Editors:   Tom Whipple, Steve Andrews

Quotes of the Week

“The well-established market consensus that the Permian [basin] can continue to provide 1.5 million barrels per day of annual production growth for the foreseeable future is starting to be called into question.” Paal Kibsgaard, CEO of Schlumberger

“Two-thirds of US oil producers failed to live within their means in the second quarter, even as oil prices have risen almost 40% over the past year to more than $70 per barrel.  Fifty major US oil companies reported they collectively spent $2 billion more than they took in.” FactSet’s analysis of free cash flow

Graphic of the Week

1.   Oil and the Global Economy

Crude oil prices have been volatile thus far in October, hitting a four-year high to start the month before falling nearly $8 a barrel in the two weeks.  At the close on Friday, New York futures were at $69.12 and London at $79.78.  Market sentiments have changed this month with more traders worrying about the economic problems facing China than how effective the US sanctions on Iranian exports will be.

China’s stock market fell sharply last Thursday, dragged down by a range of concerns that should offer a warning to the broader global economy.  The Shanghai Composite Index fell on Thursday, falling to its lowest point in nearly four years.  The problems in China are dragging down stock markets across Asia, including in Japan and South Korea.  The Shanghai Composite is now down more than 25 percent since the start of the year and lost more than $3 trillion in the last six months.

Multiple problems are facing Beijing including the trade war with the US, vast amounts of debt held by local governments, a broader slowdown in growth, a weakening yuan, and high oil prices.   The IMF says that China’s GDP growth could slow from 6.6 percent this year to just 6.2 percent in 2019, and there are additional risks because of the trade war.

In addition to China’s problems, there are growing concerns about the immediate future for the global economy.   According to a survey from Bank of America, troubles are multiplying.  Tech stocks look inflated.  The Fed continues to hike interest rates, which is having ripple effects across the world.  Borrowing costs are rising.    The strong dollar is putting pressure on emerging market governments and their currencies, making dollar-denominated debt and oil painfully expensive.

The CEO of BP, Bob Dudley said, “There’s a healthy price for oil and energy… it’s somewhere between $50 and $65 a barrel.  The world can live with this.”  “Emerging and developing economies like India, South Africa, or Turkey are seeing their highest-ever prices for gasoline because their currencies have rapidly depreciated against the US dollar and because oil prices in dollars are high.”

Concerns that $80 oil is unhealthy for the world are shared by major international organizations such as the IEA and the IMF.   Expensive energy is back, and it is threatening global economic growth, the IEA said in its Oil Market Report last week, and the IMF slightly downgraded its projection for global growth for this year and next—at 3.7 percent, growth is now expected to be 0.2 percentage point lower than IMF’s forecast from April this year.

OPEC:  The cartel continues to assert that “the oil market is well-balanced and well-supplied.” To calm market fears, OPEC spokesmen are saying that there is plenty of oil to go around and that Russia and Saudi Arabia are adding supply as promised in June “to maintain the supply and demand balance.” While on the surface it appears that the US sanctions on Iran are cutting the world oil supply, recent reports suggest that Tehran is finding ways to keep its exports flowing below the purview of tanker trackers and others monitoring Iran’s exports.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait haven’t made any progress in restarting the jointly operated oil fields that analysts were hoping could soon add 500,000 b/d of oil production to the global supply.  The Partitioned Neutral Zone was established between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 1922 to settle a territorial dispute.   Aramco, the field’s operator, unilaterally shut production down in October 2014, citing new government emissions standards for gas flaring.   The output from the zone averaged around 500,000 b/d just before the shutdown of the two oil fields, Khafji and Wafra, in 2014-2015.

The Wafra field is operated by KGOC and Saudi Arabian Chevron and was shuttered in May 2015, with Chevron saying it had encountered difficulties in securing work and equipment permits.  Sources say the dispute involved a land-use issue at Wafra unrelated to oil production.   Talks to reopen the fields began last month, and Japan’s Toyo Engineering announced that it had been retained to begin preparations for a restart of Khafji in early 2019.

Last week, however, the talks between the Saudis and Kuwait broke down, and the prospects for the fields coming back online is said to be “dead as a doornail.” The Saudis want more control over the operation, and Kuwait is not happy about the Saudi-led embargo of Qatar.  An additional, 500,000 b/d of Middle Eastern oil production would be very useful for keeping the lid on prices at this time.

Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo last week urged oil producing companies to increase capacities and invest more to meet future demand as spare oil capacity shrinks worldwide.  OPEC along with the IEA has been in the forefront of those warning that there is insufficient investment being made in finding new oil fields to support the demand that is expected in the next 20 years.

OPEC says the global oil sector needs about $11 trillion in investment to meet future oil needs in the period up to 2040.   Crude oil demand is expected to increase by 14.5 million b/d from 2017 to 111.7 million b/d in 2040, OPEC said in its September report.

US Shale Oil Production:

US oil production may rise to as much as 14 million b/d by 2020, Secretary of the Interior Zinke told Fox Business last Wednesday.  “Today we are the largest oil and gas producer on the face of the planet, rolling through 11.2 million b/d, on our way to 14,” Secretary Zinke said.  There are some hurdles, we have to get the infrastructure, but the production side of it is well within the capability of going to 14 million b/d, he added.   The US added four rigs last week, making last week’s count the highest since March 2015.  The nation’s total rig count sits at 1,067, which is an increase of 154 from one year ago.

US drillers indeed are confident about the future.  “The Permian is huge,” says Vicki Hollub, the chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum Corp., the basin’s biggest producer, in an email.  It “has the capability to sustain its position with respect to the rest of the world for another decade or two at least.”

The EIA is predicting another banner month with shale oil production increasing by 98,000 b/d including 53,000 b/d from the Permian, 13,000 b/d from the Bakken, and 15,000 b/d from Eagle Ford.  In a footnote, the EIA comments that “Productivity estimates may overstate actual production which could be limited by logistical constraints.”  At least the EIA is reading the press stories bemoaning the lack of pipeline capacity to move the Permian’s oil to market and shortages of many resources need to drill and frack wells.   For those watching the phenomenon, the number of drilled but not yet fracked wells increased by 192 between August and September.

The upcoming startup of an expanded crude pipeline from the Permian Basin to Cushing, Oklahoma has strengthened oil prices in West Texas while weighing on futures as traders expect stockpiles to rise in Cushing.   WTI Midland’s discount to US crude narrowed to as little as $2.50 per barrel on Thursday, the smallest differential in nearly seven months.  WTI Midland sank to the widest in six years at a discount of as much as $18.25 per barrel in late August.   Midland crude traded at $9.50 below WTI at East Houston on Thursday, shrinking from as high as $23.75 in early September.  Traders closely watch the spread to gauge the economics of transporting crude to the US Gulf Coast.   Natural gas production in the Permian Basin also has outpaced pipeline takeaway capacity, but with the rollout of new projects, this trend is expected to change next year.

So much for the optimism.  In addition to the short-term pipeline and resource problem, which probably can be overcome in the next couple of years, there is the problem of the lack of profitability of the shale oil industry and signs that drillers are running out of new “sweet spots” that can produce enough oil to justify drilling it in the first place.

The S&P 500 Energy Index has underperformed the wider market by 42 percentage points over the past four years, despite a 35 percent increase in the price of oil.  Fund managers have lambasted shale industry executives for their high pay, demanding dividends and share buybacks.  In the first quarter of this year, most companies responded with pledges to do either or both, then in the next quarter proceeded to blow through their capital expenditure budgets.  Whether investors will continue pouring billions of dollars into losing shale oil drillers remains to be seen.

However, the biggest problem for the industry is the decreasing number of profitable places to drill.  If new shale oil wells can’t be profitable when their initial average production is above 700 b/d, then what will happen when this average drops to 300 b/d or even 150 b/d?  So far drillers have succeeded in keeping up initial production by drilling longer laterals and using up to four times as much water and sand when they frack a well. While this increases the cost of fracking considerably, it has doubled the initial productivity of the average well since 2012.  This gain leaves open the question of how much it has cost to produce each barrel of well when production is finished.

Last week the issue of whether Permian Basin shale oil production will continue to grow by millions of barrels per day into the distant future was raised by the CEO of the oil service firm Schlumberger, Paal Kibsgaard.    As Schlumberger drills, fracks, and measures the output of wells on behalf of many drillers, it is in an excellent position to see where the industry is heading.   Kibsgaard said in an earnings call, that “the main challenge in the Permian going forward is more likely to be reservoir and well performance.”  “The industry has yet to understand how reservoir conditions and well productivity change as we continue to pump billions of gallons of water and billions of pounds of sand into the ground each year,” he said.

