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ODAC News - May 7

1a/  Natural Gas Market Review 2007 -- Security in a globalising market to 2015 [IEA new book]      (International Energy Agency, Thu 03 Apr)
1b/  IEA gives warning of global gas shortage       (The Independent, Fri 04 May)
2/   Power station harnesses Sun's rays  (BBC News, We 02 May)
3/   Exxon Mobil Says Peak Oil Unlikely in the Next 25 Years       (Daily Reckoning, Thu 03 May)
4/   European Summer Electricity Prices May Reach Records (Update1)    (Bloomberg, Thu 03 May)
5/   U.K. Natural Gas Rises on Lower Imports, Britannia Maintenance        (Bloomberg, Thu 03 May)
6a/  The Peak Oil Crisis: Week Twelve     (Falls Church News-Press, Thu 03 May)
6b/  Gasoline crack hits 20 month high    (Platts, Wed 02 May)
7/   Event:         USA, 2007 Houston World Oil Conference, Houston, Texas, 17-20 October 2007
8a/  PetroChina shares spurt on oil find    (Financial Times, Fri 04 May)
8b/  China claims major oil field find         (BBC News, Fri 04 May)
9/   OTC: Operators told to prepare for storm season         (Oil and Gas Journal, Wed 02 May)
10/  It isn't over yet for Lord Browne [Lord Browne and Peak Oil]     (The Independent on Sunday [UK], Sun 06 May)
11/  Biofuels: The great green con           (The Independent on Sunday [UK], Sun 06 May)

Back issues of ODAC News: click here

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1a/        Natural Gas Market Review 2007 -- Security in a globalising market to 2015 [IEA new book]            (International Energy Agency, Thu 03 Apr)
Executive Summary       http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/GasMarket2007SUM.pdf        
View the Press Release             http://www.iea.org/Textbase/press/pressdetail.asp?PRESS_REL_ID=223  
http://www.iea.org/Textbase/nptoc/GasMarket2007TOC.pdf           Table of Contents
http://www.iea.org/w/bookshop/add.aspx?id=310  Buy the book

Comment:    One handy thing about IEA publications is that sometimes there is so much publicity info on their website, you can get the gist of the contents without having to buy the publication. The following headings from the Executive Summary give the gist:  Investment outlook worsens; Gas demand drops in 2006, but gas remains expensive; Gas-fired power demand stays strong; Gas security is deteriorating; The world “dodged a bullet” in 2006 but gas remains vulnerable and expensive. In a nutshell – natural gas shortages are on the horizon.

This is from the Press Release:
...As a result, the growing links between gas and electricity markets need to be recognised by everyone, as gas-fired power now sets the price and provides security to power supplies. “Cheap and secure electricity is better ensured with cheap and secure gas,” said Mr. Mandil.

Another result is that gas demand will increase steadily in the coming years. “The northern hemisphere winter has been very mild, temporarily reducing gas demand and disguising the underlying tightness of the market. But gas remains vulnerable and expensive,” said Mr. Mandil.

“ensured with cheap and secure gas… But gas remains vulnerable and expensive” - Maybe Mandil means no more cheap and secure electricity?

Article:    These quotes are taken from the Executive Summary, link above.
Investment outlook worsens

Investment in the gas sector is a serious cause for concern, having worsened in comparison to the GMR 2006. Current upstream investment to 2015 is considerably below the amount required, with particular weakness in several regions. Gas investments everywhere are suffering higher costs and construction delays, in keeping with energy investments generally, although proposed LNG projects seem especially affected. A selection of these LNG projects shows production delays averaging almost a year, with average cost overruns of more than USD 2 billion per project. Furthermore, only one major new LNG liquefaction project has been sanctioned in more than a year and a half, a marked slowdown compared to previous years. Reports pointing towards the formation of a gas producers’ association, analogous to OPEC, will do little to improve this situation.

... As well as affecting existing projects, increasing costs have been blamed for the postponement and cancellation of significant new developments worldwide. At the same time, the companies with the skills to deliver these increasingly complex projects are seeing reduced access to reserves...

The world “dodged a bullet” in 2006 but gas remains vulnerable and expensive

A very mild winter in 2006 and in some regions 2007 took significant pressure off gas demand in what was becoming a strong suppliers’ market. This should not lure decision makers into a false sense of security. Supplies remain tight, and new projects under development are subject to rising costs and increasing delays. A return to more normal winter conditions in consuming countries will put strong pressure on gas supplies. Colder-than-normal weather in the winter (or indeed hotter weather in the summer) could quickly see supply difficulties re-emerge in some areas. There are very real concerns that upstream investments and long distance pipelines will not develop quickly enough to meet growing demand, especially if power generation investment continues to favour gas.

