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Peak Oil

Peak-oil concept stresses urgency of dwindling oil supply

Daniel McMenamin, The California Aggie
Addictions can be hard to break. The United States’ addiction to fossil fuels has enabled it to reach heights never seen by any civilization in history.

However, many people who have studied the theory of peak oil —also known as Hubbert’s Peak, and is the idea that the world’s oil production will soon peak and then start to decline — believe that this addiction is not sustainable in the long term. They argue that in the near future, fossil fuels could be too expensive to use and eventually lost forever.
(25 May 2005)
Ed: The California Aggie is the student publication from the University of California, Davis. It features comments from several UC professors on Peak Oil.

Oil: The Party’s Over
Heinberg interview
(Audio: 30 min)
Free Speech Network (Enviro-Close-Up with Karl Grossman)
Richard Heinberg, author of “The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies” and “Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World,” and professor at New College of California, discusses the end of oil as the fuel of industrial societies. There must be fundamental changes, says Heinberg, a full commitment to renewable energy, adoption of energy conservation measures and a transition to sustainable local food systems.
(Oct 2004 – original interview)

Energy-related News

Buffett to purchase U.S. utility

Heather Timmons and Jad Mouawad, NY Times (via Intl Herald Tribune)
A $5.1 billion deal for the U.S. electricity utility PacifiCorp struck by the American billionaire Warren Buffett, his largest purchase in eight years, has sounded a bullish note for the energy industry in general.

“There is no limit to the amount of money we would have available for the right acquisition,” Buffett said during a news conference Tuesday in London about the PacifiCorp deal. “Frankly, the bigger the better.”

Energy will be “an important industry 10, 20, 50 years from now and Berkshire Hathaway hopes to expand its investments” there, Buffet said during the news conference, where he appeared via teleconference. “We will look at energy assets around the world,” he said, and invest through MidAmerican.

“The energy field is one that I basically like,” Buffett said by telephone. “It’s not a business you can dream about; however, it’s a capital-intensive business that provides decent returns. It’s stable and it’s predictable.”
(26 May 2005)
Ed: Warren Buffet is one of the greatest investors in history. It’s wise to watch what he is doing.

Quick profit isn’t Buffett’s style

Mike Rogoway, Portland Oregonian
Unlike PGE’s failed suitor, Texas Pacific Group, the billionaire businessman favors a long-term approach to investments

Billionaire Warren Buffett is a folk hero to small investors who admire his common-sense advice and down-to-earth persona.

As a would-be Oregon utility owner, though, Buffett still has to sell himself to state ratepayers who have proven highly suspicious of any private investor.

His long-term approach to “value investing” stands in a stark contrast to the strategy of the last suitor to court an Oregon utility, Texas Pacific Group. Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett’s company, looks for steady businesses that other investors overlook, eschewing debt when possible and holding investments indefinitely.
(25 May 2005)

Capitulation to the nuclear lobby is a politics of despair

Polly Toynbee, The Guardian
Fear of the people, their cars and flights is blocking creative energy policy

Despair is the great peril in climate change policy. Nothing can be done, we’re all doomed! Democratic politics reaches its nemesis here: who dares to stand for election on a consumption-cutting agenda? No one. What opposition will hold its tongue as a government takes tough measures? None. So who dare put unpalatable truths to voters?

Certainly not Tony Blair, who barely mentioned global warming in the election, but is now whistle-stopping around the world to shore up his G8 agenda on climate change and Africa, facing truculence even from the public-spirited but hard-pressed Germans. When some in the EU suggested a levy on currently untaxed aviation fuel with the money given to Africa, Blair refused, fearful of Britain’s frequent flying population. Meanwhile Labour constructs yet more gigantic runways to perdition.
(25 May 2005)

Cleaning up after elephants*, or more on EOR

The Oil Drum
So you’re feeling cheap and don’t feel like going to the sandwich shop, huh? So lets see what’s in the refrigerator. An apple, some cheese, some butter – that will do. So you put them on the table and…. darn, you got a blob of butter on the apple. Rather than have it roll all over the table making a mess, you stick it under the tap.

With the water running on cold it seems to take forever to wash the butter off the apple, but if you turn the tap to hot, the butter runs off very quickly. The same sort of thing happens when you apply hot water or steam to the oil left on the sand grains of a rock after the primary and secondary recovery of the oil is over. The oil is a lot thicker than butter and you generally have to heat the water a bit hotter (it works best above 185deg F) but you can still clean the oil from the rock that way. There is, however, a bit of a snag. (And from this point on DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME).
(25 May 2005)
Ed: TOD is on a roll with its culinary metaphors for oil extraction technologies.

Two’s a trend
(BP demands editorial control)

AdAge via Eschaton
NEW YORK ( — Days after financial services giant Morgan Stanley informed print publications that its ads must be automatically pulled from any edition containing “objectionable editorial coverage,” global energy giant BP has adopted a similar press strategy.

