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The Right Touch
Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi is the Greenspan of energy, the world’s most listened-to muse

Stephen Glain, Newsweek
Quick, name a leader whose every word can roil or calm the markets from Tokyo to Wall Street. Now that U.S. central bank boss Alan Greenspan is retired, and his successor is still settling in, that description may best apply to Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi, who has in fact been described as the Greenspan of oil. “Naimi chooses his words carefully because he realizes the impact they have,” says Frank Verrastro, an energy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “He knows the industry intimately. He knows whom to talk with to get things done.”

Naimi is, in effect, the world’s central banker of oil, chief lord of its oil cartel and guardian of its largest oil reserves. Though deliberately low profile, Naimi is widely regarded as the most influential Saudi oil minister, ever. Where the Fed uses the U.S. money supply to stabilize world markets, the Saudis use vast oil reserves. When Hurricane Katrina cut U.S. refining capacity, Naimi soothed markets by quickly declaring that Saudi Arabia would make up the shortfall.

… Naimi knows volatile prices could inspire a new conservation movement in the West, with dire consequences for his country.

…In an interview, Naimi shows clear irritation with the subsequent speech by President George W. Bush, calling on America to beat its “addiction” to Middle Eastern oil. “We have always maintained spare capacity,” he says. “Whenever there is instability that threatens oil supplies, there is always a bailout from the so-called ‘unstable’ Middle East, where people are doing their best to meet the world’s needs.”
(3 April 2006 issue)

Rural rights activists wreck Brazilian plantation

Tom Phillips, Guardian
A group of about 2,000 rural activists invaded a eucalyptus plantation in southern Brazil this week causing millions of pounds damage to one of the country’s biggest paper producers.

The protesters, linked to Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST), ransacked the grounds of Aracruz Celulose in the early hours of Wednesday, tearing up bulbs and destroying 15 years of genetic research, according to the company.

Yesterday, as Brazilian authorities condemned the attacks as “vandalism” and “banditry”, those responsible said they were opening up a new front in the fight for justice in rural areas and against multinational agricultural businesses.

“During Lula’s [Brazil’s president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva] government a vast amount of public resources have continued to be passed to transnational companies like Aracruz, which received almost 30% of that which all Brazil’s peasants received in the whole of last year,” Nina Tonin, a MST representative who participated in the action, told the Guardian. “We are against this model of agriculture that Brazil has adopted [since the early 1990s].” The protest, in the town of Barra do Ribeiro, was timed to coincide with an international conference on land reform.

“Lula created great expectations in terms of land reform but in reality the number of settled families has been extremely low and nothing like what was promised by the government,” said Ms Tonin. Rural activists say multinational farming groups threaten rural workers as much as Brazil’s traditional landowners.

Aracruz is one of the world’s biggest producers of eucalyptus pulp, which is used in the production of paper. It owns about 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres) of land across Brazil.
(10 March 2006)
Story on a more recent takeover from the BBC. Lorenzo at peakoil-dot-come says that the eucalyptus in this takeover “was going to be used as an energy crop for pellets to be exported to the EU and the US.”

Easy on the euphoria
Slavery underpinned the Georgian economy as oil does ours

Tristram Hunt, Guardian
As befits the MP for Hull, John Prescott has assumed William Wilberforce’s mantle and placed himself in charge of next year’s 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in British ships. … if the anniversary is to have any lasting value, the heritage sector must say something more challenging about Britain’s multiracial past.

…To historians such as Richard Beck, the story of the slave trade is a morality play with the British cast as evil knaves. Profits from the bloody trade secured the imperial hegemony of Georgian England. It was only brought to an end in 1807 because of the move from a colonial sugar trade to industrial capitalism. There was nothing noble about abolition and the proper response today is a comprehensive package of reparations.

By contrast, Whiggish champions of Britain’s imperial past point to 1807 as symbolic of our “good empire”. It was a heroic moment when idealism trumped materialism as the Royal Navy scoured the seas for illegal slave ships. This is the story of Rule Britannia, William Wilberforce and the Society of Friends.

Certainly, the slave economy underpinned the riches of 18th century society. It also had a dominating influence across the British politico-financial establishment. Institutional investors in slavery included the Hanoverian royal family, numerous Oxbridge colleges and even the Church of England.

This needs to be the starting point for any commemoration. As Professor James Walvin has commented: “My worry about 2007 is that there will be such a euphoria of nationalistic pride that people will forget what happened before, which was that the British had shipped extraordinary numbers of Africans across the Atlantic.”

