The Enronisation Of The Oil Market ?  

Posted by Big Gav

BusinessWeek has an interesting piece asking if BP has been manipulating energy markets and asking how big the role of speculators is in determining the oil price. I guess those tinfoil theories about deliberatly shutting down Prudhoe Bay would come under the heading of "market manipulation" if they were true. And I never cease to wonder how much the oil companies will take advantage of circumstances as we approach the peak point. Call it the Enronisation of the fossil fuels market...

The Commodities Futures Trading Commission is probing BP's practices. But the bigger issue may be how speculation by many is pushing up energy prices

BP, already beset with a leaky pipeline, a federal investigation into a refinery fire, and litigation over its activity in the propane market, is facing yet more scrutiny—but this time it might have company.

According to news reports, federal authorities are investigating whether the energy giant manipulated crude-oil and unleaded gasoline markets. BP (BP), according to the same reports, said it is cooperating with both probes.

NOT ILLEGAL. The investigations come at a time when banks and other financial institutions are rushing into the sizzling energy sector—both snapping up hard assets and pouring money into commodities markets—with the hopes of making big profits. Meanwhile, members of Congress, facing November elections and a restless electorate, are looking at whether energy companies and speculators are partly responsible for pushing up energy prices.

In the crude-oil case, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission is investigating whether BP used proprietary information about its own distribution and storage network to manipulate oil and gasoline prices.

Making commodity trades based on information about company operations isn't new, nor is it illegal, which is one reason banks and other big financial institutions in recent years have been snapping up chunks of the nation's energy infrastructure, including pipelines, storage tanks, and refineries. In 2003, the Federal Reserve helped fuel the trend by allowing commercial banks to take possession of physical assets such as oil in storage tanks.

OWNERSHIP IS "KEY." Now everyone is doing it. Goldman Sachs (GS) is a leading example, with a stake in a Kansas oil refinery and a natural gas pipeline running through New York and Connecticut, among other holdings. In hedge fund circles, a Ritchie Capital fund owns 25% of SemGroup, a Tulsa energy-services company that operates pipelines, terminals, storage tanks, and processing plants. Banks, pension funds, and insurers also are getting in on the act: John Hancock Life Insurance, for example, has invested in Boston-based ArcLight Capital, which has large holdings in energy storage and distribution facilities.

Fuel storage tanks, pipelines, and the like are highly regulated and generally can't always be counted on to yield whopping returns. But they hold enormous value nonetheless, because they give their owners and investors access to proprietary information on oil and gas deliveries, storage capacity, and other critical market data that can be used to make smart commodities trades.

The Terminator, for all his flaws, seems to be doing the right thing on global warming - instituting a cap and trade system for carbon emissions in California.
California will become the first state to impose a cap on all greenhouse gas emissions, including those from industrial plants, under a landmark deal reached Wednesday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative Democrats.

The agreement marks a clear break with the Bush administration and puts California on a path to reducing its emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by an estimated 25 percent by 2020.

It also gives Schwarzenegger a key environmental victory as he seeks re-election this fall. "We can now move forward with developing a market-based system that makes California a world leader in the effort to reduce carbon emissions," the governor said in a statement. "The success of our system will be an example for other states and nations to follow as the fight against climate change continues."

Following on from APPEA president Belinda Robinson's dismissal of peak oil hype in her letter to Crikey this week, I was more than a bit amused to read this transcript from the Senate Inquiry into Fuel Supplies (pdf) this month, where she demonstrated that she knows pretty much nothing about oil depletion modelling or oil reserves - she would seem to be simply an industry lobbyist responsible for keeping governmnet reulation of exploration relaxed (Thanks to Dave from STCWA for pointing this one out).
Senator JOYCE — We had Dr Ali Samsam Bakhtiari speaking to us at the previous inquiry. He gave the analysis that China, for instance, will go anywhere for oil, or do whatever it can to acquire the product. He also touched on an issue, which I would like you to clarify. He said he believed that there are up to 26 billion barrels of oil in Antarctica. Do you believe that is a possibility? Is it exploitable? And is any of this resource within the 42 per cent of the Antarctic that Australia claims to be its own?

