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French protests jeopardise airport fuel supplies

France’s main airport has only a few days’ worth of jet fuel left, it was announced today, as the strikes against government pension plans continued to disrupt infrastructure.

The transport ministry warned of the fuel shortage at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris as hundreds of thousands took part in another national protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s bill to raise the retirement age.

The country has already endured four days of strikes, affecting flights, rail services, hospitals and schools. Diesel supplies were running low in parts of France as unions announced that workers at all 12 fuel-producing refineries were now on strike, and many depots were being blockaded. Police yesterday forced three crucial fuel depots to reopen.

… In cities around France excluding Paris, some 340,000 protesters were out in protest by midday, according to the interior ministry. Union figures have been consistently far higher than official counts.

On the streets of Marseille, garbage was left uncollected for the fourth straight day and firefighters had to extinguish some rubbish piles set on fire.

The pension reforms are seen by unions as an attack on their near-sacred social protections. The government says that is the only way to stop a €32bn (£28bn) annual pension shortfall ballooning to €50bn by 2020 and insists people must work longer because they are living longer.

The reforms have already been approved by the national assembly, the lower house of the French parliament. The senate has endorsed the key articles on raising the retirement age, and is due to vote on the full text on Wednesday.
(16 October 2010)

Study: World’s ‘Peak Coal’ Moment Has Arrived

Patrick Reis, New York Times
Is the world about to begin running out of coal?

Two researchers say so. In a peer-reviewed article published in the journal Energy, they write that the world will hit “peak coal” production next year or shortly thereafter, and then mining would begin a long, steep decline.

Bottom line, say the paper’s co-authors, Tadeusz Patzek, a University of Texas engineering professor, and Greg Croft, a St. Mary’s College of California earth science professor, is that the 7 billion tons of coal the world is now mining and burning each year is about the best it can do.

“Our ability to produce this resource at 8 billion tons per year, in my mind, is a dream,” Patzek said.

The pair’s prediction is based on the “Hubbert Cycle,” the resource-depletion theory that American geophysicist M. King Hubbert used in the 1950s to correctly forecast that U.S. oil production would peak two decades later.

Patzek predicts coal will peak not because supplies are running out but because the remaining deposits are increasingly difficult to mine. Alaska’s North Slope, for example, has coal reserves that rival those of the continental United States, but turning that coal into energy would be practically impossible, Patzek argues.

“It would take 10 or 11 of the largest coal terminals on the Earth operating 24-7, 365 to load ships above the Arctic Circle during the polar night,” he said.

Russia, China and other energy consumers face similar logistical difficulties with coal, Patzek said.

And while global supplies are set to trail off, the stage is set for demand to spike, Patzek said. U.S. consumers use slightly less than 1 billion tons of coal annually, the Chinese use an estimated 3.5 billion tons, and emerging energy giants like India and Indonesia are hungry for more.

“In the past, any time we demanded something, we got it. Well, this time around, it may be different,” Patzek said. “The message of this paper is that we really have to be a little bit smarter and less energy-intensive.”

Patzek and Croft’s peak-coal prediction is being contradicted by government economists and industry groups.
(Sep 29 2010)
EB contributor Jean Arnold writes:

Pak Coal is an issue we should be paying much closer attention to – both global peak oil and U.S. peak oil. This is surprising coverage by the New York Times of a surprising prediction: that world coal production will peak next year. The article examines several angles on the issue without favoring or dismissing any perspective – notable in that it doesn’t outright dismiss a prediction that goes totally against widely believed assumptions.

Peak Everything

You’ve heard of Peak Oil? Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

There is not enough lithium in the world to make a new generation of battery-powered cars.
American-controlled deposits in NV are dwindling.

Rare earth magnets are in everything from disk drives to EVs to wind turbines and there is no end to demand in sight.
The Chinese, source of 95 percent of the world’s Nd, recently announced that they would be restricting the export of the metal.

Fifty years of mining phosphorus for fertilizer has depleted the world’s phosphate mines.
Between 2003 and 2008, phosphate fertilizer prices rose approximately 350 percent.

The closing of the National Helium Reserve, established in the 1920s to supply military airships, will destroy the market.
Switching to hydrogen is risky. Remember the Hindenburg?
(15 October 2010)
Recommended by Adam Grubb.

New book on the Gulf spill

Publishers Weekly
Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America
William R. Freudenburg and Robert Gramling, MIT, $18.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-262-01583-7

In this intelligent and refreshingly readable–if inevitably depressing–expose, Freudenburg and Gramling, professors of environmental studies and sociology respectively, and longtime collaborators and observers of the oil industry, analyze the origins of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and its aftermath, concluding that we may be facing a “technological Peter Principle”: we may have elevated “the societal significance of our technology up to, and perhaps beyond, the point where it can actually do what we expect it to do.” The authors revisit our history of “hyperdependency” on fossil fuels, from the 19th-century discovery of ground-level oil seeps as whales, the prevailing oil providers, were being hunted out of existence, through increasingly deeper and more remote drilling and the U.S.’s loss of oil dominance in the 1950s to the present day, where corruption is pervasive both in the industry and oversight agencies. Readers interested in energy crisis, peak oil, environmental and climate change issues will appreciate the straightforward analysis and will hope this important book finds its way into the hands of policy makers. (Dec.)
(17 October 2010)