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Shell’s outgoing UK boss has seen oil firm’s role shift in a changing climate

Fiona Harvey, Guardian
Now is a good time to be running an oil company. Prices are sky-high, energy demand is increasing at an unprecedented rate as the global economy recovers, and there are new markets to be explored. Royal Dutch Shell largely dodged the criticism heaped on the industry after BP’s catastrophic oil spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico …

So it is not surprising that James Smith, Shell’s outgoing UK chairman, speaks with a tinge of regret. At the end of the month, he will retire from the company he has been part of for 28 years, seven of them in his current role. Like other oil industry executives, Smith has a sense of destiny; an industry once regarded as dull and boring, a mere mechanical process of mineral extraction, has in the past five years taken centre stage in the global economy

… Appointed chairman of Shell UK in 2004, Smith immediately recognised his tenure would be defined by his response to climate change. The European Union’s emissions trading scheme – the first time that the oil and gas industry had to pay for its carbon emissions – came into force on 1 January 2005.

While oil industry chiefs in the US dismissed global warming as a fad, and tried to rubbish the science behind it, Smith was following in the rather greener footsteps of BP’s Lord Browne.
(8 April 2011)

Edward Burtynsky’s Oil Exhibition Shines

Torontoist (Canada)
“Oil,” the new exhibition opening Saturday April 9 at the Royal Ontario Museum, brings together over 50 pieces by celebrated local photographer Edward Burtynsky, and examines our love-hate relationship with the sticky substance. Burtynsky’s taken photographs of oil as it is found around the world—reinforcing its global impact—ranging from Canada’s tar sands to NASCAR rallies in the United States, from giant parking lots of Volkswagen cars in China to oil fields in Azerbaijan and tanker graveyards in Bangladesh.

If you’ve seen the 2006 documentary Manufactured Landscapes, some of the images will be familiar (we immediate recalled the section on Bangladesh and the barefooted workers breaking apart old junked tankers) but “Oil” retains a feeling of discovery.

… “Edward Burtynsky: Oil” runs from April 9 to July 3 at the Royal Ontario Museum.
(7 April 2011)

Energy and Security Issues in the Red Sea Transforming as the Age of Gas Begins in Earnest

Gregory R. Copley, Oil
Major new energy issues are about to transform still further the strategic balance of the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, with foreseeable consequences for the global energy market over the coming decade. Soon-to-be-evident new wealth in the Red Sea/Horn of Africa region will transform the intensity of conflict there, which in turn will affect not only the region, but the world’s most important trading route: the Red Sea/Suez sea line of communication (SLOC).

Much of the anticipated change is developing around the flood of new discoveries and exploitation of natural gas fields in the Indian Ocean region, particularly extending through Ethiopia, Egypt, and other countries of the Red Sea region. Apart from the impending influx of new energy wealth into the region, facilitating new levels of confidence and capability in the security environment, the boom of the “Gas Age” also seems set to promise — within a decade — an oversupply of gas to the world market, almost certainly precipitating a collapse in price for gas and petroleum.1
(26 August 2010)

Shades of Green: Fukushima Daiichi and Decision Time

Ray Grigg, Common Sense Canadian
The unfolding events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan are more than a human and environmental disaster. The cooling problem and subsequent radiation leaks that are contaminating food, land and water are tragic reminders of the dilemma facing a growing world population that is demanding increasing amounts of energy to fuel higher levels of production and consumption. The rising complexity of technology, the looming shortage of resources and the physical limits imposed by a finite planet all compound this dilemma. Indeed, Fukushima Daiichi is a symbol of the fragile successes and the menacing failings of our sophisticated age. Thus Japan is providing a glimpse into the future of every modern society everywhere.