1b/        IEA gives warning of global gas shortage      (The Independent, Fri 04 May)
http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/article2510922.ece

Comment:    The Independent is one of the few media outlets (the only one so far?) that has picked up on what should be on the front page of every newspaper. We are heading for permanent natural gas shortages.

“It also advocated a more efficient use of gas and a diversification of supply sources and routes.”  –  the ‘diversification of supply sources’, in the case of the EU, usually means diversify away from Russia. The EU would if have they had somewhere else to diversify to, but they don’t.

Article:    The world's leading energy watchdog has warned of a looming global gas shortage unless more money is poured into investment.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency said the fuel would take a more dominant role over the next decade and supply must be expanded to match it. It said that while consuming countries could consider building up emergency stocks, this would not be "a silver bullet".

The comments, made in the IEA's second annual Natural Gas Market Review published yesterday, follow similar warnings last year. "While the 2006 review expressed concern about insufficient investment, we are even more worried this year and see it as the major threat to secure affordable global gas supplies over the medium to longer term," said the IEA executive director Claude Mandil. "Cost increases and delays are hitting investment hard in many places, and this phenomenon is not limited to a specific producing region."

The IEA called on the governments of its 26 member countries, which include the UK, to streamline regulation, improve market functioning through greater transparency and increase domestic production. It also advocated a more efficient use of gas and a diversification of supply sources and routes.

"The northern hemisphere winter has been very mild, temporarily reducing gas demand and disguising the underlying tightness of the market. But gas remains vulnerable and expensive," Mr Mandil added.

British gas and power prices have been rising this week, driven by reduced gas flows. Imports through the Norwegian and Dutch pipelines have dropped sharply in response to maintenance work and lighter summer contracts. But forecasts for gas demand are higher than usual for the time of year.

Rob Laughlin, an energy broker at Man Financial, said British Gas and Powergen were unlikely to pump millions more pounds into investment until they had a clear idea of the Government's future energy policy, including its plans for renewables.

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2/         Power station harnesses Sun's rays    (BBC News, We 02 May)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6616651.stm

Comment:    A good description of how solar power stations work, in this case, southern Spain. Contains good images too.

Article:    >From a distance, as we rounded a bend and first caught sight of it, I couldn't believe the strange structure ahead of me was actually real.

A concrete tower - 40 storeys high - stood bathed in intense white light, a totally bizarre image in the depths of the Andalusian countryside.

The tower looked like it was being hosed with giant sprays of water or was somehow being squirted with jets of pale gas. I had trouble working it out.

In fact, as we found out when we got closer, the rays of sunlight reflected by a field of 600 huge mirrors are so intense they illuminate the water vapour and dust hanging in the air.

... It is Europe's first commercially operating power station using the Sun's energy this way and at the moment its operator, Solucar, proudly claims that it generates 11 MW of electricity without emitting a single puff of greenhouse gas.

It works by focusing the reflected rays on one location, turning water into steam and then blasting it into turbines to generate power.

As I climbed out of the car, I could hardly open my eyes - the scene was far too bright. Gradually though, shielded by sunglasses, I made out the rows of mirrors (each 120 sq m in size) and the focus of their reflected beams - a collection of water pipes at the top of the tower.

... So far, only one field of mirrors is working. But to one side I could see the bulldozers at work clearing a second, larger field - thousands more mirrors will be installed. Ultimately, the entire plant should generate as much power as is used by the 600,000 people of Seville.

... What happens when the Sun goes down? Enough heat can be stored in the form of steam to allow generation after dark - only for an hour now but maybe longer in future.

Anyway, the solar power is most needed in the heat of summer when air conditioners are working flat out.

Is it true that this power is three times more expensive than power from conventional sources? Yes, but prices will fall, as they have with wind power, as the technologies develop.

Also, a more realistic comparison is with the cost of generating power from coal or gas only at times of peak demand - then this solar system seems more attractive.

