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Energy & nation - Nov 14

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Voter Anger May Free Up Energy Bills

John M. Broder, New York Times
Congress saw it coming. Earlier this year, lawmakers warned of an impending energy crisis as they debated wide-ranging legislation to improve automotive efficiency, reward energy conservation and spur development of alternative power sources.

When the Senate passed an energy bill in June, crude oil was trading near $65 a barrel, the highest price in a quarter-century. When the House acted six weeks later on markedly different legislation, oil had passed $70.

Then nothing happened. Oil prices continued to climb while members of Congress bickered among themselves and sniped at the White House.

Lately, the price of crude oil has flirted with $100 — it settled Monday at $94.62, down $1.70 — and some analysts have projected $4-a-gallon gasoline by spring. Lawmakers may finally be preparing to act, most likely on a less ambitious set of energy-saving measures than those passed by either house this summer.

Leaders in both houses predicted action on a scaled-down package of energy measures before Congress breaks for Christmas, including some form of higher fuel-efficiency requirements for cars and trucks and incentives for alternative fuels.

To be sure, none of these would have an immediate effect on gasoline prices at the pump.
(12 November 2007)


Indian PM says costly subsidies must be tackled

Rajkumar Ray, Reuters
India must tackle growing subsidies on food, fertiliser and fuels, and improve its infrastructure if it is to sustain economic growth at around 9 percent, the prime minister said on Thursday.

India discounts widely used fuels, including petrol, diesel, cooking gas and kerosene, and the government is yet to raise retail prices of the fuels this year despite a surge in global oil prices towards $100 and a series of all-time highs.
(8 November 2007)


Warnings of Long-Term Damage After Russian Oil Spill

Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times
An environmental disaster began to unfold in southern Russia on Monday as tens of thousands of oil-slicked seabirds and globules of heavy oil dotted the shoreline, a day after at least 11 ships, including a small oil tanker, sank or broke apart in a fierce storm, Russian officials said.

Three bodies washed ashore, and 20 sailors were missing when searches were called off late Monday because of rough weather, the news agency Interfax reported, citing officials with the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations. But officials added that any survivors were at risk of freezing to death before they could be found.

A local official, Alexander Tkachyov, governor of the Krasnodar region, said 30,000 seabirds were covered with oil and would probably die, Interfax said. The World Wide Fund for Nature, a conservation group, said the heavy fuel oil also settled onto the seabed, surely destroying marine habitat and killing fish.

The tanker, Volganeft-139, split apart as it was pounded by 18-foot waves in the Kerch Strait which links the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea, a strategic pathway for oil exported by tanker from Russia and the Caspian basin to Europe. Its 13 crew members were rescued, but 1,300 tons of heavy, viscous oil — the equivalent of 560,000 gallons — were discharged into the sea.

...The statement said the accident, the first significant maritime oil spill in Russia during the current oil boom, should impel the country to adopt more stringent laws on tanker traffic, noting that laws requiring double-hulled tankers were introduced in the United States after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.

Far less oil spilled in this incident than in the sinking of a tanker off the coast of Spain in 2002, when 63,000 tons of oil were discharged, destroying marine life and fouling numerous beaches. But the quantity of oil spilled can sometimes be less important than the location of the accident. The spill on Sunday, in a relatively narrow body of water and close to the shoreline, had the potential to be particularly harmful.

Oil spills from pipelines on land are common in Russia. The country, the world’s second largest oil exporting nation after Saudi Arabia, maintains a vast terrestrial pipeline network tying Siberian fields with refineries as far away as Poland.
(12 November 2007)
A contributor writes: This spells bad news for Russia's Black Sea Coastline...the cleanup, if it really happens at all, will affect the region for many years to come...

Related coverage by:
Associated Press
Reuters


High oil prices fuel winter heat fears

Jerry Harkavy, Associated Press
Nowhere in America, it seems, are people more apprehensive about the prospect of a $3-a-gallon winter than in Maine.

Motorists nationwide may grumble about gasoline prices now hovering around $3 for a gallon of regular, but home heating oil that soared this month to $3.09 a gallon — breaking the $3 barrier for the first time — is the focus of concern in Maine.

The reasons for Maine's vulnerability are clear:

It tops the list of states most dependent on oil heat, with 80 percent of homes relying on No. 2 oil or kerosene. It's one of the nation's coldest states...

Gov. John Baldacci is prepared to convene an emergency task force in the event that fuel supplies are disrupted and shelters are needed to accommodate those who have run out of fuel. In the meantime, officials are pressing Congress for additional money for needy households and are looking to respond to any signs of price-gouging.

"There's a lot of fear out there," said Judy Frost, who directs the Low Income Home Energy Assistance program for needy residents in Franklin County. "Everyone's afraid to speculate about what the prices will be in January and February when the really cold temperatures set in."

(12 November 2007)
Suggested by David MacLeod.


Fuelling Bolivia's crisis?

Lola Almudevar , BBC
n the midday heat, truckers hang out of the windows of their trucks or sit slumped behind their wheels, waiting.

They may have to queue for hours to fill their tanks with diesel at this petrol station in the city of Santa Cruz, eastern Bolivia.

"Sometimes you get to the front of the queue and the diesel has already run out," says Agapito Serviche from his pick-up truck.

"The diesel does not last long enough for a day's work, so I have to stop working and come back to the queue just to put food on the table."

Santa Cruz, which is home to large scale commercial agriculture, has been worst hit by Bolivia's chronic diesel shortages, which coincide with the start of the planting season.

...Those lining up hold President Evo Morales responsible, blaming his policy of nationalising Bolivia's natural gas reserves in 2006 and refineries this year.

Under President Morales, state energy company Yaciemientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) took over hydrocarbons operations. Private companies were asked to sign new contracts and pay higher taxes and royalties to the state.

"When the multinationals were here, we didn't go without diesel," says Apagato Serviche. "Now they have drawn up new contracts and we are in crisis. Whose fault can it be but the government's?"

But diesel shortages were on the horizon long before Mr Morales came to power in 2005.

Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserves in Latin America, but its diesel refining capacity has not met domestic needs for almost two decade
(8 November 2007)

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