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Energy - Dec 20

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage.


Keystone XL Is Back on the Table—for Now

George Zornick, The Nation
Early Saturday morning, the Senate passed the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011, which extends a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for two more months—while requiring that the Obama administration make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline within the same time period.

... Obama said at a press conference this month that “Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut, I will reject.” That clearly was an empty threat, since he plans to sign this bill on Monday when the House will presumably approve it. In brief remarks at the White House this morning, Obama lauded passage of the tax relief and did not mention the Keystone provision at all.

So how likely is it that Keystone XL is ultimately approved? It’s hard to tell, since the White House hasn’t said a word, but many environmentalists inside and outside Congress believe this makes a rejection more likely.

“The deal passed by the Senate rushes the pipeline review process, making a credible, science-based review impossible. Because of this, and the great harm we already know the pipeline would cause, President Obama has no choice but to reject the pipeline,” said a statement this morning from Friends of the Earth.

Representatives Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, both stalwart environmentalists, told Politico yesterday before the bill was passed that they weren’t overly concerned.
(17 December 2011)



IEA warns high oil prices threaten global economy

Alex Kennedy, Associated Press
High oil prices threaten to worsen a global economic slowdown and crude producers should consider boosting output, the chief economist for the International Energy Agency said Wednesday.

... "Recent developments, including the Arab Spring, have changed the mindset of many governments," Birol said "In some countries, oil investments have been diverted to social spending. Oil policies are taking on a more nationalistic tone, which means not to increase production as much is needed in the world market."
(14 December 2011)
Video interview with Birol.



Oil’s getting harder and harder to come by

Brad Plumer, Ezra Klein's Wonkblog, Washington Post
Are oil companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find new oil? It can certainly seem that way. Most of the older, easier-to-drill oil fields appear to be running near full capacity, while newer supplies often prove costly and difficult to drill — think of deepwater extraction off the Gulf of Mexico or shale production in North Dakota, which isn’t economical unless crude prices rise higher than $60 per barrel.

But here’s another way to look at it. As a chart from ExxonMobil’s new 2012 Outlook for Energy (via Gregor McDonald) shows, the vast bulk of our oil comes from those older, easier-to-drill fields, with more recently discovered supplies playing a smaller and smaller role:

... pessimists like Gregor McDonald point out that global oil production seems to have hit a ceiling since 2005, even as demand has been growing. And, they note, while the world certainly won’t run out of crude anytime soon, all this new unconventional oil in hard-to-drill regions like the Arctic will require inordinately high crude prices that could prove incompatible with healthy economic growth. (Burning all that dirty unconventional oil would also speed up the pace of global warming.) That’s the real worry about peak oil, and it’s a concern that the official forecasting agencies often discount.
(13 December 2011)




Peak E-Cat

Ugo Bardi, Cassandra's legacy

Number of searches of the term "E-Cat" according to Google Trends
The interest in the "E-Cat", the supposed "cold fusion reactor" invented by Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi, is waning. You can perceive that clearly from the activity of the various sites dealing with it; while "Google Trends" confirms that the trend is indeed down. After a flare of curiosity that peaked in november 2011, people found that there was nothing to see about the E-Cat except some purported "demonstrations" that didn't really demonstrate anything. So, they lost interest. 

What remains of the E-Cat is a core of diehard supporters - especially in Italy. - who will likely keep the myth alive for a long time. It is typical and well known: "free energy" theories never die. Today, people are still discussing the supposed free energy devices attributed to Nikola Tesla and that go back to almost a century ago - poor Tesla is probably still rolling over in his grave. And, in the meantime, plenty more cranky theories have been proposed. In this field, the E-Cat will remain remarkable for the amount of noise it generated when compared to what little evidence (actually, none) was presented.

About the E-Cat, you may be interested in two well thought and in depth articles that demolish Rossi's claims at their basis.

(18 December 2011)




Second life: The questionable safety of life extensions for Russian nuclear power plants

Igor Koudrik and Alexander Nikitin, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Article Highlights

  • Russia is extending the lifetime of nuclear power reactors beyond their engineered life span of 30 years, including the nation's oldest reactors: first-generation VVERs and RBMKs, the Chernobyl-type reactors.
  • These reactors are of an inherently unsafe design, which cannot be improved through upgrades and modernization, and some reactor parts are impossible to replace.
  • Russian environmental groups insist that the lifetime extensions violate Russian law, because the projects have not undergone environmental assessments.

(13 December 2011)
EB contributor Janice Sinclaire writes: "A sobering piece on Russia's decision to extend the operation of Chernobyl-type reactors past the engineered life span. These reactors are of an inherently unsafe design, which cannot be improved through upgrades and modernization, and some reactor parts are impossible to replace."

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