Category - Energy and Environment Forum

Fossil fuel subsidies to hit $5.3 trillion in 2015, says IMF study

Governments could cut 20% of carbon emissions at a stroke if they stopped subsidising oil, gas and coal

RTCC, By Ed King, May 19

Subsidies for fossil fuels that cause climate change have soared since 2013, a new study from the International Monetary Fund has revealed.

Oil, gas and coal costs will be subsidised to the tune of US$5.3 trillion a year in 2015. The last time the IMF ran the data it calculated they were worth $1.9 trillion.

Economists say the latest figures are more accurate as they represent the “true” cost of energy, which includes the environmental, health and climate impacts of burning fossil fuels.

“Over half of the increase is explained by more refined country-level evidence on the damaging effects of energy consumption on air quality and health,” IMF officials Benedict Clements and Vitor Gaspar wrote in [sic] a blog [sic].

The figure is larger than the health spending of all the world’s governments combined, a reckoning the pair called “shocking”.

Coal is the biggest recipient of polluting subsidies, the IMF found, given its combined impact on air quality and high carbon emissions.

“The most dramatic difference, compared with the pre-tax figures, is for coal which is the biggest source of post-tax subsidies, amounting to 3.0% of global GDP in 2011 and rising to 3.9% in 2015,” says the study.

Obama Administration Says Yes To Drilling In The Arctic

Climate Progress, by Emily Atkin, May 11

The Obama administration has given conditional approval to a controversial proposal by Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

On Monday, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved Shell’s exploration plan for the Chukchi Sea, which entails drilling up to six wells approximately 70 miles northwest of Wainwright, Alaska. The plan is for exploratory drilling, a sort of first step that companies take to determine whether a region is feasible for large-scale production.

In announcing the conditional approval, BOEM cited its recently-issued safety regulations for drilling in the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean, including the Chukchi Sea, where big oil companies have long been hoping to lay their claim. Those regulations require companies to have contingency plans for mishaps — companies must be able to “promptly deploy” emergency containment equipment to deal with a spill, and must build a second rig close to their initial operations so a relief well could be drilled in the event of a blowout, among other things.

“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement. “As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”

Last great regions of pristine wilderness from Asia to Amazon under threat from massive road-building projects, scientist warns

The Independent, By Steve Connor, May 9

The last great regions of pristine wilderness – from Asia to the Amazon – are threatened by an unprecedented road-building programme financed by aggressive development banks with little interest in protecting the natural world, a leading environmental scientist has warned.

Massive infrastructure and road-building are at the heart of huge development projects around the world, justified as vital attempts at helping the poorest attain a higher standard of living.

Scientists claim that we are living in the most explosive era of road and infrastructure expansion in human history – from the plains of the Serengeti to the rainforests of Sumatra. By 2050, they estimate, there will be an additional 25 million kilometres (15.5 million miles) of new paved roads globally, enough to circle the Earth 600 times.

Approximately 90 per cent of these new roads will be built in the developing world, and many of these will result in the first deep cuts into areas of pristine tropical rainforests to service the building of new mines and hydroelectric dams in some of the remotest places on earth.

This almost forgotten metric is suddenly driving the oil market

Bloomberg News, By Lynn Doan & Dan Murtaugh, February 18

San Francisco & Houston – It was like clockwork.

Every week since 1944, Baker Hughes Inc. would release its survey of how many rigs were out drilling for U.S. oil and gas. And every week, oil and gas traders would, for the most part, overlook it.

What a difference a slide in oil of $50 (U.S.) a barrel makes. This past Friday, traders were bent over their desks, staring at their screens, waiting for 1 p.m. ET to see whether drillers extended their biggest-ever retreat from U.S. oil fields. (They did.) Oil futures spiked within minutes of the count, closing at the highest level in four days.

“I don’t think I’ve heard ‘Baker Hughes’ more in my life than I have in the past month,” Dan Flynn, a trader at Price Futures Group in Chicago, said by phone recently. “It’s like I’m saying it in my sleep.”

The sudden interest in Houston-based Baker Hughes’s rig counts shows how desperate traders have become to find the bottom of the oil market after the biggest collapse since 2008. The company, which was Hughes Tool Co. 71 years ago when it first released the weekly count, is the third-biggest oil field service provider in the world.

Naked Capitalism: Wolf Richter: The Chilling Thing Devon Energy Just Said About the US Oil Glut

This is the brutal irony: drillers are hoping that rising production achieved with greater efficiencies allows them to meet their interest costs; but rising production pressures the price of oil to a level that may not be survivable long-term for many of them. They can lose money, burn through cash, and keep themselves above water through asset sales for only so long. And this is the terrible fracking treadmill they’ve all gotten on and now can’t get off.

Globe and Mail: CNRL’s warning to oil sands: Cut costs or face ‘death spiral’
Bloomberg: What’s behind Buffett’s exit from Big Oil

Obama Just Blew A Chance to Crack Down on Coal

The disposal of cancer-causing coal ash will be lightly regulated, the EPA decided.

Mother Jones, By Ben Adler, December 23

On Friday, the Obama administration quietly passed up an opportunity to make the coal industry clean up its act.

The EPA issued a final rule on the disposal of coal ash, a byproduct of coal burning that contains toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and selenium. Up until now, disposal of coal ash hasn’t been regulated by the federal government at all. Now it will be regulated, but not very strongly.

“Your banana peel that you throw away has stronger protections when it winds up in a dump than coal ash does,” says Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, who is highly critical of the new rule.

More than 100 million tons of coal ash are produced annually in the US, and much of it is simply dumped into open pits. In recent years, there have been large coal-ash spills into rivers in Tennessee and North Carolina.