Kibsgaard pointed to an increase in the percentage of new infill — or “child” — wells in the Eagle Ford basin.   “Today, the percentage of child wells drilled in the Eagle Ford has already reached 70%.  And in the three-year period, since this percentage broke the 50% level, we have seen a steady reduction in unit well productivity.” “In the Permian, the percentage of child wells in the Midland Wolf Camp basin has just reached 50 percent, and we are already starting to see a similar reduction in unit well productivity to that already seen in the Eagle Ford, suggesting that the Permian growth potential could be lower than earlier expected,” Kibsgaard said.   Assuming oil demand remains high, “we believe that the level of E&P investments must increase both internationally and in North America …  to develop and deploy the new technologies needed to overcome the emerging shale oil production challenges,” he said.

S&P Global Platts Analytics is forecasting slower Permian growth as a result of declining efficiencies and poorer rock quality.  Production is expected to climb 843,000 b/d in 2018, but that should slow to 320,000 b/d by 2022 and 219,000 b/d by 2023, according to Analytics.   Independent analysts of the shale oil industry have been warning for years that the rapid depletion of shale oil fields and the lack of profitability means that the shale oil phenomenon is a speculative bubble that will not last much longer.  If Platts forecasts for increases in Permian production five years from now are combined with decreases in production from the older US shale plays, then the shale oil industry may be a distant memory by the end of the next decade due to rapid depletion.

2.  The Middle East & North Africa

Iran: US sanctions on Iran take effect in a little over two weeks, and Washington has already had some success in reducing Iranian exports.   Iranian oil exports fell to their lowest level in at least two and a half years in September to 1.7 million b/d, from 1.92 million b/d in August, according to S&P Global Platts trade flow software, though some shipments not visible through vessel-tracking data are suspected to be taking place.  The size of these undetected shipments is not known, and Tehran is claiming that its shipments have dropped very little.

According to Reuters, “an unprecedented amount of Iranian crude oil is to arrive at China’s Dalian port this month and in early November before US sanctions take effect.” An estimated 20 million barrels are destined to flow from Iran to China over the next few weeks, up from the usual 1 to 3 million barrels each month.  There have been indications, however, that China may reduce its shipments during the sanctions.

South Korea did not import any oil from Iran in September for the first time in six years.  It is difficult to turn oil production on and off, and with onshore storage filling up, Iran has been forced to store oil at sea.  However, while Iran’s floating storage spiked in September, it actually fell back in October, as several cargoes set sail for China and India, according to data from Kpler.  It appears that it will be difficult to keep track of Iranian exports during the sanctions as Tehran has considerable experience in avoiding US sanctions.   Nobody believes that Washington can attain its goal of reducing Tehran’s exports to zero.

Iraq: Baghdad’s new Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi has issued a decree transferring the ownership of nine state-owned oil companies, including state oil marketer SOMO, from the oil ministry to the newly-formed National Oil Company which he also heads.   Parliament voted in March to establish the company, which is meant to manage Iraq’s upstream operations, freeing up the ministry to set plans and strategies for developing the sector.

Iraq’s oil production climbed by 1 percent in September, as the federal government and Kurdistan made incremental gains.  Countrywide output averaged approximately 4.86 million b/d, according to data gathered from each producing field.   Iraq hopes to increase natural gas production by about 340 million cubic feet per day from its southern fields this year.  The country urgently needs more gas to help meet unsatisfied electricity demand.  The US sanctions on Iran, which currently supplies about 1,250 million cubic feet per day of natural gas and more than 1,200 megawatts of electricity to Iraq, makes increased domestic production more urgent.

Saudi Arabia: In the wake of the Khashoggi murder, Riyadh’s political situation, domestically and internationally, became extremely volatile.  How it all will turn out is impossible to predict.

Last week some part of the Saudi establishment briefly threatened to restrict oil exports if President Trump imposed “severe punishment” on the kingdom.  As the Khashoggi story unfolded during the week, the “oil weapon” threat dropped from sight.  Given that Saudi Arabia’s oil production is somewhere north of 10 million b/d, any upset in the kingdom poses a serious threat to the global economy.

