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Oil and Gas Roundup — Nov. 14

November 14, 2014
TOPICS: In the news
A roundup of oil and gas industry news from around the state, nation and world:

Halliburton, Baker Hughes in talks for mega deal

HOUSTON — Two of the world’s biggest oil field service companies are in talks to fuse their businesses together and end decades of rivalry in a deal that may be valued at more than $25 billion.

Shares in oil field services giants Halliburton and Baker Hughes, both based in Houston, surged in Thursday trading after reports surfaced that they were in talks for a merger.

Baker Hughes late Thursday confirmed it was in preliminary talks with Halliburton, but said the discussions “may or may not” lead to a transaction. It said it wouldn’t comment further.

It’s the latest sign the oil industry may be preparing for a long lull in crude prices, as reports of the discussions emerged the same day U.S. benchmark crude hit its lowest point in four years. The recent four-month slide in crude prices has spurred angst over whether oil producers will seriously cut the amount of cash they spend on oil-field equipment.  

The Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter, said talks were progressing quickly and a deal, in which Halliburton would buy Baker Hughes, could come soon. The sources didn’t discuss the price but said it would likely rise above Baker Hughes’ market value, $25.4 billion on Thursday.

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Business groups brace for deluge of regs

Business groups are bracing for an onslaught of regulations, with the Obama administration bent on completing a host of the president’s unfinished policy goals and the midterm elections now in the rearview mirror.

Agencies across federal government are expected to drop a host of major rules over the next few months, with regulations running the gamut from calorie label requirements on restaurant menus to new rules for hydraulic fracturing and air pollution.

There are at roughly two dozen major rules that are scheduled to drop between now and late January, according to a review of the administration’s official regulatory agenda and rules now awaiting approval at the White House.

Groups including the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute said they are most concerned by expected costs associated with a slate of rules now in the pipeline at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The EPA’s regulatory march is very concerning to the business community,” said Matt Letourneau, spokesman for the Chamber’s energy institute. "We’re fighting these regulations,” he added. "We’re trying to encourage EPA to listen to our concerns. We’re hoping EPA backs off or changes course.”

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Feds declare Gunnison Sage-Grouse ‘threatened’

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Wednesday formally declared the Gunnison Sage-Grouse a “threatened” species, in effect ruling that years of efforts to protect the showy bird and its Colorado habitat weren’t sufficient to ensure its long-term survival.

The ruling by the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service is likely to set off a legal battle in Colorado, where Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday threatened to file a lawsuit challenging the decision.

It will limit oil and gas development in the 1.7 million acres of Colorado and southeast Utah areas where the chicken-like Gunnison Sage-Grouse lives and struts.

And it could predict trouble ahead for efforts to voluntarily safeguard a related species, the Greater Sage-Grouse, which has habitat spread across 165 million acres in 11 western states, often overlapping with drilling rigs and oil wells.

Both the Gunnison and the larger Greater Sage-Grouse are especially sensitive to disturbances during their showy courtship rituals and have dwindled in number amid nearby drilling, wildfires and grazing livestock. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the population of Gunnison Sage-Grouse has dropped to approximately 4,700 birds in about 7 to 12 percent of their historic range.

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Keystone pipeline approval bills advance in U.S. Congress

Legislation to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline began racing through the U.S. Congress on Wednesday as Democrats and Republicans appeared to be coming together in a challenge of President Barack Obama's oversight of the project.

In a series of rapid developments that unfolded just hours after Congress returned from a seven-week recess, there were indications the measure could pass and be sent to Obama sometime next week.

Republicans, victorious in the Nov. 4 congressional elections in which they campaigned heavily on the need for Keystone, have been pushing for approval of the project amid objections from some Democrats.

"It is time for America to become energy independent and that is impossible without the Keystone pipeline and other pipelines like it," Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana told reporters. Landrieu and Senator John Hoeven, a Republican of North Dakota, introduced the bill on May 1.

Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is fighting for her political life as she faces a runoff race early next month that will determine whether she can serve another six-year Senate term beginning in January.

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Chemicals used in fracking deemed harmless, study shows

DENVER — A major class of fracking fluid is no more toxic than chemicals found in a typical household, according to a newly released University of Colorado study.

The first-of-its-kind research showed that surfactants, which are used in hydraulic fracturing in five states to reduce surface tension between water and oil, also appear in everyday items such as toothpaste, laxatives, laundry detergent and ice cream.

“This is the first published paper that identifies some of the organic fracking chemicals going down the well that companies use,” said Michael Thurman, the lead author of the paper published in the scientific journal Analytical Chemistry, in a statement.

“We found chemicals in the samples we were running that most of us are putting down our drains at home,” said Mr. Thurman, a co-founder of the Laboratory for Environmental Mass Spectrometry in Colorado’s College of Engineering and Applied Science.

The research comes as a boost for the oil and gas industry, which is locked in a public relations battle with anti-fracking groups over the safety of hydraulic fracturing. Despite scant research linking fracking to health problems, five towns in Colorado have passed fracking moratoriums over the last three years, as have communities in California and Ohio.

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