Oil shock: Fears of unrest in petro economies as oil prices drop

The New York Times reports: While the price has been declining for months, forecasts have always been hedged with the assumption that oil would eventually stabilize or at least not stay low for long. But new anxieties about frailties in China, the world’s most voracious consumer of energy, have raised fears that the price of oil, now 30 percent lower than it was just a few months ago, could remain depressed far longer than even the most pessimistic projections, and do even deeper damage to oil exporters.

“The pain is very hard for these countries,” said René G. Ortiz, former secretary general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and former energy minister of Ecuador. “These countries dreamed that these low prices would be very temporary.”

Mr. Ortiz estimated that all major oil exporting countries had lost a total of $1 trillion in oil sales because of the price decline over the last year.

“The apparent weakness in the Chinese economy is radiating out into the world,” said Daniel Yergin, the vice chairman of IHS, a leading provider of market information, and the author of two seminal books on the history of the oil industry, “The Prize” and “The Quest.”

“An awful lot of producers who enjoyed good times were more dependent on Chinese economic growth than they recognized,” Mr. Yergin said. “This is an oil shock.”

Although the price drop has most directly hurt oil exporters, it also may signal a new period of global economic fragility that could hurt all countries — an anxiety that already has been evident in the gyrating stock markets.

The price drop also has become an indirect element in the course of Syria’s civil war and other points of global tension. Countries that once could use their oil wealth as leverage, like Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, may no longer have as much influence, some political analysts said. Iran, which once asserted it could withstand the antinuclear embargo of its oil by the West, appeared to have rethought that calculation in reaching an agreement on its nuclear activities last month. [Continue reading…]


Arctic drilling approval threatens Obama’s climate legacy

InsideClimate News reports: The Obama administration’s final approval of Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling for oil in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea provoked an angry reaction on Monday from environmentalists who had come to consider President Obama a champion in the fight against climate change.

The decision comes two weeks after the release of the United States’ most aggressive attempt to limit greenhouse gas emissions, known as the Clean Power Plan, and just days after Obama announced he will visit Alaska later this month to highlight the impacts of climate change, which he recently referred to as “one of the greatest challenges we face this century.”

“I’m flummoxed,” said Jamie Henn, co-founder and director of strategy and communications of the green group 350.org. “Arctic drilling is so blatantly out of line with the President’s stated goals that the only possible explanations seem to be that he truly doesn’t understand the issue or that the White House is somehow convinced that the project won’t go forward.” [Continue reading…]

Mashable reports: The warmest year on record so far may have claimed another milestone, and this time it’s a big one.

According to preliminary data from NASA along with information from the Japan Meteorological Administration, July 2015 was the warmest month on record since instrument temperature records began in the late 1800s.

Research using other data, such as tree rings, ice cores and coral formations in the ocean, have shown that the Earth is now the warmest it has been since at least 4,000 years ago. [Continue reading…]


Oil demand will dry up faster than oil supply

Amory Lovins writes: Why would anyone want to be in the oil business? Like airlines, it’s a great industry but a bad business. Here are the most obvious challenges to its business model:

  • Oil companies are extremely capital-intensive; they can’t charge a high enough price to pay for Arctic oil because to deliver energy at a given rate takes more capital investment than photovoltaics do.
  • They have decadal lead times and high technological, geological, and political risks.
  • National oil companies own about 94 percent of global reserves and can take or tax away the major oil companies’ remaining 6 percent at any time, holding their most basic assets and expected profits at risk.
  • Resource owners force major oil companies into riskier and costlier plays even as investors demand lower risks and higher returns.
  • The industry is politically fraught, unpopular, interfered with, and reputationally damaged by its worst actors.
    Its service companies (like Schlumberger and Halliburton) and the national oil companies are becoming formidable competitors.
  • Its permanent subsidies are coming under greater scrutiny and criticism.
  • It must sell its products at world oil prices that are highly volatile and beyond its control.
  • Much of the reserve base underlying its market valuation is unburnable for climate reasons, potentially wiping trillions off balance sheets.
  • The costly Arctic, deep-sea, and otherwise remote reserves that until a year ago got half the new investments by the biggest oil companies are also economically stranded assets  — at least four times costlier than demand-side competitors and increasingly challenged even by some supply-side competitors.

