Quote of the Week

“Climate change is no longer coming, it’s here. And we are living with it every day.”

Geisha Williams, CEO of PG&E, wrote in an email, hoping to offload some of the blame for several of the last 12 months’ fires from PG&E itself.

Graphic of the Week


1.  Oil and the Global Economy
2.  The Middle East & North Africa
3.  China
4.  Russia
5.  Nigeria
6.  Venezuela
7.  The Briefs

1.  Oil and the Global Economy

Crude prices were up Thursday and Friday of last week but still closed with a seventh consecutive weekly loss for WTI — the longest losing streak since 2015.  Fears that the multiple escalating trade wars will lead to a drop in global demand are trumping the warnings that the lack of sufficient investment and the beginning of problems with US shale oil output could lead to production shortfalls in the months ahead.

However, Chinese demand for oil still tops the list of trader concerns. “One of the biggest concerns is that China’s demand numbers are coming down if China’s GDP growth is slowing,” said one US observer. US futures closed out the week at $65.91 and London closed at $71.83. Due to transportation problems, some US shale oil is selling for as much as $10 or more below the NY futures prices. These prices are not helping the profitability of some US shale oil producers.

Even some well-informed speculators have been caught off guard by the sudden and unexpected drop in prices during the last two months.  Two of the world’s largest energy-focused hedge funds, Andurand Capital and BBL Commodities, suffered double-digit percentage losses in July as oil prices plunged.

Despite the prices declines of late, some bullish speculators believe that we will see much higher oil prices within two years. The logic is that the Iranian sanctions seem to be on course to take roughly 1 million b/d off the oil market and that there is insufficient quick ramp-up spare capacity elsewhere to make up for the difference. Some are talking of oil prices reaching $150 a barrel, especially if the US sanctions do succeed in cutting Iranian exports by more than 1 million b/d.

Bank of American recently said that although trade wars are a significant downside risk to oil demand, it remains “much more concerned” about the sanctions on Iran. “For every 1 million b/d imbalance, we see a price impact on Brent of around $17.” For the next year or so, the fate of oil prices seems to be in the interaction of the various trade wars with the efficacy of the Iranian sanctions. This interaction could leave prices anywhere from $60 to $150 a barrel which is why the markets are so confused. We seem to be in unknown territory.

OPEC: According to its monthly report, the cartel’s crude oil production was up 41,000 b/d in July, but that was after June production was revised down by 43,000 b/d leaving production down 2,000 b/d from what was reported last month. Secondary sources say Saudi Arabia production in July, was down by 52,800 b/d; however, the Saudis claim they produced some 200,000 b/d less. Both numbers have been called into question as Saudi production has become a major political football in the Iran sanctions controversy.  Secondary sources say Iranian production was down 56,300 b/d in July, but Tehran says said they were up 4,000 b/d.

US Shale Oil Production: The EIA is backing off on some of the optimistic overestimates it has been making about the growth of US shale oil output. US unconventional oil production is forecast to increase to 7.522 million b/d in September, up 93,000 b/d from August – the smallest month-on-month growth projection since November 2017.  Last month, the EIA projected domestic oil output to grow in August by a relatively high 143,000 b/d.  Now, “We more and more worry …that production growth is slowing,” EIA Senior Analyst Jozef Lieskovsky said recently.

Of all the US shale oil basins, the EIA projects the Permian to show the biggest monthly growth in September at 34,000 b/d, to 3.421 million b/d, although that is less than half the 73,000 b/d increase that was projected for August, according to the EIA’s latest Drilling Productivity Report.  The  EIA also expects the Eagle Ford Shale play to grow by 24,000 b/d to 1.448 million b/d in September.  That is less than the 35,000 b/d of oil growth that the agency predicted last month.

While output in the Permian basin is already starting to slow down, primarily due to pipeline constraints, there is information that suggests that shale drillers are bumping up against a ceiling for gains in productivity and efficiency.  New data from the EIA shows a slowdown in the amount of oil that the average rig can produce from a new well in the Permian. In September, the EIA expects new-well production per rig to fall by 10,000 b/d in the Permian, compared to August levels. That means that when a company drills a new well, that rig will produce a little less oil than it did when compared with how much oil the average rig produced a month earlier.

