Ukraine crisis: Why it matters to the world economy

a13-iconCNN reports: While the world watches the escalating crisis in Ukraine, investors and world leaders are considering how the instability could roil the global economy.

The political turmoil is rooted in the country’s strategic economic position. It is an important conduit between Russia and major European markets, as well as a significant exporter of grain.

But in the post-Soviet era, it’s a weakened economy. Now, the government is in need of an economic rescue — and torn between whether Russia or the Western economies (including the European Union) is the savior it needs.

Here are five reasons the world’s largest economies are watching what happens in Ukraine. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Exxon Mobil CEO sues to keep fracking away from his backyard

Chris Hayes looks at Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s lawsuit tied to fracking. (I removed the 3min 44sec embedded video because it loads slowly, but it can be viewed at MSNBC.)

facebooktwittermail

The math that predicted the revolutions sweeping the globe right now

f13-iconBrian Merchant writes: It’s happening in Ukraine, Venezuela, Thailand, Bosnia, Syria, and beyond. Revolutions, unrest, and riots are sweeping the globe. The near-simultaneous eruption of violent protest can seem random and chaotic; inevitable symptoms of an unstable world. But there’s at least one common thread between the disparate nations, cultures, and people in conflict, one element that has demonstrably proven to make these uprisings more likely: high global food prices.

Just over a year ago, complex systems theorists at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned us that if food prices continued to climb, so too would the likelihood that there would be riots across the globe. Sure enough, we’re seeing them now. The paper’s author, Yaneer Bar-Yam, charted the rise in the FAO food price index — a measure the UN uses to map the cost of food over time — and found that whenever it rose above 210, riots broke out worldwide. It happened in 2008 after the economic collapse, and again in 2011, when a Tunisian street vendor who could no longer feed his family set himself on fire in protest.

Bar-Yam built a model with the data, which then predicted that something like the Arab Spring would ensue just weeks before it did. Four days before Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation helped ignite the revolution that would spread across the region, NECSI submitted a government report that highlighted the risk that rising food prices posed to global stability. Now, the model has once again proven prescient — 2013 saw the third-highest food prices on record, and that’s when the seeds for the conflicts across the world were sown. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

If climate change is a ‘weapon of mass destruction,’ why promote carbon proliferation?

o13-iconZoë Carpenter writes: On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a call for climate action that attracted considerable attention because of its forcefulness. Speaking in Jakarta, Indonesia, Kerry rebuked climate deniers, referring to them as “a tiny minority of shoddy scientists…and extreme ideologues.” He described the economic costs and catastrophic implications of inaction. Most strikingly, he suggested that climate change is “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”

“It doesn’t keep us safe if the United States secures its nuclear arsenal, while other countries fail to prevent theirs from falling into the hands of terrorists,” Kerry said. Similarly, a serious response to climate change requires that all countries break their fossil fuel addiction. “At the end of the day, emissions coming from anywhere in the world threaten the future for people everywhere in the world,” Kerry said.

Kerry’s nuclear analogy is useful for understanding the Obama’s administration’s climate agenda — and its glaring omission. The plan is built on three pillars: curbing domestic carbon pollution (or, securing our own nuclear arsenal), preparing for the impacts of climate change (building fallout shelters) and leading efforts to address climate change internationally (encouraging disarmament.)

All of that nonproliferation work would be undercut if the US sold weapons-grade uranium to the countries it was asking not to build a bomb. In effect, that is what the United States is doing with fossil fuels. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Michael Klare: In the carbon wars, Big Oil is winning

We now have an answer to why global temperatures have risen less quickly in recent years than predicted in climate change models. (It’s necessary to add immediately that the issue is only the rate of that rise, since the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998.)  Thanks to years of especially strong Pacific trade winds, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change, much of the extra heat generated by global warming is being buried deep in ocean waters.  Though no one knows for sure, the increase in the power of those winds may itself have been set off by the warming of the Indian Ocean.  In other words, the full effects of the heating of the planet have been postponed, but are still building (and may also be affecting ocean ecology in unpredictable ways).  As Matthew England, the lead scientist in the study, points out, “Even if the [Pacific trade] winds accelerate… sooner or later the impact of greenhouse gases will overwhelm the effect.  And if the winds relax, the heat will come out quickly. As we go through the twenty-first century, we are less and less likely to have a cooler decade. Greenhouse gases will certainly win out in the end.”

