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Tension at the Edge of Alaska

Jad Mouawad, New York Times
BARROW, Alaska – Each summer and fall, the Inupiat, natives of Alaska’s arid north coast, take their sealskin boats and gun-fired harpoons and go whale hunting. Kills are celebrated throughout villages as whaling captains share their catch with relatives and neighbors. Muktuk, or raw whale skin and blubber, is a prized delicacy.

But now, that traditional way of life is coming into conflict with one of the modern world’s most urgent priorities: finding more oil.

Royal Dutch Shell is determined to exploit vast reserves believed to lie off Alaska’s coast. The Bush administration backs the idea and has issued offshore leases in recent years totaling an area nearly the size of Maryland.

Those leases have received far less attention than failed efforts to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but they may prove to be far more important. By some estimates, the oil under the Alaskan seabed could exceed the reserves remaining in the rest of the United States, though how much might ultimately be recoverable is uncertain.
(4 December 2007)
Reader John suggests:
Watch the audio slideshow under multimedia heading to left of article.

Auto industry backs CAFÉ deal

David Shepardson, Detroit News
Automakers on Saturday endorsed a landmark compromise bill reached Friday that will hike fuel economy requirements by 40 percent by 2020 to an industry fleet average of 35 miles per gallon.

The House is expected to vote Wednesday on the measure as part of a broader energy bill and the Senate is expected to take it up before it adjourns for the year later this month.

The agreement represents the first dramatic overhaul to fuel economy rules since they were introduced in 1975 and comes after months of opposition from the industry.

Automakers, which have successfully blocked raising passenger car standards for more than two decades, objected to a 40 percent increase, saying it would cost them billions to comply and could force them to make fewer of their biggest, most profitable models.

But General Motors Corp. Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said in a statement Saturday that the Detroit automaker will meet the new challenge.
(2 December 2007)

Lawmakers Set Deal on Raising Fuel Efficiency

John M. Broder and Micheline Maynard, New York Times
Congressional negotiators reached a deal late Friday on energy legislation that would force American automakers to improve the fuel efficiency of their cars and light trucks by 40 percent by 2020.

The proposal, which would require automakers to achieve 35 miles per gallon on average, is similar to a measure that was passed in the summer by the Senate but was bitterly opposed by the auto companies, who argued they did not have the technology or the financial resources to reach that goal.

The auto companies gave up their long-held opposition to fuel- economy increases not long before the Senate version was passed, but proposed a much weaker alternative. In recent weeks, the chief executives of General Motors, the Ford Motor Company and Chrysler visited Capitol Hill in an effort to fend off a stronger measure, but the compromise announced Friday showed those efforts had little effect.
(30 November 2007)

Calculating Energy Bill’s Real Figures

Matthew L. Wald, New York Times
Gas mileage would go up under the compromise reached by Congressional leaders last week, but not as high as the trumpeted numbers. And despite the tougher 35 m.p.g. standard, a growing population of drivers would push up total fuel use, as well as greenhouse gas emissions – but not as rapidly as would occur without the legislation.

Those are some of the conclusions of auto policy experts, who were still struggling on Monday to determine exactly what the proposal would do, even as President Bush threatened to veto the energy legislation, still under negotiation, that includes these provisions.

The fleet average for vehicles in the 2020 model year would be set at 35 miles per gallon, versus about 25 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks today. Both numbers, though, come with a familiar caveat: actual mileage may vary.
(3 December 2007)

The candidates on energy: hot topic, diverse views

Mark Clayton, The Christian Science Monitor
With gasoline at more than $3 a gallon, energy has emerged as a top issue in the presidential campaign for the first time since the 1970s, with all major presidential candidates including it in their stump speeches.

Not just gasoline prices, but global warming, the Iraq war, and hurricane Katrina have combined to put secure and renewable energy – along with healthcare and the economy – near the top of voter and candidate priorities this election season.

While all candidates speak of the urgency of unhooking America from imported oil, of developing new energy technologies, and of feeling voters’ pain at the pump, their plans for dealing with the problem vary from the detailed to little detail at all.

