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Peak oil isn’t dead; it just smells that way – SmartPlanet

Peak oil isn’t dead; it just smells that way – SmartPlanet.

Energy analyst Chris Nelder fires back at the latest fact-free commentary on peak oil.

The Oil Drum, a Web site dedicated to informed discussions about peak oil and energy, announced on July 3 that it is closing down. (For a brief primer on peak oil, see my conversation with Brad Plumer in theWashington Post.) Those who hate the peak oil story didn’t bother to conceal their glee at the news; some even saw occasion to claim victory for their side in the “debate” over the future of fossil fuels.

“We could say ‘I told you so,’ not as a school-yard epithet, but simply as a fact,” crowed Mark Mills, co-author of a lightweight book entitled The Bottomless Well, which Publishers Weekly described as “Long on Nietzschean bombast but short on some crucial specifics.”

David Blackmon, a Houston-based consultant with a 33-year career in the oil and gas industry who is one of Forbes’ 1,300 advertorial “contributors,” called The Oil Drum “a site devoted a theory based on lack of imagination and growing irrelevance” in his mouthful of nuts.

Economist Karl Smith, another Forbes contributor, scoffed at the crucial distinction between crude oil and “all liquids” in his confusing word salad, asserting that “liquids like butane, propane and ethane are important petroleum products” without explaining why he believes they should be counted as crude oil, when they are not.

Emboldened by the recent exuberance over fracking in the United States, these pundits now claim that the only thing that has peaked “was the ability to argue that the era of oil, and hydrocarbons, was over.”

Not one of them said a single word about the global rate of oil production, which is the essence of the peak oil question. Why get into the data when merely slinging mud at your opponents and proclaiming your faith will do?

A handful of other writers offered less ideological takes. Matt Yglesias confessed that he “always found the ‘Peak Oil’ debate to be a little bit confusing” but recognized that there has been a profound price revolution: “The good old days of genuinely abundant liquid fuel really do appear to be behind us,” he wrote. Noah Smith had the most informed post of the bunch, noting that the transition to unconventional oil is a big part of why prices have been rising, and that “there is no substitute on the horizon” for good ol’ crude.

But neither of them mentioned the rate of oil production either.

Keith Kloor borrowed an Energy Information Administration (EIA) chart of U.S. production from aBBC article that repeated all the industry’s favorite talking points about how new technology has produced “a new oil rush.” Apparently, neither Kloor nor the BBC author realized that the chart represented “all liquids” production in the United States, not just crude oil, nor bothered to explore the detailed EIA data for themselves, nor tried to explain how this recent boom in U.S. production might dismiss the specter of a global peak. Kloor concluded that The Oil Drum was closing because “the numbers aren’t in your favor right now.” But like the others, he didn’t actually mention any numbers.

In short, all of these authors used The Oil Drum news to comment on the debate about peak oil — the poor predictions and demagoguing and pollyannish posturing and name-calling, which have, truth be told, tainted both sides of the issue — but none of them discussed peak oil.

I really didn’t think I’d have to say this again, but peak oil is about data, and specifically data about the production rate of oil. If you want to claim that peak oil is dead (or alive), you have to talk about data on production rates. There is no other way to discuss it.

Just for the record

Then what’s really going on here?

First, what did in The Oil Drum was volunteer burnout, falling visitor traffic, and an insufficient flow of high-quality original work and contributors. It’s unfortunate, because for the past eight years The Oil Drum has been the best free site on the Web for good rigorous work and informed discussion about energy data. I owe it a great debt for the education, the contacts, and the visibility that I gained through it.

I learned of its closing the same day I learned that Randy Udall had died. It was truly a sad and dark day for the peakists, one of those watershed moments that felt like a real turning point in the peak oil dialogue. Using the occasion to dance on their graves, as some ardent peak oil opponents did, was a low blow.

But the reason The Oil Drum has been lacking for good original content wasn’t that it had lost the argument and there wasn’t anything left to say. Far from it. The flow of content simply moved to where good analysts and writers on the subject could actually get paid for their work. That was inevitable, because a publishing model that relies on a steady flow of free articles that take days or weeks or even months of hard, highly skilled work to create simply isn’t sustainable. Freelance writers like me moved on to paying publications like SmartPlanet where we could actually make a living. Consultants and hedge funds began restricting their work to their private clients and subscribers, with maybe a teaser of free stuff posted in their blogs and newsletters. Investors and oil and gas companies began hiring capable analysts to do the work privately, after many years of enjoying the assembled intelligence on The Oil Drum (and trading it very profitably, I might add) for free. The volunteers who had put so much time into the site all these years discovered that they needed to spend their energies elsewhere. And the public got accustomed to higher prices, so the media stopped talking about peak oil, which led to a dropoff in traffic. Hey, that’s show biz.

It’s also true that many of us, having cut our teeth on the data and the dialogue at The Oil Drum, moved on to other pursuits. Once you’ve learned something, you don’t need to keep relearning it. Just speaking for myself, I moved on to grappling with the solutions to the peak oil problem: efficiency upgrades, financing, policy issues, transportation paradigms, and the transition to renewables. Merely revisiting the peak oil problem didn’t seem like a good use of my time, though I have continued to write about it as a context. I know that some other former contributors to the site changed their tacks similarly.

Second, fracking mania has been fairly well confined to the United States, because that’s where it is happening. Get outside the States for awhile, as I have done this year, and you quickly discover thatpeople are still worried about the future of oil and gas. Probably because their oil and gas prices haven’t gone down, and their reserves haven’t gone up. There is absolutely no evidence that fracking will produce significant volumes of oil outside the United States any time soon.

Third — and I know this is gonna hurt a few writers out there, but it has to be said — very few people who have written about peak oil outside of sites like The Oil Drum ever did the hard study required to really understand it. They just picked a side, usually on tribal or ideological grounds, and commenced to defend that. Many of them don’t have a clue, even now, what the difference is between, say, proved reserves and resources, or what a reserves to production ratio is, or what a P50 estimate actually represents, or the production costs and energy content of non-crude liquids. Not a clue. I’d be willing to bet that 95 percent of them have never even built a spreadsheet of oil and gas data and tried to analyze it.

Most of what you’ve read about peak oil in the broader press has been written by generalist journalists. It’s an insanely complex topic that really takes thousands of hours of study to understand. But most of them haven’t done that study, and much of what they write is wrong. Usually they just rewrite the summary of a long and technical report written by someone in the industry. They don’t read the whole thing; they don’t have the time, or they may not have the chops to understand it. They don’t do original analysis or fact-checking. And too often they don’t seem to understand the context of the data, so they don’t give you any. What does 7, or 19, or 91 million barrels a day mean to the average person? Nothing. So they don’t talk about it. But they can certainly write the hundredth variation of a story about incipient U.S. “energy independence” and how that will overturn geopolitics, blah blah blah, while playing into the mythos of American exceptionalism, without understanding the data.

Likewise, it’s easy to speculate that the solution du jour — ethanolbiofuels from algae, the ‘hydrogen economy’, space-based solar powerfuel cellsmethane hydrates, and so on — will save the day if you don’t actually dig into the data. Generalist journalists love to do that. Those articles generate lots of traffic and no one will ever hold them accountable for writing about a popular fantasy.

Actually, I’m being generous here by attributing their inattention to being generalists on tight deadlines. After a decade of this innumerate nonsense, I’ve begun to suspect either disinterest or laziness, or worse. Especially on the part of science and economics writers who clearly do have the chops to research and understand data. As Robert Bea, an expert who has studied some of the biggest civil engineering disasters in recent history, recently observed, failure is usually the result of hubris, shortsightedness, and indolence, not engineering. Our failure to prepare for peak oil is no different.

The only thing that most writers seem to have grasped is the hard reality of price. That’s easy enough; It’s published every day by a variety of agencies. A quick Google search will find it. It requires no study. Everybody cares about it. It’s cake. When prices are high, as they are now, those who only understand price look at it as evidence that the peak oil explanation has some merit. But price is fickle. When prices crashed into the $30s per barrel at the end of 2008, everybody was writing about how it was proof that the peak oil theory was wrong.

Those who do understand the technical aspects of the data are generally in the oil and gas industry. Most don’t talk about it because the data tells a story they don’t want told. So they try to divert the focus away from the data and onto the attitudes of the debaters. Or they just talk about the data that favors their point of view, like increasing technically recoverable resources and booming production in North Dakota and Texas. Most of the time, the ruse works.

So the tiresome “debate” about peak oil goes on, repeated as an endless Kabuki theatre of Malthusians vs. Cornucopians, ignoring the data in favor of another thousand words about attitudes and beliefs.

