Friday, February 03, 2017

TRUMPARABIA: AMERICA (NOT) FIRST ENERGY POLICY

Dear readers: a few days ago I heard part of an interview on the radio with Kalid Al-Falih, the Saudi Arabia Oil Minister. One thing he mentioned was that Saudi Arabia has billions of dollars invested in the U.S. oil and gas industry, and under President Trump, they expect to invest even more. This peaked my interest, and I have spent the past few days doing research. This post is about what I have found so far.

Let me be very clear before I start; this is not a conspiracy theory, and I am not one to promote conspiracy theories. On the contrary, this is about normal business-as-usual in the global corporate world. What I have done here is show the relationships, the web of connections that tell the story, and that, inmyopinion, help us understand a lot about the intersections of corporate industry and government. My sources are listed at the end.

I made a diagram on my white board. Please refer to the diagram, below, as I go through each node in the web. 



Trump Companies - During 2015 - 2016, before and during his candidacy for President of the United States, Mr. Trump had at least 8 deals going with the Saudi Kingdom for hotels, resorts and other developments. By the end of 2016, at least four of these were still active. 

Trump Administration - As President of the United States, Donald Trump has wasted no time putting forward guidelines to his political agenda. On inauguration day, the whitehouse.gov website already had a number of policy or issue statements. The first listed is An America First Energy Plan. This plan is focused on domestic energy production in order to provide energy security by using oil and gas resources within the United States (mostly on federal lands). One paragraph is especially germane to my discussion: 


In addition to being good for our economy, boosting domestic energy production is in America’s national security interest. President Trump is committed to achieving energy independence from the OPEC cartel and any nations hostile to our interests. At the same time, we will work with our Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our anti-terrorism strategy.

Saudi Arabia - The Saudi Kingdom is extremely wealthy as a result of their oil and gas industry, which is largely state-owned. The Arab American Oil Company, Aramco, is the largest oil company in the world, and is on-track to exceed Exxon Mobile as the world's largest refiner, with facilities in the USA, China, South Korea, India and the Netherlands. The CEO of Aramco until very recently was Khalid Al-Falih. Mr. Al-Falih is now the Saudi Arabia Oil Minister. 

In his interview this past week, Mr. Al-Falih said that President Trump's policies will be "good for the oil industry" and will steer the U.S. away from "excessive anti-fossil fuel, unrealistic policies by some well-intentioned environment proponents." He also said that the U. S. and Saudi Arabia  have "huge areas of alignment," and that the United States is the largest energy and petroleum market in the world.

Aramco, in a 50:50 joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell some years ago, built the Motiva Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, on the Gulf Coast. The joint venture is ending this year, and Aramco will be the sole owner of Motiva. Motiva is one of the ten largest oil refineries in the world, and is the largest refinery in the United States, producing gasoline, diesel and other refined products for the U. S. market. Until recently, much of the crude oil refined at Motiva came from Saudi Arabia; this was a result of the decrease in supply resulting from the sanctions against Iran and Russia, to which the Saudis agreed to step up their production. Saudi crude, however, known as "sour crude" cannot be refined in most U.S. refineries, so it was shipped to Texas where it could be processed at Motiva.

Saudi Arabia is a member, and the actual leader of the OPEC oil cartel, and is one of America's "Gulf allies," as referenced in the Trump America First energy policy. 

Exxon Mobile - Everyone is familiar with Exxon Mobile, one of the ten largest energy companies in the world. Exxon has holdings all over the world, including a lot of business in Saudi Arabia. One recent business deal was between an Exxon research branch and the Saudi-owned Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), in a joint venture to site and build a new petrochemical complex on the U.S. Gulf Coast (location is yet to be finalized). The new plant will be a natural gas refinery that will produce chemicals for the plastics industry. The natural gas source will be regional fracking facilities in the U.S. south. A 2016 Exxon brochure stated: "Exxon is one of the largest foreign investors in the Saudi Kingdom; and is one of the largest private purchasers of Aramco crude oil." 