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3/         Exxon Mobil Says Peak Oil Unlikely in the Next 25 Years   (Daily Reckoning, Thu 03 May)
http://www.dailyreckoning.com.au/exxon-mobil-peak-oil/2007/05/03/

Comment:    Byron King, who writes on Peak Oil regularly for Whiskey and Gunpowder, reviews in some detail Exxon Mobil’s position on Peak Oil. See where ExxonMobil stands regarding the timing of Peak Oil compared to others: Peaking of world oil production: Recent forecasts (R. Hirsch, World Oil, April 2007. See Table 3).

Richard Vierbuchen is the Chief of Exploration at Exxon Mobil. He gave the talk, which Byron is referring to, at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, on Monday April 30.

Article:    Exxon Mobil’s (NYSE: XOM) position is to disagree that the current state of affairs represents any sort of present or imminent “peaking” in world oil output. In fact, Exxon’s stated position is this:

“A peak in petroleum liquids production, resulting solely from resource limitations, is unlikely in the next 25 years. Predictions of an imminent peak based on [the methodology developed by Shell Oil Co. geologist M. King Hubbert] in 1956 do not adequately account for resource growth from application of new technology, knowledge and capability, which combine to increase recovery, open new producing areas and lower economic thresholds.

“Supplies from OPEC and non-OPEC countries, gas-related liquids and unconventional resources are growing. Furthermore, nations with the largest remaining resources produce under long-term restraints not envisioned in Hubbert’s method. The ultimate peak in petroleum production may result from factors other than resource limitations.”

Exxon Mobil forecasts an increase in demand for petroleum liquids from about 85 million b/d in 2006 to 115 million b/d in 2030, or average growth in demand of about 1.2 million b/d per year. Worldwide, over the next 25 years, the ability of the petroleum industry to meet this demand will depend, in great measure, on what Exxon calls “adequate access to petroleum resources.” This latter term includes ensuring that the oil industry has access to drill in areas not previously explored or exploited, such as geographically or politically isolated areas, as well as areas of deep water or extreme climate, that require the development of new technology.

... Exxon Mobil also notes that “it is possible that the peak, when it occurs, may result from a cause other than resource limitation (e.g., government policies, lack of access to existing resources, competition from alternative energy sources, improvements in energy efficiency).”

So Exxon Mobil is not claiming that there is no Peak Oil problem. It is just a question of timing and time frames, and according to the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, the time for Peak Oil is not now or in the immediate future. To the extent that there is an oil supply problem anywhere on the near horizon, the Exxon Mobil view is that it derives from limited access to prospective regions and under-investment in exploration, development and other related extractive infrastructure. To the extent that prices are rising, it is because global demand for liquid hydrocarbon has been strong and growing, particularly in the developing world, and certainly in China and India.

Whether Mr. Vierbuchen and Exxon Mobil are correct or wildly incorrect about the timing of a peak in world oil production is something that many of us will probably live to see.

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4/         European Summer Electricity Prices May Reach Records (Update1)     (Bloomberg, Thu 03 May)
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=aJAhz6SyZO0M&refer=exclusive

Comment:    A repeat of last summer?

Article:    Electricity prices may reach record highs in Europe as forecasters predict a second straight summer of soaring temperatures.

``The chances are we will see significant increases in prices,'' Kim Keats, head of power and fuels at ICF International Inc. in London, said in an interview. ``Forward prices will take this into account.''

... Hot weather affects supplies as well as demand. Rising temperatures reduce water levels on Europe's rivers, restricting shipping and supplies of coal to power stations, Keats of ICF said.

... Warmer waters also restrict how much cooling water power plants can discharge for environmental reasons. Such limits force power plants to generate less electricity.

Power Cuts

A ``severely hot'' summer in Europe could lead to output cuts at French nuclear power plants, Mark Daubney, a strategic specialist in the European Energy Services department of John Hall Associates Ltd., said two days ago in a phone interview.

``It could lead to very high prompt prices in July and August,'' he said. ``There could be a knock-on effect to the Benelux countries, Germany, and other countries nearby.'' Prompt prices are due for delivery in the next few days.

... Prices of next-quarter power contracts may fall if meteorologists change their forecasts or temperatures fall in France and Germany, traders say. ``It could go down to 30 euros if we have a cold summer,'' MMT's Ter Bille said.

