By Mollie Hemingway October 14, 2014
As the Ebola situation in West Africa continues to deteriorate, some U.S. officials are claiming that they would have been able to better deal with the public health threat if only they had more money.
Dr. Francis Collins, who heads the National Institutes of Health (NIH), told The Huffington Post, “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.” Hillary Clinton also claimed that funding restrictions were to blame for inability to combat Ebola.
Conservative critics have pointed out that the federal government has spent billions upon billions of dollars on unnecessary programs promoting a political agenda rather than targeting those funds to the fight against health threats.
Other limited government types point to the Progressive utopian foolishness seen in opposing political factions, both sides of which seem to agree humanity could somehow escape calamity if only we had a properly functioning government. People who don’t want an all-powerful government shouldn’t blame it for not having competence when crisis strikes.
What’s particularly interesting about this discussion, then, is that nobody has even discussed the fact that the federal government not ten years ago created and funded a brand new office in the Health and Human Services Department specifically to coordinate preparation for and response to public health threats like Ebola. The woman who heads that office, and reports directly to the HHS secretary, has been mysteriously invisible from the public handling of this threat. And she’s still on the job even though three years ago she was embroiled in a huge scandal of funneling a major stream of funding to a company with ties to a Democratic donor—and away from a company that was developing a treatment now being used on Ebola patients.
Before the media swallow implausible claims of funding problems, perhaps they could be more skeptical of the idea that government is responsible for solving all of humanity’s problems. Barring that, perhaps the media could at least look at the roles that waste, fraud, mismanagement, and general incompetence play in the repeated failures to solve the problems the feds unrealistically claim they will address. In a world where a $12.5 billion slush fund at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is used to fight the privatization of liquor stores, perhaps we should complain more about mission creep and Progressive faith in the habitually unrealized magic of increased government funding.
Lay of the Land
Collins’ NIH is part of the Health and Human Services Department. Real spending at that agency has increased nine-fold since 1970 and now tops $900 billion. Oh, if we could all endure such “funding slides,” eh?
Whether or not Dr. Collins’ effort to get more funding for NIH will be successful—if the past is prologue, we’ll throw more money at him—the fact is that Congress passed legislation with billions of dollars in funding specifically to coordinate preparation for public health threats like Ebola not 10 years ago. And yet the results of such funding have been hard to evaluate.
See, in 2004, Congress passed The Project Bioshield Act. The text of that legislation authorized up to $5,593,000,000 in new spending by NIH for the purpose of purchasing vaccines that would be used in the event of a bioterrorist attack. A major part of the plan was to allow stockpiling and distribution of vaccines.
Just two years later, Congress passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which created a new assistant secretary for preparedness and response to oversee medical efforts and called for a National Health Security Strategy. The Act established Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority as the focal point within HHS for medical efforts to protect the American civilian population against naturally occurring threats to public health. It specifically says this authority was established to give “an integrated, systematic approach to the development and purchase of the necessary vaccines, drugs, therapies, and diagnostic tools for public health medical emergencies.”
Last year, Congress passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013 which keep the programs in effect for another five years.
If you look at any of the information about these pieces of legislation or the office and authorities that were created, this brand new expansion of the federal government was sold to us specifically as a means to fight public health threats like Ebola. That was the entire point of why the office and authorities were created.
In fact, when Sen. Bob Casey was asked if he agreed the U.S. needed an Ebola czar, which some legislators are demanding, he responded: “I don’t, because under the bill we have such a person in HHS already.”
The Invisible Dr. Lurie
So, we have an office for public health threat preparedness and response. And one of HHS’ eight assistant secretaries is the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, whose job it is to “lead the nation in preventing, responding to and recovering from the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters, ranging from hurricanes to bioterrorism.”
In the video below, the woman who heads that office, Dr. Nicole Lurie, explains that the responsibilities of her office are “to help our country prepare for, respond to and recover from public health threats.” She says her major priority is to help the country prepare for emergencies and to “have the countermeasures—the medicines or vaccines that people might need to use in a public health emergency. So a large part of my office also is responsible for developing those countermeasures.”
Or, as National Journal rather glowingly puts it, “Lurie’s job is to plan for the unthinkable. A global flu pandemic? She has a plan. A bioterror attack? She’s on it. Massive earthquake? Yep. Her responsibilities as assistant secretary span public health, global health, and homeland security.” A profile of Lurie quoted her as saying, “I have responsibility for getting the nation prepared for public health emergencies—whether naturally occurring disasters or man-made, as well as for helping it respond and recover. It’s a pretty significant undertaking.” Still another refers to her as “the highest-ranking federal official in charge of preparing the nation to face such health crises as earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, and pandemic influenza.”
