news agency, Tehran has warned that America's aircraft carrier currently deployed to the gulf, the USS John C. Stennis, should not come anywhere near IRGC boats. According to Reuters, citing Iranian state media: An Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander warned the U.S. Navy to keep its warships at a distance from Revo lutionary Guards speed boats in Gulf waters, a day after the United States designated the Guards as a terrorist organisation.“Mr Trump, tell your warships not to pass near the Revolutionary Guards boats,” ISNA news agency reported a tweet from Mohsen Rezaei as saying. Over the past years there's been a number of intercept incidents in the Persian Gulf carried out by each side none of them escalating to the point of serious exchange of fire.  The last major international incident was the January 2016 crisis wherein two US Navy Riverine Command boats cruising from Kuwait to Bahrain strayed into Iranian territorial waters, resulting in the combined of crew of nine men and one woman being taken into Iranian detention. The crew was released 15 hours later, but to the great embarrassment of Washington, for which four of the sailors were later punished.

US Views Iran’s Qassem Soleimani as “Equivalent” to ISIS Leader --  — During remarks early this week in a Fox News interview following Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) being formally designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that the US will view Iran’s elite force just as it does ISIS. Specifically Pompeo agreed that the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani, is a “terrorist” on the level of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a Fox News interview on Monday.  Fox’s Bret Baier posed the question to the Secretary of State: The head of the IRGC, this man Qasem Soleimani, is by all accounts a bad character and has led all kinds of attacks. But are you saying that he now is equated to, let’s say, the head of ISIS, al-Baghdadi, in U.S. policy perspective? Responding to whether Suleimani is now “equated” to notorious “caliphate head” Baghdadi, Pompeo affirmed, “Yeah. He is a terrorist.” This introduced the next obvious question which has no doubt been on the minds of Pentagon planners since the designation was announced: will the US military now target Soleimani and other IRGC commanders the way it does ISIS, with airstrikes and targeted assassination and/or invasion of territory held? Baier asked: “So we as a country have a policy to target him or capture him?” Pompeo explained, “Qassem Soleimani has the blood of Americans on his hands, as do the forces he leads,” according to the State Dept. read out of the interview. This is insane. Mike Pompeo equates Iranian IRGC general Qasem Soleimani with the leader of ISIS. Pompeo’s thinking is pure lunacy and propaganda — Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) April 9, 2019  “Each time we find an organization, institution, or an individual that has taken the lives of Americans, it is our responsibility – it’s indeed President Trump’s duty, and we have made tremendous progress in this administration’s first two years – to reduce the risk that any American will be killed by Qasem Soleimani and his merry band of brothers ever again,” Pompeo responded. Whether the Pentagon will actually be given the order to go after Quds force and other IRGC officers is perhaps a different matter, given such action would spark a direct war which would necessarily lead to US invasion and occupation of Tehran. But legally it remains that US forces would be required to go after IRGC members wherever they are encountered in a foreign theater, which means the Persian Gulf and especially the narrow Strait of Hormuz — where IRGC speed boats are known to operate with regularity not far from US Navy ships (currently the US aircraft carrier John C. Stennis is deployed in the gulf) — is now a major flash point where exchange of fire between Iran and the US could erupt at any moment.

Iran Is Preparing To Link Tehran To The Mediterranean Via A New Highway - The Islamic Republic of Iran is looking for new ways to link their capital, Tehran, with Syria's Damascus and Iraq's Baghdad. One of the proposed actions they are taking to make this a reality is the construction of new highways and rail systems that would link Syria with Iran via Iraq.Iran's Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri in statements this week underlined his country’s determination to build new roads and railways in order to link the Persian Gulf states to Syria and the Mediterranean region.“Iran which understands the political and economic conditions and developments believes that the necessary capacities for cooperation in transferring power and electricity, building roads and etc. will be provided and we hope that obstacles will be removed through the presence of the private sector,” Jahangiri said, addressing the joint Iran-Iraq economic-trade forum in Tehran on Sunday.He noted that building the Shalamcheh-Basra railway was one of the agreements made during the recent visit by the Iraqi delegation to Iran.Jahangiri stressed the importance of developing a cross border highway between the two countries in order to boost trade and commerce, while also protecting their interests in the region.“We will connect the Persian Gulf from Iraq to Syria and Mediterranean via railway and road,” Jahangiri said.The Shalamcheh-Basra railway project is said to cost around 2.22 billion rials and once implemented, it will link the Iranian railway to Syria through Iraq. For years since the start of the war in Syria, analysts have speculated what the so-called "Shia land bridge" or Iran-Iraq-Syria corridor to the Mediterranean would look like:

