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Big Oil PR blitz suggests the un-reformed industry just wants to be friends – so shut up!

Greg Harman, San Antonio Current
Bob Ridge wants to talk.

In fact, the VP of health, safety, and environment at ConocoPhillips says it’s been too long. You know, we should have sat down sooner – like before the American public began ranking his industry beneath tobacco peddlers.

Bob says that’s why his company is reaching out to “thought leaders and the public,” to “reestablish trust and relationship.”

I’m bobbing my head agreeably, already embarrassed by the dirty things I’ve said about the oil barons and their henchmen.

His sincerity, part fallen Dog the Bounty Hunter and part Burl Ives, punctures me like a diamond-studded drill bit. I want to leap up and tell Bob that I got here as quickly as I could, you know, but with traffic and work, and I only got the invitation last week and I was hoping … It’s too much. I don’t know where to begin.

Wait a minute. Thought leaders? Relationship?

Of course, Ridge isn’t speaking to me, not personally. His scripted address is intended for all of us, this 150-odd crowd gathered at the University of Texas at San Antonio campus, and the millions beyond. The public-relations maneuver, billed as a “Conversation on Energy,” has Bob on a 33-city tour. We in San Antonio are stop 32.

Bob and ConocoPhillips are not alone in their foray into the cynical American wilds. Ever since Americans were forced to juxtapose the devastation of New Orleans with the record-breaking oil-industry profits that followed, companies like British Petroleum, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron have ramped their advertising campaigns into overdrive.
(21 November 2007)
It doesn’t look as if Greg Harman has been won over by the PR campaign. -BA

Visit to Shell’s Brutus Off-shore Oil/Gas Platform and New Orleans Facility

Gail Tverberg, The Oil Drum
On November 9 and 10, the American Petroleum Institute (API) invited several bloggers to visit Shell’s facilities in New Orleans, and also its Brutus Tension-leg Platform, 165 miles south of New Orleans, in the Gulf of Mexico. The purpose of this post is to tell you a little about my trip.

First, I need to disclose that API paid for my trip.

This is a picture of one of the platform hulls. The bottoms of these have ballast tanks whose volume can be adjusted to keep the platform floating correctly.

This is the view from inside one of the hulls, looking downward. The hull is several stories tall.
(26 November 2007)
Images of poetic grandeur. Perhaps it’s only from a future, less extravagant age that we’ll be able to truly appreciate these marvels of human will and inventiveness. -BA

Oil and gasoline prices: The crack spread

Peter McKenzie-Brown, Language Matters
When a major US refinery shuts down, why do oil prices go up? This is counterintuitive. After all, a shut-in refinery means reduced demand for oil, and less demand should mean less price pressure, right? Wrong. Here’s an account of the strange ties between oil and gasoline prices.

…One of the oddest phenomena in the present world of gasoline pricing is its impact on the price of crude oil. As this article has explained, it is logical for gasoline prices to go up along with oil prices. After all, refiners manufacture gasoline from crude oil, and rising input costs contribute to rising total costs.

However, higher gasoline prices also result in higher oil prices. This is less intuitive, for a number of reasons. If a large refinery shuts down, it is reasonable to expect gasoline prices to rise. Less gasoline will be produced, lowering supply; prices will therefore increase. Since there would be less demand for oil to refine, one would normally expect crude oil prices to drop. What actually occurs, however, is the opposite: When a big North American refinery shuts down, both gasoline and oil prices rise. Welcome to the world known to traders as “crack spreads”.

“Crack spreads” refers to the spread, or margin, that a refinery can earn by “cracking” (refining) a barrel of oil into such marketable products as gasoline, jet fuel and heating oil. Roughly speaking, three barrels of West Texas oil can be refined into two barrels of gasoline and one barrel of heating oil. If these products rise in value, the value of the barrel of oil they come from will also increase, even if refinery demand for oil has dropped. Thus an off-the-wall oil price spiral: rising crude oil prices increase the price of gasoline, and rising gasoline prices increase the price of oil.
(22 November 2007)

Is there really so much money in environmental devastation that it can’t be stopped?

Tom Philpott, Gristmill
In the Nov. 12 New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert published an article (unavailable online; abstract here) typical of her style: spare, restrained, vivid, cogent, devastating. The topic was Canada’s tar sands, now being profitably exploited by the major oil companies: Shell, Conoco-Phillips, Chevron, and ExxonMobil.

And they’ve only just begun. According to Kolbert, the oil majors intend to invest more than $75 billion over the next five years in building infrastructure to transform a little bit of Canada into fuel for our cars.

“Thanks in large part to what’s happening in the tar sands,” Kolbert reports, “Canada has become America’s No. 1 source of imported oil; the country supplies the United States with more petroleum than all of the nations of the Persian Gulf combined.”

Petroleum derived from tar sands emits 15 to 40 percent more total greenhouse gas per barrel than the conventional stuff. To show what extracting it does to landscapes, the New Yorker ran an aerial photo of a used-up area in Alberta, home to the tar sands. It’s as if some malign giant tried mightily to skin a vast swath of the earth with a dull blade.

Toward the end of the article, Kolbert delivers what I found to be a chilling denouement. She quotes a Canadian politician: “There is no environmental minister on earth who can stop the oil from coming out of the sand, because the money is too big.”

This, mind you, in a country that signed the Kyoto pact.
(26 November 2007)