Hibernating  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm off to get some sun and loaf on a riverbank somewhere for a while.

Back in 2 weeks...

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.

Peak Oil and Permaculture  

Posted by Big Gav

The latest "Arlington Note" (Volume 9, Number 10) has an article that touches an all sorts of topics I've been including here lately - peak oil, global warming and "2012: The return of Quetzalcoatl" to name but a few. The RU Sirius interview with Daniel Pinchbeck that I linked to recently talked about 2008 as being a turning point of sorts (based on some sort of Mayan numerology embedded in their pyramid design) with various bad things happening. John thinks this involves financial collapse (but doesn't link to any reasoning behind this, other than referring to a podcast I can't find).

From where I sit, here at this nexus of incoming streams of information from many sources about early indicators of potential future events, things are definitely heating up.

There seems to be an acceleration of the number of significant events that point toward big change in the near future. At TAI we watch many different trends, but the most significant ones are climate change and the possibility of a rapid shift in the world’s weather, the peaking of the global supply of oil and the attendant emergence of a new energy era, a major disruption in the world’s financial system, a global pandemic and, of course, the possibility that terrorism will escalate to a much higher level. There are other areas that interest us, like the dwindling supply of drinking water and technology trends, but the big ones get most of our attention.

The possibility of a major disruption in the world’s financial system sometime after January 2008 is a subject that doesn’t get nearly as much ink as oil and climate, but the effects – particularly if it is as widespread as some observers believe – could really be profound.

We recently had a world expert on the converging fundamentals that are driving toward large-scale financial failure give a seminal presentation on the subject at The Arlington Institute. Dr. David Martin, president of M-CAM, the global leader in intellectual property valuation, certainly got the attention of the international audience assembled here with his step-by-step assessment of what was in the works and what likely scenarios would fall out of the inevitable collision. We’ve made it a podcast that you can download from our website. I would strongly encourage you to listen to this most interesting talk. We’re planning to have more of these talks at The Arlington Institute. We’ll keep you informed of them in the future.

All of the trends that we are following seem to me to be symptoms of some larger, historic shift that is taking place on the planet. I’ve talked about it in speeches as an approaching punctuation in the “equilibrium” of the present era – a major, fundamental reordering of the essence of who we are and how we live. These big shifts have happened many times in the past evolution of life on earth and if one tracks the historical pattern of these epochal events, it is rather easy to suggest, as philosopher Peter Russell and others do, that another one is fast approaching.

Many people attempt to explain the essential nature of this revolution in esoteric, new-age terms, almost all of which leave me unsatisfied. In the face of recommendations to “meditate more”, as the essential preparation one should make in anticipation of large-scale systems failure, I keep believing that there are additional things that we should be doing to support ourselves in the coming years. Others appear to be thinking the same way as evinced by the number of interesting new initiatives popping up that represent very basic social shifts. The Post Carbon Institute (www.postcarbon.org) has an interesting “relocalization” initiative designed to help deal with the systemic failures that they believe will inevitably result from reaching the peak in oil production. You can learn more at www.relocalize.net.

In terms of attempting to understand the really essential nature of what’s going on, the best book that I’ve found is Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. Be warned: this is a rich, deep, drug-enabled, intellectual exploration that quickly wanders out of the box of conventionality and smack into huge ideas that, if you buy them, will certainly change the way you live the rest of your life.

I went along to the "Peak Oil and Permaculture" show last night - both Richard Heinberg and David Holmgren spoke well, and the attendence was much bigger than I'd imagined - over 700 people - but there wasn't much new information for jaded old bloggers like me. David Holmgren did come up with one interesting stat - wood pellet stoves are the fastest growing energy source in Europe apparently (something he heartily approved of). Richard Heinberg spent quite a bit of time on the "Oil Depletion Protocol" which I tend to think is a dead horse that needn't be flogged too much - it won't ever happen in the world that currently exists, regardless of its merits.

Michael Pascoe (who I like and generally agree with) is possibly a little too sanguine about peak oil and global warming (and also makes a ridiculous comparison to whale oil, which he should know better than to do). His business partner Alan Kohler has generally avoided talk of peak oil but does track the oil price closely, noting tonight (Windows / RealPlayer) that local oil consumption has dropped 5% this year (with the economy still doing pretty well) due to high prices - "proof the market does work".
Competing doomsday scenarios are making life awfully difficult – I can’t decide whether I should be suicidal about burning too many fossil fuels or not enough. Maybe if Tim Flannery, Richard Heinberg and Andrew McNamara can coordinate their apocalyptic visions we’ll happily drown because we have no means of escaping them rising sea levels.

The “peak oil” worrywarts are having a nice run at present, most recently Queensland National Party state MP McNamara on 60 Minutes and about-to-visit professor and book flogger Heinberg in The SMH, never mind Four Corners last month. At Heinberg's extreme, the peak oil folks are forecasting a return to the 19th century with little and expensive travel and we all have to grow our own food in the backyard as civilisation as we know grinds to a halt.

It is the nature of journalism that catastrophic bad news is goods news. But it is also astounding that that there is such a uniform ignorance or calculated ignoring of the great twin realities of our society: the ability of the market mechanism to efficiently allocate resources and our incredible capacity for inventiveness and problem solving.

We’ve gone through “peak oil” before – only then it was whale oil. The truth is that we’re not running out of oil and never will. At a price, we can make all the oil we need. The oil lubricating my car’s delightful engine already is artificial. As crude oil becomes more expensive, we start to use it more efficiently while the economic stimulus leads to product substitution. Oil remains wonderfully cheap, especially in a handful of low-tax countries like Australia, but in time it will become more expensive and we’ll use less per head of population.