And in the middle, dear reader, is you. Caught between unwary and innumerate journalists on one side, and propaganda carefully constructed by those who are ‘talking their books’ on the other. Paying $4 a gallon for gasoline one day, then $2 six months later, then $4 again four years later. You don’t know why because the press never really explains it to you, the industry deliberately tries to confuse you, and politicians tell you whatever is needed to get your vote.

All I can say about that is: I’m sorry. It’s sad. I’ve been trying to get the facts out for years. It doesn’t seem to help.

The data

Now let’s talk about some data.

The world currently produces around 91 million barrels a day (mb/d) of ‘oil’ in the International Energy Agency’s definition, which is for all liquids. For the past two years, actual crude oil production (which includes lease condensate in the EIA’s definition) has been hovering around 75 mb/d on an annual basis, just slightly over the 74 mb/d plateau established in 2005.

The moment of truth for peak oil will be when the decline of mature fields finally overwhelms new production additions, and global supply begins to turn south. (A vogue alternative is that we’ll reach “peak demand” first, where oil is replaced by other fuels and demand falls due to greater efficiency, but as yet I find the proof that this has happened, or will happen, unconvincing.)

That moment of truth isn’t quite here yet. Fracking, along with all the other methods the world is employing to squeeze a bit more oil out of the earth, has barely budged global oil production. Here is the chart:

Chart: Peak Fish Data: EIA

What do you see there? An ignominious end to an unimaginative story perpetrated by self-interested mavericks looking to raise their profiles and sell some books, or a plateau of production that just barely broke higher in the past two years after an absolutely heroic effort that required hundreds of billions of dollars of investment and a quadrupling of oil prices?

Now let’s look at non-OPEC production, without U.S. production:

Source: Peak Fish

See how production has been falling off in recent years? That’s happening because the the aggregate decline rate of all fields is around 5 percent per year. In other words, the world loses around 3.0 to 3.8 mb/d of production each year (depending on whose numbers you use). Most of the 2 mb/d “tidal wave of oil” from U.S. fracking was absorbed by the decline in the rest of non-OPEC, as we can see from the aggregate non-OPEC production in this chart:

Source: Peak Fish

The question isn’t “Can fracking save the world from peak oil?” but “How long can America make up for declines in the rest of the world?” The answer is probably not much longer. The growth rate of tight oil production has cooled considerably over the past year, and per-well production is falling.

Now let’s look at U.S. production in isolation. Here’s the “all liquids” chart that Kloor reprinted, presumably without realizing that it wasn’t just for oil:

Looks great, right? Huge turnaround. We’re back to 1985 levels!

Now let’s look at the chart of actual U.S. crude and condensate production, without all the natural gas liquids and biofuels and refinery gains:

Source: EIA

Hey, what happened to that huge spike in production returning us to 1985 levels?

Now look at the article where I explained the difference between those numbers, and why the “all liquids” numbers overstates actual U.S. oil supply by about one-third. Do you still believe Karl Smith, who explained none of that and offered no data but simply asserted that “ ‘liquids’ is not a weaselly term” and that we should count all liquids equally “because the US Presidential Primaries begin in Iowa?”

A few more facts about U.S. oil, since there has been so much confusion disseminated about it in recent months: America consumes 19.5 mb/d of oil and produces 7.4 mb/d. On an annual basis through 2012 it was the world’s largest crude oil importer, but has probably been surpassed since by China on a monthly basis. It exports more refined products like gasoline and diesel than it imports, but that’s simply because it has a very large refining complex and falling domestic demand, not because it’s on its way to energy independence. The United States will never be a net oil exporter, nor will it surpass Saudi Arabia in oil production, no matter what you may have read about “Saudi America.”

Now let’s talk about price. Since 2003, who forecast the global repricing of oil best, the peakists who expected prices to spike into record territory, or the Cornucopians who consistently predicted that oil prices would return to historical levels? The answer is indisputable: the peakists.

For the past decade, the Cornucopians have told us that a new abundance was coming from deepwater oil, tar sands, enhanced oil recovery, biofuels, and other unconventional sources. Global oil production would rise to 120 million barrels per day, and prices would fall back to $20 or $30 per barrel. Those stories were all completely wrong. The peakists called it.

Here’s what happened: Oil repriced in response to scarcity. Triple-digit prices were responsible for the new flush of unconventional production. That production, including fracking for tight oil in the United States, raises prices, it doesn’t lower them. We’ve hit and fallen back from the consumer’s price tolerance repeatedly for the past six years.

For a last bit of data, look at this forecast from the final post that petroleum engineer Jean Lahèrrere did for The Oil Drum:

(I used another of Laherrère’s charts in my post from March.)*

Laherrère concludes: “With the poor data available today, it seems that world oil (all liquids) production will peak before 2020, Non-OPEC quite soon and OPEC around 2020. OPEC will cease to export crude oil before 2050.”

Looking closely at Laherrère’s data, it seems essentially in line with my view that in another 18 months or so we’re going to get the signal that oil needs to reprice higher still to maintain production. That will be very difficult for U.S. and European consumers to stomach. Whether that repricing will bring more oil to market, or simply kill demand, remains to be seen.

This is what the data — not beliefs or rhetoric — tell me.

What’s your bet?

So here’s what we know.

High value crude oil — the good stuff with 5.8 million BTU per barrel that we can make into diesel and gasoline and a million other things — has been generally holding on to a global production plateau since 2004. Global production will fall when the decline of mature fields overwhelms new additions. When, precisely, that will happen, no one can say for certain. But it’s almost definitely before 2020.

Most of the non-crude liquids are not equivalent to crude. Apart from tar sands and heavy oil, they contain less energy and are far less useful. Some of them can’t be made into gasoline and diesel. But with regular crude production trapped at around 75 million barrels a day, these other liquids must meet all future increases in demand for oil. As they take an increasing share of the liquid fuel market, they gradually increase the price of “oil.” Nothing on the horizon will change that.

Eventually, the price will become too high, and we’ll have “peak demand” alright, but it will be primarily because of price, not efficiency gains, and will lead to economic contraction, not growth. That price will owe to increasingly marginal and difficult — hence, expensive — prospects. In that sense, it’s a supply side problem, a concept at the heart of peak oil. Is it clear now why the “peak demand” vs. “peak supply” argument isn’t really that interesting?

If U.S. consumers are able to tolerate, say, $5-7 a gallon for gasoline by 2020, then it’s possible that the production plateau could extend a bit farther, and my expectation that global supply will begin to slip around 2015 could be wrong. It won’t be off by much, and in the grand scheme of what it means for the global economy, a year or three plus or minus is essentially irrelevant. But if I am off by even six months, you can be sure that my detractors will come out of the woodwork to say I’m all wet, and that production is going to da moon.

But my bet is that U.S. and European consumers can’t tolerate significantly higher prices. Price tolerance is something that Cornucopians never talk about, so you won’t hear that argument from them. If I am correct on that point, then production will have to decline as prices become intolerable. By virtue of its upward pressure on price, unconventional oil production contributes to, not cures, peak oil.

I expect world oil production to rise, weakly, for another two years or so, as America falls into a deeper slumber believing that fracking has cured everything. The media will reinforce that belief. And when it comes, the wake-up call is going to be harsh. In the meantime we’re just going to be waiting for the punchline.

So to those who can grasp the data, here’s my final thought: How will you prepare yourself for The Great Contraction? You’ve got perhaps two good years left of business as usual, and maybe another three or four after that before things really get difficult. I encourage you to use them well, and do what you can to make yourself resilient and self-sufficient. What will you do 10 years from now if the price of gasoline is $10 a gallon?

Yes, we do need to have a serious talk about our values, hopes, beliefs, mythologies, and ambitions; about the embedded growth paradigm, the debt overhang, and economic theory in an age of diminishing marginal returns. Those are all important discussions. But let’s have them after we understand the facts about energy. Not before.

Whatever you do, don’t think that peak oil is dead just because some guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about said so in a fact-free blog post. It’s coming. Later than some thought, but sooner than you think.

Photo: Mark Rain (AZRainman/Flickr)

*Correction July 25, 2013: In the original version of this post, I said that Laherrère’s chart “leaves out extra-heavy oil volumes which may or may not materialize from Venezuela and Canada.” Laherrère responded that this chart does in fact include those heavy oil volumes. The text has been corrected accordingly. — CN

Jul 23, 2013

Chris Nelder

Columnist (Energy)Chris Nelder is an energy analyst and consultant who has written about energy and investing for more than a decade. He is the author of two books on energy and investing, Profit from the Peak and Investing in Renewable Energy, and has appeared on BBC TV, Fox Business, CNN national radio, Australian Broadcasting Corp., CBS radio and France 24. He is based in California. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure

» Google Patent Seeks to Transmit Your Cellphone Videos to Law Enforcement Alex Jones’ Infowars: There’s a war on for your mind!

