Culture War Death Embrace  

Posted by Big Gav

Santos at The Correction is planning a peasant land seizure and then learning how to farm from scratch. While this may be a challenging scheme to implement (on a number of levels), I do like his turn of phrase...

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Nigerian Oil Wars  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm watching a good episode of Foreign Correspondent on the ABC at the moment about the oil industry and the problems it faces (and causes) in the Niger Delta.

I've never been to Nigeria but I've been interested in the goings on there since the mid-nineties, when I was living in London and working for an oil services company that had operations in Nigeria (along with a lot of other places).

During this time I shared a (very nice, and best of all, company paid for) house with a rather insane Nigerian who told me all sorts of stories about his homeland whenever he had a free moment. This wasn't very often, as during his travels he had accumulated 4 ex-wives (in each in England, Scotland, Canada and the US) and he spent a lot of his time arguing on the phone with them about child support payments. I can still hear his anguished cries in my head - "You can't squeeze blood out of a stone" he'd yell, as his tardiness at paying up was bemoaned at great length to him, again and again and again.

Nevertheless I did manage to learn a bit about Nigeria, in spite of the interruptions, both from my housemate and the news stories about the trial and execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Strangely enough I also played basketball with a team consisting largely of (and competing mostly against) Nigerians at that time - usually I'd be the only white guy on the court as we toured the rougher areas of South London, and I often wondered as I found myself getting into yet another fight if I was going to get backed up or if they'd simply let me perish. It turned out that the most important thing to most of them was tribal differences though, so fights between guys from different regions were usually far more brutal than the ones I ended up in.

Anyway, putting my store of random anecdotes to one side, Nigeria is yet another example of a third world country that is really not benefiting from its oil wealth. Ken Saro-Wiwa made the following speech before his death, and it seems that things haven't changed that much for the people in the Niger Delta since (although General Abacha died not that long after Saro-Wiwa):

"I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is on trial here, and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learned here may prove useful to it, for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war the company has waged in the delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the company's dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.

On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and all those who assist them. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected of a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, judges, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of their urine.

We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our country and jeopardised the future of our children. As we subscribe to the subnormal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, degrade our hospitals, and make ourselves the slaves of those who subscribe to higher standards, who pursue the truth, and honour justice, freedom and hard work"

Foreign correspondent showed some rather staggering scenes of oil pollution in the delta, but spent most of its time focussing on the Asari militia that are pushing for independence for the Niger Delta and the ejection of foreign oil companies like Chevron-Texaco and Shell. These guys certainly aren't angels either though, and as usual its hard to see much of a positive future for this part of Africa. And its just one more oil supplying region which looks like remaining unstable until the oil runs out.
The Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force like to party – even at a funeral.

When Eric Campbell caught up with the Force on their home turf in the heart of Nigeria’s oil producing region, they were sending off the recently departed in fine style – swigging booze, taking drugs, firing their weapons into the air, and gunning their motorbikes through crowded village streets.

When they’re not engaged in their own unique style of mourning, this well organized crime gang has become a key player in the world’s most strategically important industry – oil. The vast Niger Delta where they operate holds an estimated three percent of the world’s oil, and to the U.S. it's a vital alternative to the oilfields of the Middle East - worth US $30 billion per year.

And the Force wants a share for the people of the Niger Delta. As their leader, Al Haji Asari Dokubo, admitted to Campbell, the gang has brazenly stolen oil straight out of pipelines owned by some of the world’s biggest multinationals. Called ‘bunkering’, the practice is costing Western oil companies hundreds of millions in lost revenue each year. But if gangs like the Force are threatened, they can disrupt Nigeria’s oil supply with ease. Recently the price of oil rose to a record $50 a barrel when the market panicked after Asari threatened to cut-off the flow of oil.

Not that the government of Nigeria seems overly concerned about cleaning up the industry, or using its massive oil wealth to help the people - some believe that they’re the biggest gang of all. “People have now grown to the situation where they don’t believe anything that the government stands for”, Nigerian human rights lawyer Ledum Mittee told Foreign Correspondent, “instead of the oil becoming a blessing, it now becomes a curse”.

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Asleep In America  

Posted by Big Gav

While opinions are mixed about the upcoming disaster flick "Oil Storm", it appears a peak oil documentary is also being produced featuring various members of the ASPO.

The project “Asleep in America” is a documentary that explores the topic of Peak Oil. Peak Oil happens when global demand for fossil fuels surpasses supply. Experts agree that Global Peak production will surely happen. They disagree only on when it will happen. Oil industry analysts predict the Global Peak could occur around 2020. Critics disagree and provide evidence suggesting the Peak will occur as early as 2010. Either way, the Peak is inevitable.

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A Conversation With Thom Hartmann on Peak Oil  

Posted by Big Gav

I noticed a link on the new, improved FTD today to the Democratic Underground Peak Oil Group. - yet another peak oil forum.

One poster discusses a conversation with Thom Hartmann on his radio show - apparently (like Chomsky) he prefers the peak to arrive sooner rather than later.

I called into Thom Hartmann's radio show, author of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight (and a definite must read if you are reading this post) show about 6 months ago to express my concerns about Peak Oil and to ask for his thoughts. Here's what he says (from memory):

- The last oil worth extracting will be gone around 2020. (I am assuming he means based upon current rates of extraction and technological advances. Obviously, this is way down the other end of the peak.)

- It really doesn't matter whether the Peak Oil crisis hits, though the sooner it arrives, the better. Right NOW would even be a good time.

- The Technology already exists to "replace" oil in many of its' current uses, and the onset of crisis will force its' rapid development and proliferation.

Obviously, Hartmann realizes that nothing can truly replace oil as the quintessential cheap source of energy -- he wrote the book about it, after all. At the same time, we aren't all about to head kicking and screaming back to the Stone Age, as some suggest. What he seems to be suggesting is to look at this upcoming period as a major "wake-up call" and a critical opportunity to get back in touch with the things that matter most -- namely the Earth, since we are a part of it, and re-establishing a sustainable system of living for ourselves and all future generations. That's one solution that we've always had.

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Grass Power  

Posted by Big Gav

No - I'm not talking about a Cheech and Chong movie - though the idea is a bit surreal. A power station fueld by elephant grass is being built in the UK. While there are some plants here being built to burn waste sugar cane (after the sugar is extracted), I'm not so sure of the wisdom of growing grass to burn it...

Britain's first major electricity plant to be fuelled by grass will begin construction later this year. The £6.5m power station in Staffordshire will be burn locally cultivated elephant grass and will be able to supply 2,000 homes with electricity.

Amanda Gray, director of Eccleshall Biomass, the company behind the power station, said the project was of major importance to rural industry in Staffordshire and offered another way to meet the UK's obligation to reduce carbon emissions, because burning the elephant grass will only release the carbon dioxide that the plants soaked up anyway while they were growing.

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We Like It Raw  

Posted by Big Gav

In the worst case scenarios for a post oil crash world, there are shortages of energy for everything - even cooking.

But apparently there is nothing to worry about (assuming you live somewhere that freezing isn't ever going to be a problem) - raw food is not only edible but can even be good for you.

Some of their recent posts include lists of items containing the items that have the least and most pesticide contamination.

The raw food diet is one that has had many people in debate. It’s a diet that consists of uncooked and unprocessed organic raw foods and usually includes fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. When raw fruits and vegetables are cooked, they tend to lose the enzymes, minerals and vitamins, which is why raw foodists find this diet so important to their health. WeLikeItRaw.com is a popular weblog that has all information you could possibly want about a raw food diet. But we think it’s helpful even if you aren’t on one too because it has information like tasty recipes, restaurants and cooking classes. One thing we have to admit though is that we just can’t relate to the urine post.


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Riding the Peak Oil Wave  

Posted by Big Gav

Prolific commenter J (mostly at The Oil Drum, but he occasionally pops up elsewhere) is always good for some insights into what is going on from a drillers point of view - and he now has his own blog.

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The Control Of Oil  

Posted by Big Gav

Mobjectivist obviously spent his weekend in the Wayback Machine and came back with a great editorial from George Pazik - Editor & Publisher of "Fishing Facts" magazine in November 1976, when the Oil Price shocks in the early 1970's were still a hot topic.

Go and have a read of it and then wonder how you only became aware of peak oil in the last couple of years.