According to a copy of a memo on the letterhead of BP’s media-buying agency, WPP Group’s MindShare, the global marketer has adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward negative editorial coverage. The memo cites a new BP policy document entitled “2005 BP Corporate-RFP” that demands that ad-accepting publications inform BP in advance of any news text or visuals they plan to publish that directly mention the company, a competitor or the oil-and-energy industry.

Both broad and quite specific, the directives range from notifying the media agency prior to running any editorial that contains fuel, oil or energy news text or visuals to providing the agency the option to pull any advertising from the issue without penalty.
(24 May 2005)

The first two days of Bolivia’s second gas war

Jeffery R. Webber, Znet
Monday morning marked the end of the almost two hundred kilometre, four-day march of around six thousand peasants, coca growers, and others from Caracollo to El Alto. This march was led by the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party, under the leadership of Evo Morales. MAS, and ostensibly all the groups involved in the march, are demanding an increase in royalties paid by transnational petroleum companies to the Bolivian state for natural gas exploitation from eighteen to fifty percent. The demand was provoked by President Carlos Mesa Gisbert’s promulgation of a new hydrocarbons law which dictates only eighteen percent royalties with a thirty-two percent tax that critics say will be easy to avoid paying.

While the march was met with something like a spirit of solidarity in El Alto, the radicalized population of this mostly indigenous, massive shantytown let the MAS-led marchers know that they were demanding, “neither thirty percent, nor fifty percent royalties – nationalization!”
(25 May 2005)

U.S. Senators Mount Assault on Wind Power

Jesse Broehl, RenewableEnergyAccess
Just in time to cast a pall over the wind power industry, which convened in Colorado last week for their annual trade show, two U.S. senators unveiled a bill that would cripple future development of wind power projects throughout the U.S.

The innocuously-named “Environmentally Responsible Wind Power Act of 2005” introduced by U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator John Warner (R-VA), which could be rolled into a comprehensive energy bill currently under consideration in Congress, would have an immediate and devastating effect on the U.S. wind power industry, according to experts and industry sources.

When introducing the bill in a Senate floor speech delivered on Friday, May 13, Sen. Alexander attacked wind power, saying that “wind produces puny amounts of high-cost unreliable power,” and that “Congress should not subsidize the destruction of the American landscape.”

The bill takes aim at wind power’s coveted Production Tax Credit (PTC), the on-again, off-again tax credit that is the federal government’s primary support mechanism to level wind power’s playing field with the traditional energy industries. The bill would wipe out the availability of the PTC to any wind project located within 20 miles of a coastline, military base, national park or other highly scenic area. It would also allow a neighboring state to veto any wind project proposed within 20 miles of that state’s border.

Experts believe it unfairly singles out wind power and would bring the burgeoning clean energy industry to a grinding halt.
(24 May 2005)

Pipeline politics give Turkey an edge
A pipeline that brings Caspian oil to Turkey’s coast opens Wednesday

Yigal Schleifer, Christian Science Monitor
ISTANBUL – Turkey’s heartland of Anatolia – the massive plateau that serves as a land bridge between Asia and Europe – is dotted with the remains of 13th-century inns, reminders of the merchant caravans that traveled the fabled east-west Silk Road.

Some 800 years later, Turkey is again trying to take advantage of its strategic location. Today, instead of caravansaries it is building pipelines, and instead of silk and spices the products are less romantic: oil and natural gas.

A major part of this plan becomes a reality Wednesday, when the new Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, a $4 billion, 1,093-mile project that brings Caspian Sea oil to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast will be inaugurated. It should be fully operational by the end of 2005.

The pipeline – built by a consortium of 11 companies, including British Petroleum, the American firm Unocal, and Turkey’s national oil corporation – is designed to bring a non-Middle Eastern source of oil to the West. This would loosen Russia’s and Iran’s grip on the transport of Caspian and Central Asian oil by creating a new route that is friendlier to the United States and Europe.
(25 May 2005)
Ed: Many other articles are in the news today about the pipeline, including in the Guardian

China, New Land of Shoppers, Builds Malls on Gigantic Scale

David Barboza, New York Times
After construction workers finish plastering a replica of the Arc de
Triomphe and buffing the imitation streets of Hollywood, Paris and
Amsterdam, a giant new shopping theme park here will proclaim itself the
world’s largest shopping mall.

The South China Mall – a jumble of Disneyland and Las Vegas, a shoppers’
version of paradise and hell all wrapped in one – will be nearly three
times the size of the massive Mall of America in Minnesota. It is part
of yet another astonishing new consequence of the quarter-century
economic boom here: the great malls of China.
(25 May 2005)
Ed: Could someone send China a million copies of “End of Suburbia”?

Moscow Paralyzed by Major Power Cut, Muscovites Fear End of World

Mosnews (editorial)
Two years ago, when New York City was paralyzed by a massive blackout, Russian energy officials used the occasion to point out that something like that could never happen in Russia, where the energy infrastructure is entirely different. But by Wednesday afternoon, after a massive power outage at a plant in Moscow left tens of thousands of people without electricity, water, or the Internet, panicked journalists had already begun making their comparisons.

