A Dangerous Energy Climate  

Posted by Big Gav

Tom Whipple's latest article looks at moves in the oil price in light of peak oil.

But then the great pendulum of events reversed. One by one the fears began to melt. Diplomacy quieted much of the Middle East. The hurricanes of 2006 curved towards Europe where they harmlessly watered the fields of Ireland. Nigeria turned quiet. Chavez kept threatening, but the speculators no longer listened.

Fear factor after fear factor diminished into a perfect storm of good news. Week after week the good news for oil prices kept coming. US stockpiles continued to build. Cooler weather reduced the use of natural gas for air conditioning. A giant oil find was made in the Gulf of Mexico. Even the US economy cooperated by showing some signs of slowing, thus raising the specter of reduced demand for oil.

As the price fell, the normal technical factors of speculating came into play. The bulls bailed out. Margin calls were made. Overcommitted hedge funds went bust.

Now what does all this have to do with peak oil? The short answer is, so far, very little. Naturally, higher or lower prices will affect demand and therefore exacerbate or mitigate the supply situation. Tight supplies already are reflected in the base price of oil before we get to the speculative factors. This is how we got from $20 to $60 a barrel. If the price stabilizes in the neighborhood of $60 after the speculative premium is wrung out of the market, then we will have some idea of where simple supply and demand for oil prices the product.

Behind all the good news for oil prices, however, depletion of the world's finite oil supply continues at 85 million barrels per day, day after day, after day. Bad news for the future of oil production continues to come out, but it is lost in the shuffle or not recognized for its importance. Many now hold that the good news of a great new oil find deep beneath the Gulf of Mexico is, in reality, bad news. If ultra deep-sea oil, which is very expensive and may take many years to exploit, is all we have left, then we are close to the end of cheap oil.

During the last few weeks, slippages in major oil exploration projects have came to light. Of particular note is the BP's great Thunderhorse platform, which seems to have developed metallurgical problems associated with extracting oil from great depths. If this turns out to be a generic problem, then the new frontier of ultra deep-sea oil wells may be a while in coming.

The bottom line remains that peak oil is still very real and, if anything, the news from recent weeks suggests the peak may be moving closer rather than receding.

An interesting sidelight to the last few weeks has been the paranoia surrounding rapidly dropping gasoline prices. According to a Gallup poll, 42 percent of Americans, mostly Democrats, believe that the administration is deliberately manipulating gasoline prices to improve their chances in the November elections. As noted above, there are numerous factors that are more than adequate to drive down prices to current levels. Prominent among these factors is the normal drop in demand between the summer driving season and the winter heating season.

In 2005, gas and oil prices experienced a similar drop after the spike caused by the summer hurricanes.

The problems BP are having getting Thunderhorse into production are worth pondering in light of all the phoney excitement over the (old) Jack-2 discoveries recently.
P PLC plans to retrieve and rebuild all seabed production equipment from Thunder Horse field in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico following a series of tests in 4 months that showed metallurgical failure.

Consequently, BP does not expect production from Thunder Horse to begin before mid-2008. The company said it's too early to estimate the additional costs involved in replacing the affected systems.

The original projected start up was for late 2005, but it has been pushed back as BP has resolved "technology gaps" that emerged during development, a spokesman said.

Thunder Horse field was discovered in 1999. The project involves some of the highest-temperature, highest-pressure wells in the gulf.

The semisubmersible platform weighs more than 50,000 tons and is designed to process 250,000 b/d of oil and 200 MMscfd of gas. BP operates the development, owning 75% interest, and ExxonMobil Corp. owns the remaining interest.

The platform had to be restored to normal trim last year. That incident is unrelated to the latest subsea equipment issues, BP said.

I mentioned the "green revolution for Africa" launch recently - Grist has a look at some of the pitfalls that may await this initiative.
In a bid to move "tens of millions of people out of extreme poverty" and "significantly" reduce hunger, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has teamed with the Rockefeller Foundation to launch a new "Green Revolution" in Africa.

These high-profile foundations have committed a combined $150 million toward fulfilling their admirable goals. But a look at the original Green Revolution, and its dubious record in Africa, raises serious questions about the wisdom of their effort.

The Green Revolution started in 1943, when the Rockefeller Foundation sent a team of scientists to Mexico to develop higher-yield varieties of wheat, maize, and other crops. An act of altruism, yes, but the move by Rockefeller, then the best-endowed U.S. foundation, may have had other motivations.

For one, the U.S. was embroiled in World War II, and Nazi Germany had made overtures to Mexico. For another, the Mexican government had also nationalized the country's oil supply in 1938 -- a direct blow to Standard Oil, the Rockefeller family-owned oil monopoly with global interests. As University of Texas economics professor Harry Cleaver Jr. has put it [PDF], the foundation seemed to believe that "the friendly gesture of a development project might not only soften rising nationalism, but might also help hang onto wartime friends."

At any rate, the Mexico project eventually succeeded. Financed by Rockefeller and later Ford Foundation cash, what became known as the Green Revolution essentially dispersed cutting-edge U.S. agricultural technology -- "dwarf" grain varieties, petrochemical fertilizers, and large-scale irrigation systems -- through much of Latin America and Southeast Asia. To make a long story short, where the program took hold, grain yields surged, the prices farmers fetched for them on global markets plunged -- and small-scale farmers lost out.

Unable to compete with larger operations -- which had the cash to buy the Green Revolution "package" of hybrid seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides and could access lavishly funded irrigation projects -- smallholders began a mass migration to the cities in the 1960s and '70s. In Southeast Asia, long held up as one of the Green Revolution's success stories, the urban population swung from 20 percent in 1975 to 35 percent in 2000. The World Bank reckons that by 2030, more than half of Southeast Asians will be urban dwellers.

The agricultural modernization that has caused this large-scale depopulating of the countryside is often hailed as one of the great achievements of the 20th century. Yet the environmental and social costs of chemical-intensive agriculture have caused hand wringing even in mainstream policy circles.

MonkeyGrinder is continuing to wage "holy war" against the Ethanol King and the idea that we can continue to fuel the present day transportation system with corn instead of oil.
Critics of peak oil often sidestep dealing with issues of geology and production, and dive straight in with attacks on the resulting scenarios, as if that might falsify the science and the observations of a century.

A favored rubric used in the critique of “gloomy” scenarios is to pseudo-falsify them by associating them with religion. In other words, should one claim people around the world are going to starve, and worse that overfed Americans might hit their ideal weight, one will be tarred with the brush of the Christian Apocalypse. In this way, many rationalists are lumped in with those who take the book of Revelation literally.

Thus categorized, they are humiliated and forgettable -- in the minds of critics.

This is instructive, because it allows the stray cornucopian thinker who might be reading this blog an insight into how I conceive of Vinod Khosla in my pitifully illogical and bad chemical soaked brain.

I think Vinod Kosla sincerely appeals to as broad an audience as possibly on basically religious grounds, with a shamanistic frosting of reason and science around his gooey, globalist new- age vision.

He shepards a flock of boomers who need the salve and balm of forgiveness for consuming the world - - but not actual change. Oh no.

Technology Review has a look at what is happening at the Emerging Technologies Conference
The world's exploding energy demand--coupled with the growing risk of catastrophic rises in sea levels and climate change driven by greenhouse gases--create a singular challenge that demands urgent policy action, energy experts said at an MIT conference yesterday.

"If we don't throw everything we have at energy efficiency right now, and start to do things we know how to do right now [in fossil-fuel alternatives], we don't have a chance" of halting drastic planetary changes, said Nathan Lewis, a chemist at Caltech whose research interests include new solar-power materials. Lewis spoke yesterday as part of a panel on energy at the Emerging Technologies Conference.

Robert Armstrong, an MIT chemical engineer and associate director of the MIT Energy Initiative, said meeting a projected doubling of global energy demand in 50 years, while maintaining greenhouse-gas levels below twice preindustrial levels, would require adding another global energy infrastructure of today's scale--but with zero carbon-dioxide emissions. Considering that, right now, around 86 percent of energy consumed by humans comes from fossil fuels, "certainly these are grand challenges," he said.

As a result, the world needs to massively implement conservation and efficiency measures, install renewable power sources, build new nuclear power plants, and sequester carbon dioxide underground, where possible, said Joseph Romm, a former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy and founder of the Center for Energy & Climate Solutions. "Global warming is going to transform the lives of every single person in this room," he said. "Within 20 years, if not 5 years, it will become the issue, the only issue. It will require a massive redirection of capital."

Technology Review also has an interview discussing some new developments in battery technology.
Biology may be the key to producing light-weight, inexpensive, and high-performance batteries that could transform military uniforms into power sources and, eventually, improve electric and hybrid vehicles.

Angela Belcher, an MIT professor of biological engineering and materials science, and two colleagues, materials science professor Yet-Ming Chiang and chemical engineering professor Paula Hammond, have engineered viruses to assemble battery components that can store three times as much energy as traditional materials by packing highly ordered materials into a very small space.

Through a combination of genetic design and directed evolution, Belcher has created viruses that coat themselves with inorganic materials they wouldn't touch in nature, forming crystalline materials, which are doped at regular intervals with gold to enhance their conductivity. Then the coated viruses line up on top of a polymer sheet that serves as the electrolyte, to form one of the battery's electrodes (see "Virus-Assembled Batteries"). The device looks like a thin sheet of cellophane.

Now Belcher is engineering viruses to assemble the second electrode, with the goal of creating an extremely compact, self-assembled battery.

We sat down with Belcher, who is presenting her work today at Technology Review's Emerging Technologies Conference, to learn how the work is progressing.

The Guardian reports that B&Q are following the lead of Curry's in the UK and stocking solar panels and wind turbines - hopefully Bunnings start doing the same here soon.
The do-it-yourself chain B&Q is to sell wind turbines and solar panels as home energy generation moves into the mass market.

From next month, every one of B&Q's 320 UK stores will display the energy-saving turbines, which transmit electricity, and three types of solar panel, which produce hot water. Both will fit on domestic roofs.

The move comes just a month after electrical retailer Currys started a pilot scheme selling solar panels.

B&Q has a reputation for being more environmentally friendly than most retailers and has recently been supporting the Climate Clinic, which includes Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, at party conferences. Yesterday the retailer's chief executive, Ian Cheshire, said it was "responding to genuine customer interest" in eco-friendly, DIY energy generation.

Wired's Autopia blog has a post on diesel hybrids.
While some companies such as GM, Citroen, and Ford are pushing ahead with plans for diesel hybrids, Toyota says it won't go there. Toyota says combining the premiums of diesel engines with hybrid motors would price the vehicles out of the market, according to the BBC.