The Pascoe article prompted the APPEA CEO to complain about 60 Minutes' "alarmism".
Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, writes:

Michael Pascoe’s cynicism over the recent media coverage on peak oil is warranted (yesterday, item 9). Working hard on a story and getting it wrong is forgivable. Working hard on a story that pompously dresses up sensationalist, alarmist nonsense as "investigative journalism" is not. The recent 60 Minutes diatribe on the looming oil "catastrophe" seems deliberately to set out to create anxiety, fear, anger and hostility using illogical images, smug quips from presenters with no knowledge. The "report" was striking in its absence of fact, statistics or evidence. This is at best irresponsible and at worst a gross and dangerous breach of the right to speak freely. Surely with freedom of speech comes some ethically induced sense of obligation to treat the subject matter, those who participated in the program in good faith (and at considerable inconvenience to themselves), and the general public with respect.

Neil Robertson writes:

Michael Pascoe does not seem to understand the concept of "non-renewable". He says, "The truth is that we’re not running out of oil and never will". This kind of ignorance is not what I want to be reading in Crikey! I suggest Mr Pascoe stick with finance and refrain from commenting on environmental issues until he educates himself appropriately.

As a blast fromthe past, here's a quote from last year's APPEA conference in Perth.
Eric Streitberg, Executive Director of ARC Energy a successful small onshore producer, showed a slide of Swenson's post-peak scenarios (www.hubbertpeak.com/scenario.htm). Streitberg's graph showed us just past the peak.

Interestingly, he conducted a straw poll, of the 1,000 or so petroleum professionals present.

"Please put your hand up if you think that we have crossed the Hubbert Peak and we are entering a demand driven pricing era, and hands up those who don't? " Streitberg scored it 50:50 at the time and said "The rest of you who didn't put your hands up had better talk to your management consultants about a course in decision making.

Alan Kohler also has a good interview with Woodside CEO Don Voelte up.
ALAN KOHLER: Just on costs, there's no doubt costs have gone up a lot. Overall production costs are up 65 per cent. So what is going on there?

DON VOELTE: I think costs everybody in the extraction business - that's mining and exploration, producing of oil and gas - has been talking about this for quite a while. We've been subject to very high commodity rates, starting from steel prices through drilling rigs through facility cost and all the way down to skilled labour. So it's basically a situation where we have a lot of pressures and also governments are trying to get back more of this money because of the high prices. So you're right - we're under a lot of pressure, we focus on costs everyday. Are you saying that none of it is your fault? No, it's not that easy. Of course we have to watch our business every day. What we're really saying is that we have to really be careful for every dollar we spend and make sure we spend it on the right things, things that make a material difference to our shareholders.

ALAN KOHLER: On other opportunities it seems to me Woodside's been operating for more than 50 years now and you've only really found one thing - the North West Shelf of Australia. Is that right?

DON VOELTE: Well, we don't think so. I think if you take a strong look at what we've done, we're going to be adding a project here in the next couple of years, Pluto, which will be a very significant -

ALAN KOHLER: That's in the same area.

DON VOELTE: It's in the same area but what I mean to say is that more of some things are a good thing and Pluto and Browse are extremely strong projects, along with Sunrise, that will add to the portfolio. We have found a lot of oil in Mauritania. The trick's going to be, Alan, to get it out of the ground and we've had a difficult time with Chinguetti, our startup, earlier this year and we're trying to crack that code to get more oil out of the ground for that project. We have other discoveries there too.

ALAN KOHLER: Would you like, in fact, to get out of Mauritania?

DON VOELTE: We're not at that point at this point. We've - in the first half, you have to remember, we made just right under $100 million on Chinguetti project in earnings before tax - I believe the number is $98.6 or $98.7 million. So it's a very profitable business in that respect, if we learn how to get that oil out of the ground. That's why we're trying to crack that code.

ALAN KOHLER: How much has that cost you so far?

DON VOELTE: So far that project has run somewhere over $700 million in the Chinguetti project, total, and we're working hard at improving the productivity of that project at this time.

ALAN KOHLER: You were quoted when you took over as CEO a couple of years as saying you did not want Woodside to be a cash machine like Arco that wastes money in unsuccessful international ventures. Are you satisfied that that's what you've done?

DON VOELTE: I stand by that statement and I'll say it again today. It's very important that we're successful. I think the first half of this year we've drilled 15 wells. I believe seven of them have been successful. We are continuing to have a good exploration track record. We think we have very good opportunities in Libya. The first two wells we've drilled there have been successful. In the Gulf of Mexico we've drilled seven wells. Three were successful this first half of this year. So our hit rate is good. We've found a couple of really good finds in the Gulf of Mexico for the shelf. The big bonanza in the Gulf of Mexico, we hope, is coming when we start a deep-water drilling program either later this year or very early next year.

ALAN KOHLER: You mentioned Pluto before. Can we talk a bit about that? It's 100 per cent owned - Pluto - unlike the rest of the shelf. How will Pluto in particular transform your company? I mean, what sort of expected production, cash flow, do you think you'll achieve with Pluto?

DON VOELTE: The North West Shelf shelf, which up to this point we've operated on behalf of five other partners or six partners, they are equal. It's been a very good project for us and provides a deep cash flow for us for many years and for many years to come. Pluto, albeit a smaller reservoir, our present projections is that the cash flow that spins off of it because of our higher equity will be equal to or nearly equal to the money we make off our North West Shelf or even greater than in the future years our North West Shelf. So impact-wise to our company, we'll be more than doubling our company in LNG resources.

ALAN KOHLER: Then there's the Browse after that, which is bigger than Pluto but you've only got half of it.

DON VOELTE: It's a very big reservoir. We think it's nearing the size - not quite the size of the North West Shelf when it was originally found, so it's another North West Shelf lookalike, albeit a bit smaller. But instead of just owning a sixth of it, Woodside owns almost 50 per cent of that project. So again, another doubling, another tripling of our LNG capability.

ALAN KOHLER: It must be tempting to focus on the North West Shelf. If you did nothing but the North West Shelf, Browse and Pluto, kept your costs down, you would be generating so much cash your share price would be who knows what. Shareholders would be all deliriously happy.