Fresh violence in Libya could provide new shock to oil markets  — A resurgence in fighting around the Libyan capital of Tripoli this week has driven U.S. forces to pull out of the country and is providing a new upside risk to global oil prices, underscoring the OPEC producer's importance to markets and the fragility of its supply. Rebel forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Hifter, who effectively controls the country's breakaway east, launched a surprise offensive against the home of Libya's UN-recognized government last week in a move that risks plunging the country back into civil war. "The Libyan conflict coming back onto the front of the mind of the marketplace is actually very significant right now," Dave Ernsberger, global head of energy at S&P Global Platts, told CNBC in Dubai on Monday. "We've seen Venezuelan production fall of a cliff, we've seen already inventories against the five-year average move into more bullish levels, so the fact that there might be a lack of Libyan supply to the market is potentially a bit of a shock right now." The looming conflict follows a surge in crude futures in recent months on the back of tightening supply, with global benchmark Brent and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) both rallying more than 20 percent since the start of 2019. Brent crude stood at $70 a barrel on Monday, with WTI trading at around $63.

Libya crisis- Fighting near Tripoli leaves 21 dead - BBC News- Libya's UN-backed government says 21 people have been killed and 27 wounded in fighting near the capital, Tripoli. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for an immediate halt to the fighting and called for talks. Forces under Gen Khalifa Haftar have advanced from the east with the aim of taking Tripoli. Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj has accused him of attempting a coup and says his forces will not be allowed to continue. Among the dead was a Red Crescent doctor killed on Saturday. Gen Haftar's forces said they had lost 14 fighters. Earlier the UN appealed for a two-hour truce so casualties and civilians could be evacuated, but fighting continued. And in a statement, Secretary of State Pompeo said the US was "deeply concerned about fighting near Tripoli" and stressed the need for talks. "This unilateral military campaign against Tripoli is endangering civilians and undermining prospects for a better future for all Libyans," the statement said. International powers have begun evacuating personnel from Libya amid the worsening security situation. Libya has been torn by violence and political instability since long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in 2011.

Libya's GNA forces announce 'counteroffensive' to defend Tripoli - The army behind Libya's UN-backed government has announced a counteroffensive to defend Tripoli, vowing to reclaim all areas seized by forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar, who have been marching on the outskirts of the capital. Colonel Mohamed Gnounou told reporters in Tripoli on Sunday that the counteroffensive, dubbed Volcano of Anger, was aimed at "purging all Libyan cities of aggressor and illegitimate forces". The announcement came as Haftar's forces said they conducted the first air raid on a Tripoli suburb as part of their aim to overthrow the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and take control of Tripoli. The alleged attack came after GNA forces launched air raids on Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) around 50km south of Tripoli on Saturday, reportedly killing one person. The health ministry of the UN-backed Libyan government said on Sunday that clashes in the southern part of Tripoli resulted in 11 killed and 23 wounded. Meanwhile, the UN mission in Libya (UNSMIL) made an "urgent appeal" for a two-hour truce in the southern suburbs to evacuate the wounded and civilians caught in the fighting.

Pompeo Urges Libya's Haftar To Halt Advance On Capital, Fearing Bloodbath -- The White House has joined other international voices in urging Benghazi-based renegade General Khalifa Haftar to halt his ongoing assault on the country's capital  this as the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli has already spent days battling Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA), which has included the use of air power.  Late in the day Sunday, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement, “We have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital.” And additionally Pompeo stated, "There is no military solution to the Libya conflict"  an absurd and ironic line for a top US official, given it was the US-NATO led 2011 war on Libya's Gaddafi that plunged the country into years of internecine civil war and violence in the first place. “A political solution is the only way to unify the country and provide a plan for security, stability and prosperity for all Libyans,” Pompeo said further.

Libya on the brink of all-out civil war -- As troops and tanks of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) of “Field Marshal” Khalifa Hifter advance on the capital of Tripoli, the internal conflicts that have been ripping the North African country apart are dramatically intensifying.Advancing from its base in the east, the LNA has captured the abandoned international airport south of the capital. On Monday, it carried out bombing raids against the country’s sole functioning airport in Tripoli’s eastern suburbs. The Pentagon responded on Sunday to the threatened siege of the city of 1.2 million people by withdrawing its military personnel by sea. The chief of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, said that the “security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable.” He added that the US military command in Africa would “continue to remain agile in support of existing US strategy.” Whether the withdrawal signals US acquiescence to Hifter’s offensive or the preparations for American airstrikes against his forces remains to be seen.