Diesel buses that use regenerative braking to transfer energy to the electric motors are shuttling commuters all over the world every day, so I'm not so sure that Toyota is correct for saying there's no market. Citroen believes there is, and is showing off a diesel hybrid sports car at the Paris Auto Show (via Autoblog). and is working on other models. If people are willing to pay a $10,000 premium for extra performance, they might be willing to pay $5,000 extra if it increases fuel efficiency by 50 percent or more as well as improving power off the line.

As I've been saying for 2 years, diesel hybrid technology makes the most sense for trucks, buses and large passenger vehicles, and we'll see a handful of models within the next couple of years.

TreeHugger has a report on new developments in wind power for shipping - the kiteship.
We've seen the advantages of using huge sails to make freighters more efficient before; a company called KiteShip has taken it a step further with what they call Very Large Free Flying Sails (VLFFS) and control systems, technology and techniques for launching, controlling and recovering these sails aboard not only commercial vessels, but pleasure and racing yachts and even aerospace applications. Self-described as a "group of forward-thinking sailors, designers and visionaries," KiteShip has been harnessing the power of the wind for three decades. Their portfolio includes sails designed for freighter retrofits (like the kind we saw from Sky Sails); they also offer bi-directional kite boards and rule-legal spinnaker replacement kites for racing yachts (wind power can be fun, too) and have even been working on programs to explore the surface of Mars, the atmospheres of the gas giants and Earth's own stratosphere.

George Monbiot continues his examination of the global warming denial industry and their backers in the fossil fuel industry in "Who's Paying ?".
On the letters page of the Guardian last week, a Dr Alan Kendall attacked the Royal Society for “smearing” its opponents. It had sent an official letter to Exxon, complaining about the oil company’s “inaccurate and misleading” portrayal of the science of climate change, and its funding of lobby groups which deny that global warming is taking place. The letter, Dr Kendall argued, was an attempt to “stifle legitimate discussion”.

Perhaps he is unaware of what has been happening. The campaign of dissuasion funded by Exxon and the tobacco company Philip Morris has been devastatingly effective. By insisting that manmade global warming is either a “myth” or not worth tackling, it has given the media and politicians the excuses for inaction they wanted. Partly as a result, in the United States at least, these companies have helped to delay attempts to tackle the world’s most important problem by a decade or more.

Should we not confront this? If, as Dr Kendall seems to suggest, we should refrain from exposing and criticising these groups, would that not be to “stifle legitimate discussion”?

There is still much more to discover. It is unclear how much covert corporate lobbying has been taking place in the United Kingdom. But the little I have been able to find so far suggests that here, as in the US, there seems to be some overlap between Exxon and the groups it has funded and the operations of the tobacco industry.

The story begins with a body called the International Policy Network (IPN). Like many other organisations that have received money from Exxon, it describes itself as a “think tank” or “an independent educational charity”. It seems to me that a more accurate description would be “lobby group”. But while the BBC would seldom allow someone from Bell Pottinger or Burson Marsteller onto the air to discuss an issue of concern to their sponsors without revealing the sponsors’ identity, it has frequently allowed Julian Morris to present IPN’s case without declaring its backers. The International Policy Network has so far received $295,000 from Exxon’s corporate headquarters in the United States. Julian Morris told me that he runs his US office “solely for funding purposes”.

The IPN argues that attempts to prevent (or mitigate) manmade climate change are a waste of money. It would be better to let it happen and adapt to its effects. It published a book this year arguing that “humanity has until at least 2035 to determine whether or not mitigation will also be a necessary part of our strategy to address climate change … attempting to control it through global regulation of emissions would be counterproductive.” Morris has described the government’s chief scientist, Sir David King, who has campaigned for action on global warming, as “an embarrassment to himself and an embarrassment to his country.”

Like many of the groups which have been funded by ExxonMobil, IPN has also received money from the cigarette industry. Morris admits that it has been given £10,000 from a US tobacco company. There is also a question mark about his involvement in a funding application to another tobacco company, RJ Reynolds.

Crooked Timber has an update to their watch on the Republican war on science.
WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday.

The report drew a prompt response from Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg D-N.J., who charged that “the administration has effectively declared war on science and truth to advance its anti-environment agenda … the Bush administration continues to censor scientists who have documented the current impacts of global warming.”

Hey, someone should write a book about this sort of thing. Maybe give away a companion to the book for good measure.

I didn’t mention this in my previous post: Mooney’s book is now out in paperback – and cheap!

The US military has also been waging a war on wind lately as well (everything is game in the 21st century) - Mobjectivist reports:
I missed this news item when it came out earlier in the summer, but Air America's EcoTalk resurrected the issue of the military opposing new wind turbine projects because of potential radar interference. Even though some projects recently obtained a go-ahead, it still boggles my mind how the military can't resist taking a stupid pill and instead simply wiseup and drop the proposal.

Looking at the issue from the perspective of an engineer, I can say that no way will windmills cause interference that would overcome the abilities of a experienced radar technician to filter out. The turbines operate at a fixed (or at least very slowly varying) frequency which means that a straightforward notch filter should remove unwanted signals. After such filtering, radar should not experience a problem from phantom motion interference at all.

And I don't buy this rationale either:
A bureaucratic delay was created by a provision in a congressional bill that wind energy companies say was drafted to create more hurdles for a high-profile and controversial offshore wind project near Nantucket, Mass.

The law required the Department of Defense to issue a report assessing the impact that development of wind turbines would have on military radar.

No way. This has got BushCo fingerprints all over it and they have followed the first law of projection by blaming the opposition for their own actions.

I was a bit surprised to read in this morning's paper that Henry Kissinger is still performing his Dr Strangelove act at The White House - it seems Henry thinks the Iraq quagmire can be drained - it just requires a triumph of the will. How many Iraqi he is willing to kill isn't mentioned.
The Bush Administration has lied about the level of violence in Iraq, especially against American troops, according to the investigative reporter Bob Woodward, who has spent the past two years researching and writing his new book State of Denial.

Woodward says that not only has the Administration lied about the level of violence, but it has buried intelligence reports that warn of the insurgency in Iraq getting worse in 2007.

The book, a detailed account of the war in Iraq, will hit the book stores in the next few weeks, and observers say it will not please the US President, George Bush - who agreed to be interviewed by Woodward - or his senior officials.

Woodward will be interviewed on the American program 60 Minutes tomorrow and The Washington Post will publish excerpts of the book at the weekend.

According to Woodward, there is an insurgent attack on coalition forces in Iraq every 15 minutes, which means close to 100 attacks a day. The Pentagon last month reported 800 attacks a month in Iraq, including attacks on Iraqi forces and Iraqi civilians - far below Woodward's figures.

On a clip for 60 Minutes, Woodward says both the White House and the Pentagon are not telling Americans the truth. "The truth is that the assessment by intelligence experts is that next year, 2007, is going to get worse and, in public, you have the President and you have the Pentagon saying, 'Oh no, things are getting better"', he said.

"Now there's public and then there's private. But what did they do with the private? They stamp it 'secret'. No one is supposed to know. The insurgents know what they are doing. They know the level of violence and how effective they are. Who doesn't know? The American public."

The Woodward claim came just two days after a US intelligence report, parts of which were declassified by Mr Bush after leaks of key findings to the media, said that the war in Iraq had became a "cause celebre" for jihadists around the world. White House and Pentagon officials denied Americans were being lied to about the level of violence in Iraq.

Woodward also claims Mr Bush and the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, often meet with a former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, who has become an informal White House adviser. "Now what's Kissinger's advice?" Woodward said. "On Iraq, he declared very simply, 'Victory is the only meaningful exit strategy.' This is so fascinating. Kissinger's fighting the Vietnam War again because, in his view, the problem in Vietnam was we lost our will."

While my expectations of politicians in general are pretty low, and when it comes to US Republicans I generally expect there is no level to which they won't stoop, but this guy takes the cake - accusing a legless, ex-Iraq veteran of wanting to "cut and run" from Iraq.
Oh dear. I’m sure he didn’t mean it. In Illinois’ Sixth Congressional District, long represented by Henry Hyde, Republican candidate Peter Roskam accused his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth, of planning to “cut and run” on Iraq.

Duckworth is a former Army major and chopper pilot who lost both legs in Iraq after her helicopter got hit by an RPG. “I just could not believe he would say that to me,” said Duckworth, who walks on artificial legs and uses a cane. Every election cycle produces some wincers, but how do you apologize for that one?

The legislative equivalent of that remark is the detainee bill now being passed by Congress. Beloveds, this is so much worse than even that pathetic deal reached last Thursday between the White House and Republican Sens. John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The White House has since reinserted a number of “technical fixes” that were the point of the putative “compromise.” It leaves the president with the power to decide who is an enemy combatant.

This bill is not a national security issue—this is about torturing helpless human beings without any proof they are our enemies. Perhaps this could be considered if we knew the administration would use the power with enormous care and thoughtfulness. But of the over 700 prisoners sent to Gitmo, only 10 have ever been formally charged with anything. Among other things, this bill is a CYA for torture of the innocent that has already taken place.

Death by torture by Americans was first reported in 2003 in a New York Times article by Carlotta Gall. The military had announced the prisoner died of a heart attack, but when Gall saw the death certificate, written in English and issued by the military, it said the cause of death was homicide. The “heart attack” came after he had been beaten so often on this legs that they had “basically been pulpified,” according to the coroner.

The story of why and how it took the Times so long to print this information is in the current edition of the Columbia Journalism Review. The press in general has been late and slow in reporting torture, so very few Americans have any idea how far it has spread. As is often true in hierarchical, top-down institutions, the orders get passed on in what I call the downward communications exaggeration spiral.

The Onion reports that things aren't as quite as bad as many people fear - while Bush and the gang may be able to drag any anyone they feel like off into some secret CIA run prison, torture them and then subject them to some kangaroo court well away from the normal justice system (which would now appear to be an optional extra), they can't exceed allowable amperage levels on detainees' testicles. This would be something of a relief if The Onion wasn't a satirical magazine - unfortunately this limit is just a myth.
Led by a bipartisan group of senators critical of White House policy on suspected terrorists, the Senate passed a bill Thursday that prohibits interrogators from exceeding 100 amps per testicle when questioning detainees. "Even in times of war, it is counterproductive and wrong to employ certain inhumane interrogation techniques, and using three-digit amperage levels on the testicles of captives constitutes torture," said Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who has also supported reducing the size of attack dogs and the height of nude pyramids. "Using amperages of 99 and lower, with approved surge protectors on the jumper-cable clamps, are the hallmarks of a civilized society." The legislation did not address amperage restrictions on suspected terrorists' labia.

