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Sustainability and Environment Headlines - 8 August, 2005

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Solutions and Sustainability


Ramchand: Prepare for when oil runs out

Kimberly Mackhan, Trinidad Express
INDEPENDENT Senator Kenneth Ramchand wants government to create an oil depletion tax. He told members of the Senate on Tuesday that there is need to establish a methodological management plan to control the depletion of domestic oil reserves.
"When it comes to our dependence on oil, the more oil we take from the ground today, the less domestic oil we have left for the future. We need a credible energy policy that squarely confronts the issues and the broader context, namely, how to make the transition from an oil intense economy to a natural gas based one," he said.
The senator was proposing amendments to the Petroleum Taxes Act and said that oil-based investors should contribute a certain monetary percentage from their revenues, or pay an oil depletion tax, which could be used to establish an endowment fund. Government could then invest the fund and repatriate the yielded returns to citizens through the development of local infrastructure. ...
"We need to avoid over exploitation, what do we do with abandoned fields?" he asked. "Less investment in our diminishing resources is a good thing for the country."
(21 July 2005)


Globalisation is an anomaly
and its time is running out

James Howard Kunstler, The Guardian
Cheap energy and relative peace helped create a false doctrine. The big yammer these days in the United States is to the effect that globalisation is here to stay: it's wonderful, get used to it.

The chief cheerleader for this point of view is Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times and author of The World Is Flat. The seemingly unanimous embrace of this idea in the power circles of America is a marvellous illustration of the madness of crowds, for nothing could be further from the truth than the idea that globalisation is now a permanent fixture of the human condition. ...
(4 August 2005)


Dirty Oil: the West's Saviour, the Greens' Worst Nightmare

Staff, Sunday Business; London (UK) via RedNova.com
WATCH the "incredible, amazing, crazy-sensible" world of Honda's new hydrogen car marketing on television and you'll see weird cartoon rodents taking showers in squeaky clean water that pours from the car's exhaust. It's as if Honda has singlehandedly fulfilled every environmentalist's fantasy for a clean energy future: a car that plugs into your house, feeding off a hydrogen supply that also provides your lights and power.

So where can you buy this ecology-preserving wonder? You can't. Despite Honda's triumphant presentation of the first "fuel cell family" - Jon and Sandy Spallino and daughters last month took to the highways of California in their new Pounds 1m hydrogen Honda - the company won't have one for sale until 2020 at the earliest. ...

But here is the tough choice: developing these resources is an environmentalist's worst nightmare. Jeremy Leggate, the oil consultant turned Greenpeace activist turned solar entrepreneur, says: "It's suicidally dysfunctional behaviour. It's like putting your head in a paper bag and walking to the morgue. If they really do develop these things on a massive scale then we've had it."

But the world's energy needs suggest this will happen. David Greene an oil sands expert at the US government's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, says: "A transition to unconventional fossil resources is the path of least resistance and the way the petroleum market will go unless there are unexpected breakthroughs in other areas or major policy actions to prevent it."

What distresses environmentalists about uncoventional oil is the effort needed to extract it. Shell puts the world's largest diggers to work at its vast open pits next to the Athabasca River in Canada, gouging 100 metric tons of oil-soaked sand with every stroke. Each barrel of synthetic oil from oil sands generates roughly twice as much carbon dioxide during its production as a barrel of conventional oil and uses up the equivalent energy to one barrel of oil for every five produced. ...
(1 August 2005)


Viva Venezuela: Chavez and that great northern sucking sound

Novella Carpenter, Metroactive.com

When gas gets this expensive, most of us go toward the cheapies--ARCO, Safeway gas, the Costco stations. But some people go to the Venezuelans. There's an e-mail circulating these days that urges folks to support the socialist revolution by fueling up at CITGO, a station that carries gas made with oil originating from Venezuela.

Venezuela is an interesting place right now, though we don't hear too much about it in the States. President Hugo Chavez is tight with Fidel Castro, for instance, and he is beginning a policy of land distribution for the poor, much like that of Cuba. But Venezuela is a lot different than tiny, deliciously-cigared Cuba. Namely, it is the fourth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States. For perspective, according to Department of Energy figures, Saudi Arabia is number three.

In a move that may eventually affect the U.S. oil supply, Chavez recently announced the formation of Petrocaribe, a petroleum company devoted to providing regional oil to Venezuela's sphere of influence. Fourteen Caribbean member countries including Belize, Grenada and Jamaica will soon receive preferential oil pricing from Venezuela. Chavez promised them 40 percent off today's per-barrel rate, and if it goes to $100 per, he'll give a 50 percent discount with a grace period of one to two years. Venezuela is going to team up with Mexico in order to guarantee 80,000 barrels per day under the new policy. ...

Which is a bummer, because remember a few months ago I wrote that article about Exxon, suggesting people should not fill up there? Totally useless. A boycott will only affect market share, but because oil is a commodity, it will merely be sold to some other gas station.

