Tuesday, March 21, 2017

German Energy Policies Leave U.S. in (Coal) Dust

Germany figured prominently in the U.S. press last week as German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC.  While it would certainly have been uncomfortable watching Trump snub Merkel’s offer of a handshake, what a gift it might have been to be a fly on the wall during their conversations.  There could be no greater contrast in demeanor, style and capabilities between two political leaders.  Merkel is careful in her speech and uses her keen intelligence and education in physical chemistry to guide her in what has become a lengthy tenure serving the German people.  Trump is nearly her opposite.  He takes little care in his choice of words and makes no bones of paying scant attention to details.  So far his public service experience is but a flash across the screen.
There are more than superficial differences between Trump and Merkel that are relevant for investors interested in energy and the environment.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy St. Patrick's Day


May there always be work for your hands to do;

May your purse always hold a coin or two;

May the sun always shine on your windowpane;

May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;

May the hand of a friend always be near you;

May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

And may you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you're dead...

Image result for shamrock images

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Steel Industry Finds Environmental Redemption

Smoke and blood is the mix of steel….

Steel barb-wire around The Works.
Steel guns in the holster of the guards at the gates of The Works.
Steel ore-boats bring the loads clawed from the earth by steel, lifted and
Lugged by arms of steel, sung on its way by the
clanking clam-shells.
The runners now, the handlers now, are steel; they dig and clutch and haul;
they hoist their automatic knuckles from job to job;
they are steel making steel.
Fire and dust and air fight in the furnaces;
The pour is timed, the billets wriggle; the clinkers are dumped.
Liners on the sea, skyscrapers on the land; diving steel in the sea,
climbing steel in the sky.

Smoke and Steel, Carl Sandberg

As Carl Sandberg described with such eloquence in the poem “Smoke and Steel,” production of steel is a highly consumptive affair, using vast amounts of energy, eating up raw materials and taking a toll on those who labor at the task.  The World Steel Association (WSA) indicates there were 1,621 million metric tons of steel produced in 2015.  As much as 40% of the cost of steel is related to energy.  The WSA estimates about half of the energy is sourced from coal, 35% from electricity and 5% each from natural gas and other gases.  Renewable energy sources have not made an appreciable entrance into the steel making industry.
To its credit, the industry has attempted to create efficiency in the steel making processes.  For example, by-product gases from the coke oven and blast furnace can be captured and re-used, reducing the need to buy additional fossil fuel.  Analysis of the German steel making industry suggests recovery of by-product gases saves as much as 300 million cubic meters of natural gas each year.
Now the steel industry is on the cusp of its first major technological innovation in decades.  This innovation also promises the dramatic energy efficiency, far outpacing the contributions of recycling gas by-products.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Pipe and a Hard Place

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Explosion
Mid February 2017, a 36-inch gas pipeline owned by Kinder Morgan in Refugio County exploded and burned.   An orange fire ball could be seen as far away as Corpus Cristi and Houston, reminding the public of the dangers in oil and gas pipelines strung out across our country.  The alternatives are not much more appealing.    Indeed, North Americans are positioned uncomfortably between a large rock in the form of a pipe and a very hard place.  
What is the best way to transport fossil fuelsIs there an opportunity for investors?