Now, you might be wondering why the person in charge of all this is a name you’re not familiar with. Apart from a discussion of Casey’s comments on how we don’t need an Ebola czar because we already have one, a Google News search for Lurie’s name at the time of writing brings up nothing in the last hour, the last 24 hours, not even the last week! You have to get back to mid-September for a few brief mentions of her name in minor publications. Not a single one of those links is confidence building.
So why has the top official for public health threats been sidelined in the midst of the Ebola crisis? Only the not-known-for-transparency Obama administration knows for sure. But maybe taxpayers and voters should force Congress to do a better job with its oversight rather than get away with the far easier passing of legislation that grants additional funds before finding out what we got for all that money we allocated to this task over the last decade. And then maybe taxpayers should begin to puzzle out whether their really bad return on tax investment dollars is related to some sort of inherent problem with the administrative state.
The Ron Perelman Scandal
There are a few interesting things about the scandal Lurie was embroiled in years ago. You can—and should—read all about it in the Los Angeles Times‘ excellent front-page expose from November 2011, headlined: “Cost, need questioned in $433-million smallpox drug deal: A company controlled by a longtime political donor gets a no-bid contract to supply an experimental remedy for a threat that may not exist.” This Forbes piece is also interesting.
The donor is billionaire Ron Perelman, who was controlling shareholder of Siga. He’s a huge Democratic donor but he also gets Republicans to play for his team, of course. Siga was under scrutiny even back in October 2010 when The Huffington Post reported that it had named labor leader Andy Stern to its board and “compensated him with stock options that would become dramatically more valuable if the company managed to win the contract it sought with HHS—an agency where Stern has deep connections, having helped lead the year-plus fight for health care reform as then head of the Service Employees International Union.”
The award was controversial from almost every angle—including disputes about need, efficacy, and extremely high costs. There were also complaints about awarding a company of its size and structure a small business award as well as the negotiations involved in granting the award. It was so controversial that even Democrats in tight election races were calling for investigations.
Last month, Siga filed for bankruptcy after it was found liable for breaching a licensing contract. The drug it’s been trying to develop, which was projected to have limited utility, has not really panned out—yet the feds have continued to give valuable funds to the company even though the law would permit them to recoup some of their costs or to simply stop any further funding.
The Los Angeles Times revealed that, during the fight over the grant, Lurie wrote to Siga’s chief executive, Dr. Eric A. Rose, to tell him that someone new would be taking over the negotiations with the company. She wrote, “I trust this will be satisfactory to you.” Later she denied that she’d had any contact with Rose regarding the contract, saying such contact would have been inappropriate.
The company that most fought the peculiar sole-source contract award to Siga was Chimerix, which argued that its drug had far more promise than Siga’s. And, in fact, Chimerix’s Brincidofovir is an antiviral medication being developed for treatment of smallpox but also Ebola and adenovirus. In animal trials, it’s shown some success against adenoviruses, smallpox, and herpes—and preliminary tests show some promise against Ebola. On Oct. 6, the FDA authorized its use for some Ebola patients.
It was given to Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who died, and Ashoka Mukpo, who doctors said had improved. Mukpo even tweeted that he was on the road to recovery.
Back to that Budget
Consider again how The Huffington Post parroted Collins’ claims:
Money, or rather the lack of it, is a big part of the problem. NIH’s purchasing power is down 23 percent from what it was a decade ago, and its budget has remained almost static. In fiscal year 2004, the agency’s budget was $28.03 billion. In FY 2013, it was $29.31 billion—barely a change, even before adjusting for inflation.
Of course, between the fiscal years 2000 and 2004, NIH’s budget jumped a whopping 58 percent. HHS’s 70,000 workers will spend a total of $958 billion this year, or about $7,789 for every U.S. household. A 2012 report on federal spending including the following nuggets about how NIH spends its supposedly tight funds:
- a $702,558 grant for the study of the impact of televisions and gas generators on villages in Vietnam.
- $175,587 to the University of Kentucky to study the impact of cocaine on the sex drive of Japanese quail.
- $55,382 to study hookah smoking in Jordan.
- $592,527 to study why chimpanzees throw objects.
Last year there were news reports about a $509,840 grant from NIH to pay for a study that will send text messages in “gay lingo” to meth-heads. There are many other shake-your-head examples of misguided spending that are easy to find.
Indeed. The Progressive belief that a powerful government can stop all calamity is misguided. In the last 10 years we passed multiple pieces of legislation to create funding streams, offices, and management authorities precisely for this moment. That we have nothing to show for it is not good reason to put even more faith in government without learning anything from our repeated mistakes. Responding to the missing Ebola Czar and her office’s corruption by throwing still more money, more management changes, and more bureaucratic complexity in her general direction is madness.
