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Shale Country Is Out of Workers and Dangling 100% Pay Hikes

Jerry Morales, the mayor of Midland, Texas, and a local restaurateur, is being whipsawed by the latest Permian Basin shale-oil boom.

It’s fueling the region and starving it at the same time. Sales-tax revenue is hitting a record high, allowing the city to get around to fixing busted roads. But the crazy-low 2.1 percent unemployment rate is a bear. As the proprietor of Mulberry Cafe and Gerardo’s Casita, Morales is working hard to retain cooks. As a Republican first elected in 2014, he oversees a government payroll 200 employees short of what it needs to fully function.

“This economy is on fire,” he said from a back table at the cafe the other day, watching as the lunchtime crowd lined up for the Asian Zing Salad and Big Mo’s Toaster hamburger.

Fire, of course, can be dangerous. In the country’s busiest oil patch, where the rig count has climbed by nearly one third in the past year, drillers, service providers and trucking companies have been poaching in all corners, recruiting everyone from police officers to grocery clerks. So many bus drivers with the Ector County Independent School District in nearby Odessa quit for the shale fields that kids were sometimes late to class. The George W. Bush Childhood Home, a museum in Midland dedicated to the 43rd U.S. president, is smarting from a volunteer shortage.

The oil industry has such a ferocious appetite for workers that it’ll hire just about anyone with the most basic skills. “It is crazy,” said Jazmin Jimenez, 24, who zipped through a two-week training program at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, about 100 miles north of Midland, and was hired by Chevron Corp. as a well-pump checker. “Honestly I never thought I’d see myself at an oilfield company. But now that I’m here — I think this is it.”

That’s understandable, considering the $28-a-hour she makes is double what she was earning until December as a guard at the Lea County Correctional Facility in Hobbs. When the boom goes bust, as history suggests they all do, shale-extraction businesses won’t be able to out-pay most employers anymore. Jimenez said she’ll take the money as long as it lasts.

And this one could go on for a while. Companies are more cost-conscious than ever, and the evolution of oilfield technology continues to make finding and producing oil quicker and cheaper in the pancaked layers of rock in the Permian. It now accounts for about 30 percent of all U.S. output.

There’s no question the economic upside is big in the basin, which covers more than 75,000 square miles in west Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Midland saw year-over-year increases of at least 34 percent in sales-tax collections in each of the last four months. Morales said coffers are full enough that he may ask for raises for city workers — so they don’t bolt for the oil fields.

Another surprise: Some of his students, with two-year associate degrees, can make more than he does, with his master’s in science, electrical and electronic engineering. At Midland College’s oil and gas program, which trains for positions like petroleum-energy technician, enrollment is down about 20 percent from last year. But schools that teach how to pass the test for a CDL — commercial drivers license — are packed.

“A CDL is a golden ticket around here,” said Steve Sauceda, who runs the workforce training program at New Mexico Junior College. “You are employable just about anywhere.”

And you can make a whole lot more money than waiting tables at Gerardo’s Casita. Jeremiah Fleming, 30, is on track to pull down $140,000 driving flatbed trucks for Aveda Transportation & Energy Services Inc., hauling rigs.

“This will be my best year yet,” said Fleming, who used to work in the once-bustling shale play in North Dakota. “I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”

Morales, a native Midlander and second-generation restaurateur, has seen it happen so many times before. Oil prices go up, and energy companies dangle such incredible salaries that restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and other businesses can’t compete. People complain about poor service and long lines at McDonald’s and the Walmart and their favorite Tex-Mex joints. Rents soar.

“This is my home town. I don’t want that reputation,” he said. He’s not yet quite sure what to do about it as mayor of a city that has been on the oil-industry rollercoaster for nearly 100 years.

He has, though, come up with strategies for his restaurants. For example, he now issues paychecks weekly, instead of twice monthly, and offers more opportunities for over-time hours. He also makes common-sense bids to employees tempted by the Permian’s siren call.

His pitch: “If you’ll stay with me, I can give you three quarters of what the oil will give you but you don’t have to get dirty or worry about getting hurt.” And just maybe, when crude crashes, they’ll still be employed.

    Read more: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-06/shale-country-dangles-100-pay-raises-as-labor-market-runs-dry

    Electric Buses Are Hurting the Oil Industry

    • About 279,000 barrels a day of fuel won’t be needed this year
    • China adds a London-sized electric bus fleet every five weeks

    Electric buses were seen as a joke at an industry conference in Belgium seven years ago when the Chinese manufacturer BYD Co. showed an early model.