Despite the slower rate of temperature rise, the effects of the global heating process are quite noticeable.  Yes, if you’re living somewhere in much of the lower forty-eight, you now know the phrase “polar vortex” the same way you do “Mom” and “apple pie,” and like me, you’re shivering every morning the moment you step outside, or sometimes even in your own house.  That southern shift in the vortex may itself be an artifact of changing global weather patterns caused at least in part by climate change.

In the meantime, in the far north, temperatures have been abnormally high in both Alaska and Greenland; Oslo had a Christmas to remember, and forest fires raged in the Norwegian Arctic this winter.  Then, of course, there is the devastating, worsening drought in California (and elsewhere in the West) now in its third year, and by some accounts the worst in half a millennium, which is bound to drive up global food prices.  There are the above-the-norm temperatures in Sochi that are creating problems keeping carefully stored snow on the ground for Olympic skiers and snowboarders.  And for good measure, toss in storm-battered Great Britain’s wettest December and January in more than a century.  Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, there’s heat to spare.  There was the devastating January heat wave in Australia, while in parts of Brazil experiencing the worst drought in half-a-century there has never been a hotter month on record than that same month.  If the rains don’t come relatively soon, the city of São Paulo is in danger of running out of water.

It’s clear enough that, with the effects of climate change only beginning to take hold, the planet is already in a state of weather disarray.  Yet, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare points out today, the forces arrayed against dealing with climate change couldn’t be more powerful.  Given that we’ve built our global civilization on the continuing hit of energy that fossil fuels provide and given the interests arrayed around exploiting that hit, the gravitational pull of what Klare calls “Planet Carbon” is staggering.

Recently, I came across the following passage in Time of Illusion, Jonathan Schell’s 1976 classic about Nixon administration malfeasance.  Schell wrote it with the nuclear issue in mind, but today it has an eerie resonance when it comes to climate change: “In the United States, unprecedented wealth and ease came to coexist with unprecedented danger, and a sumptuous feast of consumable goods was spread out in the shadow of universal death.  Americans began to live as though on a luxuriously appointed death row, where one was free to enjoy every comfort but was uncertain from moment to moment when or if the death sentence might be carried out. The abundance was very much in the forefront of people’s attention, however, and the uncertainty very much in the background; and in the government as well as in the country at large the measureless questions posed by the new weapons were evaded.” Tom Engelhardt

The gravitational pull of Planet Carbon
Three signs of retreat in the global war on climate change
By Michael T. Klare

Listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, it would have been easy to conclude that we were slowly but surely gaining in the war on climate change.  “Our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet,” the president said.  “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.”  Indeed, it’s true that in recent years, largely thanks to the dampening effects of the Great Recession, U.S. carbon emissions were in decline (though they grew by 2% in 2013).  Still, whatever the president may claim, we’re not heading toward a “cleaner, safer planet.”  If anything, we’re heading toward a dirtier, more dangerous world. 

A series of recent developments highlight the way we are losing ground in the epic struggle to slow global warming.  This has not been for lack of effort.  Around the world, dedicated organizations, communities, and citizens have been working day by day to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the use of renewable sources of energy.  The struggle to prevent construction of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline is a case in point.  As noted in a recent New York Times article, the campaign against that pipeline has galvanized the environmental movement around the country and attracted thousands of activists to Washington, D.C., for protests and civil disobedience at the White House.  But efforts like these, heroic as they may be, are being overtaken by a more powerful force: the gravitational pull of cheap, accessible carbon-based fuels, notably oil, coal, and natural gas.

[Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

Will the gas fields of the Levant Basin become Israel’s next warzone?

a13-iconChristopher Dickey reports: When Israel looks at the greatest threat to its long-term hopes for the future, these days it’s looking out to sea. The old issues are on the table, of course: Iran’s nukes, the Palestinians, the Syrian slaughterhouse next door and growing regional instability. But if there’s a place where a sudden, out-of-control war is likely to erupt, it’s probably not going to be called the Sinai, the Golan, the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria). It’s going to be called Leviathan, Dalit or Karish — the vast fields of natural gas and oil discovered in the deep waters between Israel and Cyprus over the last five years.

Who controls that wealth is likely to dominate the economic future of the region for generations to come. The Israelis know it. So do their allies, their rivals and their enemies. And tensions are mounting by the day.

“All the elements of danger are there,” says Pierre Terzian, editor of the oil industry weekly Petrostrategies: there is competition for huge resources, there are disputed borders, and, not to put too fine a point on it, “this is a region where resorting to violent action is not something unusual.”

The United States government is watching warily, trying to broker diplomatic settlements and, so far, failing. No longer inclined to be the region’s policeman on land or in the air, much less at sea, Washington is scaling back its presence in the Middle East while just about everyone else is increasing theirs.

Israel is rushing to create “the most technologically advanced fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean,” according to a report in Tablet Magazine. Turkey is flexing its maritime muscles with plans to spend as much as a billion dollars on a multi-purpose amphibious assault ship that will give its fleet blue water capabilities like never before. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, meanwhile, is known to have naval missiles, and has used them in the past, sinking a cargo vessel and holing an Israeli warship during the Lebanon war of 2006. Russia is expanding both its naval and commercial presence in Syrian waters, despite the Syrian civil war. It inked a $90 million, 25-year exploration deal with Damascus last Christmas Day. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Ellen Cantarow: The frontlines of fracking

FeatureWhat kind of world is this?  In China, an almost 1,350 square mile freshwater lake — that’s more than four times the size of New York City — recently dried up due to an ongoing drought.  In the high Sierra of America’s West, bears have forgone hibernating as a result of (what were once, at least) unseasonably warm conditions.  Across the continent in Maine, increasing ocean acidity is thought to be behind the spread of coastal “dead mud” which may have “disastrous implications for clammers, lobstermen, oyster farmers, and others whose livelihoods depend on healthy coastal ecosystems.”  Meanwhile, across the globe in Australia, blistering heat chased koalas from the trees and sent many to the hospital, possibly baked 100,000 bats to death, and is threatening cattle and crops.

In a world wracked by increasing climate chaos, the seemingly appropriate response would be immediate remediation and mitigation efforts.  Instead, this world being what it is, we have just the opposite.  In the U.S., this means increased coal consumption and a resulting rise in carbon emissions for the first time in years.  It means that, despite so much recent damage from “wild weather” flooding all over the country, the Federal Emergency Management Agency often relies on inaccurate flood maps, leaving property owners in jeopardy.  It also means the administration of embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pushing to, as the New York Times put it, “thread a 22-mile-long [gas] pipeline through the heart of the Pinelands, a 1.1-million-acre protected expanse of scrub pines, gnarly oaks, and yellow-brown river deltas.”

New Jersey is far from alone when it comes to pipeline peril.  Today, TomDispatch regular Ellen Cantarow takes us to the frontlines of fracking.  Once, this would have meant a trip to the ancient undulating hills of Wisconsin, which are being despoiled for the silica used in hydraulic fracturing, or the increasingly toxic towns of rural Pennsylvania where such silica and water, as well as a noxious chemical stew, are all forced at high pressure into deep underground deposits of shale.  With a gas pipeline snaking toward her hometown, Cantarow points out that the frontline of increasing fossil-fuel use and abuse is everywhere. You don’t need to go looking for a frack fight, anymore.  It’s coming looking for you. Nick Turse

No pipe dream
Is fracking about to arrive on your doorstep?
By Ellen Cantarow

For the past several years, I’ve been writing about what happens when big oil and gas corporations drill where people live. “Fracking” — high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which extracts oil and methane from deep shale — has become my beat. My interviewees live in Pennsylvania’s shale-gas fields; among Wisconsin’s hills, where corporations have been mining silica, an essential fracking ingredient; and in New York, where one of the most powerful grassroots movements in the state’s long history of dissent has become ground zero for anti-fracking activism across the country. Some of the people I’ve met have become friends. We email, talk by phone, and visit. But until recently I’d always felt at a remove from the dangers they face: contaminated water wells, poisoned air, sick and dying animals, industry-related illnesses. Under Massachusetts, where I live, lie no methane- or oil-rich shale deposits, so there’s no drilling.