What a recipe for headaches! No wonder savvy investors are starting to shift their money into assets with rapid growth, wide benefit, solid public acceptance and even enthusiasm, modest risk, and durable value. Energy efficiency and renewables lead the pack. Increasingly they poach investment, momentum, and people from major companies’ deep talent pools. Even my own nonprofit organization’s CEO is a ten-year Shell veteran.

Yet I think these widely recognized challenges are easier to handle than others the industry is only just starting to realize. Having advised oil companies for 42 years, I’m worried that many don’t yet grasp how their competitive landscape is being transformed far faster than their cultures can comprehend or cope with.

Most importantly, their demand is going away — not incrementally but fundamentally. Like whale oil in the 1850s, oil is becoming uncompetitive even at low prices before it becomes unavailable even at high prices. [Continue reading…]


Scientists call for halt to Canadian oil sands expansion

Climate Central reports: The controversial proposed Keystone XL Pipeline put Canada’s vast carbon-laden tar sands on the map for many Americans, with its builders promising that it would carry 800,000 barrels of petroleum per day from Alberta’s tar sands to oil refineries in Texas.

But a group of 100 scientists on Wednesday called for a moratorium on further oil sands development, saying it isn’t compatible with stabilizing the climate and meeting greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets.

“We shouldn’t be doubling down or quadrupling down on the tar sands going from 2 million barrels per day to four, six, eight as industry is calling for by proposing expansions and proposing pipelines,” Simon Fraser University energy economist Mark Jaccard said.

Many scientists, environmental groups and President Obama have voiced concern about the effect of tar sands, or oil sands, on the climate. The U.S. State Department concluded that oil sands are more than 17 percent more carbon-intensive to extract than the average barrel of oil.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers announced Tuesday that oil sands will account for most of a 43 percent increase in Canadian crude oil production through 2030. Production is expected to grow from 3.7 million barrels per day to 5.3 million barrels. Of those, 4 million barrels will come from oil sands. [Continue reading…]


How to blow the fight against climate change

Bill McKibben writes: If historians someday need to explain how mankind managed to blow the fight against climate change, they need only point to last month’s shareholder meeting at Exxon Mobil headquarters in Dallas.

The meeting came two days after Texas smashed old rainfall records — almost doubled them, in some cases — and as authorities were still searching for families swept away after rivers crested many feet beyond their previous records. As Exxon Mobil’s Rex Tillerson — the highest-paid chief executive of the richest fossil fuel firm on the planet — gave his talk, the death toll from India’s heat wave mounted and pictures circulated on the Internet of Delhi’s pavement literally melting. Meanwhile, satellite images showed Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf on the edge of disintegration.

And how did Tillerson react? By downplaying climate change and mocking renewable energy. To be specific, he said that “inclement weather” and sea level rise “may or may not be induced by climate change,” but in any event technology could be developed to cope with any trouble. “Mankind has this enormous capacity to deal with adversity and those solutions will present themselves as those challenges become clear,” he said.

But apparently those solutions don’t include, say, the wind and sun. Exxon Mobil wouldn’t invest in renewable energy, Tillerson said, because clean technologies don’t make enough money and rely on government mandates that were (remarkable choice of words) “not sustainable.” He neglected to mention the report a week earlier from the not-very-radical International Monetary Fund detailing $5.3 trillion a year in subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. [Continue reading…]


Fossil fuel divestment is rational, says former Shell chairman

The Guardian reports: The former chairman of Shell has said that investors moving their money out of fossil fuel companies is a rational response to the industry’s “distressing” lack of progress on climate change.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, who spent almost four decades at Shell and rose to be its chairman, also said the big oil and gas companies had been calling for a price to be put on CO2 emissions for 15 years but had done little to make it happen.

