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Musings from the Oil Patch - December 21, 2010

Musings From the Oil Patch
January 19, 2010

Allen Brooks
Managing Director

Note: Musings from the Oil Patch reflects an eclectic collection of stories and analyses dealing with issues and developments within the energy industry that I feel have potentially significant implications for executives operating oilfield service companies.  The newsletter currently anticipates a semi-monthly publishing schedule, but periodically the event and news flow may dictate a more frequent schedule. As always, I welcome your comments and observations.   Allen Brooks

EIA Forecasts More Shale Gas Resources And Greater Use (Top)

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its Annual Energy Outlook 2011 (AEO2011) Early Release Overview last week that dramatically increased its estimate of technically recoverable unproved shale gas resources and raised its forecast of the amount of natural gas to be consumed in the future.  Neither of these changes to their annual forecast is a great surprise given ongoing industry trends, but what may be somewhat of a surprise is the smaller increase in gas shale resources compared to the 2009 forecast from the Potential Gas Committee at the Colorado School of Mines. 

Exhibit 1.  Potential Gas Committee Gas Resource Forecast
Potential Gas Committee Gas Resource    Forecast
Source:  Potential Gas Committee

According to the release, the EIA believes there is 827 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of technically recoverable unproved shale gas resources as of January 1, 2009, more than double what it had previously estimated.  The prior estimate of 353 Tcf of shale gas resources has been increased by some 474 Tcf in the new assessment.  An article in the Financial Times discussing the new EIA energy outlook and shale gas resource estimate makes the classic mistake of confusing proven shale gas reserves with shale gas resources.  In the latter case, we only know the likelihood of a volume of gas trapped in the shale rocks and not that it can be extracted in an economical manner, which is the critical variable in defining proven reserves. 

What does this new estimate mean?  According to the AEO2010 report, the 2008 year-end estimate of total proven dry natural gas reserves in the United States was 239 Tcf.  This means that the ratio of shale gas resource in the AEO2010 report (353 Tcf) to total proven gas reserves was nearly one and half times.  In contrast, as Art Berman has estimated, the Potential Gas Committee estimated total technically recoverable natural gas resources of 1,836 Tcf, of which he suggests roughly a third, or about 616 Tcf, is from shale gas.  When he assesses the probable reserve category, Mr. Berman suggests that there is a total of 441 Tcf of probable gas reserves with about 147 Tcf coming from shale gas.  We are hesitant suggesting that shale gas accounted for one-third of the EIA’s proven gas reserve estimate as the boom is of recent vintage.  Unfortunately, the EIA’s release does not provide proven gas reserve estimates so we don’t know what role shale gas plays given the agency’s more than doubling of its estimate of the resource.

The confusion in the media over resources versus reserves, and even among E&P company executives who are drilling shale gas wells, creates some serious misperceptions about exactly how much gas is readily available for consumption.  Proven reserves is the only supply category that can be appropriately compared with current production in order to determine how many years worth of supply actually exists today.  While all the technically recoverable resource may ultimately become proven and economic over time, that isn’t the case now.  So to say that we now have 36 years worth of gas supply is incorrect.  However, even if wrongly calculated, the Financial Times estimate is lower than EOG Resources (EOG-NYSE) CEO Mark Papas’ 50-years of supply statement in a speech recently, and the often repeated 100-years of supply statement that is derived from using the Potential Gas Committee’s estimate of the gas shale resource potential.  What we do know, however, is that over time potential hydrocarbon resources tend to become proven and thus developed, but that is not a given.

Many people are excited about the dramatic increase in shale gas resources, just as they were in 2009 when the Potential Gas Committee boosted its estimate of the resource’s potential.  What is interesting, however, given the revised resource estimate is to see how actual reserves fit into the equation.  Unfortunately, the AEO2011 early release doesn’t contain any tables showing the EIA’s estimate of proved reserves.  The AEO2010 report showed an estimate of total dry natural gas proved reserves in 2009 of 239 Tcf.  In that year, the EIA estimated that total natural gas consumption was 23.3 Tcf.  That means there are sufficient proved reserves to supply 10 years of total gas consumption at 2009’s consumption rate.  This ratio of proved reserves to consumption is about where the long-term average has been, although it is probably up slightly from the prior few years given the increase in shale gas reserves becoming proven and the drop in natural gas consumption due to the recession.  Note, however, that this 10-year supply ratio is nowhere near the 36, 50 or 100 year supply figures being tossed around amidst the shale gas boom.

In the AEO2010 report, total proved dry natural gas reserves are projected to increase steadily from 2009 until hitting a peak in 2020 of 260 Tcf.  Then the reserve estimate begins dropping for a few years, bottoming out at 258 Tcf in 2023 before resuming its long-term climb toward the 2035 total of 268 Tcf.  The developing shale gas boom was partially behind the projected growth in total proven gas reserves.  We will be interested to see the role of shale gas reserves in the growth in total dry gas reserves and its future growth presented in the AEO2011 forecast.  In other words, will we see a one-time jump in proven reserves and then a similar growth rate to 2035 as in the AEO2010 forecast? 