» Google Patent Seeks to Transmit Your Cellphone Videos to Law Enforcement Alex Jones’ Infowars: There’s a war on for your mind!.

Paul Joseph Watson
Infowars.com
January 31, 2014

Google has filed a patent for identifying when a “mob” event takes place by detecting when a number of cellphone videos or photos are taken at one particular location with the intention of forwarding such information to law enforcement authorities.

Image: Samsung S4 (YouTube).

“When there are at least a given number of video clips with similar time stamps and geolocation stamps uploaded to a repository, it is inferred that an event of interest has likely occurred, and a notification signal is transmitted (e.g., to a law enforcement agency, to a news organization, to a publisher of a periodical, to a public blog, etc.),” states US Patent #20140025755.

The patent raises questions about what level of remote access Google or any other company should have to your cellphone, and how such information may be abused or misinterpreted to alert authorities to ‘suspicious behavior’ which is in fact completely lawful.

Time and location data pertaining to photographs and videos is a feature which already exists in virtually all modern cellphones.

“Would only photos/videos you uploaded as publicly viewable be included into this system? Could you opt out? Could Google access the private content stored on your local device for these purposes?” asks Quentyn Kennemer.

Such a system could easily be exploited by law enforcement authorities for a multitude of reasons, including the surveillance and monitoring of protesters.

The potential threat to privacy and freedom that would be created if these kind of measures became commonplace is open ended. Back in 2012, Apple filed a patent allowing it to wirelessly disable cameras on iPhones by “forcing certain electronic devices to enter “sleep mode” when entering a sensitive area.”

Protests, political gatherings and other events at which authorities wish to prevent communication, documentation or video streaming could be turned into dead zones by creating a “geofence” around designated locations.

We have also seen preparations for giving police or government the power to impose a “blackout” on all communications during certain times because cellphones can “annoy, frustrate, and even threaten people in sensitive venues.”

Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/paul.j.watson.71
FOLLOW Paul Joseph Watson @ https://twitter.com/PrisonPlanet

*********************

Paul Joseph Watson is the editor and writer for Infowars.com and Prison Planet.com. He is the author of Order Out Of Chaos. Watson is also a host for Infowars Nightly News.

The Ukrainian Government is Now Mass Texting Protestors with Warning Messages | A Lightning War for Liberty

The Ukrainian Government is Now Mass Texting Protestors with Warning Messages | A Lightning War for Liberty.

Earlier today, I highlighted the ingenious use of mirrors by Ukrainian protestorsto utilize non-violent, creative tactics to make powerful political statements. With violence escalating in the past 24 hours, it appears the Ukrainian government is now breaking out technological Big Brother by sending mass text messages to protestors warning them that they are being watched.

Remember: Your Government Loves You.

From CNET:

Your government wants to protect you. Because your government cares. Because your government works for you.

Except, that is, when you don’t like your government. That’s when your government works against you.

Take the Ukraine, which several people are trying to do just at the moment.

It’s decided to show what open government is really about. So it’s openly texting its citizens to tell them when they’ve been spotted protesting against the government.

As The New York Times reports, the powers-that-be are being powered by phone technology that identifies any cell phone that happens to be adjacent to where protesters are clashing with the uniformed officers of the state. (Protesting, you see, has suddenly been made illegal.)

Text messages are reportedly being sent that say: “We can see you!!!”

Yes, I have inserted quite some paraphrasing here. The texts actually say: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”

Full article here.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

Trust in Governments Slides to Record Low Amid U.S. Spy Programs – Bloomberg

Trust in Governments Slides to Record Low Amid U.S. Spy Programs – Bloomberg.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Governments are struggling to maintain public trust amid the disclosure of U.S. spy programs by former contractor Edward Snowden and record unemployment in Europe. Confidence in government in the U.S. plummeted 16 points to 37 percent.

Trust in governments fell, making them the world’s least-trusted institutions for a third year, according to a survey published before policy makers and executives gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Faith in governments fell to 44 percent from 48 percent in 2013, according to the 2014 Trust Barometer survey published by Edelman, a public-relations firm. Trust in business held steady at about 58 percent, bringing its lead over government to the widest in the 14 years the poll has been taken.

Governments are struggling to maintain public trust amid the disclosure of U.S. spy programs by former contractor Edward Snowden and record unemployment in Europe. Confidence in government in the U.S. plummeted 16 points to 37 percent, Edelman said.

“This is a profound evolution in the landscape of trust from 2009 where business had to partner with government to regain trust, to today, where business must lead the debate for change,” Richard Edelman, the firm’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Trust in CEOs is at 43 percent, above the 36 percent score for government officials, according to the survey. Confidence in the media slipped 5 percentage points to 52 percent.

Banks and financial services were the least-trusted industries for the fourth year, scoring 51 percent, up 1 point from 2013, the survey shows. Technology companies topped the ranking again at 79 percent, up two percentage points from the previous year.

Edelman polled 6,000 individuals in 27 countries with a college education and with household income in the top quartile for their age and country. The ages of those surveyed ranged from 24 to 65.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elisa Martinuzzi in Milan at emartinuzzi@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.net

Obama To Announce Overhaul Of NSA Surveillance Program

Obama To Announce Overhaul Of NSA Surveillance Program.

President Barack Obama will announce on Friday a major overhaul of a controversial National Security Agency program that collects vast amounts of basic telephone call data on foreigners and Americans, a senior Obama administration official said.

In an 11 a.m. (1600 GMT) speech at the Justice Department, Obama will say he is ordering a transition that will significantly change the handling of what is known as the telephone “metadata” program from the way the NSA currently handles it.

Obama’s move is aimed at restoring Americans’ confidence in U.S. intelligence practices and caps months of reviews by the White House in the wake of damaging disclosures about U.S. surveillance tactics from former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.

In a nod to privacy advocates, Obama will say he has decided that the government should not hold the bulk telephone metadata, a decision that could frustrate some intelligence officials.

In addition, he will order that effectively immediately, “we will take steps to modify the program so that a judicial finding is required before we query the database,” said the senior official, who revealed details of the speech on condition of anonymity.

While a presidential advisory panel had recommended that the bulk data be controlled by a third party such as the telephone companies, Obama will not offer a specific proposal for who should store the data in the future.

Obama has asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the intelligence community to report back to him before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28 on how to preserve the necessary capabilities of the program, without the government holding the metadata.

“At the same time, he will consult with the relevant committees in Congress to seek their views,” the official said.

Obama is balancing public anger at the disclosure of intrusion into Americans’ privacy with his commitment to retain policies he considers critical to protecting the United States.

The official said Obama believes the bulk data program is important to countering terrorist threats but that “we can and should be able to preserve those capabilities while addressing the privacy and civil liberties concerns that are raised by the government holding this meta-data.”

People familiar with the administration’s deliberations say Obama also is expected to agree to other reforms, such as greatly scaling back spying on foreign leaders and putting a public advocate on the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

TELEPHONE DATA

But the revelation that the NSA had been collecting vast amounts of telephone metadata on both foreigners and Americans, which had been done in secret for years, became the Snowden disclosure that generated the most heated domestic U.S. political controversy and led to the introduction of conflicting bills in Congress.

The Intelligence committees of both the Senate and House had signaled that they believed current telephone metadata arrangements, under which the data is collected and held by the NSA for five years, should remain in place.

But both the Senate and House Judiciary committees had approved bills that would eliminate domestic metadata collection entirely.

The presidential advisory panel that submitted its recommendations to Obama late last year said collecting telephone metadata, which shows which numbers call which other numbers, and the time and length of calls, should be taken out of NSA control and handed to a third party, such as the phone companies themselves.

Intelligence officials for some time had been circulating secret proposals for having the data stored by phone companies or a non-profit group, and some officials had signaled publicly that NSA might have to accept changes.

Other officials have privately argued that if the system were changed, the NSA should still have instant, direct, online access to the data.

Citing recent breaches of credit card and personal data suffered by Target stores, government officials opposed to changes in the current arrangements for metadata collection argue that the review panel’s proposals would make Americans’ phone data less, rather than more secure.

Members of the review panel met with top administration officials on Wednesday to discuss the president’s speech.

COMBATING TERRORISM

Obama has been under pressure from the intelligence community and key lawmakers to avoid tampering with programs they see as vital to thwarting terrorism plots.

“We believe the program is legal. I am hopeful it’s sustained by the president, maybe in slightly different form,” said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and an important voice in the NSA debate.

Snowden leaked secrets about mass collection of telephone data and other secret eavesdropping programs to newspapers before fleeing to Hong Kong and then to Moscow. Journalists with access to Snowden’s materials say there are many more disclosures to come.

When the Snowden disclosures first appeared last June, Obama said, “We’ve struck the right balance” between the desire for information and the need to respect Americans’ privacy.

But after a disclosure of U.S. eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, he called for “additional constraints” on American surveillance practices.