    “Everyone was laughing at BYD for making a toy,” recalled Isbrand Ho, the Shenzhen-based company’s managing director in Europe. “And look now. Everyone has one.”

    Suddenly, buses with battery-powered motors are a serious matter with the potential to revolutionize city transport—and add to the forces reshaping the energy industry. With China leading the way, making the traditional smog-belching diesel behemoth run on electricity is starting to eat away at fossil fuel demand.

    The numbers are staggering. China had about 99 percent of the 385,000 electric buses on the roads worldwide in 2017, accounting for 17 percent of the country’s entire fleet. Every five weeks, Chinese cities add 9,500 of the zero-emissions transporters—the equivalent of London’s entire working fleet, according Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

    All this is starting to make an observable reduction in fuel demand. And because they consume 30 times more fuel than average sized cars, their impact on energy use so far has become much greater than the passenger sedans produced by companies from Tesla Inc. to Toyota Motor Corp.

    Keeping It in the Ground

    Cumulative global fuel displacement by e-buses and passenger EVs

    Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

    For every 1,000 battery-powered buses on the road, about 500 barrels a day of diesel fuel will be displaced from the market, according to BNEF calculations. This year, the volume of fuel not needed may rise 37 percent to 279,000 barrels a day because of electric transport including cars and light trucks, about as much oil as Greece consumes, according to BNEF. Buses account for about 233,000 barrels of that total.

    “This segment is approaching the tipping point,” said Colin McKerracher, head of advanced transport at the London-based research unit of Bloomberg LP. “City governments all over the world are being taken to task over poor urban air quality. This pressure isn’t going away, and electric bus sales are positioned to benefit.”

    China is ahead on electrifying its fleet because it has the world’s worst pollution problem. With a growing urban population and galloping energy demand, the nation’s legendary smogs were responsible for 1.6 million extra deaths in 2015, according to non-profit Berkeley Earth.

    Putting It Back

    Global fuel demand displaced by e-buses

    Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

    A decade ago, Shenzhen was a typical example of a booming Chinese city that had given little thought to the environment. Its smog became so notorious that the government picked it for a pilot program for energy conservation and zero emissions vehicles in 2009. Two years later, the first electric buses rolled off BYD’s production line there. And in December, all of Shenzhen’s 16,359 buses were electric.

    BYD had 13 percent of China’s electric bus market in 2016 and put 14,000 of the vehicles on the streets of Shenzhen alone. It’s built 35,000 so far and has capacity to build as many as 15,000 a year, Ho said.

    A worker charges an electric bus in Shenzhen.
    Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

    BYD estimates its buses have logged 17 billion kilometers (10 billion miles) and saved 6.8 billion liters (1.8 billion gallons) of fuel since they started ferrying passengers around the world’s busiest cities. That, according to Ho, adds up to 18 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution avoided, which is about as much as 3.8 million cars produce in each year.

    “The first fleet of pure electric buses provided by BYD started operation in Shenzhen in 2011,” Ho said by phone. “Now, almost 10 years later, in other cities the air quality has worsened while—compared with those cities—Shenzhen’s is much better.”

    Driving the Revolution

    China electric bus sales

    Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

    Other cities are taking notice. Paris, London, Mexico City and Los Angeles are among 13 authorities that have committed to only buying zero emissions transport by 2025.

    London is slowly transforming its fleet. Currently four routes in the city center serviced by single-decker units are being shifted to electricity. There are plans to make significant investments to the clean its public transport networks, including retrofitting 5,000 old diesel buses in a program to ensure all buses are emission-free by 2037.

    A BYD Co. double-decker electric bus at the EV Trend Korea exhibition in Seoul on April 12.
    Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

    Transport for London, responsible for the city’s transport system, declined to comment for this article because of rules around engaging with the media ahead of May local government elections.

    Those goals will have an impact on fuel consumption. London’s network draws about 1.5 million barrels a year of fuel. If the entire fleet goes electric, that may displace 430 barrels a day of diesel for each 1,000 buses going electric, reducing U.K. diesel consumption by about 0.7 percent, according to BNEF.

    Ramping Up

    Top-10 European electric bus fleets, 2017

    Across the U.K. there were 344 electric and plug-in hybrid buses in 2017, and BYD hopes to be picked to supply more. It has partnered with a Scottish bus-maker to provide the batteries for 11 new electric buses that hit the city’s roads in March.

