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The Nature of Oil: Reconsidering American Power in the Middle East

Muriam Haleh Davis, Jadaliyya
Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. New York: Verso, 2011.

Toby Craig Jones, Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Robert Vitalis, American Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2006.

For most of those who consider themselves politically liberal, oil—along with environmental degradation and foreign occupation—form a kind of political axis of evil on the American political landscape. Despite the talk of democracy promotion in Iraq and a “strategic alliance” with Saudi Arabia, many would still agree with Bob Dylan, who wrote in 1979: “All that foreign oil / controlling American soil / Look around you / it’s just bound to make you embarrassed.” Scholars who work on the Middle East have formulated a more sophisticated vocabulary to discuss the evils of oil in the region by employing the concept of a rentier state. In short, those countries that derive a significant portion of state revenue from rents (such as those derived from oil export) have an easier time buying off the opposition and are therefore more insulated against the threat of democracy.

In the past few years, three new books in Middle Eastern studies have complicated this picture considerably. They ask us to seriously reconsider the significance of oil for American power, Saudi history, and the forms of expertise that have marked the post-World War II era. To the question, “Why is oil significant?” these authors provide novel responses that are rooted in the study of corporations, environmental history, and science and technology studies, respectively.
(12 January 2012)

The Expert’s Report that Damns the Northern Gateway Pipeline

Andrew Nikiforuk,
Veteran energy analyst David Hughes calculates three reasons the project is bad for Canada.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline will explosively increase the scale of oil sands production at a level not in the national interest, says David Hughes, one of Canada’s foremost energy analysts.

By tripling oil sands production rates above 2010 levels, the project will “compromise the long term energy security interests of Canadians, as well as their environmental interests,” charges Hughes.

The proposed pipeline, designed to ferry bitumen to Asian markets, will also liquidate a non-renewable resource at prices that will likely seem like a bargain down the road says Hughes in a 30-page report titled “The Northern Gateway Pipeline.”

The top-notch analyst also points out that Enbridge, Gateway’s proponent, has made up its own oil sands growth forecasts, which it has provided to the National Energy Board to justify the project.

“Enbridge has generated its own projection of a further increased oil supply, with no methodological backup, to justify the need for its Northern Gateway project to the National Energy Board.”

Hughes’ damning report also posits a simple question that Canada’s media routinely neglects: why does the Canadian government support a proposal to export oil to China when nearly half the country (Quebec and Atlantic Canada) is nearly 100 per cent dependent on declining or volatile reserves from the North Sea and the Middle East? …

SIDEBAR: A slide presentation by geologist David Hughes includes charts showing the wide discrepancy between commonly accepted growth scenarios for the Alberta oil sands, and significantly higher projections put forth by Enbridge and other proponents of fast build-out of oil sands infrastructure. The slides also include satellite views of the oil sands showing growth over nearly three decades. View the slides here.
(12 January 2012)

Plentiful Energy – the book on the Integral Fast Reactor

Dan Yurman, Idaho Samizdat: Nuke Notes
Plentiful Energy: The Story of the Integral Fast Reactor: The complex history of a simple reactor technology, with emphasis on its scientific bases for non-specialists [Paperback] Charles E. Till (Author), Yoon Il Chang (Author)
(Available on Amazon)

The subtitle of the book is “The complex history of a simple reactor technology, with emphasis on its scientific basis for non-specialists.”

Written by the two leading engineers and Argonne National Laboratory, Associate Directors behind the integral fast reactor, Dr. Charles E. Till and Dr. Yoon Il Chang, it is a landmark in the sustainable energy literature.

The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) (Chang 1988) is a fast reactor system developed at Argonne National Laboratory in the decade 1984 to 1994. The IFR project developed the technology for a complete system; the reactor, the entire fuel cycle and the waste management technologies were all included in the development program.

The reactor concept had important features and characteristics that were completely new and fuel cycle and waste management technologies that were entirely new developments.

The reactor is a “fast reactor”– that is, the chain reaction is maintained by neutrons with high energy, not moderated by water, and which produces its own fuel. The IFR reactor, which is cooled by liquid metal sodium, and associated fuel cycle, is a closed system. Electrical power is generated, and new fissile fuel is produced to replace the fuel burned.

Its used fuel is processed for recycling by pyroprocessing – a new development – and waste is put in final form for disposal.

The scale and duration of the project and its funding made it one of the largest nuclear energy R&D program of its day. Its purpose was the development of a long term new energy source, capable of meeting the nation’s electrical energy needs.

Safety, non-proliferation and waste toxicity properties were improved as well, these three the characteristics most commonly cited in opposition to nuclear power. Yet, most of the development had been done when the program was abruptly cancelled by the newly elected Clinton Administration.
(5 January 2012)
Zachary Moitoza writes:

Since you have covered Rossi’s E-Cat, and are interested in debunking all the claims that come along of unlimited energy, you may be interested in running a story about a new book that just became available on Amazon:…

Claims of “Plentiful” cheap energy, unlimited by fuel supplies in amount or time always deserve scrutiny. However, keep in mind, this is no mere fast-breeder of the past. It incorporates many improvements in fuel form, safety, and non-proliferation characteristics. It seems more promising to me than Rossi’s E-Cat, somehow, but I would be interested in your opinion. It is the first book about the IFR written directly by the developers of the technology.

The March Towards the Abyss

Fidel Castro Ruz, Cuba Debate
… Numerous dangers threaten us, but two of them, nuclear war and climate change, are decisive and both are ever farther away from coming close to a solution.

… [a] dramatic event is happening at an increasing pace: climate change. I shall restrict myself to point out what eminent scientists and world-class exhibiters have explained through documents and films that are questioned by nobody.