DON VOELTE: Well, we've been there before. Remember in the mid-'90s and the end of the 1990s and in early 2000, LNG was in a trough and it was hard to almost give away LNG. So we have to remember diversity in your portfolio is an important thing. So, yes, we've got a window now where the LNG market and the market is strong. We are trying to capture Pluto and Browse inside that window but we also have to be prepared for our shareholders that LNG could go into another down cycle if there's an oversupply situation that comes about. We think that there's a window for a strong market, remains open to 2012 or 2013, but it could get back into the situation -

ALAN KOHLER: It's actually hard to imagine with oil where it is, and the oil market and the situation it is with China - it's hard to imagine another downturn. Are you actually predicting one or you just think it might happen?

DON VOELTE: I think people thought that back in 1995, and by 1998, remember, we were selling oil for $12.50 - so it's a cyclic business. I don't predict $12.50 oil again but I do predict oil to come back down I think in a reasonable level. I think the area we have to prepare for is about $40 a barrel, somewhere in that range.

ALAN KOHLER: By when?

DON VOELTE: Not any time soon. I would also say that with the prices you see now, I think the supply/demand, the tensions in the world, the supply disruptions, I'd say, at least for the rest of this year, probably well into next kind of what you see is about what you're going to get.

Mobjectivist has an update on North Sea oil production.
Oil production from the UK North Sea continues to plummet:

Oil production growth was down 4 per cent compared with May at 1,411,961 barrels per day (bpd) and down 13 per cent on the same month last year.

From last year's oil shock model for UK North Sea, I added an additional data point (green star):



Bart from Energy Bulletin has an interview up at Global Public Media.
Bart Anderson is a co-editor of Energy Bulletin, an on-line source for news and commentary related to energy, society and the environment. Bart is a trained journalist now specializing in media coverage and the cultural response to peak oil and global warming. He speaks with Jason Bradford about how the press is dealing with issues such as peak oil, climate change and the social ramifications, and gives a news round-up.

Energy Bulletin has a round up of articles from Rob Hopkins on the latest ASPO conference - Skrebowski tells us there’s 1,500 days until the Peak, Dennis Meadows - Peak Oil and Limits to Growth and Jeremy Leggett Intertwines Peak Oil and Climate Change.
‘Limits to Growth’ was criticised for predicting that oil would run out and for being wrong in that prediction. However, oil depletion is not mentioned once in the original 1972 report, this is a completely bogus criticism. Now that oil actually is running out and peak oil is impending, it is tempting to say “we told you so”, but we didn’t!

The key issue here is the relationship between oil flow and reserves, which I call the usage rate. Peak oil looks at this usage rate, whereas critics look at discovered resources, not the usage rate. The feedback loops controlling this are changing, the feedback loop that has managed this relationship over the last 50 years is changing (here I confess he lost me a bit, you’ll find his description of these feedback loops in his presentation).

There are four effects of a rise in oil price. From the fastest to the slowest;

* Lowered quality of life – i.e. drive less
* Increased energy efficiency – buy a Prius
* Adapt a new energy supply – ie. ethanol.
* Changed cultural aspirations- ie. buy a house in the city, no need for a car.

When we try to envision life over the next 100 years these 4 are adjusting to reduce energy supply. Alternative energy will never replace oil, and we will face a decline in the 4 ways above.

Matt Simmons recently wrote that he had reread Limits to Growth and was amazed at its accuracy. Limits to Growth began in the 1970s with the Club of Rome, a group who sought to raise awareness of environmental problems. No-one paid any attention, so they organised conferences, published books and so on, and after a few years people began to see that there was a problem. It was at this point, as all they had been able to contribute was observations on the nature of the problem, that they began to become irrelevant. ASPO needs to be aware of this possibility too, and to be helping people at a local level, offering solutions rather than just observations on the problem.

We don’t need a computer model to be able to prove that there are physical limits to physical growth on a physically finite planet. Some people will believe the premise and won’t need a computer model to convince them, and other people who refuse to even accept the premise won’t be swayed or convinced by all the computer models you can produce.

The contribution of Limits to Growth was to show that population and industrial growth are inherently exponential, and that exponential growth takes a resource to its limits very quickly. It showed that global society will most likely adjust to these limits by overshoot and collapse, not an S-shaped growth curve. However, I do still believe that sustainable development is possible, if important changes are made.

Rolling Stone has an article on "Vonnegut's Apocalypse".
He survived being captured by the Nazis and the suicide of his mother to write some of the funniest, darkest novels of our time, but it took George W. Bush to break him.

"I'm Jeremiah, and I'm not talking about God being mad at us," novelist Kurt Vonnegut says with a straight face, gazing out the parlor windows of his Manhattan brownstone. "I'm talking about us killing the planet as a life-support system with gasoline. What's going to happen is, very soon, we're going to run out of petroleum, and everything depends on petroleum. And there go the school buses. There go the fire engines. The food trucks will come to a halt. This is the end of the world. We've become far too dependent on hydrocarbons, and it's going to suddenly dry up. You talk about the gluttonous Roaring Twenties. That was nothing. We're crazy, going crazy, about petroleum. It's a drug like crack cocaine. Of course, the lunatic fringe of Christianity is welcoming the end of the world as the rapture. So I'm Jeremiah. It's going to have to stop. I'm sorry."

For the most part, this sort of apocalyptic attitude is to be expected from Vonnegut, who, after all, in his futuristic novel Cat's Cradle (1963) created Ice-Nine, a substance with the capacity to obliterate the Earth incrementally, like the "great door of heaven being closed softly." The naive protagonist of the novel -- a character named John/Jonah -- actually struggles to write a book titled The Day the World Ended. (Cat's Cradle also includes a hilarious faux religion known as Bokononism, whose religious texts carry the warning "All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.") In the interview collection Conversations With Kurt Vonnegut, he even dismisses the notion that his fourteen novels, six essay collections and dozens of short stories have a long shelf life, saying, "Anybody with any sense knows the whole solar system will go up like a celluloid collar by-and-by." Add to that doomsday scenario Vonnegut's notorious bouts of chronic depression, daily doldrums and suicidal longings, and you get a literary Cassandra of the first order.