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5/         U.K. Natural Gas Rises on Lower Imports, Britannia Maintenance          (Bloomberg, Thu 03 May)
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=email_en&refer=energy&sid=ahTWSx9KmfIM

Comment:    The journalist who wrote this article has obviously cottoned on that there is something not quite right here. Namely, gas exports from Norway to the UK via Langeled are being cut back, not because there is something wrong with the delivery system, but because the Norwegians have deliberately cut back:

“…indicating Britain may be a less-attractive market for shippers than the European continent… Langeled can also send gas to U.K. or mainland Europe.”

The implications could not be clearer. Less gas for the UK thro Langeled at the moment does not matter too much because it is spring/summer, and UK gas demand is at a seasonal low. But in the middle of winter it will matter. The suggestion is that if continental Europe is willing to pay more for gas than the UK and demand is higher than supply, a likely mid-winter scenario, then Langeled gas will go elsewhere, not the UK.

Comment from an ODAC News reader:  “It seems Langeled gas can go to the continent, so bidding wars to come?”

Article:    U.K. natural-gas prices rose for a fifth consecutive day as supplies were curbed by reduced imports from Norway and after ConocoPhillips said it will shut the second-largest British gas field for maintenance this quarter.

... Flows through Langeled, a pipeline that carries Norwegian gas to the U.K., have fallen for five straight days. Exporters like Statoil ASA and Norsk Hydro say shipments aren't being affected by production disruptions, indicating Britain may be a less-attractive market for shippers than the European continent.

Within-day prices in the U.K. reached a six-month low of 13.50 pence a therm, or $2.69 per million Btus, last week. Langeled can also send gas to U.K. or mainland Europe.

... Norwegian gas was flowing through the Langeled pipeline at a rate of 25.8 million cubic meters a day, little changed from yesterday's average, according to U.K. gas-network manager National Grid Plc.

``There are no production issues,'' Lars Nermoen, a spokesman for Norsk Hydro ASA, one of the exporters of Norwegian gas said in a phone interview today. ``We produce when demand is high.''

Average flows through Langeled since it started operating in October last year have been about 46 million cubic meters a day, according to grid data. The link will become Britain's biggest gas-import pipeline this year when a new gas field in Norway starts operating.

Tori Lindbol, a spokeswoman for Statoil, Norway's biggest oil company, also reported no production malfunctions.

``It's probably lower nominations,'' she said by phone yesterday. ``Our customers are all covered.''

Aging gas fields in Britain means the nation has to rely more on imports and gas stored underground to make up for its shortfall as energy consumption grows.

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6a/        The Peak Oil Crisis: Week Twelve         (Falls Church News-Press, Thu 03 May)
http://www.fcnp.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1217&Itemid=33

Comment:    While Peak may be years away, or not, there is a strong possibility that the USA may be short on gasoline/petrol later this year, due to insufficient refining capacity and lack of imports, leading to much higher prices. Tom Whipple discusses the issues in his regular weekly column at the FCN-P.

Article:    For three months now, US gasoline stockpiles have been dropping steadily. Nationwide, gasoline prices jumped 10.2 cents a gallon last week to an average of $2.97 and $3.46 around San Francisco. Last week, US gasoline stockpiles dropped for the 12th straight week by another 1.1 million barrels as US motorists continued to burn up gasoline at a rate 1.6 percent higher than last year... The fundamental problem in keeping the refineries working is that they are simply being pushed too hard. Twenty years ago US refineries were run at an average 78 percent of rated capacity and all was well. Now they need to be operated at close to 95 percent of capacity to keep up with increased summer demand... Imported gasoline, which makes up the difference between the roughly 8.5 million barrels of gasoline we refine each day and the 9.5 million we burn, is also in short supply... Earlier this week, Energy Secretary Bodman said he feared surging gasoline prices will reach a record high, but he remains “reasonably confident" the market will respond to the high prices with new supply. The head of ConocoPhillips, however, recently said he is concerned about the refining industry's ability to meet growing demands for gasoline...

6b/        Gasoline crack hits 20 month high        (Platts, Wed 02 May)
http://www.platts.com/Oil/Resources/Podcasts/europe/index.xml

Comment:    This is a Platts podcast, 3m 36s long. You do not have to download the file, just click and listen. If Platts are suggesting much higher USA gasoline/petrol prices this summer, then it’s a good sign they will be. Interestingly, the two speakers conclude that petrol prices are in the UK are about to rise now, and throughout Europe this summer, because of the problems in the USA.

Article:    Price at highest level since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In this podcast Simon Thorne, managing editor for Platts European oil, and Alan Hayes, Platts light ends team leader, discuss why gasoline crack swaps have hit $23.50/b, the impact of this on petrol prices in the UK, and the prospect of even higher prices during the peak of driving season in the US.

