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Murkowski presses for stronger Arctic strategy as U.S. prepares to lead council

The United States must make stronger efforts to improve its Arctic infrastructure and enhance its energy and economic strategy as it prepares to lead a coalition of Arctic countries, the chair of the Senate energy committee declared Thursday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, made the comments at a hearing she called to highlight the new economic and energy opportunities she says are offered by melting ice in the Arctic. She said the U.S. should seize those opportunities with a broad national focus when the it takes chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an international body, on April 25.

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Most states' 2012 power plant carbon emissions significantly below 2005 levels

The vast majority of states reduced carbon emissions from their power plants between 2005 and 2012 - 31 of them by double-digits, an EnergyGuardian analysis of figures released by the Energy Information Administration shows.

The agency's annual release of state-by-state emissions data showed that 41 states plus the District of Columbia emitted less CO2 from power plants in 2012 than they did in 2005 -- the benchmark year used in the Clean Power Plan proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Oil

New Jersey announces $225M Exxon settlement; had sought $9B

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey announced a $225 million settlement with Exxon Mobil on Thursday that state officials said is the largest environmental settlement against a corporate defendant in state history — though it has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers who say it is for a mere fraction of the nearly $9 billion initially sought.

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said the settlement over pollution at refinery sites in Linden and Bayonne is separate from Exxon Mobil's obligation to clean up the sites at its own expense.

Oil

US stocks edge higher; oil drops

NEW YORK (AP) — The stock market closed slightly higher on Thursday as gains for utilities and financial stocks were largely offset by losses in energy and materials companies.

Kroger jumped after reporting better-than-expected earnings that were boosted in part by lower fuel costs. Joy Global, a manufacturer of mining equipment, fell sharply after it said that the worldwide plunge in commodity prices was hurting its business.

The price of U.S. oil fell Thursday on a stronger dollar, which makes oil, which is priced in dollars around the world, more expensive to holders of foreign currency.

Scientists warn Obama of marine life harm from seismic tests

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Marine scientists are raising concerns about the Obama administration's decision to move ahead on use of seismic air guns in the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas exploration.

Seventy-five scientists from around the globe on Thursday sent a letter to President Barack Obama saying the use of the guns, which create canonlike air blasts underwater, represents a "significant threat to marine life throughout the region."

Senate majority leader decides not to fast-track Iran bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday decided to postpone action on a bill giving Congress a chance to review and vote on any deal the U.S. signs with Iran over its nuclear program.

The move comes at a time delicate negotiations are at a critical juncture between the U.S. and its partners and Tehran.

Oil

Oil company to pay $2M for illegal well in North Dakota

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A Norwegian oil company that illegally operated a well on federal property in North Dakota has agreed to pay a nearly $2 million settlement to avoid legal action, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Authorities say the well was drilled about two weeks after Statoil Oil & Gas Services Inc. acquired Brigham Oil & Gas L.P., which had originally planned the facility. The company later discovered that the well drilled into unleased federally owned minerals.

Appeals court tosses gag order in coal company's ex-CEO's case

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday invalidated a sweeping gag order in the case of a former coal company executive accused of violating safety standards at a West Virginia mine where an explosion killed 29 men.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger's order prohibited just about anyone, including victims' relatives, from speaking publicly about former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's case. The judge also kept most court filings secret.

April hearing set on ex-BP engineer's reversed conviction

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Federal prosecutors hoping to win reinstatement of an obstruction of justice conviction against a former BP engineer will argue their case next month at an appeals court in New Orleans.

Prosecutors accused Kurt Mix of deliberately deleting text messages about the amount of oil flowing from BP's Macondo well after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Oil

Oxy pays confidential sum to settle Peru pollution case

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Indigenous communities that sued Occidental Petroleum over contamination in Peru's northern Amazon have reached an out-of-court settlement in which the U.S.-based oil company will pay them an undisclosed sum.

The amount is confidential, under a settlement that was reached in 2013 in Los Angeles federal court but not announced until Thursday. The money is to fund community development projects.

Oil

Libya says 11 oil fields non-operational after IS attacks

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya's state-run oil corporation has declared 11 oil fields in the country non-operational after attacks by suspected Islamic State militants, opting for a force majeure clause that exempts the state from contractual obligations.

The National Oil Corporation blamed Islamist-backed authorities in the capital Tripoli for failing to protect the oil fields. The statement, issued late Wednesday, said "theft, looting, sabotage and destruction" of the oil fields have been on the rise despite pleas for the authorities to ensure the safety of Libya's oil installations.

El Nino finally here; but this one is weak, weird and late

WASHINGTON (AP) — A long anticipated El Nino has finally arrived.

The National Weather Service on Thursday proclaimed the phenomenon is now in place. It's a warming of a certain patch of the central Pacific that changes weather patterns worldwide, associated with flooding in some places, droughts elsewhere, a generally warmer globe, and fewer Atlantic hurricanes. El Ninos are usually so important that economists even track them because of how they affect commodities.

Unit shut down at Prairie Island nuclear plant in Minnesota

RED WING, Minn. (AP) — Operators of the Prairie Island nuclear plant in Red Wing are shutting down one of its two units because of a fire alarm.

Xcel Energy says there's no indication of a fire, but managers began taking Unit 2 off line Thursday morning so investigators can determine why the alarm was tripped.

EU urges Russia to forget old gas contract with Ukraine

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is concerned that Russia might want to enforce its old gas contract with Ukraine once their current arrangement runs out, saying it could contravene Moscow's peace obligations.

EU energy chief Maros Sefcovic said Thursday that any return to the previous contract between Russia's Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftogaz "would be quite difficult, complicated."

EPA Photo

McCarthy confronts McConnell call for Clean Power Plan boycott

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Wednesday pushed back against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's op-ed piece urging states not to file plans to comply with the Clean Power Plan, once it is finalized.

She told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at a budget hearing that she hopes the states will submit plans to cut carbon emissions from power plants, but if they don't, "there will be a federal system in place to allow us to move forward.”

Oil

Oil higher on Saudi comments, spending cuts

Comments from oil minister Ali al-Naimi that Saudi Arabia views oil prices as settling, along with news of continued spending cuts from oil companies like Exxon Mobil, appear to outweigh the news of a further build in U.S. stockpiles -- of 10.3 million barrels -- in supporting prices early Thursday.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 23 cents to $51.76 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.01 to settle at $51.53 a barrel on Wednesday.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, was up 36 cents to $60.93 in London.

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