Comparing the outlooks for the supply of natural gas and the role of shale gas in the future mix is enlightening for understanding how mainstream shale gas has become in our predicted energy future.  The AEO2010 and the AEO2011 natural gas supply outlooks and mix are depicted in nearby graphs.  The EIA’s caption on their projection for gas supply sources in AEO2011 captures their view that it is all about an expanded role for shale gas.  Between the AEO2010 and AEO2011 forecasts, the shale gas contribution to total supply more than doubles from 6.0 Tcf to 12.2 Tcf by 2035.  As a percentage of total supply, shale gas production accounts for 45% in AEO2011, which is up from 26% in AEO2010.  You should also note that in AEO2011, natural gas imports are almost totally eliminated by 2035. 

Exhibit 2.  2011 Shale Gas Market Share Up Rapidly
2011 Shale Gas Market Share Up Rapidly
Source:  EIA AEO2011

Exhibit 3.  2010 Shale Gas Forecast – More Modest
2010 Shale Gas Forecast – More Modest
Source:  EIA AEO2010

As we said in our last Musings, it is now official: Unconventional gas has become conventional.  If one looks at the AEO2011 chart and adds together the contributions of shale gas and tight gas to total supply in 2035, two-thirds will come from these unconventional categories.  An aspect of shale gas supply growth is its impact on natural gas prices.  EIA Administrator Richard Newell said in a press release, “Our Reference case projection shows the growing importance of natural gas from domestic shale gas resources in meeting U.S. energy demand and lowering natural gas prices.”  In fact, the AEO2011 projections show that the wellhead price for natural gas that was $3.71 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) in 2009 will only grow in constant dollars to $6.53/Mcf by 2035.  Significantly, the wellhead price fails to rise above $5/Mcf until 2023. 

Given the economics of most of the shale gas plays in the United States, having to wait until 2023 in order for wellhead prices to make them economic may be too long for many producers to survive.  The prospect of more than a decade of sub-$5/Mcf natural gas prices suggests considerable pain and suffering for the industry and its investors.  Investment bankers have to be licking their chops at the possibility of an explosion in M&A transactions of shale gas producers being on the horizon.  Quite possibly, though, many of the M&A deals will be born in bankruptcy courtrooms.

Natural Gas Vehicles And Hybrids Fighting For Market Share (Top)

A recent article in the Financial Times discussed the challenges hybrid vehicles are having gaining market share in the global auto industry.  According to the latest estimate prepared by auto industry data collector and forecasting firm, J.D. Power and Associates, global sales of hybrid vehicles will reach 934,000 units this year, up 28% from the 728,000 sold in 2009.  About half the market’s growth this year will have come from Japan, where hybrids enjoyed generous tax incentives that ended in September.  While a very healthy sales increase in 2010, hybrids still barely account for 2% of the global auto market.

The U.S. auto market is considered quite receptive for hybrids.  J.D. Power forecasts total U.S. hybrid sales of 315,000 this year, up nearly 8% over the 292,000 sold in 2009.  The hybrid sales gain will be considerably less than the estimated 12% year-over-year sales gain for the entire U.S. auto market.  The reason for the less than robust sales improvement for hybrids is the fact that gasoline pump prices this year have been reasonably stable and low.  As a result, auto buyers are reluctant to pay the price premium for hybrid vehicles and instead choose fuel-efficient conventional autos.  The impact of current low gasoline pump prices on hybrid vehicle sales is clearly shown by tracking monthly data. 

The change in the auto market’s dynamics has been remarkable over the past half decade.  A 2005 J.D. Power forecast for U.S. hybrid vehicle sales projected that between 2005 and 2012 sales would increase by 268%.  They estimated that 212,000 hybrids representing 1.3% of the market, had been sold in 2005 and that sales would increase to 780,000, or 4.2% of the market, by 2012.  The key to this market’s growth was attributable to the firm’s conviction that the number of hybrid models would increase from the

Exhibit 4.  Rising Gasoline Prices May Boost Hybrid Sales
Rising Gasoline Prices May Boost Hybrid    Sales
Source:  Seeking Alpha

11 available in 2005 to more than 52 by 2012.  In comparison to the forecast, the number of hybrid vehicles estimated to be sold this year will be less than half the projected 2012 total from the 2005 forecast.  The combination of a long and deep economic recession, low gasoline prices, improved internal combustion engine fuel efficiency and the price premiums demanded for alternative fuel vehicles have certainly crimped the demand for hybrid vehicles.

“There have been so many small, efficient gas-engine cars launched in the last year that in pure dollars and cents terms, it doesn’t make sense to buy a hybrid anymore,” said Jesse Toprak, vice president for industry trends for  He went on to say, “You have to drive it for 10 years just to make up the premium over a gas engine.” 

The Financial Times article went on to describe the dilemma for auto manufacturers who have invested billions of dollars to develop hybrids and electric cars and build the plants to manufacture these alternative fuel vehicles only to experience modest sales projections due to the large price premiums these vehicles need to command to make them profitable.  This challenge was brought home by data about the Obama administration’s purchases of hybrid vehicles obtained by Bloomberg under a Freedom of Information Act request. 

