Just Dropping In  

Posted by Big Gav

I won't be back online properly for a few more days and have only had a chance to quickly skim the news, but I thought I'd just drop a few links in. First, bird flu has reached Siberia, second, an analysis of why the experts always seem to get it wrong when looking at Iran, third, some Ocker thoughts on peak oil in "Peak Oil: The Turd On The Table" and finally Billmon on Collapse.

Ordinarily, I'd be the last one to challenge Jared Diamond's thinking -- the man is a genius. But in this case I have to wonder if he isn't overanalyzing things. Maybe the reason humans act so dumb isn't because of their intellectual frame of reference, or their clan structure, or because they lack historical awareness. Maybe people act dumb because a lot of them are dumb -- dumb as turnips. So stupid they have trouble each morning remembering that their shoes go on their feet. So mentally challenged they have to use crib notes to remember their ABCs. So monumentally dense they can't even do the job of a cable news talk show host -- or at least not properly. Borderline vegetative, in other words.

Might that not be a more plausible explanation for our present predicament than a complex failure of the intellectual substrata of our socio-political paradigm considered as a subset of the tragedy of the commons?

Maybe we're simply not smart enough to fix the massive mess we've created -- just as some of our early ancestral cousins couldn't quite make the evolutionary grade either. Take Australopithicus robustus , for example:

A nice enough ape, I'm sure, but not exactly the brightest bulb in the Olduvai Gorge. When his environment changed, he couldn't adapt, until finally his last known forwarding address was at the American Museum of Natural History.

Maybe we've reached the end of our rope, too -- that is to say, maybe we've risen to a level of intelligence just high enough to create problems we're not bright enough to solve. A kind of evolutionary Peter Principle in action.

Certainly, I don't see anything about our current national leadership, or the dominant political party in America, that would disprove my hypothesis.

Placeholder  

Posted by Big Gav

I'll most likely be away from the keyboard for a few days.

In the interim, you can get your daily dose of peak oil news and commentary at these fine sites:

MobjectivistPeak Energy (US)The Oil Drum
Energy BulletinPeakOil.comFTD
WorldChangingTreeHuggerGrist

Plastic Solar Cells  

Posted by Big Gav

There have been a few articles out lately about cheap - but low efficiency - solar cells made from plastic. As Jamais at WorldChanging notes, with a small boost to the efficiency it would become attractive to coat all sorts of surfaces in the stuff.

Researchers at the Danish group Risø have developed a polymer photovoltaic technology that would cost about 2% of current silicon PV panels: Risø claims that their new polymer pv should run about $15/square meter, as opposed to the $800/square meter they list for silicon. Moreover, this plastic solar cell has a useful lifespan of about two and a half years, which Risø claims to be a record duration for plastic pv.

So what's the downside? Efficiency. These cells have a conversion factor of 0.2% to 5%, as compared to common silicon pv at 12%-15%; photovoltaics in development have achieved up to 50% or so in the lab. What can you do with 0.2%-5% efficiency? At first blush, not much, which is with Risø is now devoting its efforts to increasing the power output of their plastic solar.

But the tremendous price reduction changes the equation a bit. At $15/square meter, it becomes much more economically feasible to add a solar boost to otherwise unused external spaces. 50 watts for $15 (assuming the high end of the efficiency scale) isn't too bad; I could imagine homeowners wanting to put this material on south-facing walls, rooftops, even patio umbrellas.

I'd imagine the stuff on north facing surfaces personally, but to each hemisphere their own I say.

Let the Real Climate Debate Begin  

Posted by Big Gav

The Bush administration's "War on Science" continues, but the scientists are resisting.

Last month, Phil Cooney, the oil company lobbyist turned White House science "expert," was promptly hired by Exxon-Mobil after resigning under fire for changing the scientific conclusions in national climate reports. Texas Republican Joe Barton, who has reportedly received more money from the oil, gas, coal, nuclear, electricity, and chemical industry than any other member of the House of Representatives, sent letters to three climate scientists demanding their raw data showing the rising temperature of the Earth.

The work of these scientists has been intensively peer-reviewed already, but their findings are so disturbing to climate deniers that they are pushing for political intimidation. Barton is being advised by the small community of climate skeptics funded by -- surprise -- Exxon-Mobil.

Stop playing politics with climate science. It is time for the real climate debate to begin. If politicians want to get involved in the debate – as they should – they should be asking: How bad are global climate changes going to be, what should be done about them, who should do it, and who should pay? Lots of science needs to be done, but the difficult challenges are social, economic, and political, are not scientific.

Diminishing Returns  

Posted by Big Gav

Left wing British journal "The New Statesman" has a review of Matt Simmons' "Twilight In The Desert".

The conjunction of peaking global oil production with quickening climate change poses fundamental challenges that no section of opinion has adequately confronted - including the Greens. The energy-intensive lifestyle which is now spreading throughout the world cannot be sustained with non-renewable and polluting fossil fuels, but it is sheer fantasy to imagine that a human population of between six and eight billion can be supported on a combination of windfarms, solar power and organic agriculture. As Simmons notes, we may be approaching the limits of growth that the Club of Rome identified more than 30 years ago, and we are no better prepared to adjust to them now than we were then.

The End Of Oil Subsidies  

Posted by Big Gav

News of riots in Yemen may be a warning of the times ahead throughout much of the third world as governments subsidies for fuel become impossible to afford.

At least eight Yemenis were killed in clashes between protesters and security forces yesterday after the government said it would cut subsidies on oil products by more than half. Angry protesters took to the streets of the capital, Sana'a, and other cities, pelting security forces with stones, setting fire to tyres and attacking public property in defiance of the government's decision. The government said it wanted to curb a budget deficit and had postponed the cuts more than three times to avoid protests.

The Offal Truth  

Posted by Big Gav

Grist reports on a thermal depolymerization company that is looking to leave the US as producing renewable energy is more profitable in Kyoto compliant countries.

Certain folks take it as quasi-religious doctrine that strong green regulation is bad for economic growth. Tell it to Philadelphia's Changing World Technologies, a burgeoning clean-energy company that may have to leave the U.S. precisely because of lax environmental laws.

Every day, CWT turns 270 tons of turkey offal -- the bones, meaty bits, and feathers that don't get to the supermarket with your Butterball roaster -- into 300 barrels of fuel oil. Using "thermal depolymerization," CWT claims it can transform nearly any carbon-containing waste into a biodiesel-esque fuel, at a net energy gain, with minimal byproducts and no net addition to the atmospheric carbon cycle. But CWT may move to Europe to perfect its methods.

In a country that's signed the Kyoto Protocol, CWT could sell greenhouse-gas emissions credits for many times more than they're worth in the U.S. Plus, while using animal residues in animal chow is still legal in the U.S., it's been banned in many other countries, cutting costs for CWT's chief raw material to nearly zero.

Future Power  

Posted by Big Gav

The latest issue of "National Geographic" (who have covered peak oil quite extensively in the past) looks at where we will be getting our energy from in future.

Where on Earth can our energy-hungry society turn to replace oil, coal, and natural gas?

I stand in a cluttered room surrounded by the debris of electrical enthusiasm: wire peelings, snippets of copper, yellow connectors, insulated pliers. For me these are the tools of freedom. I have just installed a dozen solar panels on my roof, and they work. A meter shows that 1,285 watts of power are blasting straight from the sun into my system, charging my batteries, cooling my refrigerator, humming through my computer, liberating my life.

The euphoria of energy freedom is addictive. Don't get me wrong; I love fossil fuels. I live on an island that happens to have no utilities, but otherwise my wife and I have a normal American life. We don't want propane refrigerators, kerosene lamps, or composting toilets. We want a lot of electrical outlets and a cappuccino maker. But when I turn on those panels, wow!

Maybe that's because for me, as for most Americans, one energy crisis or another has shadowed most of the past three decades. From the OPEC crunch of the 1970s to the skyrocketing cost of oil and gasoline today, the world's concern over energy has haunted presidential speeches, congressional campaigns, disaster books, and my own sense of well-being with the same kind of gnawing unease that characterized the Cold War.

Random Notes  

Posted by Big Gav

The Rodent has finished his trip to Washington and received his latest set of instructions from Dick Cheney. He also spent a little bit of time trying to sell some natural gas - which should become and easier sell as time passes by and LNG terminals sprout like combustible mushrooms along the US coastline.

Back in our own backyard, there is some talk that Papua New Guinea may be looking at playing us off against China for access to their natural gas reserves, which outlines the somewhat annoying amount of distance between Australian population centres and our own natural gas reserves compared to those in PNG.

While PNG might have plenty of gas in the ground, available energy supplies there aren't all that plentiful at the present point in time, which has led one gold mining company to build its own geothermal powered plant.

Lihir chief executive Neil Swan said the new power station reduced Lihir's reliance on heavy fuel oil to generate power amid escalating world oil prices, with geothermal energy producing more than 60 per cent of power requirements. Mr Swan said the switch to geothermal energy was also good environmentally, as the naturally occurring geothermal steam would otherwise be discharged as waste.

