The New York Times reports: The boom in oil from shale formations in recent years has generated a lot of discussion that the United States could eventually return to energy self-sufficiency, but according to a report released Tuesday by the International Energy Agency, production of such oil in the United States and worldwide will provide only a temporary respite from reliance on the Middle East.
The agency’s annual World Energy Outlook, released in London, said the world oil picture was being remade by oil from shale, known as light tight oil, along with new sources like Canadian oil sands, deepwater production off Brazil and the liquids that are produced with new supplies of natural gas.
“But, by the mid-2020s, non-OPEC production starts to fall back and countries from the Middle East provide most of the increase in global supply,” the report said. A high market price for oil will help stimulate drilling for light tight oil, the report said, but the resource is finite, and the low-cost suppliers are in the Middle East.
“There is a huge growth in light tight oil, that it will peak around 2020, and then it will plateau,” said Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency. The agency was founded in response to the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74, by oil-importing nations.
The agency’s assessment of world supplies is consistent with an estimate by the United States Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration, which forecasts higher levels of American oil production from shale to continue until the late teens, and then slow rapidly.
“We expect the Middle East will come back and be a very important producer and exporter of oil, just because there are huge resources of low-cost light oil,” Ms. van der Hoeven said. “Light tight oil is not low-cost oil.” [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Canada’s rush to exploit its tar sands and shale gas resources will destroy the environment “as fast as possible”, according to Noam Chomsky.
In an interview with the Guardian, the linguist and author criticised the energy policies of the Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
He said: “It means taking every drop of hydrocarbon out of the ground, whether it’s shale gas in New Brunswick or tar sands in Alberta and trying to destroy the environment as fast as possible, with barely a question raised about what the world will look like as a result.”
But indigenous peoples in Canada blocking fossil fuel developments are taking the lead in combatting climate change, he said. Chomsky highlighted indigenous opposition to the Alberta tar sands, the oil deposit that is Canada’s fastest growing source of carbon emissions and is slated for massive expansion despite attracting international criticism and protest.
“It is pretty ironic that the so-called ‘least advanced’ people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us, while the richest and most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction,” said Chomsky. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: In the sharpest challenge yet to the surge in flaring of natural gas in the Bakken shale oil field, North Dakota mineral owners this week filed 10 class-action lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in lost royalties from some of the nation’s largest oil companies.
Roughly 1,500 fires burn above western North Dakota because of the deliberate burning of natural gas by companies rushing to drill for oil without having sufficient pipelines to transport their production. With cheap gas bubbling to the top with expensive oil, the companies do not have an economic incentive to build the necessary gas pipelines, so they flare the excess gas instead.
Flaring is environmentally less harmful than releasing raw natural gas into the atmosphere, but the flared gas still spews climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The quantities of gas burned are so large that the fires rising above wheat and sunflower fields look like a small city in NASA photographs taken from satellites.
Flared gas has nearly tripled in the last two years in North Dakota, with almost 30 percent of the output in the state burned at wells, producing emissions equivalent to more than two medium-size coal-fired power plants. [Continue reading...]
The news couldn’t be better — and it couldn’t be worse. Or ask yourself this: What do these two headlines have in common: “U.S. expected to be largest producer of petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons in 2013,” “Shift to a new climate likely by middle of the century, study finds”?
A great deal, it turns out. Evidently, as the U.S. Energy Information Agency reports, the U.S. will surpass Russia as the leading combined producer of oil and natural gas this year. For the time being, Saudi Arabia remains the globe’s number one oil producer. And yes, according to a new study in the journal Nature, sometime around the year 2047 (give or take the odd decade), the world will hit a “climate takeoff point.” Think of it as the moment when, according to the researchers, “the old maximum average temperatures become the new minimum temperatures, extending beyond any climate we have experienced since 1860,” that is, when systematic records first began being kept.