According to the analysis of the data obtained from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which runs the government fleet, it bought at least 14,584 hybrid vehicles in the past two fiscal years (FY09 and FY10), or about 10% of the 145,473 vehicles the agency purchased during that period.  In fiscal 2008, hybrids accounted for less than one percent of government vehicle purchases.

About 3,100 of the hybrids were purchased by the GSA from the $300 million the agency received from the 2009 economic stimulus package.  Another 5,600 were bought with proceeds from selling older cars in the government fleet.  A majority of the FY09 hybrid purchases were made after President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Sara Merriam, a spokeswoman for GSA said, “This is the beginning.  Our main goal is to increase the fuel efficiency of the federal fleet.  The other goal is to drive the market toward cleaner technologies.  It’s in the early stages of the government acquiring more hybrids and in larger quantities.” 

The hybrid vehicle models the GSA purchased ranged in price from $23,072 to $47,079 according to the data released.  Readers will be happy to learn that the GSA paid an average of $5,281 less for its hybrid vehicles than the sticker prices on comparable vehicles at a dealership.  What may be disturbing, however, is that the GSA purchased 64% of GM’s (GM-NYSE) Chevy Malibu hybrid models and 29% of all Ford Fusion hybrids manufactured since Obama took office in 2009.  GSA also purchased about 14% of all Ford Escape hybrids.  GM stopped making the Malibu hybrid in 2009 due to a lack of consumer demand. 

The hybrid pioneer, Toyota’s Prius, was not so popular with GSA buyers.  Toyota Motor Corp. (TM-NYSE) sold its first Prius in Japan in 1997 and Honda Motor Co. (HMC-NYSE) introduced the first hybrid to the U.S. in 1999.  Total U.S. hybrid sales since then have been about 1.8 million units, or about 1% of the 175 million light duty vehicle sales sold during that period.  More than half of those hybrids were Prius models.  The GSA bought only 17 Prius models and five Honda Civic hybrids in the past two years.  Chrysler Group LLC stopped making hybrids in 2008 after about two months of production.

Views of the government’s purchasing actions are at polar opposites.  Jeff Schuster, director of forecasting at J.D. Power, said, “At some point, the reality is that for this technology to be accepted, it needs to be done without a government crutch.”  He went on to say, “But without a huge gas-price increase or further government demand, the natural demand just isn’t to be there.”  In contrast, Dan Becker, director of the Washington-based Safe Climate Campaign, said, “It is good the government leads by example.  At a time when we are just beginning the era of the hybrid, it’s a positive sign that the government is stepping up to the plate and helping build that market.” 

It would be nice to think that the government is building natural demand for these alternative fuel vehicles since the Obama administration has set a goal of one million plug-in vehicles (electric battery-powered cars) on the road by 2015 and has committed more than $11 billion in taxpayer funds to help support the development of the technology.  What’s interesting is that the government has not rallied behind the development and promotion of natural gas-powered vehicles (NGVs), leaving that for the natural gas industry to do.

Exhibit 5.  Brazilian Alternative Fuel Taxi
Brazilian Alternative Fuel Taxi
Source:  Wikipedia

At the present time, according to the NGVAmerica web site, there are 110,000 NGVs on the roads in the United States in contrast to more than 12 million worldwide.  Globally, Pakistan leads with more than 2.3 million NGVs, followed by Argentina with 1.8 million, Iran with 1.7 million, Brazil with 1.6 million and India with about 1.0 million.  The Asia/Pacific region accounts for nearly a half of the market with Latin America representing about a third. 

Exhibit 6.  U.S. LPG-Equipped Car
U.S. LPG-Equipped Car
Source:  Wikipedia

In 2009, 318,600 million cubic feet of vehicular natural gas was consumed according to data from the EIA.  The EIA says that between 2003 and 2009, vehicular natural gas consumption nearly doubled.  Transit buses used about two-thirds of all the vehicular natural gas consumed.  These natural gas-powered buses account for 18% of all transit buses in the country.  Their share of the fleet should increase in the future as the American Public Transit Association says that in 2009, 26% of all new transit buses ordered were designed to run on natural gas. 

The second largest segment of natural gas-powered vehicles is waste collection and transfer vehicles.  This fleet accounts for 11% of total vehicular natural gas use and represents the fastest growing segment of the natural gas-powered vehicle market.  The third largest user of natural gas for powering vehicles is the 35 U.S. airports that have or encourage natural gas vehicles.  This segment of the fleet consumes 9% of the total natural gas vehicular fuel.

Exhibit 7.  Natural Gas Cars Use Less Than 5% Of NGV Fuel
Natural Gas Cars Use Less Than 5% Of NGV    Fuel
Source:  EIA

While natural gas costs less than gasoline at the pump – a third less compared to gasoline and 42% less than diesel according to the EIA – the problem is that there are only about 1,000 natural gas fueling stations in the country and only about half of them are open to the public.  California leads the nation with 238 NGV refueling stations.  While NGVs cost more than conventional vehicles initially, the lower fuel cost and similar maintenance expense should close the price premium gap.  With favorable tax benefits, the life-cycle cost of NGVs and conventional vehicles comes even closer. 