05/21/2014 by Tyler Durden
There was some trepidation yesterday when after the first day of Putin’s visit to China the two countries did not announce the completion of the long-awaited “holy grail” gas dead, and fears that it may get scuttled over price negotiations. It wasn’t: moments ago Russia’s Gazprom and China’s CNPC announced, that after a decade of negotiations, the two nations signed a 30 year gas contract amounting to around $400 billion. And with the west doing all it can to alienate Russia and to force it into China’s embrace, this is merely the beginning of what will be a far closer commercial (and political) relationship between China and Russia.
So far there have been no public pricing details on the deal which accrording to Gazprom CEO Aleksey Miller is a “commercial secret”, and which is believed to involve Russia supplying 38 billion cubic metres of gas per year to China via a new eastern pipeline linking the countries.
According to Itar-Tass, the compromise between Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom and Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) on Russian gas price is estimated at $75 billion, citing the Deputy Head of the National Energy Security Fund Alexei Grivach. The differences on the price for 38 and 60 billion cubic meters supplies a year were $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion, he added, so the subject of the negotiations is quite a significant one.
Gazprom expected a base price of $400 for 1,000 cubic meters, an expert of the Eurasian Development Research Center of the Chinese State Council said in April, whereas the CNPC’s proposal was $350-360 for 1,000 cubic meters.
A memorandum of understanding was signed in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping on the second day of Putin’s two-day state visit to Shanghai. The price China will pay for Russian gas remains a “commercial secret” according to Gazprom CEO Aleksey Miller. Gas will be delivered to China’s via the eastern ‘Power of Siberia’ pipeline.
RT producers were informed of the landmark energy deal prior to its signing after a conversation with Miller.
Under the long-term deal, Gazprom will begin providing China’s growing economy with 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year for the next 30 years, beginning in 2018. The details of the deal were discussed for more than 10 years, with Moscow and Beijing negotiating over gas prices and the pipeline route, as well as possible Chinese stakes in Russian projects.
Just ahead of Putin’s visit to Shanghai, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave reassurance that the agreed price would be fair.
“One side always wants to sell for a higher price, while the other wants to buy for a lower price,” Medvedev said. “I believe that in the long run, the price will be fair and totally comparable to the price of European supplies.”
A major breakthrough in negotiations came on Sunday as Gazprom chief Aleksey Miller sat down with his CNPC counterpart, Zhou Jiping, in Beijing to discuss final details, including price formulas.
Although Europe is still Russia’s largest energy market – buying more than 160 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas in 2013 – Moscow will use every opportunity to diversify gas deliveries and boost its presence in Asian markets.
“I wouldn’t look for politics behind this, but I have no doubt that supplying energy to the Asia Pacific Region holds out a great promise in the future,” Medvedev said.
In October 2009, Gazprom and CNPC inked a framework agreement for the Altai project which envisions building a pipeline to supply natural gas from fields in Siberia via the western part of the Russia-China border.
In March 2013, Gazprom and CNPC signed a memorandum of understanding on Russian gas supplies to China along the so-called eastern ‘Power of Siberia’ route. When both pipelines are activated, Russia can supply Asia with 68 billion cubic meters of gas annually.
Last year, China consumed about 170 billion cubic meters of natural gas and is expected to consume 420 billion cubic meters per year by 2020.
Regardless of what the final price ended up being, and whether or not China got the upper hand in the negotiations, the final outcome is there and it is real: as a result of his disastrous foreign policy in the past two months, Barack Obama finally pushed Russia into China’s hands, culminating with a deal that was ten years in the making and was never certain, until the Ukraine crisis.
And yes, this was all predictable from day one. Here is what we said precisely two months ago:
If it was the intent of the West to bring Russia and China together – one a natural resource (if “somewhat” corrupt) superpower and the other a fixed capital / labor output (if “somewhat” capital misallocating and credit bubbleicious) powerhouse – in the process marginalizing the dollar and encouraging Ruble and Renminbi bilateral trade, then things are surely “going according to plan.”
For now there have been no major developments as a result of the shift in the geopolitical axis that has seen global US influence, away from the Group of 7 (most insolvent nations) of course, decline precipitously in the aftermath of the bungled Syrian intervention attempt and the bloodless Russian annexation of Crimea, but that will soon change. Because while the west is focused on day to day developments in Ukraine, and how to halt Russian expansion through appeasement (hardly a winning tactic as events in the 1930s demonstrated), Russia is once again thinking 3 steps ahead… and quite a few steps east.
While Europe is furiously scrambling to find alternative sources of energy should Gazprom pull the plug on natgas exports to Germany and Europe (the imminent surge in Ukraine gas prices by 40% is probably the best indication of what the outcome would be), Russia is preparing the announcement of the “Holy Grail” energy deal with none other than China, a move which would send geopolitical shockwaves around the world and bind the two nations in a commodity-backed axis. One which, as some especially on these pages, have suggested would lay the groundwork for a new joint, commodity-backed reserve currency that bypasses the dollar, something which Russia implied moments ago when its finance minister Siluanov said that Russia may refrain from foreign borrowing this year. Translated: bypass western purchases of Russian debt, funded by Chinese purchases of US Treasurys, and go straight to the source.