But this past September, I learned that Spectra Energy, one of the largest natural gas infrastructure companies in North America, had proposed changes in a pipeline it owns, the Algonquin, which runs from Texas into my hometown, Boston. The expanded Algonquin would carry unconventional gas — gas extracted from deep rock formations like shale — into Massachusetts from the great Marcellus formation that sprawls along the Appalachian basin from West Virginia to New York.  Suddenly, I’m in the crosshairs of the fracking industry, too.

We all are.

[Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

Canada’s fatal addiction to oil revenues

Dawn Stover writes: My favorite gift of 2013 arrived in the mail a few days before Christmas: two cans of pure maple syrup made in Quebec by longtime friends, the Stevenson family. Printed on the metal cans is an image that instantly transports me back to my childhood in Canada: In a woodland scene, several men in plaid jackets pour sap from tapped sugar maple trees into buckets, and from there into a horse-drawn tank. Firewood is stacked alongside a red shanty, and steam rises from its roof. I can almost smell the sap boiling, and the scene conjures memories of Floyd Stevenson trickling hot syrup across a pan of fresh snow, and offering me a fork to taste the strands of sweet, frozen taffy.

In the eyes of a first-grader, Canada was a land of vast forests, deep snow, and crisp Macintosh apples. I knew that the nation that put a maple leaf on its flag wasn’t simply one big national park, but for many years afterward, Canada seemed to be a great green land where large carnivores still roamed, and key environmental protections remained intact.

In recent years, however, Canada’s conservative leaders—who are not so when it comes to conserving natural resources—have systematically trashed those protections. My Canadian friends tell me that many of their countrymen don’t even discuss climate change; it is considered unpatriotic to do so, now that Canada has hitched its economic sled to oil.

Oh, Canada. What happened to you, eh? Where is the “land glorious and free” described in your national anthem? Who is now standing “on guard for thee?” You have lost your true north.

The natural resources that Canada is increasingly tapping today are fossil fuels. Canada’s crude oil production has increased by about a third during the past decade, mostly because of tar sands development in Alberta. If the Obama administration approves the Keystone XL pipeline proposed by the energy company TransCanada, the conduit will extend from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast and open new markets for Canadian oil exports.

While environmental activists in the United States have focused on Keystone, though, another Canadian project has flown under the radar. A federal review panel recently approved plans for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, a new pipeline and port that would facilitate oil exports from Canada’s Pacific Coast to Asia. According to a report in InsideClimate News, “The goal is to double or triple tar sands output in the decades ahead, clearing the transportation bottlenecks that have depressed prices for tar sands crude, and getting Canada’s vast reserves onto more lucrative markets outside North America.” But while the government review panel assessed the climate impacts of building and operating the pipeline, it did not study the effects of the increased production that would result, saying that the latter was “beyond the scope of its review.”

Largely because of oil production, Canada is now expected to miss its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent (below 2005 levels) by 2020, which it committed to under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. A government report released in October showed that emissions decreased between 2005 and 2011 but have since risen, and that by the end of the decade they will be 20 percent higher than the target. Annual emissions attributed to the tar sands are forecast to grow from 34 million metric tons in 2005 to 101 million metric tons in 2020. Canada’s per-capita emissions are now only slightly less than in the United States and Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Honduras and the dirty war fuelled by the West’s drive for clean energy

The Guardian reports: The west’s drive to reduce its carbon footprint cheaply is fuelling a dirty war in Honduras, where US-backed security forces are implicated in the murder, disappearance and intimidation of peasant farmers involved in land disputes with local palm oil magnates.