His striking remarks are the most supportive of divestment made by any senior figure in the fossil fuel business. They will also be chastening for Shell. The company is currently positioning itself to be part of the solution to climate change rather than part of the problem, but faces criticism of its Arctic and tar sands operations.

Moody-Stuart, a geologist, spent 39 years in Shell, finally stepping down in 2005, and was chairman of mining giant Anglo American from 2001 to 2009.

He was gloomy about the prospects of the world beating global warming. “I have met precious few people who think we will stay within 2C,” he said. “But one encouraging sign is a much higher level of interest from investors.” The shareholder resolutions passed recently asking Shell and BP to provide more information on their responses to climate change would not have happened 10 years ago, he said.

But he also approved of fossil fuel divestment, a fast-growing and UN-backed campaign to persuade investors to dump their stocks, on the basis that current reserves of coal, oil and gas are already several times greater than could be safely burned. The Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign is highlighting the divestment argument and calling on the world’s two largest medical charities – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foudnation and Wellcome Trust – to divest their endowments from fossil fuels. [Continue reading…]


Major European oil companies call for carbon price

Big Oil — also known as the supermajors — refers, in order of size, to Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron, Total, and ConocoPhillips. Three American companies and three European companies.

It was only the latter three — Shell, BP, and Total — that added their names to a letter, saying: “We want to be a part of the solution and deliver energy to society sustainably for many decades to come.”

Climate Central reports: In a stunning reversal of years of obstructionism to creating a global framework to deal with climate change, CEOs from global oil and gas behemoths Shell, BP, Total, Statoil, Eni and the BG Group have signaled that they’re ready for a price on carbon.

The CEOs of the companies, with nearly $1.4 trillion in annual revenue, sent a letter on Friday, which was released publicly on Monday, to Christiana Figueres, the United Nation’s climate chief, as well as Laurent Fabius, France’s Foreign Affairs and International Development Minister who will also lead the Paris climate talks later this year.

In it, they ask for national and regional governments to set a price on carbon and for those regional carbon markets to be linked.

“We need governments across the world to provide us with clear, stable, long-term, ambitious policy frameworks,” the letter states.

The timing of the letter is no coincidence. Representatives from 190 countries are meeting in Bonn, Germany this week to continue hammering out details for an international climate agreement that is expected to take shape by the end of the year. [Continue reading…]


Fort McKay: The Canadian town that sold itself to tar sands

The Guardian reports: Amid the strip mines and steam plants sprawled across the northern Alberta wilderness, Fort McKay is just a tiny dot on the map.

It is also one of the single biggest source sites of the carbon pollution that is choking the planet.

This tiny First Nations community grew rich on oil, and was wrecked by oil. Local Cece Fitzpatrick grabbed what she saw as a last chance for Fort McKay and decided to run for chief, promising to stand up to the industry which came here 50 years ago. [Continue reading…]


The oil companies and the assassins — BP and Ocensa

The Guardian reports: A Colombian trade union leader is beginning an unprecedented claim for damages against BP in the high court in London, alleging the oil company’s complicity in his kidnap and torture 13 years ago.

Gilberto Torres, 52, was abducted in February 2002 while driving home from an oil-pumping station in Casanare, eastern Colombia, and was released after 42 days, only after workers threatened a national oil strike. The case, which begins on Friday, will throw a spotlight on one of the murkiest periods in Colombia’s history, and the role of big business in it.

His lawyers say that it is the first time a union leader has been able to lodge a claim for human rights abuses against a multinational oil company in the high court. They believe his claim could pave the way for scores more similar actions.

BP denies any involvement. It says it will “vigorously” defend the claim.

Torres tells his story for the first time in a Guardian online documentary. The film includes the extraordinary testimony of his kidnappers when they finally faced trial. [Continue reading…]


Shell can’t afford to wait until 2050 to adapt its business to climate change

By Steffen Böhm, University of Essex

Shell’s recent AGM was tumultuous. Shareholders voted overwhelmingly for the company to report on whether its activities were compatible with promised government action on climate change. The firm’s board reportedly faced a sometimes-hostile barrage of questions about its approach to the environment.