Libya’s descent into civil war: The bitter fruit of the pseudo-left's pro-imperialism -- The threat of a bloody battle for Tripoli has continued to mount as “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar has massed troops and tanks south of the Libyan capital and warplanes belonging to his so-called Libyan National Army have bombed the city’s sole functioning airport, stranding civilians seeking to escape the country.  Partial casualty figures have included 51 dead and over 181 wounded. Thousands have fled their homes to escape the fighting, and there are reports that thousands of refugees and migrants, held under unspeakable conditions in concentration camps run by various rival militias, are frantic over the prospect of becoming helpless victims of a potential massacre. In the midst of the escalation toward full-scale civil war, the United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned that any attack on civilians in Libya could amount to war crimes and demanded that all sides “respect international humanitarian law, and to take all possible measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and prisons.” The UN human rights body’s attitude toward the latest flareup of violence in Libya stands in stark contrast to its response to the one-sided US-NATO war waged in 2011 under the pretext of protecting civilian lives from repression at the hands of the government headed by Col. Muammar Gaddafi. A UN resolution allowing for a no-fly zone was used as the pretext to launch a seven-month-long bombing campaign in support of CIA-backed Islamist militias to destroy Libya’s security forces and vital infrastructure and overthrow its government. This campaign culminated in the carpet bombing of the coastal city of Sirte, a Gaddafi stronghold, and the lynch-mob torture and murder of Gaddafi himself.  The UN human rights advocates held their tongues throughout this campaign of imperialist slaughter, whose victims number in the tens of thousands, far beyond any estimate of the number who lost their lives to the repression of the Gaddafi regime.

Tripoli's only functional airport hit by air raid as clashes rage - Forces under the command of Libya's renegade General Khalifa Haftar have launched an air raid against the only functioning airport in Tripoli as heavy fighting rages for control of the capital.Al Jazeera's Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said services at the Mitiga airport in the east of the city were temporarily suspended after the attack on Monday."Passengers have been asked to evacuate the Mitiga airport after Haftar's aircraft raided the runway," he said, citing sources at the facility."In the area around the airport, civilians were terrified immediately after this air strike." No casualties were reported in the airport strike.In a statement, Ghassan Salame, the United Nations' envoy to Libya, condemned the LNA's air raid which targeted the only airport in Tripoli that is available for civilian use. "As such, this attack constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits attacks against civilian infrastructure," he said.

Battle rages for Libya's capital, airport bombed (Reuters) - A warplane attacked Tripoli’s only functioning airport on Monday as eastern forces advancing on the Libyan capital disregarded international appeals for a truce in the latest of a cycle of warfare since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011. Casualties were mounting in fighting that also threatens to disrupt oil supplies, fuel migration to Europe and wreck U.N. plans for an election to end rivalries between parallel administrations in the country’s east and west. The eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of Khalifa Haftar - a former general in Gaddafi’s army - said 19 of its soldiers died in recent days as they closed in on the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. A spokesman for the Tripoli-based Health Ministry said fighting in the south of the capital had killed at least 25 people, including fighters and civilians, and wounded 80. Mitiga airport, in an eastern suburb, was bombed and closed, authorities said. The U.N. envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, condemned the air strike as a “a serious violation of humanitarian law”. A spokesman for the LNA confirmed the strike, saying his force had not targeted civilian planes, only a MiG parked at Mitiga. The closure left Misrata airport, 200 km (125 miles) to the east down the coast, as the closest option for Tripoli residents. Haftar’s LNA, which backs the eastern administration in Benghazi, took the oil-rich south of Libya earlier this year before advancing fast through largely unpopulated desert regions toward Tripoli. Seizing the capital, however, is a much bigger challenge. The LNA has conducted air strikes on the south of the city as it seeks to advance along a road from a disused former international airport. 