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7/         Event:            USA, 2007 Houston World Oil Conference, Houston, Texas, 17-20 October 2007

We are pleased to announce that ASPO-USA will hold its 2007 World Oil Conference, October 17-20, at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston, Texas. We have an exciting roster of confirmed participants including legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, Houston Mayor Bill White (former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy), Bob Hirsch (co-author of the groundbreaking Hirsch-Bezdek Report to DOE), Peter Tertzakian (author of "A Thousand Barrels a Second"), Mathew Simmons, (author of "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock"), Henry Groppe of Groppe, Long & Littell, Charles Maxwell of Weeden & Co., David Hughes of the Canadian Geological Survey, Chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones of the Texas Railroad Commission, Professor Peter Bishop of the University of Houston, and many others. We are awaiting RSVPs from other high-profile speakers including Former President Bill Clinton.

Honorary Co-chairmen of the Conference are Houstonians Matt Simmons of Simmons & Company International, and Art Smith of John S. Herold, Inc.

ASPO Week in Houston will consist of four days of energy discussion as well as field trips to a drilling site and to Refinery Row on the Houston Ship Channel, the heart of our nation's refining and petrochemical industries.

The Houston Conference agenda will feature technical sessions on Reserves and Production; Substitute Fuels; Peak Oil & Climate Change; Peak Oil Reports from the GAO, National Petroleum Council, and AAPG; a Natural Gas/LNG Update; a Net Energy Update; Mitigation Scenarios; Smart Policy Initiatives (local, state & national); and Smart Money & Investment in the Age of Peak Oil.

Registration will open on or about June 1st. For more information on agenda details, speakers and activities as they become available, as well as a review of past Conferences, please see our website at www.aspousa.org.

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8a/        PetroChina shares spurt on oil find      (Financial Times, Fri 04 May)
(Long URL)

Comment:    This must be the first 3B+ barrel oil field to be found in years. Anti-peak oilers will be beside themselves- “We told you so, lots more oil to be found”. One 3B barrel oil field per decade, or whatever, does not a global oil boom make. The fact that we now find so few is a reason to be concerned, not celebrating.

“Annual production is now nearing a peak of about 3.7bn barrels a day.” – should be 3.7mn barrels a day. See IEA Data for China. Note that the article acknowledges China is near its peak production.

Article:    Shares in PetroChina, the overseas-listed unit of China’s largest energy company, surged on Friday on confirmation of one of the world’s largest oil and gas discoveries of recent times in shallow waters in Bohai Bay near the port city of Tianjin.

PetroChina said that it had confirmed in principle “proven reserves” of oil of 405m tonnes, or about 3bn barrels, and gas of 111m tonnes of oil equivalent.

The total amount of oil and gas in the Jidong Nanpu field, including “probable” and “possible” reserves, was equal to 1,020m tonnes. “The company believes the Jidong Nanpu oilfield is a bulk, quality and efficient oilfield,” it said.

... As oil demand and imports have soared in recent years, Chinese domestic production and reserves have increased only modestly, despite extensive exploration efforts. Annual production is now nearing a peak of about 3.7bn barrels a day.

... Nearly half of PetroChina’s existing output is from Daqing, the company’s traditional base in the north-east of the country. But in recent years, it has become increasing difficult to lift production out of Daqing.

The new field itself is also well situated, in shallow waters near the large northern centres of Beijing and Tianjin, making the cost of extracting and transporting the resource very competitive.

8b/        China claims major oil field find (BBC News, Fri 04 May)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6623179.stm

Comment:    Over the last year, there were various reports of new 1B+ barrel oil fields that subsequently turned out to be no such thing, including two 10B barrel fields - one in Mexico which turned out to be a mediocre-sized gas field, and one in Kuwait which we have heard nothing else about. The BBC reports that the 3B barrel field in China might not be so big.

Article:    China's biggest oil firm, PetroChina, says it has made the country's largest crude discovery in a decade.

PetroChina said the find off China's north eastern coast had proven reserves of almost three billion barrels.

Western analysts said that while the field, called Jidong Nanpu, would probably produce less than a quarter of that amount, it was still a major find.

China, the world's second-biggest oil consumer, has been seeing supplies slow at its existing domestic wells.

