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Nations & resources - Nov 4

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The heart of India is under attack

Arundhati Roy, The Guardian
The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it's as though god had been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It's one of the biggest mining corporations in the world and is owned by Anil Agarwal, the Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.

If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed, too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, and whose homeland is similarly under attack.

...In keeping with this line of thought, the government has announced Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the "Maoist" rebels headquartered in the jungles of central India. Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country that people are engaged in–the landless, the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They're pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people's land and resources. However, it is the Maoists that the government has singled out as being the biggest threat.

Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they are now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the "single largest internal security threat" to the country. This will probably go down as the most popular and often repeated thing he ever said. For some reason, the comment he made on 6 January, 2009, at a meeting of state chief ministers, when he described the Maoists as having only "modest capabilities", doesn't seem to have had the same raw appeal. He revealed his government's real concern on 18 June, 2009, when he told parliament: "If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be affected."
(30 Oct 2009)


Shale gas blasts open world energy market

Danny Fortson, the Times
A stretch of coastline on the Texas-Louisiana border provides a startling glimpse of Europe’s energy future. There, where Lake Sabine empties into the Gulf of Mexico, a giant port was completed last year. Built at a cost of $1.5 billion (£900m), it was meant to be a vital new part of America’s energy infrastructure.

Giant tankers from places such as Qatar and Sakhalin island in Russia’s far east were meant to dock there to inject their cargoes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) straight into the national pipeline network.

The Sabine Pass terminal was meant to take about one ship a day but since it opened for business 18 months ago only 10 ships have come in.

“This big shiny new terminal was one of the ones built as the answer to declining US gas production and increasing demand,” said Steve Johnson president of Waterborne Energy, a Texas energy consultancy. “Now it’s in mothballs.”

It is much the same story at America’s eight other LNG import terminals. They are running at only 10% of capacity.

“We have had so much new production come on stream that all of a sudden the role of these terminals has changed dramatically,” said Johnson. “They are getting the world’s leftovers.”

The reason is shale gas — a new and abundant source of natural gas, trapped in rock formations. Oil companies have known about it for decades but always dismissed it because it was too expensive and difficult to extract. In the past few years new technologies that pump water underground to fracture the rock and free the gas have been perfected. The breakthrough has opened a new frontier for the energy industry and turned long-held assumptions about the world’s dwindling supplies on their head...
(1 Nov 2009)


Shale gas numbers may not add up

John Dizard, Financial Times
From one end of the known world to the other, which is to say from Boston to Washington and some points in between, there is a consensus among the well informed that one part of a national energy plan is in place. Thanks to the discovery and mapping of huge reserves of gas in shale formations, we have an alternative to dirty old coal, and, possibly, imported oil for transport fuel. A 40 per cent increase in the country’s gas reserves! You can thank advanced American technology for that.

Well, you can thank advanced American something, but along with the technology you can also thank the advanced American ability to extract money from investors. The key element of this national characteristic is the willingness to listen carefully to determine what people with money want to hear, and then tell them that. Again and again.

Shale gas, the latest magic solution being financed with other people’s money, now appears to be costing more, and has much less certain prospects, than Wall Street, Washington, or their consultants around Boston, were counting on.

The historic problem with raising money from outside investors to pay for oil and gas drilling is the lack of consistent co-operation on the part of geology. Time and again, with all the three dimensional seismic imaging, reservoir engineering, and so on, people drill wells to 5,000 or 6,000 metres only to get a dry rock collection. Finding oil and gas requires a significant amount of trial and error. Bankers, brokers, and institutional investors do not want to hear this. They want to hear that the businesses they invest in are predictable...
(1 Nov 2009)


It’s a dirty business — the new gold rush that is blackening Canada’s name

Ben Webster, The Times
A giant mechanical digger gouges out a chunk of topsoil, grass and tree stumps, extending a neat furrow that stretches into the distance. Dozens of similar furrows run parallel with the regularity of a ploughed field.

Yet no crop could grow in the pitch-black surface exposed by the machine working 1,000ft below our helicopter. This is the edge of a fast-expanding open-cast mine in the Canadian tar sands, one of the world’s most polluting sources of oil.

It takes only a few minutes to fly across the 200 sq miles (520 sq km) of mines, processing plants and man-made lakes of toxic water. But Canada has so far extracted only 2 per cent of a resource that it hopes will turn it into a global energy superpower.

BP and Shell are among dozens of oil companies preparing to raise production from 1.3 million barrels a day at present to 2.5 million by 2015 and 6 million by 2030.

Canada faces a dilemma as it prepares for next month’s UN climate summit in Copenhagen. It wants to present itself as environmentally responsible but also wants the profits from the tar sands, which cover an area of Alberta’s natural coniferous forest larger than England.

The sands contain 174 billion barrels of proven reserves, the world’s second-largest reserves after Saudi Arabia. With improved techniques, Canada hopes to extract between 315 billion and 1.7 trillion barrels...
(4 Nov 2009)

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