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For Bush, cheaper gas is premium

Susan Page, USA Today
WASHINGTON – When it comes to President Bush’s approval rating – the number that measures his political health – one factor seems more powerful than any Oval Office address or legislative initiative.

It’s the price of a gallon of gas.

Statisticians who have compared changes in gas prices and Bush’s ratings through his presidency have found a steady relationship: As gas prices rise, his ratings fall. As gas prices fall, his ratings rise.

For some Americans, analysts speculate, gas prices provide a shorthand reading of the general state of the economy. Even though prices at the pump are largely outside the president’s control, he gets credit when they fall – and blame when they rise.

“Gas prices are a price everybody knows because it hangs on the street in big letters,” says Stuart Thiel, an economist at DePaul University in Chicago who has been tracking the trend for several years.

A statistical analysis by Doug Henwood, editor of the liberal newsletter Left Business Observer, found that an “uncanny” 78% of the movement in Bush’s ratings could be correlated with changes in gas prices. Based on trends in crude oil prices, Henwood predicted last Thursday that it “wouldn’t be surprising to see his approval numbers rise into the mid-40s.”
(21 Sep 2006)

Chavez’s Anti-US Fervor
Emerging force among nonaligned nations

Robert Collier, SF Chronicle
He pops up almost everywhere — Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America and this week at the United Nations, denouncing U.S. policy with revolutionary fervor.

Venezuela outspends U.S. in Latin America and the Caribbean. (Chronicle Graphic)
Like a recurring bad dream for the Bush administration, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is molding himself into one of the world’s most pre-eminent anti-American leaders.

…At last week’s summit in Cuba of the 116-nation Non-Aligned Movement, Chavez emerged as the heir apparent of the movement’s longtime patron, the ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro. However, Chavez has something Castro never had — huge oil revenues that will last for decades to come.

“Unlike Castro, who depended on the Soviet Union, Chavez is completely independent economically, which gives him a large margin to maneuver,” said Luis Lander, a professor of social sciences at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas.

Although Chavez came to power in 1999, his global influence has expanded dramatically in the past two years as his oil revenues boomed. He is pouring aid into leftist allies Cuba and Bolivia, providing discounted oil to Caribbean and Central American nations, buying high-tech weaponry from Russia and even spreading Venezuelan wealth around western Africa. If Venezuela succeeds in its attempt to gain a two-year rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council, Chavez will have a big new megaphone on the global stage.

“Chavez is wildly popular in places where you wouldn’t imagine people had even heard of him,” said Carlos Mendoza, who was Venezuela’s ambassador to Russia until last year and previously was ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “In the (Persian) Gulf states, for example, everyone knows who he is, they admire him and love him.”
(21 Sep 2006)
Also at Common Dreams. Also see Chavez Address to the United Nations.

The growing assertiveness of Hugo Chavez and Russia (see next article) are further indications of a shift in power to energy-exporting countries. -BA

Being angry at Russia is pointless

Jerome a Paris, European Tribune
…The West is furious at Russia for trying to improve the terms of the complex agreements that regulate the development of these [oil and gas] assets, and ominous threats to reduce investment in the country are aired, at the same time as a recurring theme in the press is that Gazprom is unwilling or unable to invest enough to produce all the gas that we should be getting in the future and “needs” Western help.

This is all totally, utterly stupid and pointless.

Let’s state it quite clearly: on current trends, we are becoming increasingly dependent on Russia for our oil and gas supplies (we meaning first and foremost Europe), and they will be in a position to dictate terms.

And, it would seem, they have started to do so. That only reflects a shifting balance of power in the energy markets between suppliers and consumers. We are free, as consumers, to accept thse terms or do without their oil and gas.

What we cannot do is expect to keep on wanting to get all the gas we want on our terms, at perpetually low prices.

What we can do is to work on what is under our own control, i.e. our energy demand. Maybe we should stop building gas-fired power plants if we find Russia’s behavior so outrageous. Maybe we should stop spending so much power to heat and cool unproperly isolated buildings. Maybe we should stop driving such heavy cars.
(20 Sep 2006)

Detail on Russia’s Cancellation of Shell’s Sakhalin License

The Natural Ministry’s decision came after Russia’s First Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Buksman protested the original approval. Russia’s environmental watchdog, Rosprirodnadzor, has also been protesting the project. The government body said in the beginning of September that it would file a lawsuit in court to overturn the conclusions of a state environmental probe into the project, which was conducted in 2003.