One industry observer recently noted that, “We believe that the short-cycle nature of shale exploitation and the intensity of activity in the Permian means that production from Tier 1 geological locations (e.g., those with the best pay, the optimum pressure) is starting to move to Tier 2, which is unable to achieve the same rates of productivity.” The availability of Tier 1 geological locations in the Permian is one of the most critical issues for the future of global oil production. The IEA and the EIA have been saying that rapid growth of oil production in the Permian over the next few years will be enough to offset production declines elsewhere and is the key to preventing shortages and much higher prices. If the Permian is indeed running out of Tier 1 “sweet spots” then peaking of global oil production may be closer than many believe.

EIA did increase its outlook for the Bakken Shale over last month, predicting 17,000 b/d of increased production with September, coming in at 1.314 b/d. That compares to 15,000 b/d EIA had projected for August.  It should be noted, however, that the more accurate North Dakota State report for June says that oil production fell by 20,000 b/d from May due to the associated production of more natural gas than can be flared legally.  According to the North Dakota government, some drilling companies voluntarily shut in some oil production during June to stay in compliance with the gas flaring policy.

June was the third straight month producers were unable to keep flaring within state regulations of 15 percent or less of total natural gas production. Producers burned off 15.5 percent in April, 17 percent in May, and 16.8 percent in June. Starting November 1st, only 12 percent of associated gas can be flared before fines for over-flaring begin. Associated natural gas production has increased by about 200 million cf/d since March to 2.3  billion cf/d. Some new wells are coming online in areas where there are not adequate gathering lines and processing facilities to process the natural gas. Some observers have noted that in some areas, shale oil wells are producing more gas than originally expected.

Another problem is starting to be recognized by close observers of the shale oil industry.  Oil producers are drilling too many horizontal wells near one another, and when they frack the newer wells — known as child wells — they “steal” oil from the older wells thereby lowering the older wells productivity or even killing their production completely.  The potential costs of these “frac hits” and tight well spacing aren’t currently known by the industry, but there is no doubt that they are costing money and contributing to production declines.

The issue of shale oil profitability is still with us. This year was supposed to be different in that the US shale industry would finally start earning profits due to more efficient production techniques and higher prices. However, a new report in the Wall Street Journal says that the shale industry is still mostly unprofitable. The paper found that roughly 50 major US oil producers burned through $2 billion more cash than they generated in the second quarter.

While shale drillers succeeded in lowering costs during the oil market downturn that began in 2014, those efficiency gains are inadequate to support profitable shale oil production today.  Beginning last year, a renewed drilling frenzy, particularly in the Permian, has led to a rebound in costs. Many shale executives had promised that the cost efficiencies were structural, locked in, and would not reverse. But that is now looking to be overly optimistic.

The Journal reports that more than a dozen shale companies announced in their second-quarter earnings reports that they either would have to spend more to produce the same amount of oil and gas, lowered this year’s production guidance, or they missed second quarter production figures. When more pipelines come online over the next few years, drilling activity likely will pick up again and drillers will rush to complete the backlog of drilled but uncompleted wells which has exploded over the past 18 months. Whether this helps the lack of profitability remains to be seen.

2.  The Middle East & North Africa

Iran: The pressure of the impending US sanctions is increasing discord in Tehran as the country braces for another period of hardships and austerity.  Last week, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused his government of economic mismanagement and said it needed to improve its performance to help the country better weather the newly reimposed sanctions. He also rejected President Trump’s offer of unconditional talks to improve bilateral ties.

There is much discussion in the press of just which countries will, or will not, abide by the US sanctions and Washington’s efforts to reduce Tehran’s oil exports to zero. German state-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn announced that it is phasing out projects in Iran. These projects involved restructuring and reorganizing the Iranian state railway, RIA.  Several European companies have suspended plans to invest in Iran due to the US sanctions, including French oil major Total as well as carmakers PSA, Renault, and Daimler.

Other Iranian customers are having trouble complying with the US request to cut economic ties with Iran. South Korea is seeking a sanctions waiver from the US to continue importing Iranian condensate, saying that it is hard to find alternative sources.  A major question mark is India, a fast-growing energy market and a major consumer of Iranian oil and natural gas. When the new sanctions were announced, India, which depends on Iran for 80 percent of its energy requirements,  began cutting imports from Tehran. However, last week, Bloomberg reported that India was only preparing to reduce its imports of Iranian oil by half, to earn a waiver from US sanctions. New Delhi plans to argue that it can’t obtain energy products from any other producer at competitive prices.

