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Key Takeaways | The Growth of Early Stage Technology Company Investment and Development in Energy and Oil and Gas

How is technology affecting the energy industry? In the latest webinar in the Energy Transition series, McDermott Will & Emery Partner Parker A. Lee hosted Shawn Helms, co-head of McDermott’s Technology and Outsourcing Practice Group, Nadine Herrwerth, managing director at TWTG, and BJ Walker, managing director at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co for a 30-minute discussion where they opined on the current and future impact technology plays on conventional and renewable energy companies.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

1. Industrial Internet of Things (I-IOT). I-IOT products and services can be used to improve site safety and efficiency. I-IOT products have the capability to monitor equipment, such as valves and temperature sensors on machinery, and record data on external dashboards for analysis and alerting. Through the use of data analysis, data gathered by I-IOT products can identify trends, build models and detect future equipment failure. As a result, I-IOT products and services can increase the efficiency, reliability and safety of equipment.

Though the application of I-IOT devices is relatively new to the industry, these products are capable of being retrofitted to established and already operational sites.

2. Technology Companies and Energy. While technology companies are large consumers of energy output, they can also provide significant insights and intelligence in regard to energy use and production. Synergies between technology and energy industries are continuously evolving and providing improvements in energy investments, efficiencies and reliability. For example, drones are capable of leveraging artificial intelligence to increase efficiency and consistency of equipment monitoring and inspections, particularly equipment that is located in remote areas (such as offshore).

3. Investor Focus on the Energy Space. An important theme in the oil and gas industry is the recent focus on transforming the industry to a generator of cashflow. In attracting new investors to the energy industry, particularly as new technologies are introduced, investors should know there is typically a longer wait period to receive a return on investment than what a general investor would commonly expect. In addition to general investors, technology companies are investing in renewable energy sources for purposes of environmental responsibility and in order to power their own enterprise. It is expected that this trend will continue to grow in energy intensive areas, such as the cryptocurrency space.

4. Technology in Traditional Oil and Gas. Although not widely appreciated, the oil and gas industry has always been heavily reliant on technology and an area where revolutionary technologies are developed—and that is certainly the case today. Because oil and gas professionals are proficient with, and conversant in, the application of new technologies, look to those professionals to be industry leaders in the energy transition as new businesses and products are developed.

To access past webinars in this series and to begin receiving Energy updates, including invitations to the webinar series, please click here.




Key Takeaways | Conventional Energy Companies Pivot to Renewables

How will traditional energy companies compete as the world transitions to renewable energy? In the latest webinar in our Energy Transition series, McDermott Will & Emery Partner Jack Langlois hosted Philip Tingle, global co-head of McDermott’s Energy and Project Finance Practice Group, and Michael Hanson, managing director of energy transition at Truist Securities, to answer exactly that. During the 30-minute discussion, they assessed the future for conventional energy companies, including key issues surrounding decarbonization and current tax credit frameworks.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

1. Timeline and Decision-Making. There is a broad divergence of views in how quickly the transition to renewable energy will happen, but changes in law and policy could accelerate that timeline. Conventional energy companies are taking small steps to get acclimated to new renewable opportunities because there are multiple factors they need to consider before deciding whether to enter into the renewable energy space: Strategic fit, materiality, profitability and risk. Many conventional energy companies that have successfully pivoted to renewable opportunities have done so by reutilizing their existing assets.

2. Carbon Capture. Carbon capture is often a strategic fit for oil and gas companies. However, companies, investors and banks are still struggling with the profitability of carbon capture because without government incentive, carbon capture is not profitable. The current incentive structures do not compel a sufficient amount of activity because they only compensate capture equipment owners, leaving out all the necessary downstream affiliates. Until this business model is corrected, banks especially will struggle with how to finance carbon capture.

3. Reconciliation Bill. Carbon capture incentives may be around for a while longer. In the reconciliation bill, there is a provision that would extend the Section 45Q carbon capture tax credit through the year 2032. However, the bill would also modify the tax credit to provide for wage and apprenticeship requirements. Companies will need to find ways to assure financing parties that they have met these additional requirements. If they can accomplish this, the extension period will allow greater opportunities for conventional energy companies to enter the space.

To access past webinars in this series and to begin receiving Energy updates, including invitations to the webinar series, please click here.




Implications of the Clean Power Plan Stay

Late in the day on Tuesday, February 9, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed, for at least a year and possibly longer, the implementation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) widely-publicized regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-, oil- and gas-fired power plants.  The stay means that the CPP’s requirements and deadlines are on hold, at least until resolution of the pending legal challenges to the CPP.  But what are the broader implications of the Court’s decision?

First, the stay decision bodes poorly for the ultimate fate of the CPP, even though the Supreme Court did not opine as to the CPP’s legality.  The stay decision signals, at a minimum, that a majority of the Supreme Court is sympathetic to the challengers’ claims that the CPP is unlawful.  Indeed, it signals more than that—a distrust of EPA’s assertions about the minimal burdens imposed by the CPP.  That said, the CPP may yet survive judicial review and, even if it does not survive, EPA may be able to promulgate a replacement regulation that achieves similar results, although such a replacement would surely take several years to develop.

Second, environmentally, the stay is unlikely to have any immediate effect on emissions levels, primarily because the CPP itself does not require any immediate emissions reductions.  But that does not mean the stay has no environmental consequences.  The stay fosters uncertainty about the fate of the CPP, and one potential consequence of that uncertainty is that EPA will feel compelled to devote additional resources to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from other sources, especially the oil and gas sector.

