As electric car enthusiasts gather at scheduled Plug In Day events in nearly 100 US cities Saturday, they have reasons to celebrate. Much has changed over the three years since the first nationwide day of alternative-fuel celebration.
Electric cars and plug-in hybrids are increasingly popular. International automotive giants are throwing their weight behind what once was a fringe interest. The talk of the car world is luxury electric carmaker Tesla Motors, a feisty newcomer that has raised the bar on what's possible in alternative transportation.
Despite its accomplishments and accelerating momentum, the plug-in industry has not yet reached the point of widespread appeal. High sticker prices and concerns over limited range stand in the way.
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"The tipping point will be when middle America gets it – when they understand this technology is superior to what they’re buying," says Paul Scott, cofounder of Plug In America, one of the organizers behind Plug In Day. "They may not want to buy them right then and there, but they will say 'Yes, I will buy a plug-in sometime in the future.' " ( Continue… )
Torrential rain earlier in the month caused mass flooding across the state of Colorado, a state that in recent years has experienced a boom in oil and gas drilling and production due to the development of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies.
Thousands of wells have been drilled across the state, and whilst operators shut off any equipment located in flood-prone areas, so far more than 37,000 gallons of oil have spilt as a result of damage caused by the floodwater, and the states oil and gas industry is rushing around trying to clean up the leaks as fast as possible.
Many holding tanks have been toppled, spilling their contents. Dan Kelly, the vice president of Noble Energy’s department in the state, said that “there was a tremendous amount of I think earth moved in some cases to where the foundations to some of these tanks actually washed out underneath them.” ( Continue… )
In a hotly anticipated UN climate report issued Friday, the world's leading climate scientists again warned of the rising levels of greenhouse gases being pumped into Earth's atmosphere and fueling global warming.
Behind those rising emissions are two giant energy pumps: the developed world's economic engine and the developing world's economic engine.
The developing world's engine is revving at high speed. Hundreds of millions of people are moving into the middle class, replacing bikes with cars, buying dishwashers and refrigerators, and adopting lifestyles that demand more energy. That growth is happening so fast that climate scientists once again have sounded the alarm.
"Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system," the UN's climate panel said in a preliminary report released Friday. "Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions." The report added that it is "extremely likely" that human activity is a primary driver of global warming – namely in the form of carbon-based fuels that release heat-trapping gases.
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But that general gloom shouldn't overshadow the quiet progress that's being made in many parts of the developed world. There, the progress is slow, perhaps due more to a deep recession and a market-driven fuel switch than to specific moves on emissions. Still, it is a sign that societies can make strides toward smarter energy use. ( Continue… )
The head of the World Bank in Russia said Wednesday he was alarmed by the slowdown in the Russian economy. The bank said the Russian economy was slow to emerge from a recession still gripping parts of the eurozone despite recovery elsewhere in the world. It said the government's investment activities slowed down in part because of the completion of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea. Its dependence on oil and natural gas exports, meanwhile, exposed the Russian economy to additional risks. With Europe finding new sources of natural gas, and Asian economies looking at Canadian markets, the Russian economy is starting to retreat behind the former Iron Curtain.
The World Bank said it revised its growth projection for the Russian economy from its May estimate of 2.3 percent to 1.8 percent for 2013.
"The economy appears to be growing close to its capacity, constrained by feeble investment activities and a tight labor market," Birgit Hansl, World Bank coordinator for economic policy in Russia, said in a statement. (Related article: Why Canada's Oil Future isn't Going South)
The report said Russia's dependence on oil and natural gas exports left its economy exposed to volatility on the global commodity market. Major oil price indices continued a steady decline on word Libyan oil production was on the rebound. Natural gas prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange, meanwhile, are near their lowest level since December. The World Bank said trade in global markets did not provide the expected level of relief to the Russian economy. ( Continue… )
As bidders registered for the first oil rights auction in Brazil’s pre-salt last Wednesday, the reaction was overwhelmingly pessimistic. Headlines focused on lack of oil majors such as ExxonMobil and BP, and the small number of bidders; 11 as opposed to some 40 expected by the Brazilian government.
Indeed, attention in the run-up to Brazil’s inaugural pre-salt auction has been strikingly dissimilar to the tectonic-shifting announcements of the pre-salt several years ago. Yet with a mix of emerging market and European players, the list of bidders is perhaps a reflection of the nature of exploration and production in the Americas today.
Next month’s auction of blocks in the Libra field is not only the first pre-salt bid round but also the first auction under the revamped hydrocarbons law, which gives greater control over pre-salt development to state-owned Petrobras. The outcome could have far-reaching implications for the future of Brazil’s efforts to exploit the pre-salt reserves. ( Continue… )
At the United Nations General Assembly this week, US and Iranian leaders took public steps toward warming the frosty relations that exist between the two countries. There's renewed hope that eventually a deal could ease sanctions on Iranian oil and gas, which have devastated the country's economy.
But while Iran needs access to world oil markets, world oil markets don't seem to need Iran. Production in the US and Saudi Arabia has boomed in recent years, offsetting Iran's limited ability to get its bountiful oil and gas resources to the global marketplace.