Energy consultant Andrew Hayman of IHS said that under Western standards, Jidong Nanpu would probably have nearer to 650 million barrels of commercially recoverable reserves.

"This field obviously will be a major asset to the Chinese economy given its proximity to domestic markets," he said.

"And since it is located in [just] three metres of water the costs of development and exploitation will be relatively cheap."

PetroChina is 90% owned by the state-run China National Petroleum Corporation.

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9/         OTC: Operators told to prepare for storm season    (Oil and Gas Journal, Wed 02 May)
(Long URL)

Comment:    OTC = Offshore Technology Conference

According to Wikipedia, “In the North Atlantic, a distinct hurricane season occurs from June 1 to November 30, sharply peaking from late August through September”.

Article:    With less than 30 days to another hurricane season, operators need to ready themselves for what is forecast to be another "very active" storm period, said oil and gas professionals during a panel discussion at the Offshore Technology Conference.

The 2007 hurricane season could produce as much as 17 storms, 5 of which could be major hurricanes. Meteorologists further estimate a 74% chance of a major hurricane hitting the US this year.

The "Storm Warnings" panelists made assessments and suggestions which operators could consider or implement to ensure that their various facilities are prepared to weather the looming Hurricane season.

... Frank Puskar, president of Energo Engineering Inc., Houston, said companies may need to increase deck elevation on new platforms and should be concerned about deck elevation of existing platforms. He explained that of 120 platforms destroyed during Hurricanes Ivan in 2004, Katrina, and Rita, "60% had wave in the deck."

Puskar said platforms designed using the modern American Petroleum Institute RP 2A guidelines with new design deck elevations had a "good chance of not being destroyed." API RP 2A is the recommended practice for planning, designing, and constructing fixed offshore platforms...

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10/        It isn't over yet for Lord Browne [Lord Browne and Peak Oil]       (The Independent on Sunday [UK], Sun 06 May)
http://news.independent.co.uk/business/analysis_and_features/article2516620.ece

Comment:    David Strahan, author of recently published The Last Oil Shock, writes on Lord Browne’s Peak Oil legacy.

Article:    Is it possible that Lord Browne's humiliation is not yet complete? It may be hard to credit in a week when he was forced to resign with immediate effect - at a personal cost of £15m - after lying in a witness statement about a lover he met through a male escort agency. But however salacious the details, the scandal is about the least interesting aspect of his reign as the "Sun King" of BP. Far more significant was his vociferous rejection of the growing evidence that global oil production will soon go into terminal decline, with potentially devastating consequences. That position now looks equally untenable. Lord Browne may be about to lose not only his throne and his payoff, but also his rose-tinted spectacles.

No oilman likes the idea that his might be the next sunset industry, but more than any other executive, Lord Browne has made it his business to denounce this growing school of thought. In one typical speech in 2004, he proclaimed: "We have to demonstrate that there has been no shortage of oil, and that there is no shortage of oil, and that there never need be a shortage ... there is no reason why there should be any shortfall in the foreseeable future."

... The company's growth came, in large part, through a series of massive takeovers around the turn of the century as it snapped up Amoco, Arco and Burmah Castrol in quick succession. But adding reserves and production capacity by cannibalising other groups does nothing to increase the total oil available to humanity. Once growth by acquisition is stripped out, the world's biggest oil companies were producing no more of the black stuff in 2005 than a decade earlier. And that's despite the world market having grown by 20 per cent, and the spending of billions of dollars on their upstream operations. These figures speak louder than Lord Browne's bullish words.

Even more suggestive are Lord Browne's own spectacular gambles in Russia, culminating in 2003 with the formation of TNK-BP - a deal that was all the more surprising given the debacle of his previous foray into the "Wild East" a few years earlier. In 1997 he had spent $500m buying a 10 per cent stake in Siberian oil company Sidanco - a deal signed in Tony Blair's office. He lost much of that investment when the company went bust, and some of its powerful Russian shareholders ruthlessly manipulated the local insolvency courts to their own advantage.

... For the time being the gamble appears to be paying off, having boosted BP's oil production by around half a million barrels per day. But closer inspection of the figures shows that had Lord Browne flinched and not done the deal, the company's output would have fallen by almost as much. Given the dearth of opportunities elsewhere, it looks as if he had little choice.

