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Secret UK memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq

Paul Bignell, Independent
Plans to exploit Iraq’s oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world’s largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, government documents show.

The papers, revealed here for the first time, raise new questions over Britain’s involvement in the war, which had divided Tony Blair’s cabinet and was voted through only after his claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

… Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair’s military commitment to US plans for regime change.

The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf because the oil giant feared it was being “locked out” of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.
(19 April 2011)

Chemicals Were Injected Into Wells, Report Says

Ian Urbina, New York Times
Oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in more than 13 states from 2005 to 2009, according to an investigation by Congressional Democrats.

The chemicals were used by companies during a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives into rock formations deep underground. The process, which is being used to tap into large reserves of natural gas around the country, opens fissures in the rock to stimulate the release of oil and gas.

Hydrofracking has attracted increased scrutiny from lawmakers and environmentalists in part because of fears that the chemicals used during the process can contaminate underground sources of drinking water.
(16 April 2011)

Decision looms on Mekong River dam opposed by conservation groups

Jonathan Watts, Guardian
… the big environment story in south-east Asia this week is without doubt the upcoming decision on the proposed Xayaburi dam in Laos.

I reported last year on the dispute surrounding this project, which poses a risk to some of the world’s biggest freshwater fish. Conservationists warn that the 820m barrier threatens catfish the length of cars and stingrays that weigh more than tigers. The Laotian government counters that economic benefits outweigh the environmental impact.

The Mekong River Commission gathers in Vientiane tomorrow to consider the Xayaburi (also spelled Sayabouly) dam. On Friday, they are expected to make a final recommendation to the four member states: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

It will be the biggest decision ever taken by the commission, which was set up in 1995 to share the resources of south-east Asia’s most important river.

But approval already seems to have been taken for granted. In the past two days, the Bangkok Post and New York Times have reported that residents are being moved out of the area and preparatory work on the dam is already underway.

… The potential impact on food security is enormous, warns Aviva Imhof of International Rivers in this opinion piece:

“The Mekong River – known locally as the “Mother of all Rivers” – is the world’s largest inland fishery. This fishery constitutes the primary source of protein for the majority of the basin’s 60 million inhabitants, many of whom are subsistence farmers. To harm the fishery is to harm the food security of the region’s poor.”

… It seems the “Mother of all rivers” is increasingly being milked for power instead of nutrition. Given how much cropland is also now being turned over to biofuels, is it any wonder that the world faces a food crisis.
(18 April 2011)

Sasol’s Plan For North American Shale Gas: Turn It Into Diesel

Christopher Helman, FUEL (blog), Forbes
Are you worried about Peak Oil, or just convinced that America’s continued reliance on imports of foreign oil is a road to ruin? Well Pat Davies has a technology for you. Davies is chief executive of South African energy giant Sasol (NYSE:SSL). The company is the world leader in making diesel fuel out of feedstocks other than oil–namely natural gas and coal–and has high hopes for someday transforming North America’s abundant shale gas into cheaper, cleaner car juice.

To convert coal or gas into liquid fuels Sasol (2010 profits of $2.3 billion on $17 billion sales) uses something called the Fischer-Tropsch process that was developed by German scientists in the 1920s. It later helped fuel Hitler’s war effort. Later, perfection of the process helped South Africa fuel its economy during the apartheid years; in South Africa Sasol makes 190,000 barrels per day of fuel from coal. Because the process removes any pollutants like sulfur and heavy metals, the resultant diesel is the cleanest burning in the world.
(18 April 2011)

Big Coal’s Dirty Secret: Breakthrough New Study on Longwall Mining Regulatory Failure and Ruin in Pennsylvania

Jeff Biggers,
A game-changing new independent study released today by the national Citizens Coal Council underscores one of our nation’s most overlooked environmental crises and darkest energy secrets in Pennsylvania and a dozen states in the heartland and the West: Flawed state regulatory policies for underground longwall coal mining have not only failed to protect American citizens and their private property and critically important waterways, but stand in violation of state constitutions.

To the scourge of strip-mining and mountaintop removal and natural gas fracking and oil drilling, let’s us now add longwall mining–the process of intentionally pulling underground pillars in coal mines and allowing for huge drops of subsidence that has left private homes and farms and once productive farmland in ruin, and contaminated or drained lakes, crucial watersheds and streams.

Nowhere has longwall mining been as blatantly ruinous as in Pennsylvania, where a Big Coal-backed and highly controversial “Act 54″ in 1994 altered the state’s 1966 law, which mandated the “prevention of damage from mine subsidence.” Since then, Act 54 has allowed coal companies to circumvent “prevention” for the more ambiguous “restoration of damage from mine subsidence.”

According to Stephen Kunz, senior ecologist for Schmid & Company, and the report’s author, “The inevitable conclusion from our analysis of the DEP’s five-year review is that longwall mining as currently practiced in Pennsylvania under Act 54 is highly destructive and is not compatible with environmental protection, landowner protection, or taxpayer protection.”

Jeff Biggers is the author of The United States of Appalachia, and more recently, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (The Nation/Basic Books)
(18 April 2011)