In his editorial, George Pazik makes the following commments about the oil industry,

Perhaps it would be right to point out at this place in the editorial that I am not looking for "robber barons", "crooks", "rip-off artists", etc. as some critics have called members of the petroleum industry in an attempt not to believe that our country is faced with an "energy crisis". Oil companies take big risks, they make big money, and they play for keeps. The president of any corporation will make a profit for that company or his replacement will. The petroleum industry has been reluctant to admit that our oil reserves are dropping, but some of them are changing even that during the past year or two.

What manipulations take place in the marketplace are not known to me, I am only trying to give you an understanding of some of the facts of life in the exploration and production of oil and gas so that you will understand that our country is faced with a true Petroleum Predicament. Are the petroleum companies trying to make all the money they can out of it? I don't know and neither do you, but my guess at an answer is, "Of course. Doesn't every company try to make all the money it can at ANY time and ALL THE TIME?"

The petroleum industry doesn't need me to defend them, but neither will I attack them without facts.

The facts of petroleum production in the United States are simply that it's getting harder and harder to find more oil and gas. . . especially in the insane amounts that we are gobbling up!

It is not my purpose in this editorial to get into the subject of whether or not the petroleum industry represents a cartel, whether or not they operate in violation of anti-trust laws, whether or not they should be "broken up", or any of the other charges and counter-charges that are being made by critics of the industry. Congress is giving careful study to these questions, I believe, and indeed they should.

As it happens, I've also been venturing back to the 1970's occasionally, via a book called "The Control of Oil" by John M Blair, which was also published in 1976.

I found this (yellowing and very aged looking) book during a visit home earlier in the year, and I've been slowly ploughing through it ever since (on returning to Sydney with this tome, one of my friends noted that my oil obsession is obviously a hereditary thing). This book was written in the aftermath of the oil price shocks - the style is very dry - 1970's academic bureaucratese, so its not a light read, but a lot of the facts contained within make interesting reading.

The book generally seems to have gone down very well with reviewers at the time:
The definitive book on oil - New York Times

Thanks to Blair, no one can plead ignorance any longer - Washington Post

Blair has prepared a devastating case that monopoly - usually with at least tacit government approval - has been the rule, not the exception, in the international oil market for most of this century - Business Week

Will be the basic source for years to come - John Kenneth Galbraith

As reviewer Bert Ruiz on Amazon put it:
"The Control of Oil," By Dr. John M. Blair is a brilliant look at how the price of crude oil was determined by giant petroleum companies (the seven sisters) and a dozen members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Blair traces the history of these controls and explains how they recklessly triggered the 1970's global energy crisis.

This 1976 publication is a classic. To this end, Blair spent thirty-two years in the federal government. He started in 1938 as an author of monographs for pre-World War II investigations. Early on, he made his name focusing on the sizable concentrations of economic power in the oil industry by the Rockefeller family and family foundation.

Afterwards he spent nearly a decade with the Federal Trade Commission as an Assistant Chief Economist and finally Blair spent fourteen years as Chief Economist of the Senate Subcommittee on Anti-trust and Monopoly. What makes this book truly special is the author's enormous access to critical government information.

Blair describes the oil industry's principal tax preferences, which worked to the advantage of the major companies and against smaller nonintegrated companies that could have favorably altered the availability and price of oil to consumers. The author also goes into great detail to reveal how the "Arab Embargo" that set the stage for the massive oil price explosion of October 1973 - January 1974 had little impact on supply and that in reality there was no crude oil shortfall. Ultimately, Blair emphasizes the need for developing alternate energy sources in the future.

The book begins by summarising the history of the oil industry leading up to the start of the energy crisis. This includes an analysis of the lead up to the original Hubberts Peak (of US oil production). They present a range of estimates for world ultimately recoverable oil reserves - all around the 2 billion barrel mark still predicted by the ASPO.

The parallels to the present time are uncanny - the American Petroleum Institute and the oil companies all increasing their reserve estimates upward over the preceding decade and denying that a peak would occur, only for them to have to admit (once the peak in US production had occurred and was obvious to all) that they were wrong and the original estimates from the 1950's had been pretty much correct.

It also notes that there was a surge in excessive consumption leading up to this peak - bigger and bigger cars and more and more uses for oil. Apparently the reason for the lying about reserves was to keep import quotas in place, in order to protect the profits of the local oil producers (who made up a cartel called the Texas Railroad Commission).

Unfortunately the author discounted the main oil peak (at that time predicted for around 2000) on the basis that, at the time, this was a full generation away, and that therefore the world will have moved onto a more sustainable and efficient energy model (he uses hydrogen as an example) and will have given up gas guzzling cars etc.

I had a good chuckle at that section.

The bulk of the book is divided into 3 parts - "The Control of Foreign Oil", "The Control of Domestic Oil" and "Erosion and Explosion".

The first part looks at the history of how the oil majors (known as "the seven sisters" at the time - Exxon, Mobil, SoCal, Texaco, Gulf, BP and Shell) manoeuvred to control the majority of the non-communist world's oil reserves, particularly in the middle east. In particular this involves examining the structure of the oil companies created in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran, and the measures taken to ensure that the local governments followed the instructions of the oil companies, including the overthrow in the 1950's of Iran's democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadeq when he tried to nationalise the oil industry (he was replaced by the Shah).

Middle east oil was important to the oil majors in the days when there was far more supply available than required by the industrial economies of the time. The oil majors put in place a series of byzantine arrangements (such as the Achnacarry agreement) in order to restrict production and control the distribution (called "marketing") of oil in order to maintain their desired profit margins and minimise the possibility of competition arising.

The history of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC - a joint venture of BP and some of the american oil majors), is also examined in some detail, in particular the suppression of oil discoveries in Iraq in order to prevent the Iraqi governmnet forcing the IPC to develop newly discovered oil fields. Iraq was used as the "swing producer" in the middle east for a long period of time, with production throttled back and forth as demand required (Saudi Arabia and Iran were less amenable to this sort of manipulation).

There is also a brief section on the attempt of the Italian state owned energy companies under Enrico Mattei to break the hold of the majors on oil refining and distribution in Italy. Mattei was successful for a while, but eventually he began expanding his enterprises outside and elsewhere in Europe and action was taken. Political pressure was applied to put a stop to this (with Exxon even donating money to the Italian Communist party - not a common move by American multinationals during the cold war - in order to get them to support moves against Mattei), and Mattei died in a mysterious plane crash, which put an end to the entire experiment.

The second section of the book looks at how oil production and distribution were controlled within the united States. The role of Rockefeller's "Standard Oil" monopoly is only briefly touched on, but the behaviour of the cartel of oil companies that resulted from the breakup this organisation is examined at some length, along with the role of the TRC in restricting production within the US (prorationing), and the import controls put in place by the government to restrict imports of foreign oil. The astounding range of tax breaks and transfers of money from the US Treasury to the oil companies is also examined at some length. I think pretty much every person on the planet has been financially screwed by the oil companies at some point over the past century (not to mention the British and French navies during world war II, which they complained vociferously about, to no avail).

Part 3 is where you can see how a lot of the conspiracy theories (and facts) about the oil industry (some of which attempt to debunk peak oil) come from. It discusses the events in the years leading up to the oil price shocks of 1973 and 1974.

The oil price shocks were enabled by a range of factors - the arrival of Hubbert's peak for US oil production, and what Blair calls "The Evisceration of the Libyan Independents" (where Colonel Gaddafi's coup somehow resulted in the independent oil producers operating in Libya, who had made major dents in both the oil price and the market share of the majors, suddenly being effectively wiped out) and "The Crippling of the Private Branders" which describes how the majors throttled the supply of oil to the independent petrol retailing chains and refineries in the US.

By the time 1973 arrived, the majors were in a position where they once again controlled the oil coming into the US and the retailing of petrol and other refined oil products. Towards the end of the year, the Arab oil "embargo" was put in place and the price of oil sky-rocketed - as did the profit margins of the oil majors. In spite of the widely held belief that this event somehow restricted the flow of crude, in actual fact the total oil production for the year grew at the customary 10% over the previous year (oil production growth was carefully managed for many years to achieve approximately 10% growth in supply each year - which made for a very smooth "Hubbert curve" up to the mid-1970's) - the "embargo" was preceded by a rapid rise in production for the preceding 6 months.

Some examination of the winers and losers in the whole episode is made - with the oil majors and the OPEC governments coming out ahead the most, the US in general doing fairly well thanks to petro-dollar recycling, but the developing world getting financially wiped out (which much of it still hasn't recovered from).

The author died in 1976 after the book was published at the age of 62. I can't find any references as to what he died of.

There is also some examination of alternatives to oil towards the end of the book - all the usual candidates are there (nothing much has changed in 30 years), with the author having a lot of interest in shale oil as well as the renewable alternatives.