How Libya's Haftar blindsided world powers with advance on Tripoli (Reuters) - Western diplomats sat down for three hours with Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in his eastern stronghold last month to try to dissuade him from launching an offensive against the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. They urged him not to plunge the country into a civil war and told him he could become a successful civilian leader if he committed himself to pursuing a political settlement, according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting outside Benghazi. But Haftar, a military strongman who critics describe as the new Muammar Gaddafi, paid them little heed, said the sources who spoke on condition the ambassadors were not identified. He said he was prepared to negotiate with the prime minister, but if no power-sharing deal was reached, he could invade the capital. Two weeks later, on April 4, he sent troops from his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) streaming towards Tripoli - just at a time when U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in the city to prepare for a national reconciliation conference this month which Guterres’ aides thought Haftar supported. For world powers including France, Italy and Britain, the general’s military campaign, the biggest in Libya since the 2011 uprising that deposed Gaddafi, represented a major setback. They had tried for years to co-opt Haftar, 75, into a political settlement that would stabilize the major oil and gas producer after almost a decade of conflict that had acted as a breeding ground for Islamist militancy. Even the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which have backed Haftar and see him as a bulwark against Islamists in north Africa, appear to have been surprised by his rapid advance. A French diplomatic source said Paris, which has also aided the general, had no prior warning of the offensive. The diplomats’ calls for military restraint in the meeting last month had echoed those from other Western and U.N. envoys who had traveled to Haftar’s base outside the city of Benghazi in the preceding weeks, four separate diplomatic sources said. In a sign of how far the situation in Libya - and Haftar - was beyond their control, U.N. and Western envoys in daily contact with his camp about the conference had no idea he was about to launch the offensive, the four diplomatic sources said. Some even thought the general was bluffing. 

Saudi Arabia Bankrolling Haftar's Bid To Seize All Of Libya - “Haftar would not be a player today without the foreign support he has received,” a Libyan affairs expert told The Wall Street Journal in a new lengthy profile of the Benghazi-based General Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) is advancing this week on Tripoli.  As Haftar consolidated power over much of the country's war ravaged east, also making huge gains in the past year over the south, he's all along enjoyed the political backing of an unlikely assortment of powerful countries that include the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France, and Russia. But the new WSJ report reveals his latest major external backer with endlessly deep pockets:Days before Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital and attempt to unite the divided country under his rule, Saudi Arabia promised tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the operation, according to senior advisers to the Saudi government. Citing senior Saudi officials, the report reveals further the offer came during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia, as part of a broader trip which took Haftar to European capitals where the perception was that the renegade general now militarily challenging the UN-backed Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) was crucial to negotiating a lasting power sharing settlement between the eastern and western halves of the country. The diplomatic meetings bolstered his status and resolve to take the whole country, even as lately the US and EU have vehemently called on him to halt the LNA's military advance, which lately included airstrikes on suburbs of Tripoli.  But apparently, the Saudis and possibly other backers are actually funding the assault on Tripoli, and further securing weaponry. The WSJ continues:Mr. Haftar accepted the recent Saudi offer of funds, according to the senior Saudi advisers, who said the money was intended for buying the loyalty of tribal leaders, recruiting and paying fighters, and other military purposes.“We were quite generous,” one of the advisers said.

Israel PM vows to annex West Bank settlements if re-elected - Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if he is re-elected.Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday and Mr Netanyahu is competing for votes with right-wing parties who support annexing part of the West Bank. The settlements are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.Last month the US recognised the occupied Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967, as Israeli territory. Israel has settled about 400,000 Jews in West Bank settlements, with another 200,000 living in East Jerusalem. There are about 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.Palestinians want to establish a state in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.What happens to the settlements is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians - Palestinians say the presence of settlements makes a future independent state impossible.Israel says the Palestinians are using the issue of settlements as a pretext to avoid direct peace talks. It says settlements are not a genuine obstacle to peace and are negotiable.

Turkey says ‘irresponsible’ Netanyahu cannot change West Bank status (Reuters) - Turkey on Sunday criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “irresponsible” for saying he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins Tuesday’s election.Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war, was Palestinian territory and Israel’s occupation violated international law.“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s irresponsible statement to seek votes just before the Israeli general elections cannot and will not change this fact,” Cavusoglu tweeted.Netanyahu, asked why he had not declared Israeli sovereignty over large West Bank settlements as Israel has already done in the occupied Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, said he was already discussing the move. “I am going to extend (Israeli) sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements,” he told Israel’s Channel 12 News on Saturday.Palestinian leaders reacted angrily, blaming what they said was a failure by world powers to stand up for international law.Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman echoed those charges on Sunday. “Will Western democracies react or will they keep appeasing? Shame on them all!” Ibrahim Kalin tweeted. The Palestinians and many countries deem settlements to be illegal under the Geneva conventions that bar settling on land captured in war. Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.