Privacy advocates have been appealing for greater protections for Americans’ constitutional right to privacy. Some privacy advocates will doubtless be pleased by Obama’s plan but other NSA critics may say the president did not go far enough.

“While we welcome the president’s acknowledgement that reforms must be made, we warn the president not to expect thunderous applause for cosmetic reforms. We demand more than the illusion of reform,” said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, a civil liberties advocacy organization.

As well as the tension with Germany, the eavesdropping has disrupted relations with some other nations. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed a state visit to the United States to express her anger over U.S. intrusions in her country.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan, and Noah Barkin in Berlin; Editing by David Storey and Eric Walsh)

Alan Rusbridger: Westminster is hoping Snowden revelations go away | Media | theguardian.com

Alan Rusbridger: Westminster is hoping Snowden revelations go away | Media | theguardian.com.

Alan Rusbridger

Alan Rusbridger told the BBC both the main political parties felt compromised by the surveillance revelations. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Britain’s political class has been closing its eyes and hoping the revelations from Edward Snowden go away rather than tackle important issues over mass surveillance that have provoked such heated debate in America, the editor in chief of the Guardian has said.

Alan Rusbridger accused Westminster of “complacency” about the revelations from Snowden, which have been published in the Guardianover the past six months.

Speaking to the BBC hours before the US president, Barack Obama, was due to give details about reforms to the US spy headquarters, the National Security Agency (NSA), Rusbridger said: “I think one of the problems is that both of the main political parties feel compromised about this. Labour is not keen to get involved because a lot of this stuff was done on their watch.”

He added: “I think there is a degree of complacency here. There has been barely a whisper from Westminster. I think they are closing their eyes and hoping that it goes away. But it won’t go away because it’s impossible to reform the NSA without having a deep knock-on effect on what our own intelligence services do.”

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Rusbridger said the oversight mechanisms that were supposed to review the work of Britain’s intelligence agencies had proved to be “laughable”. He said the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, even with the extra money it had received recently, was not up to the job. “I just don’t think they have the technical expertise or the resources,” he said.

Rusbridger added: “What is unprecedented in the last 15 years is the advance of technology. It is completely different from anything that has existed in humankind before.”

Earlier in the programme, William Hague, the foreign secretary, reaffirmed his belief that Britain’s eavesdropping headquarters, GCHQ, had acted within the law when it looked at the content of intercepted messages.

He refused to comment on the Guardian’s latest story from the Snowden files – which shows GCHQ has access to “unwarranted” text messagescollected by the NSA in a programme codenamed Dishfire.

“I am not going to comment on allegations or leaks. I can’t possibly do that,” said Hague.

“But I can say [we have] a very strong system of checks and balances of warrants being required from me or the home secretary to intercept the content of the communications.

“That system is not breached. I have not seen anything to suggest that system has been breached. We have probably the strongest system in the world. Not only do I and the home secretary oversee these things, but we have commissioners who oversee our work and report to the prime minister. No country has a stronger system than that.”

But Rusbridger said Hague had sidestepped the main issue.

Dishfire collects so-called “metadata”, which can be analysed with fewer legal restraints. Yet expert after expert had admitted metadata was as valuable as content to intelligence analysts, said Rusbridger, because it allows analysts to build up a picture of your whereabouts and your relationships.

“There is not much distinction between metadata and content,” he said.

“[Hague] talked about being within the law on content. This isn’t content. This is metadata, which politicians make out as very harmless. This is not just billing data. The world has moved on. What people can tell through metadata is almost everything about you.

“Contrary to what William Hague said the documents say, the NSA likes working here because of the light legal regime here.”

Rusbridger also questioned the claims of Britain’s security chiefs that the Guardian’s revelations had undermined national security and – in the words of the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers – left al-Qaida rubbing its hands in glee.

Rusbridger said the claim was “theatrical … but there was no evidence attached”.

Peak Oil Is Dead | Michael T. Klare

Peak Oil Is Dead | Michael T. Klare.

Long Live Peak Oil!

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

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.”

Not so fast, though.  The present round of eulogies brings to mind the Mark Twain’s famous line: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  Before obits for peak oil theory pile up too high, let’s take a careful look at these assertions.  Fortunately, theInternational Energy Agency (IEA), the Paris-based research arm of the major industrialized powers, recently did just that — and the results were unexpected.  While not exactly reinstalling peak oil on its throne, it did make clear that much of the talk of a perpetual gusher of American shale oil is greatly exaggerated.  The exploitation of those shale reserves may delay the onset of peak oil for a year or so, the agency’s experts noted, but the long-term picture “has not changed much with the arrival of [shale oil].”

The IEA’s take on this subject is especially noteworthy because its assertion only a year earlier that the U.S. would overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s number one oil producer sparked the “peak oil is dead” deluge in the first place.  Writing in the 2012 edition of itsWorld Energy Outlook, the agency claimed not only that “the United States is projected to become the largest global oil producer” by around 2020, but also that with U.S. shale production and Canadian tar sands coming online, “North America becomes a net oil exporter around 2030.”

That November 2012 report highlighted the use of advanced production technologies — notably horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) — to extract oil and natural gas from once inaccessible rock, especially shale.  It also covered the accelerating exploitation of Canada’s bitumen (tar sands or oil sands), another resource previously considered too forbidding to be economical to develop.  With the output of these and other“unconventional” fuels set to explode in the years ahead, the report then suggested, the long awaited peak of world oil production could be pushed far into the future.

The release of the 2012 edition of World Energy Outlook triggered a global frenzy of speculative reporting, much of it announcing a new era of American energy abundance. “Saudi America” was the headline over one such hosanna in the Wall Street Journal.  Citing the new IEA study, that paper heralded a coming “U.S. energy boom” driven by “technological innovation and risk-taking funded by private capital.”  From then on, American energy analysts spoke rapturously of the capabilities of a set of new extractive technologies, especially fracking, to unlock oil and natural gas from hitherto inaccessible shale formations.  “This is a real energy revolution,” the Journal crowed.

But that was then. The most recent edition of World Energy Outlook, published this past November, was a lot more circumspect.  Yes, shale oil, tar sands, and other unconventional fuels will add to global supplies in the years ahead, and, yes, technology will help prolong the life of petroleum.  Nonetheless, it’s easy to forget that we are also witnessing the wholesale depletion of the world’s existing oil fields and so all these increases in shale output must be balanced against declines in conventional production.  Under ideal circumstances — high levels of investment, continuing technological progress, adequate demand and prices — it might be possible to avert an imminent peak in worldwide production, but as the latest IEA report makes clear, there is no guarantee whatsoever that this will occur.

Inching Toward the Peak

Before plunging deeper into the IEA’s assessment, let’s take a quick look at peak oil theory itself.

As developed in the 1950s by petroleum geologist M. King Hubbert, peak oil theory holdsthat any individual oil field (or oil-producing country) will experience a high rate of production growth during initial development, when drills are first inserted into a oil-bearing reservoir.  Later, growth will slow, as the most readily accessible resources have been drained and a greater reliance has to be placed on less productive deposits.  At this point — usually when about half the resources in the reservoir (or country) have been extracted — daily output reaches a maximum, or “peak,” level and then begins to subside.  Of course, the field or fields will continue to produce even after peaking, but ever more effort and expense will be required to extract what remains.  Eventually, the cost of production will exceed the proceeds from sales, and extraction will be terminated.

For Hubbert and his followers, the rise and decline of oil fields is an inevitable consequence of natural forces: oil exists in pressurized underground reservoirs and so will be forced up to the surface when a drill is inserted into the ground.  However, once a significant share of the resources in that reservoir has been extracted, the field’s pressure will drop and artificial means — water, gas, or chemical insertion — will be needed to restore pressure and sustain production.  Sooner or later, such means become prohibitively expensive.

Peak oil theory also holds that what is true of an individual field or set of fields is true of the world as a whole.  Until about 2005, it did indeed appear that the globe was edging ever closer to a peak in daily oil output, as Hubbert’s followers had long predicted.  (He died in 1989.)  Several recent developments have, however, raised questions about the accuracy of the theory.  In particular, major private oil companies have taken to employing advanced technologies to increase the output of the reservoirs under their control, extending the lifetime of existing fields through the use of what’s called “enhanced oil recovery,” or EOR.  They’ve also used new methods to exploit fields once considered inaccessible in places like the Arctic and deep oceanic waters, thereby opening up the possibility of a most un-Hubbertian future.

In developing these new technologies, the privately owned “international oil companies” (IOCs) were seeking to overcome their principal handicap: most of the world’s “easy oil” — the stuff Hubbert focused on that comes gushing out of the ground whenever a drill is inserted — has already been consumed or is controlled by state-owned “national oil companies” (NOCs), including Saudi Aramco, the National Iranian Oil Company, and the Kuwait National Petroleum Company, among others.  According to the IEA, such state companies control about 80 percent of the world’s known petroleum reserves, leaving relatively little for the IOCs to exploit.