The key question shareholders are asking is this: what if the majority of Shell’s proven fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground in order to avoid a dangerous global temperature increase of more than 2°C? Shell’s proved reserves are the company’s biggest asset against which it borrows money from banks and attracts investments from shareholders.

Most of the oil and gas majors are struggling to find enough new reserves to keep growing in the future. This is why Shell and all other major players in the industry have to go to more extreme lengths to find the fossil fuels that keep our lights on, cars on the road and their profits growing. Controversial and environmentally very suspect investments into Arctic oil drilling, US shale gas and Canadian tar sands have already tarnished the environmental credentials of Shell.

But Shell needs to find more oil and gas to keep its asset base growing and its profit potential intact. So it agreed to buy UK-based oil and gas exploration group BG Group for a staggering £47bn. To quote recent analysis, this “gives Shell a presence in the productive zone off the coast of Brazil, and will ensure that Shell’s own production is maintained over the medium term, taking away the requirement to make large discoveries to offset natural depletion”.

But now an entirely new threat hangs over Shell’s future viability as a leading fossil fuel company. A high-profile campaign has argued that most of the proven reserves by oil and gas majors are “stranded assets” – something Shell has denied in the past. This would render Shell’s acquisition of BG Group and its investments in the Arctic wasted capital.

[Read more…]


Seattle, environmentalists hope to put freeze on Shell’s Arctic ambitions

Al Jazeera reports: When a giant Royal Dutch Shell rig arrived last Thursday at the Port of Seattle, it was an unwelcome sight for a number of city officials and environmentalists. The 300-foot tall Polar Pioneer is one of two drilling rigs that Shell plans to use to explore for oil off the coast of Alaska this summer.

Earlier this month, the city declared that the port, where Shell has rented space to store its fleet, would need a new permit to house the rigs. The oil giant responded defiantly, hauling the mammoth platform into port without city approval. On late Monday, Seattle issued a notice of violation to the port, Shell and Foss Maritime, the company leasing the space to Shell.

The notice arrived amid several days of protests over the rig. Earlier on Monday, Seattle city councilor Kshama Sawant, a socialist and former Occupy activist, joined a few hundred demonstrators who blocked the gates of the terminal where the rig is moored. “The eyes of the world are on Seattle this week,” said Margo Polley, a city transportation worker who participated in the protest on her day off. “Hopefully we can build this movement, make it huge and stand up to these fossil fuel giants.” [Continue reading…]


It’s time to price in the hidden costs of fossil fuels

Nicholas Stern writes: The world is starting to realise that fossil fuels are not cheap. It is increasingly clear that oil, coal and gas have huge hidden costs that are omitted from prices, and they are therefore heavily subsidised.

The latest evidence about how expensive fossil fuels really are has been provided this week by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an organisation that monitors the progress of the world’s economy. It estimates that oil, coal and gas will receive US$5.3tn in subsidies this year around the world. That is the equivalent of 6.3% of global GDP. The IMF correctly argues that the damages and costs caused by fossil fuels, through impacts such as air pollution, congestion, traffic accidents and climate change, should be treated as subsidies if they are not included in the prices paid for oil, coal and gas.

The increase from previous estimates is due to a number of factors, particularly a deepening understanding of the immense costs of air pollution. The unpriced costs of fossil fuels are in addition to, and much greater than, the direct financial support for fossil fuels through, for instance, tax breaks for oil and gas exploration and subsidies for consumers. The IMF points out that coal receives the biggest subsidies worldwide, and has the largest negative impact on human health through the pollution that it causes. [Continue reading…]


Within two decades, global oil demand will start to fall

Amy Myers Jaffe writes: When it comes to oil demand, the conventional wisdom is clear: Population growth and a rising global middle class guarantee that demand — and prices — will rise over the coming decades. It is a story line that is almost universally accepted by investors, governments and industry alike.

But like many such consensus views, it is one that should be treated with caution.

