It’s not mere anecdotal evidence: Visibly melting sea ice is the best evidence that the planet is warming. So prospecting for oil in the Arctic is a tricky endeavor that must be undertaken slowly and with extreme caution, argues Fen Montaigne, senior editor of Yale Environment 360, author of “Fraser’s Penguins: A Journey to the Future in Antarctica” and other books, and contributor to National Geographic, The New Yorker and Smithsonian magazines.
So just how hot is it going to get? Hotter than we can handle if we fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, Montaigne tells us in an exclusive interview in which we discuss:
• Why prospectors should proceed with extreme caution in the Arctic
• Just how hot it’s going to get with global warming
• Why science is being side-lined in the climate change debate
• Why oil companies will have to keep their assets in the ground
• Why we need to rethink agricultural subsidies
• What we can expect next from the volatile EV market
• What really concerns environmentalists about natural gas
• The great fossil fuels paradox
• Why natural gas may not only be a bridge to the future, but the future itself
• Why the US government has no business mandating ethanol
Interview by. James Stafford of Oilprice.com
Oilprice.com: We’ll start with the Arctic Sea because so much of your work has focused on this area. Right now, the talk here is of vast opportunities, and vast environmental concern. How can we balance these two, and what is at stake? ( Continue… )
An article I wrote was published yesterday, Why a Global Shale Gas Boom is Key to Combating Climate Change. Because I had actually written the article a week ago, I didn’t know that it would come out at the same time as the release of the President’s big speech on climate change. As I demonstrated in the post, the U.S. has been the most successful country over the last decade in reducing its emissions; most of that is due to fuel switching from coal to natural gas. Natural gas generates more than 50% less greenhouse gas emissions than coal, not even including the many harmful particulate pollutants coal emits. To achieve similar benefits around the world, we need to replicate America’s shale gas revolution around the world.
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While most of the news about the speech will be about how Obama is planning to accelerate renewable energy, I believe the biggest area of near-term action on reducing emissions will come from some underreported sections that will encourage the replacement of coal with natural gas for energy generation, both in the U.S. and globally.
Emissions Reduction Laundry List
The President’s plan is actually not one thing; it is a laundry list of federal actions, many of which are already being done. It is broken into three parts: (1) mitigating emissions in the US, (2) adapting to inevitable climate change, and (3) using diplomacy to lead international emissions reductions. Each of these has areas that will help accelerate fuel switching. ( Continue… )
Bloomberg has made a rather interesting discovery about the loan deal that Tesla has just bought its way out of. As part of the agreement that Tesla Motors made with the US department of Energy (DoE), Tesla could not be sold as long as it still owed money to the DoE.
That news adds a whole new dimension to the fact that Tesla has just paid off its DoE loan, nine years early, as now they are no longer bound by the terms of the agreement and can put itself on the market.
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Any prospective buyer would have to be technically focussed, and have very deep pockets. Tesla is the most expensive car manufacturer, trading at 816-times its 2013 earnings, and giving it a value of more than $5 billion. That is a lot of money to pay for a company that is only 10 years old, and has just reported its first profit ever. (Related article: Emerging Green Technologies to Invest in) ( Continue… )
The broad climate plan President Obama put forth Tuesday may cost him an important member of his second-term energy and environment team. That won't stop his administration from implementing the proposals, but the fight over one nominee to the president's cabinet could slow it down.
Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, has faced an uphill battle in the Senate, where lawmakers have upheld her confirmation over questions of transparency and Ms. McCarthy's role in regulations curtailing emissions from future power plants. In Tuesday's speech, Mr. Obama outlined plans to broaden those rules to include existing power plants.
That won't sit well with those in Congress who say such regulations do more to slow economic growth than global climate change. House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio called the new regulations "absolutely crazy" during a time of stagnant job creation, Politico reported.
McCarthy is likely to take the brunt of the backlash to Tuesday's announcement. ( Continue… )
As President Obama unveils sweeping policies to address global climate change in a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday, his focus is on curbing power plant emissions at home and boosting US investment in efficiency and clean energy.
But climate change is a global problem, and the atmosphere, as they say, doesn't care where the carbon comes from. And whatever the United States does, the fate of global warming lies in the hands of China, India, and much of the developing world. China's growing emissions in the past decade has swamped the decline in emissions in the US.
This phenomena helps explain why a third of Mr. Obama's climate plan is devoted to addressing emissions abroad. By fostering bilateral initiatives with major emitting countries and promoting free trade of clean-energy technology, the plan aims to build globally on domestic climate goals.
International climate change cooperation has fallen far short of environmentalists expectations, and some are skeptical that rapidly developing countries will have the resources to adopt more sustainable energy policies. But Obama has had a glimmer of success in the global arena when it comes to climate change, in contrast to a divided Congress that routinely balked on climate goals. ( Continue… )
Reduction in Energy-Related CO2 Emissions
The United States has seen a remarkable run in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions over the last five years, reducing energy-related CO2 emissions from 2007 to 2012 by 12%, from six billion tons to 5.29 billion tons. While part of this reduction in emissions is attributable to a reduction in energy demand due to the economic downturn, another reason for this huge reduction is an increase in the use of natural gas for electricity.