The power station lifts Lihir's geothermal generation capacity to 36 megawatts, which includes output from a smaller 6MW plant that has been operating since 2003. Lihir said that total would increase to 56MW - virtually enough to meet all of its power requirements - when two new generators were added to the plant.

It not just PNG gas that China is after. According to the Herald, ("Costello's nightmare: China eyes Woodside") they may think about trying to buy Woodside if the Unocal deal falls through.
The word on Wall Street is that the Chinese may be eyeing Australia.

As the $US18.5 billion takeover battle for American oil and gas group Unocal between a Chinese government-controlled company and the American Chevron Corp becomes increasingly politically charged, there are whispers among hedge funds that if the Chinese miss out, they'll switch focus to Australia's Woodside Petroleum.

And the prospect of the China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) making a tilt for Woodside would provide a big headache for Federal Treasurer Peter Costello. In 2001, a clearly embarrassed Mr Costello and the Foreign Investment Review Board turned down the bid for the rest of Woodside by Dutch-controlled Shell on the grounds of national interest.

More recently, the bid for WMC Resources by the Swiss controlled Xstrata passed muster - before before being topped by the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton. But the Chinese controlling a major Australian energy producer could pose a more complex proposition. While Chinese demand has fuelled the Australian resources and sharemarket boom, CNOOC's bid for Unocal is seen by some as China seeking to shore up its own resources security.

While Smirky Pete might be having nightmares about having to block a Chinese bid for an Australian company, Ian McFarlane is dreaming about doubling uranium exports, mostly to China.

China itself is bracing for an energy crunch this summer, wih reports that businesses will be forced into week long staggered shutdowns. The Chinese have also come to regret opening up wildcat oil drilling in the provinces to private interests a while ago, and has since been performing sweeping renationalisations of oil wells, much to the dismay of the owners.

Meanwhile, Morgan Stanlet's resident bear Steven Roach is warning of a possible Chinese downturn and bursting of the oil "bubble".

Over in the UK, Rigzone has a report about UK energy demand outstripping supply, and what that means for their current account deficit (Japan's trade surplus is also suffering.
As the UK cannot produce enough oil and gas itself it has to import some. The UKOOA has warned that if the nation had to import enough oil and gas to meet all of its needs each year, the national economy would be around pounds -30bn a year worse off, increasing the current trade deficit by almost 75%.

Heading east, there is quite a bit of news from Russia, including a report about a possible 30% hike in Russian gas prices for drought stricken Western Europe, the possibility of a Russian oil pipeline going through Turkey to southern Europe and a report from the Jamaica Observer that Russia will be the world's largest oil producer this year.

Heading down to the Middle East, TomPaine has a good article called "Oil control formula" about the battle for control of oil in the middle east and Caspian regions.
George W. Bush’s war in Iraq may not be going as planned. But for those who’ve stopped believing the myth that prewar Iraq represented any sort of threat to the United States, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence mounting that the real reason for the American invasion of Iraq was the most obvious one: Oil. In this case, “oil” doesn’t mean that we went to war for the commercial benefit of U.S. oil companies—and in fact, as I reported in Mother Jones magazine in early 2003, before the war, most U.S. oil firms and their executives were against the war. But in Iraq, “oil” means the strategic commodity that is the single most important world resource. Even a novice geostrategist knows that who controls oil controls the world. And in this case, America’s rival for control of oil is, first and foremost, China.

Seymour Hersh has returned with a new article in "The New Yorker" about US interference in the Iraqi election results (which George and the boys have had plenty of practice at).

Iraq and Iran have apparently signed a military pact, which would suggest that the election rigging wasn't entirely successful. Why the Reuters report drops a gratuitous reference to Al Qaeda in the middle of the lead paragraph is a mystery to me.
Iraq signed a military pact with Iran on Wednesday in a breakthrough with a former foe, but al Qaeda said it would kill Egypt's kidnapped envoy and attack more diplomats to stop the government winning international support.

Defence Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi signed a pact in Tehran agreeing to accept Iranian military training and other cooperation with the country Iraq fought for a decade under ousted leader Saddam Hussein. Responding to the suggestion that the thaw in ties with Iran would anger Washington, Dulaimi said: "Nobody can dictate to Iraq its relations with other countries."

The Times reports that Iraq is slipping into a "civil war" (I'm sure you can imagine my standard cynical muttering about implementation of the Salvador option). As usual Emmanuel Goldstein Abu Musab Al Zarqawi is being blamed.

TomDispatch recently had a dispatch on the mysterious "Zarqawi Phenomenon" which goes over a lot of the background to this phantom menace.
As far as anyone can tell, Zarqawi's actual organization or network is, at best, modest in nature and no one writing about it or him even really knows whether the man is alive or dead, in or out of Iraq. A look at basic press accounts of Zarqawi finds them filled to the brim with words like "purportedly," "allegedly," "claims," and "the CIA believes with a high degree of confidence." And the unnamed sources who tell us what is supposedly known about Zarqawi are invariably anonymous "American officials" or "intelligence officials," the same people who once assured us that he had a leg amputated in one of Saddam's Baghdad hospitals. (He is now believed to be two-legged.)

How to put together this conveniently satanic figure -- capable of personalizing all the horrors of Iraq in a single monstrous body and bringing them home to the American public in a way that the Bush administration has found convenient -- with what little is known about a possibly not-too-bright small-town thug is a curious challenge. Independent journalist Dahr Jamail, who wrote for Tomdispatch (among other places) from Baghdad and then came home for a break, is now back in the Middle East and, from Amman, Jordan, he went on his own search for the truth behind the Zarqawi phenomenon

Finally, an interesting quote from The Herald that I missed last week, snuck in at the bottom of an article on petrol refining problems at Caltex.
The chief executive of the Service Station Association, Ron Bowden, criticised the media's obsession with petrol prices. "People shouldn't be focused on how they can get it cheaper." He said they should instead worry more about the looming global oil shortage. "Our main focus is to supply enough fuel so the nation moves. What [motorists] pay for it isn't really important right now."

Banana Fueled Republic  

Posted by Big Gav

TreeHugger has another post up on the myriad uses of banana plants - this one looks at processing banana biomass and converting into biofuel.

We’ve mentioned bananas in organic energy bars, banana fibre lamps and bags and even banana paper, so it’s high time for a banana-lead energy revolution. The Australian Banana Growers’ Council figure that if we gathered up 6,000 tonnes of banana production waste (second-grade fruit and stalks) and put it through a waste-to-energy plant we’d get the equivalent of 222,000 litres of diesel fuel. And why use bananas as this new energy feedstock ? “Because it is extremely homogenous, comes in high concentrations within a small geographic area and is fully bio-degradable." The project will be discussed at the Banana Industry Congress, held in Cairns, Australia in the middle of next month.

Bionics: Energy Efficiency, Nature-Style  

Posted by Big Gav

IDFuel has an interesting post up about using Nature as the model for designs that are more energy efficient.

With peak oil looking more and more real, and gas prices climbing higher, designers, politicians, and people everywhere are looking for ways to maximize energy usage. There is one organization who has been wrestling with this issue for the length of it's existence. Like so many other things, before cars, before cities, before humans, nature was fighting to fit as many animals and plants into as small a space as possible. And now that we get to plan how products fit into our energy and market spaces, we can take some cues from her.


They also link to an excellent story in The Guardian about new developments in wind turbine design and siting (also noted at TreeHugger).


The Aerogenerator is descended from what's known as a Darrieus rotor, which resembles an egg whisk in shape, and works something like a sideways water wheel. It was invented by a Frenchman in the 1930s, and developed extensively in the US and Canada in the 1970s. Unlike horizontal-axis designs, vertical-axis turbines can harness wind energy from any direction, and because the moving parts and the generator are at ground level, they are easier to maintain. But building them on a giant scale presented major engineering difficulties, particularly in terms of stability. What the Aerogenerator does in effect is reproduce the effect of a Darrieus rotor, but with much greater stability. Which means that you can build a much bigger turbine without the danger of it tipping over.

"Our engineer thought about the problem and basically took it to pieces and put it back together," says Theo Bird, founder of Windpower Ltd, who is funding the project through a combination of a government grant and the money he was saving to buy a new house. "By being much larger, you can afford to build offshore, where there's more wind. Twelve wind farms of 100 units would meet the UK government's 10% target for renewable sources. And in the future, you could possibly double the power from each turbine by harnessing tidal power beneath the surface."

...

Beyond making better-looking wind farms, there is also potential for integrating turbines directly into buildings. After all, if nobody wants wind turbines in the countryside, why not put them in the cities? Cities already have high-rise structures in which to incorporate turbines, and they would be far more in tune with a man-made environment than a natural one. Added to which there would be less need to transport the electricity large distances to its users.

...