The major issue is what China will do about the sanctions. The new US special representative for Iran said last week that the Trump administration is prepared to impose sanctions on all countries that buy oil from Iran after the November deadline, including China. Beijing has said many times that it has no plans to comply with the US sanctions that are due to be reimposed on Nov. 4

As pushback from India, South Korea, and China mounts, Washington is beginning to reconsider the scope of its Iran embargo. The administration now is projecting a 50 percent reduction in Iranian exports when sanctions are fully imposed. Under this scenario, Iran’s oil exports would fall to about 1 million b/d, the level reached during the 2012-2014 sanctions.

Iraq: Kurdish officials are saying that Iraq and Turkey must reach a deal with Erbil to export oil from the Kirkuk fields in northern Iraq via Kurdistan and Turkey. Around 300,000 b/d that was pumped and shipped from the Kirkuk region have been shut in since Baghdad moved in last October to take control over the oil fields in Kirkuk from Kurdish forces.

The Basra Oil Company and Chevron announced last week that they have agreed to terms of an agreement that could help boost production from the state-run Luhais, Tuba, and Subba fields.

Unrest continues around Basra. On Thursday, dozens of Iraqis staged a sit-in to protest the reported death of a protester and the injury of several others by the security forces. Earlier last week, Iraqi security forces forcibly dispersed two demonstrations in Basra — one near the West Qurna 2 Oilfield and another in the city’s Ezz al-Din Salim district. According to an Iraqi military source, the protest dispersals left at least one demonstrator dead and another 20 in police custody. The protesters had set up tents outside the governor’s office on Wednesday and announced the launch of an open-ended sit-in “to protest police heavy-handedness.

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia lowered its oil production in July even as the kingdom has pledged to raise output significantly to make up for an expected decline in Iranian exports. Riyadh pumped just under 10.4 million b/d last month, a drop of 52,000 b/d from June, according to numbers submitted by analysts and consultants to OPEC. Saudi’s official numbers showed an even lower figure, below 10.3 million.

These production numbers, however, have come under scrutiny by some energy analysts and price reporting agencies claiming they are much higher – above 10.6 million b/d.  The kingdom claims it has lowered production because it has not seen sufficient demand for its crude, as Tehran offers heavy discounts for its crude ahead of the new US sanctions.

The kingdom’s Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih said in a company report on Friday that Aramco remains committed to meeting future oil demand through continued investments. Despite an improved market picture, the oil industry’s preparedness for the future remains in question as the industry has lost an estimated $1 trillion in planned investments since the start of the market downturn, Al Falih wrote in his report.

Libya: Tripoli’s crude oil production exceeded 1 million b/d for the first time since June when port blockades and a kidnapping caused production outages that brought production to as low as 670,000 b/d. The improvement came from production growth at the country’s largest producing field, Sharara. Last week, Sharara pumped 218,000 b/d, but this has now grown to more than 250,000 b/d. The field has a capacity to pump 340,000 b/d.

Militants tried to take a couple of the country’s oil export terminals in June, but were pushed back by the Libyan National Army, which then decided to not hand over control of the ports to the internationally recognized National Oil Corporation (NOC) but to the entity of the same name that is affiliated with the eastern Libyan government.  Eventually, the LNA and the legitimate oil company agreed, and NOC resumed control of the export ports, which put an end to the production suspensions. However, the situation in the divided country remains highly volatile politically, which means other outages are more a question of time than anything else.  Late last week there were new protests at the oil terminal and refinery servicing the Sharara oil field, with sources telling Platts they expect another complete shutdown of the field.

With militias fighting at ports and oil export disruptions, many shipowners avoid transportation of Libyan oil cargoes.  This situation, in turn, raises the premiums of freight on Libyan routes compared to freight rates on shipments in the Mediterranean that don’t involve Libya.

3.  China

As China prepares for a trade fight with the US, it is facing increasing trouble from a slowing economy.  Spending on fixed assets such as factory machinery and public works projects cooled to the lowest point in nearly two decades, the government reported on Tuesday. Retail sales grew, but not as sharply as analysts had expected.  The data suggest that China can’t go toe-to-toe in retaliating against US tariffs, according to an economist with Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong.