On Thursday, Saudi Aramco signed an agreement to invest $25 billion in a 400,000-b/d refinery and associated petrochemical plants in eastern China.  This move is part of an effort to expand Aramco’s downstream business and secure additional markets for its oil.

To protect its ability to export oil in the event of hostilities in the Straits of Hormuz, Saudi Arabia has added 3 million b/d of oil export capacity to its West Coast Yanbu South Terminal on the Red Sea.   In July, Iran threatened to close the Straits should the US drive Iranian oil exports to zero.   The Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important chokepoint, with an oil flow of about 18.5 million b/d.

3.  China

China’s government on Friday reported that the economy grew by 6.5 percent over the three months that ended in September compared with a year ago.  Growth in industrial output and consumption weakened in the quarter, while exports held up despite the country’s trade fight with the US.   While fast by global standards, the pace of economic growth is China’s slowest since early 2009, during the depths of the global financial crisis.  China’s reported growth figures over the past two years shows an economy that is just getting by with slowing growth, soaring debt and an escalating trade war with the US.  Widespread doubts remain over the reliability of the government’s official growth numbers.

The exact numbers aren’t clear, but experts agree that China’s debt load is vast.  S&P Global estimates that China’s local governments are carrying as much as $6 trillion in shadowy debt off the books.  Analysts at the ratings firm called it “an alarming level.”

As winter approaches, the northern region of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei needs to make sure there is enough fuel for heating.   The region is notorious for its high levels of pollution, but last year it also became notorious for natural gas shortages that left millions of households without heat during the peak of winter.  To prevent a repeat of last winter’s problems, the authorities are now in a rush to secure fuel supplies, and not just gas but coal as well.   Last year, the central government criticized the local authorities for retiring coal plants before ensuring there would be enough natural gas to provide heating for the region and applying a “one size fits all” approach to the fight against pollution.

The anti-pollution drive is paying off, too.  Reuters reports that between January and September this year, the amount of PM 2.5 particulate matter had fallen by a third from a year earlier thanks to the reduction in coal consumption and changes in industrial production practices.   Natural gas is a big part of this transformation, including LNG.  Last year, China became the world’s second-largest LNG importer, taking in some 38 million tons of the fuel, a 46-percent increase on 2016.

Even so, some parts of the country suffered shortages because the gas could not reach them fast enough.  As a result, China is working on expanding its LNG storage capacity and pipeline network.  It is also expanding its domestic natural gas production and storage.   In the past ten years, China’s natural gas consumption has risen fourfold to more than 25 billion cubic feet per day.

Exxon is cashing in on China’s soaring LNG demand by coupling multi-billion-dollar production projects around the world with its first mainland storage and distribution outlet.  By expanding output of LNG from tariff-exempt sources such as Papua New Guinea and Mozambique and creating demand for those supplies with an import and storage hub, Exxon is hoping to prosper even in the midst of a US/China trade war.

4.  Nigeria

Every few years Nigeria suffers from one of those horrific disasters in which someone drills a hole in a gasoline pipeline and a whole village comes out to collect the leaking gas.  Somebody lights a cigarette and dozens or sometimes hundreds are enveloped in the ensuing fireball.  Last week, there was another of these horrors in which somewhere around 150 people were burned to death.  Some are accusing the National Petroleum Company for failing to repair the leaking pipeline.  For a change, Shell and the other international oil companies were not involved.  This time, however, there was an added feature of security officials on the scene collecting bribes to allow villagers to scoop up gasoline rather than forcing them back into safety.  Three security officials are said to have died in the blast.

The only disasters comparable to pipeline explosions are the frequent gasoline tanker accidents in which innocent bystanders are killed in when overturned tankers catch on fire and explode.

German radio, Deutsche Welle, has been investigating what happened to the estimated $10 billion in oil and products that have been stolen in Nigeria during the last two years.  It turns out that much of the oil is ending up in Cameroon, where many government officials including military, police, and customs officials are involved in the smuggling.  Cameroon produces about 30,000 b/d of oil as compared with circa 2 million in Nigeria.   Smuggling stolen oil has become a way of life in Cameroon,  a country of 25 million people, and is of considerable economic benefit to the country.