The world’s economy is experiencing transformational changes that, I believe, will dramatically alter patterns of energy use over the next 20 years. Exponential gains in industrial productivity, software-assisted logistics, rapid urbanization, increased political turmoil in key regions of the developing world, and large bets on renewable energy are among the many factors that will combine to slow the previous breakneck growth for oil.

The result, in my opinion, is as startling as it is world-changing: Global oil demand will peak within the next two decades.

The geopolitical and economic implications of peaking demand will be huge. The fall in the importance of Saudi Arabia is already palpable, with all the major powers from the U.S. to China more willing to accommodate Saudi archrival Iran. In addition, Russia’s ability to use oil as a weapon will wane, as will the economic leverage of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. As economic growth becomes increasingly disconnected from oil, world powers will likely shift their attention to other increasingly scarce resources that will be equally critical to economic well-being, such as food, water and minerals. A greater interest in Africa, for example, is already starting to emerge. [Continue reading…]


Shell lobbied to undermine EU renewables targets, documents reveal

The Guardian reports: Shell successfully lobbied to undermine European renewable energy targets ahead of a key agreement on emissions cuts reached in October last year, newly released documents reveal.

At the time of the deal European commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, said: “This package is very good news for our fight against climate change.” Adding: “No player in the world is as ambitious as the EU.”

But it now appears that a key part of the agreement – which was championed by the UK government – was proposed by a Shell lobbyist as early as October 2011.

At the 2014 meeting heads of government agreed a 40% overall target for the bloc’s emissions cuts, but in the run up to the deal there had been disagreement between member states about how best to achieve that. The UK and others had resisted binding targets for individual member states on energy efficiency and renewable energy and these did not make it into the final agreement. Proponents of renewable energy say this was a key missed opportunity to give a strong signal to investors that the EU was serious about clean energy. [Continue reading…]


A 100% renewable energy future is possible

Terje Osmundsen writes: Something remarkable is taking place that is bound to lead to a deep reshaping of the energy debate, starting in Europe and North America. It used to be the visionaries and the NGOs who talked about a 100% renewable future, but now leading number-crunchers and energy experts are joining the chorus. In California, the government energy regulator were recently quoted saying that California’s power grid could handle 100% renewables.

The city of Vancouver is an example of a big city that recently committed to run 100% on renewables for power, heating and transportation within 20 years. New studies have been released showing the US can get to 100% renewables by 2050, at marginal extra cost.

“Vers un mix électrique 100% renouvable en 2050” is the name of the brand new report from ADEME (French Agency for Environment and Energy Management), the government agency responsible for green and renewable energy in France. The publication of the report was considered controversial by the French government currently busy securing a majority in the Senate for the new energy transiton law that recommends an electricity mix with 50 % nuclear, down from 75% today.

A political decision was therefore made to postpone the publication of the study, but after the media house Mediapart got hold of it, it has now been published by ADEME.

The 120-page report (exluding attachments) provides a number of interesting and surprising insights. First of all, the study demonstrates that a 100% renewable power system in France is both possible and economically attractive, also when taking into account a number of alternative scenarios including extreme weather, stricter regulations against wind, solar and high-voltage connections, slower technology development, and the like. [Continue reading…]


HSBC warns fossil-fuel investors they risk ending up on the ‘wrong side of history’

Newsweek reports: Global banking giant HSBC has warned investors of the growing risk of their fossil fuel assets becoming useless, in a private report seen by Newsweek.

In the report, titled ‘Stranded assets: what next?’, analysts warn of the growing likelihood that fossil fuel companies may become “economically non-viable”, as people move away from carbon energy and fossil fuels are left in the ground.

Energy innovation measures, including ‘disruptive’ clean technologies and the EU’s success in decoupling energy use from economic growth, are cited as factors that could in the long term cause fossil fuel assets to become devalued, as green energy becomes cheaper and more easily available.

More stringent government regulation on carbon emissions, especially in the run-up to the Paris climate conference in December this year whose aim is to establish a legally binding global climate commitment, are also cited as longer term risks to investments in traditional energy.

However the analysts also warn that in the short term, low energy prices caused by oversupply should be factored into portfolios.