The Obama administration has limited time to pursue such alternatives, but the next administration, if it shares President Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change, may focus much more intensively on addressing the carbon content of fuels, to make up for the delays and uncertainties created by the CPP stay decision.

The stay also raises questions about the fate of the recently secured Paris agreement, since some parties to that agreement may now be wondering whether the US is capable of meeting its commitment to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.  If other countries doubt the reliability of the US commitment, they may be less bold about seeking emissions reductions themselves.  Indeed, it is precisely such doubts that may drive EPA to pursue more oil and gas regulations.

Finally, lurking in the Supreme Court’s action may be a deeper signal about the fate of the Chevron doctrine, a topic that should be of interest to all entities subject to regulation in the United States, not just to those subject to the Clean Air Act.  A recurring theme in the legal challenges to the CPP is that the CPP raises questions of such extreme economic and political significance that EPA is not entitled to deference as to how those questions should be resolved.  It is not clear what role that theme played in the Supreme Court’s [...]

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An Update on EPA’s Approach to Methane Emissions from the Oil & Gas Sector – Including a Summary of the Agency’s Proposed New Reporting Rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to announce between now and December 31, 2014 its plan for pursuing methane reductions from the oil and gas sector – including whether it will propose new emission reduction regulations.  Additionally, the agency recently modified its greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting rules for oil and gas systems and also proposed expanding those rules so that they would cover many additional oil- and gas-related sources.  This blog post briefly summarizes these recent developments.

Where is EPA Headed with Respect to New Emission Reduction Requirements?

In his March 2014 Methane Reduction Strategy, President Obama directed EPA to study opportunities for reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and to make a determination by this fall as to how best to pursue further reductions.  EPA has yet to announce its “determination” but it is widely anticipated that EPA will not propose new methane capture or leak detection and repair (LDAR) regulations; instead, EPA is generally expected to continue promoting voluntary emission reduction efforts.  But the agency remains under pressure from environmental organizations to actually require emission reduction measures, such as new mandatory LDAR requirements.  For example a recent report by a coalition of environmental organizations asserts that new LDAR regulations focused on methane, coupled with other mandatory methane reduction measures, could “reduce the sector’s methane pollution in half in just a few years.”

New GHG Reporting Requirements Take Effect January 1, 2015, and EPA has also Proposed a Significant Expansion of the Reporting Rules

Although EPA may not propose new methane emission reduction regulations, it is clearly interested in improving the range and quality of methane emission data that it receives – and that it makes available to the public.  Thus, on November 13, 2014, EPA signed a final rule (published in the Federal Register on November 25, 2014) modifying the existing GHG reporting requirements for the oil and gas sector to clarify the exact equipment covered by the regulations and the precise methods that can be used to calculate emissions from that equipment.  The modifications take effect on January 1, 2015 and apply to emissions occurring in 2015.

EPA also just signed a proposed rule that would expand the oil and gas sector GHG reporting requirements to several additional categories of equipment and activities.  The proposed rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register, but it would expand the reporting requirements to include, among other sources, gathering and boosting facilities, completions of fractured oil wells (currently, the rules cover fractured gas wells) and natural gas transmission pipeline blowdowns.  The proposed rule also discusses emission calculation methodologies and the confidentiality of data reported to EPA.  Indeed, the proposed rule lists several categories of emission and equipment-related data and proposes to designate much of that information as not confidential.  That feature of the proposal reflects the agency’s ongoing emphasis on “next generation compliance,” one element of which is greater public [...]

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The President’s Methane Reduction Strategy – Here’s What Energy Companies Need to Know

President Obama recently released a Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions (Strategy) that sets forth a multi-pronged plan for reducing methane emissions both domestically and globally.  Domestically, the plan is to focus on four sources of methane—the oil and gas sector, coal mines, agriculture and landfills—and to pursue a mix of regulatory actions with respect to those sources.  Energy companies now have the opportunity to help influence exactly what those actions will be.

For the oil and gas sector, the Strategy indicates that the federal government will focus primarily on encouraging voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions—such as bolstering the existing Natural Gas STAR Program and promoting new technologies.  But the Strategy also identifies two areas of potential mandatory requirements.  First, later this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will issue a draft rule on minimizing venting and flaring on public lands.  Regulated parties will have the opportunity to submit comments after the proposed rule is released.  Second, the Strategy confirms that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will decide this fall whether to propose any mandatory methane control requirements on oil and gas production companies.  Consistent with that announcement, on April 15, 2014, EPA released five technical whitepapers discussing methane emissions from the oil and gas production process.  The agency is soliciting comments on those whitepapers—they are due by June 16, 2014.

For coal mines, the Strategy indicates that BLM will soon be seeking public input on developing a program to capture and sell methane from coal mines on public lands.  The Strategy further indicates that EPA will continue promoting voluntary methane capture efforts.

For landfills, the Strategy calls for public input on whether EPA should update its regulations for existing solid waste landfills, indicates that EPA will be proposing new regulations for future landfills, and indicates that EPA will continue to support the development of voluntary landfill gas-to-energy projects.

For agriculture, the Strategy does not suggest any new regulatory requirements.  Instead, it indicates that EPA and the Department of Energy will work to promote voluntary methane control efforts and that those agencies will place special emphasis on promoting biogas—starting with the release of a “Biogas Roadmap” in June 2014.

In addition to these sector-specific approaches, the Strategy emphasizes the need for improved methane measurement and modeling techniques, both domestically and globally.  All of the topics covered by the Strategy are ones about which regulated parties may want to submit comments—to EPA, BLM and/or the Office of Management and Budget.




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