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Big Oil Overreaches on COVID-19 Bailout

BioRefineries/Renewable Fuel Production, Business News/Analysis, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Agency, Federal Regulation, Opinions, Policy, White House
May 7, 2020

by Jim Talent (The Gazette) … Oil companies have requested special access to a $600 billion lending facility at the Federal Reserve, and the administration seems keen to deliver. The president just announced that the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Treasury would make funds available, and the Department of Energy is also floating a $7 billion plan to pay drillers to leave oil in the ground.

Unfortunately, at least one faction of the industry — a group of refiners that traditionally profit when crude feedstocks are cheap — is angling for much more than a financial bailout. They are using the pandemic as cover to cannibalize markets vital to U.S. biofuel producers and farmers.

Their plan, outlined in letter from several oil-patch governors, would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to halt enforcement of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). It would allow refiners to stop offering biofuel blends at the fuel pump, eliminating the market for U.S. ethanol and biodiesel and decimating demand for billions of bushels of corn and soybeans used to make renewable motor fuel.

With half the nation’s 200-plus biofuel plants already offline, thousands of rural workers facing layoffs, and millions of U.S. farmers on financial life support, the destruction of the RFS would be an economic death knell for rural America.

Even former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who scorned American farmers, rejected a similar plan back in 2017.

Aside from the sheer audacity, the refinery-backed plan also suffers from a major flaw — it wouldn’t change the economic situation of a single refinery. They claim that lifting the RFS would eliminate the costs associated with biofuel credits known as RINs, which are used to demonstrate compliance with the nation’s biofuel targets. Refiners that refuse to produce biofuel blends can purchase RINs from those that blend more ethanol or biodiesel into the fuel mix. In turn, when they sell a gallon of fuel, that RIN price is reflected in their returns. The oil industry’s own reports show that “there is no economic harm to RIN purchasers, even if RIN prices are high, because those costs are recouped in the gasoline blend stock and diesel.”

Clearly, a 0.006 percent savings isn’t going to protect any refinery jobs, but refineries are betting that DC policymakers don’t know the difference between RINs values and compliance costs. They open one side of a ledger and hope that no one asks to see the next page.

Meanwhile, the nation’s biggest oil lobby, American Petroleum Institute, is calling on the EPA to simply cut 770 million gallons of biofuel out of the 2020 targets. 

Keep in mind, collapsing demand for motor fuel is just as hard on the nation’s biofuel producers. RFS targets enforced by the EPA are based on a percentage of each gallon sold — so if refiners make less fuel, their obligations under the law shrink at an equal rate. Meanwhile, biofuel producers across the heartland are closing their doors, as even their modest 10 percent share of the market has been cut in half.

Biofuel advocates are focused on their own survival. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley summed it up, saying “[T]here ought to be parity for all liquid fuels. So I look forward to working with (Agriculture) Secretary (Sonny) Perdue to make sure that our biofuels industry gets through this crisis so that we can continue to use America’s (home) grown energy in our gas tanks.”

Parity makes sense, but refinery lobbyists want more.

Former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent spearheaded the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005. He currently serves as co-chair of Americans for Energy Security and Innovation. READ MORE

WARREN CALLS ON MNUCHIN TO STOP OIL BAILOUT: (Politico’s Morning Energy)

Elizabeth Warren Blasts ‘Bailout’ for Oil Companies as Trump Eyes Aid (NewsMax/Bloomberg)

Scoop: Trump’s energy chief signals more help for oil companies unlikely (Axios)

‘Stealth Bailout’ Shovels Millions of Dollars to Oil Companies (Bloomberg/Washington Post)

Oil and Gas Companies Continue to Lead on Getting Government Handouts (Our Daily Planet)

U.S. Cuts Royalty Payments for Drillers on Utah Federal Land (2) (Bloomberg Law)

Some energy firms that already were struggling got a lifeline in paycheck loans. But it’s temporary. (Washington Post)