[…]

Coal ash will instead be categorized as “solid waste,” also known as garbage, and its disposal will be held to a lower standard. The rule does include requirements about where and how coal ash is stored that are intended to prevent leaching into groundwater. It has to be placed “above the uppermost aquifer,” and protected with a geomembrane and a two-foot layer of compacted soil. But environmentalists say that’s not strong enough. Also, old coal-ash dumps won’t have to be cleaned up or improved unless problems are discovered. And the EPA’s new rules won’t even be enforced by the federal government; enforcement will be left to the states.

Natural gas flaring in Eagle Ford Shale already surpasses 2012 levels of waste and pollution

AP, December 21

San Antonio — Gas flaring in the most profitable shale field in the U.S. is on pace to surpass to 2013 levels of waste and pollution in South Texas, according to a newspaper analysis of state records published Sunday.

The Eagle Ford Shale burned off more than 20 billion cubic feet of natural gas in the first seven months of this year, according to the Railroad Commission of Texas, which oversees the oil and gas industry. The tons of pollutants released into the air already exceed levels for 2012.

Experts say plummeting oil prices likely won’t stifle Eagle Ford production anytime soon.

The San Antonio Express-News (http://bit.ly/1ATJFNW ) also found some of the top sources of flaring in 2014 lacked state-mandated permits to flare natural gas. The goal of flaring is to incinerate impurities, but it generates air pollution and carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that scientists say contributes to climate change.

Railroad Commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said Friday that the agency sent violation notices to three energy companies after the newspaper asked about their permitting status.

Risk in Fukushima No. 4 reactor mitigated as last of nuclear fuel removed

The Asahi Shimbun, By Yu Kotsubo & Hiromi Kumai, December 21

Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture – Tokyo Electric Power Co. removed the last four nuclear fuel assemblies that remained in the No. 4 reactor building of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant from its storage pool on Dec. 20.

The No. 4 reactor was offline at the time of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. However, an explosion occurred in the building four days later, seriously damaging it.

After the accident, experts pointed to the risk of nuclear fuel in the pool melting from insufficient cooling and releasing a large amount of radioactive materials. However, the threat has been mitigated with the removal of the last assemblies.

[…]

TEPCO started the removal of those assemblies from the pool in November 2013 after installing a new roof and a crane on the building. The removal of spent nuclear fuel assemblies concluded in November this year.

There will be no work in the No. 4 reactor building for the time being. TEPCO will be engaged in efforts at the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactor buildings and in dealing with the growing volume of contaminated water partly resulting from efforts to keep the reactors from overheating.

Of course, there are still troubles; EX-SKF: #Fukushima I NPP: Plan C Also Failed in Plugging Reactor 2 Trench… Now What?

U.A.E. Sees OPEC Output Unchanged Even If Oil Falls to $40

Bloomberg, By Anthony DiPaola & Mahmoud Habboush, December 14

OPEC will stand by its decision not to cut crude output even if oil prices fall as low as $40 a barrel and will wait at least three months before considering an emergency meeting, the United Arab Emirates’ energy minister said.

OPEC won’t immediately change its Nov. 27 decision to keep the group’s collective output target unchanged at 30 million barrels a day, Suhail Al-Mazrouei said. Venezuela supports an OPEC meeting given the price slide, though the country hasn’t officially requested one, an official at Venezuela’s foreign ministry said Dec. 12. The group is due to meet again on June 5.

“We are not going to change our minds because the prices went to $60 or to $40,” Mazrouei told Bloomberg at a conference in Dubai. “We’re not targeting a price; the market will stabilize itself.” He said current conditions don’t justify an extraordinary OPEC meeting. “We need to wait for at least a quarter” to consider an urgent session, he said.

OPEC’s 12 members pumped 30.56 million barrels a day in November, exceeding their collective target for a sixth straight month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait this month deepened discounts on shipments to Asia, feeding speculation that they’re fighting for market share amid a glut fed by surging U.S. shale production. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries supplies about 40 percent of the world’s oil.

The Downside of the Boom

North Dakota took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar oil industry with a regulatory system built on trust, warnings and second chances. The cooperative approach doesn’t seem to generate results.


NYT -In early August 2013, Arlene Skurupey of Blacksburg, Va., got an animated call from the normally taciturn farmer who rents her family land in Billings County, N.D. There had been an accident at the Skurupey 1-9H oil well. “Oh, my gosh, the gold is blowing,” she said he told her. “Bakken gold.”

It was the 11th blowout since 2006 at a North Dakota well operated by Continental Resources, the most prolific producer in the booming Bakken oil patch. Spewing some 173,250 gallons of potential pollutants, the eruption, undisclosed at the time, was serious enough to bring the Oklahoma-based company’s chairman and chief executive, Harold G. Hamm, to the remote scene.

More of this lengthy, detailed article at the link.   (image: Brent McDonald/NYT)

Richard Berman Energy Industry Talk Secretly Taped

WASHINGTON — If the oil and gas industry wants to prevent its opponents from slowing its efforts to drill in more places, it must be prepared to employ tactics like digging up embarrassing tidbits about environmentalists and liberal celebrities, a veteran Washington political consultant told a room full of industry executives in a speech that was secretly recorded.

The blunt advice from the consultant, Richard Berman, the founder and chief executive of the Washington-based Berman & Company consulting firm, came as Mr. Berman solicited up to $3 million from oil and gas industry executives to finance an advertising and public relations campaign called Big Green Radicals.

The company executives, Mr. Berman said in his speech, must be willing to exploit emotions like fear, greed and anger and turn them against the environmental groups. And major corporations secretly financing such a campaign should not worry about offending the general public because “you can either win ugly or lose pretty,” he said.

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