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Politics and Economics Headlines - 19 October, 2005

Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage



Australia capable of building 'energy freeway' to China

Forbes
Australia is well placed to meet the energy and commodity demands of China and support its ongoing industrialization and development, Australian Treasurer Peter Costello said at a luncheon in Beijing.

'China will be able to secure long-term energy supplies from stable, reliable energy producers,' said Costello, referring to his country. 'We have the opportunity to build an energy freeway from Australia to China, from South to North, in the East Asia region.' ...

'Australia exported almost six mln tons of coal to China in 2004. We have reserves of recoverable black and brown coal of 40.4 bln and 37.5 bln tons, and could export as much as 56 mln tons a year by 2010 if China's markets were fully open to foreign suppliers,' he said.

Costello also said that beginning next year, Australia will become the first country to supply liquid natural gas (LNG) to China, and has demonstrated reserves of some 87 trln cubic feet. ...
(17 October 2005)
Note that these energy resources are primarily coal and LNG, which Australian's anyway aren't quite as keen to flog off as they used be - see Australian opposition leader speaks of $5/litre by 2015 and Beazley [Federal Opposition Leader] targets gas exports as local fuel.-LJ


China may Emerge as World Top Wind Power - Greenpeace

Reuters via Planet Ark
HONG KONG - Greenpeace on Monday called for greater investment in wind turbines in China, the world's top coal consumer, saying Beijing's ambitious target for renewable energy means it could emerge the global top wind power by 2020.

"We need to stop financing problems and have to start financing the solution," campaigner Robin Oakley told reporters on board vessel Rainbow Warrior, operated by Greenpeace, as a blanket of smog covered Hong Kong.

"It (China) has enormous wind resources ... The Chinese government is recognising that," Oakley said, while announcing a study on wind potential in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, known as the world's manufacturing centre.
(18 October 2005)
Related articles on China's economy:
China Builds Its Dreams, and Some Fear a Bubble (NY Times)
China Contemplates Change (Economist)


Have You Riven a Ford Lately?
Ford's green guru discusses cars, climate, and time-warp activism

John Elkington and Mark Lee, Grist Magazine
Last month, Ford Motor Co. CEO Bill Ford laid out a new vision to turn his company into a leader in technological innovation and, just perhaps, an environmental performance champion as well. His announcement, including the promise to produce 250,000 hybrids annually by 2010, comes during a time of trouble for the industry, and we watched it with keen interest.

First, our own "full disclosure": We work for SustainAbility, a think tank and consulting agency headquartered in London, and Ford Motor has been a client since the late 1990s. It's a relationship that endures in spite of periodic doubts on both sides.

...While environmentalists see the major U.S. automaker and its kin as dinosaurs flailing in a tar pit largely of their own making, financial pundits confirm that the company is reeling -- costs are high, market share is falling, critics love the new Mustang but not much else, and there is even talk of bankruptcy. Many business analysts paint all Detroit automakers with the same broad brush, citing high legacy costs related to pensions and health care as the primary reason these companies can't compete with the Asian automakers generally, and Toyota in particular.

So are American automakers headed for extinction? To give Grist readers a glimpse of the Ford view of the universe, we turned to Niel Golightly, the company's optimistically titled director of sustainable business strategies, who spoke to us from his office at Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.
(18 October 2005)
An interview with a business figure by consultants to that business. It's easy for such an article to slip over into public relations. On the plus side, the writers identified their connections to Ford. However, an article like this cries out for a skeptical and questioning counter-article. -BA


Discussion with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer

Stuart Staniford, The Oil Drum
Earlier today I participated in a conference call with Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana. You'll recall that we previously discussed his plan to convert lots of Montana coal to liquids (and again here). This conference call was at the behest of the Democratic Governors Association, who are organizing a series of calls between Democratic governors and bloggers - and they invited the Oil Drum. Five bloggers showed up, listened to the governor's spiel, and then got to ask a few questions. Here are my impressions.

The governor comes across as energetic, talented, blunt-spoken, combative, dedicated, and able to suffer people who disagree with him only with some effort. He talks freely and fluidly on energy issues, and he started off the call with a thirty minute discourse outlining his views on what the US needs to do, and what Montana is or could be doing to help. He's a new governor, only took office in January, but has focussed on energy issues a lot. (One of his campaign promises was to hold an Energy Symposium, which starts tomorrow).

