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Of pipelines and the future

Heading Out, The Oil Drum
Gail’s recent post on the fragility of the US distribution system and the shortages that will be imposed by refinery outages, is a reminder of our dependence on pipelines for supply. The dependence is not just in the US, though the debate over the reality of a new gas pipeline from Alaska to the lower 48 rumbles along as a part of the election debate.

Most of Europe also depends on pipelines, particularly natural gas ones, and it is because of that that I am going to take a somewhat nervous stance and disagree with a recent article by Jerome. Some considerable time ago we swopped comments about the likelihood of different pipelines being laid to exploit the natural gas in Turkmenistan, and so from that point, this post is an admission that his opinion at the time (that many of these pipes wouldn’t happen) was correct. However part of the reason for this is the less than benevolent role that I see Russia is playing, and this is my disagreement with him.

My concern is emphasized by the difference in objectives of two recent trips around the periphery of Russia. First there was the trip by the Russian President, who, with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, toured oil and gas supplying countries such as Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazahkstan in July. Out of that came both an agreement for Russia to buy Turkmen gas but also for Gazprom to invest in the Turkmen gas infrastructure. (Quotes under fold)
(19 September 2008)

Here comes $500 oil

Brian O’Keefe, Fortune Magazine
Matt Simmons is as perplexed as anyone that it has fallen to him to take on OPEC, Exxon, the Saudis, and all the other misguided defenders of conventional wisdom in the oil patch. Why should one investment banker with a penchant for research be required to point out what he regards as the obvious – that from here on out, oil supplies can’t meet demand, and if we don’t act soon to solve this crisis, World War III could be looming?

Why should a man who scorns most environmentalists have to argue that locally grown produce and wind power are the way of the future? Why should a lifelong Republican need to be the one to point out that his party’s new mantra – “Drill, baby, drill!” – won’t really fix anything and that his party’s presidential candidate is clueless about energy? That the spike in oil prices earlier this year wasn’t a temporary market anomaly and the recent retreat in prices is just a misleading calm before a calamitous storm? That we’re headed toward $500-a-barrel oil?

“I find it ironic that here we have the biggest industry on earth, and I’m one of the few people to figure out that we have a major problem,” he says, in his confident if not quite brash way. “And I did it all in my spare time. How stupid and tragic is that? I shouldn’t be one of the only folks that actually has a handful of ideas of how we can keep from blowing each other up and get through this.”…

…Simmons believes that a radical change in the way we live is inevitable. “We should basically be going back to creating a village economy, so that we really reduce the energy intensity of how we live,” he says. “We need bigtime conservation, not feel-good conservation. Make things where they’re used. You’ll end long-distance commuting, and we have the tools to do that now with webcams. Grow food locally. Grow food in your backyard. If they’re not commuting, people will have time to do that.” …
(22 September 2008)
In the light of the economic crisis the dollar figure is less important than whether it is affordable at all. -SO

Will the price of oil put a brake on globalisation?

Tim Harford , Financial Times
Very few of us remember globalisation in retreat: the last great wave of globalisation swelled in the late 19th century and broke spectacularly with the onset of the first world war. After a rash of protectionism, the great depression and the second world war, the process of expanding trade (and cross-border investment and the flow of ideas and of people) resumed and has continued ever since.

Some economists now wonder if the current wave might also be about to break. The problem is not so much the rolling farce of the Doha round of trade talks, or protectionism in the US – although neither is helpful – but what the price of oil is doing to the cost of shipping goods around the globe. While oil prices have fallen in the past couple of months, they could hardly be described as low. Shipping costs may rise yet further if, as expected, the International Maritime Organisation bans the use of cheaper, dirtier fuel oils by container ships.

There is some anecdotal evidence that this is having an impact on trade: for example, some container ships are reported to be slowing down to save fuel. But there is no sign anything is amiss in the latest World Trade Organization statistics – which, admittedly, date back to 2006. The volume of merchandise trade defied high and rising oil prices to grow at more than 6 per cent a year in 2004, 2005 and 2006…
(20 September 2008)