To increase output from the limited reserves still under their control — mostly located in North America, the Arctic, and adjacent waters — the private firms have been working hard to develop techniques to exploit “tough oil.”  In this, they have largely succeeded: they are now bringing new petroleum streams into the marketplace and, in doing so, have shaken the foundations of peak oil theory.

Those who say that “peak oil is dead” cite just this combination of factors.  By extending the lifetime of existing fields through EOR and adding entire new sources of oil, the global supply can be expanded indefinitely.  As a result, they claim, the world possesses a “relatively boundless supply” of oil (and natural gas).  This, for instance, was the way Barry Smitherman of the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates that state’s oil industry)described the global situation at a recent meeting of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

Peak Technology

In place of peak oil, then, we have a new theory that as yet has no name but might be called techno-dynamism.  There is, this theory holds, no physical limit to the global supply of oil so long as the energy industry is prepared to, and allowed to, apply its technological wizardry to the task of finding and producing more of it.  Daniel Yergin, author of the industry classics, The Prize and The Quest, is a key proponent of this theory.  He recently summed upthe situation this way: “Advances in technology take resources that were not physically accessible and turn them into recoverable reserves.”  As a result, he added, “estimates of the total global stock of oil keep growing.”

From this perspective, the world supply of petroleum is essentially boundless.  In addition to “conventional” oil — the sort that comes gushing out of the ground — the IEA identifies six other potential streams of petroleum liquids: natural gas liquids; tar sands and extra-heavy oil; kerogen oil (petroleum solids derived from shale that must be melted to become usable); shale oil; coal-to-liquids (CTL); and gas-to-liquids (GTL).  Together, these “unconventional” streams could theoretically add several trillion barrels of potentially recoverable petroleum to the global supply, conceivably extending the Oil Age hundreds of years into the future (and in the process, via climate change, turning the planet into an uninhabitable desert).

But just as peak oil had serious limitations, so, too, does techno-dynamism.  At its core is a belief that rising world oil demand will continue to drive the increasingly costly investments in new technologies required to exploit the remaining hard-to-get petroleum resources.  As suggested in the 2013 edition of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, however, this belief should be treated with considerable skepticism.

Among the principal challenges to the theory are these:

1. Increasing Technology Costs: While the costs of developing a resource normally decline over time as industry gains experience with the technologies involved, Hubbert’s law of depletion doesn’t go away.  In other words, oil firms invariably develop the easiest “tough oil” resources first, leaving the toughest (and most costly) for later.  For example, the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands began with the strip-mining of deposits close to the surface.  Because those are becoming exhausted, however, energy firms are now going after deep-underground reserves using far costlier technologies.  Likewise, many of the most abundant shale oil deposits in North Dakota have now been depleted, requiring anincreasing pace of drilling to maintain production levels.  As a result, the IEA reports, the cost of developing new petroleum resources will continually increase: up to $80 per barrel for oil obtained using advanced EOR techniques, $90 per barrel for tar sands and extra-heavy oil, $100 or more for kerogen and Arctic oil, and $110 for CTL and GTL.  The market may not, however, be able to sustain levels this high, putting such investments in doubt.

2. Growing Political and Environmental Risk: By definition, tough oil reserves are located in problematic areas.  For example, an estimated 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil lies in the Arctic, along with 30 percent of its untapped natural gas.  The environmental risks associated with their exploitation under the worst of weather conditions imaginable will quickly become more evident — and so, faced with the rising potential for catastrophic spills in a melting Arctic, expect a commensurate increase in political opposition to such drilling.  In fact, a recent increase has sparked protests in both Alaska and Russia, including the much-publicized September 2013 attempt by activists from Greenpeace toscale a Russian offshore oil platform — an action that led to their seizure and arrest by Russian commandos.  Similarly, expanded fracking operations have provoked a steady increase in anti-fracking activism.  In response to such protests and other factors, oil firms are being forced to adopt increasingly stringent environmental protections, pumping up the cost of production further.

3. Climate-Related Demand Reduction: The techno-optimist outlook assumes that oil demand will keep rising, prompting investors to provide the added funds needed to develop the technologies required.  However, as the effects of rampant climate change accelerate, more and more polities are likely to try to impose curbs of one sort or another on oil consumption, suppressing demand — and so discouraging investment.  This is already happening in the United States, where mandated increases in vehicle fuel-efficiency standards are expected to significantly reduce oil consumption.  Future “demand destruction” of this sort is bound to impose a downward pressure on oil prices, diminishing the inclination of investors to finance costly new development projects.

Combine these three factors, and it is possible to conceive of a “technology peak” not unlike the peak in oil output originally envisioned by M. King Hubbert.  Such a techno-peak is likely to occur when the “easy” sources of “tough” oil have been depleted, opponents of fracking and other objectionable forms of production have imposed strict (and costly) environmental regulations on drilling operations, and global demand has dropped below a level sufficient to justify investment in costly extractive operations.  At that point, global oil production will decline even if supplies are “boundless” and technology is still capable of unlocking more oil every year.

Peak Oil Reconsidered

Peak oil theory, as originally conceived by Hubbert and his followers, was largely governed by natural forces.  As we have seen, however, these can be overpowered by the application of increasingly sophisticated technology.  Reservoirs of energy once considered inaccessible can be brought into production, and others once deemed exhausted can be returned to production; rather than being finite, the world’s petroleum base now appears virtually inexhaustible.

Does this mean that global oil output will continue rising, year after year, without ever reaching a peak?  That appears unlikely.  What seems far more probable is that we will see a slow tapering of output over the next decade or two as costs of production rise and climate change — along with opposition to the path chosen by the energy giants — gains momentum.  Eventually, the forces tending to reduce supply will overpower those favoring higher output, and a peak in production will indeed result, even if not due to natural forces alone.

Such an outcome is, in fact, envisioned in one of three possible energy scenarios the IEA’s mainstream experts lay out in the latest edition of World Energy Outlook. The first assumes no change in government policies over the next 25 years and sees world oil supply rising from 87 to 110 million barrels per day by 2035; the second assumes some effort to curb carbon emissions and so projects output reaching “only” 101 million barrels per day by the end of the survey period.

It’s the third trajectory, the “450 Scenario,” that should raise eyebrows.  It assumes that momentum develops for a global drive to keep greenhouse gas emissions below 450 parts per million — the maximum level at which it might be possible to prevent global average temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (and so cause catastrophic climate effects).  As a result, it foresees a peak in global oil output occurring around 2020 at about 91 million barrels per day, with a decline to 78 million barrels by 2035.

It would be premature to suggest that the “450 Scenario” will be the immediate roadmap for humanity, since it’s clear enough that, for the moment, we are on a highway to hell that combines the IEA’s first two scenarios.  Bear in mind, moreover, that many scientists believea global temperature increase of even 2 degrees Celsius would be enough to produce catastrophic climate effects.  But as the effects of climate change become more pronounced in our lives, count on one thing: the clamor for government action will grow more intense, and so eventually we’re likely to see some variation of the 450 Scenario take shape.  In the process, the world’s demand for oil will be sharply constricted, eliminating the incentive to invest in costly new production schemes.

The bottom line: Global peak oil remains in our future, even if not purely for the reasons given by Hubbert and his followers.  With the gradual disappearance of “easy” oil, the major private firms are being forced to exploit increasingly tough, hard-to-reach reserves, thereby driving up the cost of production and potentially discouraging new investment at a time when climate change and environmental activism are on the rise.

Peak oil is dead!  Long live peak oil!

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.

Time to stop investing in carbon capture and storage

Time to stop investing in carbon capture and storage.

by Jennie C. Stephens, originally published by Wiley Online Library  | TODAY

Abstract: Government investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a large and expensive fossil-fuel subsidy with a low probability of eventual societal benefit. Within the tight resource constrained environments that almost all governments are currently operating in, it is irresponsible to sustain this type of subsidy. CCS has been promoted as a ‘bridging’ technology to provide CO2reductions until non-fossil-fuel energy is ramped up. But the past decade of substantial government investment and slow progress suggests that the challenges are many, and it will take longer to build the CCS bridge than to shift away from fossil-fuels. Optimism about the potential of CCS is based primarily on research on technical feasibility, but very little attention has been paid to the societal costs of governments perpetuating fossil-fuels or to the sociopolitical requirements of long-term regulation of CO2 stored underground. Deep systemic change is needed to alter the disastrous global fossil-fuel trajectory. Government investment in CCS and other fossil-fuel technologies must end so that the distraction and complacency of the false sense of security such investments provide are removed. Instead of continuing to invest billions in CCS, governments should invest more aggressively in technologies, policies, and initiatives that will accelerate a smooth transition to non-fossil-fuel-based energy systems. We need to divest from perpetuating a fossil-fuel infrastructure, and invest instead in social and technical changes that will help us prepare to be more resilient in an increasingly unstable and unpredictable future.

