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A roundup of news, views and ideas from the main stream press and the blogosphere.  Click on the headline link to see the full article.

Shell Exits Arctic as Slump in Oil Prices Forces Industry to Retrench

Clifford Krauss and Stanley Reed, New York Times
As oil prices have continued their steady decline this year, rig after rig has been shut down, costing thousands of jobs in the United States. Yet major oil producers have been loath to pull the plug on their most ambitious projects — the multibillion-dollar investments that form the backbone of their operations.

Until now. On Monday, Royal Dutch Shell ended its expensive and fruitless nine-year effort to explore for oil in the Alaskan Arctic — a $7 billion investment — in another sign that the entire industry is trimming its ambitions in the wake of collapsing oil prices.

The announcement was hailed as a major victory by environmentalists, who had fought the project for years, only to be stymied by pressure inside and outside the industry to increase domestic oil production…

Mark Carney warns investors of ‘potentially huge’ losses from climate change risks

Scott Hamilton, Financial Post
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said investors need to wake up to the potential for huge losses from a sudden shift in regulations designed to curb global warming and the use of fossil fuels.

“The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come,” Carney said in a speech at a Lloyd’s of London dinner in the U.K. capital late Tuesday. “Once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.”…

Full speech

Oil Companies Running Out Of Options

Nick Cunningham,
The financial pressure on indebted oil and gas companies continues to mount, putting them in a bind as they try to mend their deteriorating balance sheets.

As their debt rises, drillers have had to divert more of their operating cash flow to servicing that debt. Or, put another way, as cash flow declines, a greater share of those resources are swallowed up by debt payments.

According to an analysis by the EIA, a group of 44 onshore oil and gas operators, responsible for 2.7 million barrels of oil production, are increasingly struggling to deal with falling oil prices. Between July 2014 and June 2015, an estimated 83 percent of the operating cash flow from these companies is dedicated for debt payments…

New Leader Of Canada’s Largest Oil-Producing Province Is Ready To Steer It Away From Fossil Fuels

Natasha Geiling, Climate Progress
In May, Rachel Notley sent shock waves through Canadian politics — and the entire world — when she and her left-leaning New Democratic Party ousted Alberta’s long-reigning conservative government in the province’s elections. Environmentalists quietly cheered the results, hopeful — though not certain — that the new premier would help steer Canada’s most oil-rich province away from fossil fuels.

Now, it looks like environmentalists can cheer a little louder.

In an interview with the Guardian, Notely previewed her forthcoming energy policy, which seeks to shut down Alberta’s coal plants, clean up its oil industry, and make a robust switch over to wind and solar power…

Global Thinkers: Is God Having a Climate Moment?

Mindy Kay Bricker, Foreign Policy – Global Thinkers
Atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe and activist Bill McKibben discuss the pope, global warming, and the making of faith-based environmentalism.

In this week’s Global Thinkers podcast, 2014 Global Thinker and atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe joins 2009 Global Thinker and activist Bill McKibben to discuss climate change, denialism, faith, and what to expect from the upcoming Paris conference. Mindy Kay Bricker, FP executive editor for print, and FP energy reporter Keith Johnson host.

Katharine Hayhoe says "Caring about climate change and, even more so, growing our own energy here at home – thoe are issues that are entirely consistent with conservative values. Being conservative and being Republican has been used as a smoke screen for ideologies that are really purely based on short-term economics…"

Listen to the podcast

New York city mayor pushes pension funds to dump coal stocks

Edward Krudy, Reuters
New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio has called on the city’s $160 billion public pension funds to dump their investments in coal companies and reconsider investments in other fossil fuels as he pushes a clean energy agenda for the city.

De Blasio’s comments on Tuesday are the latest in a growing chorus advocating cutting coal from public pension portfolios. His remarks come after California lawmakers passed a bill requiring the state’s pension funds to sell their investments in coal companies earlier this month.

"New York City is a global leader when it comes to taking on climate change and reducing our environmental footprint. It’s time that our investments catch up – and divestment from coal is where we must start," de Blasio said in a statement.