As its getting late I'll leave the discussion of shale oil for another day.

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Plan War and The Hubbert Curve  

Posted by Big Gav

ZMag has an interview with Richard Heinberg this month. Most of it has been said before, but his comments on the Natural Gas situation in North America are interesting.

Q:The Hubbert oil peak is predicted to occur in five to ten years. You’ve written that natural gas will go through the same peak in supply even sooner.

A: In North America, it’s happening right now. We’re in the middle of a natural gas crisis, but you have to read the business pages of the newspaper to find the evidence for that. Alan Greenspan has gone before Congress twice now to say that we have a big problem and that he doesn’t have the solution to it. Last summer, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham convened a blue ribbon panel in Washington to address this. Abraham essentially, said, “Look folks, I need some short-term solutions.” The rest of the day, people from industry offered long-term partial solutions, but nothing that could make much difference in the next couple of years.

Currently, the market is dealing with the gas shortage through what’s called “demand destruction.” That means that prices rise sufficiently—and natural gas prices are about twice what they were a year and a half ago—to drive whole industries out of the market so that the folks can heat their houses in the winter. Currently, 20 percent of the fertilizer industry in the U.S.—which uses natural gas to make ammonia-based fertilizers—is gone. Another 30 percent is closed down temporarily until gas prices go down, which they probably won’t. So around half the fertilizer industry is gone. The chemical industries and a lot of manufacturers are teetering on the brink right now because they can’t afford natural gas at current prices.

So what’s going to happen? All those industries are going to go overseas. Fertilizer will be made for us in the Middle East, Trinidad, and other places that have natural gas and then it will be shipped here. But even so, the natural gas situation is going to get worse because we’re generating a lot of our electricity with gas-fired power plants and it’s entirely possible that we may start to experience brown-outs or rolling blackouts.

Next summer is likely to be a lot worse because, as I said, there’s no short-term solution to this. The U.S. has already peaked in natural gas production and Canada—we’ve been importing 16 percent of our natural gas from Canada—has peaked this year too. They’re forecasting that their natural gas production will be down 3 percent from last year.

So we’re looking at a big problem and it’s not going to be solved by importing liquefied natural gas in tankers. That will help, but it’s expensive and years are required to build all the new tankers, the new special off-loading terminals, etc. The natural gas industry’s solution is to get more permits from the government to drill in Colorado, offshore, etc., but it’s unlikely that enough natural gas will be found in those places to make that much of a difference. In Colorado, there’s coal-bed methane, which causes huge environmental problems to extract. Offshore of California and Florida, the estimates of what’s actually there are not all that encouraging.


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Hundreds Of Crooks In The Oil Industry  

Posted by Big Gav

Crikey's daily email today had some interesting stats on corruption in the oil industry today. In some ways I'd prefer it if Woodside stayed out of Iraq and concentrated on developing their gas reserves - there seems to be no shortage of demand there and far less in the way of issues like corruption, morality, legality and security to worry about.

Just how crooked is the oil business? In its latest annual report, Royal Dutch/Shell has revealed that a drive to end bribery and corruption saw a whopping 203 staff and contractors sacked in 2004 alone. This related to 16 different bribery incidents and 123 fraud cases. That might sound like a lot, but BP is worse: it recently revealed that 252 staff and contractors were sacked in 2004, a 50% increase on the 2003 figures. At least the British multi-national oil giants are starting to reveal these figures, although Shell provided no comparisons with 2003.

The British oil majors have long been regarded as being less ruthless than their American rivals, so you can only wonder at the sort of behaviour that Dallas-based Exxon-Mobil, the world's most profitable and valuable company, and Chevron have been up to over the years. Maybe this explains why the likes of BHP Petroleum flopped so badly during its multi-billion hunt for oil around the world in the 1990s. Instead of drilling hundreds of dry wells across the globe, maybe it should have just been better at the bribery business.

But with Woodside Petroleum pushing hard to get into the Iraq oil game, it would be very interesting to know the sorts of tactics being deployed by the Perth-based company, now run by American Don Voelte, and its global rivals. Senator Ross Lightfoot's claims, since denied, of sewing cash donations from Woodside into his jacket certainly put the question of oil influence pedalling in Iraq on the map.

The oil industry has long had a reputation for crookedness when it comes to accessing reserves in corrupt third world countries. Shell's various antics in its huge Nigerian operation have long tainted the company. Controversy in Nigeria remains as Shell's annual environment report, also released late last week, admitted that the promise to end the damaging practice of flaring waste gas in Nigeria, had been extended from 2008 until 2009.

Of course, you shouldn't blame Shell for this, as the Financial Times on Saturday quoted the company saying the program was "behind schedule because of our past under-funding by our government partner." Of course!

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Galloway On Guantanamo  

Posted by Big Gav

Talk show host and occasional peak oil guru Thom Hartmann had George Galloway on his show a few days ago. The topic of conversation - US "prison" camps.

[Thom Hartmann] OK. I'm wondering, what is your opinion on the legality of Guantanamo Bay and what do you think of the construction of a death chamber there, which was reported by the BBC yesterday?

[George Galloway] Well, it's an utterly illegal process which is being followed. People are being taken, in some cases from third countries. One of the British citizens, for example, was taken from the Gambia. Others have been taken from Pakistan. Others still from, from Afghanistan. They're taken by force, drugs forcibly injected into them, hooded, chained, and taken to a cage in the tropics where by all accounts they're being kept in conditions that you wouldn't keep a dog in in your country or mine. And if you did, you'd be, you'd be had up for cruelty by the authorities.

And then there's very clear evidence of systematic torture. There's the desecration of the Koran which may or may not have happened, depending on which edition of Newsweek you are prepared to believe. This is a big scar on the face of the United States. And it seems to me that too few citizens of the United States have fastened on to the fact that the protestations by your president and your government of being interested in human rights and democracy and freedom are quite negated by the very existence of Guantanamo Bay.

But of course, that's not the end of it. Bagram Air Base is exactly the same kind of place. Abu Ghraib prison, well we perhaps, on a family show, shouldn't probe too deeply into the disgusting obscenities that were going on there. And, it turns out, that where the United States itself is not prepared to physically torture people, it merely subcontracts out the task; sending people to the likes of Uzbekistan and Egypt and other prison states where less squeamish governments will torture people for the United States and give the U.S. the testimony they get as a result. Which, of course, it goes without saying, is almost never of any use because anyone will say anything under torture.

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"End Of Suburbia" Screening In Perth  

Posted by Big Gav

You don't get much more car dependent than the outer suburbs of Perth. STCWA is putting on a screening informing the local residents of their fate next week.

The End of Suburbia is fascinating documentary that explores the suburban way of life and its future prospects as global demand for oil begins to outstrip supply. Joondalup and Wanneroo residents could be hard hit by fuel price rises. A joint initiative of STC, Conservation Council of WA, WA Collaboration and City of Joondalup.

When: Thursday 9 June 2005, with supper at 6.30pm and the film screening at 7pm
Where: Joondalup Civic Centre (enter south of the library), Boas Avenue, Joondalup (10 minute walk from Joondalup Train Station)
Format: The evening will conclude with a brief panel discussion on the critical issues raised in the film

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Peak Newspaper Coverage  

Posted by Big Gav

Associated Press carried a peak oil story on the weekend that seems to have been picked up by most (almost 200) mainstream news outlets (via Energy Bulletin).

Could the petroleum joyride — cheap, abundant oil that has sent the global economy whizzing along with the pedal to the metal and the AC blasting for decades — be coming to an end? Some observers of the oil industry think so. They predict that this year, maybe next — almost certainly by the end of the decade — the world's oil production, having grown exuberantly for more than a century, will peak and begin to decline.

And then it really will be all downhill. The price of oil will increase drastically. Major oil-consuming countries will experience crippling inflation, unemployment and economic instability. Princeton University geologist Kenneth S. Deffeyes predicts "a permanent state of oil shortage."

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Solar Powered Web Hosting  

Posted by Big Gav

TreeHugger has a couple of posts up about solar powered web hosting. While changing the grid as a whole to use more renewable energy presents poltical problems that don't seem easy to overcome, supporting businesses that use renewable energy directly is pretty easy.

I've had a look around and can't find anything similar in Australia. Its a shame that a place with so much sun has so little solar powered infrastructure in place.

Project For A New European Century  

Posted by Big Gav

Jamais at WorldChanging seems to be regularly posting articles that touch on oil depletion these days. This one notes that Europe is doing a better job of positioning itself (is Europe an it ?) for the effects of global warming and oil depletion that the US (and Australia).