That leaves energy-security hawks like Dr. Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington, wanting more from both parties.

parties. Democrats’ plans don’t mandate the flex-fuel vehicles he deems necessary, and he says Republicans’ plans need more detail.

“Democrats have some very specific agendas that you can argue about whether they are good enough,” Mr. Luft says. “But with key exceptions, Republicans have not offered very many details at all about their energy security plans. There’s not much meat on the bones.”

Some environmentalists, however, are encouraged that energy plans are finally emerging from both parties’ candidates.
(3 December 2007)

New push for ‘green collar’ jobs
(Audio, slideshow, links)
Kristi Coale, Environment Report
A new employment program is tying the need low-income people have for good-paying work to the imperative of meeting the nation’s growing energy demands. The “green jobs” movement trains out-of-work people and former blue-collar workers to install solar, wind and other alternative energy systems at homes and businesses. Kristi Coale reports what started as a local program might soon be coming to the rest of the nation:
(3 December 2007)

Petrodollar Greenfare

Elizabeth McCarthy, California Energy Circuit
When I covered European Union developments as a journalist in the mid-1990s–including moves to add a dozen new countries and prepare for a new common currency, the Euro–a lot of ink was dedicated to member countries’ deficits. The individual national debts were supposed to stay below a specified level to avoid weakening a melded European economy. It was fairly well known that a number of games were going on behind the scenes, particularly in countries like Italy, Greece, and Portugal, but there were EU rules in place and pressure to conform from the stronger nations, which didn’t want to lose economic clout.

In the U.S., on the other hand, deficits are a whole different story. Number games are barely mentioned and serious discussion is often relegated to the sidelines or back of the financial pages. Yet, we are paying a big price for our lack of attention. The dollar is in serious trouble and the euro is strong and stable. The European currency has risen from an all time low in October 2000, when one euro was worth 82 cents, to today, when one euro is worth $1.48.

Our failure to address and tackle the twin U.S. deficit issues of the trade balance and federal budget has not only serious economic implications, but energy ones as well.

The federal debt and imbalance in trade are inextricably linked with the price of power. The more debt we take on, the lower the value of the dollar and the more we pay for imported oil and other fossil fuels. In turn, higher oil costs drive up the trade deficit because we have to borrow more to buy all that black gold and increasingly liquefied natural gas. That makes investments in our economy less desirable, creating a vicious cycle of a falling dollar, rising oil prices, and an ever-weakening economy.

We have the chance to turn this chaos into a golden opportunity by going green. Higher fossil fuel costs should motivate us to curb our excessive energy use. That is good for the economy and it is also good for the environment.

“If we consume less oil, we decrease the amount of money we borrow,” Richard W. Clark told me during an interview mid-week. Clark, who I heard speak at a Peak Oil and Gas Conference last year, is the author of a fascinating book, Petrodollar Warfare.
(30 November 2007)

The Finance Round-Up: December 3rd 2007

ilargi, The Oil Drum: Canada
It’s not that I was wrong when I said we’d see the US economy propped up for one last good Christmas shopping season. It’s just that accountants, auditors and ratings agencies have started to feel so much heat, they’re afraid they’ll be left sitting all alone on the hot cinders around the tree, with a shaky conscience and nothing in their socks to start the new year but pink slips and indictments.

Today, in early December, it’s still possible that the worst decay remains buried till 2008, but we can’t be sure anymore. What we see is America’s largest mortgage lender, Countrywide, hanging on by a thread, while America’s, and the world’s, biggest bank, Citigroup, may be beyond redemption. After recent securities losses, and $40+ billion more predicted, Citi now admits to a $17 billion write-down on its SIV’s, which still leaves another $66 billion of braindead “assets”.

Ratings agencies are trying to stay afloat, and increasingly, in the face of congressional investigations, out of prison. To show their good will, they’ve started downrating companies, bonds, and all sorts of securities. This’ll likely be the end for many bond insurers. Is that so bad? Ambac carries $620 billion in structured paper, with $9 billion in cash. ACA insured $61 billion in assets, with $326 million in cash. Isn’t it just good riddance?
(3 December 2007)
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