A few buildings have attempted to incorporate wind turbines, but so far none have achieved it with any conviction. Richard Rogers proposed an integral turbine for his Tomigaya tower in Tokyo in 1993, but in more recent efforts, such as Terry Farrell's Green Building in Manchester, or Kohn Pedersen Fox's New York Sports and Convention Centre, wind turbines seem to function more as a conspicuous signifier of environmental credentials than a significant solution to energy requirements.
Going the whole hog, though, a European Commission-sponsored organisation named Project Web (Wind Energy for the Built Environment) has investigated in detail a purpose-built wind-powered skyscraper. The aerodynamic form of the twin 50-storey towers funnels the wind into the three giant turbines, which would generate more power than stand-alone turbines. Under the right circumstances, the building could generate nearly all of its own energy needs, according to Sinisa Stankovic of BDSP Partnership, Project Web's environmental engineers.

...

As energy from fossil fuels becomes more scarce and expensive, the energy performance of buildings can only increase in importance. Battle and others like him are thinking beyond mere environmental responsibility to an era where buildings, and ultimately cities themselves, are net energy producers. "Traditional buildings have been a drain on infrastructure - water, electricity, waste disposal, etc," says Battle. "Really we should be working towards something like an occupied infrastructure, just like windmills were once occupied. It's a paradigm shift in how we see buildings, and it means that architects are going to have to rethink their aesthetic. It's no longer about just responding to cultural and social urban factors. It's a whole different layer of architecture coming through that will begin to change the face of our cities."

Successful trial of Energetech Wave Energy Device  

Posted by Big Gav

Energy Bulletin noted today that Energetech's wave energy device down in Wollongong has completed testing (pdf) successfully. It will be interesting to see what the long term cost of electricity is using this type of device and how well it scales up - but I could certainly imagine this type of solution being a great way to generate power in small towns all around the country. Add some wind turbines, plenty of solar panels and some smart grid technology and you could probably avoid centralised power generation entirely.

Energetech Port Kembla Project Results: The Energetech wave energy device was installed and operated at Port Kembla during a planned test period in June. Tests were run and valuable data was logged, indicating the primary system works as designed. While the incident waves during the deployment period were low, there was clear confirmation of the amplification of the waves due to the parabolic wall.

The air velocities past the turbine and the overall system efficiency indicators exceeded expectations. Peak power production estimates during the tests show that many homes could have been supported by the small waves powering the system. During further testing, the wave energy unit regenerated power into the local grid. Final installation in the near future will now incorporate the technical improvements defined during this initial test phase.

Sterling Trashes Kunstler  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm not a great fan of James Kunstler but I didn't think this Viridian Note is one of Bruce's better efforts - he just comes off as very cranky. Yes - it does point out some of the inconsistencies and unlikely conclusions in "The Long Emergency", but it's not (in my opinion anyway) a work that was meant to be taken entirely seriously anyway - the point it that it raises awareness of an important issue to people who may not otherwise have noticed it.

Aren't there better targets for Viridians to take aim at (in the same way that peak oilers should be able to find better targets to complaing about than Amory Lovins) ? A reasonable amount of peak oil fear can actually encourage people to look at Viridian solutions (which I'm sure the average person would find much more palatable than Kunstler's vision of a return to the 19th century).

Bogoni Uprising  

Posted by Big Gav

Shell really does know how to attract bad publicity. Here's a piece about them fighting some downtrodden Irish villagers in the "Battle of the bog".

It began as a hopeless mismatch: a handful of villagers in remote north-west Mayo taking on the multinational Shell. But the Battle of the Bog has turned into one of the biggest protests against Shell in Europe after five villagers were jailed for refusing the company access to their land because they feared a proposed gas pipeline was unsafe.

Subsistence farmers from Rossport accuse Shell of turning them into "human guinea pigs" by building a £600m high-pressure gas pipeline near their homes.

While the men and women stood on their land and refused the company entry until their safety concerns were met, the Celtic Tiger Ireland looked the other way. But when Shell took five villagers to the high court in Dublin and saw them jailed "indefinitely" for obstructing the company's work, the country was outraged.

Now the Bogoni - named after the Ogoni people who fought Shell in Nigeria - have spent 18 days in jail and seen their support swell. Thousands of people have gathered at demonstrations, including the novelist Jennifer Johnston.

Hundreds more have picketed garages, signed petitions and urged a petrol boycott. Shell has agreed to temporarily suspend work in north Mayo, where crowds were protesting every day and the government has ordered a health and safety review of the proposed pipeline. But the jailed men refuse to back down.

Three are small-scale farmers, eking what living they can from poor-quality peaty land in Rossport in the Bog of Erris.

Two are retired schoolteachers, including a pensioner who has had a triple heart bypass. They represent the Gaelic-speaking community decimated by poverty and emigration, which the government has vowed to protect. According to their MP, they are "decent people" with no previous criminal records.

Jerry Cowley, the independent MP for Mayo, said: "The small man is being trampled into the ground."

Michael Ring of Fine Gael said Ireland was now living in a "dictatorship within a democracy".

Destruction Of The Third World And Phantom Carrying Capacity  

Posted by Big Gav

Some of the reports about electricity outages and fuel shortages in countries like Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and Indonesia have me wondering if the drop over Duncan's Olduvai Cliff could actually occur in those countries that have insufficient energy resources of their own and not enough money to buy fuel from elsewhere.

For the past three weeks, thousands of motorcycles and cars have been queueing for petrol and diesel at pumps across Indonesia as the country faces a shortage induced by record global oil prices. So acute is the shortage and so desperate were some vehicle-owners that they took to sleeping overnight at the stations to ensure their tanks were filled when supply arrived.

The shortage criss-crossed the vast archipelago, disrupting public transport in provinces beyond the main island of Java, where mini- buses, ferries and boats ran out of fuel, leaving workers and travellers stranded. In Sumatra, transport on the strategic Jambi river remains at a standstill. Fishermen in the neighbouring province of Lampung are unable to put out to sea.

The idea that third world fishermen will no longer be able to afford diesel for their fishing boats at some point along the depletion curve does make me wonder just how quickly food shortages (or more bluntly, famines) could come into being once "fish acreage" (as William Catton dubbed it) is no longer available to them (assuming the fish population doesn't die off first, of course).

In one of the periods that Haloscan was working today, I saw some good comments from Jim Burke on The Oil Drum's weekend open thread about demand meeting available supply and using the Irish potato famine as an example.
I have been thinking about the observation made by one of our economist friends, his “pet peeve,” that by definition demand cannot exceed supply. I would like to apply this idea to the great potato famine in Ireland.

As we know, in 1849 a blight destroyed much of Ireland’s potato harvest and of the 8 million Irish, a million starved to death and 3 million immigrated. The English landlords have been heavily critisized for exporting food to England, even while their tenants starved.

Now I see that what was actually happening was that food prices went up, the Irish couldn’t pay, so the food (by necessity) was exported to where people could pay. High prices created demand destruction.

Therefore, the fact that Irish died off is irrelevant. The fact that matters is that the demand for food decreased dramatically in Ireland, and so landowners sold the food to those in England, where demand stayed strong (because the ability to pay was strong).

One question that arises from this is - what would have happened if the Irish were able to nationalise their remaining potato supply ? Would the famine have affected England as well ?

Moving on to another topic, I like Jim's comment about depletion and global warming as well - I've always though Kjell Aleklett's quip that peak oil means that global warming won't be a problem a bit dubious.
In the post “Peak Oil & Climate Change,” July 14, you reprinted Kjell Aleklett’s rebuttal of IPCC’s projected climate change model. Aleklett’s article and accompanying graph showed IPCC’s oil & gas increasing at an exponential rate throughout the 21st century; with ASPO’s model superimposed over it.

The message, which I had internalized since I first saw it in an ASPO newsletter, is that climate warming projections are overblown because of peak oil. Therefore, I had stopped worrying about climate change. Unfortunately, Aleklett misrepresented IPCC.

IPCC’s actually model (see Dave’s post on that comments page) differs from Aleklett’s rendition. IPCC showed oil & gas peaking in 2025, and decreasing to a fraction by century’s end. The rest of the exponential growth is made up by COAL; Not oil and gas.

I am really disappointed in Aleklett, and the ASPO newsletter, for misrepresenting IPCC’s position and diverting attention from an extraordinary problem. Aleklett is correct is stating that shifting reliance upon coal would be “disasterous,” but his actions undercut thinking and potential action on the subject.

We must shift our attention from peak oil and gas (which is increasingly obvious and understood), to “peak coal” and what can be done to avoid the disasterous shift to reliance upon strip mining coal to substitute for the missing oil and gas in our energy future.

Solar Lights  

Posted by Big Gav

Here's yet another cool solar powered lighting alternative via TreeHugger.

There's no denying that public lighting is bound to remain an unavoidable evil in modern cities of the world. A quick zoom at the "Earth at night" map, sold by National geopraphic won't contradict this very basic truth. Imagine the energy needed to enlight the earth like that : in an article about the city of Albi who has started reducing electricity costs, french research institute CNRS estimates that global consumption of lighting equals more than 2,000 TWh in electric energy per year, which sums more than one-tenth (approximately) of global electricity production.