Later, remembering his hyperagitation about global warming, I telephoned him at his Long Island summer cottage, curious about whether he saw Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth. "I know what it's all about," he scoffed. "I don't need any more persuasion." Not satisfied with his answer, I pressed him to expand, wondering if he had any advice for young people who want to join the increasingly vocal environmental movement. "There is nothing they can do," he bleakly answered. "It's over, my friend. The game is lost."

The NZ Prime Minister has been to see "An Inconvenient Truth" - unlike the Chimp, who still refuses to, preferring to hold some publicity stunts in the wreckage of hurricane Katrina.
In the United States, the world's biggest contributor of global warming pollution, our president has publicly refused to see the documentary film Americans are flocking to see, An Inconvenient Truth.

Compare that to New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen Clark, who recently made a point to view An Inconvenient Truth during the Wellington Film Festival.
Not only was she moved by it, but she immediately arranged a screening for the entire New Zealand Parliament and government officials, scheduled for next week.

Other world leaders and dignitaries have made time to see the film, including Prince Charles, who has scheduled a special screening for UK business leaders next month. The Prince of Wales believes "climate change is the greatest challenge facing us all." Talk about getting it.

Billmon has a report from the "Unintentional Irony Department".
From my favorite Gen. Jack Ripper impersonator, Ralph Peters:
No society that oppresses women, denies advancement on merit even to men, indulges in fantastic hypocrisy, wallows in corruption, undervalues secular learning, reduces its god to a nasty disciplinarian and comforts itself with conspiracy theories will ever compete with us.

For a second I thought Ralph had been reading the Texas GOP's party platform, but he was just ragging on the Arabs again.

The Collapse Of Complex Societies  

Posted by Big Gav

Decaying infrastructure - be it pipelines, sewers or the electrical grid - seems to be the topic-du-jour in the US lately. Is this a sign that the point of limiting returns has been reached and collapse has beugn ? I think probably not - its more likely to be the result of a lack of investment exacerbated by an ideological rigidity that eschews public investment. That said, a steep post peak oil production decline curve, combined with a shortage of skilled workers and an aging population could make the task of renewing all this infrastructure from the "great society" years much more challenging than it should be.

A pipeline shuts down in Alaska. Equipment failures disrupt air travel in Los Angeles. Electricity runs short at a spy agency in Maryland.

None of these recent events resulted from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but they may as well have, some homeland security experts say. They worry that too little attention is paid to how fast the country's basic operating systems are deteriorating.

"When I see events like these, I become concerned that we've lost focus on the core operational functionality of the nation's infrastructure and are becoming a fragile nation, which is just as bad — if not worse — as being an insecure nation," said Christian Beckner, a Washington analyst who runs the respected Web site Homeland Security Watch (www.christianbeckner.com).

The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation "D" for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.

"I thought [Hurricane] Katrina was a hell of a wake-up call, but people are missing the alarm," said Casey Dinges, the society's managing director of external affairs.

British oil company BP announced this month that severe corrosion would close its Alaska pipelines for extensive repairs. Analysts say this may sideline some 200,000 barrels a day of production for several months.

Then an instrument landing system that guides arriving planes onto a runway at Los Angeles International Airport failed for the second time in a week, delaying flights.

Those incidents followed reports that the National Security Agency (NSA), the intelligence world's electronic eavesdropping arm, is consuming so much electricity at its headquarters outside Washington that it is in danger of exceeding its power supply.

"If a terrorist group were able to knock the NSA offline, or disrupt one of the nation's busiest airports, or shut down the most important oil pipeline in the nation, the impact would be perceived as devastating," Beckner said. "And yet we've essentially let these things happen — or almost happen — to ourselves."

The Commission on Public Infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said in a recent report that facilities are deteriorating "at an alarming rate."

I suspect one sign of a collapsing society is an increase in corruption. Greg Palast has a report on the emergency plan for the flooding of New Orleans.
DON’T blame the Lady. Katrina killed no one in this town. In fact, Katrina missed the city completely, going wide to the east.

It wasn’t the hurricane that drowned, suffocated, de-hydrated and starved 1,500 people that week. The killing was done by a deadly duo: a failed emergency evacuation plan combined with faulty levees. Behind these twin failures lies a tale of cronyism, profiteering and willful incompetence that takes us right to the steps of the White House.

Here’s the story you haven’t been told. And the man who revealed it to me, Dr. Ivor van Heerden, is putting his job on the line to tell it.

Van Heerden isn’t the typical whistleblower I usually deal with. This is no minor player. He’s the Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center. He’s the top banana in the field — no one knew more about how to save New Orleans from a hurricane’s devastation. And no one was a bigger target of an official and corporate campaign to bury the information.

Here’s what happened. Right after Katrina swamped the city, I called Washington to get a copy of the evacuation plan.

Funny thing about the murderously failed plan for the evacuation of New Orleans: no one can find it. That’s right. It’s missing. Maybe it got wet and sank in the flood. Whatever: No one can find it.

That’s real bad. Here’s the key thing about a successful emergency evacuation plan: you have to have copies of it. Lots of copies — in fire houses and in hospitals and in the hands of every first responder. Secret evacuation plans don’t work.

I know, I worked on the hurricane evacuation plan for Long Island New York, an elaborate multi-volume dossier.

Specifically, I’m talking about the plan that was written, or supposed to have been written two years ago by a company called, “Innovative Emergency Management.”

Weird thing about IEM, their founder Madhu Beriwal, had no known experience in hurricane evacuations. She did, however, have a lot of experience in donating to Republicans.

IEM and FEMA did begin a draft of a plan. The plan was that, when a hurricane hit, everyone in the Crescent City would simply get the hell out in their cars. Apparently, the IEM/FEMA crew didn’t know that 127,000 people in the city didn’t have cars. But Dr. van Heerden knew that. It was his calculation. LSU knew where these no-car people were — they mapped it — and how to get them out.

Dr. van Heerden offered this life-saving info to FEMA. They wouldn’t touch it. Then, a state official told him to shut up, back off or there would be consequences for van Heerden’s position. This official now works for IEM.

So I asked him what happened as a result of making no plans for those without wheels, a lot of them elderly and most of them poor.