Ms Robinson — There are two parts to my answer. The first is that I do not know. We have not done any assessment whatsoever on Antarctic reserves. The other part of the answer would be that it is probably not in our charter to say whether or not it would be of any interest. The Australian resources in Antarctica are owned by the Australian people and ultimately it will be the Australian people’s decision as to whether or not anyone was going to move in there. I would have to say, just from a personal point of view, I cannot imagine that to be the case. But it has never been an issue that has been discussed by any of my members or within APPEA so I am afraid I cannot give you an answer to that.

Senator JOYCE — The problem is there are a lot of other countries that do not believe it is ours. There are a whole raft of countries that do not believe that we have any territorial right to where those resources are and that is the issue I am getting at. It is not going to be a decision of the Australian government; it is going to be the decision of another person’s government. What sort of effect do you think a blending of petroleum based products would have on the horizon of oil and the horizon of usage of oil? Do you think there is a reasonable extension on the horizon of oil utilisation in internal combustion engines by blending with biorenewable products?

Ms Robinson — Those downstream issues do not really fall within our area of responsibility. We really only focus on exploration and production and that takes you to the pipe. We do not really work on downstream related issues. Any statements that I make in that regard are more personal opinions. I would say that at a general level anything that can extend or prolong, delay or help make the bridge from where we are at the moment to what may be a very different energy future is worth exploring, whatever that is. That said, I also note Samsam Bakhtiari’s comments about some of the downsides of things like ethanol and some of the other implications that would certainly need to be taken into account in that regard—water usage, displacing land for food and those sorts of things. As I say, that is really not in our charter of responsibility.

Senator JOYCE — Do you agree with Dr Bakhtiari’s statement that the horizon they see for the price of a barrel of oil where people would stop using it is about $300 per barrel?

Ms Robinson — I am not being very helpful for you, I am afraid, but we are also not a forecaster. We do not really look at those issues at all, and there are good, very well-paid people who try and forecast the price of oil and what that will ultimately do, and they do lots of modelling—ABARE is one of them. I am not in a position to be able to say what price of oil it would take before people stop. That said, from reading Bakhtiari’s statements to the committee I am not sure to what extent he took other petroleum based products into account, like shale oil and alternative oil supplies. I think there are so many complexities there in doing a modelling exercise like that, and there are agencies who are paid a lot of money to do it. And I would suggest—and I am sure you are already are—asking those forecasting agencies to comment.

WorldChanging has a post on the scaricty of fresh water and the need for agricultural practices to achieve "More Crop Per Drop" (which, as David Foley suggested, would be better titled "Less Drops Per Crop").
In fact, the future would appear dire. This past week, a panel of scientists released a groundbreaking study on water usage over the past half-century. Under the banner of the International Water Management Institute, more than 700 researchers from 100 institutions across the world contributed to this important study. Their warnings should wake us from our collective slumber

Some of the news might not surprise long-time observers. For example, the report estimates that one out of three people living on the planet currently suffer from a scarcity of water in their daily lives. This is terrifying, but consistent with the statistics published for years by the United Nations. But a more important element from the report concerns water usage.

IWMI found that, if we continue to apply current water manageent practices, by 2050 the global agricultural sector will need to double the amount of water to grow the food we eat. The researchers found that such a hurdle actually is consistent with historical trends as water usage has increased by an estimated six times in the past 100 years. Nonetheless, it remains a staggering proposition. Agriculture already uses 70 percent of the global water supply. Imagine a scenario where its consumption must grow 200% simply to satisfy the basic hunger of the planet.