He outlined his energy achievements as he sees them...

The governor spent a good deal of his time on coal-to-liquids. Montana, he asserts, has 120 billion tons of coal reserves, about a third of the US total. The US has far more coal than Russia (the second largest reserves), which is far ahead again of China and India (which also have big reserves). As we noted earlier, he thinks they should be developed rather than giving the money to "Sheikhs and rats" around the world, who then turn around and fund radical Islam, including Hamas and ultimately Al-Qaeda. He also mentioned several times doing "what is important to maintain our way of life." He sees CTL as a "bridge to the next fuel source" that we cannot afford to do without. He feels strongly that just conserving and trying to move directly to a renewables/hydrogen economy will not be feasible - we'll end up still needing to import lots of oil from regimes we should not be supporting.

He didn't talk about peak oil much. He frames the issue mainly in terms of energy independence. He, like us, has noted the wonderful national leadership on these issues:
(17 October 2005)
Some articles on the Montana energy conference are given below.


Conference to explore future of energy in West

Susan Gallagher, Associated Press via Seattle Times
HELENA, Mont. - Gov. Brian Schweitzer has made energy a top issue in his administration, and he plans to show it this week with a Western energy conference expected to draw several governors and hundreds of participants.

"The Montana Symposium: Energy Future of the West" kicks off tomorrow in Bozeman and features more than two dozen panels on a wide range of topics, including skyrocketing energy prices, the economic impact of energy development, environmental concerns, coal-to-gas technology and tribal perspectives on energy development.

Sponsors of the two-day symposium at Montana State University include energy companies and utilities National Grid, Encore, Itron, Montana-Dakota Utilities, NorthWestern Energy and PPL Montana; the Montana Electric Cooperatives' Association; BNSF Railway; the Natural Resources Defense Council and Montanans for Responsible Energy Development.

...One of Montana's leading Republican lawmakers, petroleum engineer Roy Brown of Billings, said he wondered whether the speakers might be "loaded toward the alternative-energy side of things."

Rancher Helen Waller of Circle, who is in the environmental group Northern Plains Resource Council, said she is concerned the panel discussions will be "dominated by the industry side."

"I think it's a good idea to bring everyone together and ... see what the issues are and where we go from here," said Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center.
(17 October 2005)
Related articles from the Missoulian (Montana):
Energy summit stirs up debate
Energy summit to focus on rising prices


Oh, Canada! Oil companies pursue a fuel's paradise

Jim Landers, Dallas Morning News
Sands rich in deposits seen as a cost-effective source to satiate U.S.
------------
Mrs. Denton drives a 400-ton dump truck filled with oil sands at this vast strip mine owned by Syncrude Canada Ltd. Along with her husband, Allan, and a brace of other drivers, she moves half a million tons a day of black, sticky earth to crushers, washers, pipelines and coking towers that turn it into crude oil.

"You're part of an elite group when you get to drive one of these," she shouted over the roaring engines as the huge vehicle bounced like a boat breaking through waves. "This is fantastic."

Beneath her wheels is something equally fantastic, in the view of energy companies trying to supply a thirsty U.S.: The petroleum-drenched sands of Alberta, the greatest oil deposits in North America.

As oil output falls in some parts of the globe and unrest threatens production in others, these deposits are attracting fresh interest from producers who had long sought a profitable way to separate oil from earth.
(18 October 2005)


Prop. 80 would retool California's energy policy
Consumer groups, unions back measure governor opposes

Mark Martin, SF Chronicle
Sacramento -- Nine years after lawmakers, regulators and virtually everyone in the energy industry agreed on an electricity deregulation plan that proved disastrous, California voters will now get a say in setting power policy.

Consumer advocates and an alliance of labor unions are pushing Proposition 80, which spells out market rules for how utilities will buy power, ends a key tenet of deregulation and encourages the use of nonpolluting energy sources like the sun and wind.