More than 100 people have been killed in the past four years, many assassinated by death squads operating with near impunity in the heavily militarised Bajo Aguán region, where 8,000 Honduran troops are deployed, according to activists.

Farmers’ leader Antonio Martínez, 28, is the latest victim of this conflict. His corpse was discovered, strangled, in November.

Peasant farmers say they are the victims of a campaign of terror by the police, army and private security guards working for palm oil companies since a coup in June 2009 ended land negotiations instigated by the deposed president, Manuel Zelaya.

Witnesses have implicated Honduran special forces and the 15th Battalion, which receives training and material support from the US, in dozens of human rights violations around the plantations of Bajo Aguán.

They say private security guards regularly patrol and train with the soldiers, and have even been given military uniforms and weapons for some operations.

The military denies the allegations, blaming the United Peasant Movement (Muca) for escalating violence in the region. Repeated requests for comment from the US embassy in Honduras failed to elicit a response.

The Bajo Aguán dispute dates back almost 20 years, to a World Bank-funded land modernisation programme. The farmers say thousands of hectares of land used for subsistence farming were fraudulently and coercively transferred to agribusinesses that grow African palms, which are lucratively exported to the west for biofuel, and are traded in the carbon credit market.

Since then, they have tried to reclaim the land using the courts, as well as roadblocks and illegal land occupations.

Zelaya launched an investigation to resolve the conflicts, but this came to an abrupt halt when he was toppled in a coup in 2009 that was backed by the business, political, military and church elites. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Michael Klare: Have the obits for peak oil come too soon?

So here we are in a record-breaking “polar vortex” with Florida’s Everglades going on a freeze watch and Minnesota registering wind chills of -60 degrees Fahrenheit.  This most extreme of weather systems, which should warm the hearts of climate deniers, may in fact turn out to be climate-change related (thanks to a melting Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet).  Meanwhile, halfway around the world, Australia has been experiencing a staggering heat wave, having just emerged from a year that included the hottest day, week, month, and overall average on record for that continent.

Still, give the climate deniers their due.  They have long claimed that climate science is, at best, a mistake-prone activity.  It’s a point with which Professor Steven Sherwood concurs.  He happens to be the lead author of a study that just appeared in the journal Nature, focused on future cloud cover and climate change.  It concluded that the planet will heat up faster than expected, minimally rising by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100 (which, of course, would spell unimaginable catastrophe).  Here’s his way of giving the deniers their due: “Climate skeptics like to criticize climate models for getting things wrong, and we are the first to admit they are not perfect, but what we are finding is that the mistakes are being made by those models which predict less warming, not those that predict more.”

Meanwhile, the year just past was generally a humdrum one in the new age of climate change.  Though final results won’t be in until March, it will be among the top ten warmest years since temperatures were first recorded, falling somewhere between fourth and seventh.  (By the way, the 10 hottest years have all occurred since 1998, nine in the last decade).  For the first time in history, the planet briefly and ominously topped 400 parts per million of atmospheric CO2; oceans grew more acidic; droughts and wildfires strengthened; storms raged, though only one reached epic proportions, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines; Arctic summer sea ice had a major melt (significantly above twentieth century levels, but less than in 2012); climate change media coverage rose modestly for the first time in years; and one of the climate-denial movement’s most beloved supports — the supposed “warming pause” the planet was undergoing — went down the drain.

Meanwhile, predictions are starting to come in suggesting that — if an El Niño phenomenon develops in the Pacific Ocean, as some scientists believe — 2014 could be one for the record books.

As the year begins, we know more about what’s in our future with somewhat greater certainty and, generally speaking, as record amounts of carbon dioxide continue to pour into the atmosphere, we’re doing remarkably little about it.  To adapt that classic example of free speech limits, imagine that a vast crew of scientists is now continually yelling “Fire!” in the global movie theater and, as a result, more pyromaniacs with blowtorches are arriving all the time.  After all, of those doing nothing about climate change, no one is doing more of it than the giant oil companies and the nations — from Saudi Arabia to Russia — that are in essence giant oil companies.