INTERIOR CUTS ROYALTY PAYMENTS: (Politico’s Morning Energy)

SCALISE, LOUISIANA COLLEAGUES URGE DOI TO EXPEDITE ROYALTY RELIEF PROCESS (Office of Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA))

Oil exec: It would be a mistake for the US government to bail us out (CNN)

BAIL OUT CLEAN ENERGY BEFORE OIL, MOST AMERICANS SAY (E&E News/Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association)

GRAVES: PRODUCERS NEED MORE: (Politico’s Morning Energy)

 

Excerpt from Politico’s Morning Energy:  WARREN CALLS ON MNUCHIN TO STOP OIL BAILOUT: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called on Mnuchin to stop any plans to bail out the oil and gas industry, whether in the form of a separate lending facility or the modification of one of the Fed’s existing facilities, in a letter released Thursday. Oil and gas companies, she writes, already receive billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies annually and “do not deserve special access to taxpayer-financed bailout funds at a time when millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet.”  READ MORE

 

Excerpt from Washington Post/Bloomberg: As it headed toward bankruptcy, Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. took advantage of a little-noticed provision in the stimulus bill Congress passed in March to get a $9.7 million tax refund. Then, it asked a bankruptcy judge to authorize the same amount as bonuses to nine executives.

The rig operator is one of dozens of oil companies and contractors now claiming hundreds of millions of dollars in tax rebates. They are employing a provision of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law, called the CARES act, that gives them more latitude to deduct recent losses.

The change wasn’t aimed only at the oil industry. However, its structure uniquely benefits energy companies that were raking in record profits in 2018 as crude prices reached $76.41 per barrel, only to see their fortunes flip a year later.

More than $1.9 billion in CARES Act tax benefits are being claimed by at least 37 oil companies, service firms and contractors, according to a Bloomberg News review of recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Besides Diamond Offshore, which declined to comment, recipients include oil producer Occidental Petroleum Corp. and refiner Marathon Petroleum Corp.  READ MORE

 

Excerpt from Bloomberg Law: The Bureau of Land Management approved all 76 petitions it received for leases in Utah since May 1, according to an online government database. The approvals temporarily lower royalty rates so that oil companies can pay the federal government as little as 2.5% the value of oil and natural gas extracted from the tracts, instead of the usual 12.5% rate.

Data on royalty relief applications from other states were not available in the database as of early Wednesday, even though applications have been filed for leases outside of Utah.

BLM’s move is designed to aid oil companies fighting to survive after the coronavirus pandemic quashed fuel demand and a price war broke out between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Prices have recovered somewhat from epic lows in April as global producers curb output and U.S. oil companies halt production at some wells.

Yet conservationists said the Trump administration’s decision would encourage more oil production at a time when storage tanks are filling up and the industry still needs to curtail output.

“They’re neck deep in oil and we’re throwing them an anchor,” said David Jenkins, president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. “Not only does this boneheaded move shortchange American taxpayers and Western states at the worst possible time, it incentivizes oil production during the worst oil glut in history,” Jenkins said.  READ MORE

 

Excerpt from Our Daily Planet: Why This Matters:  The giveaways to oil and gas companies in the name of saving jobs just keep coming. 

  • But these companies are taking public money that could be better spent on jobs that will last into the future in the renewable energy sector, which truly has been deeply harmed by the pandemic. 

The renewable energy industry is angry and beginning to criticize the Democrats for not helping them despite repeated requests. READ MORE

 

Excerpt from E&E News:  Oil allies responded to the poll by urging flexibility. Industry aid doesn’t have to look like a bailout, they said.

“This is further evidence that tax cuts for energy extracted on federal lands might be more favorably viewed than direct spending/bailouts,” Paul Blair, director of strategic initiatives at Americans for Tax Reform, wrote on Twitter.

“Cut the royalty rate!” he said.