Here is what will likely happen next, as explained by Reuters:
Igor Sechin gathered media in Tokyo the next day to warn Western governments that more sanctions over Moscow’s seizure of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine would be counter-productive.
The underlying message from the head of Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft, was clear: If Europe and the United States isolate Russia, Moscow will look East for new business, energy deals, military contracts and political alliances.
The Holy Grail for Moscow is a natural gas supply deal with China that is apparently now close after years of negotiations. If it can be signed when Putin visits China in May, he will be able to hold it up to show that global power has shifted eastwards and he does not need the West.
* * *
To summarize: while the biggest geopolitical tectonic shift since the cold war accelerates with the inevitable firming of the “Asian axis”, the west monetizes its debt, revels in the paper wealth created from an all time high manipulated stock market while at the same time trying to explain why 6.5% unemployment is really indicative of a weak economy, blames the weather for every disappointing economic data point, and every single person is transfixed with finding a missing airplane.
To conclude with the traditional geopolitical balance of power summary: Putin wins (again), Obama loses (again), and the monument to the dollar’s status as world’s reserve currency gets yet another tarnishing blow.
by Howard Kunstler via Kunstler.com,
The rot moves from the margins to the center, but the disease moves from the center to the margins. That is what has happened in the realm of money in recent weeks due to the sustained mispricing of the cost of credit by central banks, led by the US Federal Reserve. Along the way, that outfit has managed to misprice just about everything else — stocks, houses, exotic securities, food commodities, precious metals, fine art. Oil is mispriced as well, on the low side, since oil production only gets more expensive and complex these days while it depends more on mispriced borrowed money. That situation will be corrected by scarcity, as oil companies discover that real capital is unavailable. And then the oil will become scarce. The “capital” circulating around the globe now is a squishy, gelatinous substance called “liquidity.” All it does is gum up markets. But eventually things do get unstuck.
Meanwhile, the rot of epic mispricing expresses itself in collapsing currencies and the economies they are supposed to represent: India, Turkey, Argentina, Hungary so far. Italy, Spain, and Greece would be in that club if they had currencies of their own. For now, they just do without driving their cars and burn furniture to stay warm this winter. Automobile use in Italy is back to 1970s levels of annual miles-driven. That’s quite a drop.
Before too long, the people will be out in the streets engaging with the riot police, as in Ukraine. This is long overdue, of course, and probably cannot be explained rationally since extreme changes in public sentiment are subject to murmurations, the same unseen forces that direct flocks of birds and schools of fish that all at once suddenly turn in a new direction without any detectable communication.
Who can otherwise explain the amazing placidity of the sore beset American public, beyond the standard trope about bread, circuses, and superbowls? Last night they were insulted with TV commercials hawking Maserati cars. Behold, you miserable nation of overfed SNAP card swipers, the fruits of wealth and celebrity! Savor your unworthiness while you await the imminent spectacles of the Sochi Olympics and Oscar Night! Things at the margins may yet interrupt the trance at the center. My guess is that true wickedness brews unseen in the hidden, unregulated markets of currency and interest rate swaps.
The big banks are so deep in this derivative ca-ca that eyeballs are turning brown in the upper level executive suites. Notable bankers are even jumping out of windows, hanging themselves in back rooms, and blowing their brains out in roadside ditches. Is it not strange that there are no reports on the contents of their suicide notes, if they troubled to leave one? (And is it not unlikely that they would all exit the scene without a word of explanation?) One of these, William Broeksmit, a risk manager for Deutsche Bank, was reportedly engaged in “unwinding positions” for that that outfit, which holds over $70 trillion in swap paper. For scale, compare that number with Germany’s gross domestic product of about $3.4 trillion and you could get a glimmer of the mischief in motion out there. Did poor Mr. Broeksmit despair of his task?
Physicist Stephen Hawking declared last week that black holes are not exactly what people thought they were. Stuff does leak back out of them. This will soon be proven in the unwinding derivatives trades when most of the putative wealth associated with swaps and such disappears across the event horizon of bad faith, and little dribbles of their prior existence leak back out in bankruptcy proceedings and political upheaval.
The event horizon of bad faith is the exact point where the credulous folk of this modern age, from high to low, discover that their central banks only pretend to be regulating agencies, that they ride a juggernaut of which nobody is really in control. The illusion of control has been the governing myth since the Lehman moment in 2008. We needed desperately to believe that the authorities had our backs. They don’t even have their own fronts.
Is the money world at that threshold right now? One thing seems clear: nobody is able to turn back the plummeting currencies. They go where they will and their failures must be infectious as the greater engine of world trade seizes up. Who will write the letters of credit that make international commerce possible? Who will trust whom? When do people seriously start to starve and reach for the pitchforks? When does the action move from Kiev to London, New York, Frankfurt, and Paris?