“Fifteen-hundred of them drowned. That’s the bottom line.” The professor, who’d been talking to me in technicalities, changed to a somber tone. “They’re still finding corpses.”

The CSM has an article on proposals for increasing the efficiency of the grid in the US.
Long accused of dragging its feet on raising energy-efficiency standards for products, the Bush administration has proposed its first such standard.

Its proposal attracted little attention, since it didn't mean better dishwashers or more fuel-efficient cars. Instead, it deals with transformers - those ubiquitous gray canisters that hang from utility poles and could save the nation billions of dollars if they were upgraded.

The question is how extensive the upgrade should be. Besides saving an estimated $9 billion in electricity costs, the Bush administration standard, unveiled Aug. 4, may also eliminate the need to build 11 new power plants over a 28-year period, the Department of Energy (DOE) reports. They would also reduce pollution and boost the reliability of the nation's electric grid.

But instead of celebrating the proposal, energy and environment advocates say DOE has opted for "a very weak proposal" - one that fails to save additional mountains of energy and pollution that a slightly tougher regulation would achieve for about the same cost. The tougher standard would save much more than the DOE proposal over 28 years - about 120 billion kilowatt hours of electricity - or enough energy to power 10 percent of US households for a year, they say.

...

Transformers are the first such proposed standards to emerge. And that may be a good thing - because the nation's electric grid, and particularly its transformers, are under more stress than ever.

Though the recent heat wave didn't cause large-scale blackouts as feared, a slew of smaller outages popped up across California and other states, many attributed to overheated transformers.

In late July, nearly 1,400 transformers blew in Northern California, leaving more than 1 million people without power, local news media reported.

Big transformers at power plants convert electricity to high voltages for efficient transmission over long distances, then smaller neighborhood distribution transformers reduce it back to levels safe for home use.

Higher-standard transformers are more expensive, heavier, and cost more to install, but also bear up far better under peak loads and make the grid more reliable, analysts say. That's good, because the nation could see a significantly higher rate of older transformers failing than in years past, says Alison Silverstein, a power industry consultant.

BP has cut oil production from Prudhoe Bay down to 90,000 bpd after another problem, this time a broken compresser.
BP PLC said Wednesday that oil production at its Prudhoe Bay oilfield in Alaska, already running at half capacity due to pipeline corrosion, has been cut by 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) for several days due to a technical fault.

A company spokesman said output at the biggest oilfield in the United States had been reduced to 110,000 bpd after a natural gas compressor in Gathering Center 2 failed. "We anticipate that fixing the compressor will require several days," said BP spokesman Daren Beaudo.

Prudhoe Bay had previously been pumping about 200,000 bpd, around half its normal output, after serious corrosion in a pipeline led BP to shut down the eastern half of the field earlier this month.

Joel Makower at WorldChanging has a post on The New Energy Companies - it seems everyone is getting in on the act.
One of the more noteworthy aspects of what has come to be called "the clean-tech revolution" is that industry sector lines are blurring. It's no longer just oil, gas, coal, and utility companies that qualify under the "energy company" moniker. As the world's energy choices diversify, so, too, has the number and nature of companies jumping in. There are now "energy companies" emerging from a variety of decidedly non-energy sectors, from electronics to chemicals to aerospace to ag.

Consider Dupont, which just announced a $50 million expansion of a facility to manufacture materials for solar panels -- specifically, the panels' protective backsheets. This is hardly the first big energy bet for Dupont, the company who's tagline was, famously, "Better Living Through Chemistry." For example, it boasts an entire division making "more powerful, more durable, and more cost-efficient fuel cell materials and components," as the company puts it. In May, Dupont Fuel Cells introduced components that provide direct methanol fuel cells -- the kind that someday will power laptops and cell phones -- with improved overall power performance and longer run-times. Another big chem company, Dow, boasts the world's largest fuel cell project, a partnership with General Motors, in which GM aims to prove the viability of hydrogen fuel cells for large industrial power. GM is powering fuel cells with hydrogen created as a co-product at a Dow facility in Freeport, Texas. Meanwhile, 3M, the maker of Post-its and Scotchguard, similarly has a fuel cell division, developing membranes and other component parts.

I've written on several occasions about GE, which already is the largest U.S. wind turbine manufacturer, and which also is engaged in manufacturing solar, fuel cell, coal, nuclear, and other energy technologies.

Who else is in the energy business? There's aircraft maker Boeing, which recently signed a multi-million dollar contract to supply concentrator solar cell assemblies to an Australian solar company. Owens Corning, best known for its pink building insulation, recently introduced a new "single-end roving and knitted fabric," WindStrand, which could enable lower costs and higher performance for wind turbines.

The electronics companies have long been in the energy biz. Fujitsu, Hitachi, Kyocera, Sanyo, Sharp, Siemens, and Toshiba are among the many firms in that sector making solar cells, fuel cells, components for wind turbines, and control technologies that make all of these things work more efficiently. Sharp, for its part, is the world's largest maker of solar cells and modules.

...

And then there are the IT companies -- the nice people who brought us the Internet and the personal computer, among other things. For several years, they've been investing in ways to improve the electricity infrastructure to make it more efficient and reliable. After all, the new "smart grid," in which homes, businesses, and appliances "talk" to one another to determine whether and when to power up or down, will require switches, routers, and sophisticated software -- the same things that run the equipment used to transmit and receive this blog. The fusion of info tech with energy tech has led IBM and Cisco, among others, to develop products and technologies to help deliver energy more efficiently.

Who else could become an "energy company"? Almost anyone who makes metals, plastics, advanced materials, or coatings. Software companies, who may write the code that weaves the cacophony of energy producers into a harmonious system. Big-box retailers, whose spacious, flat roofs could collectively become solar farms for the surrounding community. And, by extension, big real estate developers -- of malls, warehouses, industrial parks, and other large complexes -- creating microgrids of solar, wind, geothermal, fuel cell, and other energy sources. Some of these players already are emerging, with many more still to come.

It may not be long before we're asking, "Who's not an energy company?"