The oil industry suffered historic blows in the time between the two polls. Amid a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, President Trump helped negotiate an agreement for oil-producing nations to cut output. But it wasn’t enough to counteract a sharp decline made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

Storage tanks are filled near capacity, and one benchmark showed negative prices for the first time ever.

The Federal Reserve last week expanded a loan program to include struggling oil and gas firms. Environmentalists blasted that move as a quiet bailout, but industry officials said it wasn’t that simple.

Steve Everley, a managing director at FTI Consulting who works with the oil and gas sector, responded to the Morning Consult poll by pointing to one of its other findings: More Americans say low oil prices hurt the economy (52%) than say it’s helped their personal finances (42%).

Everley added that he would be curious what voters consider to be a bailout.

Extending tax credits and offering Treasury loans with interest aren’t the same as direct cash payments, he said.

“Many of these are not bailouts, or at least should not be considered bailouts. But do voters see the nuance?” he wrote on Twitter.   READ MORE

 

Excerpt from Politico’s Morning Energy:  GRAVES: PRODUCERS NEED MORE:Rep. Garret Graves told ME more is needed from the Trump administration to help the ravaged oil and gas sector. “Things are coming back up, but look, reality is the damage was done,” he said. “There’s still some additional moves that are needed to help to sustain that [recovery].” He spoke with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette on Wednesday and plans to speak with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt as well.

Graves suggested “temporary royalty reductions that would be based on price thresholds to where you’re certainly not giving away the farm” and royalty-in-kind transfers to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, in particular. “I think things along those lines would be some of the things that could be done and I think should have been done, in some cases,” he said. “I think some of the royalty reductions have been going too slow and just too much too much bureaucracy built in there.” BLM has slashed some royalty payments on public lands to as low as 0.5 percent but Interior has not provided similar relief for offshore producers, despite the pleas of many Republican lawmakers. Oil briefly rose above $40 per barrel on Wednesday before falling again.  READ MORE