The movie "Jesus Camp" (which sounds like some modern day american echo of the Hitler Youth, though I presume the makers could be propagandising a little) got a mention in the local paper - culture war madness manifesting at a local level rather than the highest echelons of government.
Jesus Camp is the story of three children, Rachel, now 10, Levi, now 13, and Tory, now 11, and the summer camp they attended last year.

Becky Fischer enlists a group of children as young as six as Christian soldiers in the service of God, as they weep, speak in tongues, collapse and writhe on the floor and find the power of enlightenment.

At one stage Fischer warns the children against Harry Potter. Warlocks, she says sternly, are enemies of God. If Harry Potter had been around in the time of the Old Testament, he would have been put to death.

She frequently uses war terminology, but says it is about a spiritual warfare, not one with guns and other weapons.

On her website, she answers her own questions, such as "Are you raising up Christian terrorists or another Hitler Youth Movement?" and "You are charismatic. Do you represent all evangelical Christians?"

She says: "Christians do believe they are in a cultural war for the lives and souls of people worldwide, and particularly for the minds and hearts of our children and youth."

In the US, the film has been rated PG-13, which means it is recommended that the three children should not see themselves on film. Perhaps the film classification board was concerned about young people being impressionable. The three young stars of the documentary, who attend the camp, are all from evangelical homes in Missouri.

Levi loves to preach, which he does to the summer camp. He is home schooled by his mother, who teaches him that the world was created by God 6000 years ago and that global warming is not a problem. Science proves nothing, she says.

Tory practises breakdancing and loves heavy metal Christian music. She does not like Britney Spears because her songs are about dating. In the film she wears a T-shirt that says: "My dad is in the army." At the end of the film, Rachel and Levi are filmed trying to preach the Gospel to a group of black men sitting beside a road. Rachel asks one man where he thinks he will end up when he dies. "Heaven," he replies confidently. This flummoxes them, so they retreat. As they walk away, Rachel says: "I think they were Muslims."

Jesus Camp is also discussed at Billmon and Cryptogon - twice.
A youth group at First Assembly of God church held a burning Wednesday night by burning anything they wanted to get out of their lives that they feel is hindering their relationship with the Lord.

Some of the items burned included CDs, DVDs, magazines, books and anything else they could think of. But unlike the negative connotations burnings are generally associated with, this burning was intended to be a positive event for everyone involved.

Mary Johnson, leader of the college and career group at the church, summed up what the burning is about: "Getting rid of junk in their lives that would hinder (their) relationship with the Lord."

The group has been studying the Bible, looking for ways to strengthen their relationship with God.

"We've been going through the Book of Acts looking at the early church," Johnson said. "(We've been) asking God 'would you do again today ... what you did in that early church."

The people participating in the burning included students and parents. Johnson said the burning wasn't the first burning that she has attended. She was at one several years ago in South Dakota and about two years ago was at another one here in Minot.

Johnson stated that a young man from the Air Force asked for the burning, and the church agreed.

Praise the Lord for the resurrection of Christian fascism...

Cryptogon also praised the movie "Who Killed John O'Neill" recently - I checked it out last night - not bad for a tinfoil movie, and as Kevin said, quite reminiscent of "Pi".

Freedom. Democracy. Torture. Rape.  

Posted by Big Gav

The New York Times has a good editorial on the politics of fear and the ongoing demise of liberal democracy in the US - one more victim of our collective thirst for oil - "Rushing
Off a Cliff
" - or, as Crooks and Liars put it "Congress
gives Bush the right to torture and detain people forever
" (also discussed at Crooked Timber).

Here’s what happens when this irresponsible Congress railroads a profoundly important bill to serve the mindless politics of a midterm election: The Bush administration uses Republicans’ fear of losing their majority to push through ghastly ideas about antiterrorism that will make American troops less safe and do lasting damage to our 217-year-old nation of laws — while actually doing nothing to protect the nation from terrorists. Democrats betray their principles to avoid last-minute attack ads. Our democracy is the big loser.

Republicans say Congress must act right now to create procedures for charging and trying terrorists — because the men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks are available for trial. That’s pure propaganda. Those men could have been tried and convicted long ago, but President Bush chose not to. He held them in illegal detention, had them questioned in ways that will make real trials very hard, and invented a transparently illegal system of kangaroo courts to convict them.

It was only after the Supreme Court issued the inevitable ruling striking down Mr. Bush’s shadow penal system that he adopted his tone of urgency. It serves a cynical goal: Republican strategists think they can win this fall, not by passing a good law but by forcing Democrats to vote against a bad one so they could be made to look soft on terrorism.

Last week, the White House and three Republican senators announced a terrible deal on this legislation that gave Mr. Bush most of what he wanted, including a blanket waiver for crimes Americans may have committed in the service of his antiterrorism policies. Then Vice President Dick Cheney and his willing lawmakers rewrote the rest of the measure so that it would give Mr. Bush the power to jail pretty much anyone he wants for as long as he wants without charging them, to unilaterally reinterpret the Geneva Conventions, to authorize what normal people consider torture, and to deny justice to hundreds of men captured in error.

These are some of the bill’s biggest flaws:

Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret — there’s no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.

There is not enough time to fix these bills, especially since the few Republicans who call themselves moderates have been whipped into line, and the Democratic leadership in the Senate seems to have misplaced its spine. If there was ever a moment for a filibuster, this was it.

We don’t blame the Democrats for being frightened. The Republicans have made it clear that they’ll use any opportunity to brand anyone who votes against this bill as a terrorist enabler. But Americans of the future won’t remember the pragmatic arguments for caving in to the administration.

They’ll know that in 2006, Congress passed a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy, our generation’s version of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Vehicle To Grid Power  

Posted by Big Gav

Green Car Congress has a detailed look at one vital component in the "smart grid" future - "vehicle to grid" technology - using plug-in hybrid electric cars as energy storage devices that feed power back into the grid as well as taking from it. There is a good site devoted to V2G at the University of Delaware.

A series of speakers at the California Air Resources Board Zero Emissions Vehicle Symposium explored a potential accelerated adoption scenario for plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and battery electric vehicles (BEV) that exploits the capabilities of vehicle-to-grid charging.

The premise is that the additional cost to consumers of full-function zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) or near zero-emission vehicles—whether full battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles or fuel-cell vehicles—can be partially offset by providing grid power support to utilities or major power consumers.

The dual use of ZEVs for clean transportation and grid power support with some form of shared capital cost or chargeback offset could thus encourage the earlier adoption of ZEVs.

The need is not trivial on either side of the equation. Utilities that are incorporating—voluntarily or by mandate—more renewable power will be looking for mechanisms to help them manage the variability of that power source. Several of the presentations took a back of the envelope approach to calculating the potential benefit of ZEVs in that role—and it appears potentially substantial.

Unintentionally underscoring the discussion, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law on the same day a bill (SB 107) that requires the state’s three major utilities to provide 20% of their electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal energy within four years.

Grid-connected vehicles can provide four types of benefits, argued Jasna Tomic from WestStart-CALSTART:

* Profitable Grid Management—Ancillary Services (A/S). Ancillary Services maintain grid reliability by balancing supply and demand. This is the role of the ISO.

Ancillary services include on-line generation synchronized to the grid to keep frequency and voltage steady, ready to be increased/decreased instantly (~ 2-3 min) via automatic generation control (AGC); and spinning reserves—additional generating capacity synchronized and ready to respond for ~10 min in case of failures.

* Emergency power supply. One vehicle with 20kW line connection could power 12 houses at average load of 1.5 kW/house. V2G offers very fast response, with a clean power source that can replace diesel generators.

* Storage and integration with renewables (e.g. wind power). Several new studies are highlighting (and were discussed in more detail at the ZEV symposium by one of the authors, Willet Kempton) the potential for PHEVs and BEVs to augment the use of wind resources, in some case doubling the effective power generation, or even enabling a 50% wind mix.

* Electric transit power support. V2G can power traction spikes for local rail, and use a variety of billing/charging schemes to encourage customers participation.



Sydney Peak Oil noticed an interesting interview with AWE Managing Director Bruce Phillips on the oil price and peak oil.
ALI MOORE: It all depends on price, as you say. We're seeing, now, oil at a six month low, but it wasn't too long ago that we were all worried about new highs. What's changed? Is it fundamentals or is it just sentiment?

BRUCE PHILLIPS: No, I think it's clearly just sentiment. The fundamentals have not changed. They didn't change when the oil price ran up. There is no real problem with lack of oil reserves in the world, it's a lack of production capacity that's a problem. Over the last five or 10 years we've had quite a dramatic increase in demand for oil, where it's risen from daily consumption of about 70 odd million barrels of oil a day to about 85 million barrels of oil a day. When you get an increase in consumption like that it takes up all the spare capacity. So now we don't have a lot of production spare capacity. If there are any geopolitical problems around the world that disrupts the supply by only a small margin, that translates to a very large oil price increase.

ALI MOORE: But it's all a factor of demand. If that's the case, if there is no spare capacity, why the drop off in prices?

BRUCE PHILLIPS: Well I think there has also been a bit of a hedge fund factor going into the oil price as well. The screen jocks in New York or London thrive on volatility. When they see a tightening of production capacity, or lack of supply due to those geopolitical events, they over exaggerate them and they make money on the way up with the oil price and they'll make money on the way down.

ALI MOORE: So $US60 a barrel; is that a downward trend that will continue? Are we testing $US50?

BRUCE PHILLIPS: If I knew the answer to that I wouldn't be sitting in the studio here with you here tonight.

ALI MOORE: You'd be a very rich man.

BRUCE PHILLIPS: Yes, indeed. But my own personal view is that I think prices can go down further from here in the short term and we will have volatility. But the long term trend is clearly up. There is no reason at all for the people who hold the reserves, and I'm referring to the OPEC nations here, to go out there and spend what would need to be hundreds of billions of dollars to increase production capacity just to bring the oil price down. It's not in their commercial interest to do so, so they will keep the market well supplied. But they won't keep it oversupplied, like what happened in the 80s.

ALI MOORE: So if we see lower in the shorter term, but the longer term trend upwards, how far upwards? If OPEC keeps the market supplied is talk of $US100 a barrel pie in the sky?

BRUCE PHILLIPS: I don't think it's pie in the sky at all. If there are any geopolitical problems around the world you could see a scenario where that would happen.

ALI MOORE: So what is a reasonable, realistic long term price?

BRUCE PHILLIPS: I think where it was. Between $US70 and $US80 a barrel was a long term realistic price, given that the global economies were absorbing the higher cost of oil up to that sort of level. After it reached $US78 a barrel, high 70s, you saw the global economy start to stutter about consuming oil at the current levels. So, you know, it's not in the interests, again, of those OPEC nations to see oil prices go to levels that are not sustainable by the major global economies.