Netanyahu Rules Out Palestinian State, Says He’ll Immediately Annex West Bank — Looking to continue his bid to court right-wing voters on the eve of the election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took extra steps to announce that not only will the Palestinians never have their own state, but that he, assuming he is reelected, will immediately start annexing the occupied West Bank into Israel, starting with settlements. Netanyahu ruled out ever evacuating any “community” built in occupied territory, and insisted that the realization of a Palestinian state would necessarily “endanger our existence.” He took credit for the last eight years of the Palestinians not getting a state, saying no one had ever had to withstand such pressure.Whether this is just usual pre-election bluster or a statement of policy is unclear. Netanyahu claimed to have already informed Trump of his intentions, saying that he would prefer to do the annexations gradually, with US support, but would do it either way. With Trump having just endorsed the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, it will doubtless be seen internationally that any further Israeli land grabs are at least somewhat Trump’s fault. Trump has in the past suggested he wasn’t particularly concerned if the Middle East peace process included a Palestinian state or not, and Israel may well be taking him up on that.

Arab League Calls for ‘International Response’ to Netanyahu’s West Bank Remarks— The Arab League (AL) yesterday called for “a decisive international response” to the recent statements made by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on annexing the occupied Palestinian West Bank. The league’s Assistant Secretary-General for the Occupied Palestinian and Arab Lands, Saeed Abu Ali, said that that Netanyahu’s remarks would lead “dangerous repercussions,” adding that that the international response must be “derived from international law.” “The Israeli occupation has always aimed for continuing the construction of new illegal neighborhoods and settlement units in East Jerusalem,” Abu Ali explained, pointing out that Israel hoped to house “more than one million settlers in the West Bank alone.” Abu Ali urged the international community to “immediately announce its stance” on the Israeli remarks. He also demanded the International Criminal Court open an “immediate official investigation” into what he described as “the ongoing settlement crimes in the Palestinian territories.” “Netanyahu is using the settlement file as a card to guarantee the Israeli right-wing’s loyalty in his election campaign,” the Arab official noted. On Saturday, Netanyahu told the Israeli Channel 12 that he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he “wins another term in office”, a move that had enraged the Arab and international governments. Later on the day, the chief Palestinian negotiator and a close aide to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, said Israel would “continue to brazenly violate international law for as long as the international community will continue to reward it with impunity.” Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, urged the Palestinian Authority to halt its security cooperation with Israel in the occupied West Bank, stressing that “Netanyahu’s dreams of annexing the West Bank” would never be achieved.

Secret Document Reveals Plans For Civil War In Lebanon, Israeli False Flags, & Invasion - During his visit with US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, Lebanese President Michael Aoun reportedly received a US-Israeli document detailing plans for creating a civil war in Lebanon with covert false flag operations and possible Israeli invasion. Although the source of the document is Israeli and created in partnership with Washington, no one knows who presented it to Aoun. The Lebanese TV station, Al-Jadeed, initially reported the document on Lebanese TV and a video on its website. Geopolitics Alert translated the report for this article. The document details American plans to splinter the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, a domestic institution separate from the Lebanese Army. The plans involve Washington investing 200 million dollars into the Internal Security Forces (ISF) under the guise of keeping the peace but with the covert goal of creating sectarian conflict against Hezbollah with 2.5 million specifically dedicated to this purpose. The document states the ultimate goal is to destabilize the country by creating a civil war in Lebanon which will “help Israel on the international scene.” The United States and Israel plan to accomplish this by supporting “democratic forces,” sounding remarkably similar to the same strategy used in Syria, Libya, Venezuela, and elsewhere. According to the document, although “full load of our firepower will be unleashed,” they somehow do not anticipate any casualties. They do, however, expect the civil war to “trigger requests” for intervention from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) which Israel must only agree to after extreme reluctance. The document says Israel will also play an important role by creating “covert false flag operations” as the conflict progresses. Perhaps these operations would include chemical attacks similar to the chemical attacks on civilians in Syria or even direct attacks on Lebanese or Israeli civilians to blame on Hezbollah and justify international intervention.. The document admits that the United States and Israel will need an unprecedented amount of credibility to pull this off and also admits that the Lebanese Army may be an obstacle, likely due to the Army’s diverse makeup. As a legitimate political party with members throughout all aspects of Lebanese society, Hezbollah already has members and allies throughout the ISF as well as the Army.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz both declare Israeli election victory – video - Benjamin Netanyahu was on track on Wednesday morning to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, despite his Likud party winning the same number of seats as the party of his main rival. With 97% of votes counted, both Likud and the Blue and White party, led by the former army general Benny Gantz, had won 35 seats in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. However, results showed Netanyahu would be in a much better position to form a majority governing coalition made up of nationalist, far-right and religious allies. Gantz had fewer potential factions to partner with. Hours before it was clear what the result would be, both Netanyahu and Gantz declared victory to their supporters, buoyed by exit polls showing they had strong figures

