Editors: Tom Whipple, Steve Andrews
Quote of the Week
About BP’s pledge towards a greener agenda: “The rest of the industry should take note: hiding behind trade associations is no longer an option.”
Ben Ratner Environmental Defense Fund
Graphic of the Week
1. Energy prices and production
2. Geopolitical instability
3. Climate change
4. The global economy and trade wars
5. Renewables and new technologies
1. Energy prices and production
As the coronavirus epidemic spreads to some 60 countries, the outlook for the oil industry and, indeed, the global economy is undergoing a sea change. Oil prices and equities are dropping rapidly as transportation and business activity is already being curtailed in many parts of the world. Brent futures settled at $50.52 Friday, down $7.98 on the week, and down 22.5 percent since January 20, when the commodities markets began reacting to the virus. Forecasters are lowering their estimates of how much the growth in oil demand will fall this year, and some are suggesting that demand may even contract. The IEA has the growth in the need for oil down to 825,000 b/d, but this could turn out to be optimistic.
As could be expected, demand for oil by the major Chinese companies CNPC and Sinopec dropped by 15 percentage points since January. The independent Chinese refiners’ utilization rates have declined by 28 percentage points as compared to operations before the Chinese New Year. Beijing is making a significant effort to increase its exports of oil products as domestic demand is clearly much lower than usual.
The implications of what we may be facing are so enormous that if the epidemic spreads widely, the regular forces that drive oil prices and the economy may no longer obtain. Should the demand for oil fall by millions of barrels per day due to lower global economic activity – a no-longer-unthinkable possibility — then OPEC decisions or central bank moves no longer carry much weight. Beijing is already trying to buy its way out of the problem by showering money on its economy.
With US oil prices now down to about $45 a barrel, the prospects for much growth in US shale oil production in the immediate future do not seem good. Events are overtaking recent forecasts that shale oil will grow by 600,000 to 700,000 b/d in 2020. Even without the virus phenomenon, some observers are saying that shale oil may be peaking this year because the industry is running out of good places to drill. This, combined with the lack of profitability for shale oil, suggests that the shale oil boom may slow markedly in the next year or so.
2. Geopolitical instability
Iran, a country of 83 million people, has become one of the global epicenters of the coronavirus. Based on official numbers, the mortality rate in Iran has fluctuated daily, between eight and eighteen percent, compared to three percent in China and lower everywhere else. Iran is also interesting because a disproportionate number of confirmed cases are senior government officials.
Tehran’s official counts — 978 confirmed cases and 54 deaths, as of Sunday – are likely to be underreported. While the new numbers have brought down the percentage of deaths to infections to about 5.5%, that is still much higher than in other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be far higher.
An analysis published by six Canadian epidemiologists calculated that Iran probably has more than 18,000 cases of the virus. Because of the wide margin of error, the number of cases could range from 3,700 to as high as 53,000.
Within eight days of the first reported death in Iran, coronavirus had spread to twenty-four of the country’s thirty-one provinces. Instead of closing down public sites, a measure that public-health experts have taken in other countries, the head of the Fatima Masumeh Shrine, which draws pilgrims from all over the world, called on pilgrims to keep coming. Cases traced back to Iran have been reported in Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Canada, Georgia, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. Many of these cases have been linked to visits to the shrine.
Politics may have played a role in the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. The outbreak coincided with the anniversary of Iran’s revolution, on February 11th, and the parliamentary election, on February 21st. The government was reluctant to acknowledge that it had a coronavirus outbreak because it feared the impact on participation in these two events. So, for weeks, there was no announcement of the virus outbreak. Less than 43 percent of Iranian voters turned out for the election, the lowest rate of participation since the 1979 revolution. Voters and poll workers were photographed wearing masks.
If the number of coronavirus cases is really in the tens of thousands and growing, then Tehran has a severe problem. Since the coronavirus outbreak began, 11 countries, including major trading partners such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Turkey, have closed their borders to the country. Falling oil prices and the declining oil demand from China and elsewhere will not help. Political instability soon is a distinct possibility.