Obviously the realistic solution is not to aim for a complete removal of streetlights around the planet. The city of Albi (France) has chosen a light system that is better adapted to the human eye and produces the necessary light with less energy. That's one part of the solution to reduce global impact of public lighting.

Everlight, a swiss company, has a second solution to go forward, simple enough : photovoltaic panel take solar input and send electricity to batteries drum that give it back at night.

A few other interesting posts at TreeHugger include an announcement from Toyota and BP Biofuels that they are negotiating a research partnership on biofuels.
"BP, which distributes light ethanol and biodiesel blends in a number of countries, is especially interested in the potential for the development of biofuels from feedstocks that don’t require intensive farming—cellulosic ethanol from biomass waste, for example." We are very excited about cellulose ethanol (and not just because the technology is being developed in Ottawa), and having two giants like Toyota and BP interested in it is great news. We'll keep an eye open for the official announcement of a deal.

And finally, the Union of Concerned Scientists have a set of suggestions about how to improve SUVs.

When Scandals Collide  

Posted by Big Gav

I imagine Billmon's server logs always show visitors from Halliburton, especially when he starts ranting about Iraqi "reconstruction" money. Some things never change really - I always find these sort of stories remind me of a lot of ancient Roman history where governors were sent to the outer provinces and spent their time plundering as much as they could from the locals. I'm not sure Roman taxpayers got robbed as well though - so maybe the current US government is breaking some new ground.

I'm not sure why the vast corruption, waste and abuse in the Iraq "reconstruction" effort isn't getting more media coverage. The press used to love those kind of stories ($300 military toilet seats, $200 presidential haircuts, whatever.)

But these days, everybody just seems resigned to throwing enormous quantities of taxpayer money down whatever ratholes the Cheney administration and the Pentagon take a fancy to. And when some (but hardly all) of the money being wasted belongs to the Iraqi people -- well, empires have a habit of doing that, don't they?

But at least a few reporters still seem to be interested in documenting the absolutely mindboggling corruption in Iraq -- a Texas-sized boondoggle that began within days after the fall of Baghdad and continues right up to the present day.

A full accounting of these various swindles will, of course, never be made -- except maybe to God, if she can ever take a break from her war crimes deliberations. But it seems likely the Iraq money pit will set some kind of modern record: Instead of skimming some of the funds intended for real projects and diverting them to corrupt uses, the authors of this particular scandal appear to have taken a small fraction of the money intended for corruption and diverted it to legitimate projects.

Woodside Notes  

Posted by Big Gav

As oil and gas companies go, Woodside are pretty good, so in contrast to my usual cynical view on the industry these notes are just purely my investors eye view of progress rather than pointing the finger at some act of bad behaviour.

There has been a bit of press recently about labour shortages in the oil and gas world, and Woodside are suffering as much as anyone, with the number one constraint on developing new projects being their ability to find skilled people (finance appears easy to obtain for anyone with a half decent project to develop and they seem to have plenty of good prospects waiting for someone to put a drilling platform on top of them - I imagine Shell are still miffed about their failed takeover bid a few years ago).

The Herald reported this weekend that Woodside are planning to establish engineering offices in London and Houston to overcome skills shortages in WA. The Financial Review also reported that construction of an additional (6th) LNG train at Karratha may well begin before construction of the 5th train is complete. The Herald also noted that a decision to commence work on the Tiof project offshore Mauritania has yet to be made.

The labour shortage in Australia has forced Woodside Petroleum to consider establishing satellite engineering offices in London and Houston to facilitate its aggressive expansion plans. Woodside chief executive Don Voelte told the Institute of Chartered Accountants the company wanted to maintain its headquarters in Perth but there was not enough skilled labour based in the city to support its expansion plans.

"We have come to the realisation that we cannot hire enough people in Perth," Mr Voelte said. "We are anticipating building regional offices in the outskirts of London and Houston, Texas."

The company has a pipeline of projects coming online over the next few years, starting with the Midway gas project in the Gulf of Mexico, where first gas is anticipated later this year. Following on from that is the Chinguetti oil project off Mauritania, the Otway gas project off southern Victoria, the Enfield oil project off Exmouth and the Neptune oil and gas project in the Gulf of Mexico. Less advanced are the Pluto and Broswe prospects off the north west coast of Western Australia, which Mr Voelte said could be company makers.

Peak Weed ?  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm not quite sure, but I assume this is the first peak oil spoof site - pondering the impact of peak oil on weed production (via FTD - where do you find these things Donkey ?).

On the other hand, if they're serious, then its good (albeit surprising) to see the stoner community finding the energy to get off the couch and make some preparations.

The evidence is mounting, the players are positioning themselves, and it’s about time we started seriously talking about this issue. When the world oil supply reaches it’s peak and prices start to rise, the price of marijuana is certainly going to rise right along with it. Can you afford $75 1/8s, $100 1/8s, or even $150 1/8s? I know that I certainly can’t. But when the peak actually hits, and prices start to skyrocket, it might already be too late. The time is now to start planning. We need to grow locally and organically, and we need to develop regional communities for trading. We need to stop relying on cheap fossil fuels for transportation, fertilizers, and indoor growing facilities. The time is NOW!!

Edge Of Darkness  

Posted by Big Gav

Matt's review of "House of Cards" at Code Three a little while ago prompted me to go and buy a copy and watch it again, having enjoyed my first viewing of it a long time ago.

That done, my thoughts turned to other classic British TV series - of which "Edge Of Darkness" was one of the best (other reviews can be found at Wikipedia and DVD Times). It has aged remarkably well, and a lot of the underlying themes tend to fit pretty well into the world view of your typical peak oiler (particularly some of the ideas in the final episode "Fusion").

One portion of the plot which has become a bit more confused in the intervening period is James Lovelock's recent conversion to supporting nuclear power, as his Gaia hypothesis influences the story quite heavily.

Recommended.

This six-part drama serial was transmitted on BBC2 in Winter 1985 and repeated on BBC1 in three parts, on consecutive evenings, just ten days after its BBC2 run ended. This remarkably swift repeat highlighted the impact and significance of this five-hour nuclear thriller, broadcast at a time when nuclear politics were firmly on the political and public agenda. Critically acclaimed, the drama was also very popular, with an average audience of four million on BBC2 and double that for the BBC1 repeat. Edge of Darkness received four BAFTA awards, including Best Drama Series/Serial.

A drama which begins, then, on a human scale, with Craven mourning his daughter's death, gradually opens out to embrace national and international issues as it moves from an investigative film noir to take on the conventions of a political thriller, before transforming into a nuclear thriller with implications of global apocalypse. For Kennedy Martin this was a deliberate strategy, facilitated by the serial form: "The art is to start with a familiar idea and take the audience with you on a plane, so that when they look down they are thousands of miles above the Earth." For a drama concerned above all with the future of the planet, this analogy is particularly apt, and the continuing relevance in the 21st century of the issues Edge of Darkness addresses confirms it as one of the great works of television drama.

ROC Says Oil Assets Too Expensive  

Posted by Big Gav

Small Australian oil producer ROC Oil has (for whatever reason) consistently talked about current oil prices being unsustainable and used very conservative estimates when determining project feasibility. Their CEO is now saying oil company share prices are too high (always an annoying thing for existing investors who are quite happy to see prices continue to surge upwards).

Despite a recent pick up in merger activity, ROC Oil Co. believes that mid-sized Australian oil producers are too expensive to get on the radar screens of cash-rich overseas rivals.

"None of the Australian oil assets are attractive to the U.S. and U.K. energy companies," ROC chief executive John Doran told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview. "The exception may be Australian companies with overseas interests, although there are not many undervalued situations," he said.

Besides their interest in the soon to be productive offshore Mauritanian fields ROC also has an interest in a field offshore WA that is about to be drilled and is touted as having the potential to contain 1 billion barrels (which would make it one of the largest finds this century if true). I for one will be a happy man if it does turn out to be the case.
As energy prices soar, Australia's Tap Oil Ltd. said Tuesday that its Jacala wildcat prospect offshore Western Australia may contain more than one billion barrels of oil. Jacala-1, in the deep water part of the Carnarvon Basin, is scheduled to be drilled in October by operator BHP Billiton, Tap said in a presentation to a UBS resources conference.

"It is a high risk prospect, but every oil well is risky," Tap managing director Paul Underwood told Dow Jones Newswires after the presentation. If the well succeeds, it could increase the worth of Tap "10 times", Underwood said in an interview, adding that Jacala's oil size potential was calculated by BHP.

In its presentation, Tap said Jacala is one of three "monster" exploration wells to be drilled this year and early next, also citing the Marley-1 well off the Western Australian coast and the Barque-1 well off the coast of New Zealand's South Island.