Thursday, January 30, 2014 by Reuters – John Kemp
LONDON, Jan 30 (Reuters) – Cutting the cost of everything from salaries and steel pipes to seismic surveys and drilling equipment is the central challenge for the oil and gas industry over the next five years.
The tremendous increase in exploration and production activity around the world over the last ten years has strained the global supply chain and been accompanied by a predictable increase in operating and capital costs.
When oil and gas prices were rising strongly, petroleum producers and their contractors could afford to absorb cost increases.
But as oil and gas production have moved back into line with demand, and prices have stabilized, the focus is switching once again to cost control.
“Operational excellence,” a euphemism for doing more with less, is back in fashion and set to dominate industry thinking for the rest of the decade.
Paal Kibsgaard, chief executive of Schlumberger, one of the largest service companies, has been emphasising “smart fracking” and other ways to raise output and cut costs for two years.
Speaking as long ago as March 2012, Kibsgaard warned: “In the past ten years, exploration and production spend has grown fourfold in nominal terms, while oil production is up only 11 percent.”
“In this environment, we believe our customers will favour working with companies that can help them increase production and recovery, reduce costs, and manage risks,” he added.
Schlumberger’s website and those of its main competitors Halliburton and Baker Hughes all prominently feature technologies and processes intended to cut costs, such as dual-fuel diesel-natural gas drilling and pumping engines.
It is just a small example of profound industry shift from an emphasis on increasing production to controlling spending.
Issuing a shocking profit warning on January 17, Royal Dutch Shell ‘s new chief executive pledged to focus on “achieving better capital efficiency and on continuing to strengthen our operational performance and project delivery.”
On Thursday, the company cut its capital budget for 2014, and announced it was suspending its controversial and expensive Arctic drilling programme.
Shell is catching up with peers like BP and Chevron , as well as perennially tight-fisted Exxon, in promising to stick to a tighter spending regime and return more value to shareholders .
The problem is not unique to oil and gas producers. Miners like BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Anglo American have all axed projects and pledged to tighten capital discipline after costs spiralled out of control.
The worst over-runs have been on so-called megaprojects – investments costing over $1 billion, sometimes much more. In fact, the bigger project, the worse the cost overruns and delays have tended to be.
Pearl, Shell’s enormous gas to liquids project in Qatar, is now regarded as a success, but was seriously delayed and went wildly over-budget.
Other megaprojects like Chevron’s Gorgon LNG in Australia and the Caspian oil field Kashagan – which is being developed by an industry consortium including ENI, Shell, Total, Exxon and Conoco – have been similarly late and bust their original cost estimates.
It is convenient, but wrong, to blame poor project management for all the days and cost overruns. Some decisions have been flawed, but on projects of this size and complexity, at least some errors are to be expected.
Megaproject managers in 2013 were not, on the whole, worse than in 2003. Unfortunately, the economic and financial environment has become much less forgiving. When projects start to go wrong it has proved much harder to limit the delays and damage to the budget.
By their nature, megaprojects are so big they strain the global construction and engineering supply chain and pool of skilled labour. Megaprojects create their own adverse “weather,” pushing up the cost of specialist labour and materials worldwide.
Attempting to complete even one or two megaprojects with similar characteristics at the same time can strain the global supply chain to the limit. Attempting to complete several simultaneously is a recipe for severe cost escalation and delays. The multi-commodity boom over the last decade created a “perfect storm” for the megaproject industry.
While there is not an exact overlap, massive offshore oil fields like Kashagan, LNG facilities like Gorgon, floating LNG platforms like Prelude (destined for Australia), gas to liquids plants and even simple onshore shale plays like North Dakota’s Bakken, are all competing for the same limited pool of skilled engineers, construction workers and speciality steels.
The result has been a staggering increase in costs and wages. And once a project falls behind, there is no slack in the system to hire extra workers or procure additional or replacement components to get it back on track.
Supply Chain Responds
Rampant inflation and delays have been worst on megaprojects because they require a much higher proportion of very specialist components and the supply chain is least-elastic.
But even simpler projects like shale oil and gas have been plagued by a rapid rise in costs as they stretch the availability of drillers, rigs and pressure pumping equipment, as well as fracking sand, fresh water and guar gum.
Between the end of 2003 and the end of 2013, the number of employees engaged in oil and gas extraction in the United States increased by 70 percent, from 117,000 to 201,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Soaring demand for specialised workers has produced an entirely predictable surge in wages.
Employees in North Dakota’s oil, gas and pipeline sectors were taking home an average monthly salary of $9,000 in the fourth quarter of 2012, and staff at support firms were making an average of more than $8,000, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Their colleagues in Texas were doing even better: average salaries in the oil and gas extraction industry were over $15,000 per month, and $11,000 in pipeline transportation.
