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Soaring oil prices will dwarf the Greek drama

Liam Halligan, UK Telegraph
… Despite the eurozone’s overwhelming ability to set the tone in terms of global investor sentiment, other economic indicators deserve attention – not least the price of oil.

Brent crude hit a nine-month high on Friday, breaking through $125 (£79) a barrel. While the black stuff remains $24 below the all-time nominal peak of July 2008, it is now above those levels in terms of both sterling and the euro. Oil prices are up 14pc since the start of the year. That’s obviously bad news for the big Western energy-importers, the UK included, that are struggling to generate sustainable economic recovery.

Oil is soaring, we’re told, because the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has just issued a report on the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the world’s third-biggest crude exporter. …

Iran is obviously feeling emboldened. With the US withdrawing from Iraq, Tehran has warned that, in a bid to stem “outside meddling” in its affairs, it might try to disrupt energy exports from the Persian Gulf. This is no empty threat. Iran controls the northern shore of the Strait of Hormuz, the 20-mile wide pinch-point through which passes daily over a third of the world’s seaborne oil shipments.

While the escalation of any kind of tension in the Middle East is obviously a serious matter, I don’t accept that is why crude prices are high. The real reason –perhaps less interesting, but no less important for that – is simple demand and supply. Global crude use is soaring, while the most important oil wells on earth are rapidly depleting.
(25 February 2012)

Got the Time

Jamais Cascio, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
I’ve been mulling something of late, and it hasn’t left me in a tremendously good mood. Take a look at these two sets of graphs.

The first one is from the US Energy Information Administration, a group within the US Department of Energy tasked with coming up with independent statistics and analysis on US and world energy use. This chart is from the “International Energy Outlook 2011” report, released last September. It shows the breakdown of fuels used to generate electricity, given fairly conservative projections of growth and changing energy mix.

… Basically, we have to replace over 21,000 TWh of electricity generation from coal and natural gas (yes, natural gas is less-harmful than coal, but still has a greenhouse impact) with an equivalent amount from some mix of renewable, hydro, and nuclear. And do it in 10 years.

… given the current global political environment, it’s difficult to imagine a real agreement to eliminate carbon emissions, taken seriously by all parties, showing up before the end of this decade.

So here are our three scenarios:

1) We manage to get a real global agreement in place within the next five-eight years, and spend the subsequent 25 or so years undertaking the largest industrial transformation imaginable. Politically implausible.

2) We don’t get a real global agreement in place before 2025, and have to cut emissions by 10% per year (as Roberts notes, the biggest drop we’ve seen is 5% after the USSR’s economy collapsed). Physically implausible.

3) Neither of those happen, and we start to see truly awful impacts, mostly in the developing world at first, all of which make the world politically more hostile and economically more fragile—and make it more difficult to cut carbon emissions effectively.

This is why I think geoengineering is going to happen. Desperate people do desperate things, and when you hear sober scientists say things like population “carrying capacity estimates [are] below 1 billion people” in a world of 4 degree warming, it’s hard to argue convincingly that the uncertainty and risks around geoengineering are worse.

Anyone who thinks that geoengineering is a way to avoid cutting carbon is an idiot. Geoengineering is a tourniquet, a desperate measure to stop the bleeding when nothing else can work in time.
(15 February 2012)

Gas: climate panacea or industry propaganda?

David Strahan
I once hitched a lift from New York to London in the private jet of an American gas billionaire. Robert Hefner III, who pioneered the drilling of deep wells in the 1960s, was planning to write a book and wanted to discuss it.

The Grand Energy Transition would argue that natural gas will solve “peak oil”, when global oil production starts to decline, and dramatically cut US emissions of greenhouse gases. Abundant and clean, gas offered a perfect bridging fuel to a future of limitless low-carbon energy based on hydrogen.

That was five years ago, with gas prices approaching near-record highs, so I was sceptical to say the least. But these days the US is awash with cheap, newly producible shale gas, and enthusiasts claim this “revolution” can be repeated around the world. So could it be that Mr Hefner, despite his obvious commercial interest, was right all along?

There is certainly far more gas around than most thought possible just a few years ago. Much of it comes from shale – petrified mud that was often rich in organic matter.

… in one sense, the exact level of emissions from unconventional wells is irrelevant: even if all natural gas turns out to be as “clean” as conventional gas is generally believed to be, it still could not deliver the emissions cuts proposed by climate scientists to avoid dangerous climate change.