Another alarming finding is the impact of bio-fuels on the world water crisis. As we all know, a range of factors – Middle East turmoil, spiraling oil prices, the inconvenient truth of climate change – are driving a worldwide quest for more sustainable resources. Yet, this accelerating campaign to pursue alternative energies, biodegradable packaging, etc. from sources such as corn, sugarcane and other crops dramatically will increase the burden on natural systems. It seems a cruel Hobson’s choice for environmentalists and other concerned individuals who care about sustainabiltiy. Nonetheless, the advent of widespreads bio-fuels could add even more stress to our shrinking water resources.

George Monbiot has a dim view of a plan to mitigate global warming by deliberately encouraging the "global dimming " effect via delberate sulphate emissions into the stratosphere.
Challenging a Nobel laureate over a matter of science is not something you do lightly. I have hesitated and backed off, read and re-read his paper, but now I believe I can state with confidence that Paul Crutzen, winner of the 1995 prize for chemistry, has overlooked a critical scientific issue.

Crutzen is, as you would expect, a brilliant man. He was one of the atmospheric chemists who worked out how high-level ozone is formed and destroyed. He knows more than almost anyone about the impacts of pollutants in the atmosphere. This is what makes his omission so odd.

At the beginning of August, he published an essay in the journal Climatic Change. He argues that the world’s response to climate change has so far been “grossly disappointing”. Stabilising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, he asserts, requires a global reduction in emissions of between 60 and 80 per cent. But at the moment “this looks like a pious wish”. So, he proposes, we must start considering the alternatives, by which he means re-engineering the atmosphere in order to cool the earth.

He suggests we use either giant guns or balloons to inject sulphur into the stratosphere, 10 kilometres or more above the surface of the earth. Sulphur dioxide at that height turns into tiny particles – or aerosols – of sulphate. These reflect sunlight back into space, counteracting the warming caused by manmade climate change.

Crutzen recognises that there are problems. The sulphate particles would slightly reduce the thickness of the ozone layer. They would cause some whitening of the sky. Most dangerously, his scheme could be used by governments to help justify their failure to cut carbon emissions: if the atmosphere could one day be fixed by some heavy artillery and a few technicians, why bother to impose unpopular policies?

Global warming is make some people happy - potato farmers in Greenland. Maybe all the climate change refugees can head there ?
Known for its massive ice sheets, Greenland is feeling the effects of global warming as rising temperatures have expanded the island's growing season and crops are flourishing. For the first time in hundreds of years, it has become possible to raise cattle and start dairy farms.

Ferdinand Egede would be a perfectly normal farmer if it weren't for that loud cracking noise. Wearing a plaid lumberjack shirt and overalls, he hurries through the precise rows of his potato field, beads of sweat running down his forehead.

Egede, 49, occasionally picks up a handful of earth and rubs it between his solid fingers, but he isn't at all satisfied with the results. "It's much too dry," he says. "If I don't get the irrigation going, I'll lose my harvest."

The cracking noise has turned into a roar. What's happening in the sea below Egede's fields doesn't square well with what one would normally associate with rural life. The sound is that of an iceberg breaking apart, with pieces of it tumbling into the foaming sea.

Egede, a Greenland potato farmer, has little time to admire the view. He spends most of his days working in the fields and looking at the dramatically steep table mountains at the end of the fjord and the blue and white icebergs in the bay. But today he's more concerned about a broken water pipe. "The plants need a lot of water," he says, explaining that the soil here is very sandy, a result of glacier activity.

But he could still have a decent harvest. He pulled 20 tons of potatoes from the earth last summer, and his harvests have been growing larger each year. "It's already staying warm until November now," says Egede.



Rob at Transition Culture has an intriguing post about Engaging Magic and Wonder in Energy Descent preparation - I hadn't heard about this elephants adventure in London, but tis pretty cool.
“Magic” and “wonder”. Not words we read too often in the peak oil literature. I contend, however, that if we are actually to engage people in energy descent as a positive transition on the necessary scale, we need to work magic and wonder into what we do. My mum recently passed on to me a video of an amazing thifrom BBC4 of a thing that happened a few months ago in London, called “The Sultan’s Elephant”, a huge piece of street theatre by the French theatrical magicians Royal de Luxe that took place in the capital in early May. The whole thing was prepared in the greatest secrecy, and took people by surprise, and the event that unfolded over the next 4 days brought magic and wonder to millions of people, and the film about it, I confess, brought tears to my eyes.