INTRODUCTION

For over a decade, billions of dollars of government investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology have provided a glimmer of hope for reconciling carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and global growth in fossil-fuel use.[1, 2] CCS has offered a vision of a future in which the impacts of growing fossil-fuel reliance are minimized by capturing and storing the CO2 instead of allowing it to accumulate in the atmosphere.[3, 4] Many have projected that CCS is a technology critical to ‘solving’ climate change while continuing our reliance on fossil-fuels.[5-10]

But it is becoming increasingly clear that investing in CCS is not money well spent. As the global climate-energy situation becomes increasingly dire, bold measures with near-term influence are needed to reduce, rather than sustain, fossil-fuel reliance. Governments around the world need to divest in fossil-fuel technology and stop subsidizing CCS and other fossil-fuel technologies. Instead of continuing to invest billions in CCS, governments should be investing more aggressively in technologies, policies, and initiatives that will accelerate a smooth transition to non-fossil-fuel-based energy systems. Despite the challenges of envisioning a less-fossil-fuel-dependent energy future, we know that an eventual move away from fossil-fuels is inevitable. A decrease in investment in fossil-based energy technology coupled with an increase in innovation investment in non-fossil-based energy systems will help us prepare for this transition promoting gradual change and reducing the likelihood of an abrupt, disruptive shift away from fossil-fuels.

A FALSE SENSE OF OPTIMISM

Given the magnitude of society’s reliance on fossil-fuels, the technological vision of CCS has had a powerful influence on governmental action on climate change.[11, 12] The emergence of the possibility of CCS over 10 years ago enabled many fossil-fuel dependent actors, particularly individuals and institutions in coal-dependent regions of the world, to stop denying the existence of climate change; CCS provided the possibility of continuing coal use while also addressing climate change.[13] Now with recent increases in natural gas reliance, CCS similarly offers the possibility of reconciling climate mitigation goals with growth in natural gas power plants. But this vision of CCS has also enabled complacency about the growing dangers of sustained fossil-fuel dependence. And the billions of dollars in government funds devoted to CCS has reduced the level of investment in non-fossil-fuel energy including initiatives and technologies with more concrete, near-term societal benefits. As the need to reduce fossil-fuel reliance is increasingly acknowledged for climate and many other reasons, CCS investments are dangerous as they further incentivize and legitimize continued use of fossil-fuels, and they create a false sense of optimism that our current energy systems can be safely perpetuated.

Beyond acknowledging CCS investment as an additional fossil-fuel subsidy,[14] many other factors indicate that the time has come for governments to stop investing in CCS. First, despite the billions of dollars already invested, widespread CCS deployment remains a distant, far-fetched, extremely expensive possibility.[15-17] The slow progress and long-time horizon for realizing any potential societal benefits from CCS investments is problematic because the CCS strategy has a limited lifetime.[18] CCS has been promoted as a ‘bridging’ technology to provide some CO2 reductions until non-fossil-fuel energy is ramped up. But the past decade of steady investment but slow progress suggests that it will take longer to build this bridge than to shift away from fossil-fuels.[16] Australia’s recent cuts and deferred investment in its CCS programs reflects recognition of this time-scale problem; Australia cut its investment in its long-term CCS strategy to provide near-term budgetary relief and also to offset costs of the country’s emission trading scheme, which represents a more direct, near-term approach to reducing atmospheric CO2 (the future of Australia’s cap-and-trade system is now uncertain following the September 2013 election).

In the current global economic situation, government expenditure of the magnitude required to advance CCS is no longer justifiable. A single CCS demonstration plant is estimated to cost on the order of 1 billion dollars, and those advocating for more investment in CCS are asking governments to spend $3–4 billion each year for the next decade.[9, 19] Reallocation of this level of funding to promoting non-fossil-fuel energy would be a much less-risky more responsible and justifiable way for government to invest public money.

The amount of energy required to capture and store CO2 is often not adequately recognized in optimistic perceptions of the potential of CCS. This so-called energy penalty has been estimated to be about 30% with a range from 11 to 40%.[20] This means roughly that for every three coal-fired power plants utilizing CCS an additional power plant would be required simply to supply the energy needed to capture and store the CO2. The magnitude of this energy penalty (including even the lower estimates) is so high that it is difficult to imagine a future scenario in which consuming this much additional energy to enable CCS would actually make sense.

In addition, CCS is unlikely to ever become an effective global CO2 reduction strategy because of the political difficulties of managing and preventing leakage of the underground storage of CO2 for thousands of years after it is injected.[21] Optimism about the potential of CCS is based primarily on research on technical feasibility, but very little attention has been paid to the sociopolitical requirements of regulating and enforcing long-term monitoring and maintenance of CO2 stored underground.[22] Global institutional structures with capacity to enforce liability for thousands or even hundreds of years do not exist. And political instability, corruption, and inevitable tensions among countries create severe and constant risks of any proposed global CO2 storage management scheme.[23]

The health and safety costs of perpetuating fossil-fuels represent another reason to end government investment in CCS.[24] The large, industrial-scale, fossil-fuel power plants that CCS is being designed to enable cause major health and safety risks to both the communities surrounding the plant (including water and air pollution) and to the communities impacted by fossil-fuel extraction (including coal mining, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction, and fossil-fuel transport).[25] In addition, strong public concern about the health and safety risks of storing CO2 underground has derailed several large-scale CCS demonstration projects in the past 4 years including the Vattenfall project in Germany and the Barendrecht project in the Netherlands.[26] Concern about earthquakes triggered by injection of large volumes of CO2 underground is contributing to technical understanding of the risks of leakage.[27, 28] The private sector has recognized the many risks of CCS and has only been willing to invest in CCS in conjunction with strong government investment.

ENCOURAGING COMPLACENCY WITH CLAIMS OF ‘SOLVING’ CLIMATE CHANGE

A final critical reason to end government investment in CCS relates to the impossibility of claims that CCS is critical to ‘solving’ climate change. Climate science now tells us very clearly that no matter what is done to curb greenhouse gas emissions the climate is changing irreversibly to a new and different reality.[29] So any claims that a specific technology like CCS is critical to ‘solving’ climate change is misleading and perpetuates a false sense of complacency about the realities and risks of climate change. This complacency coupled with optimism that CCS provides a ‘solution’ to climate change is dangerous, and it detracts from the increasingly urgent need for systemic changes that are now desperately needed to prepare us for the changing climate regime.

Continued CCS investment appears to fuel optimism in the face of the dire global energy realities including rapid recent growth in coal-fired power plants in developing countries.[30] During the past decade global coal consumption has grown by more than 50% with much of that growth concentrated in China and India. Maintaining optimism about this situation is extremely difficult, but the assumption and hope that one day these new coal-fired power plants might be retrofitted with CCS has been an important mechanism for remaining positive.[31-33]

CHALLENGING ASSUMPTIONS OF INEVITABILITY OF SUSTAINED COAL USE

For many climate and energy experts around the world, CCS has become the holy-grail of climate mitigation. Advocating for government support for CCS technology has become a passion for many deeply committed, technologically optimistic energy professionals. This optimism seems to make sense for those who believe the dominant narrative that continuing growth of coal is inevitable due to its low cost, abundance, and reliability.[30] In this narrative coal offers unique potential to continue to expand electricity access in the developing world providing unparalleled economic development opportunity. The problem with this narrative is that the extreme negative social, economic, environmental, and human health impacts of coal[24] are dismissed and not adequately considered. The time has come for energy analysts and governments to recognize that sustained growth of coal use is NOT inevitable. If governments invest in and focus on alternative visions, mainstream energy projections based on dominant current assumptions become increasingly unlikely.

The case for substantial government investment in CCS seems to have sustained such broad appeal because many assume that the economic, political, and social hurdles of advancing CCS are lower than the hurdles of moving away from fossil-fuels. CCS advocates frequently point out that CCS is preferable to moving away from fossil-fuels because CCS does not demand a radical alteration of national economies, global trade, or personal lifestyles. But radical systemic change in our energy systems is needed now more than ever before, and investments that slow down this transition are a dangerous distraction.

POLITICAL LOCK-IN

From a technological perspective, it has been suggested that the infrastructural requirements and inflexibility of CCS would exacerbate ‘technological lock-in’ to fossil-fuel use.[11] From a political perspective, it now seems that the sunk-costs associated with the amount of money already invested in CCS is creating a difficult ‘political lock-in’. For governments that have already invested millions or billions of dollars and considerable political capital to advance CCS, ending this support is politically challenging. And the billions of dollars already spent has created a large and powerful CCS advocacy coalition that includes multiple institutions and individuals around the world whose professional responsibilities include advocating for more government funding for CCS.[34, 35] The technically optimistic focus of these CCS advocates has limited consideration of the societal risks of CCS investments and the societal value of investing instead in alternative non-fossil-fuel-based strategies.