To test this theory, we went to the U.S. Department of Energy vehicle cost analysis calculator.  There we found that a NGV costs $6,935 more than a conventional vehicle.  That was without any state of federal tax benefits, which we were surprised to see were non-existent since both Texas and the federal government offer tax credits.  The IRS web site lists tax benefits for alternative fuel vehicles ranging from $2,500 to $32,000 per vehicle depending on what it is, its cost and whether the benefit has been phased out due to more than 60,000 units of the model having been sold.  It is possible the models we selected have exceeded their sales thresholds.

The DOE site listed fuel costs as of July 1st (seems strange that they can’t update fuel costs more frequently than every five months).  According to the site, gasoline was selling for $2.59/gallon and compressed natural gas (CNG) for $1.83/gallon.  The Honda Civic GX model, the only commercial NGV available in the United States, reportedly gets 30 miles per gallon (mpg) using CNG and 31 mpg with gasoline.  Based on 15,000 miles of annual driving, the NGV-version of the Honda Civic saved its owner $338.23 in annual fuel costs compared to its gasoline-powered cousin.  Based on the initial cost premium for the CNG version, it requires more than 20 years in order to re-coup the price premium.  If we assume the car is eligible for a $2,500 tax credit, it will take just over 13 years to re-coup the price premium.  Clearly, as gasoline prices go higher, the payback of the NGV premium will be quicker, but it also assumes that current low natural gas prices will continue for a number of years.

While the focus has been on the challenges of developing a NGV refueling infrastructure, a large proportion of the nation’s housing supply is piped for natural gas.  The government and natural gas utilities are offering financial and tax incentives for homeowners to install refueling units in their garage.  Gas can be priced at commercial rates or special residential NGV rates, both of which are slightly cheaper than regular residential gas rates.  The refueling process is slightly more complex than for gasoline or diesel vehicles, but not so difficult it can’t be mastered after a few refueling sessions.  Equally important is that home-fueling of NGVs is a natural dispersion of fueling-risk.  Unless natural gas pipelines are disrupted, there is inherently a greater risk to gasoline supply disruptions given the refineries, tank farms and distribution terminals and gasoline trucks and service stations needed to deliver the fuel. 

One natural gas utility in California advertises to customers the advantage of getting your home and automobile fuel bills in one monthly statement.  With a growing available supply of natural gas in the United States, it would seem that incentivizing NGVs might be a wise move by the Obama administration.  Maybe when the administration can convince the Department of Labor to classify homemakers refueling their NGV as part-time workers will it get behind this fuel for increased use in transportation vehicles.

Canadian Study Tries To Start Adult Discussion Of Oil Sands (Top)

Last week a peer-reviewed study conducted by a panel of experts assembled by the Royal Society of Canada attempted to set forth objectively the facts about the development of the country’s oil sands resources.  The report takes aim at oil companies, governments and environmental groups alike over their respective roles in the development of the Athabasca bitumen resources, and finds fault with everyone.  The committee that authored the report also recommended steps to improve the environmental monitoring in this economically important industry for Canada.

Oil sands have been a hot-button topic for many years, but maybe never so much as during the past two years since the Obama administration has been in office.  The “dirty” fuel reputation of this significant North American energy resource has drawn increased attention this year, just as production from the northern Alberta region is beginning to ramp up following the financial crisis of 2008-2009.  The oil sands represent the crown jewel of Canada’s $110 billion oil industry and the companies involved in the resource have embarked on plans to double oil sands output over the next decade to nearly three million barrels a day.  Much of the oil sands output finds its way to the United States, a huge consumer of energy, and oil in particular.  Efforts to expand pipelines to haul the bitumen from its home in the northernmost part of Alberta potentially to U.S. refineries along the Gulf Coast have stimulated a bitter partisan battle among U.S. politicians and environmental activists. 

Questions have been raised about the energy efficiency of developing the oil sands, i.e., the amount of energy that must be expended to extract, transport and upgrade the bitumen produced relative to the energy value of the output.  A series of pipeline leaks this year on the systems owned by Enbridge Inc. (ENB-NYSE), and its affiliate, Enbridge Energy Partners LP (EEP-NYSE), in North Dakota, Michigan, Illinois and New York State, have raised concerns about the company’s plans to expand capacity on its lines hauling bitumen from the oil sands to refineries in the United States and Eastern Canada.  The role of the oil sands in both the global energy picture and the crude oil supplies for the United States have been controversial given the distaste for the resource among “green” officials within the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. 

The reputation of the oil sands industry suffered substantially this year as a result of the conviction of Syncrude related to the deaths of 1,600 water birds in one of the firm’s tailing ponds near Fort McMurray, the release of a report co-authored by biologist David Schindler of the University of Alberta claiming that oil sands operations were sending toxins including mercury, arsenic and lead into the waters of the Athabasca River and its watershed, and by the high-profile visit to the region by noted film director and environmental activist James Cameron.  From these controversies and publicity have come many myths about the oil sands and their effect on human and animal populations in Canada.  The Royal Society’s study was designed to address many of these myths with the aim of providing factual information not tailored to any agenda with the hope it would facilitate an adult discussion of the risks and role of the oil sands in Canada’s, and ultimately North America’s, energy future.