Iraq’s crude production and exports are unaffected by the virus outbreak, according to a spokesperson for the oil ministry. Baghdad has taken precautions, particularly with regards to Chinese oil workers, postponing the return of those on home leave for the holidays. So far, Iraq has six confirmed cases, according to INA, which seems low. None of the oil workers in Iraq’s fields are reported to have been infected, although thousands of Chinese workers are employed in Iraq’s oil industry, and China has a stake in the giant Rumaila fields alongside BP.
Two Indian oil refiners which still buy Venezuelan crude will stop importing oil from the Latin American country from April as the US steps up sanctions pressure on the Maduro government, Reuters reported on Friday. Moreover, the Trump Administration is unlikely to grant the US’s Chevron another waiver to operate in Venezuela. Chevron is the last remaining US oil firm with operations in Venezuela. Last month it obtained an extension to continue operations there for another three months until April 22nd.
The US should step in and help lift the blockade of Libyan oil ports that has devastated the country’s oil production, the chairman of the National Oil Corporation said during a meeting with the US ambassador. “We urgently need US leadership to help end the oil embargo, not just to avoid a financial crisis, but to prevent major damage to national infrastructure.”
3. Climate change
The coronavirus, which has killed more than 2,500 people, has also slashed China’s CO2 emissions by as much as a quarter, according to Carbon Brief, which noted that the epidemic led to a slump in electricity generation. This decline in emissions is evident in the following graphic.
This slump in energy demand wiped out as much as 100 million tons of carbon dioxide compared with the same time last year– about 6 percent of global CO2 emissions. The news is good for the environment but not for the Chinese oil industry.
California’s mountain snowpack is about half its average level, raising fears that the state could return to drought after a string of mostly wet years. On Thursday, officials of the state’s Department of Water Resources said a survey at a measuring station near Lake Tahoe recorded only 29 inches of snow, or 47 percent of average for this time of year. State officials say the northern part of the Sierra Nevada mountains are on track to experience no precipitation during February for the first time since records started there 100 years ago.
Wind-driven ocean currents are changing in a way that will affect sea-level rise and fisheries. The world’s major wind-driven ocean currents now are moving toward the poles at a rate of about a mile every two years, potentially depriving relevant coastal fishing waters of nutrients and raising the risk of sea-level rise. The shift was identified in a new study by researchers with the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. The poleward shift is bad news for the East Coast of the US because it makes sea-level rise even worse, the researchers said.
The world’s oceans take up more than a quarter of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere, partially mitigating the greenhouse effect of that carbon. The Southern Ocean accounts for nearly 40 percent of this marine carbon absorption, even though it makes up only one-fifth of Earth’s ocean surface area. There would be enormous consequences for the planet from even a small reduction in the Southern Ocean’s ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
Australia’s fire season has eased, but its people are facing more than a single crisis. With floods destroying homes not far from where infernos recently raged, they are confronting a cycle of what scientists call “compound extremes”: one climate disaster intensifying the next. Warmer temperatures do more than dry out the land; they also heat the atmosphere, which means clouds hold more moisture for more extended periods. So, droughts get worse, giving way to fires, then to crushing rains that the land is too dry to absorb.
One result of that multiplier effect for Australia — a global bellwether for climate change’s effects — is that rebuilding after a disaster becomes far more complicated. Many Australians in disaster zones complain that their government, after dismissing climate change for years, has yet to outline recovery plans that are clear and that take future threats into account.
The chances of a third runway at Heathrow Airport being built were dealt a significant blow on Thursday after a British court ruled that the government had acted illegally by not taking into account its climate commitments. In its ruling, the Court of Appeal said the government hadn’t considered its climate commitments, which are legally binding.
4. The global economy and trade wars
Within the last month, the coronavirus epidemic has risen to dominate the world’s economy, and with it, the oil markets. As the epicenter of the outbreak, authoritarian China was able to take draconian measures to isolate the outbreak by quarantining millions, suppressing dissent, and shutting down large sections of its economy. When Beijing discovered that its economic activity was at a fraction of normal, President Xi started to call for business to reopen and people to go back to work wherever possible – likely fearing social unrest. At the same time, the government began announcing a much-reduced level of new coronavirus cases – leaving the impression that the epidemic in China is slowing. Quarantines may be the answer to the outbreak, but the 500 or so new cases being announced each day seems low for a country of 1.3 billion that already has some 70,000 cases of the virus.