And in what conditions. The barbarity of the Middle Passage often led to 30% mortality rates among the 10 million slaves shipped across the Atlantic. They were shackled together and laid back to back for weeks on end; suicide and self-mutilation were daily occurrences. The lingering stench of vomit, sweat and faeces worked its way into the very planks of the ships. One escaped slave described how “the shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable”. The response of good, Christian British captains was to throw sick slaves overboard – and then claim insurance on the lost cargo.

…Slavery infected the Georgian economy as readily as oil underpins business today. The cotton mills of Lancashire and metal industries of the Black Country were seamlessly interwoven with the Atlantic trade, as were the riches of those aristocrats who dwelt innocuously in Mansfield Parks erected on the back of slave ships and sugar plantations.
(25 March 2006)
Historians point to wood, coal and whale oil as sources of energy before oil. As Hunt points out, though, it was slavery as a source of energy that underlay the economies of England and the Americas — just as Ancient Rome and Greece were built on slavery.

In Dubai, an outcry from Asians for workplace rights

Hassan M. Fattah, NY Times
…When hundreds of workers angered by low salaries and mistreatment rioted Tuesday night at the site of what is to become the world’s tallest skyscraper, not only were they expressing the growing frustration of Asian migrants here, they offered a glimpse of an increasingly organized labor force.

Far from the high-rise towers and luxury hotels emblematic of Dubai, the workers turning this swath of desert into a modern metropolis live in a Dickensian world of cramped labor camps, low pay and increasing desperation.

For years, workers like Mr. Kumaran have done whatever they could to get here, often paying thousands of dollars to unscrupulous recruiters for the chance to work at one of the hundreds of construction sites in the emirates.

Of the 1.5 million residents of Dubai, as many as a million are immigrants who have come here to work in some capacity, with the largest subgroup being construction workers, said Hadi Ghaemi, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who covers the United Arab Emirates, citing government statistics. A vast majority of the immigrants come from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines.

With the cost of living rising, many have abandoned dreams of returning with a fortune. The construction workers’ camps, in particular, have been set up ever deeper in the desert. That adds an hour or two just to get to the job site every morning, in addition to the workers’ 12-hour shifts.

A growing number have resorted to suicide rather than return home with empty pockets: last year, 84 South Asians committed suicide in Dubai, according to the Indian Consulate here, up from 70 in 2004.
(25 March 2006)
Related stories.

North Sea tax revenue cut by £1.5bn

Chris Giles and Carola Hoyos, Financial Times
The Treasury has written off three-quarters of the £2bn extra revenue it had hoped to raise from oil companies in 2006-07 after its recent increase in North Sea oil taxation.

In the small print of the Budget documentation, the Treasury accepted that North Sea production was likely to fall next financial year, so it cut its estimate of tax revenues from the North Sea by £1.5bn.

This represents the bulk of the £2bn extra Gordon Brown wanted to raise from oil companies when he doubled the supplementary corporation tax rate on North Sea profits in the pre-Budget report from 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

…The UK Offshore Operators Association believes that after-tax rates of return in the North Sea have been falling, even though the price of oil has gone up, because taxation has in-creased and the costs of extracting oil from existing fields has risen sharply.

“Production has fallen because people are finding it hard work to get oil and gas out of the North Sea at the minute. There’s undoubtedly been some extra down time as people try to extend the life of their aging facilities,” said Mike Tholen, economics director of UKOOA.

He added another reason for the lower tax revenues: “We are investing more and things are costing more, which reduces tax revenues because companies can depreciate all their capital in the year in which they invest it.”
(25 March 2006)

Uganda loses 26% forest cover

New Vision (Kampala)
UGANDA has lost 26% of its forest cover in the last two decades, said a report released last month by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Speaking ahead of the commemoration of the World Forestry Day, Paul Drichi, the biomass inventory coordinator under the National Forestry Authority, said the country’s forest cover was receding at a rate of 2% annually.

In the Global Forest Resources Assessment Report, FAO said the forest cover had reduced from 4,924 million hectares in 1990 to 3,627 million in 2005.

Drichi said Uganda’s forest cover is estimated at 24% of the land cover and is likely to decline with increasing population that relies on agriculture for survival.

Drichi said the increasing population required increased food production and energy, putting undue pressure on the surrounding land cover.

He said the consequences included increasing deforestation, forest degradation and fuel wood scarcities.

In a recent report authored by the National Biomass study used while compiling the FAO report, it was indicated that the 0.6 hectares of farmland available for farmland in 1991 would decline to 0.2 hectares per person by 2025.
(24 March 2006)