Reynolds Center

How to Localize Two Big Energy Stories

The energy crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria raises questions for communities across the U.S. (Image by Birga via Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons)

There have been two major energy stories headlining national—and international—news lately: oil and Puerto Rico.

Oil prices are reaching two-year highs. Much of an American commonwealth remains stuck without power. As a business reporter, you can turn both of those into local news, connecting your community to the larger news cycle.

Here’s a quickrun down on both of those situations and some story ideas or questions that my lead you to an even bigger story.

Oil, oil, oil

There is so much going on with oil. The one big story driving industry news is oil prices. As the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince continues arrests of other princes, high-ranking officials and billionaires, oil prices have climbed to a high not seen since the summer of 2015.  But here’s the thing: These high prices are coming from geopolitical tensions, not from a supply-and-demand standpoint. While they’re not likely to stick around, high prices will be here for the interim. Tensions will continue as investors eye a Nov. 30 Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting, in which members are expected to extend a cap on production through the end of 2018. 

How to localize it

Do you have local oil producers in your state? If so, how are their stock prices doing? Are they optimistic that these prices will stick around or are they doubtful? Are they hedging production, locking in prices now, to benefit off the temporary bump? Do they plan to put more rigs online or add more workers? You can check your state’s current rig count through Baker Hughes.

You may be looking to see how this will affect the gas pump. That’s always a good story. But note that there are a lot of factors that contribute to pump prices so it won’t be quite as simple a story as it may appear.

Another potential angle to ponder. The Wall Street Journal reported that the second largest Dairy Queen franchise in the country filed for bankruptcy, blaming a “mass exodus” of consumers in Texas and Oklahoma, where job losses were blamed on the low oil prices rampant in recent years. How is oil affecting your local community and will this increase help other industries?

Puerto Rico sill doesn’t have power

More than a month after Hurricane Maria, two-thirds of the commonwealth still does not have power. And as a CNN investigation suggests, the electricity generated at power plants doesn’t necessarily reach homes, schools or hospitals: Potentially 95 percent of the people living on the island wouldn’t have power without generators. The island’s weak and aging grid was crippled when Puerto Rico caught a bit of Hurricane Irma’s wrath, only to be devastated by Maria. And now the bankrupt Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority is under scrutiny after two questionable contracts to rebuild the grid were given to seemingly unqualified companies.

How to localize it

How old is your local grid? Is it disaster proof? Would it be able to withstand a large hurricane, earthquake, twister or whatever natural disasters are common in your area? How would your local town, city or state handle a large-scale power outage?