The Top 10 Energy Stories Of 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, it’s time to review the top energy stories of the year. This year I have decided to list the stories roughly in the order they occurred during the year. Thus, the recent tax reform bill, which would be the top energy story on some lists, is near the end.

Here are the stories that shaped the year in energy.

Executive Orders on Pipelines

In January, President Trump signed executive orders on two stalled pipeline projects. One was the Keystone XL Pipeline rejected by his predecessor. President Trump asked TransCanada (NYSE: TRP), the pipeline’s backer, to reapply for the permit. Shortly after, the company did just that, and it was approved.

The other project backed by Trump was the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). President Barack Obama halted the $3.8 billion project following months of protests. Trump instructed the Secretary of the Army to cut through the red tape that had stalled the project. That directive was followed, the project was restarted, and oil began to flow through the pipeline in May.

Repeal of the Clean Power Plan

In March, Donald Trump signed an executive order to begin the process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP was first proposed by the Obama Administration in 2014. It would have required states to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal- and gas-fired power plants.

An Exodus from the Oil Sands

Oil majors like Statoil, Shell, and ConocoPhillips sold off $24 billion in assets in Canada’s oil sands sector. Other majors, like Total, have indicated they will follow suit. The culprits were high costs and better opportunities in U.S. shale oil.

U.S. Exit from Paris Climate Agreement

In June, President Trump continued to undo Obama’s environmental legacy with the announcement that the U.S. will pull out of the Paris Accord on climate change. Opponents of the agreement cited the costs to the U.S. economy and the impact on the coal industry. Trump stated that the terms were unfair to the U.S. and that he hoped to negotiate a better deal. 

New Records Abound

In June, the Renewables 2017 Global Status Report and the 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy were both released. The reports showed new record consumption numbers for renewables like wind and solar power, but also new records for oil and natural gas production. Global carbon dioxide emissions also reached a new high. The EIA also reported a new all-time high for U.S. gasoline consumption.

Hurricane Harvey Causes Havoc

Late August brought Hurricane Harvey to the Texas Gulf Coast. The storm shut down oil production and idled an estimated 30% of the country’s refining capacity. Gasoline prices surged across much of the U.S., and gasoline shortages were widespread in some areas. 

U.S. Shale Production Rebounds

U.S. oil production fell by a million barrels per day (BPD) in 2015 and 2016 because of decline oil prices. But output came roaring back in 2017. December production reached nearly 9.8 million BPD — the highest monthly oil production since 1971.

Oil Prices Begin to Recover

Oil prices bounced back as well. After spending most of 2017 below $50/bbl, in August West Texas Intermediate (WTI) finally moved from the mid-$40s into the upper $50s. In November, the price of WTI tested the $60 mark. A rally in the energy sector accompanied the price increase, with many major oil and gas companies reaching 52-week highs in December.

Warnings about Future Oil Supplies

During the year, multiple agencies warned about the lack of investment in the energy sector. The IEA warned that energy companies had approved the lowest number of new drilling projects in more than 70 years.

Neil Atkinson, head of the IEA’s Oil Markets and Industry Division warned: “There are still not enough signs of investment beginning to return. That raises the risk of tightening of the market in the next five years and a risk to the stability of oil prices. There is at least a possibility of going back to the situation we had ten years ago where oil prices were very, very high at a time when demand was growing.”

Meanwhile, the IEA also reported in April that global oil discoveries in 2016 fell to a record low.

Tax Reform Boosts the Energy Sector

Perhaps the most significant energy story of the year happened in December. Congress passed a massive tax overhaul, which the President has now signed. The new law will drop the corporate tax rate to 21% from the current 35%. 

Energy companies stand to benefit the most. In addition to the drop in the tax rate, the law was changed to allow deduction of capital expenditures in the year they are incurred. This change will further lower the tax burden for the energy sector while encouraging more capital spending. Higher earnings across the energy sector should ensue.