That made them some of the best-paid employees in the United States. Only financial services employees in New York ($28,000), Connecticut ($25,000), California ($17,000) and a few other states were routinely making more.
Rising wages and other prices were the only means to ration scarce workers and raw materials. But they were also the only way to attract more workers and supplies into the industry.
It takes a long time to train new drillers, petroleum engineers and construction specialists, and give them the experience needed before they can assume positions as experts and team leaders.
Similarly, the expansion of specialist construction facilities and manufacturing firms for items like oil country tubular goods takes years; and companies will only expand or enter the industry if they are convinced the upturn in demand will be durable rather than fleeting.
While the boom in oil and gas prices dates from around 2003 or 2004, the big expansion of exploration and production spending started much later, around 2006 or even 2007, and it has only filtered down to the labour pool and the rest of the supply chain much more slowly.
It is the long delay between an increase in demand for oil and gas, an increase in production and exploration activity, and an expansion of the whole supply chain, which explain the deep cyclicality of the petroleum industry and mining.
Extreme cyclicality is hard-wired into oil, gas and mining markets. Companies like Shell which have tried to ride through the cycle by ignoring short-term price and cost changes to focus on the long term have eventually been compelled by their investors to fall into line.
In the next stage of the cycle, oil and gas prices are set to remain relatively high but are unlikely to rise much further. For exploration and production companies, increasing shareholder value therefore means increasing efficiency and bearing down on costs, including compensation and payments to suppliers and contractors.
For the supply chain and oil-industry workers, capacity and the availability of skilled labour will continue to expand, while demand is set to stabilise or taper off. Major oil companies and miners have already cancelled some projects. Costs, wages and employment will fall, or at least start rising much more slowly.
By Alan Caruba
Under President Obama, two women have been the director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Carol Browner, who served in the Clinton administration and was one of the “czars” Obama appointed; her acolyte Lisa Jackson, and up for the post is Gina McCarthy. Browner and Jackson went out of their way to conceal their internal communications from Congress and McCarthy lied to the committee considering her nomination.
How bad is the EPA? The Society of Environmental Journalists, on the occasion of the April 11 hearing on McCarthy’s nomination, released a statement that said, “The Obama administration has been anything but transparent in its dealings with reporters seeking information, interviews and clarification on a host of environmental, health and public lands issues.” The SEJ accused the EPA of being “one of the most closed, opaque agencies to the press.”
Apparently, the primary consideration for the job of EPA Director is an intense desire to destroy the use of hydrocarbons, oil, coal and natural gas, for transportation and all other forms of energy on which our economy depends. Obama, when campaigning in 2008, made it clear he wanted end the use of coal to generate electricity. At the time, fifty percent of all electricity was produced by coal and now that figure is in decline as coal-fired plants are being forced to close thanks to EPA regulations.
If Ms. McCarthy has her way, the cost of driving cars and trucks will go up in the name of protecting the health of Americans. As Paul Driessen, a senior policy advisor for the Committee For a Constructive Tomorrow, recently noted, “Since 1970, America’s cars have eliminated 99% of pollutants that once came out of tailpipes.” Joel Schwartz, co-author of “Air Quality in America”, points out, “Today’s cars are essentially zero-emission vehicles, compared to 1970 models.” The EPA’s latest attack on drivers is the implementation of “Tier 3 rules” intended to reduce sulfur levels to achieve zero air quality or health benefits.
Suffice to say that the air and water in America is clean, very clean. Whatever health hazards existed in the 1970s no longer exist. Like all bureaucracies, the EPA now exists to expand its budget and its control over our lives. The Heritage Foundation has calculated that Obama’s EPA’s twenty “major” regulations—those that cost $100 million or more annually—could cost the U.S. more than $36 billion per year. Obama’s EPA has generated 1,920 new regulations.
Don’t think of the EPA as a government agency. It is a weapon of economic destruction.
This has not gone unnoticed. A recent Wall Street Journal opinion by John Barrasso, a Republican Senator from Wyoming, noted that “During President Obama’s first term, EPA policies discouraged energy exploration, buried job creators under red tape, and deliberately hid information from the public.”
“Many EPA regulations,” said Sen. Barrasso, “chased microscopic benefits at maximum cost,” noting for example that “The EPA has proposed dropping the acceptable amount of ozone in the air from the 75 parts per billion allowed today to 60 or 70 parts per billion. The agency concedes that the rule would have a minimal effect on American’s health, but says it would cost as much as $90 billion a year. A study by the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation estimated it would eliminate up to 7.3 million jobs in a wide variety of industries, including refining.”
The other sector in the EPA’s bull’s eye is agriculture. Not content with laying siege to auto manufacturers, oil refineries, coal-fired plants, and all other energy users that might generate carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases, Barrasso noted that the EPA “has gathered personal information about tens of thousands of livestock farmers and the locations of their operations” which it then shared with environmental groups.
