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California’s limited supply options highlight U.S. oil import dependence

Tarek El-Tablawy, Associated Press via Santa Barbara News-Press
Just two Arab countries have supplied more than 50 percent of California’s imported oil over the past five years, a dependence that leaves the state more vulnerable than the rest of the country to disruptions in the world oil markets.

The finding, based on an analysis of state and federal crude oil import statistics, underscores the challenges confronting both California – the biggest gas-consuming state in the U.S. – and the country as a whole as lawmakers grapple with consumer outrage over high prices at the pump and a U.S. deficit that has widened on the back of high crude prices.

”We face a very challenging fuel market here,” said Tupper Hall, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, a Sacramento-based industry group. ”Unfortunately, the increasing reliance on imports is just one of the acute issues we’re confronting,” such as pipeline and refinery constraints.

Between 2001 and 2005, Saudi Arabia and Iraq provided an average of 53.1 percent of all the imports arriving in California, according to California Energy Commission figures. That reliance takes on a particular urgency in a market jittery over Iran’s nuclear dispute with the United States and uncertain output from war-ravaged Iraq.
(22 June 2006)

Carnegie Mellon Researchers Say Solution to America’s Energy Crisis Could be Found Down on the Farm

Chriss Swaney, Carnegie Mellon Today
Carnegie Mellon University researchers say the use of switchgrass, a perennial tall grass used as forage for livestock, could help break U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and curb costly transportation costs.

“Our report indicates the time is right for America to begin a transition to ethanol derived from switchgrass,” said Scott Matthews, an assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. A 25 percent hike in gas prices since December that’s driven average U.S. gas prices to nearly $3 a gallon adds to the researchers’ call for more ethanol derived from switchgrass. The Carnegie Mellon findings were published in the May 1 issue of the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology journal.

Matthews, along with W. Michael Griffin, executive director of the Green Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, and William R. Morrow, a researcher in the university’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said using switchgrass as a supplement to corn to make ethanol would help ensure the availability of large volumes of inexpensive ethanol to fuel distributors and consumers.

“We need to be thinking about how we can make and deliver ethanol once our corn and land resources are maxed out. Switchgrass can be that next step,” Griffin said.

The Carnegie Mellon report also found that the cellulosic ethanol derived from the dry, brown switchgrass could be made in sufficient quantities to deliver 16 percent ethanol fuel to all consumers in the U.S. Researchers said this would likely lead to significant decreases and stability in the price of gasoline.
(June 2006)

EU in doubt over alternatives to oil

In Short:

Biofuels, natural gas, hydrogen… None of the candidates to replace oil in vehicles are entirely convincing at the moment, according to the European Commission which says it lacks a long-term vision supported by carmakers and the oil industry…


Alternatives to replace oil in transport are “urgently needed” but a long-term vision on what technology is best suited to replace it is still up in the air, said Fabrizio Barbaso, Deputy Director General at the Commission’s transport and energy department.

Speaking at a conference on “future energy sources for transport” in Brussels, Barbaso indicated that the Commission had already identified three main candidates for the job – biofuels, natural gas, and hydrogen.

But he said each one of these present “tremendous technological challenges” that are just starting to be addressed, for instance by joint EU research efforts such as technology platforms (on biofuels, hydrogen, etc.). Natural gas currently enjoys little support from automakers or the oil industry, meaning the technology would need heavy subsidies to be maintained in the contest for oil substitution.

“My feeling is that we have not yet reached [an agreement on] policies largely supported by all parties,” Barbaso said. And until significant progress is made, he said the Commission considers energy efficiency as its “number one priority”.
(21 June 2006)

World Energy Consumption Could Be Cut by Half If Clean Technology Applied: IEA

Rory Mulholland, Agence France Presse via Common Dreams
Oil and electricity consumption across the world could easily be cut by half, with major benefits for the environment, if clean energy technologies that are currently available were applied, an international watchdog said.

“A sustainable energy future is possible, but only if we act urgently and decisively to promote, develop and deploy a full mix of energy technologies… We have the means, now we need the will,” said Claude Mandil, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

He was presenting an IEA report written in response to a call last year from G8 leaders who asked the agency to develop and advise on alternative scenarios and strategies for a clean, clever and competitive energy future.

The IEA report was published ahead of next month’s Saint Petersburg summit of the G8 group of the world’s leading industrial nations, which is expected to focus largely on energy questions.

The mix of technologies the IEA advocated included improved energy efficiency, carbon dioxide capture and storage, renewables and — where acceptable — nuclear energy, said Mandil.