The changing energy outlook gives the US an upper hand in the latest attempt to find common ground between the rivals. Both sides seem willing to negotiate, but, as has often been the case, both seem unwilling to cede much ground on the question of Iran's nuclear program. This time around, it may be Iran who has to blink first, if anyone blinks at all.
"Given all of [Iran's] oil and gas potential, you would think they have a lot of leverage," says John Calabrese, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington. "That would be true if there weren’t other alternatives, and if there were stronger demand in the global market," Mr. Calabrese says in a phone interview. "I don’t see that changing in Iran’s favor." ( Continue… )
Crude oil prices started the week on the decline ahead of this week's summit at the U.N. General Assembly. At center stage this week will be Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose Western charm offensive is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise troubled region. A weekend report suggested Rouhani's moderate stance may be enough to convince British authorities to let BP work again with Iran at a North Sea natural gas field hampered by sanctions. India, meanwhile, is eager to see how close to the sanctions envelope it can get with Iranian oil imports. Rouhani speaks Tuesday. His speech may have wide-ranging repercussions across the global energy sector.
Crude oil for November delivery was down Monday, on average, by more than $1 from last week on signs at least some of the tensions in the Middle East were subsiding. Past conversations regarding Iran and international oil markets typically centered on the ever-present threat to close shipping lanes through the Strait of Hormuz and the impact of international economic sanctions. This week, however, the talk is focused on the possibility of handshakes, symbolically at least, between Iran and the United States. (Related article: The Era of Cheap Gasoline is Over)
The British government is reportedly mulling sanctions that have limited production from the Rhum natural gas field in the North Sea. Sanctions in 2010 targeting Iran's energy sector suspended operations at a field that once contributed 5 percent of Britain's natural gas output. A government spokesman said it was "long-term security of the Rhum gas field" that was at stake in the decision, though BP and its joint venture partners, National Iranian Oil Co., could make millions of dollars in the restart. A weekend report said sanctions relief for Iran already helped open the spigot on the Shah Deniz natural gas field offshore Azerbaijan for European markets. ( Continue… )
Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said last week it was time to add more diversity to an energy sector that relies almost exclusively on the United States. New drilling technologies for shale have translated to major gains in U.S. oil and natural gas production, which itself translates to a U.S. economy that relies less on imports to meet its energy demands. That's forced Oliver to stand up and take notice. He told the audience at an energy conference in New York his country has the resources necessary to help meet the growing energy demands across the world. Five years after TransCanada first proposed its Keystone XL oil pipeline, Oliver's comments suggest North American market dynamics may be different for Canada.
"Canada has the resources in place to meet its own needs and the growing energy demands of global markets," he said. "We are aggressively working to enhance Canada’s position as a stable, secure and environmentally responsible energy supplier to North America and the world." (Related Article: Canada Ramps up Pipeline Plans)
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Back home in Calgary, he said diversity in the Canadian export market was necessary because virtually all of its oil and natural gas exports head to the United States. Production momentum there, he said, means Canada's influence as an energy partner is starting to wane. ( Continue… )
American political conservatives like to say that their strategy of tax cuts all the time is designed to "starve the beast." The "beast," of course, refers to government, and "starving" it means reducing its revenues through tax cuts in order to spur corresponding cuts in spending. They liken their strategy to reigning in a profligate child by reducing his or her allowance.
Whatever one believes about the efficacy of this strategy, it is now being employed in surprising ways in a new field by unexpected people. The brilliant symbolism of opposing the Keystone XL pipeline is intended to highlight the need to address the causes of climate change by reducing our use of carbon-based fuels. The reasoning in this case is that stopping the pipeline would prevent the increased exploitation of what opponents call the "carbon bomb" of the Alberta tar sands. Stopping the Keystone XL would supposedly prevent the companies controlling the tar sands from having access to oil markets. In effect, activists are trying to starve the fossil-fuel-consuming beast that is the global economy.
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If this is the goal, then this strategy must be labeled an instant failure. The tar sands oil companies are already exploring alternate routes for shipping synthetic crude derived from tar sands via other proposed pipelines. One such pipeline, Energy East, would move oil from western Canada to eastern Canada, finally ending the bizarre situation in which Canada, one of the world's largest oil exporters, must import close to 40 percent of its oil needs. The country currently lacks sufficient pipeline capacity to bring oil from western Canada where it's found to eastern Canada where it's mostly consumed. ( Continue… )
Libya has produced a fraction of its oil output throughout the summer. Unrest in Egypt has spread fears of disruption to oil transit routes. The threat of a US strike on Syria has largely subsided, but not without first inflating the price of oil.
Two years ago, a similar global landscape spurred world leaders to tap emergency oil reserves to stem ballooning fuel costs. Today, gas prices are the lowest they've been in months, and the question of tapping strategic reserves isn't even on the table. The global oil market isn't what it used to be, and that's working in consumers' favor.
"We’re better able to tolerate these supply disruptions because Saudi Arabia is producing more oil and so is the US," says Chris Lafakis, senior economist at Moody's Analytics. What's more, he adds, the 2011 Libyan revolution led to a sharp and unexpected drop in global supply. This time around, the change has been more gradual. ( Continue… )