So for the U.S., we may be talking record fossil fuel production, while for the globe we are going to be talking record heat, record storms — of which a preview could be seen in the monstrous cyclone “half the size of India” that just came out of the warming waters of the Bay of Bengal — and record weather disruptions as the new norm on planet Earth. The connection, of course, is record emissions of carbon dioxide from the record burning of all those fossil fuels. It couldn’t be a nastier combo, something potentially straight out of Dante’s inferno. And, as always, TomDispatch has Michael Klare, author most recently of The Race for What’s Left, on the case. Tom Engelhardt
Fossil fuel euphoria
Hallelujah, oil and gas forever!
By Michael T. Klare
For years, energy analysts had been anticipating an imminent decline in global oil supplies. Suddenly, they’re singing a new song: Fossil fuels growing scarce? Don’t even think about it! The news couldn’t be better: fossil fuels will become ever more abundant. And all that talk about climate change? Don’t worry about it, they chant. Go out and enjoy the benefits of cheap and plentiful energy forever.
This movement from gloom about our energy future to what can only be called fossil-fuel euphoria may prove to be the hallmark of our peculiar moment. In a speech this September, for instance, Barry Smitherman, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission (that state’s energy regulatory agency), claimed that the Earth possesses a “relatively boundless supply” of oil and natural gas. Not only that — and you can practically hear the chorus of cheering in Houston and other oil centers — but many of the most exploitable new deposits are located in the U.S. and Canada. As a result — add a roll of drums and a blaring of trumpets — the expected boost in energy is predicted to provide the United States with a cornucopia of economic and political rewards, including industrial expansion at home and enhanced geopolitical clout abroad. The country, exulted Karen Moreau of the New York State Petroleum Council, another industry cheerleader, is now in a position “to become a global superpower on energy.”
There are good reasons to be deeply skeptical of such claims, but that hardly matters when they are gaining traction in Washington and on Wall Street. What we’re seeing is a sea change in elite thinking on the future availability and attractiveness of fossil fuels. Senior government officials, including President Obama, have already become infected with this euphoria, as have top Wall Street investors — which means it will have a powerful and longlasting, though largely pernicious, effect on the country’s energy policy, industrial development, and foreign relations.
Slate reports: The United States will pass Russia this year to lead the world in production of oil and natural gas, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports.
America has been closing in on Russia since 2008 thanks to a boom in both oil and gas production, primarily on private lands. This year it’s on track to out-produce it by a substantial margin. Saudi Arabia is third overall and remains the world’s largest oil producer — though the United States may be on track to take that title as well.
“This is a remarkable turn of events,” the head of the EIA told the Wall Street Journal. “This is a new era of thinking about market conditions, and opportunities created by these conditions, that you wouldn’t in a million years have dreamed about.”
As recently as 2007, economists were writing things like, “the amount of oil produced in America each year has been on a path of inexorable decline now for two generations.” Turns out the path was exorable after all. All it took was a whole lot of fracking. [Continue reading...]
DeSmogBlog: What’s it like living in a small town that’s gone from rust belt farmland to fracking boomtown?
First, residents often say, there’s the traffic. Communities have been unexpectedly flooded with heavy tractor trailers that locals say turn 10 minute commutes into hour-long ordeals, choke back roads and decimate pavement so badly that in some areas, drilling companies are barred from entering until they agree to pay for road repairs. “The traffic here is horrendous,” Towanda, PA resident Joe Benjamin told NPR.
Others often describe the impacts on the social fabric – a “wild west” atmosphere that brings with it increased crime and public health problems.
But these reports have been largely anecdotal, with little to quantify how big these impacts are or how much of it is due to fracking. Until now.
A new report by Food and Water Watch examines the social impacts of fracking, comparing traffic, crime and sexually transmitted infections in rural Pennsylvania counties. Using a decade worth of county-level data, they compare the differences between counties with substantial fracking and without, and how these counties have changed over time, from before the boom until after it set in. [Continue reading...]
AFP reports: Algeria, the world’s fourth-largest gas exporter, has decided to develop its shale gas potential, but experts fear this could cause severe environmental problems.
Officials say the country’s shale gas reserves are 600 trillion cubic feet (17 trillion cubic meters), or around four times greater than its current known gas reserves.
Algeria may be the world’s eighth-largest natural gas producer in 2011, according to the BP Statistical Review of Energy, but domestic consumption is surging. Official forecasts say that, from 2019, local demand will eat up all the country’s production.