The report said record high oil prices raised concerns about the long-term balance of supply and demand. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have increased by more than 20 percent over the last decade, it noted.

If the future is in line with present trends, CO2 emissions and oil demand will continue to grow rapidly over the next 25 years. Extending this outlook beyond 2030 shows that these worrisome trends are likely to get worse, said the IEA report.
(23 June 2006)

International Energy Agency says the world is not on course for a sustainable energy

Staff, Finfacts
The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) says today that the world is not on course for a sustainable energy future.

The IEA, the energy watchdog for 26 industrialised countries including Ireland, says that its Energy Technology Perspectives: Scenarios & Strategies to 2050 report, which is published today, is in response to the Group of Eight (G8) leaders at their Gleneagles Summit in July 2005, and to the International Energy Agency’s Energy Ministers, who called for the IEA to develop and advise on alternative scenarios and strategies aimed at a clean, clever and competitive energy future.

The IEA says that oil prices at historical highs raise concerns about the long-term balance of supply and demand. CO2 emissions have increased by more than 20% over the last decade. Indeed, if the future is in line with present trends as illustrated by the World Energy Outlook 2005 Reference Scenario, CO2 emissions and oil demand will continue to grow rapidly over the next 25 years. This is after taking account of energy efficiency gains and technological progress that can be expected under existing policies. Extending this outlook beyond 2030 shows that these worrisome trends are likely to get worse.

“Technologies can make a difference”, said Claude Mandil, Executive Director of the IEA today in Paris, presenting the key findings of the report. “A sustainable energy future is possible, but only if we act urgently and decisively to promote, develop and deploy a full mix of energy technologies – including improved energy efficiency, CO2 capture and storage (CCS), renewables and — where acceptable — nuclear energy. We have the means, now we need the will”, Mr. Mandil added.
(22 June 2006)
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The Not So Good Earth (coal in China)

David Barboza, NY Times
…The village of Shangma Huangtou is just the latest victim of a coal mining boom that is devastating large swaths of north China, where some of the nation’s richest coal deposits lie. China is the world’s largest producer of coal, and much of it is mined here.

While Shanxi provides the fuel that powers China’s sizzling economy, thousands of acres of land are sinking because of the ravages of underground coal mining.

Moreover, coal fires are burning uncontrollably below ground here and through much of northern China, adding to global warming by releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Each year, scientists say, about 200 million tons of coal — more than was burned in all of Japan last year — are consumed by raging underground fires that are sometimes started by lightning and sometimes ignited by mining accidents.

Environmental experts call Shanxi a wasteland. The people of Shangma Huangtou call it a home they no longer cherish.
(23 June 2006)

Age taking its toll on interstates

Liz Heitzman, Columbia Daily Tribune
Imagine an America with no interstates.

Consider a country where the roads linking states are parkways and two-lane highways – highways that begin wide and paved in, say, Nevada, but turn narrow and graveled in California. It’s tough to drive from one city to another, and cross-country trips take weeks, not days.

It’s a snapshot Hal Kassoff wants in your head. The engineering firm executive asked an audience of more than 100 to paint the mental picture yesterday at a daylong conference at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Titled “Our Interstates at 50: A Midlife Crisis,” the conference marked the anniversary of the road system. Attendees mostly were academics, politicians and people who work in the road business, including Kassoff, senior vice president of the transportation engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff.

…The day was not without detractors. Ron McLinden, a Kansas City resident and member of the Sierra Club, brought up a topic he hadn’t heard mentioned: gas prices and global warming. “If you were to consider major factors such as peak oil or global warming, how would your predictions be different?” he asked a panel of presenters.

Kassoff said he believes the market will adapt to the fuel shortage as well as global warming. If you found shoe leather carcinogenic, would you restrict walking or change the materials used to make shoes, he asked. “This is about freedom and mobility.”

“But freedom is not equivalent to mobility,” McLinden countered.

“I consider it part of the pursuit of happiness,” Kassoff said.

…But McLinden, of the Sierra Club, can’t help but wonder whether it’s time for Americans to start taking more steps – in tennis shoes – and riding more bikes. And he also wonders whether it’s time the government invest road dollars in railways for freight and public transportation.

“We wouldn’t have nearly this much traffic or pollution if we hadn’t built this system to begin with,” he said, noting that the efficient road system fueled urban sprawl.

It was an opinion that got little traction yesterday.

“This is the biggest civil engineering project in the history of the world. We have to protect and preserve it,” said McCaffrey, an NBC news analyst. Roads are the arteries of the American economy, he said. “It’s fundamental.”
(X June 2006)