China and the US had a small breakthrough in their standoff over trade, saying they will hold lower-level talks later this month.  China’s Commerce Ministry said Thursday that a vice minister would come to the US at the invitation of the Treasury Department, to discuss trade.  Shortly afterward, President Trump declared that the tariffs would go ahead.

China has backpedaled on imposing tariffs on US crude imports, a move indicative of its need to maintain diversified sources of crude as its domestic production falters.  However, last week, Dongming Petrochemical, an independent Chinese refiner, said it has halted crude purchases from the US and turned to Iranian imports.  US crude oil exports to China reached 400,000 b/d at the beginning of July, but Beijing has recently threatened a 25 percent duty on imports.

As the US-China trade war escalates, a growing number of analysts and organizations have increased warnings that further trade tensions could dent economic growth, consumer spending, and investment flows globally—all of which could curtail the world’s oil demand growth.

In a recent paper, a team of Chinese researchers studying the water flow coming from melting glaciers made a surprising discovery. As they tried to estimate the effects of global warming on glacier thinning, glacier retreat and local supply of water resources, they found that the glacier is expected to reach “peak water,” with runoff shrinking by half of its 1980 flow in the next 30 years.

As glaciers shrink, runoff increases but then decreases after the size of the glacier has shrunk permanently. Peak water, or the tipping point of glacier meltwater supply, comes when runoff into glacier-fed rivers reaches the maximum. This event now is estimated to occur around 2020 in some parts of China. A decline in the water flow coming from glaciers has serious implications for China, which has invested heavily in hydroelectric dams in recent decades.

4. Russia

Events of the past few days showcased the way President Putin can exploit differences between the US and its allies.  However, these events have also highlighted the downside to Mr. Putin’s policies and accentuated where he falls short on matters of importance to both the president and ordinary Russians.   He has yet to translate divisions in the West into reduced Western sanctions against Russia.

The sanctions he hoped to get lifted have only been tightened this past week, pushing the ruble down to its lowest levels in years.  The US State Department moved last week to enact yet another round of such measures, just days after the United States Senate brandished its own.  The “bill from hell” that US Senators from both parties introduced on August 2 contains proposals for wide-ranging sanctions, including on goods, services, technology, financing, and support that directly and significantly contributes to Russia’s ability to develop crude oil resources located in the Russian Federation.

However, Moscow maintains that the Senate’s new US sanctions against Russia would only have a limited impact on its oil industry because it has drastically reduced its reliance on Western funding and foreign partnerships and is lessening its dependence on imported technology. This situation has forced Russian oil companies to increase drilling in aging oil fields and has delayed efforts to develop Arctic oil resources in partnership with Western firms that have the deepwater experience.

5. Nigeria

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) plans to float 40 percent of its stock on the local stock exchange once the President signs the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill.  The bill, which has been under consideration for years is at the heart of an overhaul aimed at making the corruption-ridden state company profitable.

To do this, the company needs to be more commercially driven.  It needs cash, which would be raised through the listing.  As part of the overhaul, the NNPC will be split into two: the Nigerian Petroleum Company, which will be an integrated oil company taking all assets of the NNPC except for production-sharing contracts, and the Nigerian Petroleum Assets Management Company.  Based on the history of the Governance Bill, it seems likely that the new arrangements are years away.

Nigeria produced 1.67 million b/d in July, below the 1.8-million-b/d quota it had agreed with OPEC after it joined the production cut effort.  Total says it will increase Nigeria’s oil production by 200,000 b/d by the end of the year with the increase coming from the Egina Deep project.  The Egina field was discovered in 2003 by Total, which partnered with China’s CNOOC and Brazil’s Petrobras.  Its development will have an estimated cost of $16 billion and will feature a floating production, storage, and offloading vessel that arrived at the location earlier this year.  Egina is the largest deepwater offshore development in Nigeria to date.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and a Chinese consortium have met in Dubai, United Arab Emirate, to complete the arrangements for the financing of the 381-mile Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano pipeline project.  The new AKK gas pipeline would bring natural gas to key commercial centers in the northern corridor of Nigeria.

6. Venezuela

Venezuela made a payment to Canadian mining company, Crystallex, using government bonds instead of cash, potentially the first time it has done so since US sanctions last year barred similar transactions. The payment on Tuesday was made as creditors scramble to move in on the remaining assets of a country that is already in widespread default and enmeshed in an economic crisis.