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Foundation (NSF) national security National Security Council National Transportation Safety Board Native American tribes natural gas Natural Gas Act natural gas input natural gasoline natural gas prices natural gas vehicles Navy Nebraska neem negative carbon emissions neodymium Nepal net energy balance Netherlands Nevada New Brunswick Newfoundland new fuel approval New Guinea New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New South Wales New York New Zealand next generation biofuels next generation vehicles NHRA drag racing Nicaragua nickel Niger Nigeria nipa sap nitrate leaching nitrates nitrogen Nitrogen fertiliser nitrogen starvation nitrous oxide (N2O) Niue NO2 noodles nopal North Africa North America North Carolina North Dakota Northeast northern catalpa Northern Ireland Northern Territory North Korea Northwest Territories Norway Nova Scotia NOx (nitrogen oxides) noxious weeds NTSB nuclear Nunavut nutraceuticals nutrient credit trading nutrient management nutrients nutrition nut shells oak 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oxygenate ozone Pakistan Palau palm palm biomass palm fatty acid distillate palm fiber palm fronds palm kernel palm kernel oil palm kernel shell palm oil palm oil mill effluent (POME) palm oil prices palm waste Paludiculture/peatland cultivation Panama pandas panic grass papaya paper Papua Indonesia Papua New Guinea paraffins Paraguay parity partial waiver particulates pasture land Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) patents pathways Paulownia paulownia tree payments peaches peak oil peak oil demand peanuts/groundnuts peas pectin peela kaner pellets Pennsylvania pennycress/stinkweed pentane pentanol pentose pequi perennial grains perennial grasses Performance permitting Peru pest-tolerance pesticide-tolerance pests petition petroleum pharmaceuticals phase separation Philippines phosphorus photobioreactor photosynthesis phragmites pigeon pea pilot scale pine pineapple pine beetle pine nut pinion pipelines Pistacia chinensis PLA plant cell research plant cell walls plant oil plastic 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quality improvement quantum dots Quebec Queensland quote of the week r R33 rabbits race radiata pine Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing railroad rainforest rain tree RAND rare earth metal RD20 RD30 RD99 RD100 reclaimed mine lands recycled oil recycled plastics recycling red algae redcedar Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation refineries reforestation Reformate regenerative braking regenerative farming regulation regulations Regulations-Federal Regulations-State Regulatory Enhancement Growth Support (REGS) Reid vapor pressure (RVP) remediation remediation rice straw Renewable Chemical renewable chemical producer tax incentive renewable chemical production tax credit Renewable Diesel/Green Diesel/Paraffinic Diesel Renewable Diesel/Green Diesel price Renewable Diesel Production renewable diesel pumps renewable diesel tax credit renewable diesel terminal Renewable Energy Renewable Energy Directive (RED and RED II) Renewable Energy Standard Renewable Energy to Fuels 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RINs (Renewable Identification Numbers) RINs markets RINs price risk management RJ-4 RJ-6 RME (rape methyl ester) RME180 RNA (Ribonucleic acid) roadmap rocket fuel Romania RON (Research Octane Number) rotation crops royalties RTP (rapid thermal processing) rubber rumen ruminants rural development Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Rural Energy Self-Sufficiency Initiative Russia Russian olive rutabaga Rwanda ry rye Rye grass s saccharification Safer and Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles (SAFE) safety safflower sago pond weed SAIC SAK Salicornia salt-tolerant saltbush saltcedar sal tree salt water Sanctions Santa Monica sardine oil Saskatchewan Saudi Arabia sawdust scale up Scandinavia scholarships/fellowships Science Advisory Board (SAB) Science Policy Scotland scum sea level rise seaports seashore mallow seawater Seaweed/Macroalgae seaweed cultivation Section 526 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) seed-to-wheel seed husks Senegal Serbia sesame sewage Seychelles shale shale 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Statistics steam explosion steam reformation steel stevia stillage storage tanks Straight (pure) Vegetable Oil (SVO or PVO) stranded assets Strategic Bioenergy Reserve STrategiv Petroleum Reserve straw students su sub-Saharan Africa sub-sim (substantially similar) succinic acid sucrose Sudan sugar sugar-to-biodiesel sugar-to-farnesane sugar-to-jetfuel Sugar Beets/Energy Beets sugarcane sugarcane prices sugarcane straw Sugar kelp sugar palm sugar platform sugar prices sugars sugars-to-fats sugar standards sulfur Sumatra sunflower supercritical fluid supercritical hydrolysis supply agreements supply chain Supreme Court surahart Suriname Sustainability Swaziland Sweden sweetgum sweet potatoes Sweet sorghum swine waste Switchgrass Switzerland sycamore syngas syngas fermentation synthetic biology synthetic diesel synthetic gasoline synthetic liquified gas (SLG) synthetic methane synthetic natural gas Syria Tailoring Rule Taiwan Tajikistan tall fescue tall oil tallow tallow tree Tamarix tank-to-wheel tank cars tankers tanker trucks Tanzania tariffs taro tar sands Tasmania tax benefit tax credit taxes tax incentives tax parity tax policy tea teach-the-teacher teacher teacher resources teacher training technical course Technical Readiness Levels techno-economic analysis technology transfer tech transfer telephone utility poles Tennessee termites terpenes terrestrial carbon testing Texas textbook Thailand theft therapeutics thermal deoxygenation thermocatalytic conversion thermochemical conversion thermochemical liquefaction Tibet Tier 3 Tier 4 tilapia tillage Timor-Leste tires tobacco tobacco tree Togo Tokyo toluene Tonga tool Toronto torrefaction Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) trade trade dispute/discrimination trade group trade organization Trade Policy trade secrets training trains transesterification transgenics transition Transportation Fuels Policy Transportation Fuels Policy--Municipal Transportation Fuels Policy--State Transportation Policy Treasury 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