ALI MOORE: How low could it go in the short term?

BRUCE PHILLIPS: What do you call the short term? If we're talking one year out, I could see it going to $US40 a barrel under certain scenarios. I don't think it will go much below that. Based on supply and demand fundamentals, we are still going to see the Chinese and Indian economies thrive. If oil prices go down, they will thrive even more than they would at $US70 or $US80 a barrel oil price.

ALI MOORE: If you say there is no problem with global reserves, where does that leave the quite well enunciated argument about peak oil? A furphy?

BRUCE PHILLIPS: Look, what I wanted you to understand was that there is no shortage of oil reserves, say, in the next 20 years. Long term we do have a problem, a real problem. We've had a declining success rate since about 1965. There has been an ever decreasing exploration success trend in the world since about 1985, so 20 years ago. Any years since that time, we have never found, in any one year, enough oil to replace what we've consumed in that particular year. So there is no doubt that the world is running out of oil, it's just a matter of how quickly it happens.

I linked up Michael Klare's latest article on the oil price earlier tonight without reading all the way to the end - the second half talks at length about peak oil.
Now that we've come this far, does the recent drop in gasoline prices and the seemingly sudden abundance of petroleum reveal a flaw in the argument for this as a peak-oil moment? Peak-oil theory, which had been getting ever more attention until the price at the pump began to fall, contends that the amount of oil in the world is finite; that once we've used up about half of the original global supply, production will attain a maximum or "peak" level, after which daily output will fall, no matter how much more is spent on exploration and enhanced extraction technology.

Most industry analysts now agree that global oil output will eventually reach a peak level, but there is considerable debate as to exactly when that moment will arise. Recently, a growing number of specialists -- many joined under the banner of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil -- are claiming that we have already consumed approximately half the world's original inheritance of 2 trillion barrels of conventional (i.e., liquid) petroleum, and so are at, or very near, the peak-oil moment and can expect an imminent contraction in supplies.

In the fall of 2005, as if in confirmation of this assessment, the CEO of Chevron, David O'Reilly, blanketed U.S. newspapers and magazines with an advertisement stating, "One thing is clear: the era of easy oil is over... Demand is soaring like never before... At the same time, many of the world's oil and gas fields are maturing. And new energy discoveries are mainly occurring in places where resources are difficult to extract, physically, economically, and even politically. When growing demand meets tighter supplies, the result is more competition for the same resources."

But this is not, of course, what we are now seeing. Petroleum supplies are more abundant than they were six months ago. There have even been some promising discoveries of new oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico, while -- modestly adding to global stockpiles -- several foreign fields and pipelines have come on line in the last few months, including the $4 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Turkey's Mediterranean coast, which will bring new supplies to world markets. Does this indicate that peak-oil theory is headed for the dustbin of history or, at least, that the peak moment is still safely in our future?

As it happens, nothing in the current situation should lead us to conclude that peak-oil theory is wrong. Far from it. As suggested by Chevron's O'Reilly, remaining energy supplies on the planet are mainly to be found "in places where resources are difficult to extract, physically, economically, and even politically." This is exactly what we are seeing today.

For example, the much-heralded new discovery in the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron's Jack No. 2 Well, lies beneath five miles of water and rock some 175 miles south of New Orleans in an area where, in recent years, hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, and Rita have attained their maximum strength and inflicted their greatest damage on offshore oil facilities. It is naive to assume that, however promising Jack No. 2 may seem in oil-industry publicity releases, it will not be exposed to Category 5 hurricanes in the years ahead, especially as global warming heats the Gulf and generates ever more potent storms. Obviously, Chevron would not be investing billions of dollars in costly technology to develop such a precarious energy resource if there were better opportunities on land or closer to shore -- but so many of those easy-to-get-at places have now been exhausted, leaving the company little choice in the matter.

Or take the equally ballyhooed BTC pipeline, which shipped its first oil in July, with top U.S. officials in attendance. This conduit stretches 1,040 miles from Baku in Azerbaijan to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, passing no less than six active or potential war zones along the way: the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan; Chechnya and Dagestan in Russia; the Muslim separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia; and the Kurdish regions of Turkey. Is this where anyone in their right mind would build a pipeline? Not unless you were desperate for oil, and safer locations had already been used up.

In fact, virtually all of the other new fields being developed or considered by U.S. and foreign energy firms -- ANWR in Alaska, the jungles of Colombia, northern Siberia, Uganda, Chad, Sakhalin Island in Russia's Far East -- are located in areas that are hard to reach, environmentally sensitive, or just plain dangerous. Most of these fields will be developed, and they will yield additional supplies of oil, but the fact that we are being forced to rely on them suggests that the peak-oil moment has indeed arrived and that the general direction of the price of oil, despite period drops, will tend to be upwards as the cost of production in these out-of-the-way and dangerous places continues to climb.

Steve at Deconsumption has also been looking at the oil price - and he sees a financial markets angle to the price movement.
Scratch a financial conspiracy and you'll discover Goldman-Citibank underneath...
Running on Empty by Rob Kirby

"While I “welcome” cheaper gas just as much as the next guy, I also like to get my head around the reason[s] for precipitous price movements – particularly in prices of commodities that have such a profound influence in my life. After all, it’s often said that knowledge is empowering, isn’t it?

One person who did not “miss it” was Bill King – he of the King Report fame. Not only did Mr. King “not miss it,” he quickly understood the implications of the content of the article, namely that,
Goldman Sachs [on July 12] tweaked the composition of their “benchmark” Goldman Sachs Commodity Index [GSCI].

Prior to Goldman's revision of the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index in July, unleaded gas accounted for 8.45% (dollar weighting) of the GSCI. Now unleaded gas is only 2.30%.

So What’s Wrong With This?

As Bill King points out,
“Goldman's changes probably induced arbs, commercial hedgers, and other traders to sell September and October unleaded gasoline future contracts to avoid possible (settlement, delivery, etc.) problems.

September futures expired in August; October contracts expire September 29. So unleaded gasoline prices collapsed in August and September.”

I would like to “restate” what Mr. King said: What this means folks, is that hedge funds and institutional money that “TRACKS THE INDEX” were FORCED TO SELL 75% of their gasoline futures to conform with the reconstituted GSCI. And if anyone hasn’t noticed the timing of the price of the gasoline price collapse…just in time for November’s Mid Term Elections!

So don’t be fooled into believing that potential energy shortages have “magically been solved.” In all likelihood – much of the recent decline in the price of gasoline we have all “welcomed” has been the result of paper tricks being played on what amounts to a wealthy flock of sheep.

But in the meantime, filler up!

Oh, and by the way: 42% of Americans believe the fall in gas prices is just political maneuvering.

Google's efforts to not only "not be evil" but actively make the world a better place are continuing, with the company looking to improve the efficiency of one of the big power wasters - computer power supplies (or wall warts, as someone - probably Jamais Cascio - calls them).
Google is calling on the computer industry to create a simpler and more efficient power supply standard that it says will save billions of kilowatt-hours of energy annually.

In a white paper to be presented Tuesday on the opening day of the Intel Developer Forum here, two leading data center designers at Google will argue that the industry is mired in inefficiency for historical reasons, dating to the introduction of the first I.B.M. PC in 1981.

At that time, standard power supplies, which convert high-voltage alternating current to low-voltage direct current, were required to provide multiple output voltage, which is no longer necessary in today’s PC’s.

The Google plan calls for a shift from multivoltage power supplies to a single 12-volt standard. Although voltage conversion would still take place on the PC motherboard, the simpler design of the new power supply would make it easier to achieve higher overall efficiencies.

The Google proposal is similar in its intent to an existing effort by the electric utility industry to offer computer makers financial incentives for designing more efficient power supplies for personal computers. Existing PC power supplies vary widely in efficiency, from as high as 90 percent to as low as 20 percent.

...

The Google white paper argues that the opportunity for power savings is immense — by deploying the new power supplies in 100 million desktop PC’s running eight hours a day, it will be possible to save 40 billion kilowatt-hours over three years, or more than $5 billion at California’s energy rates.

Although Google does not plan to enter the personal computer market, the company is a large purchaser of microprocessors and has evolved a highly energy-efficient power supply system for its data centers.

It is not the first time Google has entered into an industry debate over efficiency. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, its co-founder, Larry Page, called on the industry to adopt a single power supply standard for portable devices.

“I’m going to just plead with all of you, let’s get the power supply problems fixed, or let’s get all these devices talking together,” he said during a keynote address.

According to EPRI Solutions, an energy research and consulting firm, over 2.5 billion AC/DC power supplies are used in the United States and 6 to 10 billion worldwide.

Currently, EPRI said, power supplies account for more than 2 percent of the nation’s electricity consumption and that more efficient design could cut use in half, saving nearly $3 billion in electricity costs.

One personal computer industry pioneer said he believed that the Google proposal might have important indirect benefits.

“I imagine a standard low-voltage distribution system inside buildings having alternate energy supplies like solar,” said Lee Felsenstein, the designer of the Osborne 1 and Sol personal computers. “Google’s proposal would make that a practicality.”

The Oil Drum has a detailed look at the natural gas market in North America.
This post will provide a graphical update on what has been a roller coaster ride in the natural gas market over the past 12 months, and a steep plummet of late. Natural gas prices have dropped by 50% in the last month, and over 70% from their highs earlier in the year. The warmest winter on record and not a single rig-damaging hurricane have combined to create record gas in storage, thereby reducing price demand for the marginal unit. Yet, production is flat with last year despite significant more drilling and rigs allocated to the commodity. The current situation is thus one of short term plenty and long term supply concern. If longer term predictions of reduced supply and accelerated well depletion are correct, we should be seeing some of the major producers reduce rig counts at these levels, or shut-in their production with intent to sell it higher in the future. This post examines the supply/demand equation for natural gas in the US, the NG futures strip, and the implications going forward of higher price volatility in this important commodity.

It seems Billmon is shutting up shop and moving to the arctic circle (thats what happens when you pay too much attention to James Lovelock) to corner the market in thawing tundra - the real estate of the future - enjoy your break Mr Billmon.
As I have occasionally noted before, I have a life -- complete with family responsibilities and a rather large mortgage, both funded by my soulless, meaningless corporate day job.

However, the last few months have been somewhat less than fully productive at the office, thanks to this blog and the potentially insignificant distractions discussed herein.

Now it's time to catch up (and also get ready for the big move up to the Arctic Circle). Which means posts are likely to be few and far between -- or just plain absent -- for the indefinite future.