Thus, we do not know as yet whether the Chinese government is releasing accurate statistics on the continuing spread of the virus and how much of its economy has returned to normal. Anecdotes abound that factories or businesses have “opened,” but that they are operating at only a fraction of capacity due to shortages of workers and/or parts and materials. The best insight we have on the current state of Beijing’s economy is China’s manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI), which was released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Saturday. This index shows that business activity in China fell to an all-time low of 35.7 down from 50 in January. Any number below 50 indicates contraction.
While the NBS announced that medium-to-large-sized enterprises had a “work resumption rate” of 78.9 percent, the banking group ANZ said it they were probably operating well below this in terms of capacity utilization. Based on migration data, ANZ said the Chinese economy was working at 20 percent of capacity, with about 50 percent of workers back at their jobs.
China aside, the epidemic is spreading rapidly across the world. The number of confirmed cases worldwide had reached nearly 87,000 as of Sunday, with more than 7,000 instances outside mainland China, where the outbreak began late last year. The virus has now been detected in at least 60 countries. The slow dissemination of virus diagnostic tools is a significant handicap as to why the infected count is not growing much faster. Conferences and group meetings including church services are being canceled across the world, and European governments are looking at imposing quarantined areas as has been done in China and Italy.
If you are concerned about how bad the coronavirus epidemic could get, a reasonable analogy is the 1917-18 “Spanish Flu” epidemic; it infected 500 million people and killed about 50 million worldwide including 675,000 people in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This disease took place at a time when the world’s population was about one-fourth of its current size, and there were almost no cars or airplanes to facilitate the spread of the disease.
The impact of the current epidemic is too far-flung to list all the effects which have been reported. Most of these are related to the complex supply chains that have built up in recent decades, with parts and subassemblies coming from far away. In recent weeks there have been reports of factories across the globe already closing due to the lack of parts coming from China. It is too early to throw around a term like global economic recession or even depression, but that is starting to look like where we are headed.
5. Renewables and new technologies
After two years of solar job contraction in the US, solar industry employment returned to growth in 2019. The sector added 5,600 jobs last year, with employment increasing by 2.3 percent compared to the year before. In 2018, the solar power sector shed almost 8,000 jobs or 3.2 percent; yet, the industry workforce expanded by 150,000 jobs in the period 2010 to 2018. In the five years through 2019, employment in the solar industry jumped by 44 percent, growing five times faster than the overall job growth in the US economy.
There’s a new trend in solar energy projects –bigger is better. As the world scales up its use of renewable energies, it makes sense, then, that the industry would also scale up the size of these solar and wind farms. “Large-scale solar projects are getting more common every year,” reports Bloomberg.
A team of researchers at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology has announced a new carbon-silicon material that they say could more than double the driving range of electric vehicles — and enable fast charging to more than 80 percent capacity in just five minutes. Current EVs generally use graphite anodes, while silicon anodes have ten times the capacity but are much worse at holding their capacity over time. The Korean team came up with a way to keep these silicon anodes stable by using a simple thermal process used for frying food which involves the use of water, oil, and starch.
Scientists in Australia are making some astonishing claims about a new nuclear reactor technology. Startup HB11, which spun out of the University of New South Wales, has applied for and received patents in the US, Japan, and China so far. The company’s technology uses lasers to trigger a nuclear fusion reaction in hydrogen and boron—purportedly with no radioactive fuel required. The laser speeds up the hydrogen to the point where it is claimed to collide with the boron to begin a reaction.
In Sweden, ElectReon has wirelessly charged a fully electric 40-ton truck and trailer at a test facility. The next step will be to charge the vehicle through dynamic wireless power transfer on a public road. The Smartroad Gotland project is the first wireless electric road system (ERS) for trucks and buses on public roads. ERS supports electric power transfer to vehicles while in motion and has the potential to increase energy efficiency with a reduced need for batteries.