At present, 50 years after it gained independence, the country remains almost totally dependent on hydrocarbons, which account for 90 percent of its exports.
So as long as it fails to diversify its export base, it has no alternative than to develop shale gas, an unconventional fossil fuel, to secure its energy future, experts say.
A new hydrocarbons bill, to be introduced in parliament in the coming weeks, encourages the exploration of unconventional gas and oil resources.
However, the effect on the environment of the production of shale gas is of great concern to ecologists.
Chems Eddine Chitour, director of fossil energy development at Algiers’ Ecole Polytechnique, is concerned that the method used for obtaining the fuel trapped in formations of shale rock could be geologically dangerous and also put a strain on the largely desert country’s water supplies. [Continue reading...]
North America could be self-sufficient in gasoline and diesel fuel in 15 years if only the government would get out of the way, the president of the American Petroleum Institute said on Wednesday in a “state of American energy” address intended to raise the industry’s profile in the presidential election.
Jack N. Gerard, the president and chief executive of the trade group, said repeatedly that his organization would not take a position on whom to vote for. But he also said, “It would be a huge mistake on the part of the president of the United States to deny the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline,” which would deliver crude extracted from oil sands in Canada to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Turning it down would have “huge electoral consequences,” he said.
Truth Out reports: Fracking opponents in southern Ohio won a victory last week when the United States Forest Service (USFS) withdrew more than 3,000 acres of public lands from a federal oil and gas lease sale scheduled for December 7, 2012. The USFS announced that it needed more time to review the potential effects of fracking after receiving petitions and letters from local leaders who used the old-fashioned method of collecting signatures to catch the attention of government officials.
The fracking industry, on the other hand, has spent $747 million dollars in the past decade to lobby Congress and support politicians in states like Ohio, Michigan and New York as part of a campaign to keep fracking unregulated, according to a recent Common Cause report.
Fracking is short for horizontal hydraulic fracturing, and Ohio is the next ground zero for the rapidly expanding natural-gas drilling method, which has enraged environmentalists and provoked controversy across the country. Fracking involves injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals – some of them toxic – into deep underground wells to break up rock and release natural gas.
Common Cause reports that fracking companies spent $2.8 million in political contributions to Ohio parties and candidates since 2001. Republican Gov. John Kasich tops the list and has received $213,519 in campaign contributions from the industry.
Additional analysis of campaign records by Truthout reveals that wealthy executives of companies connected to the natural gas industry, including billionaires William “Bill” Koch and David Koch of Koch brothers fame, funneled an additional $127,268 in personal donations through a political action committee (PAC) to support Kasich’s election in 2010.
Earlier this year, Kasich signed a law passed by Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature allowing drilling companies to frack in state parks, a big signal to the industry that Ohio is open for business.
Last month, the West officially lost the new “Great Game.” The 20-year competition for natural resources and influence in Central Asia between the United States (supported by the European Union), Russia and China has, for now, come to an end, with the outcome in favor of the latter two. Western defeat was already becoming clear with the slow progress of the Nabucco pipeline and the strategic reorientation of some Central Asian republics toward Russia and China. Two recent events, however, confirmed it.
On Dec. 14, Chinese President Hu Jintao and the heads of state of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan personally opened the valve of a new gas pipeline transporting Turkmen natural gas from the state-of-the-art processing facility of Samandepe to the city of Khorgoz, in China’s western province of Xinjiang. The pipeline, developed by the Chinese state-owned energy giant, CNPC, has a capacity of 40 billion cubic meters and traverses almost 1,250 miles through four countries.
Earlier in the month, on Dec. 3, the venture had received the blessings of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who declared that Moscow was comfortable with the idea of Turkmen gas flowing eastwards to China. Putin’s words further underscored ongoing Sino-Russian energy cooperation, which has made significant advances and is shaping the new political economy of energy in Central Asia and elsewhere. In an accord signed on Oct. 13, the two countries set the basis for a long-term partnership based on joint explorations in Russia and third countries, as well as cheap loans from Chinese banks to the Russian energy sector, even if complex pricing issues remain unresolved. [continued...]