Leading the News
Trump Administration Set To Repeal Obama-Era Fracking Rule.
The Washington Examiner (12/28, Siegel) reports that on Friday, Trump Administration “will officially repeal the Obama administration’s 2015 fracking rule regulating oil and natural gas drilling on federal lands.” The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management wrote a notice that will be published in the Federal Register on Friday that says, “we believe it imposes administrative burdens and compliance costs that are not justified.” The Interior Department first made the proposal to rescind the rule in July and concluded public comments in September.
The Hill (12/28, Cama) reports that repealing the rule “is part of a broad Trump administration effort to repeal environmental rules it finds unnecessary and to promote domestic production of fossil fuels and other energy sources.” In the notice the BLM wrote, “this final rule is needed to prevent the unnecessarily burdensome and unjustified administrative requirements and compliance costs of the 2015 rule from encumbering oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands.”
The Daily Caller (12/28, Bastasch) reports that the Obama Administration faced lawsuits over the rulefiled by the Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Upstream Online (12/28) also provides coverage.
Raytheon, University Of Arizona Partner On Native-American Student STEM Program.
GovCon Executive (12/28, Martin) reports an “employee resource group at Raytheon” has partnered with the University of Arizona to “mentor and inspire Native-American students toward science, technology, engineering and math careers.” Raytheon’s American Indian Network members will “facilitate monthly workshops that offer hands-on activities revolving around STEM to high school and middle school as part of the university’s Native Student Outreach for Access & Resiliency program, the company said Dec. 19.”
Columnist: Texas Failing In Workforce Education.
In a column in the Houston Chronicle (12/28), Chris Tomlinson writes about statistics from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board indicating that “educational achievement continues to lag in Texas, with only 144,911 students earning four-year degrees in 2016 in a state that had 350,684 students leave high school.” Tomlinson writes that the state’s 6.2% high school dropout rate “belies the failure of Texas schools to prepare students for either a career or college.” Tomlinson laments that the state “can’t sustain its current economic growth without better educating its workforce. Every year there are fewer jobs for people without some kind of degree, and the most innovative companies will not come to Texas if they can’t find the educated and skilled workers they need.”
New York Governor Pushes For All Public Colleges To Have Food Pantries.
Inside Higher Ed (12/28) reports New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will seek a new state law mandating all SUNY and CUNY campuses “to create their own food pantries or ensure another ‘stigma-free’ way to give hungry students access to food.” Cuomo’s office said he will announce the plan in his upcoming State of the State address, and that it “would consist of legislation (funded with $1 million) that would require each CUNY or SUNY institution to ‘provide physical food pantries’ on the campus or develop an arrangement with an outside food bank that would include delivery and distribution to students.”
Maine Governor Prods State Legislature To Fund Student Debt Relief Programs.
The AP (12/28, Villeneuve) reports Maine Gov. Paul LePage “used his weekly radio address to chide lawmakers for not following through on promises to attract young people to the state by addressing student debt.” LePage has “noted Maine’s recent college graduates face among the nation’s highest average student debt, and a particularly high delinquency rate in the Northeast.” The AP reports LePage singled out “a 2016 state law that created — on paper — a program to offer zero-interest loans to selected science, computer science, technology, engineering and math students who plan to live in Maine and work in such fields,” complaining that it “has never received any funding.”
Research and Development
Uber’s Self-Driving Cars Improving In Pittsburgh Tests.
Wired (12/28, Davies) reports about Uber’s tests on autonomous vehicles, saying that “while 2017 has been an overall disaster for the ridehailing company , the signs of progress on the self-driving front are clear.” According to Wired, Uber’s tests with autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh “drive more smoothly, require less human intervention, and can change lanes on their own.”
Researchers Engineer Stem Cells Transporting Chimeric Antigen Receptor Genes That Could Potentially Detect, Destroy Cells Infected By HIV.
Gaceta Medica (ESP) (12/28) reports in a Spanish-language article that researchers at the University of California Los Angeles in the US have engineered blood-forming stem cells to transport chimeric antigen receptor genes that could potentially detect and destroy cells infected by HIV. These modified cells not only destroyed the infected cells, but they persisted for more than two years, suggesting the possibility of creating a long-term immunity against the virus. Additionally, these modified cells were widely distributed throughout lymphoid tissues and the gastrointestinal tract, which are the main sites in the body for HIV replication and persistence in infected people. The potential of this approach notwithstanding, researchers suggest that this approach would likely work best in combination with other treatment strategies, such as antiretroviral therapy.