6. The Briefs (date of the article in the Peak Oil News is in parentheses)
|Italian energy group Eni expects its oil and gas production to “plateau” in just five years under a major shift to renewables energy and cleaner fuels. Under the plans, Eni said its upstream production growth would average 3.5 percent per year up to 2025, with subsequent “flexible decline” mainly for oil afterward. Gas production will make up about 60 percent of total output by 2030 and rise to 85 percent in 2050. Oil and gas production will plateau at around 2.3 million b/d of oil equivalent in 2025, Eni said, up from about 1.9 million boe/d expected in 2020. Eni expects its strategies to cut net greenhouse gas emissions of its energy products by 80 percent by 2050. (2/29)|
China’s oil refiners have felt the pain, scaling back their petroleum products output, resulting in a big gaping hole in the demand side of the now precarious supply and demand equation for crude oil. Some suggest that China’s fuel demand now has a 4-million-barrel-per-day hole, and China’s imports of crude oil are expected to have dropped by 160,000 bpd in February. March may be worse if Saudi’s oil exports to China next month are any indication. (2/29)
Saudi Aramco plans to develop Jafurah, Saudi Arabia’s largest unconventional and non-associated gas field that contains an estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of raw gas and whose production can be used as feedstock for petrochemical and metallic industries. Aramco expects production to start in 2024 and reach about 2.2 billion cf/d of gas sales by 2036. (2/24)
Saudi Arabia is unlikely to start exporting gas despite plans to invest $110 billion to develop its biggest unconventional gas field. However, the asset could help wean the kingdom off burning crude for power generation, according to analysts. (2/25)
A total of 14 Saudi companies in the energy sector booked hefty losses last year, according to the Middle East Monitor. One of the companies with losses is Saudi chemicals giant Sabic, which booked US$1.5 billion in losses last year, A drop in demand globally, higher prices for feedstock, and lower prices of petrochemical products were the key reasons for those losses. (2/27)
Saudi Aramco has started the preparation process for the international leg of its listing on global markets, which most expected to be years away. According to inside sources, the timeline has been shortened. However, the international listing is unlikely to take place this year because of the price outlook for oil and the unfavorable market conditions overall. (2/28)
The UAE recently announced the discovery of the largest single gas field since 2005. According to the authorities, the Jebel Ali field contains 80 trillion standard cubic feet of gas. It has the potential of making the Emirates self-sufficient. However, the gas field’s development could take years, during which the UAE is dependent on imported natural gas (both piped and LNG). (2/24)
The oil-rich Middle East is boosting investments in renewable energy generation at home and abroad. Just a few years ago, this notion would have raised a few eyebrows. But these days, the largest power firms in some of OPEC’s leading producers aim to capture part of the booming global renewable generation market. (2/27)
Offshore Australia, Equinor has abandoned controversial plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight in a move hailed by environmentalists as a “huge win”. The Great Australian Bight is said to be one of the most unspoiled marine environments in the world. Equinor is now the latest oil and gas company to have abandoned proposals for drilling in the area since 2016, following competitors BP, Chevron, and Karoon Energy. (2/25)
In Nigeria, the federal government’s plan to rehabilitate the country’s refineries was greeted with skepticism by experts in the downstream petroleum industry. They say the government lacks credibility to restructure the sector and bring the refineries back to full operation. The country has four refineries with 524,000 barrels per day capacity. However, during the last 20 years, the refineries have had a poor operating record with average annual capacity utilization hovering between 15 and 25 percent. (2/26)
In Argentina, Vista Oil & Gas said Thursday it would focus on shale play Vaca Muerta to lead a more than 20 percent increase in its oil and natural gas production this year, as it bets that conditions will improve for doing business in the crisis-hit country. Mexico City-based Vista said it is targeting output of 36,000-38,000 boe/d at the end of the year, up from 30,000 boe/d at the end of 2019. (2/28)
Panama Canal problem: The implementation of a new freshwater conservation surcharge at the Panama Canal on February 15 has doubled typical wait times for clean tankers at the Canal in recent weeks, and higher transit prices have added to long-haul freight rates for Medium-Range tankers loading on the US Gulf Coast and steaming through the Canal. (2/27)
Mexico’s Pemex reported on Thursday a net loss of $8.77 billion for the fourth quarter of 2019, widened from a loss of $8.1 billion for the same period of 2018, mainly due to lower crude oil exports. For a decade and a half, Pemex and Mexico have been grappling with continuously falling crude oil production. (2/28)