Okay, so the article title is a bit pointed, but the argument made by Mark Leonard -- that the model for success in the 21st century will be Europe, not the US -- is an interesting one. The article, in the current issue of The Globalist, is pulled from Leonard's book Perpetual Power: Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century.

Although Leonard focuses primarily in the article on diplomatic and political interactions, the notion that the European model will do better in the 21st century parallels some of what we've explored here. In short, getting a jump now on a transition to high-efficiency, sustainable design could better position Europe to handle climate disruptions and "end of oil" scenarios.

Add that to Leonard's argument that cooperation, international organizations and a focus on carrots over sticks is a winning strategy, and it makes for a scenario undoubtedly giving folks in DC stomach pains.

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Apocaphilia  

Posted by Big Gav

James Kunstler certainly has the knack for getting publicity, with his recent comments in Salon (vigourously debated at WorldChanging last week) leading to an outbreak of hostilities with the Rocky Mountain Institute's Amory Lovins at Salon, who obviously didn't appreciate being dissed in Kunstler's original interview.

Opinions on James Howard Kunstler's latest tract, The Long Emergency, vary pretty widely here at WorldChanging. Alex disagrees pretty strongly with Kunstler's dystopic vision; JonL found it (at least its manifestation in an interview in Salon) to be a "breath of fresh air." Personally, I'm in Alex's camp -- I'm tired of Apocaphilia in its various manifestations, and Kunstler in particular seems to claim that we can do nothing to head off disaster. Moreover, any attempts to invent better, more efficient, less damaging tools are pointless, in Kunstler's view, and he calls out Amory Lovins' "hypercar" idea for particular ridicule.

Lovins didn't like that, and responded to Kunstler. Salon managed to get Lovins' response, as well as a second exchange between the two. I'd have to say that Lovins comes across as the clear winner of the debate, although that's undoubtedly my own biases talking, at least in part. Not just my bias for Lovins' perspective, though, my bias for research over accusation and thought over fear. Or, as Lovins puts it, "Facts are more mundane than fantasies, but a better basis for conclusions."
In his rebuttal, Lovins' description of RMI's campus makes it sound like a dream place to live and work (well, its a long way to the beach, but apart from that):
James Howard Kunstler criticizes me for supposedly suggesting superefficient cars at the expense of walkable neighborhoods. If he'll kindly look at my 1999 book "Natural Capitalism," he'll find that Chapter 2, "Hypercars and Neighborhoods," emphasizes the importance of both, and strongly supports New Urbanism. It suggests practical and profitable ways to build very efficient cars and not need to drive them much, so we can have communities worth living in and traveling to. I can't imagine why this approach should be deemed objectionable -- unless, of course, he simply didn't ascertain my actual views.

His claim that there is no practical alternative to current oil dependence, other than dramatic changes in settlement patterns and lifestyles, is also extensively rebutted in our peer-reviewed, independent study "Winning the Oil Endgame." If Mr. Kunstler thinks our study is wrong, he would do a public service by explaining how. Meanwhile, serious students of this subject may be forgiven for preferring our well-documented analysis to his qualitative contentions.

[...]

Calling RMI's main campus (at 7,100 feet in Old Snowmass, Colo.) "a hyper-suburban corporate campus masquerading as ... environmentally sensitive" seemed too bizarre to merit reply when David Owen, in the New Yorker (Oct. 2, 2004), said we'd promoted sprawl by not building in a city. But before this notion gains more currency by Mr. Kunstler's further embroidery, some facts should be noted.

RMI's main building is among the world's most energy-efficient, saving 99 percent of space- and water-heating energy, 90 percent of household electricity (the rest is solar-generated), and 50 percent of water, all with a 10-month payback in 1984. It has received more than 70,000 visitors and produced 28 indoor banana crops with no conventional heating system, down to -47 outdoors. Other RMI buildings also use solar micropower, exceptionally energy- and water-efficient appliances and fixtures, daylighting, superwindows and other sustainability-enhancing features.

RMI's organization-wide practices also include: On-site housing nearby (with high-speed wireless Internet) and bike parking for roughly half the staff and their families, with carpooling and free or discounted bus passes for the rest and a hybrid company car available to all employees; virtual and distributed offices (with similar car-displacing policies) linked by a high-speed virtual private network and Internet videoconferencing, which we also use worldwide to displace much travel; flextime, work-at-home, inclusive staff coordination, and community-building; buying 94 percent of electricity as certified-green, plus 100 percent solar-powered hosting of several Web sites; associate membership of the Chicago Climate Exchange, where we offset our small net carbon dioxide emissions, and of Climate Neutral Network; and comprehensive recycling.
I think its pretty clear that Kunstler shouldn't have picked on Amory and the Hypercar - as well as being inaccurate (as Amory isn't just saying lets build more efficient cars and all problems will be solved, and has spent a lot of time describing his vision of "green" urban planning design), it was both unnecessary and beside the point.

I quite like Jamais' critique of (and usage of the word) apocaphilia - though I'm not sure it really applies to most of us in the peak oil blogistan - we may be obsessed with various forms of possible apocalypse (be it oil depletion, financial meltdown, outbreak of war, global warming, or more recently, plague), but I don't think any of us (outside of the eco-anarchist world perhaps) regard this as a good (or deserved) thing - just something to be worried about, and hopefully, to avoid.
I think one of the reasons I react so strongly to the statements of apocaphiles is their neo-Puritanism. The gleeful notion that the people in the suburban houses and big cars will be punished for their sins seems to bubble just under the surface. If my posts (and here I'll speak just for me, not for the rest of the WorldChanging crew) tend towards the technofix, it's because I don't think that wanting to live a comfortable life is sinful; approaches to change that let people live comfortable lives without feeling punished for their sins are going to be a helluva lot more appealing to society -- and therefore a helluva lot more readily used -- than approaches that intentionally demand less comfort and convenience.

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Pipe Dreams  

Posted by Big Gav

Pipes seem to be much in the news this week. Pepe Escobar has a good article in the Asia Times ("Pipelineistan's biggest game begins") about the recently opened pipeline from the Caspian sea to Turkey. Amy Goodman at Democracy Now also has an interview with Michael Klare on this topic (via Energy Bulletin).

History may judge it as one of the capital moves of the 21st century's New Great Game: May 25, the day high-quality Caspian light crude started flowing through the Caucasus toward the Mediterranean in Turkey. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) - conceived by the US as the ultimate Western escape route from dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf - is finally in business.

This is what Pipelineistan is all about: a supreme law unto itself - untouchable by national sovereignty, serious environmental concerns (expressed both in the Caucasus and in Europe), labor legislation, protests against the World Bank, not to mention mountains 2,700 meters high and 1,500 small rivers. The founding stone is at British Petroleum's (BP's) gleaming terminal at Sangachal, half an hour along the Caspian south of Baku. The state is 44 meters wide, snaking 1,767 kilometers across three countries, two of those (Azerbaijan and Georgia) extremely volatile, and the other (Turkey) faces potential trouble from dispossessed Kurds.

In Georgia the obstacles are more complex than in Azerbaijan. Thus the "Rose Revolution" of late 2003, getting rid of Edward Shevardnadze to the benefit of young, photogenic, American-educated and American-aligned Mikhail Saakashvili. The small matter of defending BTC from attacks of alleged al-Qaeda-related Chechens holed up in the Georgian mountains remains. But at least protection at the end of BTC in Ceyhan in Turkey is guaranteed: it's not a coincidence that the pipeline ends right next door to the massive American airbase at Incirlik.

In terms of no-holds-barred power politics and oil geopolitics, BTC is the real deal - a key component in the US's overall strategy of wrestling the Caucasus and Central Asia away from Russia - and bypassing Iranian oil and gas routes. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, for instance, has just announced that Kazakh crude will also flow through the BTC before 2010. He even proposed to add Aktau - the Kazakh Caspian oil Mecca - to a new acronym (ABTC?). It's interesting to remember that BP always denied that it needs Kazakh oil to fill its pipeline.

BTC makes little sense in economic terms. Oil experts know that the most cost-effective routes from the Caspian would be south through Iran or north through Russia. But BTC is a designer masterpiece of power politics - from the point of view of Washington and its corporate allies.

The Globe and Mail's series on energy this week also included an article on pipelines - in this case, the growing demand for deep sea pipelines, as companies are forced to develop more remote and difficult to reach areas.
Norway's Langeled pipeline is a massive engineering challenge with the potential for an even more massive payoff when it is successfully operating in two years time: It could supply more than 20 per cent of the United Kingdom's natural gas.