One reason is that global demand for energy is so strong that the notion that gas will “displace” coal for generating electricity now looks fanciful. In the US and China, the world’s biggest polluters, coal and gas consumption are both forecast to increase over the next twenty-five years. So at best increasing gas production will reduce the rate of growth in emissions from coal, but will not reduce them in absolute terms. “In a world that is clamouring for energy”, says Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, UK, “exploiting a new resource like shale means emissions will rise, not fall”.
First published in the New Scientist 25 February 2012
(23 February 2012)

Gingrich is wrong on both gun racks in Chevy Volts and US energy policy

David Herron, Torque News
Last weekend Newt Gingrich decided to unload both barrels on the Chevy Volt claiming, among other things, that the Chevy Volt is ridiculous because “You can’t put a gun rack in a Volt.” Yesterday, John McDole, A Chevy Volt owner, posted a video on youtube proving that you can very well put a gun rack in a Volt. Score one for the masses?

… the other, largely incorrect, comments Gingrich made over the weekend about oil policies, the price of oil, and green technology and green transportation incentives in an effort to attack the Obama Administration. The comments made by Gingrich and McDole demonstrate two very different views of energy policies in the U.S. Some, like Gingrich, are living in a fantasy of cheap oil and big trucks, while others like McDole recognize our future will be plagued by energy supply shortages and the urgent need to quickly stop using fossil fuels.

Gingrich’s comments came during a campaign swing through his home state of Georgia, which holds its Presidential Primary on March 6.

During a campaign stop former Speaker Newt Gingrich mocked the green car lobby with “How DARE we go out and drive vehicles bigger than their bicycles!” He went on to say he doesn’t have anything against people who want to drive electric cars like the Volt, calling it an interesting experimental car and repeating the oft-said talking point “The average family who buys it earns $170,000 per year,” and several other digs against the Chevy Volt. All that led to him saying “here’s my point, you can’t put a gun rack in a Volt,” a line which drew huge applause from the audience. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Gingrich campaigned on gun rights, religious freedom and bringing gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon, and quotes him saying “I think $2.50 a gallon gasoline and trucks big enough to carry a gun rack fits Georgia just about perfectly and I am happy to campaign here on that.”

In his video, McDole replied to Mr. Gingrich saying, “Recently Newt Gingrich decided to make a statement about the production of oil in the United States, that if he were President he would drill anywhere and everywhere he could in order to drop the price [of oil] to $2.50, which shows a ‘slight’ misunderstanding of how the global markets work. See, if you try to increase supply in the United States, the Saudi’s and everyone else who produce oil will just reduce the supply and the price will still remain the same.”
(21 February 2012)

La future rente des gaz de schiste
Une malédiction à conjurer par l’intelligence

Pr Chems Eddine Chitour, L’expression (Algérie)
… Il est vrai aussi que nous nous dirigeons inévitablement vers un épuisement des réserves d’énergies fossiles: pétrole, gaz et charbon manqueront complètement à l’échelle de la fin de ce siècle. D’après l’Aiea, le peak oil aurait été dépassé en 2006, nous serions inéluctablement sur le déclin… Quelques éléments pourraient cependant provisoirement, changer le cours des choses et ralentir ce phénomène de déplétion. Cette nouvelle manne est vue dans les pays occidentaux comme une réponse à l’hégémonie des pays du Sud et de la Russie sur le gaz. Il s’agit bien de gaz de schiste ici stocké dans les roches, ce qui en rend difficile son extraction.

… La révélation de tels gisements exploitables représente, pour la société énergivore d’un nouvel âge que l’on qualifie d’oléocène, une manne considérable…

Nous devons nous interroger si les gaz de schiste sont un nouveau miracle pour un pays rentier comme l’Algérie ou est-ce une malédiction de plus qui renvoie aux calendes grecques la mise en ordre de ce pays.

… Actuellement nous épuisons frénétiquement l’énergie, croyant être malins alors qu’il serait plus sage de n’exploiter que le strict nécessaire, sachant que notre meilleure banque est notre sous-sol. Par ailleurs, on achète n’importe quoi.

… J’ambitionne pour mon pays un nouveau 24 Février d’une stratégie énergétique pour le XXIe siècle avec les outils des nouvelles technologies. Rien ne doit alors, s’opposer à une remobilisation de l’Université qui doit faire preuve d’imagination, qui doit former des créateurs de richesse et non des demandeurs d’emplois. Parmi les grands défis du pays, ceux de l’énergie, de l’eau, de l’environnement et de l’autosuffisance alimentaire devraient être des axes structurants de notre recherche. La stratégie énergétique est de mon point de vue l’un des débats structurants dont devrait s’emparer la future assemblée. Tout le secret de la gouvernance est justement de mobiliser le plus grand nombre autour d’une utopie seule capable de sauver l’Algérie quand la rente ne sera plus là. (2)
(25 February 2012)