As Michael Klare indicates in his latest post, the urge of the oil giants and their supporters to claim that there are no limits on the future of oil and natural gas extraction is, to say the least, chilling on a heating planet.  They seem intent on giving the phrase “the sky’s the limit” grim new meaning.  Fortunately, as our resident energy expert points out, they may be in for a surprise or two themselves down the road. Tom Engelhardt

Peak oil is dead
Long live peak oil!
By Michael T. Klare

Among the big energy stories of 2013, “peak oil” — the once-popular notion that worldwide oil production would soon reach a maximum level and begin an irreversible decline — was thoroughly discredited.  The explosive development of shale oil and other unconventional fuels in the United States helped put it in its grave.

As the year went on, the eulogies came in fast and furious. “Today, it is probably safe to say we have slayed ‘peak oil’ once and for all, thanks to the combination of new shale oil and gas production techniques,” declared Rob Wile, an energy and economics reporter for Business Insider.  Similar comments from energy experts were commonplace, prompting an R.I.P. headline at Time.com announcing, “Peak Oil is Dead.”

[Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

Alberta tar sands operations encircled by expanding area of mercury pollution

ThinkProgress: Just one week after Al Jazeera discovered that regulatory responsibility for Alberta, Canada’s controversial tar sands would be handed over to a fossil-fuel funded corporation, federal scientists have found that the area’s viscous petroleum deposits are surrounded by a nearly 7,500-square-mile ring of mercury.

Canadian government scientists have found that levels of mercury — a potent neurotoxin which has been found to cause severe birth defects and brain damage — around the region’s vast tar sand operations are up to 16 times higher than regular levels for the region. The findings, presented by Environment Canada researcher Jane Kirk at an international toxicology conference, showed that the 7,500 miles contaminated are “currently impacted by airborne Hg (mercury) emissions originating from oilsands developments.”

The Canadian government touts Alberta’s oil sands as the third-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world, next to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The region’s heavy crude oil is mixed with clay, bitumen, and a good deal of sand — hence the name “oil sands.” This makes for a unique and energy-intensive extraction process that some scientists say produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil. Environment Canada has said it expects production emissions from tar sands to hit 104 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020 under current expansion plans. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

The war on democracy

Nafeez Ahmed reports: A stunning new report compiles extensive evidence showing how some of the world’s largest corporations have partnered with private intelligence firms and government intelligence agencies to spy on activist and nonprofit groups. Environmental activism is a prominent though not exclusive focus of these activities.

The report by the Center for Corporate Policy (CCP) in Washington DC titled Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage against Nonprofit Organizations draws on a wide range of public record evidence, including lawsuits and journalistic investigations. It paints a disturbing picture of a global corporate espionage programme that is out of control, with possibly as much as one in four activists being private spies.

The report argues that a key precondition for corporate espionage is that the nonprofit in question:

“… impairs or at least threatens a company’s assets or image sufficiently.”

One of the groups that has been targeted the most, and by a range of different corporations, is Greenpeace. In the 1990s, Greenpeace was tracked by private security firm Beckett Brown International (BBI) on behalf of the world’s largest chlorine producer, Dow Chemical, due to the environmental organisation’s campaigning against the use of chlorine to manufacture paper and plastics. The spying included:

“… pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings.”

Other Greenpeace offices in France and Europe were hacked and spied on by French private intelligence firms at the behest of Électricité de France, the world’s largest operator of nuclear power plants, 85% owned by the French government.

Oil companies Shell and BP had also reportedly hired Hackluyt, a private investigative firm with “close links” to MI6, to infiltrate Greenpeace by planting an agent who “posed as a left -wing sympathiser and film maker.” His mission was to “betray plans of Greenpeace’s activities against oil giants,” including gathering “information about the movements of the motor vessel Greenpeace in the north Atlantic.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Iran allowed some construction at key nuclear site under interim deal, U.S. says

The Associated Press and JTA report: The U.S. said Wednesday that Iran can undertake some construction work at a key nuclear facility as long as fuel isn’t produced and advances aren’t made on a planned heavy water reactor.

The Arak site was among the thorniest issues negotiators sought to resolve in last weekend’s nuclear agreement in Geneva.