It said the target in the Barque prospect is five trillion to six trillion cubic feet of gas and about 500 million barrels of condensate. The company didn't provide estimates for Marley-1. BHP owns 55% of Jacala, Tap 25%, and Roc Oil 20%.

Lend Me Your Gears  

Posted by Big Gav

Obviously with a title like that this one comes from Grist - a post about the emergence of car sharing. Some peak oil theorists maintain that replacing the world's car fleet with hybrids and other increasingly fuel efficient vehicles isn't practical, but I can imagine fuel prices rising to the point where the overall fleet size declines - and car sharing and car pooling of efficient vehicles becoming more common, along with increased use of public transport.

Car sharing is gradually gaining ground around the globe, and the future looks bright for a concept once derided as a green fever dream. About 300,000 people worldwide now participate in car sharing; it's taken off especially well in European nations like Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, where the largest company has 2,400 cars and 60,000 members (compared to a total of roughly 1,000 shared cars in the U.S.).

New technologies like online car booking are making it easier for companies to manage larger numbers of vehicles and for customers to sign up to use them. Even big-biz players like Hertz and Shell have begun dipping their toes in the water, suggesting potential for future growth and profitability. Studies indicate that car-sharing services reduce overall traffic and pollution: One shared car can replace 4 to 10 cars as folks retire older vehicles, with a net 30 to 45 percent decrease in miles driven per customer.

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Drought and Power In Van Dieman's Land  

Posted by Big Gav

"The Advocate" reports that Tasmania will run short of electricity within six months unless heavy rains arrive to replenish Hydro Tasmania dams. Another potential electricity system victim for global warming.

This seems quite ironic given that the BassLink project due to go live this summer was intended to supply the mainland with surplus Tasmanian hydro-electricity.

Basslink is an historic Australian energy project that will allow the trade of electricity between Tasmania and the mainland, and allow Tasmania to enter the National Electricity Market (NEM). Basslink will enhance security of supply on both sides of Bass Strait; protecting Tasmania against the risk of drought-constrained energy shortages and protecting Victoria and southern states against the forecast shortage of peak load power.

The Basslink interconnector will run from Loy Yang in Gippsland, Victoria, across Bass Strait to Bell Bay in northern Tasmania. When installed the 290 km undersea cable component for Basslink will be the longest of its type in the world. Basslink will have the capacity to export up to a maximum of 600 megawatts of power from Tasmania to Victoria, and import a maximum of 300 megawatts to Tasmania, with a continuous rating of 480 megawatts.

As Tasmania has some of the best wind resources on the planet, the government's announced intention to fast-track development of wind farms shows some wisdom (unlike their benighted forests policy).
Premier Paul Lennon outlined Government plans to avert the looming crisis by fast-tracking energy schemes like wind farms and a wood-fired power station. At least one major company has agreed to cut back power use, and domestic electricity rationing has not been ruled out.

Mr Lennon said if these schemes failed to prevent an energy crisis, Tasmania would have to resort to burning diesel for power. "This is the lowest level of rainfall since the Hydro began keeping records in 1924. Our options are somewhat limited," Mr Lennon said.

Hydro and Aurora executives told the Premier late last week there was only enough energy in storage to last until December. If equipment failed, power could run out even sooner. Mr Lennon's plan of attack was to speed up plans for wind farms on the West Coast and in the North-East, and progress the development of a wood-fired power station near Huonville.

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Peak Oil 2005 ?  

Posted by Big Gav

Roland at New Era investor has some interesting comments to make about the possibility that the peak will arrive this year or if it is still a way off. He accurately notes that the core of the "peak oil 2005" meme is quite a small set of commentators (Campbell, Deffeyes, Simmons and, to a certain extent, T Boone Pickens), so paying too much attention to our echo chamber could result in some red faces if we prove to be 5 years or so out - and the reality of the peak may not be obvious until a year or two later (via Energy Bulletin who note a variety of reasons for not being too obsessed with the exact date of the peak in their postscript).

I note that more and more commentators are predicting this year as the "Big Rollover". Commentators like Richard Deffeyes, Matt Simmons and T. Boone Pickens have targetted 2005 as the year of peak oil. Richard Deffeyes has backed his prediction with analysis based on R/P projections. Matt Simmons no doubt has factored an imminent peak in Saudi production into his calculations. As for the others, I cannot say, it is likely that the majority of commentators are merely copying what one or two experts are saying and the message has propagated outwards accordingly in the true fashion of a meme.

As the price of oil rises more and more, so the pessimistic proclamations rise in unison and the whole affair takes on a life of its own. As the message gains a bigger audience, so commentators feel more confident in their assertions. However, at the core of the "2005 rollover" anthem will be no more than a few experts whose analysis came to that conclusion.

This year may be the year that global oil production peaks forever but caution is advised lest advocates of Peak Oil turn out to be wrong like their oil-shortage predecessors of other decades. This can happen in two ways.

First, recession can come and hit demand for oil based products. This can happen independently of oil prices and is likely to be triggered by the current and global real estate bubble. If that bubble bursts this year or next, the loss of paper wealth will propogate through to consumer spending and hence a contraction of GDP. When the recession runs its course, we will find that spare capacity has built up again through canned oil drilling projects and decreased production. That new capacity could be enough to foster a new demand record, but probably not too much higher than current demand.

Secondly, the high price of crude itself can draw back demand. We have noticed the moves to retrench energy consumption in countries such as Nicaragua and Indonesia. This problem is particularly noticeable in governments offering energy subsidies. This decreased consumption is not so obvious in cash-rich nations such as the USA or the EU, but it is undoubtedly there in a smaller measure.

In fact, a two pronged attack of high oil prices and the bursting of the real estate bubble may well lead to a recession in 2007 and a postponement of the downside of Hubbert's Peak. Only time will tell.

My advice? Peak Oil is coming soon, no doubt about it in my mind. But like religious groups who set the date for the Second Coming only to end up looking like fools, some caution is advised. If Peak Oil is postponed for a few more years due to a recession, the number of peak oil books and websites will also decline. If that happens, the actual peak in oil production may arrive with more of a whimper than a bang as scoffers deride those who proclaimed 2005 as the day of reckoning!

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How Much Oil Do We Really Have ?  

Posted by Big Gav

Adam Porter has a new article up at the BBC looking at data quality issues for oil reserves and demand numbers.

As oil prices remain volatile the markets do their best to forecast future prices. Unfortunately this is not an easy task. While it may appear extraordinary to outsiders one of the main problems in the oil market is the reliability of basic statistics. The oil industry calls the problem 'data transparency'.

As an example this week is a 'revision' to oil demand growth in the United States in 2004. Previously the growth in oil demand was thought to be 2.4%, about 484,000 barrels per day. In fact it was 697,000 barrels per day or 3.5%. That is in fact 46% more than was previously stated - a huge revision.

"Oil market data is generally a black artm like using a set of chicken bones," says Paul Horsnell of Barclays Capital. "If Columbus had thought he'd hit India when in fact he was in the Caribbean, that's about the level of oil market data."

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China's Thirst For Oil Shrinking ?  

Posted by Big Gav

So where is all this oil money for constructing artificial islands coming from ? China has $40 billion oil deficit (a case of the 1970's wealth transfer from developing countries to oil producers and the US repeating itself).

Some reports say chinese consumption fell last quarter, but analysts are divided. Morgan Stanley's Andy Xie is in the declining demand camp and (still) forecasting an oil price collapse. It will be interesting to see if Asian growth evaporates in the face of high energy prices and the end result is deflation - both generally and in energy prices as well (The Oil Drum is also pondering this idea).

World oil prices could soon collapse with the market vastly overestimating the demand for oil within Asia which is declining in line with slowing economies, a regional economist with Morgan Stanley said in a report. Hong Kong-based Andy Xie described this year's surge that took world oil prices to record highs last week as a 'speculative bubble'.

'I have never seen people buying something on what I believe is so much misinformation,' Xie said in his report. 'Oil bubbles do not last because they depress economies and, hence, demand. 'This is why I believe that the days for the oil bubble are numbered. As the weak economic data and oil demand data pour in from Asia, some speculators could run, which could, in my view, trigger a stampede.' Xie said general opinions in the oil market wrongly attributed the current high prices to strong Asian demand rather than speculative demand. He said Asian economies, and thus the region's demand for oil, were decelerating.

Bloomberg reports that oil tanker booking rates have surged again, so clearly there is an increase of production (or at least shipments) from the Middle East. The Oil Drum has noted the murkiness of the meaning of these numbers though.

In other Chinese news, they have been signalling a desire to buy whatever uranium we are willing to produce - but its softly, softly at this stage.