In Mexico, Royal Dutch Shell is pushing ahead on its massive deep-water drilling plan, even as it doesn’t foresee production starting under the current government. The global oil major intends to drill four wells this year, and a similar amount next year. It’s part of a drilling campaign that will include 10 to 13 wells and cost from $800 million to $2.4 billion. Shell has a significant position in Mexico’s deep waters at a time when access is hard to come by. (2/27)
In Canada, Teck Resources’ surprise decision to cancel a planned C$20.6 billion oil sands mine in northern Alberta, citing uncertainty about Canada’s climate policy, underscores a global struggle to balance energy growth with environmental concerns. The project became the latest casualty in oil-producing countries that also have robust environmental movements agitating to cut fossil fuel development due to global warming. (2/25)
The US oil rig count slipped by one to 678 while gas rigs stayed flat at 110, according to Baker Hughes data. From one year ago, oil rigs are down 165 units while gas rigs are down 85. (2/29)
SPR sale: The US will sell up to 12 million barrels of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve next month, the US DOE said Friday. One of the sales approved by Congress in 2015, the sale will offer sour crude from three of the SPR’s four sites along the Gulf Coast. As of February 21, the SPR held 635 million barrels of oil, including 250.3 million barrels of sweet crude and 384.7 million barrels of sour crude. (2/29)
BP will leave three US energy trade associations, including the leading refining lobby group, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), due to differences over climate policies. (2/27)
Big oil’s most potent Washington lobby group is insisting it can still represent European energy majors, even as some of its most influential members such as BP tilt to a greener agenda that is at odds with some of its significant policy positions. The American Petroleum Institute’s president, Mike Sommers, told the Financial Times in an interview that the mood shift was not going to change the group’s fundamental mission. (2/25)
Energy bill: On Thursday, Senators Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska and the chair of the Senate’s energy committee, and Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, unveiled the American Energy Innovation Act of 2020. If passed, the bill would be the first comprehensive update to US energy policy in 12 years. (2/29)
Deepwater Horizon rules undercut: Political appointees at the Department of the Interior overruled staff objections to a rule that eased offshore drilling regulations, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. The story has already spurred a congressional request asking the agency to turn over its rulemaking documents. (2/28)
Banning the natural gas ban: Phoenix, Arizona, has a plan to achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But a new state law that was fast-tracked through the Arizona legislature and signed by the governor last week could cripple Phoenix and other Arizona cities’ ability to implement their plans. In essence, it prohibits them from banning the use of natural gas or other fossil fuels in buildings. (2/28)
Dems plans = significant impact: Banning hydraulic fracturing and halting new drilling on federal land would cost the US economy $7 trillion in the next decade and kill millions of jobs, the US oil industry’s leading lobby group said in a report targeting the climate plans of top Democratic presidential candidates. (2/28)
E-85 boost: US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has directed the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to acquire alternative fueled vehicles when replacing conventionally fueled ones. USDA owns and operates one of the largest civilian fleets in the Federal Government; they claim this move to a fleet that can use E85 or biodiesel will increase efficiencies and performance. (2/29)
Uber and Lyft knocked: About 42 percent of the miles driven by ride-hailing vehicles like Uber and Lyft are done between rides. This portion, called “deadheading”, is behind the increased emissions and congestion caused by these vehicles, a new study shows. (2/26)
Lighting dustup: Environmental groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Trump administration over its decision to keep energy-efficiency requirements for household incandescent lightbulbs at their current level. The advocacy groups asked a panel of federal judges to review the US Energy Department’s decision in December not to raise energy-efficiency standards, a move that could have phased out incandescent bulbs and steered consumers to longer-lasting LED bulbs. (2/26)
PG&E’s fine: California’s utility regulator has proposed an increased $2.14 billion fine on PG&E for its role in causing the devastating 2017 and 2018 wildfires in Northern California. The decision raises the penalty by $462 million and would be the largest ever imposed. (2/28)