Bruce Schneier logs the latest unnecessary freak out over security - this time bacuase an airline passenger dropped his iPod into the toilet.
It all started when I got out of my seat to go to the bathroom. I went to the bathroom, washed my hands, and returned to my seat. A little while later the two stewardesses on the flight crossed each other in the aisle. They had a quick conversation that I was in earshot of.

"I locked off the front lav. There's something in the toilet that's preventing it from flushing. Run some water and see if you can clear it." My face immediately turned red. The seat cover! I thought. It must have been too big to flush! I should have thrown it out!

I was so embarrassed. I tried to act normal ... I took a sudden interest in the contents of the seat pocket in front of me, acted nonchalant and all. I watched as the stewardess got on her hands and knees in the lavatory and did unfathomable dirty work.

Sometime later, I decided it would be best if I forgot the whole thing happened, so I went to put on my headphones and drown myself in iPod music. But ... no iPod. I panicked, checked my other pockets. Where was it? Not under the seat, not in the pockets, not ... anywhere. I looked up to the stewardesses. One of them had run past me in a decent clip. She was carrying a green handbook. She brought it to the other stewardess. They flipped through the handbook, read a page, then made a call. The other stewardess had retrieved a blue metal box and was removing some equipment from it.

I put two and two together. I knew what had happened.

So I walked up to the stewardesses, both clamoring over the handbook, and tapped one on the shoulder.

"So, I had an iPod before I went to the bathroom, and now I don't. I think I know what's in the toilet."

We had a quick conversation. I told them, "You don't have to call the TSA or anything, it's just my iPod." They said, "Oh, but we already did."

Tim Burrows has a review of tonight's Four Corners special on global warming - "Prime Minister needs more evidence" (I'd suggest calling it "The Rodent and the Time Machine").
Perhaps the most interesting segment of the program, at least for those familiar with the climate change debate, were the segments with John Howard (Australian Prime Minister). He was to my mind somewhat uncomfortable during the interview sessions. During the final clip, he stated that he "wanted to see the evidence" that significant emissions cuts (60% by 2050) were required before implementing a carbon trading system.

I'm not sure what he is looking for. A message coming out of a time machine? "Greetings from 2050. It's really hot here".

The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) has hundreds of scientists working to produce reports that are peer reviewed and dissected to produce some of the most thoroughly reviewed pieces on climate change and its impacts. As Tim Flannery says they are "as dry as dishwater", but they represent the best understanding of climate change science that is available. They are also now very clear in their language.

The National Academy of Sciences of just about every nation on earth has agreed that significant cuts are required.

I could go on. I ask again - what evidence is he looking for?

It sounds like Tim Flannery needs to work on his motivational skills, with Crikey reporting that his latst talk on global warming had people contemplating leaping from the balcony.
im Flannery’s keynote address to the Melbourne Writers' Festival on Friday night at the Melbourne Town Hall must have left more than a few punters feeling decidedly blue. The vision he paints of the coming impacts of climate change is at times little short of apocalyptic.

Yet Flannery’s vision is no exaggeration. And given the stakes, there would be something obscene about soft-pedalling his message just to make our Friday evenings a little cosier, our sleep a little easier. And so, as in his book The Weather Makers, Flannery pulled no punches.

But amid all of the talk of melting ice sheets and Arctic pack ice, rising seas, drowning polar bears, fatally confused bird life and monster storms, he seemed to leave scant room for hope. During the Q&A session at the conclusion of his speech, one audience member jokingly remarked that her friends were considering leaping from the balcony.

I’ve followed Tim’s work since the publication of The Future Eaters 12 years ago. A passionate discoverer and documenter of nature and natural history, he’s a great communicator, too. But with such a profoundly disturbing issue as climate change, the difficulty lies in startling people out of their reverie without turning them into despairing balcony jumpers. It is a difficult balance and -- eloquent as he was -- I don’t know that he struck it on Friday night.

This is not to take away his due. Tim Flannery’s is an important voice of warning that has helped greatly in shoehorning climate change onto the mainstream agenda. This was, after all, the ultimate reason for his appearance at the town hall. Perhaps in the end, it is only his job to deliver the bad news, uniquely placed as he is at the, er, coal face of nature’s continuing decline.

I'm predicting a fresh outbreak of violence in Chad sometime soon, after reports that the Chadian government has kicked Petronas and Chevron out of the country for not paying their taxes. Can't have that sort of bolshie behaviour from a third world country, now can we ? Or is this just another example of the revival of resource nationalism ?
Chad's president on Saturday ordered oil companies Chevron Corp. and Petronas to leave the country, saying neither has paid taxes and his country will take responsibility for the oil fields they have overseen.

In remarks on state-run radio, President Idriss Deby gave the companies — part of the African country's oil production consortium that is led by ExxonMobil — a deadline of just 24 hours to start making plans to leave.

"Chad has decided that as of tomorrow (Sunday), Chevron and Petronas must leave Chad because they have refused to pay their taxes," Deby said in a message broadcast on state-run radio.

Deby said Chad, which is one of Africa's newest oil producers and is setting up a national oil company, would take over the oil fields that have been overseen by the American and Malaysian companies and account for some 60% of its oil production.

Mark D. Boudreaux, a spokesman for ExxonMobil, told The Associated Press by e-mail that neither his company, nor affiliate Esso Chad has been asked to leave the country.

If the two companies are evicted, Chad could seek help from China, which has taken an active interest in Africa in its search for raw materials like oil and metals.

Of course, its possible President Deby may simply come to a sticky end - when I visited reddit today the top rated tales were about the untimely demises of whistleblowers about NSA wiretapping and an investigator looking at vote rigging in Florida. I'm always amazed at just how many people unfortunate enough to learn things that someone would rather keep hidden are soon found deceased - I wonder if accountants have nightmares about doing the books for companies that turn into the next Enron ?
Is someone murdering people who know too much about NSA wiretapping overseas?

Two whistleblowers — one in Italy, one in Greece — uncovered a secret bugging system installed in cell phones around the world. Both met with untimely ends. The resultant scandals have received little press in the United States, despite the profound implications for American critics of the Bush administration.