Under orders issued by Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev, the service began inspecting Sakhalin Energy’s alleged violations of ecological legislation and project specifications on July 25.

The service said its experts found the company had failed to build anti-erosion facilities and had registered excessive disposal of industrial wastewater from the Molikpaq offshore production platform.

“In addition, Sakhalin Energy has consistently violated the schedule for submitting statistical reports on water consumption,” the agency said, quoted by RIA Novosti. “In 2005, the Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources registered excessive disposal of industrial wastewater from the Molikpaq platform, which is a violation of the Russian Water Code.”

It also said Sakhalin Energy had failed to submit timely reports on all prospecting and geological work. ..

The difficulties put in jeopardy contracts with Japan, South Korea and the United States on supplies of liquefied natural gas, which are due to go into effect in 2008. ..

Earlier in the year, environmental concerns prompted the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development to withhold a loan for a pipeline.
(19 Sept 2006)

Drive to create jobs in Indonesia

Reuters/Al Jazeera
The Indonesian government has set up a $1 billion loan scheme for small plantation holders which it hopes will lift people out of poverty and unemployment. ..

It is hoped that the scheme will help to lift people out of poverty by creating jobs in the agriculture sector, where the biggest exports are palm oil, cocoa, and rubber.

The remarks from Krisnamurthi came as the government announced that the number of people living below the poverty line in March had risen 11 per cent from February last year. The number rose compared with February 2005 as prices of fuel and rice rose. ..

Krisnamurthi said he was optimistic that the scheme would work as palm oil prices were expected to stay firm amid strong global demand for biofuel, while rubber prices were being boosted by high demand from the fast-growing economies of China and India. ..
(8 Sept 2006)
Perhaps related to Forest Fires Sweep Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra -LJ

Brazils poor feel benefits of Lula’s policies
Steve Kingstone, BBC
..”I think Lula is doing more for us than other presidents,” she says, stirring a huge pot of beans as her children begin arriving home from school. “They’ve given me this card, I take it to the bank and get money.”

Maria shows off the plastic entitlement card which is her family’s lifeline and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s best weapon in the battle for re-election.

Bearing the words “Bolsa Familia” (family grant) it guarantees Maria $45 (£23) a month from the federal government. In return, she must ensure that her children stay in school and follow a prescribed course of vaccinations. ..

“The coverage of this Bolsa Familia is amazing,” explains Tiago Cavalcanti, an economist at the Federal University of Pernambuco. “It’s reaching 11 million families or 44 million people – that’s 20% of the population of Brazil. So it’s huge, and it’s going to be very difficult to beat Lula in this election.”..
(18 Sept 2006)

Is high-flying economy heading for turbulence?

Wayne Arnold, International Herald Tribune
SINGAPORE Is the global economy about to blow up with a bang, or stall with a whimper?

As International Monetary Fund and World Bank officials meet here, economists say that irrespective of political risks – from the standoff between Western nations and Iran over nuclear issues; to Mideast tension; to increased oil nationalism in petrol-rich nations – global growth has probably peaked.

“We’re at an inflection point,” said C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Institute for International Economics in Washington.

After three years of the fastest growth since the 1970s, the U.S. Federal Reserve is leading global interest rates upward and growth is winding down. “That’s apparent already in the U.S.,” Bergsten said. “I think it will be more apparent in the rest of the world as we go into 2007.”

But whether the global economy merely slows or slips into reverse will, economists say, depend on people far more unpredictable than the Fed’s chairman, Ben Bernanke.

The International Herald Tribune asked the views of 30 experts around the Pacific Rim – economists, financial professionals, academics, former government officials and public health experts. What emerged was a picture of five key risks haunting the global economy in the year ahead.

Volatile Oil Prices – Rising oil prices have widened the gap between nations with oil and those without it, sparking a race for supplies and a new confidence among exporters like Russia and Venezuela. With little spare production capacity, small disruptions in supply can cause sharp spikes in oil prices.
(19 Sept 2006)