But the true scale of the gamble is now becoming clear, as Russia threatens to take control of one of TNK-BP's prize assets, the important Kovykta gas field. Even some of Lord Browne's biggest fans believe that the huge risks he has taken may call into question his persistent denials that global oil production will peak any time soon. Robin West, a former US Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and founder of PFC Energy, considers Lord Browne one of the industry's brightest talents. But he adds: "I think his actions belie his words".

... His [Lord Browne's] denial matters in particular because of his influence over Tony Blair. With luck, the departure of both men will herald a more realistic attitude to the oil supply outlook and galvanise policymakers into preparing for the inevitable global peak that Total chairman Thierry Desmarest expects by 2020 - and others much sooner. If not, we may find out the hard way the true meaning of BP's slogan, Beyond Petroleum.

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11/        Biofuels: The great green con    (The Independent on Sunday [UK], Sun 06 May)
http://news.independent.co.uk/business/analysis_and_features/article2516619.ece

Comment:    Reports over the last few months suggest that food prices (meat and poultry) in the USA have risen / will rise marginally this year because the corn feed for the animals / birds has risen substantially. President Bush may well have to re-think the long-term viability of his corn-to-ethanol biofuels program if it results in the US electorate getting upset by food prices getting noticeably higher, say next year.

Article:    So by blending crops such as sugar and corn with petrol, biofuels will slash carbon emissions and save the planet. Right? Not when the price is escalating food prices and the clearing of the rainforests.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California, uses it in one of his Hummers. Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin boss, wants to fuel his planes with it. American President George Bush hopes it can wean his country off oil imports from the Middle East. And next year, if tough new targets are met, it will be in every other litre of petrol sold at the pumps in this country.

Biofuel is the latest green craze. It is made from crops such as wheat, rapeseed, corn and sugar, and less commonly, waste products such as used cooking oil and tallow (animal fat). According to biofuel's many fans, blending conventional petrol and diesel with these crops or waste reduces the amount of crude oil needed and the overall amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.

Everyone is jumping on the biofuel bandwagon. In his State of the Union address in January, Mr Bush announced a 15 per cent target for the replacement of petrol by biofuels in US vehicles. Over the next 18 months, American biofuel production capacity will double to some 7 per cent of the petrol that the country consumes. The EU has set a less ambitious target of just under 6 per cent by the end of the decade; this could rise to 10 per cent.

But questions are starting to be raised about just how green biofuels really are. They encourage deforestation - responsible for around a quarter of the world's carbon emissions - as land is cleared to grow the crops. Biofuels have also driven up food prices, hitting the world's poor the hardest. According to the International Grain Council, at the end of this financial year the world's grain stocks (corn, wheat and barley) will be the lowest since the 1970s, mainly because of soaring demand from biofuels. Some of these "green" energy sources also use up more energy during the manufacturing and refining process than they save.

... It does not necessarily follow that sugar cane grown in Brazil to make biofuels will be planted on cleared rainforest or tropical savanna. According to a study commissioned by the Dutch government, sugar cane plantations usually replace land used for grazing cattle or other forms of food production. But the effect of sugar's advance is to displace other food production into the cerrado - tropical savanna covering a quarter of Brazil which, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, is biologically the richest grassland in the world. According to scientific body the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, around a 10th is already being used for cattle grazing, but this will grow.

... The British Government has admitted that a "significant proportion" of UK biofuel demand will be met by imports. Indeed, analysts at Goldman Sachs believe that to meet the 2010 target wholly from domestically grown plants would take over a quarter of all available crop land in the country.

... Chris Brodie, a partner at the Krom River commodity fund, argues that agricultural prices will keep heading higher as more land is devoted to biofuel-crop production. Global grain stocks are already at historical lows because of biofuel replacement levels in the US, he says. When American biofuel demand doubles - and when the EU targets kick in - grain prices will increase even further.

... It is also estimated that to feed ethanol consumption of 7 per cent (by volume) will take up 40 per cent of total US corn production. It is expected, for example, that Iowa, the heartland of the US grain belt, will have to start importing some agricultural commodities because so much of its land will be turned over to corn…

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The Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (ODAC)
Tel:  +44 (0)1224 631 697

E-mail:          mailto:odac@btconnect.com
Website:       http://www.odac-info.org

The Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (ODAC) is an independent UK-registered educational charity working to raise international public awareness and promote better understanding of the world's oil-depletion problem.

Editorial Notes: You can sign up for the free ODAC email newsletter with the same content as above. An HTML version is posted a few days later at the ODAC website. -BA

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