FOSSIL-FUEL DIVESTMENT

For the well-being of societies around the world, divestment from fossil-fuels needs to become a governmental priority. Despite the obvious political challenges of resisting the powerful fossil-fuel establishment, a subtle but definite signal of movement toward such a rebellious idea was given by President Obama last summer when he mentioned ‘divestment’ in his speech on climate.[36] Although the US officially continues to espouse an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy which includes investing in CCS, the time has come for the United States and other governments who have invested in CCS to exercise their influence to selectively divest in fossil-fuels and invest more heavily in non-fossil-fuel energy technologies. The perceived need for CCS has already been reduced in the EU where regulations now in place incentivize moving away from fossil-fuels by putting a price on CO2 emissions. And proposed new CO2 regulations in the United States have already changed firmly held assumptions of sustained long-term coal use in the United States and reduced expectations of widespread deployment of CCS.[37]

Government investment in CCS is a large, expensive, and unnecessary fossil-fuel subsidy with an extremely low probability of eventual societal benefit. In the tight, resource constrained environment that almost all governments are operating within, it is irresponsible for governments to sustain this type of subsidy. Deep systemic change is required to alter the disastrous global fossil-fuel trajectory. Government investment in CCS and other fossil-fuel technologies must end, so that the distraction and complacency of the false sense of security such investments provide are removed.

Albert Einstein famously pointed out that problems cannot be solved with the same mindset in which they were created. We need to move beyond the powerful fossil-fuel mindset, and let go of the false sense of optimism that CCS investments provide. We also need to end the perception that CCS or any specific mix of technologies has the potential to ‘solve’ climate change. We need to divest from perpetuating a fossil-fuel infrastructure, and instead invest in social and technical changes that will help us prepare to be more resilient in an increasingly unstable and unpredictable future.

REFERENCES

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3. IPCC. Metz B, Davidson O, de Coninck H, Loos M, Meyer L, eds. IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2005.
4. Jaccard M. Sustainable Fossil Fuels. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press; 2005.
5. Gibbins J, Chalmers H. Preparing for global rollout: A “developed country first” demonstration programme for rapid CCS deployment. Energy Policy 2008, 36:501–507.
6. Global CCS Institute. An ideal portfolio of CCS projects and rational for supporting projects; 2009.
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13. Stephens JC. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the USA. Urban F. Low Carbon Development: Key Issues. London: Earthscan; 2013.
14. Victor D. Untold billions: fossil-fuel subsidies, their impacts, and the path to reform. In: The Politics of Fossil-Fuel Subsidies. International Institute for Sustainable Development. Online Publication.http://www.iisd.org/gsi/sites/default/files/synthesis_ffs.pdf; 2009.
15. Scott V, Gilfillan S, Markusson N, Chalmers H, Haszeldine RS. Last chance for carbon capture and storage. Nat Clim Change 2013, 3:105–111.
16. Boretti A. Is there any real chance for carbon capture to be beneficial to the environment? Energy Policy 2013, 57:107–108.
17. GCCSI. Global status of CCS—update Jan 2013; 2013.
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19. McKinsey. CCS—assessing the economics; 2008.
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21. Wilson EJ, Friedmann SJ, Pollak MF. Research for deployment: incorporating risk, regulation, and liability for carbon capture and sequestration. Environ Sci Technol 2007, 41:5945–5952.
22. Wilson EJ, Johnson TL, Keith DW. Regulating the ultimate sink: managing the risks of geologic CO2 storage. Environ Sci Technol 2003, 37:3476–3483.
23. De Coninck H. Successful CCS relies upon social science. Clim Policy 2013, 13:530–532.
24. Muller NZ, Mendelsohn R, Nordhaus W. Environmental accounting for pollution in the United States economy. Am Econ Rev 2011, 101:1649–1675.
25. Markandya A, Wilkinson P. Electricity generation and health. Lancet 2007, 370:979–990.
26. GCCSI. Global status of large-scale integrated CCS projects; 2011.
27. Zoback MD, Gorelick SM. Earthquake triggering and large-scale geologic storage of carbon dioxide. PNAS 2012, 109:10164–10168.
28. National Research Council of the National Academies. Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies: The National Academies Press; 2013.
29. Hulme M. Why We Disagree About Climate Change. Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2009.
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Citation: Stephens, J. C. (2013), Time to stop investing in carbon capture and storage and reduce government subsidies of fossil-fuels. WIREs Clim Change. doi: 10.1002/wcc.266
Power station image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.

7 things everyone knows about energy that just ain’t so (2013 Edition)

7 things everyone knows about energy that just ain’t so (2013 Edition).

by Kurt Cobb, originally published by Resource Insights  | TODAY

Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” And, there are many, many things that the public and policymakers know for sure about energy that just ain’t so.

That list is very long indeed and getting longer as the fossil fuel industry (which has little interest in intellectual honesty) continues its skillful manipulation of a gullible and sometimes careless media.

Pinocchio in a parade http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1916MomusPinocchio.jpg

Below I’ve listed seven whoppers that it would be charitable to call misleading. Longtime readers will recognize that I’ve addressed them before in various pieces. But I thought that it would be useful to review the worst of the worst of 2013 as the year ends.

Here are seven things everyone knows about energy that just ain’t so:

1. Worldwide oil production has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last several years. Oil companies (with governments following suit) have cleverly redefined oil to include something called natural gas plant liquids (NGPLs) that you might surmise actually come from natural gas wells. These include propane, butane, ethane, and pentanes. The new definition also includes biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.

This mishmash is sometimes referred to as “total liquids,” but more often “total oil supply.” This redefinition, however, depends on something that just ain’t so, namely, that NGPLs and biofuels are 100 percent interchangeable with oil. There is some interchangeability, but the volume is relatively small. NGPLs make up just 10 percent of total liquids. I’ve seen investment research that asserts that probably less than one-fifth of that (equivalent to about 2 percent of total liquids) can be directly substituted for oil, primarily in petrochemical refineries. That portion could grow, but only with extensive and costly retooling of the refinery industry, a move that seems risky with U.S. natural gas production stalled (see below).

Now, the central problem with including NGPLs as part of the oil supply remains that they have only a very limited ability to be used as transportation fuel which is the main driver for oil consumption.

Moreover, the energy content of NGPLs is around 65 percent of oil per unit of volume. Ethanol has about 66 percent of oil’s energy, and biodiesel has slightly more than crude oil, but somewhat less than the diesel it is meant to replace. We must also consider all the energy including oil that goes into growing, harvesting, transporting and processing the crops that are feedstocks for biofuel refineries. Some studies show that more energy goes into making ethanol than ethanol produces when burned in an engine.

Despite these well-known facts, the industry and government continue to count NGPLs and biofuels in barrels right alongside oil as if they were all equivalent.

Ethanol and biodiesel do directly substitute for some motor fuels. But there are upper limits on what we can produce and use. We are near those limits with ethanol unless engines change to tolerate higher concentrations of ethanol. Moreover, neither ethanol nor biodiesel can be used for the wide variety of purposes that crude oil can.

It turns out that 2005 was an inflection point after which supply growth for both total liquids and oil proper slowed considerably. With all this in mind, let’s look at the actual numbers which come from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

 Total Liquids:

 Growth from 1998 to 2005: 11.7 percent

 Growth from 2005 to 2012: 5.7 percent

 Oil Proper (Crude Oil Plus Lease Condensate):

 Growth from 1998 to 2005: 9.9 percent

 Growth from 2005 to 2012: 2.7 percent

You can see that the real oil supply (crude oil plus lease condensate) has been growing at just over one-quarter the pace it did in the previous seven years–even with record prices, record investment and the wide deployment of new extraction technologies. Slowing growth coupled with skyrocketing demand in places such as China and India has put a lot of upward pressure on oil prices. It’s one reason oil prices remain near record highs based on the average daily price of Brent Crude, the world benchmark.

In 2011 the average daily Brent Crude price was a record $111.26—which was followed by another record in 2012 of $111.63. The price in 2013 through December 26 has averaged $108.52.

2. U.S. natural gas production continues to grow by leaps and bounds.This claim is even more misleading than the first one. It’s true that natural gas production has grown in the United States in recent years due to the exploitation of gas trapped in deep shale deposits, deposits that new technology called hydraulic fracturing is now making accessible.