Netanyahu prepares to form fourth consecutive government - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to form his fourth consecutive Likud-led coalition government after an election that saw a spectacular collapse of Labor, the party that governed Israel for the first 30 years of its existence. Netanyahu will head a coalition of ultra-orthodox religious and right-wing parties as well as an openly fascistic organization, all of which have pledged to introduce legislation giving him immunity from prosecution for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He called early elections to face down Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit over his expected corruption indictment for allegedly granting regulatory concessions to businessmen in return for lavish gifts and favourable news coverage. In an unexpectedly close race, portrayed as a referendum on Netanyahu, the incumbent won the same number of seats, 35, in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, as the Blue and White electoral alliance of his main rival, former Army Chief of Staff General Benny Gantz. He was able to emerge with a clear road to a new term in office because his allies in the far-right and religious parties won a further 30 seats.Gantz could at most muster only an additional 20 supporters for his nominally “centre-left” government--a misnomer, as he was offering in opposition to Netanyahu’s fascistic orientation only redoubled militarism. He conceded defeat on Wednesday, the day after the election, when it became clear that Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc had a 10-seat lead. President Reuven Rivlin will call on Netanyahu to form a government once the 300,000 double-sealed votes by soldiers, prisoners and overseas Israelis, equivalent to eight Knesset seats, have been counted. Since at least two parties are close to the threshold of 3.25 percent of the vote, the distribution of seats among the various parties may change slightly when the final count is announced on April 17.Included in Netanyahu’s bloc are the religious parties, Shas and United Torah, which increased their seats from 13 to 16, in line with the increase in the religious population; Kulanu, a split-off from Likud, whose seats have fallen from 10 to four; and the far-right Rightist Union, with five seats.

Netanyahu reigns supreme, and the left is crushed - Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party emerged from Tuesday’s Israeli election tied with the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz and other high-powered generals. Although each party has 35 seats in the 120-seat parliament, Netanyahu is now firmly in the driving seat. The small far-right and religious extremist parties that were needed to make up a parliamentary majority lost no time in declaring their support for Netanyahu. That will allow him to establish his fourth consecutive government. Netanyahu now enjoys the luxury of choosing between a narrow government of these far-right parties, and a right-wing national unity government embracing Gantz. The latter option would potentially command four-fifths of the seats in the Israeli Knesset. Whatever his decision, Netanyahu is now set this summer to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, beating the record set by Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. The only obstacle on the horizon – a set of corruption indictments against Netanyahu, announced by the attorney-general during the campaign – is certain to be swept away once Netanyahu has been formally installed as head of the next government by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Netanyahu’s coalition partners are already insisting on the passing of special “immunity” legislation – which would make it impossible to indict a sitting prime minister – as a condition for their support. Bezalel Smotrich, of the far-right Union of Rightwing Parties, said such a law would “build trust among coalition members that the next government can rule for a full term”. They understand that Netanyahu, given his track record, is their best meal ticket to a long-term place in government. And Netanyahu’s own voters have demonstrated that they care not a whit whether he is corrupt, as long as he continues to promote a Jewish supremacist agenda. 

Palestinians- Israelis voted to maintain status quo, apartheid – Israel Palestinian officials in Ramallah said on Wednesday that they were not surprised by the results of the election in Israel and expressed concern over the rise of the right-wing bloc. “Israelis have voted to maintain the status quo, as far as the occupation of Palestine,” said PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat. “They voted for apartheid and to an endless occupation. Exit polls show that only 18 members of the 120 seats in the Knesset support two states on the 1967 borders.” PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said that Israelis have voted for candidates “who are unequivocally committed to entrenching the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession in Palestine and escalating the assault on Palestinian national and human rights.” The Israelis, she added, have “chosen an overwhelmingly right-wing, Xenophobic and anti-Palestinian parliament to represent them. Israelis chose to entrench and expand apartheid.” Ashrawi said that the Palestinians will “overcome this dark and highly dangerous chapter and remain deeply rooted in our homeland.” Another senior PLO official, Ahmed Majdalni, expressed deep concern over the fate of Arab Israelis in the aftermath of the results of the election. The Arab Israelis, he said, faced a “fierce campaign of racism and fascism” during the election campaign.” Bassam al-Salhi, general-secretary of the Palestinian People’s Party (formerly the Palestinian Communist Party) said that Netanyahu’s victory “was the result of growing extremism, racism and corruption” in Israel. He called on Palestinians in the West Bank to step up “popular resistance” against Israel. He also urged the Palestinian Authority to abandon all agreements signed with Israel.