It's unclear whether the proposition would finally pull the state out of the energy hangover that has lingered since 2001's crisis and address California's two biggest problems: high electricity prices and ominous forecasts that suggest electricity shortages within a few years.
(15 October 2005)


Gas Bill Wouldn't Lower Prices, Just Raise Profits, Say Green Groups

Niko Kyriakou, OneWorld.net via Common Dreams
SAN FRANCISCO - A new bill designed to soothe inflamed gas prices by boosting refinery output has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but environmental advocates say the Act is really a gift to the oil industry and would not have significant or immediate effects on prices at the pump.

The bill, Gasoline for America's Security (GAS), eases permitting procedures for oil refineries and offers investment incentives to companies that build refineries. It narrowly passed the House 212-210 on October 7, and though Senate passage is very much in doubt, its House sponsors have vowed to raise many of its components again if GAS is not approved in its current form.

"The legislation is basically a handout to oil companies at an expense to consumers and the environment. It does nothing to stop skyrocketing fuel costs," according to Toby Chaudhuri, the communications director of the Apollo Alliance, a non-profit group advocating a shift from foreign oil to alternative energies.

"America needs an oil change and this bill is out of gas," Chaudhuri said. While much of the debate over flaring oil costs has centered around supply challenges, earth-friendly groups question this notion.

Instead, they suggest that prices could be brought down faster if Congress focused on preventing price gouging by oil companies, on educating the public to live more efficiently, and on supporting the spread of alternative energy technologies.
(17 October 2005)


Remembering 18.9-cent gas

Neal Peirce, syndicated columnist via Seattle Times
WASHINGTON — Somehow, for more than a half-century, the image has stuck in my mind: a gas station on Route 1 in New Jersey, a metal sign out front, swinging on hinges. Its message: Gas, 18.9 cents a gallon.

With gasoline prices recently spiking past $3 a gallon, it's obvious our blissful long ride on cheap fuel, so ingrained it morphed into the American psyche and assumed birthright, is finally sputtering to an end. Combine high-price gas with the grinding roadway congestion around our major metro regions, and you have to ask: What will our future be?

...So if we look to a transportation future, should we just think about more miles of roadway, bypasses, toll roads that assure speed of "throughput" — and a chimerical search for "affordable" gas?

Hardly, says [Keith Schneider, former New York Times reporter now with the Michigan Land Use Institute:]. He argues for a new, less-energy-intensive course. It means bringing homes, schools and recreation and shopping closer to each other. It's called "smart growth." Switching to more compact development will also, Schneider argues, "relieve families of the need to operate fleets of vehicles fueled by foreign oil."
(17 October 2005)


Is America’s Oil Age Already Waning?

Geological Society of America, press release
The United States is at a crossroads: Americans want more oil, but they are split on whether it’s worth the international political cost or the environmental damage. The situation seems hopeless, unless you’re a geologically cross-trained political scientist, that is. Then the oil-politics paradox hints at a time of rapid change and innovation.

That’s what it is beginning to look like to Karen McCurdy, a political scientist at Georgia Southern University who is applying geological concepts of change to political science. She’s coming up with a fertile way to study and learn about the connections among oil, politics, and democracy. McCurdy will be presenting some of her geological/political science research and some inklings of what it may say about the past and the future on Sunday, 16 October, at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Salt Lake City.

Political scientists have traditionally viewed government and political systems in terms of how they stabilize and keep working. But what if they are really more like the ground under our feet and the history of life: prone to long periods of relative equilibrium and punctuated by shorter periods of rapid and dramatic change? McCurdy and others are asking just this question and examining policy in 50-100 year ranges instead of the more typical 5-20 year ranges.

"There’s this fascination with stability," says McCurdy, referring to the previous generation of political scientists. That fascination made it nearly impossible for political scientists to explain gradual and rapid changes that spring out of unstable systems and slow cultural changes – all of which have been seen in the 20th century and today.

Even the language of political science has trouble describing instability. Which is why you don’t usually hear political scientists using physical science terms like "phase transition" although "punctuated equilibria" was recently suggested by others working on questions of policy agenda-setting, says McCurdy.

Today’s oil-divided America has evolved over many decades, McCurdy explains.

...Eventually, McCurdy hopes to gain insight into what is happening today and whether we are truly at a "phase transition" in American oil policy. If the change is happening, we will be moving from a predictable status quo to more volatile policy situation in which entirely new policies can become established. "Volatility is not bad," McCurdy points out, "it’s just unpredictable."
(14 October 2005)

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