In late June, in a story that was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, it was announced that the U.S. Department of Commerce, through its Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), had issued a private letter ruling for Pioneer Natural Resources (Pioneer) and Enterprise Products Partners LP (Enterprise) that allowed the companies to export lightly processed condensate from their Eagle Ford, Texas, production. The ruling had actually been issued earlier in the spring, but had been kept confidential. It nonetheless triggered a widespread media overreaction — akin to Alan Greenspan’s famed “irrational exuberance” — with expectations that the ruling heralded the coming end to the U.S.’s long-held crude oil export ban. While not wholly irrational, such expectations are likely overly optimistic.

Natural gas is a superior energy source – it is the cleanest of fossil fuels, highly efficient and, furthermore, it is readily available here on U.S. soil. Those factors alone make natural gas a very attractive substitute for other fossil fuels like petroleum and coal. Not only are power plants beginning to switch to natural gas alternatives, but also major manufacturers are starting to produce natural gas-run cars in greater quantities. 

To meet supply and demand, natural gas companies have rapidly increased production by expanding pipelines and facilities. As a result of development, point cloud technology is being implemented to document and model existing facilities for maintenance purposes, retrofit outdated equipment and upgrade facilities to include automation. 

Quite a bit has happened since my last EMI column just a short few months ago. The citizens in Denton, Texas, voted to ban fracking while voters in one California city voted to go full speed ahead. The price of oil has dropped over 25 percent, causing pundits everywhere to give their opinions on what that will mean to the oil boom. And in one of the most frustrating things to come out of Washington in quite a while (and that’s saying a lot), the Senate in their infinite lack of wisdom voted not to approve the construction of the final segment of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The industrial Internet has arrived for the energy sector with great potential to deliver significant impacts through productivity and asset health. With the advances in technology and infrastructure, the industrial Internet is no longer something that resembles a science fiction plot. The reality is industrial assets are now connected to powerful networks, communications systems and security platforms – uniting machines and people through big data analytics. 

Today, the “digital oilfield” and the “smart electric grid” are proving the power of the “Internet of things” by delivering real savings and productivity. In fact, it is estimated that the industrial Internet could add $10 trillion to $15 trillion to the global GDP in the next 20 years.

Bradleys Inc. is a leader in the electric motor repair, rewinding and testing industry, and employs more than 100 professionals in south Texas. Located in Gregory, Texas, the company’s 110,000-square-foot facility is 60 miles from the Eagle Ford Shale. The company has served the petroleum, petrochemical, manufacturing and mining industries for 85 years. As the company has grown, so has its productivity-related and health insurance expense. 

Four years ago, like many large and small companies, Bradleys’ health insurance premiums were rising annually at rates of 20 to 30 percent, and it didn’t take a genius to realize neither the company nor the employees would be able to afford the insurance premiums within a few years. After analyzing the data, Bradleys discovered that 80 percent of all insurance claims were made by employees who hadn’t seen a doctor in at least a year, although their health plan covered annual visits and preventative tests at 100 percent. 

Reliability, mean time between failures (MTBF), downtime, costs, safety, efficiency and standardization have pushed documented motor repair specifications and internal motor repair facilities’ repair processes to the forefront in today’s industrial environment. Many motor repair facilities are ISO-certified and have taken the proactive approach to identify the areas of improvement in their processes. Evolving through “trial by fire” is still too often the primary training process for both the customer and motor repair facility, learning through painful warranty issues and the findings of the Root Cause Failure Analysis. 

Chile, Brazil and Mexico are countries rich in renewable resources, and are leaders in the Latin American region due to their governments’ position on renewable energy generation with adoption of innovative and aggressive policies. Investors lured by these enthusiastic policies in Latin American countries should nonetheless be aware of their long-term sustainability.

Chile, Mexico and Brazil are turning to renewable energy to build a more sustainable future. But the policies that support renewable energy must themselves be sustainable. 

Europe’s shale gas reserves won’t create an American-style boom, and aren’t enough to make any kind of global dent over the long-term, yet many are calling for the development of Europe’s shale gas plays to prevent the trickle of plant closures from becoming a steady stream that spawns a rising tide of unemployment.

Low natural gas prices as a result of the United States’ boom surplus are already creating a trade disadvantage for companies in Europe, struggling to compete against the cheap imports of U.S. firms that are increasing production. European firms are taking a double hit: paying higher natural gas prices than U.S. competitors while at the mercy of a volatile supply largely controlled by fickle Russia.

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