So, if you're one of those people who've e-mailed to tell me that you check every day to see if I've posted something new, you should stop now. You'll only be disappointed.

And to close, here's a Bush joke from Past Peak (who also has an interesting post on Islamofascism and propaganda - not to mention the fanning of the flames by the erstwhile "defender of europe").
The Venezuelan President went to the U.N. and called Bush the devil. You could tell Bush was offended, because his tail stopped wagging. Bush said, "I would love to answer your ridiculous charge that I'm the devil, but I'm a little too busy this week trying to unite my party behind torturing people." — Bill Maher

Why Oil Prices Are Falling  

Posted by Big Gav

TomDispatch has a post from Michael Klare which echoes the seemingly widespread view that falling oil prices are in a temporary phenomena caused by the forthcoming US elections.

The price of crude oil, which this summer threatened to top $80 a barrel, briefly dipped under $60 for the first time in six months yesterday, a 23% decline from July highs. In the Midwest, where gas not long ago had soared to $3 at the pump, it now averages, according to the Energy Department, a nationwide low of $2.20 a gallon ($1.89 at one Jackson, Missouri gas station).

At the same time, another set of figures rose precipitously. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 42% of Americans "agreed with the statement that the Bush administration ‘deliberately manipulated the price of gasoline so that it would decrease before this fall's elections.'" Two-thirds of those respondents were registered Democrats for whose party the price at the pump has proved a potent issue.

Such a conspiratorial train of thought is not exactly lacking in logic. After all, the President and Vice President arrived in office deeply tied to the energy business (which has been a major supporter of the Republican Party) and promptly Halliburtonized the military, then Iraq, and later New Orleans; the administration's first National Security Advisor (now Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice had already had a double-hulled oil tanker named in her honor by Chevron. The first American ambassador to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, and the present ambassador (think: viceroy) of Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, had been an advisor to Unocal, the energy company that negotiated unsuccessfully to put a natural-gas pipeline through the Taliban's Afghanistan.

In addition, Dick Cheney, charged with setting the administration's national energy policy, notoriously did so (while denying the fact) in secret meetings with Big Oil execs back in 2001. Officials from Exxon Mobil, Conoco, Shell, and BP America met with Cheney's aides, while at least the chief executive of BP met with Cheney himself. Chevron was one of a number of energy companies that, according to the Government Accountability Office, "gave detailed energy policy recommendations" to the Vice President's task force -- while, of course, environmentalists of every stripe were left out in the cold.

The oil companies have no less notoriously made an absolute boodle in over-the-top profits (and oil executives in over-the-top compensation packages) on this administration's watch; so it's certainly imaginable that Washington officials might have jaw-boned a few months of cheap energy from them in return for a couple of more years of mega-profits. But on this there is, as yet, no evidence. When it comes to other reasons for the fall in the price at the pump quite a lot is known -- especially by Tomdispatch resident expert and author of the indispensable Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum, Michael Klare. He answers the questions in all of our heads below.

An Ultracapacitor Conspiracy ?  

Posted by Big Gav

While its not my usual practice to start off with a tinfoil decoration, given my interest in smart grids (and belief that our energy future is one best oriented around solar panels on every roof and energy storage devices - like ultracapacitors - in every building and vehicle) this post at Cryptogon caught my eye.

Conspiracy theories about oil companies buying up energy technologies that threaten their market then killing them off are a dime a dozen, and generally relate to the 1960's and 1970's, particularly around the time of the oil shocks. Purveyors of these tend to be very vehement, but I've yet to see one with any sort of credible underlying story (as opposed to simple assertions of the evil of big oil) associated with one (to be fair, I haven't looked very hard either).

Kevin has managed to link up the secretive EEStor and their ultracapacitor technology ("It's the holy grail of battery technology") to a patent aquired by Standard Oil (which later became part of BP) back in 1966, which is an interesting connection. It would be more interesting to hear an explanation of what delayed commercialisation of the technology for the past 40 years though (would any of you hard core engineers care to hazard a guess ?). He also has a great photo of Bill Clinton bowing down before George HW Bush and a review of a movie called "Who Killed John O'Neill" which sounds like a good one for connoisseur's of conspiratainment.

An engineer friend of mine commented on the EEstor device, the "Holy Grail" energy storage technology that's about to make pure electric cars viable on a mass scale. He told me that it sounded like a supercapicitor. Now, it's obviously just an insane, tinfoil hat conspiracy theory that this technology is based on U.S. Patent 3288641, issued 29 November 1966 to---wait for it, this is good---STANDARD OIL COMPANY. And where is EEstor headquartered? Get out your best, fake cowboy, George Bush accent and say it with me: Texxxxxshuss!

It was a simple question: Just how closely is Kleiner Perkins---the venture capital firm behind EEstor---connected to Them? Within two minutes of researching this, I'd seen enough:

Colin Powell to join Silicon Valley's Kleiner Perkins

Colin Powell, a 33rd Degree Freemason, a former U.S. Army Four Star General, U.S. Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff happens to go into quiet, semi-retirement working for the venture capital firm responsible for funding the company that is building the "Holy Grail" of energy storage devices, based on technology patented by Standard Oil Company in 1966... In Texas.

As always, I ask you: How could anyone possibly make this up?

While picking over the bones in the Cryptogon archives, I found another tidbit that might be of interest here. Over a year ago, I wrote this about Peak Oil:
I don't know. I see things like the "sustainable" WalMart and the FedEx hub covered with solar panels and I have to wonder if this Peak Oil thing is actually going to be the kill shot that we think it's going to be. (Oh yeah, did you hear the one about the 500 megawatt solar power plant in California?) Maybe They have a much better grip on this thing than we know. Maybe They're ramping up alternatives at a pace that is congruent (or somewhat congruent) with the fall-off of conventional energy sources.

Those of us who despise the present global political and economic order look to Peak Oil with a sense of hope! Yes... Hope. Something tells me, however, we're not going to be that lucky.

Peak Oil probably won't take this thing down, simply because it seems so obvious that it will.

Peak Oil looks real to me and I've made life altering decisions based on my belief that the end of cheap hydrocarbon energy is going to collapse this system. All I'm saying is that if Peak Oil turns out to be a non event, I will not be surprised in the least.

Moving back to a less paranoid plane, New Scientist has an article on a far-fetched sounding energy breakthrough - "Relativity drive: The end of wings and wheels?" (paywalled unfortunately - I've quoted a few relevant sections).
The trip from London to Havant on the south coast of England is like travelling through time. I sit in an air-conditioned train, on tracks first laid 150 years ago, passing roads that were known to the Romans. At one point, I pick out a canal boat, queues of cars and the trail from a high-flying jet - the evolution of mechanised travel in a single glance.

But evolution has a habit of springing surprises. Waiting at my destination is a man who would put an end to mechanised travel. Roger Shawyer has developed an engine with no moving parts that he believes can replace rockets and make trains, planes and automobiles obsolete. "The end of wings and wheels" is how he puts it. It's a bold claim. Read Shawyer’s theory paper here (pdf format).

Of course, any crackpot can rough out plans for a warp drive. What they never show you is evidence that it works. Shawyer is different. He has built a working prototype to test his ideas, and as a respected spacecraft engineer he has persuaded the British government to fund his work. Now organisations from other parts of the world, including the US air force and the Chinese government, are beating a path to his tiny company.

The device that has sparked their interest is an engine that generates thrust purely from electromagnetic radiation - microwaves to be precise - by exploiting the strange properties of relativity. It has no moving parts, and releases no exhaust or noxious emissions. Potentially, it could pack the punch of a rocket in a box the size of a suitcase. It could one day replace the engines on almost any spacecraft. More advanced versions might allow cars to lift from the ground and hover. It could even lead to aircraft that will not need wings at all. I can't help thinking that it sounds too good to be true.

...

What Shawyer had in mind was a replacement for the small thrusters conventional satellites use to stay in orbit. The fuel they need makes up about half their launch weight, and also limits a satellite's life: once it runs out, the vehicle drifts out of position and must be replaced. Shawyer's engine, by contrast, would be propelled by microwaves generated from solar energy. The photovoltaic cells would eliminate the fuel, and with the launch weight halved, satellite manufacturers could send up two craft for the price of one, so you would only need half as many launches.

...

Surprisingly, Shawyer's disruptive technology rests on an idea that goes back more than a century. In 1871 the physicist James Clerk Maxwell worked out that light should exert a force on any surface it hits, like the wind on a sail. This so-called radiation pressure is extremely weak, though. Last year, a group called The Planetary Society attempted to launch a solar sail called Cosmos 1 into orbit. The sail had a surface area of about 600 square metres. Despite this large area, about the size of two tennis courts, its developers calculated that sunlight striking it would produce a force of 3 millinewtons, barely enough to lift a feather on the surface of the Earth. Still, it would be enough to accelerate a craft in the weightlessness of space, though unfortunately the sail was lost after launch. NASA is also interested in solar sails, but has never launched one. Perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise, as a few millinewtons isn't enough for serious work in space.

But what if you could amplify the effect? That's exactly the idea that Shawyer stumbled on in the 1970s while working for a British military technology company called Sperry Gyroscope. Shawyer's expertise is in microwaves, and when he was asked to come up with a gyroscopic device for a guidance system he instead came up with the idea for an electromagnetic engine. He even unearthed a 1950s paper by Alex Cullen, an electrical engineer at University College London, describing how electromagnetic energy might create a force. "It came to nothing at the time, but the idea stuck in my head," he says.

In his workshop, Shawyer explains how this led him to a way of producing thrust. For years he has explored ways to confine microwaves inside waveguides, hollow tubes that trap radiation and direct it along their length. Take a standard copper waveguide and close off both ends. Now create microwaves using a magnetron, a device found in every microwave oven. If you inject these microwaves into the cavity, the microwaves will bounce from one end of the cavity to the other. According to the principles outlined by Maxwell, this will produce a tiny force on the end walls. Now carefully match the size of the cavity to the wavelength of the microwaves and you create a chamber in which the microwaves resonate, allowing it to store large amounts of energy.

What's crucial here is the Q-value of the cavity - a measure of how well a vibrating system prevents its energy dissipating into heat, or how slowly the oscillations are damped down. For example, a pendulum swinging in air would have a high Q, while a pendulum immersed in oil would have a low one. If microwaves leak out of the cavity, the Q will be low. A cavity with a high Q-value can store large amounts of microwave energy with few losses, and this means the radiation will exert relatively large forces on the ends of the cavity. You might think the forces on the end walls will cancel each other out, but Shawyer worked out that with a suitably shaped resonant cavity, wider at one end than the other, the radiation pressure exerted by the microwaves at the wide end would be higher than at the narrow one.