What's a radical to do, then? From the mouths of the DOE: "The second way consumers impact the market is by reducing gasoline consumption. If enough people reduce driving or switch to more energy-efficient vehicles, gasoline demand would decline and prices would be dampened." Yeah, like a soggy blanket!
( July 2005)


Japanese company plans waste plastics-to-oil plant in China

Staff, Xinhua News Agency via China View
Osaka-based U.F.O. Group is moving ahead with its plan to build a pilot plant in China to process waste plastics into light oil products, reflecting its corporate strategy to diversify its business to clean energy sector, a company official said. ...

Developed by Dr. Taishi Kurata, the president of Nihon Quantum Wave Science Research Institute Co., the technology, which involves quantum physiochemical reaction, is superior to the conventional expertise in a way that it can treat all kinds of waste plastics, be it polypropylene or polyethylene, and achieve higher oil recovery rate at a lower cost.

The production cost of gasoline using the new technology is 10% that of the conventional technology, said Kurata, without elaborating. ...
(3 August 2005)


Environment


Face climate reality, BP chief says

Holly Nott and Denis Peters, Sydney Morning Herald (Aus)
THE head of one of Australia's biggest oil refiners has warned his fellow corporate leaders to face up to the inevitability of climate change by switching out of fossil fuels.

Australia's business community must change its practices and unite behind efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, BP Australasia president Gerry Hueston said.

"My view is that we are running out of time to deal with the environmental consequences of fossil fuels much faster than we are running down our stocks of them," Mr Hueston said. ...

"It would be too great a risk to stand by, do nothing and to wait so long that when the impact on the climate really does begin to be felt, we have to collectively take action which is so disruptive that it causes serious damage to the world's economy," Mr Hueston said.

He also believed it was necessary to establish a value for carbon emissions reductions, as well as the Federal Government's preference to offer incentives to develop new, clean technologies. ...

"But, not all of industry is currently aligned on these objectives, and governments are conscious of the political and economic risks of delivering real change on greenhouse policy in the absence of consistent signals from the business community," Mr Hueston said.

"So to deliver real change on greenhouse policy, we need to target not the government but the business community in order to persuade those who are currently uncertain to unite around a common progressive position on greenhouse."
(3 August 2005)


Chiapas Closes Mexico Oil Well

Chris Kraul, L.A. Times
MEXICO CITY - Reflecting the mounting safety concerns plaguing Mexico's state-owned petroleum industry, the governor of Chiapas this week shut down a federally owned and operated oil well that he said posed a health and environmental hazard.

It is believed to be the first time a state has shut down an installation of Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, an entity whose revenue funds more than 30% of the federal government's budget. The closed well contributes little economically to Pemex, but company officials are said to fear that Chiapas' intervention could set a precedent. The move by Chiapas Gov. Pablo Salazar comes as issues of safety and the environment have become paramount at Pemex. The monopoly's decrepit and poorly maintained network of pipelines has suffered a series of spills and explosions in recent months, several of them fatal.

Among the worst accidents was the April 13 rupture of an ammonia pipeline in Veracruz state, which caused six deaths and the evacuation of 6,000 residents. In Tabasco state, two pipeline explosions within 10 days of each other in June and July left eight dead and 20 injured. ...
Salazar this week received expressions of support from officials in other Mexican states with Pemex installations. Many called on Pemex to allocate more of its revenue, now at record levels, to repairing its infrastructure. "There are dozens of communities and thousands of families in constant danger from the pipelines of Pemex, and if necessary we will also shut down oil wells that continue threatening these families," Hidalgo state civil protection director Salvador Nery Sosa said.
(6 August 2005)


Nuclear energy can't solve global warming
Other remedies 7 times more beneficial

Mark Hertsgard, San Francisco Chronicle
During a public lecture in San Francisco last month, Jared Diamond, the mega-selling author of "Guns, Germs and Steel,'' became the latest and most prominent environmental intellectual to endorse nuclear power as a necessary response to global warming. ...

But environmentalists on both sides of this argument are overlooking the strongest objection to nuclear power, even as the nuclear industry hopes no one notices it. The objection is rooted in energy economics, hence the oversight.

As energy economist Joseph Romm argued in a blog exchange with Brand, "It is too often the case that experts on the environment think they know a lot about energy, but they don't."

The case against nuclear power as a global warming remedy begins with the fact that nuclear-generated electricity is very expensive. Despite more than $150 billion in federal subsides over the past 60 years (roughly 30 times more than solar, wind and other renewable energy sources have received), nuclear power costs substantially more than electricity made from wind, coal, oil or natural gas. This is mainly due to the cost of borrowing money for the decade or more it usually takes to get a nuclear plant up and running.

Remarkably, this inconvenient fact does not deter industry officials from boasting that nuclear is the cheapest power available. Their trick is to count only the cost of operating the plants, not of constructing them. By that logic, a Rolls-Royce is cheap to drive because the gasoline but not the sticker price matters. ...
(7 August 2005)

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