Last month, Italian telecommunications security expert Adamo Bove either leapt or was pushed from a freeway overpass; he left no note and had no history of depression. Last year (March, 2005), Greek telecommunications expert Costas Tsalikidis met with a similarly enigmatic end. Both had uncovered American attempts to eavesdrop on government officials, anti-war activists, and private businessmen.

The Bove case relates to the long-standing controversy over the CIA's kidnapping of cleric Abu Omar, who was flown to Egypt and tortured. The post-Berlusconi government of Italy is attempting to arrest and try all of the CIA personnel involved. Bove used mobile phone records to trace more than two dozen American agents.

Bove had also revealed that his employer, Telecom Italia, had allowed illegal "spyware" — undetectable wiretaps — to infest Italy's largest communications system. His testimony helped to uncover the unsettling relationship between SISMI chief Marco Mancini and Telecom Italia head Giuliano Tavaroli. (Mancini, recently arrested by Italian investigators, has also come under some suspicion for his possible role in the strange affair of Major General Nicola Calipari, killed by American troops in Iraq.) In the 1990s, Bove had received wide praise for helping to secure convictions of two bosses in the Camorra, Naples' answer to the Sicilian Mafia.

The case of Costas Tsalikidis — an engineer for Vodaphone, Greece's top telecommunications firm — offers a similar picture. Tsalikidis discovered an extraordinarily spohisticated piece of spyware within his company's network. The Prime Minister and other top officials were targeted, along with Greek military officers, anti-war activists, various business figures — and a cell phone within the American embassy itself. This page gives a full list of the targets, very few of whom could be considered as having even a remote connection to terrorism.

For Services To Journalism  

Posted by Big Gav

Carbon Sink points to an article on Al Gore in this weekends local paper.

Some essential reading and viewing this weekend. First up is "The Resurrection of Al Gore" in the Good Weekend magazine. The article by John Heilemann (which is not online) talks up the prospect of Gore running for President in 2008 which is hugely encouraging. There is no politician on the planet more committed to the issue of climate change than Al Gore, and IMO it is critical for the future of the planet that he runs and wins in 2008.

It was a tragedy of epic proportions that Gore did not become President in 2000. Gore says of that infamous 'victory'...
"The principal source of disappointment was not the dashed expectations for me or my family," he explains, "but the consequences for the country" of Bush's victory. "What the country has subsequently gone through was much worse than I ever thought, but I expected it to be bad."

Indeed. Few of us could have imagined just how bad George W. Bush would be. Iraq, Katrina ... need I say more. On the prospects of Gore running in 2008 Heilemann writes:
What's clear is that Gore would love to be president, but the thought of the whole awful business of getting there makes him nearly nauseous.

Please run Al. One man's nausea is a small price to pay to give the planet some hope. I'm nauseous every time I see Bush on TV, and there millions (billions?) who feel the same.

Past Peak reports on what may be the first hurrican to hit the Gulf of Mexico this season - Ernesto (The Oil Drum can rest easy at last - they also have a post on the location and vulnerability of offshore rigs in the gulf - BHP are probably relieved they have bailed out of the gulf region).
For a couple days now we have been talking up Ernesto and warning that there was a significant chance that this could be the new big story. After looking at the situation today, I am convinced that things could be very bad indeed. I always try not incite undue worry, but Ernesto could get ugly. Those of you in the Gulf Coast need to re-examine your hurricane plans, especially is you live in the north Gulf from Houston to Tallahassee. A very deep layer of warm water in the northern Gulf could allow for Ernesto to become a very powerful hurricane if it reaches the area.


The Energy Blog notes that Venezuela has increased their oil reserves number to include heavy oil reserves in the Orinoco belt, and are planning to increase production by just over 500,000 barrels per day.
It appears that Venezuela is following Canada's lead by including part of its enormous heavy oil reserves in its official 'proven oil reserves'. The problem with heavy oil is that it is more expensive to process than conventional oil. The proportion of oil reserves classified as unconventional oil, which includes heavy oil, keeps increasing as production of conventional declines (past peak). As far as the US is concerned, we have to wonder how much of this oil we will receive, considering Chavez's attitude toward the US, but in the end all of the oil that is produced is probably going to be consumed somewhere and if possible we would like to get our hands on as much conventional oil as possible, no matter where it comes from. US refineries continue to be upgraded to handle heavy, sour oil so we can probably handle oil no matter where it comes from. An extra 520,000b/d is not too significant considering our crude oil distillation capacity is almost 18 million barrels per calendar day (including Puerto Rica and the Virgin Islands) per EIA, but supplies are getting more scarce as the demands of China and India keep increasing.

I found the following while looking up the data on our refinery capacity, which is more encouraging than you would expect from listening to and reading the popular press.

Total crude distillation capacity increased by 214,000 BPCD (+1.25%) in 2005. U.S. refiners are responding to the growing demand for gasoline and diesel by making significant investments to increase refining capacity. Refining companies have announced plans to add between 1.4 and two million barrels per day of new U.S. refining capacity, much of which could be on-line by the end of 2010. (source: National Petrochemical & Refiners Association)

TreeHugger has a post on neo-luddite Michael Crichton nad his paranoid theories about a global warming conspiracy. The fossil fuel is so impressed with this convenient paranoia that they've given him a word for "notable journalistic achievement". Bravo Mr Chrichton - Frank Luntz would be proud of you.
OnEarth, the NRDC's magazine, has an interesting little sidebar about a book prize created by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) for "notable journalistic achievement, in any medium, which contributes to public understanding of geology, energy resources or the technology of oil and gas exploration." That's a worthy goal, no? The public doesn't know much about the subject and would certainly benefit from more knowledge. So who won the prize this year? Michael Crichton. Yes, the author of Jurassic Park. He won for his novel State of Fear, but the judges also cited the dinosaur book (for some reason).