Jamais at Open The Future has an interesting post on the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability project and some scenario planning he participated in.
The Hawaii 2050 Sustainability project is remarkably ambitious, seeking to create, over the course of the next 18 months, an entirely new planning strategy for the state's next half-century. This strategy will shape how the state handles a tourist economy, a swelling population, friction between cultures and, most importantly, an increasingly dangerous climate and environment.

Saturday's event kicked off the process, mixing a variety of traditional presentations on Hawaii's major dilemmas with four immersive scenarios created by Dr. Jim Dator, Jake Dunagan and Stuart Candy at the University of Hawaii's Graduate Research Center for Future Studies. ... The four scenarios represented a diverse array of possible futures for the state, and included a high-growth world, a limited-growth outcome, a collapse scenario, and a near-Singularity possibility. Participants each stepped into two of the four, and had an opportunity to discuss and evaluate one of the two they saw.

The goal of the scenario presentations was to illustrate different possible outcomes, giving the participants a context in which to think about their present-day issues around sustainability. This can be a powerful technique, as it reminds us that choices have consequences, but that sometimes events outside of our control can shape how our choices play out. Scenarios remind us of the complexity of history, by showing how that complexity can evolve in the days and years to come.

The two scenarios I encountered were the near-Singularity world and the collapse world. In the first, nanotechnology, biotechnology and a broad enthusiasm for human and social enhancement technologies allowed widespread radical longevity, thriving colonies on the Moon and Mars, and near-complete management of geophysical processes on Earth. With one minor exception (the existence of point-to-point teleportation), this was, if anything, a fairly conservative take on the Singularity scenario, but the near-universal reaction I witnessed from participants was fear and displeasure. Few of the participants wanted the kinds of enhancement technologies offered in the scenario dramatization, and all lamented the decline of the "natural" world and local culture. I noted at the time that I was the youngest person in my sub-group(!), and easily in the youngest 10% of the conference as a whole; I do wonder what the reaction to this scenario would have been from a larger younger-person contingent.

The near-Singularity scenario was presented in a fairly tongue-in-cheek fashion, and even those who found the world unsettling left the room in relatively good humor. This carried over to the second world my group saw, the collapse scenario, positing an independent, militarized, and resurgent royalist Hawaii struggling to deal with a peak-oil energy collapse, climate disaster, and global economic meltdown. One person stated quite vocally that he found the conceit offensive, but most participants accepted the scenario's elements -- it may have been a dangerous, depressing world, but it was more familiar than one with rejuvenation biotechnology, nanofabbers and Mars colonies!

I'm told, however, that those who entered the collapse scenario first were fairly traumatized by the presentation (attendees were treated as newly-arrived refugees), and this shock carried through when they swapped over to the near-Singularity world.

The main caution I have about the set of scenarios is the translation from "this is a world of tomorrow" to "these are choices you'll have to make about tomorrow." The collapse world had a clearer pathway from the present than did the near-Singularity world -- and in some ways, that makes sense -- but all would have been better-served with a minimal set of bullet-point-style summaries outlining which choices and dilemmas today lead to or militate against the various scenarios. It's too easy for participants, when confronted by future stories that are too disturbing, to wave them off as impossible or "silly" if they don't have explicit links to the present.

BBC Radio 4 has an upcoming series on peak oil called "Driven By Oil".
When Will The Tap Run Dry

Monday 4 September 2006 9:00-9:30 (Radio 4 FM)
Repeated: Monday 4 September 2006 21:30-22:00 (Radio 4 FM)

Oil has meant mastery throughout the 20th Century. It is the world's biggest and most pervasive business, and 'the' strategic commodity on the world stage.

Tom Mangold explores the biggest debate facing the oil industry today - will we run out of oil, and if so, when?

