Exclusive: U.S. shale firms offer $100 million to aid Texas, New Mexico

More than a dozen top U.S. energy companies have pledged $100 million toward easing stresses on health care, education and civic infrastructure from the shale oil and gas boom in West Texas and New Mexico, the group said on Sunday.

Chevron, EOG Resources, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell are among 17 companies backing the Permian Strategic Partnership, as the consortium is called, Don Evans, a former U.S. government official and energy executive helping launch the group, told Reuters on Saturday.

The group seeks to address labor and housing shortages, overtaxed health care and traffic congestion caused in part by companies descending on the Permian Basin, the nation’s largest oilfield, where they hope to pump billions of dollars’ worth of oil and gas in coming decades, experts said.

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“It’s a significant amount of money, but these are huge challenges,” said Evans, a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce who lives in Midland, Texas, the epicenter of the shale oil revolution. “We don’t have enough teachers. We don’t have enough doctors.”

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The group aims to work with regional and federal officials, companies, nonprofit groups and educators in New Mexico and Texas, said Evans, who started in the Permian and became CEO of producer Tom Brown Inc before joining the administration of former President George W. Bush.

The group is assembling plans to hold meetings in communities across the region, so “everyone have a voice” in the undertaking. There is no timetable or plan for how the initial contribution will be spent. The group is recruiting staff and searching for office space, he said.

In the last decade, the region’s many pockets of oil and low production costs have led to gold rush-like conditions in the Permian. Companies are pouring staff and equipment into the oilfield, which is expected to pump 3.7 million barrels of oil per day by December, four times its rate in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That boom has local employers, including restaurants and school systems, under pressure from staff leaving for oilfield jobs. Midland’s unemployment rate was 2.1 percent in October, compared to the nation’s 3.7 percent rate.

The last decade’s shale boom also has led to school overcrowding, soaring traffic fatalities, drug abuse and strains on the power grid because of the activity.

“Our roads are not designed to handle the amount of truck traffic we have,” said Jeff Walker, transportation training coordinator at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs.

Drug charges in Midland more than doubled between 2012 and 2016, to 942 from 491, according to police data. Traffic accidents also jumped 18 percent between 2016 and 2017 in Midland County, and 29 percent in nearby Ector County, according to Texas Department of Transportation data.

“They all agree that scaling up infrastructure is going to be a huge challenge,” said Bob Peterson, a partner at consultancy Arthur D. Little who advises producers. “There’s a common agreement that there’s a whole bundle of problems.”

Nigeria’s ‘Mona Lisa’ shown at home for first time since it resurfaced

The Nigerian Mona Lisa, a painting lost for more than 40 years and found in a London flat in February, is being exhibited in Nigeria for the first time since it disappeared.

“Tutu”, an art work by Nigeria’s best-known modern artist, Ben Enwonwu, was painted in 1974. It appeared at an art show in Lagos the following year, but its whereabouts after that were unknown, until it re-surfaced in north London.

The owners – who wished to remain anonymous – had called in Giles Peppiatt, an expert in modern and contemporary African art at the London auction house Bonhams, to identify their painting. He recognized Enwonwu’s portrait.

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“It was discovered by myself on a pretty routine valuation call to look at a work by Ben Enwonwu,” said Giles Peppiatt, director of contemporary African art at Bonhams. “I didn’t know what I was going to see. I turned up, and it was this amazing painting. We’d had no inkling ‘Tutu’ was there.

How it got there remains a bit of a mystery, Peppiatt said.

“All the family that owned it know is that it was owned by their father, who had business interests in Nigeria. He traveled and picked it up in the late or mid-70s.”

The family put the portrait up for sale, and it was auctioned for 1.2 million pounds ($1.57 million) in February to an anonymous buyer. The sale made it the highest-valued work of Nigerian modern art sold at auction.

“Tutu” was loaned to the Art X Lagos fair, held from Friday to Sunday, by Access Bank, the organizers said in a statement. Peppiatt said Access arranged the loan but is not the painting’s owner.

“‘Tutu’ is referred to as the African ‘Mona Lisa’ by virtue of this disappearance and re-emergence, and it is the first work of a modern Nigerian artist to sell for over a million pounds,” said Tokini Peterside, the art fair’s founder.

The original Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, was stolen from the Louvre in 1911. The thief, Vincenzo Peruggia, eventually took it to Italy, where it was recovered and in 1914 returned to the Louvre.

The Nigerian painting is a portrait of Adetutu Ademiluyi, a grand-daughter of a traditional ruler from the Yoruba ethnic group. It holds special significance in Nigeria as a symbol of national reconciliation after the 1967-70 Biafran War.

Enwonwu belonged to the Igbo ethnic group, the largest in the southeastern region of Nigeria, which had tried to secede under the name of Biafra. The Yoruba, whose homeland is in the southwest, were mostly on the opposing side in the war.

Enwonwu painted three versions of the portrait. One is in a private collection in Lagos, while Peppiatt is hunting the third in Washington D.C., the expert said. Prints first made in the 1970s have been in circulation ever since and the images are familiar to many Nigerians. Enwonwu died in 1994.

Finnish president denies ever discussing ‘raking’ with Trump

The leader of Finland denied on Sunday that he’d ever told President Donald Trump that the small Nordic nation relies upon “raking” its forests to prevent wildfires — even though Trump promoted the dubious conservation method during a visit to flame-ravaged California over the weekend.

“You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it’s a whole different story,” Trump said Saturday, standing alongside Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom of California among the charred ruins of the Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park in the town of Paradise.

“I was with the president of Finland, and he said, ‘We have a much different — we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation,” Trump continued. “And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem. And when it is, it’s a very small problem. So I know everybody’s looking at that to that end. And it’s going to work out, it’s going to work out well.”

But President Sauli Niinistö of Finland told Ilta-Sanomat, the country’s second-largest newspaper, on Sunday that he never discussed raking with Trump during their brief meeting in Paris last weekend, where the leaders attended various commemorations marking the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I.

“I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network,” Niinistö said, adding that he recalled telling Trump: “We take care of our forests.”

The Camp Fire in Northern California, the deadliest and most devastating wildfire in the state’s history, has resulted in at least 76 deaths and nearly 1,300 people missing. The fire, which is 55 percent contained, has destroyed nearly 10,000 homes and set ablaze 233 square miles, according to The Associated Press.

While in California, the president was reluctant to blame the effects of rising global temperatures for a series of increasingly devastating wildfires. Asked by reporters whether his visit to the fire zone had altered his opinions on climate change, Trump replied: “No. No. I have a strong opinion: I want great climate. We’re going to have that, and we’re going to have forests that are very safe.”

The president has instead largely attributed the natural disasters to forestland mismanagement by California’s leaders. He was widely criticized by local officials last week for a tweet in which he threatened to withhold the state’s federal funding.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump wrote online. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

On Saturday, the president continued to emphasize the importance of working with environmental groups to improve forest maintenance, and pledged to “take care of the floors, you know, the floors of the forest.”

“I think everybody’s seen the light, and I don’t think we’ll have this again to this extent. We’re going to have to work quickly,” Trump said. “But a lot of people are very much — there’s been a lot of study going on over the last little while, and I will say I think you’re going to have — hopefully this is going to be the last of these because this was a really, really bad one.”

As news of Niinistö’s contradiction of Trump disseminated across social media on Sunday, Finns took to Twitter to post videos, pictures and memes accompanied by the word #haravointi, which translates from Finnish to English as “raking.”

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