Key is the fact that the diameter of a tubular cavity alters the path - and hence the effective velocity - of the microwaves travelling through it. Microwaves moving along a relatively wide tube follow a more or less uninterrupted path from end to end, while microwaves in a narrow tube move along it by reflecting off the walls. The narrower the tube gets, the more the microwaves get reflected and the slower their effective velocity along the tube becomes. Shawyer calculates the microwaves striking the end wall at the narrow end of his cavity will transfer less momentum to the cavity than those striking the wider end (see Diagram). The result is a net force that pushes the cavity in one direction. And that's it, Shawyer says.

...

Shawyer's electromagnetic drive - emdrive for short - consists in essence of a microwave generator attached to what looks like a large copper cake tin. It needs a power supply for the magnetron, but there are no moving parts and no fuel - just a cord to plug it into the mains. Various pipes add complexity, but they are just there to keep the chamber cool. And the device seems to work: by mounting it on a sensitive balance, he has shown that it generates about 16 millinewtons of thrust, using 1 kilowatt of electrical power. Shawyer calculated that his first prototype had a Q of 5900. With his second thruster, he managed to raise the Q to 50,000 allowing it to generate a force of about 300 millinewtons - 100 times what Cosmos 1 could achieve. It's not enough for Earth-based use, but it's revolutionary for spacecraft.

...

Then there is the issue of acceleration. Shawyer has calculated that as soon as the thruster starts to move, it will use up energy stored in the cavity, draining energy faster than it can be replaced. So while the thrust of a motionless emdrive is high, the faster the engine moves, the more the thrust falls. Shawyer now reckons the emdrive will be better suited to powering vehicles that hover rather than accelerate rapidly. A fan or turbine attached to the back of the vehicle could then be used to move it forward without friction. He hopes to demonstrate his first superconducting thruster within two years.

What of the impact of such a device? On my journey home I have plenty of time to speculate. No need for wheels, no friction. Shawyer suggested to me before I left that a hover car with an emdrive thruster cooled and powered by hydrogen could be a major factor in converting our society from a petrol-based one to one based on hydrogen. "You need something different to persuade people to make the switch. Perhaps being able to move in three dimensions rather than two would do the trick."

I noticed the ad below on the New Scientist site - it seems the peak oil graph is becoming a widespread enough symbol to be used in the advertising industry.



Continuing the thread of stories about phenomena I don't really understand but seem germane to my standard topics, I noticed this piece from Cornell university on strange quantum effects courtesy of the uncertainty principle - it seems a chilly gaze isn't just a figure of speech.
In the submicroscopic world -- the domain of elementary particles and individual atoms -- things behave in the strange, counter-intuitive fashion governed by the principles of quantum mechanics. Nothing (or so it seems) like our macroscopic world -- or even the microscopic world of cells or bacteria or dust particles -- where Newton's much more reasonable laws keep things sensibly ordered.

The problem comes in finding the dividing line between the two worlds -- or even in establishing that such a line exists. To that end, Keith Schwab, associate professor of physics who moved to Cornell this year from the National Security Agency, and colleagues have created a device that approaches this quantum mechanical limit at the largest length-scale to date.

And surprisingly, the research also has shown how researchers can lower the temperature of an object -- just by watching it.

The results, which could have applications in quantum computing, cooling engineering and more, appear in the Sept. 14 issue of the journal Nature.

Worldwatch has issued a report on the potential for renewable energy in the US (via Grist).
The Worldwatch Institute and the Center for American Progress (CAP) launched a report Monday detailing the progress and potential of renewable energy in the United States. According to the report, “American Energy: The Renewable Path to Energy Security,” technologies that harness renewable energy sources—including wind, solar, geothermal, and bio-power—are or soon will be cost-competitive with conventional fuels. And while renewables provide just 6 percent of U.S. energy today, that number is likely to expand in the near future, notes the report. Cumulative global investment in renewables since 1995 has reached nearly US$180 billion.

Speakers at the Washington, D.C. launch event agreed that the report is timely. Rising oil prices, security risks associated with petroleum dependency, and the increasing environmental costs of conventional fuels provide growing incentive for the United States to expand its renewables use. A “‘perfect storm’ is brewing around the energy issue,” according to Chris Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute. And Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) noted that “the report comes at a very good time,” as the approaching midterm elections encourage candidates to take positions on renewable energy.

Rhone Resch, President of the Solar Energy Industries Association, likened the potential growth of renewables to that of the mobile phone industry boom. He also noted that promoting renewable energy is good environmental, energy, and economic policy, as other nations have demonstrated. For example, as Germany attempts to achieve energy independence, that nation’s photovoltaics industry has grown by over 67 percent in the last five years, and has contributed to the creation of 20,000 jobs in the last three.

According to the new report, since 2000 global wind energy generation has more than tripled, solar cell production has increased six-fold, and biodiesel production has expanded nearly four-fold. Additionally, says the report, the United States boasts some of the best renewable energy resources in the world. A quarter of the U.S. land area has winds strong enough to generate electricity at the same price as natural gas and coal, and seven states in the Southwest alone have the potential to provide 10 times the current electric generating capacity through solar power. California gets 31 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, and all but four states in the nation offer incentives to promote renewable energy efforts.

TreeHugger has an interesting post called a "Historical Perspective on Deforestation... and Chopsticks" on the history of deforestation.
While old-style broadcast journalism is mostly a one-way street, the new media is more of a conversation, and that's one of the things that make it great. That's why we're happy to see that our friends at Mental Floss have decided to bounce off our old post about chopsticks (it's a classic) and use it as a launching pad for this great post about the history of deforestation, from 6000 BC to the 2004 Nobel Prize. Check it out, you might learn a few things.


The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Waverly Council (the area around Bondi) is looking at making solar panels compuslory for all houses - getting ready early for the smart grid future.
EVERY property in the Waverley local government area in Sydney may be required to install solar roof panels under a plan being considered by the council to make it "a world leader in climate change solutions".

The council's sustainability committee "will explore ways to integrate key environmental targets and initiatives throughout the organisation and the Waverley community". The committee will comprise councillors and experts on building sustainability and climate change. The committee will advise on:

■ A brief for a study to assess and characterise the total potential for rooftop solar energy in Waverley.
■ The application of solar hot water and space heating, passive solar design and photovoltaics to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
■ Changes to the council's planning rules to prevent overshadowing of useable solar-capture space on neighbouring structures.
■ Regulation to ensure development applications maximise the uptake of solar power.

The council says each municipality has a responsibility to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. "As developments in solar technology take it ever closer to cost competitiveness with coal, distributed renewal energy becomes a realistic component of Australia's energy supply," it says in a background paper.

Shane at "Playdo's Cave" contends home solar should have a limited initial rollout - concentrating on providing power to the lighting systems within buildings for example, rather than trying to power everything in the building. I'm not sure this makes sense - shouldn't whatever solar power is produced be used when available, supplemented with grid power, and fed back into the grid when there is a surplus (which seems unlikely in the low cost model he is proposing) ?
Advocates of domestic solar need to be more flexible I think. The lighting circuit in a house is already seperate from the appliances cicruit. Lighting is well matched to the power capability of solar cells - and there are many low volatage lighting options readily available now (in addition to LEDs). Instead of trying to introduce complete solar houses, why not retrofit this one subsystem by introducing a low power 12V DC circuit into the house. Initially for lighting only, this system could then form a bridge to later adaptions.

A full solar installation is not a simple undertaking, the system (panels - batteries - inverter) needs monitoring: there is an intial steep learning curve. It's expensive. A lights only system would help lessen the learning curve and the cost. Such a system might begin the process of lessening the prolific need for all the 240V AC transformers our gadgets have. A succesful reasonably priced partial refit of this nature might do more for Solar PR than all the "House and Garden" "Country Style" Solar Concept Houses.

Let's face it, these houses, though well meaning and thought out are the solar equivalant of the SAAB Turbo market: essentially available only to those in a financial postition to make the choice. Solar needs to market a succesful Model T - Basic Black.

The Herald reports BHP's uranium reserves at Olympic Dam continue growing - let there be radioactive waste for all...
ALREADY the world's biggest uranium deposit, BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam deposit in South Australia's outback has just got a lot bigger.

Aggressive drilling by BHP and the previous owner, WMC Resources, has allowed the June 2006 resource estimate for the ore body to be upgraded by more than 11 per cent.

The upgrade adds more than 188,000 tonnes of uranium - worth close to $30 billion at current spot prices - to the previous estimate of 1.5 million tonnes, itself accounting for about 40 per cent of the world's known uranium resources.

And that is before taking into account the additional 5.1 million tonnes of copper - the main revenue earner at the remote mine site - indicated by the resource upgrade. The extra 7.5 million ounces of gold won't hurt either.

But it is Olympic Dam's status as the world's biggest and growing uranium deposit that gives the operation its true global significance given the rush to secure long-term uranium supplies for nuclear power, with China and India emerging as new buyers.

The Australian reports that BHP still think the future for commodities is bright, thanks to the ongoing Chinese economic boom.
BHP Billiton chief executive Chip Goodyear says the world is on the brink of a period of significant change, driven by hundreds of millions of Chinese moving to urban areas that will require huge infrastructure and resources.

In BHP Billiton's annual report, released yesterday, Mr Goodyear said that for China to achieve its vision of a knowledge economy by 2050, a mass of rural peasants would have to become urbanised, maintaining high global demand for commodities.

"That will require residential dwellings, industrial facilities and associated infrastructure," Mr Goodyear said. "We believe the world may be witnessing just the beginning of a whole new period of change and BHP Billiton is an essential element of that change. All the raw materials that we produce and sell are essential elements of these infrastructure requirements."



In other Australian news, Oil Search continue to look at alternatives to the PNG to Australia gas pipeline, with both an LNG terminal and petrochemical plant in Port Moresby being considered (once again, I think we'd be foolish not to get this pipeline in place). Woodside has announced another gas find near the Pluto field off NorthWest WA that they are trying to commercialise. This one seems to be free (so far) of some of the politicking going in in WA around reserving a proportion of gas production for local usage, which was generating quite a bit of debate when I visted a few weeks ago (particularly around the proposed Gorgon development).
WOODSIDE has found a small gasfield on the North West Shelf, near the Pluto discovery which is being fast-tracked as Australia's next liquefied natural gas project.

Woodside told the stock exchange that the Xena-1ST1 well, being drilled by the Jack Bates semi-submersible drilling rig, had encountered a gross gas column of 49m in good quality reservoir sandstones. The well, in 178m water depth, is only 6km east of the Pluto-2 appraisal well, about 180km northwest of Karratha.