ABC (ESP) (12/28) reports in a Spanish-language article that researchers said they hope this new therapy reduces dependence on antiretroviral drugs among patients with HIV, lowers the cost of treatment, and allows the eradication of viral reservoirs in the body. Also, the researchers believe that this therapy can be very effective in combating other infectious diseases. i Paper (UK) (12/28) also reports.
Despite Battery Makers’ Desire For Argentinian Lithium, Country Lacks Skilled Workers.
Bloomberg News (12/27, Gilbert) reports that electric car battery manufacturers are eager to source lithium from Argentina, which is courting investors and developers in an effort “to become a lithium superpower, supplying as much as 45 percent of the market, up from about 16 percent now.” However, “perhaps the biggest barrier to development is a dearth of skilled workers.” This “shortage of local expertise can be seen as a growing pain in a new industry, and one that’s being exacerbated by competition from other sectors, like shale gas.”
Startup Trov Works With Waymo To Insure Autonomous Vehicles.
The New York Daily News (12/28, Chee) reports Waymo and “insuretech” startup Trov are working together to offer “trip coverage for passengers of Waymo’s commercial ride-hailing service, to launch in Phoenix in early 2018.” According to the story, the insurance “fees are included in the cost of the ride, so customers will not need to sign a separate agreement.” More importantly, the deal provides “answers” to “one of the lingering logistical questions about autonomous ride-hailing services: Who’s responsible when a driverless car gets into a fender bender…or worse?”
Engineering and Public Policy
Energy Costs Increase With Cold Temperatures.
The Washington Examiner (12/28, Siciliano) reports that recent cold temperatures in the US have driven “up natural gas and electricity prices in the Northeast, because of fuel constraints and record demand for heat across most of the country surpassing the 2014 polar vortex.” In Boston, the price for natural gas has increased $35 for each unit as Pennsylvania is paying $2.40. Additionally, “the cost of supplying electricity to meet demand also is rising with the increasing fuel costs.”
Bloomberg News (12/28, Malik) reports that natural gas prices in the US have increased “as a frigid forecast signaled demand for the power-plant fuel may surge to new highs through the start of 2018.” According to the US Energy Information Administration, stockpiles decreased last week by 112 billion. The combination of cold weather and a record high amount of natural gas consumption “jolted gas futures higher Thursday after the latest computer models showed the cold persisting for the next two weeks and deepening a supply deficit.”
Bloomberg News (12/28) posts a video clip regarding the cold temperatures in the US and its impact on natural gas prices. The video also discusses natural gas prices in particular regions throughout the country. The video includes commentary from Bloomberg Intelligence Senior Energy Analyst Vincent Piazza.
Cold Front Across U.S. Means Higher Energy Costs For Many Americans. The AP (12/28, Sharp) reports that for many low-income Americans, the latest cold snap stretching across half the country means rising energy costs and less money in their pockets. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, energy costs this winter are projected to increase by 12 percent for natural gas, 17 percent for home heating oil, 18 percent for propane, and 8 percent for electricity.
The AP (12/28, Press) reports that the bitter cold “underscores a stark reality for low-income Americans who rely on heating aid: their dollars aren’t going to go as far this winter.” The good news is that President Trump released 90 percent of the funding from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a program Trump had previously tried to eliminate. Mark Wolfe, an official with the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, “says he is urging lawmakers to press to release the rest of the money.”
Natural Gas Futures Increase After Storage Draws. Reuters (12/28, Verma) reports that on Thursday, American natural gas futures increased “after federal data showed a storage withdrawal in line with market expectations.” On Thursday, the US Energy Information Administration reported that US utility companies drew 112 billion cubic feet of natural gas from storage during the week ending Dec. 22. Gas futures increased “to $2.893 per million British thermal units.”
Interior Department Incorrectly Announced Coal Mine Expansion.
The AP (12/28, Gruver) reports that “US officials said Thursday that they misspoke when they recently announced they had approved an expansion of” Westmoreland Coal Company’s Rosebud Mine in Montana, which “would keep it operating for another 19 years.” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift “blamed ‘internal miscommunication’ for the incorrect announcement last Friday” and “said the 60-million-ton mine expansion is under review.” Swift added that “the Interior Department merely plans to release a draft study of the expansion for 45 days of public review and comment.”