The study hits virtually all parties involved in the development and regulation of the oil sands resource.  The report repeatedly says that science must not take a backseat to the rhetoric.  It laments that the final approval of Alberta energy projects rests with politicians rather than scientists.  The panel would like to see the scientists more involved and argues that there are a handful of areas for further research.  These areas include: the state of groundwater; the condition of the Athabasca River; and the impact on long-term health and social effects from developing the oil sands.  The authors of the study fault Alberta that controls the resource and should handle most enforcement for having too many cooks in the kitchen with respect to collecting and monitoring data.  They criticize Ottawa, which is supposed to oversee major river monitoring and aboriginal issues, for being asleep at the switch.  The authors state that there should be a more rigorous environmental impact assessment program and that the government should be collecting more from the oil producers for “reclaimed” land or returning mined-land to its original state.  They view this deficiency as creating a huge unfunded liability for the residents of Alberta. 

While criticizing the oil companies for doing too little to restore land to its pre-mined state, it denies any scientific validity to the claims of declining air quality and rising cancer rates.  In trying to present a balanced report on the oil sands and their development, the authors addressed the common claim by environmentalists that this is the worse ecological disaster on the planet by saying that “Based on our review of the publicly accessible evidence, a claim of global magnitude is not accurate.”  They went on to say, “This depiction is clearly aided by the photographs of ugly surface-mined landscapes, but the claims of global supremacy for oil sands environmental impacts do not accord with any credible qualitative evidence of environmental damage.” 

As expected, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, the director of the international program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C., said, “I would still say that the tar sands industry is a terribly destructive industry.” 

The Globe and Mail wrote an article about the report based on a pre-publication review of the study and an interview with the head of the seven-member panel.  One aspect of their article was to examine some of the popular myths that swirl about the oil sands and what the study said was the truth.  We thought it would be worthwhile repeating that section of the article.


“The Royal Society of Canada's oil sands report takes aim at a handful of popular misconceptions.

“Myth: Regulatory oversight is strong.
“Report: Alberta hasn't “kept pace with rapid expansion” and has a confusing process prone to ‘political interference’ and lacking scientific rigour. Ottawa isn't doing any better and needs ‘to show some leadership.’

“Myth: The aboriginal community of Fort Chipewyan, which is downstream of oil sands development, has an elevated cancer rate.
“Report: ‘There is no credible evidence to support the commonly repeated media accounts of excess cancer in Fort Chipewyan.’

“Myth: Oil sands operations are draining the Athabasca River, and polluting what's left.
“Report: Current extraction levels are sustainable and there is no ‘current threat to aquatic ecosystem viability.’

“Myth: Land is being reclaimed, or returned to normal, after mining.
“Report: The province is on the hook for unfunded reclamation liabilities and ‘no tailings pond has yet been completely reclaimed.’

“Myth: The oil sands are an environmental catastrophe of international scale.
“Report: The claim lacks any ‘credible quantitative evidence.’ The James Bay hydro project has destroyed 15 times as much boreal forest as the oil sands; coal power is responsible for 17 percent of Canadian carbon emissions, more than three times the oil sands' total.

“Myth: Environmentally, open-pit mining is the worst form of bitumen extraction.
“Report: Open pit is messy, but ‘in situ,’ or underground mining produces as much as 20 percent more greenhouse gas.”

Thus, while the Royal Society study takes aim at all the stakeholders for failures in their role of developers and regulators, it points out that the oil sands resource is not anywhere near as environmentally destructive as the opponents and many in the media are suggesting.  Maybe this report, not only will start an adult discussion in Canada about the development of the resource, but also in the United States.  More important, maybe it will force the U.S. to confront the economic value of the bitumen from Canada that would help reduce American dependence on foreign oil from unfriendly places on the planet.

Hurricane Forecast Calls 2011 Potentially Worse Than 2010 (Top)

The forecasting team at Colorado State University (CSU) led by Phil Klotzback and Bill Gray say in their first forecast for the 2011 hurricane season that they expect it to be an above-average Atlantic basin tropical storm season along with having an above-average probability of a major hurricane landing on the U.S. coastline and in the Caribbean.  The team acknowledges that for the past 19 years of issuing early December forecasts, they have yet to demonstrate real-time forecast skill.  They have, on the other hand, demonstrated significant real-time forecasting skill with their early June and early August predictions. 

In an interesting discussion, the team explains that the early December forecasting scheme they initially developed in 1991 demonstrated good hindcast skill for the period 1950-1990, but did not give skillful results when utilized for 10 real-time forecasts between 1992 and 2001.  The problem was due to the discontinuation of the strong relationships they had earlier found between West African rainfall and the stratospheric quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) with Atlantic basin hurricane activity 6-11 months in the future.  At this point they remain at a loss to understand why after 41 years of a good predictive relationship it all changed.

In 2002, they developed a new forecasting scheme, which did not utilize the West African rains and relied less on the QBO.  The newer forecasting scheme gave better hindcast skill but did not demonstrate real-time forecast skill for the four years from 2003-2006 that it was used.  They admit that four years is a short time to demonstrate success, so the next step was to further modify the scheme and try again.  In 2007 they made modifications for the 2008 forecast season.  They continue to use the new system that now relies on only three predictors rather than six as before.  This scheme has demonstrated a 75% success in forecasting above- or below-average tropical storm seasons for the 61-year period of 1950-2010.  Importantly, this new forecast scheme has had a smaller error than climatology in 41 out of the 61 years for a 67% success.  They believe the new forecasting scheme is well-tuned to the multi-decadal active hurricane periods from 1950-1969 and 1995-2010 versus the inactive hurricane period from 1970-1994.