No more excuses – Israeli voters have chosen a country that will mirror the brutal regimes of its Arab neighbours So now I guess we’ve all run out of excuses. Bibi Netanyahu’s Israel will not be a new and more right-wing Israel. It’s been that for a long time. It’s the propaganda that’s going to fall to bits. The only democracy in the Middle East? Give me a break. I think Israel now looks much more like its Arab neighbours. It dominates its own Arab minority, and its new prime minister has promised to annex much of the territory legally belonging to their fellow Palestinian Arabs – the very colonies built on lands which have already been stolen for the majority Jewish population in Israel. Including Jerusalem, that comes to around 5,700 square kilometres, just a third the size of Kuwait – for which we all went to war when Saddam Hussein annexed the emirate in 1990. And that’s what Israel is beginning to resemble: just another Middle East nation. It bombards and threatens its neighbours, jails (Palestinian) political prisoners on spurious grounds and rules well over two million Arab Palestinians with killer police squads, extrajudicial executions, torture and paid spies. It claims it doesn’t even occupy these people’s homes and lands. You could hear this in almost any Arab country. Go to Riyadh, Damascus, Cairo, Iraq (under Saddam). “With our blood and souls, we sacrifice ourselves to you,” the Arabs shout. Now that the Israelis have voted Netanyahu and his outrageous party allies back into power, they too have sacrificed their souls to Bibi. Not, maybe, their blood – because even Bibi knows that long and painful wars are not what Israelis have voted for. Short and painless ones for Israel are OK – it is the Arabs who must bear the pain.

Netanyahu, Trump and Putin: A love story -  Al Jazeera - Call him a crook, call him a warmonger, but who other than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could boast two successful summits with both US and Russian presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, all within two weeks of the Israeli elections? His immediate motives are clear, but there is something beyond his obviously shrewd use of diplomacy for electoral gain. There are greater strategic implications of such high-powered statesmanship. So how did a politically challenged, corruption-ridden leader of a tiny state get the world superpowers to do his bidding and on his schedule? The answer lies in a three-way bromance that has been blossoming for some time, and could potentially shape the Middle East for years to come.

Putin hosts Turkey's leader to discuss weapons deal, Syria - (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Turkish counterpart in Moscow on Monday, discussing how to coordinate their next moves in Syria and how to deepen business ties, including the sale of advanced Russian missiles to Turkey that has riled the United States. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Russia, his third this year, underlined the increasingly close cooperation between the two countries and Turkey’s readiness to defy the U.S. Last week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned Turkey that it was risking its NATO membership and its participation in the F-35 fighter program by failing to heed Washington’s demand to cancel the contract with Russia for the S-400 air defense missile systems. After Monday’s talks, Erdogan said that Turkey considers the Russian deal done and won’t submit to pressure. “On the issue of the S-400s, we have determined our road map, we have taken steps,” Erdogan said. “Those who tell us to give up our plans, those who make recommendations do not know us. If we have made a contract, if we have reached a deal, then this business is finished. This is our sovereign right, this is our decision.” Putin described the S-400 contract as a top priority in cooperation between the two countries, adding that other weapons deals are in the making. “We may reach agreements on the joint development and production of high-tech weapons,” he said. Turkey’s purchase of the Russian missiles marked the first such contract for a NATO member. Turkey has ignored U.S. demands to abandon the agreement, and Erdogan said Friday that deliveries of the S-400s will begin in July. The Turkish leader noted that Washington had offered Ankara the U.S.-made Patriot air defense system, but said the U.S. offer isn’t as favorable as Russia’s. The U.S. and other NATO allies say the S-400s aren’t compatible with the alliance’s weapons systems. Washington has voiced concerns that their use by Turkey could compromise security of the state-of-the art U.S. F-35 fighter jets that Turkey stands to receive.

Shell enters China's shale oil scene with joint study with Sinopec (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell has entered China’s shale oil sector, signing an agreement with state-owned Sinopec to study an East China block, part of the nation’s early efforts to unlock the potentially massive unconventional resource. China is already in the initial stages of developing its vast shale gas resources, with production last year making up just 6 percent of total gas output after more than a decade of work. China’s shale oil is at an even more basic phase due to challenging geology and hefty development costs, experts said. Shale oil makes up less than 1 percent of China’s crude output after several years of development, according to Angus Rodger, research director of Asia-Pacific upstream at Wood Mackenzie. “China’s shale oil has very low permeability, which means very low per well output that makes the economics hard to work,” said an oil and gas official with China’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). The official declined to be named because he’s not authorized to speak with the press. Sinopec said on Monday it had agreed with Shell to study the Dongying trough of Shengli in China’s eastern province of Shandong, without giving further details. Shell confirmed the joint study agreement, but did not offer further comment. That makes Shell one of the few international oil and gas explorers venturing into China’s shale oil sector, and follows the Anglo-Dutch company’s exit from shale gas drilling in Sichuan province in the southwest after spending at least $1 billion and getting unsatisfactory results. Unlike shale gas resources, which are highly concentrated in Sichuan, most of China’s shale oil is trapped in eastern regions such as the Songliao and Bohai Rim basins. North China’s Ordos and Junggar basins are also believed to hold large shale oil resources, the experts said. 