Moving to the other edge of the China Rim, an unreliable source (and that's being nice) has this frightening tale to tell - "Russia and China Activate Ten Combat Divisions to Counter United States as Caspian Oil War Appears Set to Begin". This may just be some sort of Russian mirror-world wingnut news article, but even if its just rabid speculation, it does at least have a solid footing in the recent announcement from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization demanding the US announce a withdrawal timetable for its military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (unsurprisingly, some equally rabid commentary can be found at Free Republic on the same topic - http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1436949/posts).
Russian Intelligence Analysts are reporting today that both President Putin (Russia) and President Hu (China) have ordered the immediate activation of 10 Combat Ready Divisions to counter the increasingly aggressive moves being made by the United States in the Caspian Oil Regions of Central Asia. Special Forces Army Units of both Russian Spetsnaz and Chinese Immediate Action Units were also ordered to be immediately deployed to both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to surround the large American Military bases in those regions, and that the governments of both of these countries have ordered the Americans to leave.

Continuing on the theme of fear mongering, the FT has an article quoting a Chinese general saying that China is prepared to use nuclear weapons against the US if it is attacked by Washington during a confrontation over Taiwan.

According to the Doomsday Clock there is still 7 minutes to go until midnight - so the threat of us all getting blown up isn't considered imminent just yet...

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Sinister Paradise  

Posted by Big Gav

It will be very interesting to see how this exercise unfolds over the next 30 years - will the gulf states be able to maintain the required energy supplies to keep this whole extravagant show on the road, or are they building a modern day Hanging Gardens of Babylon ?

I imagine the flow of cash through the kingdoms will continue to be enormous (and growing) for a decade or so yet, so maybe they will be able to construct some sort of solar powered Viridian dream in the desert. But more likely it's just a gratuitous piece of terraforming for the sake of it.

After Shanghai (current population: 15 million), Dubai (current population: 1.5 million) is the world's biggest building site: an emerging dreamworld of conspicuous consumption and what locals dub "supreme lifestyles."

Dozens of outlandish mega-projects -- including "The World" (an artificial archipelago), Burj Dubai (the Earth's tallest building), the Hydropolis (an underwater luxury hotel, the Restless Planet theme park, a domed ski resort perpetually maintained in 40C heat, and The Mall of Arabia, a hyper-mall -- are actually under construction or will soon leave the drawing boards.

Under the enlightened despotism of its Crown Prince and CEO, 56-year-old Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Rhode-Island-sized Emirate of Dubai has become the new global icon of imagineered urbanism. Although often compared to Las Vegas, Orlando, Hong Kong or Singapore, the sheikhdom is more like their collective summation: a pastiche of the big, the bad, and the ugly. It is not just a hybrid but a chimera: the offspring of the lascivious coupling of the cyclopean fantasies of Barnum, Eiffel, Disney, Spielberg, Jerde, Wynn, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Dubai can count on the peak-oil epoch to cover the costs of these hyperboles. Each time you spent $40 to fill your tank, you are helping to irrigate Sheik Mo's oasis. Precisely because Dubai is rapidly pumping the last of its own modest endowment of oil, it has opted to become the postmodern "city of nets" -- as Bertolt Brecht called his fictional boomtown of Mahoganny -- where the super-profits of oil are to be reinvested in Arabia's one truly inexhaustible natural resource: sand. (Indeed mega-projects in Dubai are usually measured by volumes of sand moved: 1 billion cubic feet in the case of The World.)

Dubai's security is guaranteed by the American nuclear super-carriers usually berthed at the port of Jebel Ali. Indeed, the city-state aggressively promotes itself as the ultimate elite "Green Zone" in an increasingly turbulent and dangerous region. Meanwhile, as increasing numbers of experts warn that the age of cheap oil is passing, the al-Maktoum clan can count on a torrent of nervous oil revenue seeking a friendly and stable haven. When outsiders question the sustainability of the current boom, Dubai officials point out that their new Mecca is being built on equity, not debt.

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Spookiest Visitor Award  

Posted by Big Gav

Its always interesting to check the logs to see where visitors are coming from. Up until now the strangest domain I'd seen in there was Centcom (who apparently were curious about Iraqi oil reserves), but today's visit from Halliburton gets the new prize for most curious reader.

Unfortunately they just checked out the front page so its hard to work out what they were interested in - maybe they've just found out about peak oil - and hopefully it wasn't my link to cynical people talking about duffel bags of "reconstruction" cash being handed out in Iraq - I'm sure its all completely above board !

Energy Efficient Lawn Mowing  

Posted by Big Gav

I've always hated the stink and noise of lawn mowers (not to mention the hayfever induced by the clouds of grass matter they create). While I haven't had to cut a lawn for a long time, if I did I'd far prefer to use one of these devices. Get in touch with your inner grim reaper !

Light, sharp, ergonomic and quiet, this European scythe is not what you'll find in your local hardware store. The handle (snath) is custom-fit, so you stand comfortably upright while 'sweeping' weeds and grass down with ease. Potential uses range from small-acreage hay cutting to weed and brush clearing in variable terrain. I use it as a weed-whacker replacement on my long driveway. You can talk to people and hear birds while 'weed-whacking'. Pretty sweet. The price for a new one puts it up there with gas-powered weed-whackers, but I find the experience much more enjoyable. Honestly, I believe you can clear more area with less sweat using a European scythe than a powered string-trimmer. The key is the light weight of the tool and the sharpness of the blade.

Most people are stunned when they see me take down grass or weed stalks with little more than a gentle nick from the blade. Furthermore, getting it custom fit will make it probably the most pleasant-to-use garden tool you'll ever have. (I'm unusually tall, so maybe this impresses me more than it would a 5'9" man, for example).

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Bus Firm Takes Car Sharers To Court  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm all for using public transport, but I think this bus company may have lost the plot entirely.

They might have been congratulated for their "green" efforts in an area of heavy air pollution. Instead a group of French cleaning ladies who organised a car-sharing scheme to get to work are being taken to court by a coach company which accuses them of "an act of unfair and parasitical competition".

The women, who live in Moselle and work five days a week at EU offices in Luxembourg, are being taken to court by Transports Schiocchet Excursions, which runs a service along the route. It wants the women to be fined and their cars confiscated.

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Dead Birds Do Tell Tales  

Posted by Big Gav

Wired has another ominous tale of the sea. Concerns are increasing about disappearing snow and ice from the mountains as well.

I wonder if anyone tries to tell any positive stories (assuming there are any) about global warming ? Wired did once try to see the sunny side of this unfolding disaster (warmer water apparently leads to larger squid and therefore bigger calamari) but only succeeded in being extremely annoying. The Economist has also had a few stories about Russian entrepreneurs talking up the prospects for north polar shipping as the ice disappears. Small consolation.

With a record number of dead seabirds washing up on West Coast beaches from Central California to British Columbia, marine biologists are raising the alarm about rising ocean temperatures and dwindling plankton populations. "Something big is going on out there," said Julia Parrish, an associate professor in the School of Aquatic Fisheries and Sciences at the University of Washington. "I'm left with no obvious smoking gun, but birds are a good signal because they feed high up on the food chain."

Coastal ocean temperatures are 2 to 5 degrees above normal, which may be related to a lack of updwelling, in which cold, nutrient-rich water is brought to the surface. On Washington beaches, bird surveyors in May typically find an average of one dead Brandt's cormorant every 34 miles of beach. This year, cormorant deaths averaged one every eight-tenths of a mile. "This is somewhere between five and 10 times the highest number of bird deaths we've seen before," she said, adding that she expected June figures to show a similar trend.

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Creating Energy From Landfills  

Posted by Big Gav

TreeHugger has a post up about a company capturing natural gas from landfills and using it to generate electricity.

Trash from landfills in Ohio will soon be transformed into renewable energy. Construction has started on a new facility designed to capture, clean, and use methane and CO2 from landfill gas (LFG).

The project was created by FirmGreen and SWACO (Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio). Phase one of the project, scheduled to be operational by year’s end, will provide electricity for SWACO’s facilities. The project’s second phase will convert the LFG into Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). Mike Long, Executive Director of SWACO, said “Instead of just burying our trash, we can use our throwaways to reduce our own fleet fuel costs, and fuel local school and transit buses.”

There are currently 35 landfill gas projects underway in Australia, according to the Business Council of Sustainable Energy, run by companies such as landfill gas specialists LMS and Energy Developments.

Like most renewable energy projects in Australia though, these look like running into trouble as the MRET is exceeded and prices for RECS fall as a result, which undermines the financial basis of a lot of these projects.

Back in Sydney we seem to have had an ironic reversal of Richard Duncan's Olduvai Cliff scenario for electricity, with some problems with the power supply to Caltex's petrol refinery shutting down production and pushing up local petrol prices.

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The Shape Of Things To Come ?  

Posted by Big Gav

The Economist has a fairly pro-nuclear article out - obviously the PR campaign is working. However they do note the economics of nuclear still aren't very compelling (without even discussing rising uranium prices).

They are also still talking about the price of oil falling in future, so they must still be in the CERA optimists camp (whom they also quote on the nuclear sector).