The CSU December forecast calls for 17 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes (Category 3-4-5).  There should be 85 named storm days, 40 hurricane days and 10 major hurricane days.  The 2011 forecast begins to look very similar to the 2010 season’s actual results, especially in terms of the number of days for each forecasted category of storm.  The total number of named storms is slightly below the recent past season (17 versus 19) and the number of hurricanes should be less with nine rather than the 12 experienced in 2010.  The forecast does call for a similar number of major hurricanes to last season with five.

Exhibit 8.  CSU 2011 Early Hurricane Forecast
CSU 2011 Early Hurricane Forecast
Source:  Colorado State Univ., PPHB

In preparing its forecast, the CSU team also looks for those analog years that have similar dynamics for the formation of tropical storms and their development into hurricanes and major hurricanes.  The analog years the CSU team has selected for this upcoming season include 1956, 1961, 1989, 1999 and 2008.  It is interesting that most of these analog years have fewer named storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes than the CSU team is predicting in its early December forecast.  It will be interesting to see how, and if, the list of analog years changes as the CSU team begins preparing its later forecasts, which we know have demonstrated greater hindcast and predictive skill.

Exhibit 9.  Analog Years For 2011 Hurricane Forecast
Analog Years For 2011 Hurricane Forecast
Source:  Colorado State Univ., PPHB

Importantly, the CSU team expects that the probability of a major hurricane making landfall on the entire U.S. coastline is 73% compared to the average for the last century of only 52%.  The average for a storm making landfall along the U.S. East Coast including the Peninsula of Florida is estimated at 49% compared to the historical rate of 31%.  Along the important Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Brownsville, Texas, they are predicting a 48% probability of a major hurricane making landfall versus the past rate of 30%.  The higher probability of a strong hurricane barreling through the Gulf of Mexico and hitting the Gulf Coast with attendant damage to the offshore oil and gas industry will keep energy companies focused on preparing for next year’s hurricane season.

Climate Conference Ends With Minimal Accomplishments (Top)

For two weeks, representatives of 190 nations from around the globe huddled in the warmth of southern Mexico trying to develop a plan to stop global warming.  The delegates were meeting in Cancún and were admonished by the organizers of the UN’s latest climate conference not to wear bathing suits around the hotel and lounge around the pools as the image would be detrimental to the climate change movement.  Of course, for some of the delegates, by being away from home they missed an early and severe blast of winter weather.  The organizers of the UN’s 13th annual climate conference since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was agreed to, tried to set low outcome expectations among the media, especially following the debacle that befell the Copenhagen conference last fall. 

In setting the stage for the importance of the two-week long conference (sounds more like a vacation), environmentalists rushed out new studies to show that the world was still facing global warming and cataclysmic outcomes.  One such study was issued by the UK Meteorological Office.  It used data from nine indicators to show that global temperatures had risen over the past decade.  The indicators selected ranged from decreasing sea ice and snow cover to increasing atmospheric humidity.  Matt Palmer, a senior scientist at the Met Office said, “…we see observations which are all consistent with increasing greenhouse gases.”  But most interestingly, the temperature data show that the rate of change over the past decade has been slower than in the 1990s and 1980s. 

Vicky Pope, the Met Office head of climate science, acknowledged the slower warming trend.  She then said, “The question is why has that happened.  It’s a question skeptics often bring up.”  (No kidding!)  So what is the Met Office’s explanation?  It believes that the lower temperature increase is attributable to natural variability of climate perhaps supplemented by a cyclical reduction in solar activity and the man-made cooling effect of pollutant “aerosols” emitted by the rapidly industrializing countries of Asia.  It is interesting that the Met Office is willing to suddenly acknowledge that natural climate variability and solar activity may have something to do with global warming after years of denying any causal relationship. 

Ms. Pope then went on to suggest that it may be that we (the Met Office) are underestimating the warming that is “actually taking place.”  This conclusion is based on its analysis of sea surface temperatures that are increasingly measured with floating buoys, and need to be corrected upwards.  The most telling aspect of this conclusion is that even with the upward adjustment, the Met Office says that global temperatures have risen by 0.08°C-0.16°C over the decade.  The long-term warming trend has been calculated to be 0.16°C per decade.  So after having adjusted sea surface temperatures higher (the raw data) the Met Office can only get the global warming estimate to its maximum of the last decade up to the long-term trend.  Maybe the warming trend was actually at only half the historical rate.  Could this be stretching to try and create a news story when the data doesn’t support the global warming cause?