I know TJ Rodgers winds up some readers (thats you WHT), but nevertheless I like the solar industry, so I'll give a mild nod of approval to "Silicon Valley entrepeneur Rodgers develops solar, believes in peak oil" (via Energy Bulletin).
Controversial Silicon Valley maverick T.J. Rodgers is suddenly high tech's biggest champion of alternative energy. Does it matter that he's ultimately in it for the money? Or that he can't stand environmentalists? He certainly doesn't think so.

...Rodgers is one of those rare Silicon Valley entrepreneurs colorful enough to make the jump from the obscure dreariness of the valley's business pages. He was dubbed "one of America's toughest bosses" by Fortune. And there was the infamous incident in which Rodgers publicly and unapologetically skewered a nun who demanded he include more women and minorities on the board of Cypress Semiconductor, the company he's run since 1982.

He made waves again when he called the federal government's post-9/11 curtailment of civil liberties a bigger threat to America's freedom than any threat "posed by Al-Qaida" in the op-ed pages of the Mercury News. He's also courted controversy with his public criticism of hobnobbing with government officials to win tech subsidies, and his still-ongoing feud with residents in La Honda about a vineyard he's building on the region's hilly terrain.

But these days, Rodgers is raising eyebrows with his foray into alternative energy, namely solar power.

...Rodgers, now at the helm of a company that is widely considered to produce the highest efficiency solar cells in the world, is not ultimately motivated by the same green impulse that drives pushers of solar as an alternative energy. He's unabashedly in it for the money.

Rodgers responds that being in it for the money is ultimately also being in it for the greater good. And Silicon Valley's King of Solar could care less what the global warming crowd says to do about the environment

...This is not to say that Rodgers doesn't accept the fact that resources dwindle. In fact, he's a big believer in what's known as Peak Oil theory. The theory, put forth by M. King Hubbert, a Shell Oil consultant in the 1950s, predicted that the world's oil production would peak in 2000 and then fall. Hubbert also correctly predicted that domestic oil production would peak at about 1970. Rodgers thinks that Hubbert may be off on world oil production by a few years (many Peak Oil theory advocates now say production will peak in 2010), but he is still right that it will peak. What Rodgers doesn't buy is the vision of the movement's main current spokesman, Richard Heinberg, a faculty member of the New College of California in San Francisco, who envisions catastrophic consequences for humanity-picture a devolution to agrarian lifestyles and vicious resource wars-once oil production peaks.

Somewhat surprisingly, Donald Rumsfeld is warning us of the danger of fascism. It turns out he hasn't looked into a mirror though - he's prattling on about Islamic fundamentalists again.
THE US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has compared Bush Administration critics to those who sought to appease the Nazis before World War II, warning that the US is confronting "a new type of fascism".

Mr Rumsfeld, speaking at an American Legion convention in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, delivered some of his most explicit and extended attacks yet on the Administration's critics, provoking an angry response from Democrats who accused him of "campaigning on fear".

By comparing US foreign policy with World War II and the Cold War, Mr Rumsfeld sought to portray sceptics of the Bush foreign policy as being on the wrong side of history.

Mr Rumsfeld again ridiculed US officials who, before World War II, wished to negotiate with Adolf Hitler. "I recount that history because, once again, we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism," he said. "But some seem not to have learned history's lessons. Can we truly afford to believe that, somehow or someway, vicious extremists could be appeased?"

His use of the word "appease" is seen as an attempt to associate critics of the Administration with the failed efforts of the British government to mollify Hitler in the 1930s.

Mr Rumsfeld is one of the Bush Administration's most divisive figures, and demands for his resignation have become a litmus test in congressional races around the country as Iraq confronts deepening violence and civil strife.

Keith Olbermann makes the fairly blunt case that Rumsfeld is one of the fascists we should be worrying about.
The confusion we — as its citizens - must now address, is stark and forbidding. But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note - with hope in your heart - that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light… and we can, too.

The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this Administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: The destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.