THINGS have not gone well for the nuclear industry over the past quarter century or so. First came the Three Mile Island accident in America in 1979, then the disaster at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine in 1986. In Japan, Tokyo Electric Power, the world's largest private electricity company, shut its 17 nuclear reactors after it was caught falsifying safety records to hide cracks at some of its plants in 2002. And the attacks on September 11th 2001 were a sharp reminder that the risks of nuclear power generation were not only those inherent in the technology.

Nor was safety the only worry: there were financial problems too. British Energy, Britain's nuclear-energy operator, required successive government bail-outs. Britain also recently finalised a £50 billion ($90 billion) scheme to deal with the nuclear-waste liabilities of British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), an inept re-processor of nuclear waste that is itself bust.

But lately, things have brightened for the nuclear industry. In Asia, which never turned against it in the way the West did, the prospects are excellent. China already has nine nuclear reactors, and is planning to commission a further 30. New capacity is being built or considered in India, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Russia has several plants under construction.

Now western governments are increasingly looking anew at nuclear energy.

...

In many power markets today, nuclear electricity is the cheapest you can buy. Entergy's deregulated nuclear plants produced 13% of its revenues but a quarter of its profits last year. It costs German utilities perhaps 1.5 (American) cents per kW-hour to make nuclear electricity, estimates Vincent Gilles of UBS, an investment bank, but they can sell it for three times that amount once credits from Europe's carbon-trading scheme are included. In contrast, it costs 3.1-3.8 cents to produce power from natural gas in Germany and 3.8-4.4 cents to produce it from coal. In America, where there is no mandatory carbon regulation (and hence no penalty on fossil fuels), nuclear power has less of an edge: coal power costs about 2 cents per kW-hour on average today, gas-fired power costs about 5.7 cents, while nuclear cranks out electricity at 1.7 cents or so.

But the economic case is not as clear-cut as it seems. The costs of nuclear power produced by existing plants are likely to be far lower than the costs of newly built plants, because the capital costs of nuclear plants—typically reflecting half to two-thirds the value of the project in present-value terms—are long forgotten. Most of today's plants were built in an era when central planners or state utility boards had no idea of the true cost of capital. Today's low interest rates are good for big capital projects like nuclear, but those rates may change sharply in the future. At the same time, gas and oil prices—whose current astronomical levels enhance nuclear's charms—may well fall.

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Methane Hydrates in India  

Posted by Big Gav

Rigzone notes that India has joined the race to exploit methane hydrates. Is it getting warm in here ?

India's energy security drive may get a shot in the arm with remarkable findings of gas hydrates in the KG basin and in Andaman offshore. According to the latest report, the prognostic reserves of gas, trapped in hydrates, could be over and above 5 tcm, which is more than the conventional gas reserves. A senior ONGC official in Dehradoon has also pointed out that the volume of 5 tcm is a very conservative estimate since the study is done in a limited area.

What are gas hydrates?

Hydrates can be formed in systems of water and small molecules. When the small molecules are gaseous at ambient conditions we are speaking of gas hydrates. These small molecules, e.g. methane (CH4), propane (C3H8), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2) but also fluoroform (CHF3) are enclosed in cavities formed by the hydrogen bonded water molecules. The specific conformations of the framework of hydrogen bonded water molecules can exist because of the enclosed molecules in the cavities, i.e., they stabilise the whole structure. Gas hydrates are ice-like inclusion components that are regularly built and can store large amounts of guest molecules. Albeit they look like ice, gas hydrates can exist at temperatures higher than the freezing point of water and elevated pressures, because of the stabilization by the enclosed guest molecules. When these guest molecules are flammable the gas hydrates can be ignited and you get burning ice. The storage capacity for gas of these structures is considerable; i.e., approximately 150 times the storage capacity of compressed gas in case of natural gas. According to a senior ONGC official, one gas hydrate can hold 165 cubic meter of methane gas.

It should be mentioned that in case of the naturally occurring gas hydrate fields there is a concern with respect to the stability of these at changing conditions. It is suggested that when the temperature rises, for example due to the greenhouse effect, the hydrates might become unstable and decompose. A large amount of, mainly, CH4 can be released into the atmosphere, aggravating the greenhouse effect. Because CH4 is even a more severe greenhouse gas than CO2. A sort of runaway greenhouse effect may arise. Lately it was suggested that decomposition of gas hydrate reserves might have played a part in the end of the ice ages on earth.

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Big Shift in China's Oil Policy  

Posted by Big Gav

The Washington post has a good article on China's sisyphean quest for energy security.

Until recently, China's view of the global energy map focused narrowly on the Middle East, which holds roughly two-thirds of the world's oil. Special attention was directed toward one well-supplied country: Iraq.

Through cultivation of Saddam Hussein's government, China sought to develop some of Iraq's more promising reserves. Beijing advocated lifting the United Nations sanctions that prevented investment in Iraq's oil patch and limited sales of its production.

Then the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003, wiping out China's stakes. The war and its aftermath have reshaped China's basic conception of the geopolitics of oil and added urgency to its mission to lessen dependence on Middle East supplies. It has reinforced China's fears that it is locked in a zero-sum contest for energy with the world's lone superpower, prompting Beijing to intensify its search for new sources, international relations and energy experts say.

"Iraq changed the government's thinking," said Pan Rui, an international relations expert at Fudan University in Shanghai. "The Middle East is China's largest source of oil. America is now pursuing a grand strategy, the pursuit of American hegemony in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is the number one oil producer, and Iraq is number two [in terms of reserves]. Now, the United States has direct influence in both countries."

Many other factors help explain China's motives in dispatching its energy companies abroad for new stocks. Oil demand is exploding in China as people embrace automobiles and as factories, apartment towers and office buildings proliferate. For the third summer in a row, China is rationing energy, limiting production in industrial areas.

Under the rule of Mao Zedong, China -- under the banner of fending for itself -- focused on oil production in its northeast, near the city of Daqing. The government's current push to secure foreign oil fields is driven by worries that there may one day be too little oil to meet worldwide demand and that foreign powers -- in particular the United States -- will choke China.

The Rodent is heading off to London to watch the Ashes match at Lords, but it won't be all fun, games and Pimms for him as he has the tricky task of trying to avoid offending either or both of our imperial masters in Washington and our best customers in China before he makes it to the UK.
Before the Prime Minister concludes his official visit to the United States and Britain by watching the Ashes at Lord's, he faces a potentially sticky wicket in Washington. John Howard leaves tomorrow for the US for talks with President George Bush and top officials on issues including counter-terrorism measures in the wake of the London bombings and Australia's deployment of troops to Afghanistan.

A third theme officials expect to be raised at the the White House talks, however, has the potential to cast a shadow over Mr Howard's visit. Australia's warming relations with China, buoyed by recent multibillion-dollar gas and coal deals, are said to be spurring US concerns about the potential for China's influence to compromise the Australia-US alliance.

Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University and a former strategic adviser to Labor and Coalition governments, says Canberra's alliance with Washington is facing a big test. Australia's role in Iraq "now attracts less attention in Washington than our growing political alignment with China", he wrote recently in the Herald.

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Random Notes  

Posted by Big Gav

Hurricane season in the Carribean seems to be well under way, with a raft of hurricane related news items appearing lately.

The "Thunder Horse" platform has been the subject of much of the commentary in the wake of hurricane Dennis, as it now has an interesting tilt.

Oil major BP Plc said Tuesday it was surveying any damage to its Thunder Horse platform - the largest new oil facility planned in the Americas through 2007 - after it began listing 20 to 30 degrees following the passing of Hurricane Dennis. The platform was scheduled for initial production later this year of 250,000 barrels per day of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas.

Thunder Horse is the biggest hope for a small recovery in crude production in the United States where oil output has been falling since the 1970s. The Gulf of Mexico currently produces about 1.5 million barrels per day of oil, about 25 percent of total U.S. production. BP also has the Atlantis platform in the works in the Gulf of Mexico which is expected to produce 200,000 barrels per day of oil and 180 million cubic feet of gas after its start-up in the third quarter of 2006.

Company spokesman Ronnie Chappell reiterated on Tuesday that Thunder Horse had appeared to stabilize on Monday. But he said the company had to survey the submerged part of the platform before putting a team on board it and attempting to right it. "We don't know what the cause is, there was no one aboard the platform when it occurred," said Chappell.

BP was surveying Thunder Horse on Tuesday with remote operated vehicles operated from a mother ship. On Monday, Chappell said the listing could be due to excess water in the platform's ballast tanks from Hurricane Dennis and not the result of major structural damage.

Once again I feel the need to note the problem with hurricanes - as global warming increases, tropical storms get stronger and more frequent. As oil depletion proceeds, we become more dependent on offshore oil and gas production. Add the two up and you get a lot more oil price volatility during hurricane season. WorldChanging seems to feel much the same way.
From the "irony can be pretty ironic" department: Green Car Congress points to reports that 96% of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico was stopped as a result of Hurricane Dennis -- with Hurricane Emily (not named after our Emily... as far as we know...) just around the corner. The force of the storm was enough to cause the "Thunder Horse" rig (jointly owned by BP and ExxonMobil, and due to come online later this year) to list at an angle of 20-30 degrees, as well. The production stoppage was down to "only" 56% by earlier today.

