Look for energy lawyers to experience good times under a Trump administration. But the boom may not occur where you think and may in some instances be short-term.
Coal—a Really Bad Bet
All of those West Virginians, Kentuckians, or Wyoming folks who voted almost 3:1 for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton because of his promise to bring back the coal industry will soon have to face reality. And a harsh reality it will be. Despite Trump’s delusional pledge, his overall energy policy is going to accelerate coal’s demise. So if you were thinking of relocating to Wheeling or Charleston, Casper or Laramie, or Loretta Lynn’s Butcher Hollow because Trump is now in the Oval Office, you might want to rethink that strategy.
Coal will still be with us for at least a few more decades, but it will die a slow death and its legal job-creation possibilities are non-existent.
Coal is abundant and cheap. But its downside is that it is a dirty fuel (don’t believe the clean coal fairytale) and even if Trump and his acolytes believe that climate change is a hoax, utilities don’t and are proceeding accordingly. Coal to natural gas power plant conversions have been booming for almost a decade. There is nothing to indicate that this trend is slowing down despite the recent rise in natural gas prices. In that same time frame, no U.S. power plant converted from gas to coal.
The export market for coal is no antidote to its domestic woes. China and India, numbers one and three on the coal user list (the U.S. is number two), are cutting back on coal. In February 2017, China announced that it is deep-sixing plans to build 85 new coal power plants.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) (http://eia.gov) predicts that coal production will be flat until 2022 and then drop. In contrast, natural gas production is predicted to rise significantly from its current high level.
While some of this was prompted by EPA regulations that are under siege from Trump, their rescission won’t make much difference. The movement to gas and eventually to cost-competitive renewable energy sources will continue.
Oil and Gas—Booming for Now
Trump vows to “unleash” oil and gas via deregulation, which will implant the final stake in coal’s heart while spurring increased hiring in these two industries that, until the Saudi 2014 strategy keeping production high despite lower demand in order to hurt U.S. shale drillers, were hiring attorneys at a frenetic pace. Trump’s policy will regenerate legal and JD Advantage (e.g., landmen) hiring. In just one pre-Saudi year, 20,000 new landman jobs were created in Pennsylvania alone.
Renewables—Looking Good Long Term
The cost of solar and wind energy and energy storage is dropping, bringing it pretty close to being price-competitive with fossil fuels. Combine that with electric vehicle technology and you get a prediction from EIA that fossil fuels could lose 10 percent of global energy market share in the next decade. This even if Trump cuts industry subsidies because he, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and EPA Administrator-designate are in the pockets of the oil and gas industry. Price and clean power are more important to industry and investors than deregulation in other sectors and federal subsidies.
Nuclear—Steady As She Goes
Even before Trump, uranium was the hottest mining sector in the U.S. Much of this is attributable to the Obama administration’s revival of the industry after a 30-year limbo caused by the Three Mile Island debacle. Under Obama, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (http://nrc.gov) approved eight new reactors and went on a legal hiring binge. Now, industry and investors are betting that Trump will deregulate nuclear and spur additional projects.
The legal employment outlook for energy is bright. Moreover, energy hiring has gone national, no longer confined to the “oil patch” states (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and California). Just don’t bet on West Virginia, Kentucky, or Wyoming.