China-South Sudan Oil Deal Raises Red Flags - China has long been criticized for imposing massive debt on developing countries as well as securing their natural resources to help them build up infrastructure with funding by Beijing, something about which the U.S. has been especially vocal, particularly in Africa and South Asia. Now, that criticism will likely be taken to a new level. On Friday, South Sudan’s information minister Michael Makuei Lueth told reporters in Juba, the capital, that the country will provide 30,000 barrels of oil per day to state-owned lender Export-Import Bank of China to help fund South Sudan’s largest infrastructure project, which is being funded by Beijing. The amount has tripled from the 10,000 barrels of oil per day it provided to China in February. South Sudan, which produces around 170,000 barrels of oil per day, gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of Civil War which saw China supply Sudan with arms and financing in-spite of allegations of human rights abuses. Since South Sudan gained independence it has also been embroiled in civil war as troops and militias backing President Salva Kiir square off against former Vice President Riek Machar.  A peace deal was signed in 2018 to end the war, but the situation still simmers, with atrocities being committed by both sides, according torecent media reports. The UN Human Rights Council released a report in February describing what it believes is actually funding the war - the country's rich oil industry. The UN report added that “even before the country’s independence, there were concerns about the appropriation of natural resources, particularly oil, and the significant role this has played in the conflict. The fighting continues in the oil-producing areas of the country, which has become increasingly militarized by Government forces.”

Sudan Army Detains President Bashir, Declares State of Emergency -  — The Sudanese Army has detained long-term dictator President Omar Al-Bashir and declared a three month state of emergency in an effort to bring calm to the country, the minister of defence said in a statement.After four months of protests which have seen thousands come out on to the streets calling for better living conditions and an end to Al-Bashir’s rule, the army has taken action and removed the former president from power, arresting him and a number of his officials today.Sudanese Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf said in a hotly anticipated press statement that the army was “sorry for the loss of life amongst civilians” during the protests calling for Al-Bashir’s removal; which government figure place at 32. Amnesty International, however, puts the number at 52. The army will now form a caretaker government which will preside over the country for two years, Ibn Auf added. All government departments have now been dissolved however the courts will continue to operate as normal, he explained.All political prisoners are “to be release from prison immediately”, Ibn Auf said. While all bridges and airports will remain closed for the near future to ensure the country’s safety and so no one escapes capture. Finally, Ibn Auf reassured all neighbouring states that the caretaker government aims to maintain relations with all its neighbours and continue the policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of others.

Sudan's Bashir ousted by military; protesters demand civilian government (Reuters) - President Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan in autocratic style for 30 years, was overthrown and arrested in a coup by the armed forces on Thursday, but protesters took to the streets demanding the military hand over power to civilians. The ouster of Bashir, 75, followed months of demonstrations against his rule. In an address on state television, Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, announced a two-year period of military rule to be followed by presidential elections. He said Bashir was being detained in a “safe place” and a military council would now run the country. He did not say who would head it. Ibn Auf announced a state of emergency, a nationwide ceasefire and the suspension of the constitution. Seated on a gold-upholstered armchair, he said Sudan’s airspace would be closed for 24 hours and border crossings shut until further notice. The main organizer of protests against Bashir, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), rejected the minister’s plans. It called on protesters to maintain a sit-in outside the defense ministry that began on Saturday. Shortly afterwards, thousands of demonstrators packed the streets of central Khartoum, their mood turning from jubilation at Bashir’s expected departure to anger at the announcement of a military-led transition, a Reuters witness said. “Fall, again!” many chanted, adapting an earlier anti-Bashir slogan of “Fall, that’s all!”. Sudanese sources told Reuters that Bashir was at the presidential residence under “heavy guard”. A son of Sadiq al-Mahdi, the head of the main opposition Umma Party, told al-Hadath TV that Bashir was being held with “a number of leaders of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group”.

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