Venezuela’s heavily subsidized domestic gasoline prices should rise to international levels to avoid billions of dollars in annual losses due to fuel smuggling, President Maduro said last on Monday.  At the black-market rate, gasoline is now selling in the vicinity of one-third of a US cent per gallon.

On Friday Venezuelans rushed to shops and lined up at gas stations on concerns that a monetary overhaul to lop off five zeros from prices in response to hyperinflation could wreak financial havoc and make commerce impossible.  Shoppers sought to ensure their homes were fully stocked with essentials such as food and dry goods and their tanks full before the measure decreed by President Maduro takes effect on Monday.  Inflation hit 82,700 percent in July, according to the opposition-run congress, as the country’s socialist economic model continued to unravel, meaning purchases of essential items such as a bar of soap or a kilo of tomatoes require piles of cash that is often difficult to obtain.

7.  The Briefs (date of the article in Peak Oil News is in parentheses)

Tough new rules on marine fuel are forcing shipowners to explore liquefied natural gas as a cleaner alternative and ports such as Gibraltar are preparing to offer upgraded refueling facilities in the shipping industry’s biggest shake-up in decades.  From 2020, International Maritime Organization rules will ban ships from using fuels with a sulfur content above 0.5 percent, compared with 3.5 percent now, unless they are equipped to clean up sulfur emissions. Using LNG to power ships instead of heavy fuel oil or the lighter marine gasoil can reduce polluting emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides by 90 to 95 percent, according to industry estimates. (8/16)

Norway’s company DNO said it was paying its first dividend in 13 years, pointing to a high level of success for its assets in the Kurdish north of Iraq. The company said the fast-track development of its Peshkabir field alone will accelerate average production by more than 40 percent by the end of the year. (8/17)

Russia’s Gazprom leads a consortium working to twin the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline running through the Baltic Sea to Germany. The consortium now has the permits to build a 70-mile section of the second phase of the pipeline in Russian territorial waters.  Nord Stream 2 is a 759 mile (1,222 km) natural gas pipeline running on the bed of the Baltic Sea from Russian gas fields to Germany, bypassing existing land routes over Ukraine, Poland, and Belarus.  It would double the existing Nord Stream pipeline’s current annual capacity. (8/17)

In India, a cheaper rupee could increase the nation’s crude oil bill by as much as US$26 billion in FY 2018/19.  The currency hit a low of 70.32 to the US dollar last week, which will also push up fuel prices at the pump and prices of cooking gas. (8/17)

China Gas plans to increase its annual imports of liquefied petroleum gas from 2.8 million tons to 10 million tons during the next five years as it enters the petrochemicals industry, S&P Global Platts reports, quoting industry sources. The company’s plans also have to do with higher demand, with LPG sales to households forecast to grow by over 12 percent per year. (8/17)

In Australia, energy company Melbana said Tuesday that a survey of the Beehive prospect, with more than 1 billion barrels of estimated reserves, is complete. The survey was conducted in coordination with Australian energy company Santos and French supermajor Total. (8/15)

In Egypt, Italian energy company Eni said it is strengthening its position in Egypt.  The company stated Tuesday that its plans to oversee an exploration license on the Nile Delta basin in the Egyptian waters of the Mediterranean Sea were approved by the government in Cairo. (8/15)

In southeast Niger, the latest confirmed oil discovery in a basin makes it four in a row for Savannah Petroleum’s exploration campaign in the Agadem Rift basin.  Reserve estimates won’t be released until production testing is completed.  (8/16)

Mexico’s intentions: On July 27, Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador said his government will earmark more than $9 billion for state-run energy companies next year and start working on a new oil refinery in southern Mexico.  The moves seek to reduce reliance on fuel imports from the United States while boosting the country’s oil production, which has significantly fallen off in recent years. (8/17)

The US oil rig count stayed flat on Friday at 869, following a 10-rig jump the previous week.  Gas rigs also remained flat at 188.  (8/18)

GOM auction dud: Oil companies bid on less than 1 percent of the parcels offered in a sweeping US auction of Gulf of Mexico exploration leases on Wednesday, showing tepid interest in the region for the second time this year. (8/16)

Keystone approval pretzel: A US federal judge ruled that the State Department must conduct a new environmental review of the project after the pipeline’s route was changed.  The project was forced to change routes in Nebraska to avoid sensitive areas.  Nebraska regulators gave the project approval, but only for the revised route.  But the rerouting of the project subjects the project to new legal, and environmental, scrutiny. (8/17)