The NRDC writes:
Oddly, though, there's almost nothing in the book about any of those subjects. OK, perhaps it was Crichton's deathless prose that wooed the judges. ("'Did I hear you say you wanted a latte?' She smiled again. She crossed her legs, exposing brown knees.") Nah. So that leaves the novel's well-publicized thesis that global warming is a hoax, perpetrated by a secretive, well-funded group called the National Environmental Resource Fund (NERF).

The science fiction writer certainly is useful to the oil & gas companies and global warming denialists these days. Last September, he appeared before a Senate committee to argue his position, and last February he was invited to the white house to talk to George W. Bush about global warming.

Explorer, the AAPG magazine, writes without irony about Crichton's book:
The lesson for us all is that science should be left to the scientists and protected from misuse by the unscrupulous. Advocates have perverted science through ignorance or outright misrepresentations. This mistaken or maligned advocacy diverts available resources to nonexistent problems. The result, in Crichton’s words: statistical murder. [...]

The point to be taken is not whether global warming is in fact occurring, or even whether or not man’s activities are having an effect. The point is that at present we simply don’t know if the earth’s climate is changing. It is even less clear whether any action we can take, no matter how drastic, will make one whit’s worth of difference. The earth has been both much cooler and much warmer many times before in its over six billion year history. Humanity has not even been witness to the vast majority of those events.

Obviously, they are still at stage 1 of the 4 Stages of Global Warming Denial. Still a long way to go for the AAPG, but as Upton Sinclair said: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

WorldChanging (which seems to be engaging in a merger of sorts with the WorldWatch Institute - new green meets old green) has a post on a new biofuel - "Vernonia Oil and African Green Chemicals" - which can also be used to produce bio-based plastics and other chemical products .
In July, the government of Ethiopia signed an agreement allowing a British biotechnology firm to commercialize the oilseed plant vernonia as a renewable source of industrial chemicals. Long dismissed by Ethiopian farmers as a nuisance shrub, vernonia, also known as ironweed, is considered a potential replacement for petroleum in a variety of industrial uses. The plant’s shiny black seeds produce an oil rich in epoxies, which can be used to manufacture innovative bio-based paints, adhesives, and plastic products.

Though it has been grown successfully in a variety of locations, vernonia thrives naturally within 20 degrees of the Equator, and has been particularly prolific in Ethiopia. The new commercialization deal, which took place under the auspices of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity's Access and Benefit Sharing Agreement, gives the British company Vernique Biotech access to the plant for the next 10 years. In exchange, the Ethiopian government will receive royalty payments and profit shares, while hundreds of local farmers will have an opportunity to boost their earnings by growing the oilseed on land too poor for food crops.

Studies show that use of vernonia-derived oils has the potential to significantly offset petroleum use and related fossil-fuel emissions. In 1992, the United States consumed roughly 227 kilograms of petroleum per person to produce plastics and industrial petrochemicals; according to scientists, replacing those feedstock with vernonia oil could have reduced emissions by up to 73 million kilograms annually. In 2004, the U.S. industrial sector consumed about 5.1 million barrels of oil per day, or 23 percent of the nation’s total. The naturally epoxidized vernonia oil is also being considered for pharmaceutical uses, such as alleviating psoriasis.

Billmon reports that the Unabomber has been released from prison to investigate the London underground bombings.

What Price Global Warming?  

Posted by Big Gav

Following on from Peak Oil on 60 Minutes tonight there is a Four Corners episode on global warming tomorrow.

Heat waves and cyclones; droughts ravaging farmland; rising seas swamping beach havens; forests drying up and species dying out; the Barrier Reef and Kakadu, icons of nature, doomed.

This is Australia’s future if nothing is done to tackle global warming, scientists warn - though exactly what will happen, and how soon, remain uncertain.

Is there still time for the world to avert these dire consequences? How can Australians – per person the biggest greenhouse gas polluters on the globe – do more to curb their own emissions?

The biggest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions is the burning of coal to produce electricity – and Australia is the world’s biggest coal exporter. The best way for Australia to help, the Howard Government believes, is to invest in the search for technologies that will drastically reduce the emissions that come from burning coal.

Meanwhile, says John Howard, it’s pointless for Australia to take expensive steps to curb its own emissions: "If we stopped them tomorrow, it would take all of nine months for China’s additional emissions to equal what we’ve withdrawn by stopping ours," the Prime Minister tells Four Corners.

But a growing cast of business leaders is calling for the Government to engage the power of the market in the fight against global warming. They say Australia needs a "carbon price signal" – either a tax on carbon dioxide, or better still an emissions trading system, which will give business a real economic incentive to save energy, cut emissions and invest in clean technology.

The European Union has an emissions trading regime; Labor state governments are proposing one; but the Federal Government says any such system, unless it’s applied globally, will mean excessive job losses, electricity price hikes and lifestyle sacrifices for Australians.

Which way forward: technology or tax? Four Corners reporter Jonathan Holmes looks at clean coal technologies in the laboratory – and at the efforts of entrepreneurs responding to New South Wales’s trial emissions trading system. And he asks – why not have both?

This essential report on coal and global warming is the third by Jonathan Holmes on Australia’s energy future, following thought-provoking pieces on oil ("Peak Oil?") and uranium ("Who’s Afraid of Nuclear Power?").

Peak Oil On Sixty Minutes  

Posted by Big Gav

For Australian readers - 60 minutes has a segment on peak oil tonight.

You're about to hear two of the scariest words in the English language — "peak oil".

Effectively, they mean the end of the world as we know it. The point where oil production reaches its absolute peak; the point when supplies start running out. And the doomsayers are convinced we're almost there.

So, if you think paying $100 to fill your tank is painful, I hate to tell you, this is as good as it gets. It'll get worse, much worse.

Two dollars plus per litre by Christmas for a start. Naturally, the oil companies say stay calm. We'll be right for a 100 years at least. But then they would, wouldn't they?

And thanks to whoever loaded my "Of Rodents and men" post up at "Porkbusters" - the surrealness of having a full Peak Energy post (even including a tinfoil decoration) on a site run by Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds is something that tickled my fancy - I think the relevant piece was the quote of Mungo MacCallum criticising Johnny's pork filled energy policies...

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