The divestment movement is gaining momentum worldwide, as well as in the United States…

Tar Sands Mining Moves to Utah

Bobby Magill and Climate Central, Scientific American
The Canadian tar sands, or oil sands, are much more carbon-laden than most other fossil fuels produced in North America, and their possible outsized impact on the climate is one of the primary reasons the proposed Keystone XLPipeline, which would carry tar sands oil to Texas refineries, is so controversial.

Despite long odds as oil prices continue their dip below $50 per barrel, commercial tar sands mining is coming for the first time to the U.S., where an Alberta company called U.S. Oil Sands has begun producing tar sands from a mine in eastern Utah…

Jeb Bush’s low-energy energy plan

David Roberts, Vox
Jeb Bush is seeking, Politico says, to "add policy heft to his campaign." So he’s released an energy plan. Of sorts.

The plan is just over 1,000 words long, fitting easily on one page. If that’s too much policy heft for you, there’s also a convenient summary that comes in at under 300 words and fits even more easily on one page.

As energy policy, it’s mostly vaporware. Even if it were all put in place tomorrow, it would have very little effect on the larger trends and forces at work in the energy world. But as politics, it is quite revealing…

Pentagon bets heavily on sun, wind with major energy projects

Joby Warrick, Washington Post
The eight Ohio-class submarines berthed here are the biggest in the U.S. fleet, with steel hulls nearly 600 feet long to accommodate up to 24 nuclear missiles. But soon they will share quarters with something far bigger: a field of solar panels so vast that 500 of the gargantuan subs could hide in its shadow.

By late next year, if all goes according to plan, some 136,000 of the glass panels will be installed on an empty corner of the Navy base, 35 miles north of Jacksonville. The solar farm will cover an area the size of 280 football fields. And yet, by the time it’s completed, it will not be the Navy’s largest solar array. It may not even be the military’s biggest solar facility in Georgia…

The Pentagon said it is seeking to generate its own power in part to enhance energy security at a time when traditional electric grids are under the threat of cyberattacks. But because of their sheer size, the projects are unavoidably affecting energy markets elsewhere in the country, driving down costs for renewables and dampening the demand for new power plants that burn natural gas or coal…

Two thirds of EU cropland, population ditch GM crops

Principal source: Greenpeace, The Ecologist
Fifteen EU states have now joined the GM-free movement as the 3rd October deadline for registration nears, along with four regions. They collectively account for 65% of the EU’s arable cropland, and 65% of its population, and Greenpeace expects more to sign up.

In the latest blow to the European Commission’s laissez-faire approach to GM crops, at least 15 EU countries and four regions (in two other countries) are in the process of banning the cultivation of GM crops on their territories.

As of today, 1st October, ten EU countries (Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Poland)…

How the banks ignored the lessons of the crash

Joris Luyendijk, The Guardian
Ask people where they were on 9/11, and most have a memory to share. Ask where they were when Lehman Brothers collapsed, and many will struggle even to remember the correct year. The 158-year-old Wall Street bank filed for bankruptcy on 15 September 2008. As the news broke, insiders experienced an atmosphere of unprecedented panic. One former investment banker recalled: “I thought: so this is what the threat of war must feel like. I remember looking out of the window and seeing the buses drive by. People everywhere going through a normal working day – or so they thought. I realised: they have no idea. I called my father from the office to tell him to transfer all his savings to a safer bank. Going home that day, I was genuinely terrified.”…

I spent two years, from 2011 to 2013, interviewing about 200 bankers and financial workers as part of an investigation into banking culture in the City of London after the crash. Not everyone I spoke to had been so terrified in the days and weeks after Lehman collapsed. But the ones who had phoned their families in panic explained to me that what they were afraid of was the domino effect. The collapse of a global megabank such as Lehman could cause the financial system to come to a halt, seize up and then implode. Not only would this mean that we could no longer withdraw our money from banks, it would also mean that lines of credit would stop. As the fund manager George Cooper put it in his book The Origin of Financial Crises: “This financial crisis came perilously close to causing a systemic failure of the global financial system. Had this occurred, global trade would have ceased to function within a very short period of time.” Remember that this is the age of just-in-time inventory management, Cooper added – meaning supermarkets have very small stocks. With impeccable understatement, he said: “It is sobering to contemplate the consequences of interrupting food supplies to the world’s major cities for even a few days.”…