Almost three million tonnes of rock are being laid on the bottom of the North Sea between Norway and the U.K. to support and stabilize the route for construction, planned for a seabed at depths of more than 1,000 metres, where the terrain features ragged underwater peaks that can jut up 60 metres. At sea level, the weather can be brutal -- gales and giant waves are typical. Below, the water in some parts is so cold that antifreeze will be needed to keep the gas flowing.

It is in this environment that the 1,200-kilometre link is being built. It will be the world's longest undersea pipeline and perhaps the industry's greatest construction challenge to date. Contending with such extremes is quickly becoming the norm in the pipeline business, where there is a new urgency to connect remote supplies of oil and natural gas with hungry consumer markets. The fear of energy shortages has heightened the sense of urgency, but these megaprojects require years to plan and build -- and those timelines are just getting longer as the challenges grow.

Over at Rigzone, they have an article on the damage done to oil platforms and pipelines by last year's Hurricanes. If global warming results in larger, more intense tropical storms, you have to wonder how much more of a problem this will be in future, especially with increasing offshore oil production.
Hurricane Ivan has shown that oil drillers need to do a better job of securing their platforms to prevent damage to pipelines on the sea floor and pipeline operators need to be better prepared to make repairs,

The hurricane shut down significant volumes of U.S. oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico last fall, sending prices sharply higher. Platforms were damaged by the wind and waves, but the most lasting damage was done to pipelines, preventing even healthy platforms from getting product to shore. Some of the damage was caused by five mobile drilling rigs pushed by the storm's winds miles away from where they were stationed, with their anchors wreaking havoc in the pipeline-laden sea-bottom.

Finally, another use for pipes is as a means of harnessing the power of ocean thermal energy conversion (via Peak Energy North).
Craven's system exploits the dramatic temperature difference between ocean water below 3,000 feet - perpetually just above freezing - and the much warmer water and air above it. That temperature gap can be harnessed to create a nearly unlimited supply of energy. Although the scientific concepts behind cold-water energy have been around for decades, Craven made them real when he founded the state-funded Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii in 1974 on Keahole Point, near Kona. Under Craven, the lab developed the process of using cold deep-ocean water and hot surface water to produce electricity. By the 1980s the Natural Energy Lab's demonstration plant was generating net power, the world's first through so-called ocean thermal energy conversion.

"The potential of OTEC is great," says Joseph Huang, a senior scientist for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and an expert on the process. "The oceans are the biggest solar collector on Earth, and there's enough energy in them to supply a thousand times the world's needs. If you want to depend on nature, the oceans are the only energy source big enough to tap."

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Saudi Oil Minister Says Don't Panic  

Posted by Big Gav

Looking over the week's news, the Saudi oil minister says they have plenty of oil and can pump whatever is necessary to meet demand. However, it appears they currently may be pumping less than they say they are, and the Algerian oil minister is predicting price rises in the northern summer, blaming a lack of refining capacity to meet demand. So - it looks like OPEC has got everyone reading their excuses from the same page.

Elsewhere, it appears Crikey was right and Lord Downer of Baghdad was wrong about the East Timor Oil and Gas Negotiations being finished - the East Timorese are saying they haven't agreed to anything.

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Apeakolypse Now  

Posted by Big Gav

It appears the UK activist community has discovered peak oil, with this week's main story in Schnews devoted to the topic.

Peak Oil is the greatest story never told. Even though Peak Oil is the central fact driving the wars and economic crises of our time, it is seldom mentioned in the mainstream corporate news.

Peak Oil (also known as the Big Rollover or the Long Emergency) is when demand for oil outstrips supply because the halfway point of the planet’s oil deposits has been passed. ‘Halfway’ is a misleading word in this context. Most of the oil that’s still left in the ground will be staying there, because it takes more oil energy to get it out of the ground than it yields. The oil and natural gas is no longer worth the drilling or pumping. Petroleum geologists reckon that the world oil peak will be sometime between 2005 -2010. The majority of non-OPEC producers such as the United States, Britain, Norway, and Mexico, who satisfy 60 percent of world oil demand, are already in a production plateau or decline. A leading guru, Colin Campbell (ex of Shell and Total Fina Elf) reckons 2007. Are we preparing for it? Are we readying ourselves to radically change our lifestyles and energy consumption? Of course not.

The bottom line is this: humankind is entering a whole new era. One in which every year from, say, 2007, there will be less and less net energy available to us no matter what we do (Alternative energy sources are nowhere near developed enough, or invested in, to compensate). The last time anything like this happened was the collapse of the ancient civilizations. The Maya, the Romans, the Greeks; these civilisations ended when their strategies for energy capture - be it slaves, coal or topsoil - became subject to the law of diminishing returns.

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BP - Beyond Propaganda  

Posted by Big Gav

Just in case you thought you should still believe anything you read in the commercial press.

Days after financial services giant Morgan Stanley informed print publications that its ads must be automatically pulled from any edition containing "objectionable editorial coverage," global energy giant BP has adopted a similar press strategy.

According to a copy of a memo on the letterhead of BP's media-buying agency, WPP Group's MindShare, the global marketer has adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward negative editorial coverage. The memo cites a new BP policy document entitled "2005 BP Corporate-RFP" that demands that ad-accepting publications inform BP in advance of any news text or visuals they plan to publish that directly mention the company, a competitor or the oil-and-energy industry.

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Slow News Day  

Posted by Big Gav

Having had a busier than usual day at work and then going straight on to a workshop to discuss ideas for a Sustainability Centre that is going to be built around the corner (I had to resist the urge to suggest sustainable crops for the permaculture section), I'm short of ideas for a post tonight.

James Kunstler is still getting a lot of attention for "The Long Emergency", with another interview out today, this one at Grist.

Q: Are you predicting that there will be an elite class that is still privy to all of the conveniences of the cheap-oil era?

A: There will be activities like flying that only the elite can participate in. You are going to see the aviation industry dramatically contract because it relies so heavily on fuel prices. You are going to start to see real political grievance over motoring becoming an increasingly elite activity. Let's say a third of the public can't participate in the motoring system at all. They may resent paying taxes to maintain this tremendous amount of highway infrastructure. The interstate highway system is actually very vulnerable -- once cracks and potholes start, the whole thing starts to fall apart very rapidly. So that could inhibit the mobility of the elite as well.

There is always a lot of speculation about the activities of elites in some of the more obscure sections of the peak oil world, where this report, which purports to summarise the topics of discussion at the recent Bilderbergs meeting in Germany, has been a topic of conversation lately. This is unlikely to be true, but who knows, maybe Bilderbergers do leak sometimes.
An American Bilderberger expressed concern over the skyrocketing price of oil. One oil industry insider at the meeting remarked that growth is not possible without energy and that, according to all indicators, the world's energy supply is coming to an end much faster than the world leaders have anticipated. According to sources, Bilderbergers estimate the extractable world's oil supply to be at a maximum of 35 years under current economic development and population. However, one of the representatives of an oil cartel remarked that we must factor into the equation, both the population explosion and economic growth and demand for oil in China and India. Under the revised conditions, there is apparently only enough oil to last for 20 years. No oil spells the end of the world's financial system. So much has already been acknowledged by The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, two periodicals who are regularly present at the annual Bilderberg conference.

Conclusion: Expect a severe downturn in the world's economy over the next two years as Bilderbergers try to safeguard the remaining oil supply by taking money out of people's hands. In a recession or, at worst, a depression, the population will be forced to dramatically cut down their spending habits, thus ensuring a longer supply of oil to the world's rich as they try to figure out what to do.

On the topic of peak oil theorists with out-of-the mainstream views (err - even more out the mainstream than the rest of us, anyway), I've been gently chided by Mark Robinowitz of OilEmpire.us for categorising his site as a "Tin Foil Hat" site (he prefers the term "Solar Powered Tin Foil Hat", as he's gone off grid somewhere in the Cascades with a PV powered computer). As he seems a nice enough guy I've moved that section of the blogroll into the less contentious "Head For The Hills" section - which seems to be literally true in his case.

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Spot The Bulldozer  

Posted by Big Gav



Found it ?

The beast that is eating the bulldozer is a little device used for coal mining.

Most of the coal mines here aren't the "lop the top off the mountain" type discussed elsewhere recently. Instead we tend to have large open cut mines where vast amounts of coal are stripped out of the ground.