The new Secretary of State for the United States, Rex Tillerson, was the CEO of Exxon Mobile until he stepped down this year to take the helm of State in the Trump Administration. Mr. Al-Falih, the Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia, says, very effusively, that Mr. Tillerson is "one of the highest qualified executives I have ever dealt with."  

The State of Texas - Texas is the home to a huge petroleum industry, especially along the Gulf Coast. Rick Perry was Governor of Texas from 2000 until 2015. He is now the Trump nominee to head the U. S. Department of Energy (yes, the department he wanted to eliminate when he was a candidate for President). Rick Perry is an alumnus of Texas A & M University, just like Khalid Al-Falih, the former CEO of Aramco and present Saudi Oil Minister. In fact, in his recent interview, Mr. Falih said of Secretary-designate Perry; "he is a great person; pro-oil and gas." 

While Perry was the Texas Governor, the Motiva Refinery was awarded a $2-million grant from the Texas Enterprise Fund, promising to hire 300 people within a certain time-frame (they eventually met that goal, but within a longer time-frame). Just after that award, Shell Oil, the Joint Venture partner in Motiva with Aramco, began donating to the Perry campaign ($13,000) and to the Republican Governors Association (a total of $235,000 as of 2011). 

Also during his governorship, Rick Perry establish Foreign Trade Zones in Texas. Texas has 31 Foreign Trade Zones, more than any other U. S. state. These zones include the Motiva and other major refineries, including those belonging to Valero, BP, Koch Industries, Exxon Mobile and others. Within these FTZs, there is no state or federal taxation on sales. 

Keystone XL Pipeline - There are not many refineries set up to handle the type of crude petroleum, known as "dilbit" that is produced from the Canadian tar sands. The Motiva refinery stands out as the largest facility that can easily process dilbit, as a result of it's being built to handle Saudi sour crude. As the supply of Saudi oil to Motiva became more limited due to political initiatives during the Obama years, Aramco, the Motiva owner, looked north to Canada for a supply. The Keystone XL pipeline would deliver Canadian dilbit (and other products) to Port Arthur, Texas, home of Motiva. Within Texas, at least 9 refineries that are listed as possible purchasers of Canadian tar sand products are within FTZs. This means that they can export refined products, or even crude product from Canada without paying any state or federal taxes. 

On January 24, 2017, President Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum inviting TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline, LP to "promptly re-submit its application to the Department of State for a Presidential permit for the construction and operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a major pipeline for the importation of petroleum from Canada to the United States." 

Petroleum Markets -  World demand for petroleum products, including in the United States, is forecast to increase for at least the next 30-40 years or beyond. Oil and gas production within the United States is booming, largely due to improved recovery techniques, especially fracking. U. S. exports of oil and gas have been increasing dramatically, and many regions have seen proposals for or construction of export facilities for oil, natural gas (as liquified natural gas, or LNG) and refined products. It is clear that the Motiva and other refineries on the Gulf Coast will continue to supply domestic petroleum markets, as well as sell product to foreign markets, such as China, other Asian nations, and nations in Latin America.

Conclusion - As I stated at the beginning, this web of relationships is not surprising; people within an industry know each other, and companies work together. What is striking here is how the Trump Administration has put together a group of companies and people and government officials that seems all too purposeful to achieve major wins for not only the United States, but also the Saudi Arabian Kingdom and one or more very large petroleum industries. Does the relationship between the Trump company and Saudi Arabia have anything to do with this? I have my opinion. 

This cozy web of relationships begs the question of an America First energy policy.

Finally, I included the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in my diagram, even though I have not (yet) found any direct connections between the new head of EPA, Scott Pruitt, and other nodes in my drawing. Mr. Pruitt is very pro-oil and gas, and has a record of being very anti-EPA. Because the EPA has a major role in regulating refineries, we can expect to see major changes within that agency and the way it treats the oil and gas industry. 

Sources:




http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/306990-trump-appeared-to-register-eight-companies-in-saudi-arabia  

https://www.ft.com/content/7239bd93-67e9-3c0d-ab89-027991860e20

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/business/texas-refinery-is-saudi-foothold-in-us-market.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share


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