“The speed of the collapse in energy prices over the past three quarters has taken the fossil fuel industry by surprise, in our view,” reads the report. “As rigs are dismantled, capex is cut and operating assets quickly become unprofitable, stranding risks have become much more urgent for investors to address, including shorter term investors.”

The paper proposes three options for investors – divesting completely from fossil fuels; shedding the highest risk investments such as coal and oil; or staying the course and engaging with fossil fuel companies as an investor. The report argues that investors who stay in fossil fuels “may one day be seen to be late movers, on ‘the wrong side of history’”. [Continue reading…]


Earth Day: Scientists say 75% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in ground

The Guardian reports: Three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change, a group of leading scientists and economists have said in a statement timed to coincide with Earth Day.

The Earth League, which includes Nicholas Stern, the author of several influential reports on the economics of climate change; Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a climate scientist and adviser to Angela Merkel; and the US economist Jeffrey Sachs, urged world leaders to follow up on their commitments to avoid dangerous global warming.

Spelling out what a global deal at the UN climate summit in Paris later this year should include, the group demanded governments adopt a goal of reducing economies’ carbon emissions to zero by mid-century, put a price on carbon and that the richest take the lead with the most aggressive cuts.

In its “Earth statement”, the group said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if warming was not to breach a rise of 2C, the “safety limit” agreed to by governments. [Continue reading…]

The Earth Statement begins: 2015 is a critical year for humanity. Our civilization has never faced such existential risks as those associated with global warming, biodiversity erosion and resource depletion. Our societies have never had such an opportunity to advance prosperity and eradicate poverty. We have the choice to either finally embark on the journey towards sustainability or to stick to our current destructive “business-as-usual” pathway. Three times this year, world leaders will meet to set the course for decades to come. In July 2015, heads of state meet to discuss Financing for Development. In September 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be adopted. In December 2015, nations negotiate a new Global Climate Agreement. Decisions made in this single year will be the legacy of our generation. In particular, if we do not succeed in tackling climate change, the sustainable development goals, livelihoods in many parts of the world and the wellbeing of our close and distant kin will be threatened.

In 2015, a good climate future is still within reach. If we act boldly, we can safeguard human development. It is a moral obligation, and in our self-­interest, to achieve deep decarbonization of the global economy via equitable effort sharing. This requires reaching a zero-­carbon society by mid-­century or shortly thereafter, thereby limiting global warming to below 2°C as agreed by all nations in 2010. This trajectory is not one of economic pain, but of economic opportunity, progress and inclusiveness. It is a chance too good to be missed. We have just embarked upon a journey of innovation, which can create a new generation of jobs and industries, whilst enhancing the resilience of communities and people around the world. [Continue reading…]


Louisiana five years after BP oil spill: ‘It’s not going back to normal no time soon’

The Guardian reports: To hear BP tell it, the environmental disaster that struck the Gulf of Mexico five years ago is nearly over – the beaches have been cleared of oil, and the water in the Gulf is as clear as it ever was. But how do you spot a continued disaster if its main indicator is the absence of something?

On this strip of land in south-eastern Louisiana, the restaurants are still empty, FOR SALE signs are increasing in store windows, people are still moving away, and this marina on Pointe a la Hache – once packed most afternoons with oystermen bringing in their catch on their small boats, high school kids earning a few bucks unloading the sacks, and 18-wheelers backed up by the dozen to carry them away – is completely devoid of life, save one man, 69-year-old Clarence Duplessis, who cleans his boat to pass the time.

“At this time of day, at this marina, it used to be packed,” Duplessis said. “And now there’s nothing.”

It’s been nearly five years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 workers and spilling nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and residents, fisherman, activists and scientists say the cleanup and restoration is far from over. While some phenomena in the Gulf – people getting sick, fishing nets coming back empty – are hard to definitively pin on BP – experts say the signs of ecological and economic loss that followed the spill are deeply concerning for the future of the Gulf. Meanwhile, BP has pushed back hard on the notion that the effects of its disaster are much to worry about, spending millions on PR and commercials to convince Gulf residents everything will be OK. [Continue reading…]