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Brazil: soya is not the solution to climate change
Giulio Volpi, The Guardian
Brazil’s use of biofuels is only worthwhile if they really limit environmental damage
Brazil’s President Lula rightly recognises that one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century is reducing our dependence on climate-polluting fossil fuels, such as coal and oil (Join Brazil in planting oil, March 7). Currently Brazil’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are less than half the world’s average, but this is largely due to its historic focus on energy efficiency, hydropower and sugar-based ethanol.
…President Lula said biofuel “is significantly less polluting than conventional petroleum-based diesel”. But Brazil is set to produce most of its biodiesel from soya beans, which have virtually no advantage over conventional fuels in terms of overall greenhouse gas emissions, let alone the millions of hectares of tropical forest that have been cleared for large-scale soya plantations.
Automatically classifying biofuels as renewable energy regardless of how they are produced is dangerous. We cannot afford to address climate change while creating another environmental problem, deforestation – itself the source of 80% of carbon emissions in Brazil. The world must promote only those biofuels which offer the greatest environmental benefit, such as sustainably produced forest and wood products in temperate countries, and sugar-based bioethanol in tropical ones.
A mandatory eco-certification scheme for biofuels must be established, applying to all biofuels regardless of where they are produced.
Giulio Volpi is coordinator of the WWF’s climate change programme for Latin America and the Caribbean email@example.com
(16 March 2006)
Mexico discovers ‘huge’ oil field
Mexican President Vicente Fox has announced the discovery of a new deep-water oil field, which is believed to contain 10bn barrels of crude.
The field is in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mexico says it could be bigger than its largest oil field, Cantarell. Production there is said to have declined sharply in recent years. Mr Fox made the announcement as figures showed the country’s total oil reserves had fallen 2% between 2003 and 2005.
…With at least 3.4m barrels per day, Mexico is Latin America’s largest crude producer ahead of Venezuela and Brazil, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The oil industry provides one third of the Mexican state income. More than half the crude extracted is exported, mainly to the United States. The state-owned company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) is among the biggest players in the international oil market. Mexico is not a member of oil producers’ cartel Opec.
(15 March 2006)
Australian oil output peaks on slippery slope (analysis)
Maryelle Demongeot, Reuters
SINGAPORE – Australian oil output may be basking in a three-year boom but shrinking fields, tougher geology and speedy development technology will force projects to peak quicker and decline faster than expected.
A flush of new fields will make Australia the biggest contributor to Asia-Pacific’s production growth for a second year running, giving regional refiners — who import about two-thirds of their crude from outside of Asia — new options.
Those gains may be fleeting if recent developments are any guide, analysts and exporters say, making it tricky for buyers to plan future supplies as oilfields in Asia Pacific’s fifth-largest producer ramp up fast but taper off just as quickly.
For instance, output from the Mutineer-Exeter oilfield, off Western Australia, has nearly halved since it came onstream 11 months ago, surprising traders who had counted on a more sustained and prolonged source of supply.
(15 March 2006)
Terror risks of nuclear fuel
Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor
The Bush administration’s plan to deploy a high-tech fuel to power a new generation of nuclear reactors worldwide has a potentially explosive problem:
It is too easy for terrorists to grab and turn it into a nuclear bomb.
That’s the criticism expressed by nuclear scientists and in several little-known federal studies about the technology underlying the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, unveiled last month. Administration officials tout GNEP for technological breakthroughs that dramatically reduce the nuclear waste from civilian reactors and, at the same time, greatly reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation.
Using GNEP’s new fuel technology, called UREX-Plus, the United States could safely end its three-decade moratorium on reprocessing spent nuclear fuel intended to keep plutonium from spreading, officials say. “The goal of GNEP is recovery of the energy in a way that doesn’t promote weapons,” Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told a US Senate committee last month.
Knowledgeable critics have said from the outset that the new reactor fuel envisioned in GNEP is not so very hard to turn into bombs. But what has not been widely known is that their views are echoed by the US Department of Energy’s own studies.
(17 March 2006)
Record energy prices have diverted attention from the oil industry’s dirty little secret: Production is falling and reserves are on the decline. Rather than address the problem, most oil companies are sinking their money into share buybacks and dividends to boost their stock prices.
Without new investment, companies run the risk of not having enough oil to sustain record profits and may hasten a far worse energy crisis. The country’s national security, based largely around cheap and plentiful oil, could be put at further risk if oil becomes scarce and prices rise.
“From a national security standpoint, they’d be better served to continue drilling,” says James Williams, an energy analyst at WTRG Economics in London, Ark.
(16 March 2006)
‘Huge investment’ is needed to resist energy shocks and guarantee future supply, Russia has said. Speaking at the opening of the G8 talks in Moscow, Russia’s Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said $17 trillion needed to be invested before 2030.
This kind of sum has been seen before in warnings by certain oil agencies as regards keeping up future oil production. Let’s do the sums on this $17 trillion.
Up to 2030 that averages $0.7 trillion per year. Global production of oil was about 30 gigabarrels over the last year. Using the current price of about $60, that amount of oil would cost $1.8 trillion to buy. Clearly, Khristenko is envisaging much higher prices of oil to propel such an adventure in energy R&D and E&P as $1.7 trillion investment cannot be achieved by oil companies on sales of $1.8 trillion per year without killing the oil business stone dead.
How much would it take? I suggest 4 or 5 times the current level of oil prices. I remember reading Kenneth Deffeyes who stated that oil majors spent on average about $1 billion per year on R&D. One billion is 1/10 of one percent of one trillion. Can you begin to imagine the enormity of the task the Russian Energy Minister was hinting at in his speech?
Was Khristenko by stating such a preposterous number sending out the subtle signal that Peak Oil is upon us and its time to do something radical? The subliminal mesage is “We don’t have $1.2 trillion per year to spend, so Peak Oil is a more imminent certainty.”
(16 March 2006)
UPDATE from Roland Watson: “One sharp eyed reader pointed out an arithmetical error – it’s $0.7 trillion per year and not $1.2 trillion. Article updated but the problem still remains the same.”
US, Russia in nuclear power call
Russia and the US have spearheaded a call for increased nuclear power to provide a more secure energy supply for the world.
The US called for “substantial rebirth” of nuclear power after a meeting of energy ministers of the powerful Group of Eight (G8) nations in Moscow.
A joint G8 statement said it was vital “for those countries that wish it”.
Green groups said nuclear fuel would fail to provide a sustainable energy future or prevent climate change.
US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said after the meeting: “We are hopeful of a very substantial rebirth of the global nuclear industry.”
A joint statement released by G8 ministers said: “For those countries that wish, wide-scale development of safe and secure nuclear energy is crucial for long-term, environmentally sustainable diversification of energy supply.”
Analysts said the difference in tenor of the statements reflected the strong support for nuclear fuel in the US and Russia compared to some other nations such as Germany and Japan.
(16 March 2006)