Writing in The Daily Caller, Henry Miller, a physician and molecular biologist and currently the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, characterized the EPA as “a miasma populated by the most radical, disaffected and anti-industry discards from other agencies,” adding that there was “entrenched institutional paranoia and an oppositional world view.”
“Unscientific policies and regulatory grandiosity and excess,” wrote Dr. Miller, “are not EPA’s only failings; neglecting to weigh costs and benefits is shockingly common, noting that “The EPA’s repeated failures should not come as a surprise because the agency has long been a haven for scientifically insupportable policies perpetrated by anti-technology ideologues.”
Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, writing in Forbes magazine, pointed out Gina McCarthy, the nominee to direct the EPA, “has a history of misleading Congress and the public about her agency’s greenhouse gas regulations. “At a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in October 2011, McCarthy denied motor vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards are “related to” fuel economy standards. In doing so,” said Lewis, “she denied plain facts she must know to be true. She did so under oath.”
“The EPA has no statutory authority to regulate fuel economy. More importantly, the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act prohibits states from adopting laws or regulations ‘related to’ fuel economy.”
The point of this exercise is demonstrate that the EPA is the very definition of a “rogue agency” for which neither laws, nor science, are of any consequence as it pursues policies that do incalculable harm at a time when the nation is deep in debt and in need of economic growth, not regulatory strangulation.
© Alan Caruba, 2013
It starts with getting into the transportation sector. When I started the Pickens Plan in 2008, there were about 200,000 vehicles on natural gas in the world; now there’s about 16 million. That growth’s coming from everywhere but the U.S. Places like Iran and Argentina. China’s already got 40,000 trucks on LNG [liquefied natural gas], and they import the stuff. And here we are in the U.S., with more natural gas than any other country in the world, and we aren’t doing a thing about it. It’s just amazing to me that these dumb f---s in D.C. don’t see this opportunity and try to capitalize on it.
The best thing to do is focus on heavy-duty trucks and give them a tax credit. It could work like a toll road, what you call a pay-for system. If you use it, you pay for it. So you give these guys a break upfront to convert to natural gas trucks, and then you tax the natural gas.
You don’t put natural gas in your corner gasoline station. You put natural gas in a truck stop. It’s a fuel that competes against diesel. There are about 8 million heavy-duty trucks in the U.S. If you convert them to natural gas, that boosts consumption by about 15 billion to 20 billion cubic feet a day. Right now we do about 70 billion cubic feet a day. So that extra demand would immediately boost the price and get drills moving again. Today natural gas is about $2.79 a gallon, compared with about $4.79 for diesel. That’s a huge advantage. But here’s the thing: If you take natural gas from about $4 (per thousand cubic feet) to $6, you only increase it by about 28¢ a gallon. So it’s cleaner by 30 percent and still cheaper by almost a half.
• Pickens is founder, chairman, and CEO of the hedge fund BP Capital. As told to Matthew Philips
Expert witnesses testifying during Tuesday’s House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing agreed that the United States has plentiful supplies of natural gas, underscoring the ability and need to expand domestic use and move forward with exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Here’s what they had to say:
Daniel Yergin, IHS: “While markets and economics will eventually determine the realistic scale of U.S. exports, one also has to take into account wider considerations in assessing policy regarding future LNG exports. For decades, the United States has made the free flow of energy supplies one of the cornerstones of foreign policy. It is a principle we have urged on many other nations. How can the United States, on one hand, say to a close ally like Japan, suffering energy shortages from Fukushima, please reduce your oil imports from Iran, and yet turn around and, on the other, say new natural gas exports to Japan are prohibited?”
Adam Sieminski, Energy Information Administration (EIA): “Cumulative production of dry natural gas from 2011 through 2035 in the AEO2013 Reference case is about 8 percent higher than in AEO2012, primarily reflecting continued increases in shale gas production that result from the dual application of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”
Mary Hutzler, Institute for Energy Research and former energy analyst at EIA : “The outlook for natural gas production in the United States has dramatically changed over the last decade. Just a few years ago, U.S. manufacturing facilities were moving abroad to pursue more affordable gas. At the time, the U.S. had relatively high natural gas prices. Now … energy companies are considering building liquefied natural gas terminals to export natural gas and new manufacturing plants are springing up around the country. The boom in natural gas production has completely changed the natural gas landscape and has greatly lowered natural gas prices for consumers and industrial users.”
- Japan’s TEPCO gears up for US shale gas imports (utsandiego.com)
- Canada gives OK to LNG exports (upi.com)
- US Department of Energy Grants Pangea LNG Export Authorization [REPORT] (gcaptain.com)
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners and Copano Energy announced a definitive agreement whereby KMP will acquire all of Copano’s outstanding units for a total purchase price of approximately $5 billion, including the assumption of debt.