Coal quality around the country tends to vary - the mine this monster is working is a "brown" coal field in Victoria - brown coal is lowest quality and particularly polluting. As you go north up the east coast the quality of coal tends to get better and better, with most of the top quality black coal destined for export, particularly to China, which has a voracious appetite for the stuff - they are estimated to be consuming 2.2 billion tonnes a year of coal by 2010.

Coal is actually our largest export, which may give you a clue as to why Australia refuses to sign the Kyoto agreement - its easy to assume we're just being America's lapdog as usual, but in this case there is also a lot of money riding on the decision.



The monster in the pictures has some quite impressive statistics - you certainly wouldn't want to have a collision with it one the freeway:

The Large Bucket Wheel Excavator

* Stands over 95 metres tall
* Is over 215 metres long (2.5 football fields)
* Weighs over 45,500 tons (yes that's 45 thousand tons!)
* Cost US$100 million, took 5 years to design & manufacture and 5 years to assemble on site
* Requires 5 people to operate
* The Bucket Wheel is over 70 feet in diameter with 20 buckets each of which can hold over 15 cubic metres of material.
* It moves on 12 crawlers (each is 3.6 metres wide, 2.4 metres high and 14 metres long) - 8 in front and 4 in back
* It can remove over 76,455 cubic metres of overburden each day

Putting the Kyoto treaty aside, even locally, the variable coal quality here demonstrates just how difficult it is to take any sort of effective action on global warming without firm government intervention.

Australia operates a national electricity grid (well, it doesn't include WA, but they'd prefer to be a separate country anyway) which consists of a number of regional (state) grids connected by interconnectors. All electricity generated is sold into the national market, with generation rights directed to those generators who are willing to sell at the cheapest price via a complicated reverse auction process.

Because brown coal is, to be blunt, noxious crap, it tends to be much cheaper than the better quality black coal. As a result, those electricity generators who burn the brown coal have a financial advantage over those who burn the less bad stuff. So reducing greenhouse gas emissions using any sort of market based solution is a pipe dream.

Caveat Empty  

Posted by Big Gav

From the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (via Energy Bulletin) comes an analysis of ExxonMobil's view of the oil production curve. Exxon is the biggest and generally most aware of the 5 angry dwarfs (as I recently heard the remnants of the seven sisters disparaging referred too - though the 5 greedy giants may be a more accurate description).

As they have an extremely poor track record when it comes to transparency and market manipulation, which goes right back to the beginning of the oil age, it's best to take anything they say publically with a large shaker of salt - but in this case it would seem to be a quiet admission of the inevitable.

Without any press conferences, grand announcements, or hyperbolic advertising campaigns, the Exxon Mobil Corporation, one of the world's largest publicly owned petroleum companies, has quietly joined the ranks of those who are predicting an impending plateau in non-OPEC oil production. Their report, The Outlook for Energy: A 2030 View, forecasts a peak in just five years.

In the past, many who expressed such concerns were dismissed as eager catastrophists, peddling the latest Malthusian prophecy of the impending collapse of fossil-fueled civilization. Their reliance on private oil-reserve data that is unverifiable by other analysts, and their use of models that ignore political and economic factors, have led to frequent erroneous pronouncements. They were countered by the extreme optimists, who believed that we would never need to think about such problems and that the markets would take care of everything. Up to now, those who worried about limited petroleum supplies have been at best ignored, and at worst openly ridiculed.

Meanwhile, average consumers have taken their cue from the market, where rising prices have always been followed by falling prices, leading to the assumption that this pattern will continue forever. In truth, the market price of crude oil is completely decoupled from and independent of production costs, which average about $6 per barrel for non-OPEC producers and $1.50 per barrel for OPEC producers. This situation has nothing to do with a free market, and everything to do with what OPEC believes will be accepted or tolerated by the United States. The completely affordable market price--what consumers pay at the gasoline pump--provides magisterial profits to the owners of the resource and gives no warning of impending shortages.

All the more reason that the public should heed the silent alarm sounded by the ExxonMobil report, which is more credible than other predictions for several reasons. First and foremost is that the source is ExxonMobil. No oil company, much less one with so much managerial, scientific, and engineering talent, has ever discussed peak oil production before. Given the profound implications of this forecast, it must have been published only after a thorough review.

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Neocons and Theocons At Armageddon  

Posted by Big Gav

Some history on neocon strategy in the middle east.

In his indispensable study Blood and Oil, Professor Michael Klare shows how the desire to control petroleum reserves in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf has shaped American policy ever since the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Klare also shows how the thirst for oil and natural gas now motivates our global misadventures from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea to Sudan and Venezuela.

Decades before Mr. Bush showed the slightest interest in the wider world, neo-conservatives like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz were honing this imperial energy policy, which goes far beyond securing enough oil for Americans to burn. Control of global reserves - and the ability to reward or punish rivals who need the oil and natural gas - is for the neo-cons a primary lever to enhance American power over other nations.

To be fair, they did not invent the idea, parts of which reach back at least as far as earlier empire-builders like Teddy Roosevelt, Admiral Alfred Mahan, and their British counterpart, Lord Curzon. The idea of using oil as a lever later shaped America's conflict with Japan in the run-up to World War II. Even more, it shaped the way Washington kept the Japanese in check after the war.

Perle learned the geo-political uses of oil as a top staff aide to Democratic Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, one of the country's leading energy strategists. The eager young aide worked with Jackson all during the 1970s, when American policy-makers were considering a wide range of responses to OPEC's new power and the oil crisis it created.

Wolfowitz got his education as as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense during the creation of the Carter Doctrine, which President Jimmy Carter announced in his 1980 State of the Union message. Opening the door to much that has followed, this unilateral edict declared Persian Gulf oil reserves off-limits to domination by any of America's current or potential rivals.

In their many years of pushing Washington to invade Iraq, the neo-cons consistently emphasized the strategic importance of controlling as much of the world's energy supplies as possible. Nowhere did they make this clearer than in the 18 February 1992 draft of the Defense Planning Guidance. Its principal authors were Wolfowitz and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff.

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Son Of Cold Fusion  

Posted by Big Gav

WorldChanging has a new report on sonofusion [pdf] (acoustic inertial confinement fusion), which is showing some promise as a possible (and practical) source of fusion based energy. It may just be a repeat of the disappointing experience with cold fusion - but you never know - worth keeping an eye on.

In Sonofusion (2004), we talked about Purdue physicists demonstrating thermonuclear fusion takes place in tiny bubbles in liquids hit by a pulse of neutrons and ongoing acoustic oscillation (i.e., sound); In Son of Sonofusion (2005), we talked about researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign confirming aspects of the research, including the extremely high temperatures found in the collapsing bubbles (we're talking much hotter than the surface of the Sun). Now sonofusion returns, hotter and more powerful than ever...

If sonofusion works -- and we're probably still another couple of years from having solid confirmation -- it will take a decade or two at least before we could see any real world applications from it. It's not going to save us from having to do the hard work of moving away from fossil fuels. But another decade or two would mean it would be starting to come online in the early part of the 2020s, just when the conversion from gasoline and coal will start to really hit high gear -- an ideal moment, then, for another clean source of power to step onto the stage.

By 2050, we could be living in a world powered by wind, the Sun, and stars in a jar.

Elsewhere at WorldChanging, they have a good post up on quantum solar dots, that looks at possible improvements of solar photovoltaic generation of electricity.
Solar photovoltaic generation of electricity has a big problem: with currently-available technology, it's not terribly efficient. I mean that literally; the "solar constant" is ~1.35 kilowatts of power per square meter, but most off-the-shelf solar panels can only convert about 20-30% of that to electricity. Improvement is clearly possible, and some researchers have figured out ways to boost that efficiency to 50% or more (although some promising developments in flexible, polymer-based photovoltaics are far worse, with only 5-15% efficiency). One of the more interesting approaches involves using selenium "nanocrystals" to boost efficiency to up to 60%. Now researchers at the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory have pushed that concept to a new potential efficiency peak.

By using lead sulfide as the nanocrystal -- or "quantum dot" -- material, the NREL team claims a potential efficiency of more than 65%. We've noted various worldchanging applications of quantum dots before (for infrared-sensitive polymer photovoltaics with ~30% efficiency, and for high-efficiency reversible thermoelectric materials), and it's clear that nanomaterial and nanofabrication research will be critical for making solar photovoltaic sufficiently efficient for widespread adoption.

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Surfing Elliot Waves  

Posted by Big Gav

I don't know much about Elliot Waves (although I have done some reading about Krondatieff waves that I find disturbing) - but here's an article about an Elliot Wave guru who thinks oil prices have peaked.

