On June 29, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers issued a much-anticipated rule defining “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) for purposes of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). 

This rule is important for all domestic industries, including mining and energy, because it delineates, going forward, which waters are subject to regulation by EPA and the Corps. In particular, whether operators will be required to obtain permits from EPA, the Corps and/or states with delegated CWA-authority to discharge pollutants into, or to divert or otherwise engage in fill activities (including construction activities), with respect to a particular body of water. 

The rule is the culmination of the agencies’ efforts to narrow and clarify their jurisdiction in the light of two Supreme Court decisions (SWANCC and Rapanos) that overturned the agencies’ prior assertion of jurisdiction over certain non-navigable bodies of water. 

Rare earth elements are used in wide abundance today, in everything from communication to defense technologies. First discovered over 200 years ago, they have since gained in global prominence and are now among the most highly sought-after minerals. Their rise has come at an environmental cost, however, and today’s rare earth mining industry is facing a serious need for new and improved extraction technologies. To learn more about their history and current status, read on.

What’s In A Name?

The rare earth elements are not actually rare insofar as they lack abundance here on Planet Earth. Rather, the term “rare” stems from the fact that they aren’t usually found in the concentrated abundance that makes that makes mining easy and economically viable. Their presence in complex oxides, called “earths” at the time of their discovery in the late 18th century, earned them the rest of their name.

Libya is reputed to hold the ninth-largest proven oil reserves in the world – approximately 38 percent of Africa’s total proven crude reserves – making it a key player in the global energy market. Since 2011, however, the country and its energy sector have been in turmoil and there are currently two rival governments struggling for control over Libyan territory and resources. In this article, we highlight the five major legal risks currently facing companies operating in the territory, or indeed outside when handling Libyan crude exports.

Disputed sovereignty 

Most fundamentally, the Libyan civil war has raised important questions of sovereignty over Libyan territory and resources; who actually owns Libya’s hydrocarbons and who can legally contract for their processing and export.

On March 9, 2015, the United States Supreme Court rendered a decision (Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association) that allows federal agencies (such as the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the Department of the Interior (“DOI”)) to alter longstanding interpretations of their regulations without first obtaining any input from regulated entities – even where those entities may have spent hundreds of millions of dollars designing, constructing and operating facilities in reliance upon the existing interpretations, and where compliance with the new interpretation might require retrofitting those facilities. While the Perez case did not involve a regulation impacting the energy or mining sectors, the holding of the court could nonetheless have a significant effect on those sectors. 

It’s no secret that the electric power industry is undergoing a transformation with utilities scaling up clean energy sources, embracing a new era of consumer participation and choice, and tackling issues of security, efficiency and resiliency in a changing world. As the industry turns to holistic solutions such as AC/DC transmission and distribution technologies, both centralized and decentralized control, advanced inverters, energy storage and microgrids, the challenges of integrating these new technologies into the grid are becoming more complex. To tackle these challenges, utilities, manufacturers and technology solutions providers are increasingly turning to the Energy Department’s Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) located at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo. 

Profit margins in the mining industry, frequently healthy and attractive, face high risks when market prices are low. Mining operations have never fit the historical model of cost plus margin equals selling price. In their case, market price minus cost equals margin. Without control of the selling price, cost is the only variable in this equation for a mining company to focus on and breakthrough productivity the path to address it. Lowest cost and highest efficiency is the key to a “last man standing” strategy when market prices decrease.

Operating in a culture accustomed to challenge value creation, the mining industry knows by heart that what used to work well yesterday in their operations will not be enough to deliver value (and healthy margins) tomorrow. In spite of being persistent and resilient organizations, mining operations continue to see breakthrough productivity as a strategic imperative in the current environment of low commodity prices.

If there was any doubt that the Bakken Shale is one of the hottest spots in the oil and gas industry right now, all one has to do is take a look at the rush of companies still flowing into the region. These companies not only bring their existing knowledge and expertise to the area, but also new technology, new infrastructure and new competition. All these elements add up to a marketplace that should remain healthy and highly competitive for a long time to come. 

The following special section highlights a number of the companies that have made big moves into the Bakken Shale region in recent years. Whether they bring with them new methods, new facilities or new ways of looking at the industry, there’s little doubt they are contributing to making the Bakken Shale one of the top places to be in the industry. 

Recent spikes in the number of accidents tied to aging equipment and infrastructure have put increasing pressure on mining facilities to protect their physical assets. Critical assets are the lifeblood of industrial organizations, and asset failure has dire consequences for both the safety of the workers and the ability of the mining facility to continue operations. As evidenced by recent mining disasters in Turkey and Chile, when assets fail, profitability plummets.

Many of these failures trace back to the use of faulty equipment that either had maintenance deferred or was not replaced at the end of its expected life. Often, it is not an issue of operator negligence, but a lack of visibility into potential problems that cause the lack of action. Because anomalies in asset performance are the first indicator that an accident is on the horizon, full transparency into asset performance and data management creates an environment that is both safer and more efficient. 

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