In a story that is now familiar to most readers, the shale gas revolution in the United States has dramatically reduced the cost of natural gas. From a peak of $10.54 per million btu (mbtu) in July 2008, the spot price of gas at the well-head had fallen to less than $2/mbtu by April 2012.
Because utilities respond to price incentives, this caused fuel-switching of baseload electricity production from coal to natural gas, leading to a time in April 2012 when natural gas equaled coal as an energy source for the first time. This switch has partially been undone, with coal now producing 40% of electricity and natural gas 26% as gas prices have bounced back to $3.85/mbtu. Because burning natural gas for electricity produces half as much carbon emissions as coal, fuel switching is one of the main causes in the U.S. reduction in emissions. ( Continue… )
Norwegian energy company Statoil said last week it was forming a special operations division to handle emergency operations in response to a terrorist attack on a natural gas facility in Algeria. The company said it would double the amount of employees it had designated for existing security operations after reviewing the measures in place at the In Amenas gas facility. A January attack there left employees with Statoil and BP dead in what al-Qaida said was a response to French intervention in Mali. With the economy just as much a viable target as any, counter-terrorism may becoming more than just the military's game.
A January attack by a division of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb left several energy company employees and foreign fighters dead. The Algerian attack had the logistical support of Islamic fighters who traveled across the western border from Libya, still unsettled nearly two years after the revolution. (Related Article: Open Season on Syria’s Civil War)
Statoil said last week it was forming a special unit in response to the attack as part of a comprehensive response to the tragedy. Operations at In Amenas resumed at a limited capacity after the attack for owners Statoil, BP and Algeria's state energy company Sonatrach. French supermajor said it too was spending more on industry-wide security operations since the January attack. Natural gas production has declined more or less since 2005 for Algeria and lingering instability in the region suggests a turnaround isn't likely in the medium term.
BP said it had its own concerns, noting it was holding back on natural gas projects in the country because of the security situation there. Algerian Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi told a Houston energy conference in March the country "remains a stable country" despite the terrorist attack. He said the country wasn't discouraged by the incident and remained committed to developing its natural gas sector. Algeria has enacted policies that would give foreign investors an incentive to take a closer look at unexplored fields in the country. Algeria in 2011 produced around 2.9 trillion cubic feet of gas and has since worked to return to its previous glory. (Related Article: Why the US government Spies on its own Citizens) ( Continue… )
The Supreme Court blocked the oil and gas industry's challenge to a high-ethanol blend of gasoline Monday, scoring a point for a renewable fuel industry aiming to mix more plant-based materials into the nation's gasoline.
The Supreme Court decision comes as fuelmakers find themselves up against a so-called ethanol "blend wall." Companies struggle to meet federal renewable fuel requirements as a slow economy and more efficient cars push gasoline demand down.
Renewable fuel advocates say the solution is to allow blenders to mix a greater amount of corn-based ethanol into gasoline in order to satisfy the federal standard, reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, and help curb greenhouse gas emissions. Opponents say the higher blend gasoline can damage today's engines and require large-scale infrastructure updates that would push up prices at the pump.
In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the government's renewable fuel standard, raised the legal volume of ethanol in commercial gasoline from 10 percent (E10) to 15 percent (E15) for use in cars and light trucks from model year 2001 and newer. ( Continue… )
Debate about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing or fracking usually centers around the potential risks to our water supply from contamination by toxic fracking fluids, which are pumped at high pressure over a mile under the ground to break up gas-bearing shale formations. In recent months, however, there has been renewed controversy over the effect that gas drilling has had on greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Proponents of fracking assert that the boom in natural gas has helped to cut America’s emissions of carbon dioxide, by encouraging coal-burning power plants to switch over to the cheaper and cleaner burning natural gas. CO2 output is now at its lowest level since the early 1990s, due in part to the increasing use of natural gas, and also to greater fuel efficiencies and the slow but steady growth in renewables.
But critics counter that the climate advantage of less CO2 may be canceled out by higher emissions of methane. Natural gas is primarily methane, the most powerful of the greenhouse gases, and the next most abundant in the atmosphere after CO2. The critical question is how much methane leaks during the drilling process, and also subsequently during processing and transport of the gas. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) says that if leak rates are greater than 3 percent of the total output, then fracking may actually be increasing America’s greenhouse gas load rather than diminishing it, as the industry claims.
That’s because methane has anywhere from 20 to 70 times more warming potential than CO2, depending on the time frame that one considers. It is especially damaging in the short term, but has a briefer half-life, leaving the atmosphere quicker than carbon dioxide, so methane’s long-term effects are not as great. ( Continue… )
As Kurdish authorities in Northern Iraq announce they will begin exporting crude oil by pipeline to Turkey as soon as the last link is finished in September, Gulf Keystone Petroleum launches a new exploration round that could reveal the best resource potential in the region.
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Drilling for the company’s first deep well will take an estimated 9 months, and there is a lot of optimism for this play. Gulf Keystone thinks it holds up to 10.5 billion barrels of oil and is targeting 2015 for production of 150,000 barrels per day. (Related Article: Kurdistan: Our Pick for the Next Big Buy Out) ( Continue… )