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Energy industry ‘in a bit of a limbo phase’

Dino Mahtani, Financial Times
The sustainability of the global energy industry is increasingly under scrutiny in an age where apocalyptic fears about global warming and peak oil production are creeping into the public’s imagination.

Apart from the damaging effect on the environment caused by the release of carbon dioxide during the extraction and end use of oil and gas, there are a whole raft of other issues towards which shareholders have become more sensitive.

From the direct impact on local environments and communities, to the management of hazardous and combustible substances, to the political risks of operating in hostile environments and the need to develop renewable energy portfolios, the industry is under pressure to find solutions.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep these issues out of the public eye, and when companies operate in ways that are perceived as unsustainable it can be detrimental to their business.

..Renewable energy sources are also grabbing the attention of boardroom policy makers who want to diversify their energy portfolio.

This is because international companies know they face the prospect of a long-term depletion in reserves amid an increasing trend of resource-rich governments to assert more control over their natural assets.

But the energy industry is caught between global demand for its core products – oil and gas – which will keep rising over the coming years, and the need to temper the production of these resources in a sustainable way. Industry-wide cost increases are also squeezing profit margins, making it harder for companies to diversify into less economically viable renewable projects. “Currently the oil companies are in a bit of a limbo phase,” says Bjoern Tore Urdal, senior equity analyst at Sustainable Asset Management.
(12 October 2007)
Nice summary.

Vietnam’s Coal-Fueled Boom

Kay Johnson, TIME Magazine
…Throughout Vietnam – indeed, in most of the developing world – demand for cheap electricity is quickly rising. But as countries turn to abundant coal as the energy source of choice, many worry an environmental catastrophe is in the making. As the rest of the world struggles for solutions to global warming, Vietnam has built eight new coal-fired power plants in the past five years and plans to open at least a dozen more by 2012. Last year, Vietnam got only 19% of its power from coal, relying mostly on hydropower and low-emissions gas-fired generators. By 2020, the government estimates coal will be Vietnam’s leading source of energy at 34%.

This trend troubles Jasper Inventor, a climate and energy campaigner for the environmental group Greenpeace. Coal-burning plants generate 36% of the emissions blamed for global warming – far more than those produced by road traffic, which account for 17% of the world’s CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. Inventor worries that by committing to coal, countries such as Vietnam are making a mistake that will be difficult, if not impossible, to undo. “In the longer term, we believe this will be a losing proposition for Vietnam,” Inventor says.

But Vietnam’s leaders believe they have little choice. To maintain economic growth of around 8% per year, the state power company, Electricity of Vietnam (EVN), needs to double its capacity to an estimated 26,000 megawatts by 2010. Vietnam’s hydropower potential is nearly exhausted…
(11 October 2007)

Oil sands as an industry saviour? The numbers tell the real story

Eric Reguly, Globe & Mail
ROME — What does the world outside of Canada think of Alberta’s mighty oil sands? In three words, not so mighty.

We’ll know more about the global musings on the oil sands on Nov. 7, when the International Energy Agency releases its annual World Energy Outlook in Paris. This door-stopper is the IEA’s flagship publication, is typically 600 pages long and is considered among the most credible analyses of mid- and long-term energy demand and supply scenarios.

The theme of this year’s World Energy Outlook is surging Chinese and Indian demand and how it will be met (or not). The oil sands, relatively speaking, will probably not get much ink in the report. And that’s the point. The IEA doesn’t believe the oil sands, in spite of their rapid growth, will make anything more than “an important dent” in the global oil market – this from an IEA official who did not want to be named ahead of the report’s publication. On the supply side of the equation, what the IEA cares about most is OPEC production, with special attention on Iran, the potential target of American fighter-bombers (more on Iran in a moment).

“Dent” status is not what Alberta and the rest of Canada like to hear. In Alberta, the gucky oil sands have become the glamorous industry as conventional oil and natural gas production wanes.
(12 October 2007)

New book bashes the oilsands

Chuck Chiang, Fort McMurray Today
Northern Alberta in the future: a massive toxic swamp, devoid of trees and animals, which all the proceeds of the oilsand profits siphoned to other countries.
That is the vision painted by author William Marsden in his recently-released book Stupid to the Last Drop, which levels both sharp and heavy criticism against oilsands development in the province.

The book has caught the attention — and it’s not always positive — of several oilsands and petroleum companies, spurring a new round of environmental and economics debate over the deposits, most of them in this region.

“What’s happening in Alberta is an issue we have to look at as a whole country,” said Marsden in an interview from Edmonton last week. “The rape of the land here reflects what we’ve done to the natural environments in this country.”
(12 October 2007)