Northeast Shale Fields Fueling Supply For New Gas-Fired Power Plants.
The Wall Street Journal (12/28, Ailworth, Subscription Publication) reports that a build-out in natural-gas fueled power plants is happening in the Northeast thanks to cheap, abundant natural gas from U.S. shale fields. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, proposed new gas-fired power plants capable of generating a total of 8.6 gigawatts are expected to come online by 2020. Their total output would be enough to power up to 8.6 million homes, and would require approximately 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas a day, or enough to fill a major pipeline each day.
Iowa Ethanol Plants Produce Record Amounts In 2017.
AP (12/28) reports that Iowa’s ethanol plants produced a record amount of gasoline additive in 2017, narrowly topping last year’s record. The increase was attributed to “several plant expansions, increased demand of exports and rising sales of higher blends of fuel like E15.” The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association’s executive director, Monte Shaw, said the industry will push for more gas stations to install E15 pumps in 2018.
Austin Utility Launches New Solar Program For Low-Income Customers.
The Austin (TX) American Statesman (12/28, Subscription Publication) reports that Austin Energy recently launched a program that allows low-income customers to “purchase locally produced solar power” at a rate slightly below their current supply rate without having to install solar panels.
Oil Now New England’s Largest Electricity Source.
Bloomberg News (12/28, Polson, Malik) reports that on Thursday, for the first time in nearly three years oil is the largest electricity source in New England. Insufficient pipeline capacities have “constrained gas flows to the region in recent years, causing prices to surge during severe cold snaps.” Fuel oil burning plants make up over 30 percent “of the region’s power supply during the morning, according to ISO New England Inc.”
Georgia Robotics Teams Compete In Qualifiers.
The Cartersville (GA) Daily Tribune News (12/28) reports that robotics teams from Georgia Highlands College and Clear Creek Elementary School participated in FIRST LEGO League “qualifier competitions” in December “for a chance to move on to the super-regional and the state championship.” The article mentions that “Clear Creek Elementary sent its Master Builders Red Team to the TVA-Chattanooga Regional FLL Robotics Qualifier” on Dec. 2.
Texas High School Teams Advance In FIRST Competition.
The Katy (TX) Times (12/28) reports that the “CRyptonite robotics team from Cinco Ranch High School (CRHS) hosted their seventh annual FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO® League Katy Qualifier robotics tournament.” Six of the 24 competing teams “earned a coveted ‘Golden Ticket’ to advance to the FIRST LEGO League Texas South Region Championship Tournament, which will be held Jan. 27 at the British International School in Katy.”
Louisiana CTE Center To Provide Workforce Training To High School Students.
The Baton Rouge (LA) Business Report (12/28) reports that local business leaders in Baton Rough, Louisiana have long “complained they can’t find enough skilled workers to fill positions in their companies and plants. At the same time, many young people complain they can’t find a good-paying job.” The piece reports that the East Baton Rouge Career and Technical Education Center is looking to address these “problems by offering high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to earn a diploma from their regular high school while also receiving workforce training and industry certification in high-demand fields that need skilled workers.”
Illinois Districts Respond To Low Test Scores With Emphasis On STEM, Early Childhood Programs.
The Aurora (IL) Beacon-News (12/28) reports that educators in Illinois’ East Aurora School District 131 and West Aurora School District 129, responding to “low test scores and the prospect of preparing children for a future that could look radically different…are making academic changes that could reshape students’ school days.” Educators in the districts “have sought to emphasize science, technology, engineering and math education and focus on early childhood programs. Students in West Aurora are likely to soon see changes to middle-school math schedules, and the district is highlighting career-focused programs.”
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• Trump Plans Infrastructure Push In January.
• NSF Gives $5.7 Million To Four Universities For Cybersecurity Scholarships.
• Navy To Award Development Contract To Hydronalix.
• Baidu Will Showcase Autonomous Vehicle Platform Apollo At CES 2018.
• Albuquerque Tech Company Gathers $3 Million From Angel Investors, SBIR Grants.
• Admin. Law Judge Extends Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline Review Deadlines.
• Washington State VISTA Volunteer Implements Coding Activities.