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Venezuela’s Oil Sales to U.S. Drop as Chavez Sends More to Asia

Peter Wilson, Bloomberg
Venezuelan oil shipments to the U.S. fell 6 percent in the first four months of the year as President Hugo Chavez followed through on his plan to find new markets for his crude, according to data from the U.S. Energy Department.

State-run Petroleos de Venezuela SA has been sending more tankers of oil and fuel to India and China, markets that are up to seven times more distant than the U.S. customers that traditionally take most of the country’s exports. Venezuela was the third-biggest OPEC producer last month, with output of about 2.6 million barrels.

“Two things are clear,” said Roger Tissot, an oil analyst with PFC Energy, a consulting firm in Washington. “Venezuela wants to reduce its dependence on the U.S., and it wants to position itself in the world’s fastest growing markets, such as India and China.”

…”Chinese refineries can’t process Venezuelan crude, which is heavy in metals and sulfur,” said Sosa. “Chinese refineries are still geared toward lighter crudes,” such as those produced by Nigeria, the sixth-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Building the refinery units needed to handle cheaper, stickier, high-sulfur crude oil from Venezuela will take years, Sosa said. In the U.S. some refineries have been upgraded specifically to handle Venezuela’s output.
(12 July 2006)
Related by the same reporter:
Citgo to drop retail gas sales in 10 states, part of Arkansas
(July 13):

Citgo Petroleum Corp., the U. S. refining arm of Venezuela’s state oil company, will stop selling gasoline in 10 states and parts of four others after deciding to stop buying fuel from other petroleum processors.

The move will affect about 14 percent of the filling stations supplied by the refiner, Houston-based Citgo said Wednesday in a statement. None of the stations is owned or operated by the company, which serves more than 13,000 Citgo-branded outlets nationwide.

“I’m absolutely at a loss as to why they are doing this,” said Tom Knight, director of trading at Truman Arnold Cos., a Texarkana, Texas, fuel wholesaler and storage company. “They are pulling out of markets that offer higher rates of return to stay in markets that are more contested.”

Russia and Iran lead the new energy game

Pepe Escobar, Asia Times
Whatever the West may have thought about it, Russian President Vladimir Putin has already spectacularly preempted this weekend’s Group of Eight (G8) summit in St Petersburg with his own bit of Pipelineistan news. Putin announced in Shanghai on June 15 that “Gazprom is ready to support the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan and India with financial resources and technology”.

He was referring to a fabled US$7 billion, 2,775-kilometer, 10-year old project – an Iranian idea – which should now be finished by 2009, developed by Gazexport, a Gazprom subsidiary. As a result, by 2015 both India and Pakistan should be receiving at least 70 million cubic meters of natural gas a year.

Thus the two top global gas producers – Russia and Iran – reached a strategic partnership abiding not only by their own interests but the interests of India, Pakistan, China and part of Central Asia, something that spells nothing less than an auspicious economic future for a great deal of Asia – independent from any American interference. Washington was not amused.
(14 July 2006)

Africa scrambles for new energy as blackouts bite

Gordon Bell, Reuters
African governments are scrambling for new sources of energy to stave off more costly blackouts as strained power supplies plunge swathes of the continent into darkness, stifling much-needed development.

Higher than expected economic growth and a lack of past investment have left many countries, mostly oil importers, in a race against time to avert widespread and damaging outages.

“I think for Africa it is a crisis … there is already evidence it can have a huge impact on countries, cutting GDP (gross domestic product) growth,” Yogosh Vyas, lead environmentalist for infrastructure at the African Development Bank (AfDB), told Reuters.

Such problems have been brought sharply to the fore in South Africa, the continent’s economic powerhouse, where top tourist city Cape Town endured months of intermittent power outages, causing traffic gridlock and closing factories.

Power cuts have also hit the industrial centre Johannesburg as elderly generators labour to meet rocketing demand driven by the strongest growth in more than two decades.
(11 July 2006)

The G-8’s Risky Nuclear Embrace

Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation
At their summit in St. Petersburg this weekend, leaders of the G-8–the world’s richest economies–are poised to endorse a major expansion of nuclear power as part of the “energy security” agenda proposed by Russian president Vladimir Putin. Leaked drafts of the summit’s final communique mirror a statement released by energy ministers of the eight nations, which read, “For those countries that wish, wide-scale development of safe and secure nuclear energy is crucial.”

… the country to watch is Britain. The pro-nuclear argument got a strong push earlier this week when Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government endorsed nukes as a crucial weapon in the fight against climate change. The endorsement came as part of the government’s new energy policy. While that policy includes increased reliance on wind and other forms of renewable energy, nuclear power is expected to make, in the words of Alistair Darling, the trade and industry secretary, a “significant contribution” to cutting carbon emissions.

The Blair government’s announcement triggered a political firestorm in Britain. The embrace of nuclear power, which had been rejected by a government White Paper on energy in 2003, was widely attacked both by environmentalists to Blair’s left and the two opposition parties to his right.

But there is a big catch in Blair’s nuclear plan–one that could settle the question once and for all of whether nuclear power makes sense as a response to global warming.

The catch is that Britain will not publicly subsidize nuclear power. According to Secretary Darling, private investors alone must pay to finance, construct, operate and eventually dismantle any new nuclear plants. They also must help pay to dispose of the plants’ radioactive waste–an activity whose cost is unknown, since scientists remain uncertain about how to store the waste safely.

This no-subsidy pledge amounts to a revolution in nuclear economics.
(14 July 2006)