The disaster began late Tuesday night, when a short circuit at Moscow’s Chagino power plant caused an explosion that, in the words of energy officials, led to a cascade effect in the city and surrounding vicinities.

By noon on Wednesday, some 20,000 people were trapped underground in the Moscow subway, with electricity cut off suddenly on at least five lines, leaving some 43 trains stuck in tunnels
(25 May 2005)

Policy debate: Power plants on Navajo land

Brenda Norrell, Indian Country Today
SANOSTEE, N.M. – Navajos voting in opposition to a new power plant on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area, where some of the nation’s dirtiest power plants already exist, say they are already suffering from enough respiratory disease and cancer from smog-laden air and polluted water.

”We don’t want any more dirty power plants,” said Sarah Jane White, a Navajo Sanostee Chapter resident who helped pass a resolution opposing the new power plant.

The Navajo Nation and Sithe Global LLC, based in Houston, plan to build a 1,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant, Desert Rock, on 600 acres of tribal land in San Juan County. The plan includes mining an additional 6 million tons of coal annually at the existing BHP mine on tribal land.

”The rich companies, looking for oil and coal, always go out to communities that are cash-poor and land-rich,” White said. ”We are the targets. Indigenous are the most cash-poor and land-rich. We OK these things because our kids need jobs. ”But people are beginning to get smarter. We are being used and used. People are beginning to fight back. We have to do what we have to do.”
(20 May 2005)

Long Beach Council Delays LNG Decision

Deborah Schoch and Tonya Alanez, Los Angeles Times
The Long Beach City Council abruptly postponed a vote Tuesday night on a $450-million liquefied natural gas terminal at the city-owned port, frustrating residents who had showed up to urge the lawmakers to oppose the project.

The delay comes the same week that Congress is considering legislation to give the federal government the final say in the siting of onshore LNG terminals, an issue raised by the Long Beach dispute. Some residents said Tuesday that the council’s inaction would hurt lobbying efforts in Washington to retain some state and local control. The council was poised to vote on whether to continue or stop talks with Mitsubishi Corp., which has proposed the import terminal at the Port of Long Beach, about two miles from the city’s downtown.

But Mayor Beverly O’Neill stunned a standing-room-only crowd 90 minutes into the meeting when she announced that some council members still had questions about the project and that the measure would be delayed until June 21.
(25 May 2005)
Ed: The Long Beach Report has a transcript of Mayor O’Neill’s speech and Responses to the decision.

Earth’s species feel the squeeze

Jonathan Amos, BBC
If we continue with current rates of species extinction, we will have no chance of rolling back poverty and the lives of all humans will be diminished. That is the stark warning to come out of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), the most comprehensive audit of the health of our planet to date.

Organisms are disappearing at something like 100 to 1,000 times the “background levels” seen in the fossil record. Scientists warn that removing so many species puts our own existence at risk. It will certainly make it much harder to lift the world’s poor out of hardship given that these people are often the most vulnerable to ecosystem degradation, the researchers say.
(21 May 2005)

Solutions and Sustainability

Waste Not, Want Not as Villagers Pioneer Use of Biogas in Cambodia

Ker Munthit, Associated Press via ENN
TAMOUNG, Cambodia — Nget Loun’s rickety old thatched house is typical of Cambodia’s impoverished countryside, but it holds a surprise inside: a state of the art, environmental-friendly gas stove.

Off the grid as far as most utilities are concerned, her household and 29 others in this village get a steady supply of clean energy from human and animal waste, using a device that not only makes cooking less of a chore, but also keeps their gardens flourishing and helps save the forests.

At the center of the experiment is a device called a biological gas digester — or biodigester — which converts a byproduct of manure into cooking gas. The technology has taken hold in other countries as a way to generate gas or electricity, and now an independent development group is hoping to spread it to Cambodia’s poor rural people.
(25 May 2005)

John Francis, a ‘planetwalker’ who lived car-free and silent for 17 years, chats with Grist

Mark Hertsgaard, Grist
How long could you survive without your car? For the many Americans who think nothing of driving 10 blocks to buy a gallon of milk, the answer is obvious. But before any of you dedicated pedestrians and die-hard cyclists start feeling smug, try this question: How long could you survive without talking?

Chances are, nowhere near as long as John Francis did. After a massive oil spill polluted San Francisco Bay in 1971, Francis gave up all motorized transportation. For 22 years, he walked everywhere he went — including treks across the entire United States and much of South America — hoping to inspire others to drop out of the petroleum economy.

Soon after he stopped riding in cars, Francis, the son of working-class, African-American parents in Philadelphia, also stopped speaking. For 17 years, he communicated only through improvised sign language, notes, and his ever-present banjo.
(10 May 2005)
Ed: Other articles at
NPR, SF Chronicle, Planetwalk homepage.