… [The United States] has signed a covenant to supply 60 billion dollars in the next few years to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where the transnationals of the US and its allies extract on a daily basis 10 million barrels of light oil, in other words, a billion dollars in fuel. What will happen to that country and the region when those energy reserves should run dry? It is not possible that our globalized world will accept without a murmur the colossal wasting of energy resources that nature took hundreds of millions of years to create, and whose dilapidation increases essential costs. It would in no way be worthy of the intelligent nature attributed to our species.

In the last 12 months, that situation has worsened considerably because of new technological advances which, far from alleviating the tragedy coming from the squandering of fossil fuels, considerably make things worse.

World class scientists and researchers have been pointing out the dramatic consequences of climate change.

In an excellent documentary film by French director Yann Arthus-Bertrand, entitled Home, and filmed in collaboration with prestigious and well-informed international celebrities, published in mid-2009, he warns the world with irrefutable data about what is happening. Using solid arguments, he shows the deadly consequences of consuming, in less than two centuries, the energy resources created by nature in hundreds of millions of years; but the worst of it is not the colossal squandering, but the suicidal consequences for the human species. Referring to the very existence of life, he admonishes the human species: “…You benefit from a fabulous legacy of 4,000 million years supplied by the Earth. You are only 200,000 years old but you have changed the face of the world.”

He didn’t blame nor could he blame anyone up to that time, he was simply pointing out an objective reality. However, today we have to blame ourselves for what we know and we are doing nothing to try to fix it.

In their images and concepts, the authors of that work include memories, data and ideas that we have the duty to know and take into account.

In recent months, another fabulous film was Oceans, made by two French film-makers, considered to be the best film of the year in Cuba; perhaps, in my opinion, the best film of this era.

This is amazing material because of the precision and beauty of the images never before filmed by any camera: 8 years and 50 million Euros were invested in the making of it. Humanity must thank that proof for the way in which the principles of nature adulterated by man express themselves. The actors are not human beings: they are the inhabitants of the world’s oceans. An Oscar for them!

What inspired me with the duty to write these lines did not arise from the events referred to up till now, which in one way or another I have commented on previously, but others that, managed by the interests of the transnationals, have been coming to light sparingly in the last few months and in my opinion serve as definitive proof of the confusion and political chaos rife in the world.

Just a few months ago I read for the first time some news about the existence of shale gas. It was stated that the US had reserves to supply their needs for this fuel for 100 years. Since I now have time to do research on political, economic and scientific topics that could be really useful for our peoples, I discretely got in touch with several people living in Cuba or abroad. Oddly, none of them had heard a word about the matter. Of course, this wasn’t the first time that happened. One is amazed about important facts that are hidden in a veritable sea of information, mixed in with hundreds or thousands of news items that circulate the planet.

Nevertheless, I persisted in my interest on the subject. Only a few months have gone by and shale gas is no longer news. Just before the new year enough information was known to clearly see the world’s inexorable march towards the abyss, threatened by risks of such great seriousness as nuclear war and climate change. I have already spoken of the first of these; about the second one, in the interest of brevity, I shall restrict myself to reveal known data and some to be known, that no political cadre or sensible person should ignore.

I don’t hesitate saying that I am observing both facts with the serenity imparted by the years I have lived, in this spectacular phase of human history, that have contributed to the education of our brave and heroic people.

The gas is measured in TCF, which can be referred to in cubic feet or cubic metres – it is not always explained whether they are dealing with one or the other – it depends on the system of measurement that is used in certain countries. On the other hand, when they speak of billions they tend to refer to the Spanish billion that means a million millions; that figure in English is called a trillion, and we must keep that in mind when analyzing the references to the gas which tend to be copious. I shall try to point that out when necessary.

The American analyst Daniel Yergin, author of a voluminous classic on the history of oil stated, according to the IPS news agency, that now a third of all the gas produced in the US is shale gas.

“…exploitation of a platform with six wells can consume 170,000 cubic metres of water and even create harmful effects such as influencing seismic movements, polluting surface and groundwaters and affecting the landscape.”

The British BP group informs us that “proven reserves of conventional or traditional gas on the planet add up to 6,608 billion ?million millions? of cubic feet, some 187 billion cubic metres, […] and the largest deposits are in Russia (1,580 TCF), Iran (1,045), Qatar (894), and Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan with 283 TCF each”. We are dealing with gas that is being produced and marketed.

“An EIA study ?a US government energy agency ? published in April of 2011 found practically the same volume (6,620 TCF or 187.4 billion cubic metres) of recoverable shale gas in just 32 countries, and the giants are: China (1,275 TCF), United States (862), Argentina (774), Mexico (681), South Africa (485) and Australia (396 TCF)”. Shale gas is gas de esquisto. Take note that according to what is known, Argentina and Mexico have almost as much as the United States. China, with larger deposits, has reserves that equal almost the double of those and 40% more than the United States.

“…countries secularly dependent on foreign suppliers shall count on an enormous base of resources in relation to their consumption, such as France and Poland which import 98 and 64 percent respectively of the gas they consume, and in shale or lutite rocks they would have reserves greater than 180 TCF each”.

“To extract it from the lutite ? IPS points out? they resort to a method called ‘fracking’ (hydraulic fracturing), with the injection of great amounts of water plus sand and chemical additives. Carbon traces (proportion of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere) are much greater than those generated in the production of conventional gas.

“Since we are dealing with bombarding layers of earth crust with water and other substances, the risk of damaging the subsoil, soil, surface and groundwater tables, the landscape and communication channels is greater if the facilities for extracting and transporting the new wealth presents handling defects or errors.”

Suffice it to point out that among the numerous chemical substances that are injected with the water to extract this gas we have benzene and toluene, substances that are terribly carcinogenic.
(6 January 2012)