Just as modern Japan arose by embracing industrialization at the end of the Tokugawa Period, it also arose from the ruin of World War II by embracing technology. And the Japanese success has been stupendous. Within a few decades of the wreckage of 1945, it had become the second largest economy on the planet – it is now third, after recently being overtaken by China. The world is full of Japanese technology, innovation and products: electronics, computers, digitization, cars, ships and robotics. Its manufacturing, buying and consumption habits affect the economy of the world.

Although modern Japan has a people who are dedicated and industrious, it doesn’t have the local natural resources to empower this capability. So it imports vast quantities of raw materials and exports them as finished products. And it has solved its energy problem by adopting nuclear power, the same kind of technological sophistication that has brought it other successes.

Japan is the third largest user of nuclear energy in the world. Its 55 nuclear reactors are clean, efficient and perfectly tailored to the compact, dense and vigorous character of the country. The reactors are also an ideal match for the profligate use of energy that powers Japan’s industry, cities, trains, entertainment and communication systems. Indeed, Japan’s social, cultural and economic vitality seems to be more closely connected to massive quantities of electricity than almost any country in the world. The humming activity of Japan is synonymous with the humming current coursing through its ubiquitous power lines.

The choice Japan made decades ago to adopt nuclear power as the solution to its energy needs is now a choice confronting the rest of the world. The other options seem fraught with shortcomings. Coal, although plentiful, is polluting, and its high carbon dioxide output makes it the worst possible energy source on a planet subject to the looming effects of greenhouse warming. Most of the world’s hydro-electric potential has already been harnessed. Oil is almost as dirty as coal, and its supply is on the verge of falling below demand. Renewable energies such as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal may not be able to meet the growing needs of industrialization, consumption and population. Conservation and efficiency, although helpful, can’t seem to compensate for rising energy use. At the time and under the circumstances, Japan’s decision to go nuclear seemed a smart strategy.

But the twin traumas of a massive earthquake and a huge tsunami have changed this calculus.
(8 April 2011)

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster at One Month: The Explosion of Nukespeak

Karl Grossman,
Today marks exactly a month since the nuclear power disaster in Japan began. Along with the ongoing discharges of radioactivity from the Fukushima nuclear plant complex, there has been a largely outrageous flow of media coverage.

Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News on April 6th asked a good question: “And what about all that water, the many million gallons of it, highly radioactive, dumped in the Pacific Ocean for days on end—and we’ve all been told it will dissipate. But how can this not be harmful?” he queried correspondent Miguel Almaguer.

The question might have been good but the response to it, Almaguer’s report, was far from that. He presented a talking head expert, Luca Centurioni of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who said: “No, there is no immediate danger.” (Centurioni’s background, according to his resume posted on the Internet, reflects no background in radioactivity.)

“The bottom line,” said Almaguer, “experts are in agreement there’s no threat to our water or our food.” He added: “And as you can see Brian, California’s coastline is as beautiful as ever.” Radioactivity, of course, is invisible.

… Meanwhile, amid all the disinformation about radioactivity there has been the effort by most of media to frame a debate between nuclear and coal—choose your poison. In fact, the energy debate is between nuclear, coal and oil, on one side, and safe, clean, renewable energy technologies, led by solar and wind, on the other.

But you wouldn’t know that from media reports over the past month.

… The classic book on disinformation on nuclear technology is Nukespeak, published in 1982. It is dedicated to George Orwell, author of 1984, and written by Stephen Hilgarten, Richard C. Bell and Rory O’Connor.

It opens by declaring that “the history of nuclear development has been profoundly shaped by the manipulation through official secrecy and extensive public-relations campaigns. Nukespeak and the use of information-management techniques have consistently distorted the debate over nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Time and time again, nuclear developers have confused their hopes with reality, publicly presented their expectations and assumptions as facts, covered up damaging information, harassed and fired scientists who disagreed with established policy, refused to recognize the existence of problems…claimed that there was no choice but to follow their policies.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, has long specialized in doing investigative reporting on nuclear technology. He is the author of Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power. He is the host of the nationally aired TV program, Enviro Close-Up (
(11 April 2011)