5. Venezuela

The US plans to turn up sanctions pressure on Venezuela but sees less need to immediately target its energy sector, given the country’s sagging production.  Washington has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Venezuelan military and political figures close to socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who it blames for trampling on human rights and triggering the country’s economic collapse.  Earlier this year, the Trump administration had weighed escalating sanctions by targeting a Venezuelan military-run oil services company or restricting insurance coverage for oil shipments.

Foreign creditors are circling one of Venezuela’s most valuable assets: Citgo, the Houston-based oil company that it has owned since 1990.   If Citgo is seized and sold to pay Venezuela’s debts, it could disrupt one of the most reliable sources of cash for a country suffering from inflation, food and medicine shortages, and a fleeing population.  US sanctions have exacerbated the government’s pain, keeping it from the US financial system.   The fight over Citgo is unfolding in courtrooms and boardrooms across North America and Europe — with a decision expected by the end of the year.

6.  Climate Change

The UN’s IPCC is being accused of ignoring research into fossil fuel-funded misinformation campaigns that have been key to holding back action on global warming.   Several researchers are angry the report did not take account of academic research into the “decades-long misinformation campaign” funded and promoted by fossil fuel interests and so-called “free market” conservative think tanks that have been a major brake on progress.  These scientists say the lack of consideration of academic research into misinformation campaigns was a vital but missed opportunity to educate the public and policymakers.  The groups that have colluded with the fossil fuel industry have been credited with pushing President Trump to pull the US from the UN’s Paris Agreement.

7.  The Briefs (selections from the press – date of article in Peak Oil News is in parentheses – see more here: news.peak-oil.org)

The rules for new maritime fuel, set roughly a decade ago through the International Maritime Organization, an arm of the United Nations, take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and aim to slash the amount of sulfur in marine fuel for oceangoing ships.   The Trump administration is seeking to slow down that transition.  (10/20)

The UK  government should ban sales of virtually all new petrol and diesel cars by 2032, a group of MPs say in a withering report that labels the current 2040 target “vague” and “unambitious”.  (10/20)

In Norway, Oceaneering International Inc. thinks it has a promising new technology to gain an edge in what’s still a recovering market.  In mid-August, the Houston-based company announced a three-year contract with Norwegian energy giant Equinor (formerly Statoil) to provide an “E-ROV” system for inspection, maintenance and repair services in up to 3,280 feet of water in the Norwegian Continental Shelf.  (10/19)

In Germany, water levels on the Rhine River fell to a record low this week amid a severe drought and were forecast to fall even further, hampering oil product barge movements in northwest Europe.  (10/20)

Saudi-Russia collaboration increasing: Now that global oil markets have gotten used to Saudi-Russian oil production cooperation that first hit the scene in early 2017 in an effort to rein in global price concerns, it now appears that the two fledgling allies are also going to cooperate in the liquefied natural gas sector.  And this time too, it looks as if the alliance could take aim at US energy ambitions.  Saudi state-owned Saudi Aramco said it is open to the idea of marketing some of the LNG from the proposed Russian Arctic LNG 2.  (10/19)

Saudi Aramco signed on Thursday an agreement to invest in a 400,000 b/d refinery and associated petrochemical plants in eastern China as part of Saudi Arabia’s push to expand its downstream business and secure additional markets for its oil.  (10/19)

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the producer of nearly all of the oil in the UAE, began producing and exporting a new crude grade, Umm Lulu, in a move that will help raise the Middle Eastern producer’s exports as OPEC is relaxing the production cuts to offset lost supply from Iran and Venezuela.  The capacity of the two new fields will increase to 129,000 b/d by the end of this year, and then to 215,000 b/d by 2023.  (10/19)

The breakeven price for Qatari crude oil has risen to $47.10 per barrel this year from $24.20 a barrel ten years ago, a Gulf think-tank has calculated.  The Gulf Times reports this represented a 95-percent increase in the breakeven price, which might sound like a lot, but it is below the three-digit breakeven price increases in other producers in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Kuwait.  (10/18)

Libya’s National Oil Corporation warned on Sunday it could be forced to suspend production at its Zawiya refinery due to growing security threats to its staff and facilities.  (10/17)

Mozambique: Rome-based Eni, which earlier this decade led the discovery of an estimated 85 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in Mozambique, on Wednesday signed an accord in Maputo that will allow it to begin exploration work in a previously unexplored area in the country’s deep waters.  (10/18)

