BP agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion settlement in admitting responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 (above). It was the largest settlement for a criminal charge in history. In addition, two BP supervisors face manslaughter charges for the death of 11 platform workers when the explosion and fire occurred. Attorney General Eric Holder expressed satisfaction with the deal but to critics it’s still “chump change.”
The Keystone Pipeline decision looms large for President Obama as opponents plan a massive demonstration in front of the White House this Sunday. The President is feeling pressure from both sides and the issue is even being debated hotly in Texas, where environmentalists and supporters of the oil industry are squaring off. Canada is also watching the whole scene with growing anxiety but Moody’s has predicted that the project will win approval.
The good news about renewable energy continues to emanate out of Germany, although there are caveats. Renewables provided nearly 26 percent of electricity over the first nine months of 2012, with wind contributing 8.6%, solar 6.1%, biomass 5.8%, hydro 3.8% and waste burning 0.9%. Officials said the output had exceeded projections. But EON, the nation’s largest utility, reported its largest profit drop in history due to the cost of the conversion to renewables and its stock dropped a stomach-churning 12 percent in one day. The dream of building a huge solar installation in the Sahara and pumping the electricity back to the continent is fading as Bosch became the latest company to pull out of the project. And the Energy Information Agency predicts that the rising cost of electricity in renewables-conscious Europe will eventually make its industry uncompetitive with China and the US.
Biofuels are making progress as Airbus announced it will explore algae-based fuel ENN, the leading bio-energy firm based in China. Seeking Alpha reports that Solazyme as a 20 percent algae fuel ready to market. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin say they have streamlined the process for converting lignocellulosic forest and crop wastes to transport fuel. But 200 scientists have expressed concern about introducing invasive grasses in an attempt to harvest them for biofuels. They point out that kudzu, the vine that has overrun the south, was originally introduced by the government in a similar manner to prevent erosion. But the biggest news is that Kentucky Congressman Ed White, chairman of the Energy and Power subcommittee, predicts that House Republicans probably won’t try to repeal the biofuels mandate the way they are currently attacking the production tax credit for wind.
Finally, in company news, Google is currently approaching $1 billion in renewable investments. Spectra Energy has priced a public offering and Excel is requesting a rate increase for its Texas customers. But Edison Mission is facing bankruptcy and FuelCell, the Connecticut company, has challenged the State of Delaware’s support in moving Bloom Energy, makers of the “Bloom Box,” from California to Delaware, saying it constitutes unconstitutional government support of the competition.