This recent slowing in the rate of warming is interesting given the rage expressed by climatologists in recent years about every year having record high global temperatures.  Since this summer the claim has been that 2010 may surpass 1998 as the warmest year on record since records began to be kept.  However, the recent emerging cooling La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean may depress year-end temperatures causing 2010 to fall short of being the warmest year ever.  Interestingly, the last days of the Cancún climate conference were marked by local record cold temperatures.  Likewise, at the time the Met Office was presenting its global warming study to the media in London, temperatures in Great Britain were below freezing and the island nation along with northwest Europe were experiencing the coldest start to winter in many years.  The cold temperatures were also accompanied with record snowfalls shutting down airports, highways and railroads. 

In preparing for covering the climate conference, the media began interviewing leading participants and global warming observers, searching for stories with new angles.  In the course of reading some of these articles, we uncovered some interesting information.  For example, an interview of the German economist and UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) member Ottmar Edenhofer revealed his view that the climate conference was really a huge economic conference where the attendees would be involved in redistributing the world’s energy resources.  Mr. Edenhofer made several key points in his interview.  First, in order for a country to get rich it must burn coal, oil or gas.  Therefore, emerging economies fear CO2 emission limits as they would choke off any possibility of becoming economically rich.  Importantly, he pointed out, there is no historical precedent and no region in the world that has successfully decoupled its economic growth from its volume of emissions.  This is another reason developing economies fear emission restrictions.  The troubling aspect of this argument is that countries are building new power plants that will last for the next 40-70 years and in recent years, coal prices have not increased relative to oil and gas prices, so countries are locking in certain future levels of CO2 emissions.

Secondly, Mr. Edenhofer said that the reason the Cancún conference was an economic negotiation is because in order to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2°C, the planet can only afford to release 400 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere at the same time the world has 11,000 gigatons of carbon contained in the coal reserves of the member countries.  Since it is clear we must keep most of the fossil energy reserves in the ground, then the process for growing emerging country economies and improving the living standards of their citizens must be addressed. 

He went on to criticize the people of the world.  He stated that we have realized that for a climate protection target of limiting temperature increases to 2°C, neither a purely technical solution nor a lifestyle change will be sufficient.  Even together these changes do not meet the standards for limiting temperatures from rising.  Shopping for organic foods and driving electric cars will not solve the problem and people who believe this, Mr. Edenhofer believes, are arrogant.  His view is that the ecological footprint associated with our lifestyle has increased over the past 30 years and needs to be changed significantly.  It is this attitude that has translated into environmentalists’ view that the planet has too many people and restricting population growth should be of the highest priority.

Another article written by two professors – one in atmospheric physics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the other at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego – focused on trying to shift the debate away from trying to regulate carbon dioxide in favor of working on cutting down other powerful warming pollutants.  In their view, it makes more sense to target methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), lower atmospheric ozone and dark soot particles that contribute nearly 80% as much warming as carbon dioxide.  As they say, the technology and regulatory systems needed to regulate these emissions are already in place. 

Methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in causing warming.  Replacing old gas pipelines, managing the water used in rice cultivation better and collecting methane from landfills could all be achieved with little effort.  In the case of landfill methane, it could be sold as a fuel to help offset the cost of regulations.  Cutting HFCs by developing new refrigerants for air-conditions and other cooling systems could have a significant effect on global warming emissions.  Politically the most beneficial changes might be in reducing ozone and soot.  The reason why these savings would be easier to attain than carbon dioxide is that they lead to cleaner air that is desired by all citizens.  Major gains in reducing ozone pollutants could occur in the large and growing cities in Asia. 

Reducing soot through cleaning up coal-burning power plants, especially in developing economies such as India and China, and adding soot filters to diesel engines and reducing the emissions from brick-making kilns should be relatively easy fixes.  An even easier and politically more popular fix would be to provide more efficient cook stoves that cut the levels of soot in underdeveloped regions of the world. 

What has become increasingly more evident every year is the real agenda behind global climate change promoters.  It is an agenda requiring elite control over the populations of the world – dictating where and how they live, how they work and what they eat.  Fighting to control carbon dioxide emissions is the most difficult battle but had that “war” been won earlier, it would have provided the maximum amount of economic and social control possible to the elites.  But as serious students of ridding the world of irritating pollutants that aid global warming in the short term point out, their proposals are easy moves to make and represent small steps in controlling emissions with less lifestyle disruptions.  These moves would give the world’s economies decades in which to adjust to the various disruptive emission restrictions dictated by trying to stop carbon dioxide emissions.  More importantly, it would give us time to see whether the global warming fears are real or are merely figments of the imagination of climate computer models.  Tackling the easy steps to cleaning up the atmosphere makes more sense than waging battles over more difficult and expensive actions that have little proof of being successful. 

Administration’s Auto Mandates Raise Costs And Emissions (Top)

A new study from the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), a non-profit foundation funded by federal and state governments, corporate sources and through holding conferences argues that the new mandates from the Obama administration agencies for increased fuel-efficiency and new safety standards will raise vehicle costs, reduce demand for new vehicles and likely lead to additional emissions.  The study is bound to create a battle between auto manufacturers, environmentalists and politicians over the benefits and costs of “green” cars. 