But, it turns out that the rate of production of these wells declines rapidly, and the numbers suggest that raising the overall U.S. rate of production is going to be very difficult and expensive. In fact, since January 2012, monthly U.S. marketed natural gas volumes have been nearly flat despite a more than doubling of natural gas prices from their April 2012 lows. The average monthly volume in 2012 was 2.11 trillion cubic feet (tcf). For 2013 the data are only available through September, but the average through that month was 2.12 tcf. It’s doubtful that the average will change that much when the final three months of the year are included.

The easy shale gas has been extracted. Now comes the hard stuff. We may already be on the shale gas treadmill.

3. There is enough natural gas under the United States to last the country for 100 years. This claim requires that you first do bad math on the numbers even the perpetrators of this falsehood provide. The number turns out to be 90 years using their figures and 2010 U.S. natural gas consumption (while assuming, improbably so, no growth in U.S. natural gas use for the next 90 years).

But even that number vastly overstates what we are likely to get out of the ground for it includes estimates of probable, possible and speculative technically recoverable resources. Now, just because something is judged to be technically recoverable does not mean it will be economically recoverable. And, if it is further labelled possible or speculative, it seems foolish to base our public policy on such resources as if they were proven to exist and were ready to extract.

Shale gas expert Art Berman suggests we focus on the probable resources category and assume generously that 50 percent of those resources will actually get turned into reserves. (Keep in mind that no resource is ever exploited to 100 percent and usually only to a fraction of that. Also, resources are what are thought to be in the ground based on sketchy evidence, while reserves are what the drill bit proves are actually there and, more importantly, amenable to extraction.) Based on these assumptions, the United States has about 550 tcf feet of probable and proven reserves which means that the country has a likely supply of about 23 years (again, assuming, improbably so, no increase in the rate of consumption during the entire period).

Since Berman made those calculations, some of the probable resources have moved into the reserves category. But, the outlook has not really changed because this was expected.

4. The United States is about to become the world’s largest oil producer. This claim depends on the same sleight-of-hand being used to inflate worldwide oil production numbers as noted above: the inclusion of NGPLs and biofuels in the production numbers. The United States has been furiously drilling natural gas wells in the last few years and has increased its supply of NGPLs greatly. The production of crude oil proper has also been growing for essentially the same reason natural gas production grew: the deployment of hydraulic fracturing techniques and horizontal drilling to extract previously inaccessible deposits of so-called tight oil.

The results have been impressive, lifting U.S. production of crude oil proper (crude oil plus lease condensate) from 5.2 million barrels per day (mbpd) in 2005 to 6.5 mbpd in 2012. The latest available monthly production results are for September 2013 and put U.S. crude oil production at 7.8 mbpd.

But, it seems unlikely given the very steep production declines that existing tight oil wells experience–about 40 percent per year–that production will be able to scale that of the world’s number one and number two oil producers.

Russia currently produces 9.9 mbpd of crude oil proper. Saudi Arabia produces 9.8 mbpd. Both numbers come from the EIA.

Could the United States produce more crude oil proper than these countries in the near future? Since we cannot know the future, anything is possible. But, consider that the United States has gotten most of the easy tight oil. Now, it must begin to rely on extraction of the hard-to-get oil. That oil will come out at a slower rate.

Meanwhile, the tight oil wells already drilled will continue to decline at colossal rates and their output will have to be replaced before any increase in production is possible. Trying to increase oil production under these circumstances can be likened to running up a down escalator since the declining production of existing wells cancels out much of the production from newly drilled wells.

If the United States were to attain the number one spot some day, it would be hard to maintain given the high production decline rates cited above.

5. The United States is on the verge of energy independence. This canard takes advantage of the lack of public awareness about U.S. energy resources. The country has long been self-sufficient in coal. This has never been an issue. It has also been nearly self-sufficient in natural gas, importing a little over 15 percent of its needs (almost all of it from Canada) from 1991 through 2011 according to the EIA. That percentage has trended down recently as U.S. production has increased. But the U.S. supply of imported natural gas was never in danger due to political disruptions or wars in faraway unfriendly countries.

So, it turns out that energy independence really means oil independence. On this count the country is still very far away from independence despite recent gains in domestic oil production. For the most recent week ending December 20, the United States’ net crude oil imports were 7.5 mbpd. The country would have to nearly double its rate of domestic crude oil production to meet its current consumption needs. That seems very unlikely given the production dynamics discussed above for tight oil which is where nearly all the growth in production is currently taking place.

6. The United States has 250 years of coal left. This claim keeps getting recycled even though a 2007 National Academy of Sciences study concluded that there was no basis for making such a claim. It suggested that the United States might have 100 years of coal left (assuming, improbably so, there would be absolutely no increase in the rate of consumption over that period). But, the report concluded that no comprehensive study of U.S. coal resources was currently available. The truth is nobody knows how much coal is left in the United States, nor how much of that might actually be accessible.

7. Peak oil is a myth. Peak oil is the idea that oil production inevitably reaches a maximum rate and thereafter begins an irreversible decline. It does NOT mean running out, but rather that production declines over time. It turns out that peak oil is actually an empirically demonstrated reality for every oil well, every mature oil field, and now for the majority of oil producing countries in the world. Those who tell us that peak oil is a myth can only be engaged in propaganda rather than a search for the truth. Ironically, many of them cite the upturn in U.S. production as “proof” that peak oil is a myth, forgetting that U.S. production peaked more than 40 years ago.

Oil is a finite resource and so, the real debate is over the timing of peak oil production for the world as a whole. Some say the peak is nearby. Others say it is two or three decades away. But no credible expert says that there will never be a peak.

The cases for and against a near-term peak would be difficult to relate in detail here. But, it’s worth noting that the optimists have been consistently wrong about prices and supplies in the last decade, and those predicting a near-term peak have been much closer to the mark.

That doesn’t mean that the peak must be nearby. But it suggests that the models and assumptions of the optimists are badly flawed.

There are so many other misconceptions about energy which remain that it would take a dozen seven-item lists just to begin to address them. But, I offer these seven as a starting point for a clearer and more honest discussion of our energy future in the coming year.

 

CNN and Huffington Post Are “External Stakeholders” In Nuclear Regulatory Commission Washington’s Blog

CNN and Huffington Post Are “External Stakeholders” In Nuclear Regulatory Commission Washington’s Blog.

Painting by Anthony Freda: www.AnthonyFreda.com

 

Presstitute Media Shills for Nuclear Power

It is well-documented that the claim that nuclear power is a low-carbon source of energy is merepropaganda.

The archaic nuclear reactor design used at Fukushima and in most reactors in the United States and throughout the world was chosen solely because it helps to make nuclear bombs.

Our health has been sacrificed – and the dangers of radiation covered up – for 68 years … for the sake of nuclear weapons.

The mainstream media – and gatekeeper “alternative” media – are pro-war. They may occasionally criticize one tiny aspect of the war-fighting machinery, but never the overall war effort.

As such, it should not be entirely surprising that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission lists CNN and Huffington Post as “external stakeholders” in the NRC.

As EneNews reports:

Independent Evaluation of NRC’s Use and Security of Social Media, Office of the Inspector General, Jan. 2013:

Social Media Evaluation Interview List [Appendix VI, pg. 82]

  • Internal Stakeholders (NRC staff) […]
  • External Stakeholders (Press) Energy Editor, AOL, Huffington Post — Nuclear Writer, Huffington Post — Producer, CNN News
  • External Stakeholders (Digital Influencers) Blogger, Atomic Power Review — Blogger, Idaho Samizdat: Nuke Notes — Blogger, Yes Vermont Yankee
  • External Stakeholders (Nuclear Industry) […] Senior Manager for Social — Media, Nuclear Energy Institute […]
  • External Stakeholders (US Government and US Senate Staff) US-CERT Representative, United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team — Policy Director, US Senate ….

Excerpts from the evaluation:

  • As part of the press, I have to be able to quickly communicate a lot of technical information into something our readers will grasp. But it helps if NRC had strong info graphics or a section that provided a breakdown of technical info so I can understand the translation from its source. — Huffington Post
  • NRC‘s materials are very basic and not very viral. Other agencies do a better job of including information graphics, photos, even clickable links. There‘s no extra. It‘s not influential. — Managing Editor, Huffington Post
  • One producer from Cable News Network (CNN) suggested that what was currently offered on Flickr does not compel him to return and urged NRC to provide more content that did not involve people in a conference room or of the chairperson speaking from a podium.

Read the report here (pdf)

See also: Paper: CNN’s nuclear propaganda film “is dishonest to its core” — It’s “actually an infomercial”

Remember, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a pro-industry group which is largely funded by the nuclear companies. (This is true of all nuclear agencies).

The nuclear industry in Japan – and elsewhere – spends more on pr than on safety measures.  Indeed, nuclear power is a form of crony capitalism, where taxpayers fund a market which would not even exist in a free market.

The presstitute media once again shills for the powers-that-be.

 

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