    Falkirk-based manufacturer Alexander Dennis Ltd. began making electric buses in 2016 and has quickly become the European market leader with more than 170 vehicles operating in the U.K. alone.

    More work is on the horizon, with London’s transport authority planning a tender to electrify its iconic double-decker buses, Ho said.

    “The tech is ready,” Ho said. “We are ready, we have our plants in China, and Alexander Dennis in Scotland is geared up for TfL. Once we’re given the word, we are ready to go.”

    (Corrects fifth paragraph to clarify total attributable to buses. )

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-23/electric-buses-are-hurting-the-oil-industry

    Saudis, SoftBank Plan World’s Largest Solar Project

    • Venture may cost $200 billion, add 100,000 jobs in the kingdom
    • Plan envisions 200GW of solar capacity in Saudi Arabia by 2030

    Saudi Arabia and SoftBank Group Corp. signed a memorandum of understanding to build a $200 billion solar power development that’s exponentially larger than any other project.

    SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, known for backing ambitious endeavors with flair, unveiled the project Tuesday in New York at a ceremony with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The powerful heir to the throne of the world’s largest crude exporter is seeking to diversify the economy and wean off a dependence on oil.

    The deal is the latest in a number of eye-popping announcements from Saudi Arabia promising to scale up its access to renewables. While the kingdom has for years sought to get a foothold in clean energy, it’s was only in 2017 that ministers moved forward with the first projects, collecting bids for a 300-megawatt plant in October.

    At 200 gigawatts, the Softbank project planned for the Saudi desert would be about 100 times larger than the next biggest proposed development and more than double what the global photovoltaic industry supplied last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

    “It’s a huge step in human history,” Prince Mohammed said. “It’s bold, risky and we hope we succeed doing that.”

    Over The Top

    SoftBank-Saudi solar vision dwarfs other planned PV projects

    Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance; SoftBank

    If built, the development would almost triple Saudi Arabia’s electricity generation capacity, which stood at 77 gigawatts in 2016, according to BNEF data. About two thirds of that is generated by natural gas, with the rest coming from oil. Only small-scale solar projects working there now.

    Son said he envisions the project, which runs the gamut from power generation to panel and equipment manufacturing, will create as many as 100,000 jobs and shave $40 billion off power costs. The development will reach its maximum capacity by 2030 and may cost close to $1 billion a gigawatt, he said.

    “The kingdom has great sunshine, great size of available land and great engineers, great labor, but most importantly, the best and greatest vision,” Son told reporters at a briefing.

    Deepening Ties

    The agreement deepens SoftBank’s ties with the Saudi Arabia, and advances the crown prince’s ambition to diversify its economy.

    “SoftBank seeks investment and Saudi needs energy, so it may make sense to sort the financing out in a large block and then separately hammer out the phases and the technical details,” said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at BNEF. “It is worth noting that many of these memorandums of understanding do not result in anything happening. ”

    SoftBank was said to be planning to invest as much as $25 billion in Saudi Arabia over the next three to four years. That’s a boost for Prince Mohammed, who’s been at the forefront of the Vision 2030 campaign to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil by that year. SoftBank is said to have aimed to deploy as much as $15 billion in a new city called Neom, which the crown prince plans to build on the Red Sea coast.

    The Japanese company’s Vision Fund is also said to plan investments of as much as $10 billion in state-controlled Saudi Electricity Co. as part of efforts to diversify the utility into renewables and solar energy.

    Vision, Investments

    Son, who is known as a savvy investor with a flair for the spotlight, has been promoting clean energy since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and recently completed a 50-megawatt wind power farm in Mongolia. He has also pushed a plan dubbed “Asia Super Grid,” a plan to connect Asian nations by grids and undersea cables to distribute clean energy.

    The kingdom’s deal-making has quickened as it pursues Prince Mohammed’s diversification goals. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, which has more than $224 billion in assets, spent about $54 billion on investments last year. The sale of about a 5 percent stake in oil giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co. is expected to provide more funds.

    Saudi Arabia also plans to build at least 16 nuclear reactors over the next 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion. Electricity demand in the country has risen by as much as 9 percent a year since 2000, according to BNEF.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-28/saudi-arabia-softbank-ink-deal-on-200-billion-solar-project