Interestingly, as the Obama administration touts its “green” auto agenda by supporting electric vehicles, the sales statistics for the domestic automobile industry show the antithesis.  At GM, car sales have fallen by nearly 6% compared to the weak sales figures of last year.  Offsetting that weakness for GM, light truck sales (including pickup trucks, SUVs, minivans and crossovers) are up by more than 16%.  Despite having introduced the Cruze compact and Volt plug-in hybrid, GM still sells half again as many trucks and SUVs as it does cars.  At Chrysler, light trucks have accounted for 73% of its sales so far this year.  Based on those sales figures, one could say, so much for the domestic “green” automobile industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Transportation Safety Administration are working on new fleet fuel-efficiency ratings for after 2016 when it is to reach 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg), up from 27.3 mpg in 2011.  The CAR study estimates that retail car prices will rise by 22%, in 2009 dollars, by 2025, assuming an aggressive increase in the fuel-efficiency standard to 60.1 mpg by then.  The cost increase assumes the consumer fuel-savings from the improved efficiency.

An additional contributing factor to the cost increase will be anticipated mandatory safety equipment additions including back-up cameras, additional air bags, brake override systems and systems to alert drivers before potential collisions.  The study further concluded that the rise in vehicle prices would be limited to only 10% if gasoline prices double over the period. 

The CAR study estimates that the large price increase would lower U.S. annual car sales from an annual 17.9 million unit rate, assuming the same fuel-efficiency rating as 2016, to 13.4 million units and would cost auto manufacturers and their suppliers 220,000 jobs.  The chief economist of CAR, Sean McAlinden, concluded, “That’s the ‘green’ economy for you.”  He went on to suggest that an outcome of the study’s conclusions might be that the U.S. could find itself in a “Cuban auto syndrome” in which consumers hold on to their cars much longer and jobs migrate from car manufacturing to repairs and servicing. 

Another conclusion of the CAR study is that auto manufacturers will meet the higher fuel-economy standard by using cheaper methods such as reducing weight, employing smaller engines and turbochargers, and more expensive technologies such as hybrid and electric power trains.  These conclusions are supported by forecasts from J.D Power that predicts that the market share of compact and subcompact cars will grow from 32% to 40% over the next decade.  As cars grow more expensive, drivers will hold on to their older cars longer, which also means that reducing carbon emissions will slow as the average age of the vehicle fleet grows.

A Merger Of Canada And The U.S. Merely Fiction? (Top)

As you can image if you are a regular reader of the Musings, we spend a lot of time digesting many voluminous tomes while researching the articles we write.  We do try to break up that pattern with occasional “light” reading of popular fiction and non-fiction books, magazines and newspapers.  Sometimes, we even dig into older volumes.  Such was the case in the past week as we read a Clive Cussler book, Night Probe!  This is one of the author’s books based on the adventures of a fictional character, Dirk Pitt, the head of NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency), an underwater salvage firm.  Mr. Cussler is actually the founder of the real-life NUMA, a non-profit, volunteer foundation dedicated to preserving our maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts. 

The story revolves around the discovery that a treaty exists between Great Britain and the United States that would transfer the crown’s ownership of Canada to the United States.  Two undercover couriers carrying their respective country’s copy of the treaty meet their demise in watery graves at exactly the same time in 1914 and at two divergent locations.  Upon learning of the accidents, government officials on both sides of the Atlantic expunge all references to the treaties. 

As the story begins, a young female American Navy officer doing research for a doctorate finds reference to the treaty and begins a search.  At the same time in Great Britain, the government begins an effort to prevent any recovery of the treaties.  As you can imagine, there are all sorts of encounters and violence as the two sides vie to find or destroy the submerged documents, leading to underwater searches and battles.  Our point is not to tell the story (it is a good read), but to highlight that the driving force behind the story-line is the farsighted vision of the treaty’s conceiver to protect against what has developed – an energy-starved United States desperate for the resources of its neighbor Canada.  The book was published in 1981 and the story takes place a few years in the future, some 75 years after the dual accidents in 1914. 

If we think back to the energy industry events and trends in 1981, the world was in the midst of a decade-long energy boom driven by sky-rocketing oil prices following the Arab embargo after the Six Days War and followed some years later by the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and his replacement by a theocracy led by Ayatollah Khomeini.  Over this period of Middle East turmoil, global oil prices increased more than tenfold into the $30 range (in 1980 dollars).  The explosion of oil prices was accompanied by rapidly escalating other commodity prices driven by fears of global shortages of food and materials that are needed to enable the world to continue growing and supporting the lifestyles of the developed economies. 

What we were left with was a book based on the theme of American energy shortages in the 1970s – who can forget our gasoline lines – and the possibility that Canadian provinces, rich in energy and other minerals, would possibly become the 51st (or more) state in our union.  Periodically, the thought of a break-up of Canada and the resulting affiliation of certain provinces or regions with the United States surfaces, and almost always just when commodity prices are climbing.  So while Night Probe! Is a great read even nearly 30 years after it was written, the idea behind it is still around and occasionally discussed.  To our good friends and readers in Canada, we doubt this idea will ever happen, even as we are reminded to never-say-never.  But it sure makes for fun blue-skying the possibility.

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Parks Paton Hoepfl & Brown is an independent investment banking firm providing financial advisory services, including merger and acquisition and capital raising assistance, exclusively to clients in the energy service industry.

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