And about Mr. Rumsfeld’s other main assertion, that this country faces a "new type of fascism.

He was correct to remind us how a government that knew everything could get everything wrong, so too was he right when he said that — though probably not in the way he thought he meant it.

This country faces a new type of fascism - indeed.

Although I presumptuously use his sign-off each night, in feeble tribute… I have utterly no claim to the words of the exemplary journalist Edward R. Murrow.

But never in the trial of a thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other politicians thought they (and they alone) knew everything, and branded those who disagreed, "confused" or "immoral."

Thus forgive me for reading Murrow in full:

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty," he said, in 1954. "We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear - one, of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of un-reason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men; Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were - for the moment - unpopular."

Thom Hartmann was on the case before Rummy started his latest diatribe - while he's not so sure about this Islamofascism stuff, he is nevertheless worried about Republican fascism.
In the years since George W. Bush first used 9/11 as his own "Reichstag fire" to gut the Constitution and enhance the power and wealth of his corporate cronies, many across the political spectrum have accused him and his Republican support group of being fascists.

On the right, The John Birch Society's website editor recently opined of the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretap program: "This is to say that from the administration's perspective, the president is, in effect, our living constitution. This is, in a specific and unmistakable sense, fascist."

On the left, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. specifically indicts the Bush administration for fascistic behavior in his book "Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and his Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy."

Genuine American fascists are on the run, and part of their survival strategy is to redefine the term "fascism" so it can't be applied to them any more. Most recently, George W. Bush said: "This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation."

In fact, the Islamic fundamentalists who apparently perpetrated 9/11 and other crimes in Spain and the United Kingdom are advocating a fundamentalist theocracy, not fascism.

But theocracy - the merging of religion and government - is also on the plate for the new American fascists (just as it was for Hitler, who based the Nazi death cult on a "new Christianity" that would bring "a thousand years of peace"), so they don't want to use that term, either.

While the Republicans promote the term "Islamo-fascism," the rest of the world is pushing back, as the BBC noted in an article by Richard Allen Greene ("Bush's Language Angers US Muslims" - 12 August 2006):
"Security expert Daniel Benjamin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agreed that the term [Islamic fascists] was meaningless.

"'There is no sense in which jihadists embrace fascist ideology as it was developed by Mussolini or anyone else who was associated with the term,' he said. 'This is an epithet, a way of arousing strong emotion and tarnishing one's opponent, but it doesn't tell us anything about the content of their beliefs.'"

Their beliefs are, quite simply, that governments of the world should be subservient to religion, a view shared by a small but significant part of today's Republican party. But that is not fascism - the fascists in the US want to exploit the fundamentalist theocrats to achieve their own fascistic goals.

Mother Jones has an Iraq War timeline - "Lie by Lie: Chronicle of a War Foretold: August 1990 to March 2003" (which I'd subtitle "The Quest for the Greatest Prize of All").
The first drafts of history are fragmentary. Important revelations arrive late, and out of order. In this timeline, we’ve assembled the history of the Iraq War to create a resource we hope will help resolve open questions of the Bush era. What did our leaders know and when did they know it? And, perhaps just as important, what red flags did we miss, and how could we have missed them? This is the first installment in our Iraq War timeline project.

And to close, Mungo MacCallum has an obituary for Australian Democrats founder Don Chipp - the "Democrat who worked to 'keep the bastards honest'".
DON Chipp, who has died in Epworth Hospital at age 81 after suffering from Parkinson's disease, was an idealistic Liberal. Nowadays that would be a contradiction in terms; in these unforgiving times, idealism is not a quality fashionable in Australian politics, particularly not in the Liberal Party.

But it was not always so. Back in the 1960s there was a faction in the party which was not only moderate in its views but optimistic, rational and even visionary in its agenda for social reform. And at the centre of this faction was the young Chipp.

2 comments

I still think TJ is more concerned about TJ.

Happy vacation!

No doubt TJ is TJ's #1 priority - but it seems he's an example of "greed is good" being true in some cases.

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