My portfolio today was showing signs of a very strong oil and gas market, so someone is wrong about where oil prices are headed.

The usually bullish New York Institutional Gold Conference took a splash of cold water on its opening day when Elliot Wave guru Robert Prechter said he is monitoring a repeating technical pattern that could prove a downer for commodities. Furthermore he warned that the US economy appears to be rolling over into a deflation he has long warned of.

Speaking on the opening day of the annual New York event, Prechter drew a full house for his keynote presentation which focused on gold, silver, oil and the U.S. dollar.

Prechter was adamant that the rise in commodity prices has not been because of fundamentally higher demand, but rather because all assets have been “captive to the expansion of liquidity since 2001. “There has been a tremendous expansion of liquidity. . . everything inflated. . . now the infusion is slowing and prices are dipping,” he said.

He is especially bearish on oil because of the strong popular consensus that has developed for peak oil accompanied by price targets exceeding $100 a barrel. He likened it to the momentum that spawned a slew of books in the late 1990s with titles alluding to stratospheric general equity prices, such as Dow 100,000.

“If everyone believes [oil is about to run out] then that must already be priced in. So it has a long way to go. . . down,” said Prechter.

Prechter says the turn in prices now being seen presages an economy “rolling over to deflation.” “It will surprise everyone. You’re not safe anywhere . . . not even in gold or silver,” was his gloomy conclusion.

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CO2 Injection  

Posted by Big Gav

The Oil Drum has a post up on increasing efficiency of oil extraction using CO2 injection. There are a few caveats - as I noted a while ago, you need to be on land - you also need to be near a CO2 source, such as a power station.

One of the more promising techniques for EOR is injecting carbon dioxide into a layer of rock that still has oil, but where it cannot easily be obtained normally. There are two benefits to using CO2. One of these is to strip some of the gas out of the atmosphere. The University of Texas recently showed that they could inject liquid CO2 into a depleted oil reservoir, and because the reservoir was a fluid trap, it would hold the gas and keep it from getting back into the reservoir.

But the benefits extend beyond that. An experiment that the Globe and Mail referred to has been going on in the Weyburn oil field in Saskatchewan for the last five years. CO2 from a synthetic fuel plant in North Dakota is piped to the oilfield and injected. While the reservoir holds the gas, the mix with the oil, means that the oil flows out of the well more easily.

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Time Ripe For Urban Agriculture  

Posted by Big Gav

Energy Bulletin has a good article up on promoting urban agriculture.

Is America ready for a metropolitan agriculture policy? Is the time ripe to take some of the billions in subsidies now flowing to big commodity-crop operators and focus instead on sustainable farm production in and around the citistate regions where 80 percent of us live?

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and the man who founded Congress' Livability Caucus, argues that with half of federal farm subsidies currently "flowing to six states to produce 13 commodities that in the main we don't need, like corn, wheat, cotton, and rice," there's a dramatically superior alternative.

We should, says Blumenauer, "use that money to build sustainable agriculture, create a farmer's market in every community, help farmers protect our land and water, preserve our watersheds, foster land banks and control erosion."

Historically, he argues, our metropolitan regions weren't just centers of commerce but areas of fertile fields, often in lush river valleys. Even today, they have some of America's best land for sustainable agriculture. "With small diversions from the agriculture bill," argues Blumenauer, "we could provide grants for communities to develop year-round farmers' markets" and help local producers provide fresh vegetables and fruits, high-quality cheeses, honeys, nuts and more.

It's not hard to dismiss Blumenauer's idea. Small-scale agriculture has been losing out to big (and increasingly subsidized) farm operations for decades. This winter, the Bush administration quickly retreated from its proposal to significantly trim payouts to the mega-producers.

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Sodom and Gomorrah  

Posted by Big Gav

For those of you who haven't visited the Cascadian branch of Peak Energy lately, MonkeyGrinder has an impressively passionate rant (or perhaps even a tour-de-force) up.

Greenspan Says Everything Is Fine  

Posted by Big Gav

Noted energy expert Alan Greenspan says that high prices will spur development of alternatives before oil reserves are depleted. Thats comforting (it must be very relaxing being an economist) - but it would be nice if he would specify exactly which alternatives will fill our energy needs. I also note that after a few rocky weeks most oil and gas stocks here are heading back to record levels, even with the price of oil almost 20% lower than it was a few weeks ago.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Friday that oil markets may stay turbulent "for some time to come," but he predicted that high prices will spur the use of cheaper alternatives well before the world's oil reserves are depleted. In a speech in New York, Greenspan again offered an optimistic assessment of how oil prices will affect the global economy. Already, he said, U.S. crude-oil inventories have risen to their highest level in three years, helping to abate the recent "price frenzy" in oil markets.

"If history is any guide, oil will eventually be overtaken by less-costly alternatives well before conventional oil reserves run out," Greenspan said in prepared remarks to the Economic Club of New York. But that, he said, will take time. For now, "we, and the rest of the world will have to live with the geopolitical and other uncertainties of the oil markets for some time to come," Greenspan said.

Since Greenspan last spoke on energy, crude-oil prices have dropped more than $10 from a record high of about $58 a barrel and the U.S. economy has shown renewed signs of strength. Oil traders, however, expect prices to surge again in the second half of the year ahead of the winter, when demand peaks.

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Paranoia Runs Deep  

Posted by Big Gav

James Kunstler has a new blog post up - I'm not sure why he thinks belief in a June attack on Iran is paranoid (you only have to read what Dick Cheney and Seymour Hersh have said, both of whom I think you can take at their word - at least when it comes to threats from Cheney - to come to that conclusion) - but there you go - I guess paranoia is in the eye of the beholder.

"Paranoia runs deep; into your life it will creep. . . ."
So went the lyrics to the old Buffalo Springfield song from the tumultuous Vietnam War years and now, as Yogi Berra also said around the same time, "it's like deja vu all over again."

I like to claim that I am allergic to conspiracy theories and the paranoia that attends them. But these days I'm not so sure anymore. The noise in the system is getting pretty thick, and the Internet is the perfect system for paranoia because any website can appear to be dignified and therefore to speak with some kind of authority. You have to sort out the reality from the noise the best that you can on your own. (So maybe it's not such a bad thing that this blog is so amateurish-looking, as many readers complain.)

The latest paranoid thread out there is that the US Military is waiting to commit a June assault on Iran's nuclear facilities, and that the Bush administration has been manipulating the stock markets up and the oil markets down in an attempt to to lull the public deeper into its coma of cluelessness by making the surface of American life seem placid.

I really don't know what the government is capable of doing to tweak the markets. It certainly has access to a lot of nominal "money," and I suppose that it is not to difficult to put that money into "play," by funneling it this way and that way through large institutions and agencies. The current crisis of capital derives from the fact that the American economy produces fewer and fewer things of enduring value -- and more and more fluff in the form of Star Wars movies

I'd also say that the Iran thread is an old "paranoid" thread now (i've been muttering about it forever), and that "Star Wars" movies are actually an example of one of the few industries that make money sustainably - intellectual output is something that doesn't require particularly cheap energy, unlike a lot of manufacturing industries that build tangible, yet useless, objects. Manipulation of the markets is less clear cut, but the rumours are quite intense lately - such as the notes on weirdness in the treasuries market I posted recently.

Still - there is plenty of paranoia and conspiracy theorising going on out there, if you know where to look...

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Crude Awakening  

Posted by Big Gav

TreeHugger has a brief note on the series in the Canadian "Globe and Mail" on peak oil.

The Globe and Mail, Canada's major serious newspaper, has started a seven day series "Crude Awakening" about the effects of Peak Oil on Canada and the World. Articles today include Supply- Are Saudi reserves drying up? and Demand- the Unquenchable thirst of China.-a scary combo. It is available online but unfortunately the remarkable two page graphic on supply and demand is not.

Canada's oil sands are also the topic of an article examining the environmental devastation caused by extracting oil from the tar sands in the San Francisco Gate. It sounds like converting all of Canada's tar sands into oil should emit enough greenhouse gasses to fry every last one of us - but they may run out of the natural gas used in the process first - so start praying for natural gas depletion to kick in early.
Nowhere else is the conflict between energy use and ecological cost so stark. "The oil sands are a big challenge," Canada's environment minister, Stephane Dion, who has fought publicly with other Cabinet officials for a tougher line on global warming, said in an interview. "They are sending out a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. "But there is no minister of the environment on Earth who can stop this from going forward, because there is too much money in it," Dion said.

