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Fossil fuel subsidies: a tour of the data

Duncan Clark, Guardian
Fossil fuels are subsidised in much of the world, causing billions of tonnes of addition CO2 emissions

Fatih Birol says ending fossil fuel subsidies could provide half the answer to solving climate change

One of the most surprising and alarming issues in the climate and energy arena is the fact that the fossil fuels causing global warming continue to receive substantial government support, making them artificially cheap and encouraging more of them to be consumed. It’s a form of madness that my colleague Damian Carrington put his finger on recently when he wrote that “the house is ablaze and we are throwing bucket after bucket at it – buckets of petrol.”

What’s particularly baffling is that while government support given to environmentally beneficial renewable power sources is subject to seemingly endless media and political scrutiny, the 500% larger subsidies given to oil, gas and (to a much lesser extent) coal rarely get much attention.

In case that 500% figure sounds hard to believe, here’s a chart showing the IEA’s estimate of all the energy subsidies given out globally over the last few years. As it makes clear, fossil fuels – and specifically oil and gas – account for the overwhelming majority.

It’s worth pausing for a moment to take in the sheer amount of money we’re talking about here: more than half a trillion dollars in 2008 (when energy prices hit record highs), equivalent to the total GDP of Sweden or Saudi Arabia. The figure was lower in 2010, but so far there’s no obvious sign of a downward trend, seemingly because reductions in subsidies in some countries have been offset by rising energy prices, which can ratchet up the cost of the remaining subsidy schemes.

So where and how are all these fuel subsidies dished up?
(19 January 2012)

Gas galore?

David Strahan, journalist blog
It may come as news to hard-pressed European households, but the world is enjoying a glut of natural gas. European gas prices have almost doubled in the last two years, as production on the continent dwindles, yet it is widely thought the world is now awash with supplies that could transform the entire energy outlook.

Only a few years ago the gas supply looked tight and stood at the mercy of long-distance pipeline politics. European imports from Russia, for example, have twice been cut off in the depths of winter during its long-running dispute with Ukraine. Today, however, the market appears transformed by the rise of liquefied natural gas (LNG) delivered by tanker from the Middle East and North Africa, and unconventional shale gas production in the US.

This has moved some commentators to urge governments to ditch ambitious plans for wind turbines and build more gas-fired power stations instead, while others argue that natural gas should replace costly oil as a transport fuel. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has even developed a “Golden Age of Gas” scenario to reflect the fuel’s rising fortunes. It foresees the share of the world’s primary energy supplied by gas – which has the lowest carbon content of all fossil fuels –growing from a fifth to a quarter by 2035, overtaking coal and almost matching oil. Yet other analysts doubt whether this is either possible or desirable.
(19 January 2012)

US Thirst for Fossil Fuels is Decimating Nature’s Wildlife: Report

Common Dreams
Beyond the polar bear: Survey of endangered species highlights animals, large and small, often neglected in popular discourse

The day after the Obama administration rejected a proposal for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline — a move widely, if cautiously, applauded by environmental groups and advocates of renewable energy — a new report highlights the destructive impact of fossil fuel consumption in the United States. The report, called Fueling Extinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink, highlights the top 10 US species whose survival is most threatened by the development, extraction, transportation, and consumption of fossil fuels.

Generated by a coalition of environmental and conservation groups, the report looks at the impact of the coal, natural gas, and oil industries and asks the fundamental question: “What have we gained from our nation’s unquenchable appetite for fossil fuels?” Coalition members nominated species for inclusion in the report; submissions were then reviewed, judged and voted on by a panel of scientists. The report identifies the home range, conservation status, remaining population and specific threat facing each of the 10 finalists.

“America’s outsized reliance on dirty and dangerous fuels is making it much harder to protect our most vulnerable wildlife,” said Mark Salvo with coalition member WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement. “We should not sacrifice our irreplaceable natural heritage in order to make the fossil fuels industry even wealthier.”
(19 January 2012)

Fracking the World: Energy Companies Set Their Sights Globally

Platts Energy Bulletin
Africa, Latin America may see biggest growth in fracking

Global hydraulic frac market seen up 19% this year: consultant

… although the US and Canada comprise the largest chunk of the hydraulic fracturing market by far — just shy of 90% — activity in other markets is expected to rise over the next several years, Richard Spears, vice president of oilfield consultants Spears & Associates, said during a Credit Suisse conference call about the hydraulic fracturing market. “If that international piece is $4 billion, $5 billion [in 2011], I think five years from now it grows to $10 billion,” Spears said. Areas likely to show the biggest growth globally are Latin America, particularly Argentina, where shale drilling has gotten off to a running start, and parts of Africa. “Argentina sounds, looks and smells very much like West Texas,” said Spears, adding Latin America currently accounts for $1.7 billion/year of fracturing revenues.
(19 January 2012)