President Obama will travel to Florida today to campaign a bit and address the thorny problem of rising gas prices. The climb toward $4 gas has stirred debate and left the White House vulnerable in an election year. Louis Woodhill in Forbes argues that it’s not gas that is rising but the dollar that is falling – an explanation that still doesn’t let the Administration off the hook. The San Francisco Chronicle argued that “Real Gas Price Solutions Take Time,” but critics say the Administration has already had a lot of time and hasn’t’ used it. Oil and gas industry leaders are highly critical of the Administration for blocking oil development. "These have been the most difficult three years from a policy standpoint that I've ever seen in my career," Bruce Vincent, president of Swift Energy, told the National Association of Petroleum Engineers in Houston (above). "They've done nothing but restrict access and delay permitting."
Germany has suddenly backtracked on its plans to switch the country’s electricity from nuclear to solar. After an intense cabinet debate, the Merkel government announced it will cut back solar subsidies that come through a feed-in tariff – which mandates utilities to buy open-ended amounts of solar at a subsidized price. Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said he plans to reduce rates paid for solar power to between 0.195 euros and 0.135 euros per kilowatt hour from March 9 and cut them further each month starting in May. Plants bigger than 10 megawatts won’t get the subsidy after July 1. This comes on top of a 15 percent reduction in the tariff in January. German officials realized that they were basically subsidizing Chinese solar companies since most of the PV panels are imported. Still, the government sticks by its vow to close down all its reactors and go to 36 percent renewables by 2020.
The final report on the Upper Big Branch coal mining accident that killed 29 miners in 2010 will come from the Mine Safety and Health Administration today. Previous reports have concluded that that Virginia-based Massey Energy let explosive methane and coal dust build up in the mine, and that worn and broken cutting equipment ignited it. At the same time, federal prosecutors indicted former Massey supervisor Gary May with conspiracy to defraud the government by falsifying safety records and using code words to tip off miners about safety inspections. The MSHA announced there were another 37 miner deaths in 2011.
Finally, in company news, Duke Energy and Progress Energy have come up with another merger plan after the first one was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Duke would spend $16.1 billion on the takeover. Chesapeake Energy, the country’s largest natural gas driller, reported fourth-quarter gains, indicating it was successful in curtailing gas exploration and shifting its emphasis to drilling for oil. Shell’s purchase of Cove Energy indicates a new race for natural gas reserves off the coast of East Africa. The fields that lie between Mozambique and India are estimated to be larger than those off Norway. And Mitsubishi’s purchase from Talisman Energy of $280 worth of gas leases off Papua New Guinea indicates that Japan will be hunting for more gas as it tries to make up for the loss of is nuclear component.