The White House said afterward Iran wouldn’t advance its “activities” at Arak or progress toward plutonium production. It spelled out several more constraints.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday while his country was honoring the deal, construction on building projects would continue.

Iran opens contacts with major Western oil companies (Financial Times)

facebooktwittermail

Toxic lakes may emerge from Alberta’s tar-sand projects

Bloomberg News reports: Canada is blessed with 3 million lakes, more than any country on Earth — and it may soon start manufacturing new ones. They’re just not the kind that will attract anglers or tourists.

The oil sands industry is in the throes of a major expansion, powered by C$20 billion ($19 billion) a year in investments. Companies including Syncrude Canada Ltd., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp. affiliate Imperial Oil Ltd. are running out of room to store the contaminated water that is a byproduct of the process used to turn bitumen — a highly viscous form of petroleum — into diesel and other fuels.

By 2022 they will be producing so much of the stuff that a month’s output of wastewater could turn an area the size of New York’s Central Park into a toxic reservoir 11 feet (3.4 meters) deep, according to the Pembina Institute, a nonprofit in Calgary that promotes sustainable energy.

To tackle the problem, energy companies have drawn up plans that would transform northern Alberta into the largest man-made lake district on Earth. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Working around Keystone XL, Suncor Energy steps up oil production in Canada

The New York Times reports: Suncor Energy, Canada’s top petroleum producer, announced on Thursday that it would expand its oil production in 2014 by 10 percent in another sign that the Obama administration’s delay in approving the Keystone XL pipeline extension is not holding back growth in the western Canadian oil sands fields.

“We’re set for a strong year of continued production,” Suncor’s chief executive, Steven W. Williams, said. The company announced a capital spending program of $7.45 billion for 2014, $477 million more than it had forecast earlier this year.

Suncor, which is based in Calgary, produces oil and gas around Canada, and has operations in North Africa and the North Sea. But its oil sands operations are the main driver for the company. In the most recent quarter, its oil sands output rose 16 percent from the year before for a record of 396,000 barrels a day, nearly 20 percent of the country’s total oil sands production.

The company said it expected its oil sands production to increase again next year to 430,000 barrels a day.

Reports of increased production are coming even as Canadian oil executives are privately questioning whether the Obama administration will ever approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which it has been considering for more than two years.

The extension is intended to transport more than 800,000 barrels a day of oil sands output to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coast, but environmentalists have made stopping the pipeline their top priority since emissions from oil sands production are higher than for most crude oils consumed in the United States.

But over the last several months, oil companies have sought to go around the dispute by announcing plans for three large rail loading terminals with the combined capacity of transporting 350,000 barrels a day.

The companies are poised to quadruple rail-loading capacity over the next few years to as many as 900,000 barrels a day, whether or not the Keystone pipeline is built. [Continue reading...]

It’s long been reported that rail transportation of oil was already making the construction of Keystone XL an issue of questionable relevance in relation to the environmental consequences of oil sands production, which makes me wonder why so much activist energy was focused on the pipeline. Was it simply because “stop the pipeline” is such an easy rallying-cry?

Ironically, the dangers posed by rail delivery of oil are probably far greater than those posed by Keystone XL as an accident in Alabama earlier this month made all too clear:

oil-spill

facebooktwittermail

Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan clinch major energy pipeline deals

Reuters reports: Iraqi Kurdistan has finalized a comprehensive package of deals with Turkey to build multi-billion dollar oil and gas pipelines to ship the autonomous region’s rich hydrocarbon reserves to world markets, sources involved in talks said on November 6.

The deals, which could have important geo-political consequences for the Middle East, could see Kurdistan export some 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil to world markets and at least 10 billion cubic meters per year of gas to Turkey.

Such a relationship would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, when Ankara enjoyed strong ties with Iraq’s central Baghdad government and was deep in a decades-long fight with Kurdish militants on its own soil.

But Turkey imports almost all of its energy needs and growing demand means it faces a ballooning deficit, making the resources over its southeastern border hard to ignore.

facebooktwittermail