Oil trained into Mexico: Kansas City Southern increased the number of fuel carloads moved into Mexico from the US by 164 percent year over year in the third quarter of 2018, the company said Tuesday.  The Missouri-based railroad company moved 13,355 carloads of refined products in Q3 2018.  (10/20)

To Mexico: Already strong US gasoline exports are likely to remain high into the fourth quarter, as refineries in Mexico, the largest buyer of US gasoline, are expected to operate well below capacity.  The US exported 1.16 million b/d of gasoline last week, marking the second straight week above 1 million b/d, US EIA oil data showed.  (10/18)

In Canada, as of last Friday, recreational cannabis consumption is legal.  While many Canadian citizens and companies will be celebrating the reform, the Canadian oil and gas industry will be ringing in the new era with considerably less enthusiasm.  Canadian oil companies and workers’ unions are busy scrambling to finalize a plan to maintain safe operating standards in an era of legal and easily attainable marijuana.  (10/19)

The US oil rig count increased by four to 873 while the gas rig count increased by one to 194, according to reports from Baker Hughes.   The total number of active oil and gas rigs is now 1,067, up 154 from this time last year.  (10/20)

Throwing the ethanol bone: The Trump administration’s plan to allow year-round sales of higher-grade corn ethanol would have limited impact on the depressed US ethanol market, with record supplies and prices for the fuel hovering near the lowest in a decade, analysts said.  With mid-term elections looming, President Donald Trump aimed to give a boost to corn producers in the Farm Belt, who helped secure his narrow 2016 election victory.  (10/16)

Another US LNG project: NextDecade Corp. has secured a draft environmental impact statement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for its Rio Grande LNG project near Brownsville, Texas, along with its associated Rio Bravo Pipeline.  The 27-million-ton-per-annum Rio Grande LNG export facility would receive natural gas from the Agua Dulce gas hub near Corpus Christi via the company’s 4.5 billion cubic foot per day Rio Bravo Pipeline.  (10/16)

Gas vs. coal: With about 21,000 MW of new gas-fired power generation planned in the Appalachian Basin, demand for gas is expected to rise as it overtakes coal in power generation market share.  (10/20)

Coal port crossroads: The Trump administration is considering using West Coast military facilities to export coal and natural gas to Asia, according to an Associated Press report on Monday citing US Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.  The move would help fossil fuel producers ship their products to Asia and circumvent environmental concerns in Democratic-leaning states like Washington, Oregon, and California that have rejected efforts to build new coal ports.  (10/16)

In the UK, protesters gathered on Monday morning outside a drilling site in northwest England, where fracking is returning for the first time in seven years after a last-minute request for an injunction against Cuadrilla Resources failed at court on Friday.  (10/16)

Battery R&D: The EU is planning to allow state aid for electric battery research and will offer billions of euros of co-funding to companies willing to build giant battery factories.   Brussels is concerned that the EU auto industry, which employs 13m people, could be left behind in the race to build mass-market electric vehicles because of their reliance on batteries from Asia.  (10/15)

More battery R&D: The BMW Group, Northvolt and Umicore have formed a joint technology consortium in order to work closely together on the continued development of a complete and sustainable value chain for battery cells for electrified vehicles in Europe.  The chief objective is to make battery cells sustainable by establishing a closed life-cycle loop.  (10/16)

India has set targets to have 175 GW renewable capacity installed by 2022, 100 GW of which is solar and 75 GW of which is wind.  However, even if costs were to drop significantly, Wood Mackenzie expects that only 76 percent of the 175-GW target will be achieved by 2022, “and this would still be a noteworthy achievement,” the consultancy said.  The myriad of challenges includes recently canceled auctions, which could undermine investor confidence.  (10/16)

Mega-air-pollution: In northern India, farmers will soon set fire to the straw in their freshly harvested rice fields.  Pungent gray smoke will then drift southeast toward New Delhi’s 29 million residents, thickening the smog that has turned India’s capital into the most polluted major city in the world.   The government is trying to stop the practice.  (10/17)

Cleaner air: A new study led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found that deaths related to air pollution exposure in the US decreased by about 47%, dropping from about 135,000 deaths in 1990 to 71,000 in 2010.  Improvements in air quality and public health in the US coincided with increased federal air quality regulations, and have taken place despite increases in population, energy and electricity use, and vehicle miles traveled between 1990 and 2010.  (10/20)