Hurricanes happen in the Gulf, and whether or not global warming had any direct connection to the force of Dennis is unknowable. Regardless, that a hurricane (possibly driven in part by global warming) shut down some of the oil production that eventually leads to more global warming is a further hint that (as the saying goes) "nature bats last."

The Oil Drum has a good description of how much oil production is affected depending on the path hurricanes take as they pass through the gulf.
As the path of Hurricane Dennis becomes clearer it is interesting to contrast this with the location of the major new fields that are currently being developed in the Gulf. A detailed map of their location can be found at Rigzone but for the sake of simple reference I have put a couple of dots on the map that I took from the NOAA site showing the projected path for Dennis.

The black dot on the edge of the green and yellow zones south of New Orleans, represents the Thunder Horse platform which is scheduled to ramp up until it is producing 250,000 bd of oil at a water depth of about 6,000 ft.

The white dot further out and in the blue zone nearer the left side, represents the Mad Dog development that will ramp up to 100,000 bd; the Holstein development that will also produce, at peak, around 100,000 bd of oil; and the Atlantis field that will begin production next year and will ramp up to around 200,000 bd in all.

Put together these projects have the potential of around 650,000 bd, but as can be seen, they are sitting in an uncomfortable spot relative to the tracks of the hurricanes.

Next up - hurricane Emily, which apparently is headed deeper into the gulf than Dennis was.

In other oil news, RigZone reports there is booming demand for rig workers in the, less hurricane prone, North Sea.
The world's largest offshore drilling company has set up a special "boot camp" as a fast-track training base to meet a major shortfall of experienced labor in the North Sea oil and gas industry. Record oil prices have led to a massive upsurge in drilling activity in the UK Continental Shelf, with exploration drilling at its highest level for more than a decade.

And many drilling firms, forced to lay off hundreds of workers because of a drastic downturn in business over the last ten years, have had to embark on massive recruitment campaigns to meet the demand. Some companies have recruited novice workers from as far afield Australia. And one company, Transocean, has established a special training facility on one of its rigs, tied up in the Cromarty Firth, to provide rigorous training courses for new recruits. The facility is staffed by retired workers re-hired as instructors.

Moving to the middle east, Kuwait has announced a new light oil find near the Iraqi border.

Across the border, some bold claims are being made about increasing production by a spokesman for the oil ministry, Mr Jihad (one of those incongruous names which tends to make me snicker, much like "Cardinal Sin" of the Phillipines).
Iraq is planning to issue new tenders by the end of the year for contracts to develop 11 southern oil fields in a bid to increase production by 3 million barrels a day, an oil official said Monday. Specialists at the oil ministry are cooperating with several international companies to prepare studies on how to develop these fields before announcing the tenders, Assem Jihad, a spokesman for the oil ministry, told Dow Jones Newswires. "These fields would add 3 million barrels a day to Iraq's current oil production," he said, declining to name the 11 fields.

Iraq is currently producing around 2.2 million b/d, of which around 1.5 million b/d is for export, with the rest domestic consumption. Jihad said the development plan falls within Iraq's long-standing target of 5-6 million b/d of output by the end of 2010, which should cost around $25 billion.

Of course, you could ask how Iraqi oil production is being measured and if the official figures of current production are correct, let alone future estimates. It does appear that billions of dollars of current oil revenues are being siphoned off - along with plenty of US taxpayer money as well.
At the same time, the IAMB discovered that Iraqi oil exports were unmetered. Neither the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organisation nor the American authorities could give a satisfactory explanation for this. "The only reason you wouldn't monitor them is if you don't want anyone else to know how much is going through," one petroleum executive told me.

Officially, Iraq exported $10bn worth of oil in the first year of the American occupation. Christian Aid has estimated that up to $4bn more may have been exported and is unaccounted for. If so, this would have created an off-the-books fund that both the Americans and their Iraqi allies could use with impunity to cover expenditures they would rather keep secret - among them the occupation costs, which were rising far beyond what the Bush administration could comfortably admit to Congress and the international community.

One last story from Iraq, as it's important not to forget what we are doing there to ensure our control of all this oil - this one is from the cream of the British press, "The Observer", which tends to support the theory that the "Salvador option" has now been implemented and is in full swing.
The gruesome detail is important. Hanging by the arms in cuffs, scorching of the body with something like an iron and knee-capping are claimed to be increasingly prevalent in the new Iraq. Now evidence is emerging that appears to substantiate those claims. Not only Iraqis make the allegations. International officials describe the methods in disgusted but hushed tones, laying them at the door of the increasingly unaccountable forces attached to Iraq's Ministry of the Interior.

The only question that remains is the level of the co-ordination of the abuse: whether Iraq is stumbling towards a policy of institutionalised torture or whether these are incidents carried out by rogue elements.

Six months ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) laid out a catalogue of alleged abuses being applied to those suspected of terrorism in Iraq and called for an independent complaints body in Iraq. But as the insurgency has grown hotter, so too, it appears, have been the methods employed in the dirty counter-insurgency war.

To add to HRW's allegations of beatings, electric shocks, arbitrary arrest, forced confessions and detention without trial, The Observer can add its own charges These include the most brutal kinds of torture, with methods resurrected from the time of Saddam; of increasingly widespread extra-judicial executions; and of the existence of a 'ghost' network of detention facilities - in parallel with those officially acknowledged - that exist beyond all accountability to international human rights monitors, NGOs and even human rights officials of the new Iraqi government.

What is most shocking is that it is done under the noses of US and UK officials, some of whom admit that they are aware of the abuses being perpetrated by units who are diverting international funding to their dirty war.

Hassan an-Ni'ami may well have been a terrorist. Or he may have had knowledge of that terrorism. Or he may have been someone who objected too loudly to foreign troops being in Iraq. We will never know. He had no opportunity to defend himself, no lawyer, no trial. His interrogation and killing were a breach of international law.

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Exxon and Lysenkoism  

Posted by Big Gav

George Monbiot has a good column up comparing the US government's attempts to deny global warming to the Soviet Union's disastrous experience trying to do the same to genetics. Some fights you just can't win in the long run.

Once again Exxon's role in this is highlighted, which is no doubt one of the issues that has led to the "Exxpose Exxon" campaign.

One day we will look back on the effort to deny the effects of climate change as we now look back on the work of Trofim Lysenko.

Lysenko was a Soviet agronomist who insisted that the entire canon of genetics was wrong. There was no limit to an organism’s ability to adapt to changing environments. Cultivated correctly, crops could do anything the Soviet leadership wanted them to do. Wheat, for example, if grown in the right conditions, could be made to produce rye.

Because he was able to mobilise enthusiasm among the peasants for collectivisation, and could present Stalin with a Soviet scientific programme, Lysenko’s hogwash became state policy. He became director of the Institute of Genetics and president of the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences. He used his position to outlaw conventional genetics, strip its practitioners of their positions and have some of them arrested and even killed. Lysenkoism governed state science from the late 1930s until the early 1960s, helping to wreck Soviet agriculture.

No one is yet being sent to the Guantánamo gulag for producing the wrong results. But the denial of climate science in the US bears some of the marks of Lysenkoism. It is, for example, state-sponsored. Last month the New York Times revealed that Philip Cooney, a lawyer with no scientific training, had been imported into the White House from the American Petroleum Institute, to control the presentation of climate science. He edited scientific reports, striking out evidence of glacier retreat and inserting phrases suggesting that there was serious scientific doubt about climate change. Working with the Exxon-sponsored PR man Myron Ebell, he lobbied successfully to get rid of the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who had refused to accept the official line.

Cooney’s work was augmented by Harlan Watson, the US government’s chief climate negotiator, who insisted that the findings of the National Academy of Sciences be excised from official reports. Now Joe Barton, the Republican chairman of the House committee on energy and commerce, has launched a congressional investigation of three US scientists whose work reveals the historical pattern of climate change. He has demanded that they hand over their records and reveal their sources of funding.

Perhaps most pertinently, the official policy of climate-change denial, like Lysenkoism, relies on a compliant press. Just as Pravda championed the disavowal of genetics, so the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, the Daily Mail and the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs champion the Bush team’s denial of climate science. Like Pravda, they dismiss it without showing any sign that they have read or understood it.

...

Our problem is that, just as genetics was crushed by totalitarian communism, meaningful action on climate change has been prohibited by totalitarian capitalism. When I use this term I don’t mean that the people who challenge it are rounded up and sent to break rocks in Siberia. I mean that it intrudes into every corner of our lives, governs every social relation, becomes the lens through which every issue must be seen. It is the total system which leaves no molecule of earth or air uncosted and unsold. And, like Soviet totalitarianism, it allows no solution to pass which fails to enhance its power. The only permitted answer to the effects of greed is more greed.

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