The sands make up three broad oil fields, the combined size of Florida, in northern Alberta 500 miles from the U.S. border. Up close, a visitor quickly enters a world of vast industrial scale, in which the tar-like scent of the sands permeates everything. The largest of the pits is a 50-square-mile moonscape of slag heaps and tailings ponds owned by Syncrude, a consortium of Canadian and American companies. Next to the pit is a refinery -- or upgrader, in oil sands terminology -- whose towers, tanks, pressure chambers and spaghetti-like piping cover 1,000 acres.

As these pits are depleted, companies will be forced to go after deeper deposits. Those are extracted by a process known as "in situ," or in position, in which steam is pumped into underground deposits to dissolve the thick oil and allow it to be piped to the surface. In-situ work is much more expensive than open-pit mining, requiring about four times as much natural gas to create the steam.

In both methods, the extremely heavy oil that is produced, called bitumen, has to be further refined into lighter synthetic crude oil before it can be piped to customers, mostly in the U.S. West and Midwest, for further refining and distribution. Even though costs have dropped, the oil sands process remains inefficient. Two tons of sand yield a single barrel -- 42 gallons -- of oil. On average, each barrel creates more greenhouse gas emissions than four cars do in a day.

Elsewhere at TreeHugger there are some notes on alternative energy and energy efficiency - generating electricity from elephant dung (OK - so thats a pretty small niche), mapping the world's wind reserves (the west coast of Tassie is the best bit of Oz apparently), news of the world's first commerical wave powered energy generation in Portugal (also noted by WorldChanging), eco-efficient air conditioning and finally a list of online resources on hybrid cars.

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Deputy PM Fears For Oil Reserves  

Posted by Big Gav

John Anderson has mentioned peak oil a few times now, most recently on the ABC - I wonder if the rodent is ever going to start talking about it ?

Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson believes high fuel prices reflect the inevitable decline in the world's oil and gas reserves. He expressed deep concern about the long-term future of oil and says fuel prices will have to be high enough to encourage more exploration.

Mr Anderson says the world could reach peak production of oil and gas far sooner than predicted because of the rapid increase in energy demands in China. "We are using stored energy left over from ages gone by at an alarming rate and it isn't re-making," he said.

Elsewhere in local peak oil news, "Possum News Network" (no, I've never heard of them either, and neither have the possums in the trees outside my flat) has a report on peak oil and its impact on Australia.
We are now in overshoot mode as far as the provision of additional oil dependent infrastructure is concerned. In the last 50 years this infrastructure grew along the path of increasing oil production. Now, shortly before the peak, it would be uneconomic to provide new capacities which would be utilized for only a couple of years and would then no longer be needed.

Alternatives to oil are limited. If we turned all Australian sugarcane into ethanol, it would yield just 5 litres per car per week. If all our oil seeds were used to make biodiesel, production would just cover 6 per cent of our diesel consumption. It’s been estimated that if the UK’s whole car fleet were hydrogen powered cars, that country would require a hundred nuclear power plants.

Once Peak Oil is understood, there can be no more business as usual. But what do we have to do? Here is a first list:

• Australian car manufacturers must produce thrifty hybrid cars. Low fuel consumption, not generous accessory packages and other electrically powered equipment, is needed.

• Stop building tollways, road tunnels and car parks. RailCorp is so busy trying to finish the Chatswood-Epping line and their clearway program, as well as training new drivers, that we can’t expect much more from heavy rail before the oil peak.

• Rescue our tollway companies. They’d have to convert car lanes to rail tracks and run light rail on them, with connecting feeder buses to the suburbs and heavy rail interchanges The RTA will have to do the same with all major urban roads.

• Replace domestic flights up to 1,000 km with electric night trains running on improved track. Long distance truck traffic will have to be moved to rail either as containers or by using rolling highways where trucks and trailers are loaded onto special flatbed cars.

• Forget desalination plants powered by electricity from coal. Peak Oil will trigger a general energy crisis and make electricity very expensive. Rainwater harvesting, both by private home owners and by local government, should be mandatory.

• No more subdivisions in the west of Sydney, as these will just increase long distance commuting. A vigorous program of decentralisation to smaller cities along the coast and outside commuting distance from Sydney should accommodate the 30 per cent of population growth now earmarked for Greenfield sites. Town planning guidelines should favor cycling and walking to work by reducing commuting distances.

• We need to preserve good agricultural land in the Sydney basin for vegetable production because long distance transport by truck will become prohibitively expensive in the future.

In short, we need a 180 degree turnaround from what we’re doing today.

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Goodbye American Dreamland  

Posted by Big Gav

For those who haven't seen it around the traps yet, here's an article from Culture Change's Jan Lundberg outlining a fast crash scenario.

The scenario I foresee is that market-based panic will, within a few days, drive prices up skyward. And as supplies can no longer slake daily world demand of over 80 million barrels a day, the market will become paralyzed at prices too high for the wheels of commerce and even daily living in "advanced" societies. There may be an event that appears to trigger this final energy crash, but the overall cause will be the huge consumption on a finite planet

The trucks will no longer pull into Wal-Mart. Or Safeway or other food stores. The freighters bringing packaged techno-toys and whatnot from China will have no fuel. There will be fuel in many places, but hoarding and uncertainty will trigger outages, violence and chaos. For only a short time will the police and military be able to maintain order, if at all. The damage that several days' oil shortage and outage will do will soon wreak permanent damage that starts with companies and consumers not paying their bills and not going to work.

After an almost instant depression seizes the modern industrialized world, and nation-states break down, the frantic attempts of people to feed themselves, stay warm and obtain fresh water (pumped presently via petroleum to a great extent), there will be no rescue. Die-off begins. The least petroleum-dependent communities will survive best. These "backward" nations will be emulated by the scrounging survivors of the U.S. and the rest of the "developed" world, as far as local food production will be tried -- in a paved-over, toxic landscape by people who have lost touch with the land.

What about renewable energy and other alternatives? They are not ready and will never be as long as oil is king. This is something not acknowledged by the boosters of the technofix. When oil abdicates, no one can fill the shoes.

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US House Rejects Lifting Offshore Drilling Ban  

Posted by Big Gav

Interesting to see that energy security concerns (not that they'd really be alleviated in any meaningful way by more drilling) haven't overwhelmed environmental conerns just yet - expanded offshore drilling in the US is still being blocked. (via Grist).

Peterson said lifting the drilling ban was necessary to ease skyrocketing natural gas prices that hurt senior citizens living on fixed incomes and force US companies to relocate overseas where gas is cheaper. "As long as the door is shut on domestic natural gas production, we will continue to export American jobs, pay higher energy bills, and prop up rogue nations that control the oil and gas spigots of the world," Peterson said.

However, opponents said the plan would violate the rights of states to protect sensitive coastal and marine areas. "This amendment is bad policy and reflects the misguided attempt to try and drill our way out of energy problems," said Democratic Rep. Lois Capps of California. "It takes only one accident or spill to devastate the local marine environment and economy."

US natural gas production is expected to fall further behind growing demand, especially from new power plants fueled by gas, making the country more dependent on imports.

Also noted by Grist, the debate on what is less environmentally unfriendly - cloth or disposable nappies - has ended in a draw - apparently they both suck equally. Nevertheless - I still think biodegradable nappies should be used if possible (especially if they are produced somewhere that doesn't require them to be hauled half way around the world (as most of them seem to be produced in Europe).

And on a more disturbing note, lunatic US fundamentalist Senator Inhofe (who lists despoiling the atmosphere amongst his favourite hobbies while waiting for the Rapture) is linking people who support environmental organisations with terrorism. So next time you hug a tree (or make a donation to Greenpeace), watch out - you might find yourself sharing a cell with some random Muslim who's just been hauled off the streets as well.
Now, I don't really have a conspiratorial temperament. I tend to think that stupidity is responsible for far more of what ails the world than evil -- which is why I'm more optimistic than many of my eco-brethren. However, this seems worth worrying about. After all, as the old saying goes, it's not paranoia if they're really watching you.

Trying to drum up this sort of frenzy serves dual, overlapping purposes. One, it reignites some of the flagging terrorist hysteria that does so much to prop up the right wing, greasing the skids for a further expansion of domestic police powers. Two, it works to discredit the green movement as a whole, greasing the skids for further deregulation of corporate power. At the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee show trial yesterday, they trotted an FBI flunky in to proclaim earnestly that the ELF and the ALF constitute the single greatest domestic terrorist threat the nation faces today.

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