US coal-fired power generation in December was down 4.1 percent from November, US EIA data said Wednesday. The generation declined 25.1 percent from the year-ago month, the most significant year-on-year drop throughout 2019. Coal-fired power production’s share averaged 23.4 percent in 2019, compared with 27.3 percent in 2018. (2/28)
Hydropower is the largest single source of renewable electricity in the world, dwarfing solar and wind. But hydropower has a dark side that is threatening freshwater ecosystems more than oil, more than gas, and more than any other form of energy. The negative impact of hydropower has three aspects: flooding arable land or forests; blocking the flow of sediments and nutrients that are essential for freshwater ecosystems; and blocking the path of migratory fish species, reducing their populations and eventually leading to their extinction. The number of species living in freshwater ecosystems declined by a staggering 83 percent between 1970 and 2014. (2/25)
European wind power generation averaged 88 GW last week, setting another new record and pushing hourly German power prices into negative territory over the weekend. Wind generation is now averaging 68 GW year to date, up 28 percent in the same period in 2019. (2/25)
North Sea wind: Total is among the shortlisted bidders for an offshore wind power project that has been estimated to cost some $7 billion, Bloomberg reports. The Seagreen project will have a capacity of 1.075 GW, divided into two wind farms to be built in the North Sea. Construction works began last month, and the project is scheduled to be operational in 2024. (2/29)
Arctic solar installation? Europe’s Nordic countries, roughly at the latitude of Alaska, are pushing the boundaries of solar power deployment. While Germany was experiencing its mega solar boom in the 2000s, in Nordic countries like Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Finland the sight of a suburban home with a PV panel was an oddity. Today, although still dwarfed by Germany’s solar power, tens of thousands of buildings, from Copenhagen to the Arctic Circle, brandish the cutting edge in solar tech. (2/25)
In Myanmar, three years ago, villagers watched as the Sittaung River on the southeast coast crept closer to them, swollen by powerful tidal surges. Eventually, the 1,500 residents of Ta Dar U had to accept the inevitable: move or be washed away. Dismantling their wooden homes, they relocated several kilometers inland, apart from the fertile fields they had cultivated for decades. Their former farming land is now fully covered with water. (2/27)
Fighting coastal erosion: Researchers have built a scale model of the Mississippi river in a warehouse-size laboratory, painstakingly recreated at 1/65th scale, right down to the simulated sand. The model is one of the most striking parts of an ambitious project to rebuild Louisiana’s vanishing coast, which is rapidly being lost to rising seas and sinking land. Engineers want to be sure their design for a river “diversion” — an enormous mechanism for restoring eroded wetlands — will work. (2/26)
Seawall nixed for NYC: The Trump administration has unexpectedly halted a project to protect the New York City region from flooding during dangerous storms like Hurricane Sandy — a decision that came six weeks after President Trump took to Twitter to ridicule the study’s proposal of a giant sea wall that could have cost billions of dollars. The Army Corps of Engineers’ announcement that the project was “indefinitely postponed” surprised some of its officials, and local politicians and advocates said the decision was stunning at a time when climate change is threatening New York’s future with intensifying storms. (2/27)
TV news on climate: When it comes to climate change, television news is covering little more than the tip of the iceberg. That’s according to a just-released report from Media Matters for America, which found that global warming garnered a tiny sliver — well under 1 percent — of overall broadcast news coverage. The report also stated that the quality of coverage was “generally shallow.” (2/29)
Across Somalia, desert locusts in a swarm the size of Manhattan have destroyed a swath of farmland as big as Oklahoma. In Kenya, billions-strong clouds of the insects have eaten through 800 square miles of crops and survived a weekslong spraying campaign. In parts of Pakistan, the pests have consumed 40 percent of the harvest, forcing the government to declare a national emergency. The worst plague of locusts in generations isn’t over yet, but the immense scale of the damage it has wrought is coming into focus. (2/29)
Blue Nile dam deal: The US will continue to work with Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan until they sign an accord on a giant Blue Nile hydropower dam, after failing to secure signatures from the three countries this week, US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said Friday. The three countries had expected to sign an agreement in Washington this week on the filling and operation of the $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Still, Ethiopia skipped the meeting, and only Egypt has initialed the deal thus far. (2/29)