Peak Oil Fantasy

Charles C Mann, Orion
…Our giddy modern lives have depended for decades on a steadily increasing supply of coal, oil, and natural gas. What would happen if they abruptly ran out? The answer comes easily to mind: industrial civilization, imploding in an awful smash. Pithole’s citizens, wannabe wildcatters all, had been sure they were creating a prosperous, long-lasting tomorrow. Centuries from now, will our descendants look back in scorn at our equally feckless view of the future?…

Today this idea is generally called “peak oil,” after the idea that global petroleum output will soon peak, then fall. Coursing through history in a series of panics, the conviction that civilization was hurtling toward an inescapable petroleum doom has, since Lesley, become embedded in Western culture. Time after time, decade after decade, presidents, prime ministers, and politicians of every stripe have predicted that the world will soon run out of petroleum. Time after time, decade after decade, new supplies have been found and old reservoirs extended. The scarcity proved to have been only of the easy oil whose location was already known. People forgot their fears until the next wave of alarm, the next prophesies of catastrophe.

None of this would matter, perhaps, if the peak-oil panics came without a cost. But that is not the case. Fear of peak oil has been a malign presence on the international stage for more than a century, driving imperialist forays, stoking hatred among nations, fueling war and rebellion. It has cost countless lives. Equally problematic, peak oil helped establish a set of wholly mistaken beliefs about natural systems—beliefs that have repeatedly impeded environmental progress. It laid out a narrative that has led ecological activists astray for years. Far too often, we have been told we are facing crises of scarcity, when the deepest of our problems are due to abundance….


Charles Mann’s assessment of peak oil discourse is one-sided and misleading.

It is true that fears of “running out” of non-renewable resources have a long history. Naturally so, since basing an economy on ever-increasing rates of extracting such resources is obviously a bad idea. If resource depletion makes people nervous, it well should.

The scientific study of depletion did (as Mann recounts) get its start with M. King Hubbert, and Colin Campbell (who deserves credit for coining the term “peak oil”) and Jean Laherrere made significant contributions as well. Others are at the vanguard of research today. As with all scientific studies, understanding is refined through a process of data collection and analysis. A quick check of the peer-reviewed literature turns up scores of papers modeling fossil fuel depletion but none (that I could find) arguing that fossil fuels are infinite in quantity.

These are the questions that really concern us: Is the peak oil discussion helping clarify how long current rates of consumption can be maintained (or grown)? And is that information useful grist for environmentalists?

Over the past decade, costs of production for a new marginal barrel of oil have risen by about 10 percent per year. Oil prices have become much more volatile than was historically the case. Regular conventional oil production rates have flatlined. The only significant new prospects are expensive resources like tar sands, tight oil produced by fracking, deepwater oil, and arctic oil. Most of the production increase during the past few years has come from US tight oil, which depends on high levels of debt to cover costs. The tight oil bubble seems now to be bursting, with US production starting to drift downward and companies specializing in this type of production bleeding red ink.

Students of the peak oil literature find all of this quite understandable given the economic and geological dynamics of depletion. However, for those who have denigrated that literature (many of whom are pro-growth economists or fossil fuel industry PR flaks), the past decade of developments in the petroleum industry has presented one surprise after another.

Finally, if Charles Mann is asserting that waiting for the planet to run out of oil is not an effective response to climate change, I would reply, “Who says it is?” Very few fossil fuel depletion analysts would make such a claim. Far more would say that depletion of the low-hanging fruit of fossil fuels (which is easily observable in Shell’s recent abandonment of arctic drilling) is a strong argument for greater haste in transitioning away from dependence upon oil, coal, and natural gas.

Richard Heinberg
Senior Fellow, Post Carbon Institute

News clippings image via shutterstock. Reproduced at with permission.