The transaction, which has been approved by the boards of directors of both companies, will be a 100 percent unit for unit transaction with an exchange ratio of .4563 KMP units per Copano unit. The consideration to be received by Copano unitholders is valued at $40.91 per Copano common unit based on KMP’s closing price as of Jan. 29, 2013, representing a 23.5 percent premium to Copano’s close on Jan. 29, 2013.
The transaction, which is expected to close in the third quarter of 2013, is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approval and a vote of the Copano unitholders. TPG, Copano’s largest unitholder (owning over 14 percent of its outstanding equity), has agreed to support the transaction.
Copano, a midstream natural gas company with operations primarily in Texas, Oklahoma and Wyoming, provides comprehensive services to natural gas producers, including natural gas gathering, processing, treating and natural gas liquids fractionation. Copano owns an interest in or operates about 6,900 miles of pipelines with 2.7 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of natural gas throughput capacity and 9 processing plants with more than 1 Bcf/d of processing capacity and 315 million cubic feet per day of treating capacity.
“We are delighted to have reached this agreement with Copano, a company that we know very well and have partnered with through the years, as this transaction will enable us to significantly expand our midstream services footprint,” said KMP Chairman and CEO Richard D. Kinder. “As a result of this acquisition, we will be able to pursue incremental development in the Eagle Ford Shale play in south Texas, gain entry into the Barnett Shale Combo in north Texas and the Mississippi Lime and Woodford Shales in Oklahoma. We continue to be bullish on the domestic shale plays and believe they will drive substantial future growth at KMP. Copano’s assets are very complementary to ours, as KMP is principally a pipeline transportation and storage company, while Copano is primarily a fee-based gathering, processing and fractionation player. Broadening our midstream assets will allow us to offer a wider array of services to our customers.”
“We are excited to have reached this agreement with KMP, which delivers a significant premium to our unitholders that is reflective of the strength and potential of our business and provides an ownership interest in a highly diversified industry leader with an impressive history of sustained distribution growth,” said Copano President and CEO R. Bruce Northcutt. “Through this transaction, Copano will become part of a larger, investment grade organization with stable cash flows and the financial resources to fund our increasing number of high-return growth projects. We are committed to continuing to support our customers with the highest quality service, and expect that KMP’s size and scale will allow us to provide even more value for customers. In addition, we expect this combination will provide opportunities for our many talented employees. We look forward to completing this transaction and to building significant long-term value for all of our stakeholders as part of KMP.”
“Copano is already executing on a substantial backlog of expansion projects for which it has secured customer commitments and is exploring a significant amount of projects incremental to these,” Kinder added. “Given the growth in cash flow that will come from the projects already in progress with existing customer commitments, we expect the multiple of EBITDA paid for Copano to decline to the very low double digits over the next few years and considering the growth opportunities beyond that, we expect continued attractive EBITDA growth from these assets thereafter.”
The acquisition of Copano is expected to be accretive to cash available for distribution to KMP unitholders upon closing. The general partner of KMP, Kinder Morgan, Inc. (NYSE: KMI), has agreed to forego a portion of its incremental incentive distributions in 2013 in an amount dependent on the time of closing. Additionally, KMI intends to forgo $120 million in 2014, $120 million in 2015, $110 million in 2016 and annual amounts thereafter decreasing by $5 million per year from this level. The transaction is expected to be modestly accretive to KMP in 2013, given the partial year, and about $0.10 per unit accretive for at least the next five years beginning in 2014.
“Copano’s cash flow is largely and increasingly fee based, and our accretion projections are based on commodity prices consistent with the current forward curve for the portion that is sensitive to commodity prices,” Kinder explained.
The acquisition will be immediately accretive to KMI’s cash available to pay dividends, even after KMI foregoes a portion of the incremental incentive distributions this transaction is expected to produce. The increase in KMI’s cash available to pay dividends (net of the amounts voluntarily foregone) is expected to be approximately $25 million in 2014 growing to approximately $70 million in 2016.
“We anticipate retaining the vast majority of Copano’s approximately 415 employees,” Kinder said. “This transaction is about producing future cash flow and expanding our midstream services footprint.”
Upon closing, KMP will own 100 percent of Eagle Ford Gathering (currently a joint venture with Copano), which provides gathering, transportation and processing services to natural gas producers in the Eagle Ford Shale. Eagle Ford Gathering comprises approximately 400 miles of pipelines (including its capacity rights in certain KMP pipelines) with capacity to gather and process over 700,000 MMBtu/day.
Citi acted as financial advisor for KMP and Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP and Bracewell & Giuliani acted as legal counsel to KMP. Barclays Capital Inc. and Jefferies & Company, Inc. provided financial advisory services to Copano and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz acted as legal counsel to Copano.
- Kinder Morgan Energy Partners to buy Copano Energy (fuelfix.com)
- Kinder Morgan Energy buying Copano for $3.2B (seattlepi.com)