Oil trains face scrutiny; Alaska votes on oil taxes; Australia waffles on renewables [Recharge]

Canada determined lax oversight and poor safety caused a deadly oil train explosion; Alaskans voted on a referendum they hope will revive falling oil production; Australia is shifting from renewable energy, just as it discovers oil offshore. Catch up on the week in global energy with Recharge.

Mathieu Belanger/Reuters
Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) chair Wendy Tadros leaves after a news conference at the Lac-Megantic Golf Club in Quebec on August 19. Last week TBS released a report on the deadly oil train disaster in the province.

From oil prices to solar innovation to gas wars, each weekend Recharge examines the big ideas in global energy. Subscribe for free.

After Lac-Megantic: Weak safety culture and lax government oversight caused the deadly oil train explosion in Quebec last year, according to Canada's report on the disaster. In the US, record production has meant more crude traveling by rail. The US DOT last month proposed tougher oil car standards, and some towns in the US are trying to keep oil trains out altogether.

Alaska's reset: Hoping industry-friendly policies will spark an oil renaissance, Alaskans appear to have narrowly upheld a 35 percent flat tax on oil companies rather than reverting to a sliding-scale tax that taxed more heavily when oil prices rose. But Alaska still has the highest oil taxes in the country, and it's unclear if the flat tax will actually spur drilling now that fracking powerhouses Texas and North Dakota have moved ahead in terms of oil production.

Down under: Australia has discovered the largest oil deposits in decades off its coast, just as the conservative government slashes spending on renewables and scrutinizes Australia's long-term renewable energy targets. Investors in renewables are startled, and worry the government could pull the plug on support for renewables – allowing for fossil fuels' continued reign in Australia, which is the world's second-largest coal exporter.

In the pipeline

  • Thursday, August 28: PARIS, FRANCE – The IEA's Renewable Energy Market Report for 2014 comes out next week, including "an investment outlook for renewable power capacity [and] ... a global biofuels supply forecast." Global investment in renewables has reached $250 billion, according to the 2013 report.

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Drill deeper

Solar Boom Driving First Global Panel Shortage Since 2006 [Bloomberg]
 Prices for solar panels have remained low globally for the past two years, kept down by excess supply. But that's about to change. With solar installations projected to grow as much as 29 percent this year, heightened demand could mean supply shortfalls.

Lessons from Denmark: how district heating could improve energy security [The Guardian]
 "Danish neighbourhoods do away with individual boilers and instead have their hot water piped directly into their houses from one ... shared boiler ... [T]hey also capture and redistribute heat ... eliminating waste, lowering carbon emissions, lowering fuel consumption and saving everybody money."

Global warming 'hiatus': Scientists duel over which ocean steals some heat [The Christian Science Monitor]
 Scientists agree that oceans have played a role is slowing the pace of human-driven global warming. However, there's disagreement among researchers over which ocean – Atlantic or Pacific – is absorbing the lion's share of the heat.

Energy sources

  • TSBC: "The derailed tank cars contained about 6.7 million litres of petroleum crude oil, about 6 million litres of which were released, contaminating approximately 31 hectares of land ... An estimated 100,000 litres of crude oil ended up in Mégantic Lake and the Chaudière River."
  • DOE: "[W]ind power has comprised 33% of all new U.S. electric capacity additions since 2007 [and] ... contributes more than 4% of the nation’s electricity supply, more than 12% of total electricity generation in nine states, and more than 25% in two states."
  • Duke University: "[A]lthough the environmental impacts of shipping PRB coal to Asia are significant, ... superior energy efficiency among newer South Korean coal-fired power plants and lower emissions from U.S. replacement of coal with natural gas could lead to a greenhouse gas reduction of 21%."


From oil prices to solar innovation to gas wars, each weekend Recharge examines the big ideas in global energy. Subscribe for free.

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