The Pluto field was found in April last year and is being promoted to supply LNG to the market between 2010 and 2012.

Woodside said the Xena reservoir was being interpreted as a new gasfield discovery but declined to comment pending further analysis. Industry officials said later that the find was roughly in line with Woodside's pre-drill expectations, suggesting the well may be around 500 billion cubic feet. Woodside has always seen the Xena prospect as a satellite to Pluto, which is now estimated to contain about 4.1 trillion cubic feet of gas.

But industry analysts continue to maintain that the reserves in the field are not sufficient to support a project that is scoped at one production train of between 5 million tonnes and 6 million tonnes annual capacity.

The company's Pluto strategy is based on an expectation that regional demand for LNG will more than double in the next decade with the market being driven by buyers in Asia and North America. Woodside managing director Don Voelte has argued there will be a supply shortfall in Asia and the Pacific region from 2008-2012.

The Herald has an article on how the oil states in the gulf are spending their latest wave of riches.
Desert wonderlands are taking shape in Arabia, Graham Boynton writes. The sheiks have decided that after oil, there is tourism.

FROM the Burj Al Arab's Al Muntaha restaurant on the 27th floor, you can see the future of Dubai. Out to the left, protruding from Jumeirah Beach, is the Palm, the tree-shaped development you can see from outer space that will quadruple this little emirate's coastline, and will contain 32 hotels, 2500 apartments and 1500 villas.

Almost in front of the Burj is another fabulous confection called the World, a 6500-hectare cluster of reclaimed islands shaped like the continents that will, like the Palm, provide holiday homes for tens of thousands of wealthy Westerners. And way over to the right will be the Palm Deira, a tourist development that will dwarf all the others and which you'll probably be able to see from another galaxy.

And as I sit there, picking my way through French oysters, Sevruga caviar and prawns with foie gras, the creator of these delicate morsels, the English executive sous-chef Chris Lester, points in the opposite direction, inland, and reminds me that the relatively barren patch of desert on the horizon will, in the next decade, become Dubailand - which will make these other mega-developments look like Legoland.

Dubailand, so the brochure says, will be "the most ambitious tourism, leisure and entertainment destination ever created", a 28,000-hectare playground that will include re-creations of the Seven Wonders of the World - like everything in Dubai, bigger and shinier than the originals. (The Great Pyramid of Giza, for instance, will have parking for 4500 vehicles - which is one up on the pharaohs.)

The Australian has a look at falling oil prices, with the situation seeming relatively rosy (though we'll see how things go once the US elections are over the the strategic reserve closes its stopcocks again, if the rumours are correct).
OIL prices have tumbled about 25 per cent in six weeks to under $US60 a barrel, confounding expert forecasts of a spike to $US100 before the end of 2006.

Since August 7, when Brent North Sea crude struck a historic high $US78.64 a barrel, the price has plummeted almost $US20 to $US59.32 overnight, the lowest level for six months. In New York, light sweet crude dropped also below $US60 on Monday, far off its record peak of $US78.40 hit in July.

Only last month, analysts bet on crude futures striking $US80 in the short term, with some predicting a surge to $US100 a barrel by the end of the year. But since then a number of easing supply concerns have sent prices tumbling.

"Tension in the Middle East and Nigerian oil supply worries were instrumental in keeping prices on the boil, but peace in the Lebanon and a less confrontational Iran seems to have acted as the catalyst, soothing frayed nerves and opening the door for weak fundamentals to come to the fore," the Centre for Global Energy Studies said in a report published overnight.

Oil prices have been weighed down also by a pledge from the 11-nation Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to keep its output unchanged, a mild hurricane season in the US Gulf and news of a return to production at the biggest oil field in the United States, Prudhoe Bay.

The Australian also has a look at the rapidly fermenting biodiesel
sector
on the local stock market.
HARDMAN'S Potter yesterday was unwilling to muse on the oil price direction - and we can't really blame him given the myriad speculative influences. But we must award early Brownie points to broker Patersons' oil watcher David Johnson, who last month argued that the forces driving up oil prices had been overstated. In, er, crude summary, Johnson argued that, historically, oil demand stalled when oil topped $US40 a barrel and reversed at over $US60 a barrel.

This is what seems to be happening now, although all it takes is a Middle Eastern insult or Venezuelan bad hair day to reverse the slump. But it's not a great time to be braving a $36 million biofuels raising, which is what Sterling Biofuels (SBI, 87c) did yesterday. Inevitably, the stock closed well shy of its $1 issue price. As with Mission Biofuels (MBT, $1.22), Sterling is building a facility in Malaysia, where palm oil plantations have emerged as the preferred vegetation over rainforests.

Locally, Axiom Energy has launched a $36 million raising to fund a planned 150 million litre a year facility in Geelong. Axiom's backers pulled its listing last year, after the tax man adopted an unfavourable view on a side project involving turning plastic bags into biodiesel.

Even before the oil price correction, the sector discovered that, like Kermit, it's not easy being green. The only local extant commercial producer, Australian Biodiesel Group (ABJ, 64c) has disappointed with its output from its Berkeley Vale facility in NSW. ABJ reported a June-half loss of $4.25 million.

Australian Renewable Fuels (ARW, 84c) has commissioned its two new plants at Largs Bay in SA and Picton in WA, but costs were ahead of forecast. ARW last month reported a full-year loss of $3.5 million, but given the negligible production this year will be decisive in showing whether ARW can achieve its aim of becoming a 225 million litre a year producer.

Most biofuels stocks have been punished since peaking in May-June. After a Doubting Thomas period, Criterion believes speculative value has returned to sector. Our proviso is that oil prices stay around current painful, but bearable, levels. Government soothsayer ABARE expects oil to average $US60 a barrel in the December quarter, falling to $US58 in the March quarter and $US57 in the June quarter.

Axiom last week received a PR boost when trucking hard man Lindsay Fox endorsed a biodiesel trial across his fleet, the latest corporate convert to the climate change cause. Rumours of a merger of The Greens and the Business Council are unfounded - not yet anyway.

Axiom doesn't list until late October, but the backers report strong early investor interest. We suggest a wait-and-see approach, which means AVOIDING the raising in favour of the existing producers. The same applies to Mission Biofuels and Sterling Biofuels, although Mission last month reported to be ahead of schedule with its first concrete pour, with commercial production scheduled from October 2007.

Australian Ethanol (AAE, 46c) is worth a SPECULATIVE BUY punt because it has hedged its bets between products and geographies: ethanol in northern Victoria and biodiesel in the US, where the Texan oilman in the White House is more supportive of alternative fuels than Canberra.

The Herald has an article on the geography of nowhere and the effect it has on our national health.
Howard Frumkin, a director of the National Centre for Environmental Health in Atlanta, Georgia, told last night's Herald City Talk that dramatic increases in mortality, cardiovascular disease, depression and other ailments were linked to the relentless spread of development around highways. The urban sprawl is associated with decreased physical activity, and that in turn is associated with adverse health outcomes," Professor Frumkin said. "We are building cities and suburbs that don't allow us to walk."

Sydney and other international cities needed to return to the traditional tenets of town planning, with a focus on mixed-density development around village squares, opportunities for physical activity and social interaction, he said.

Australia's population is forecast to increase by a third by 2050. "At that time the world is likely to be at the end of the oil era - watch what will happen to houses that can only be reached by car when petrol costs $5 a gallon," Professor Frumkin said.

The Globe and Mail has an article on constraints on tar sands production in Canada - ASPO president Kjell Aleklett points out the issue of gas availability and the problems with using nuclear power - however it sounds like the companies are pursuing the most greenhouse unfriendly approach of all - bootstrapping the process by burning the tar sands themselves to produce oil.
The much-touted potential for Canada's oil sands to offset projected declines in North American oil production remains highly questionable because of constraints on natural gas production and environmental problems, a group of Swedish industry experts concludes in a new report.

To meet its ambitious targets, the industry would likely require the construction of a nuclear power plant near Fort McMurray in Alberta in order to replace natural gas in the energy-intensive production process, the scientists argue.

Writing in the influential European journal Energy Policy last month, the analysts for the Uppsala Hydrocarbon Depletion Study Group warned that the world should not count on Canada's massive oil sands deposits to meet future demand growth.

"While the theoretical future oil supply from the oil sands is huge, the potential ability for the Canadian oil sands industry to meet expectations of bridging a future oil supply gap is not based on reality," said the authors, who are led by prominent "peak oil" theorist Kjell Aleklett, a physicist from the University of Uppsala.

Canada has long touted the potential of the oil sands.

In a speech to a high-powered business audience in New York last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said production from the oil sands -- which now supply about one million barrels of crude a day -- is now "on its way" to four million barrels by 2015, a target that exceeds the bullish 3.5 million barrels forecast used by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Aleklett said the industry is counting on plentiful, reasonably priced supplies of natural gas to keep their billion-dollar plants commercially viable. He argued natural gas production would be constrained in the coming years, and oil sands users will have to compete with growing demand from traditional users in the U.S. and Canada. As a result, prices are expected to climb substantially.

"The gas situation in North America is terrible," Mr. Aleklett said. "It's unbelievable what they are doing and what they are saying [about future gas production], maybe they are afraid to tell the reality because it is just so grim."

Natural gas prices have fallen sharply this year from record levels touched in 2005, as companies cranked up production while demand failed to keep pace. But Mr. Aleklett said conventional natural production in Western Canada is projected to decline sharply and new unconventional sources remain uncertain and expensive.

Oil and gas companies have already announced plans to spend about $60-billion to build oil sands plants that would produce an additional 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2015. The projects include surface mining operations and the underground, in situ type, where steam is injected to remove the heavy crude trapped in the sands.

Mr. Aleklett said the aggressive forecasts of oil sands production fail to take into account constraints, from limits to natural gas production and from environmental considerations. He added he had not even factored in labour shortages and other construction risks, which some industry players are warning will slow the development. One alternative, he said, would be a nuclear power plant -- or a series of smaller ones -- to replace natural gas. However, he said building a nuclear plant would be a "complicated matter."

Oil sands producers are clearly concerned about natural gas prices and are experimenting with a range of alternatives that would reduce or eliminate the need for gas.

At its Whitesands in situ project, Petrobank and its partners are working on a plan to burn residual bitumen underground in order to loosen and recover the commercially available crude. That process would leave the carbon dioxide created from the burn trapped underground. Several companies are also planning to burn asphalt-like bitumen to produce electricity and steam above ground.