The US Gulf Coast refining complex processed more crude than ever before last week, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration.  Those refineries, which make up more than half of all US capacity, averaged a net crude-input of 9.649 million b/d, roughly 175,000 b/d more than the previous high during 2017. (8/16)

Exxon to face the music: A federal judge rejected Exxon Mobil Corp’s motion to dismiss a securities suit alleging the company and top executives misled investors about the impact of climate change on its business. (8/16)

When US natural gas futures passed a milestone this month, they did so quietly: volatility fell to the lowest levels since the market’s debut nearly 30 years ago. The event seemed improbable. Volatility usually fades when commodity stocks are ample. Yet US gas stocks are 19.5 percent below average.  When the winter starts they are set to be at their lowest in more than a decade.  This situation is the latest example of how the world’s largest gas market has been transformed by shale drilling.  While demand for gas is galloping, it has been met by waves of supply that show no sign of abating.  Conditions that put traders on edge a decade ago get shrugs. (8/15)

US pipeline exports: The US is sending via pipelines record volumes of natural gas to Mexico, and although pipeline capacity to Mexico and production and exports have jumped in recent years, delays at some pipelines on Mexican territory have been slowing down the rise in US piped natural gas exports. US exports to Mexico have been at 4.9 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) so far in August as demand for the power sector in Mexico rises.  The volume of US natural gas exports to Mexico has tripled over the past ten years. (8/14)

LNG export capacity: The US energy regulator has approved a request by Cheniere Energy to feed the first gas into its new liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, marking the beginning of a commissioning phase for the export terminal.  The approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission means Cheniere will be able to produce the first commissioning cargo by this year’s fourth quarter.  Train 1 at the Corpus Christi facility will become the first LNG export terminal in Texas and the third functioning one in the U.S., including Cheniere’s Sabine Pass (Louisiana) operation which began exports in February 2016. (8/18)

Texas environment regulators should coordinate shutdowns of oil refineries and other petrochemical plants during major storms to avoid big releases of air pollution like during last year’s Hurricane Harvey, a report said on Thursday. (8/16)

Coal call: The Trump administration next week plans to formally propose a vast overhaul of climate change regulations that would allow individual states to decide how, or even whether, to curb carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants.  The plan would also relax pollution rules for power plants that need upgrades. (8/18)

India’s solar surge:  A new report by Power Technology shows that India is taking the race very seriously, with five of the nine largest solar installations in the world.  China and the US had taken the lead in the past, making up two-thirds of global growth in solar power in recent years.  But India is investing heavily to beat them. (8/17)

Peak lithium? Nah…  A temporary tightness in lithium supply in the near future is a possibility, but this would more likely be a result of available production capacity combined with booming demand for EV batteries than irreversible depletion of reserves.  There are plenty of reserves.  Peak lithium is not happening any time soon. (8/13)

Nevada’s Lake Mead, the biggest reservoir in the West, is on track to fall below a critical threshold in 2020.  The Bureau of Reclamation, a multistate agency that manages water and power in the West, said Wednesday there is a 52 percent probability that water levels will fall below a threshold of 1,075 feet elevation by 2020.  If so, it could trigger the first ever federal shortage declaration on the Colorado River—which experts say could undermine the Southwest’s economy. (8/16)

Western water curtailment threat: Lake Powell, created by the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, is only at 43 percent of its capacity this year.  The reservoir is part of a system that supports 40 million people in seven western states who benefit from water from the Colorado River Basin.  A forecast from the US Bureau of Reclamation echoes previous warnings that a nearly 20-year trend toward a drier regional climate coupled with rising demand could drain so much water from the Lake Mead reservoir that cutbacks as soon as the end of 2019 could be mandatory. (8/18)

Does climate have a big role in CA fires?  Scientists tend to agree with that assessment.  But California’s biggest utility, PG&E, has an especially compelling reason to link the fires to the environment.  State investigators have tied PG&E equipment, such as trees hitting power lines, to some of the blazes in October 2017 that in total destroyed nearly 9,000 structures and killed 44 people.  It faces damage liabilities totaling as much as $17 billion, and possible financial ruin — its stock is down about 37 percent since the fires — unless CEO Geisha Williams can convince California lawmakers that the company’s problem is, in fact, a climate change problem. (8/14)