Michael Pascoe at Crikey made some interesting comments about the gas market recently, noting that even with dire pronouncements about North American gas supplies, the price has dropped dramatically since hurricane Katrina - and new gas projects in Australia have been slow to get going.
It might not have been a coincidence that as US natural gas prices fell to their lowest level in more than two years, The Oz carried a story on Friday about the West Australian Government being willing to compromise on its proposed "gas security" demands. (For the sake of the coincidence we’ll overlook that WA treasurer Eric Ripper hinted strongly in a Eureka Report interview last Monday that compromise was indeed in the air.)

Gas being down 70% from its December high, back where it was in May 2004, is one of the reasons speculators are becoming nervous about whether the commodities boom might be over.

What’s been missed is that not a single big new Australian export gas project has managed to get up while the price was soaring. The "window of opportunity" to exploit the energy bubble might not have shut, but it’s not banging in the wind any more either.

Cool heads will point out that the sort of investment needed for LNG export projects can’t be based on price spikes, even ones that last a couple of years. Solid long-term contracts with lots of trust in both buyer and seller are vital. Nonetheless, it should be a reminder that Australia hasn’t done nearly as well as we like to imagine out of the present fixation with energy demand in particular and resources in general. As the export numbers show, we’ve done well out of higher resources prices but we’ve achieved little in increasing volumes to fully exploit them.

And it’s not just us. The odds on the PNG gas pipeline to Australia seem to lengthen by the day – the rising costs colliding with alternative supply.

No wonder then that the WA government is tempering its protectionist desire to lock away 20% of gas discoveries for domestic consumption – effectively a way of guaranteeing cheap gas for the likes of Alcoa. (No prize for guessing who was lobbying hard for the policy of "energy security".) With the fizz already fading from gas prices, there’s no reason to doubt Woodside’s claim that such a policy would simply mean proposed new projects wouldn’t happen – and the locals certainly don’t get the gas.

TomDispatch has an interesting article on oil and the Sudan (covered here not that long ago) called "Appeasement Driven by Oil: The Bush Administration and Darfur".
Strange, isn't it, how reductive our world sometimes turns out to be? Bring up any subject these days -- try genocide in Darfur, for example -- and sooner or later you seem to end up talking about oil. At this moment, the world is experiencing an energy race. Think of it as the twenty-first century's equivalent of the arms races of the previous two centuries. Everywhere there is a hint of an energy source or resource, you find a mad dash for the (black) gold.

The Middle East may be the oil heartland of the planet, but in a world in which energy demand is on the rise and fears of limited energy reserves are rising as well, Africa, like Central Asia, suddenly finds itself in the crosshairs of oil exploration. The Pentagon is soon likely to announce the setting up of its own Africa Command, with new basing moves on the continent sure to follow. Though such developments are invariably presented in the context of the President's Global War on Terror, they are essentially energy moves.

As David Morse indicates below, we are hardly alone. In Sudan, for instance, along with the Europeans, the Chinese are now major players and the ongoing slaughter in Darfur turns out to be significantly connected to oil exploration. In late August, the Bush administration launched the mid-term election season in this country with a round of "appeasement" charges against the opponents of its war in Iraq. Morse, an expert on the situation in Sudan, considers that charge of "appeasement" in the context of the genocide in Darfur and the oil race in that region.

Mel Gibson is back in the news, for the right reasons this time, with a positive response to his new movie Apocalypto and his plain speaking about the decline of the empire.
Mel Gibson has returned to the spotlight to promote his upcoming movie Apocalypto, and to criticise the war in Iraq, according to the Hollywood Reporter. He presented a work-in-progress screening [in Austin] of his Mayan adventure tale, and then took questions. About one-third of the full house gathered for the film gave him a standing ovation. The film is scheduled for a December 8 release via Disney.

In describing its portrait of a civilisation in decline, Gibson said: "The precursors to a civilisation that's going under are the same, time and time again," drawing parallels between the Mayan civilisation on the brink of collapse and America's present situation. "What's human sacrifice," he asked, "if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?"

Thom Hartmann is bemoaning the slow death of western civilisation in the US - in this case the creeping feudalism that the republicans are putting in place and the loss of habeas corpus (if it makes you feel any better our government is exactly the same - heading backwards past 1200 rapidly).
About a year ago, an op-ed article on Al Jazeerah's website by Fawaz Turki titled "For Bush, A Hot Line To Churchill" opened by noting that Tony Blair had given George W. Bush a bust of Winston Churchill, which sits in Bush's Oval Office. Turki then quotes Churchill:
"The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."

The oldest human right defined in the history of English-speaking civilization is the right to challenge that "power of the executive" through the use of habeas corpus laws. Habeas corpus is roughly Latin for "hold the body," and is used in law to mean that a government must either charge a person with a crime or let them go free.

...

Senators John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham were presented with an opportunity to uphold the fundamental human right known as habeas corpus, or flinch and write a law that would retroactively make sure that George W. Bush could not be prosecuted for violations of habeas corpus in our overseas concentration camps and prisons. It was a contest between protecting the President and protecting the Constitution.

The Republican senators flinched, and in last week's so-called "compromise" chose Bush over the Constitution. In doing so, they turned their backs on a rule of law that stretches back over nearly eight centuries to an epic moment in 1215 on a meadow by the River Thames in the United Kingdom.

The modern institution of civil and human rights, and particularly the writ of habeas corpus, began in June of 1215 when King John was forced by a group of feudal lords to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede.

Two of the most critical parts of the Magna Carta were articles 38 and 39, which established the foundation for what is now known as "habeas corpus" laws (literally, "produce the body" from the Latin - meaning, broadly, "let this person go free or else give him a trial - you may not hold him forever with charging him with a crime"). The concept of habeas corpus in the Magna Carta led directly to the Fourth through Eighth Amendments of our Constitution, and hundreds of other federal and state due process provisions.

Articles 38 and 39 of the Magna Carta said:
"38 In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.
"39 No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land."

This was radical stuff, and over the next four hundred years average people increasingly wanted for themselves these same protections from the abuse of governmental power that the feudal lords had gotten at Runnymede. But from 1215 to 1628, outside of the privileges enjoyed by the feudal lords, the average person could be arrested and imprisoned at the whim of the king with no recourse to the courts.

Then, in 1627, King Charles I overstepped, and the people snapped. Charles I threw into jail five knights in a tax disagreement, and the knights sued the King, asserting their habeas corpus right to be free or on bail unless convicted of a crime. King Charles I, in response, invoked his right to simply imprison anybody he wanted (other than the rich feudal lords), anytime he wanted, as he said, "per speciale Mandatum Domini Regis."

This is essentially the same argument that George W. Bush makes today for why he has the right to detain people without charges for as much as their entire lives solely on his own say-so: because he's in charge. And it's an argument now supported on the record by these Republicans who have chosen to betray America's founding principles in exchange for peace with the White House.

While basic human rights and freedoms are under threat in the West, in Iraq they've never had much in the way of these, and under the US occupation things are going to stay that way - especially for reporters (the ones who don't simply get killed of course).
Until five months ago, Bilal Hussein was part of a team of Associated Press photographers that had won a Pulitzer Prize for photos documenting the fighting and carnage in Iraq.

Now he's a prisoner, having been seized by the U.S. government.

You might ask: What's he been charged with?

The answer: Nothing.

There was a flurry of interest last week in the case of Maher Arar, a terror suspect who was shipped to Syria and tortured before it was learned that, alas, he was not a terrorist. Mr. Hussein got a little news coverage last week, as well. People who still think there is a place in this world for fairness, justice and due process are calling on the authorities to either charge him with a crime or release him.

Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi hired by The A.P., was taken into custody by U.S. forces in Ramadi last April 12. As in many similar cases, U.S. officials have been saying - without disclosing evidence to back up their comments - that he had improper ties to the insurgents.

But neither the Americans nor the Iraqis have officially charged Mr. Hussein with anything.

Scott Horton, a prominent New York lawyer called in by The A.P. to work on the case, said: "The administration always starts with a broad-brush tarring of these individuals. You'll have officials saying: 'Oh, they're bad dudes. They're evil. We have evidence we can't show you that would demonstrate just how terrible these people are.'

"Well, sometimes they do. But very frequently, alarmingly frequently, they don't."

Mr. Hussein's case closely resembles that of Abdul Ameer Hussein, a cameraman hired by CBS News who was wounded while covering an attack on an American convoy in Mosul on April 5, 2005. He was shot by a U.S. soldier, a sniper who was more than 200 yards away.

Mr. Hussein was taken to a hospital. His camera and videotapes were seized. And despite his CBS press credentials, which were checked out and found to be legitimate, he was arrested by U.S. authorities and imprisoned. Much of his time over the course of the next year was spent in solitary confinement at the Abu Ghraib prison, where he was subjected to coercive interrogation and other indignities.

For what?

American officials were telling reporters, without offering any evidence, that Mr. Hussein had been collaborating with insurgents. He hadn't been. It turned out he was completely innocent. In fact, he was a kind of timid guy who was less than thrilled about having a job that required him to shoot combat footage.

This is a spooky time in history. It's one thing for tyrannical regimes like the old Soviet Union and Communist China to bulldoze the very idea of human rights and human decency by engaging in such atrocities as detention without trial, torture and other forms of state terror. It's something else completely when the United States, the greatest symbol of liberty that the world has ever known, begins to head down that hellish road.

The BBC has an article on Richard Dawkins and his objections to religion - his criticism of the bible sounds not unlike complaints made about Wikipedia today.
In The God Delusion, the scientist Richard Dawkins sets out to
attack God "in all his forms".

He argues that the rise of religious fundamentalism is dividing people around the world, while the dispute between "intelligent design" and Darwinism "is seriously undermining and restricting the teaching of science".

FROM CHAPTER 7: The "Good" Book and the changing moral Zeitgeist

There are two ways in which scripture might be a source of morals or rules for iving. One is by direct instruction, for example through the Ten Commandments, which are the subject of such bitter contention in the culture wars of America's boondocks. The other is by example: God, or some other biblical character, might serve as - to use the contemporary jargon - a role model. Both scriptural routes, if followed through religiously (the adverb is used in its metaphoric sense but with an eye to its origin), encourage a system of morals which any civilized modern person, whether religious or not, would find - I can put it no more gently - obnoxious.

To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries. This may explain some of the sheer strangeness of the Bible. But unfortunately it is this same weird volume that religious zealots hold up to us as the inerrant source of our morals and rules for living. Those who wish to base their morality literally on the Bible have either not read it or not understood it, as Bishop John Shelby Spong, in The Sins of Scripture, rightly observed. Bishop Spong, by the way, is a nice example of a liberal bishop whose beliefs are so advanced as to be almost unrecognizable to the majority of those who call themselves Christians.

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