Tag Archives: Oil

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1. Electric car revolution may drive oil ‘investor death spiral’

Bloomberg is warning that the multi-trillion-dollar ‘big crash’ in oil investments could start as soon as 2023. However, the smart money is bound to move earlier. Here’s the progress of electric car sales:

1-hkypjilys0m1xolgpzmtag_600 Continue reading Climate clippings 188

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1. Tesla Powerwall explained

    The Powerwall is a 7 kilowatt hour (kWh) lithium-ion-battery system that stores electricity generated from rooftop solar panels (or PV panels) during the day so that electricity can be used at night during the peak-usage times.

Most existing solar panel owners will need to obtain a new inverter to connect with the grid. Continue reading Climate clippings 163

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1. Mt Everest’s poo problem

Every year climbers of Mt Everest leave behind 26,500 pounds of poo. I make that about 12 tonnes.

Sherpas pick it up, bring it down in blue barrels, dig a hole and dump it. Now the proposal is to build an anaerobic digester in a small village near Everest’s base to create biogas to produce power. Apparently human poo is not the best, but it works.

2. Arctic sea ice record

I think it’s time to call it. The Arctic sea ice winter maximum is the lowest on record. This graph shows 2015 ice against the previous record of 2011 and the 1981-2010 average:

sea ice_Feb 25_cropped_600

Also the maximum extent was reached on February 25, the second earliest on record.

According to a recent survey, thinning has been quite dramatic:

… annual mean ice thickness has decreased from 3.59 meters [11.8 feet] in 1975 to 1.25 m [4.1 feet] in 2012, a 65% reduction. This is nearly double the 36% decline reported by an earlier study….

In September the mean ice thickness has declined from 3.01 to 0.44 m [from 9.9 to 1.4 feet!], an 85 % decline.

Climate Central has a graphic showing the loss of ‘old’ ice. In 1987 it used to be 26% of the ice pack, now it’s down to 10%.

Polar bears will struggle to adapt.

3. Shell looks to drill in Arctic

Shell hopes to drill in the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic this summer. It looks as though Obama’s Department of the Interior will allow it, even though an Environmental Impact Report released by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) noted a 75% chance of one or more large spills occurring under the current plan. In 1989 the Exxon Valdez disaster spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Alaskan Gulf, polluting over 1300 miles of coastline. It is estimated that only 14% of the oil was cleaned up.

By comparison BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig spilled 168 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast.

Yet Obama himself stresses the need to move early on climate change. More than half of Republican politicians deny or question the science. Voter pressue will change that eventually.

A recent Stanford University poll found that two-thirds of voters were more likely to vote for a candidate that campaigned on a platform of fighting climate change, and were less likely to vote for a candidate that outright denies climate change.

4. Land, ocean carbon sinks are weakening

We are destroying nature’s ability to help us stave off catastrophic climate change. That’s the bombshell conclusion of an under-reported 2014 study, “The declining uptake rate of atmospheric CO2 by land and ocean sinks,”…

Based on actual observations and measurements, the world’s top carbon-cycle experts have determined that the land and ocean are becoming steadily less effective at removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This makes it more urgent for us to start cutting carbon pollution ASAP, since it will become progressively harder and harder for us to do so effectively in the coming decades.

Joe Romm calls the study “one of the most consequential recent findings by climatologists”

More than half of emissions are currently absorbed by land and ocean-based carbon sinks. Increasingly these emissions will stay in the air.

5. Reasons the Australian solar market is so interesting

Clean Technica has found 7 reasons the Australian solar market is so interesting republished at RenewEconomy.

One reason is that we have so much sunlight, as shown below:

solar-australia

However, most of us live in the more cloudy parts in big cities and along the south-east edge. A commenter pointed out that for insolation Ney York lies between Melbourne and Sydney.

A second reason is that we are enthusiastic about roof-top solar, with over 20% of houses now with panels installed.

A third is that, along with Germany, Italy and The Netherlands, we reached socket (aka grid) parity in 2013.

Big Oil’s business model – broken?

oil rig_6a00d8341d320d53ef0134855026ce970c-800wi

Michael T Klare in an article at Grist claims that Big Oil’s business model is broken.

I’m not so sure. An IEA (International Energy Association) update which he cites is titled A business-as-unusual outlook for oil in the medium term. Certainly there have been changes since the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2014 (see my recent post).

Last September in the Outlook document the IEA saw oil prices rebounding, averaging $82.50 a barrel in 2015 and rising to near $100 in the coming years. Now they see prices recovering gradually to reach $73 a barrel in 2020.

The IEA now sees production as increasing by 5.2 million barrels per day over the same time period, which is substantially the same as forecast last September.

The IEA sees four main factors at play:

  • Emerging economies are reaching a less oil intensive stage of development.
  • The global economy is becoming less fuel intensive.
  • Concerns over climate change are affecting policies, for example the fuel economy regulations for motor vehicles in the US, which Klare says will reduce demand by 2.2 million barrels per day by 20125.
  • Globalisation of the natural gas market and the emergence of renewable technologies has led to inter-fuel competition beyond what would have been expected only a few years ago.

North American unconventional production (light tight oil, or LTO) has been greater than expected and has become the top source of incremental supply. Iraq supply increase is also beyond expectations.

Klare’s major point is that the oil industry assumed that demand would continue unabated no matter what the price, leading to massive investment in what he calls “tight oil” – oil from unconventional, hard to get at sources. His thesis is that production and consumption will increase, but only slowly, and to an extent and at a price that will not justify the investment necessary to extract tight oil.

The investment in tight oil dates from 2005, when production was 85.1 million barrels per day. At that time the IEA forecast that demand would reach 103.2 million barrels per day in 2015. In 2014 it was 92.9 with the forecast for 2015 only 93.2.

On the price recovery from $55 per barrel to $73 in 2020, Klare says:

Such figures fall far below what would be needed to justify continued investment in and exploitation of tough-oil options like Canadian tar sands, Arctic oil, and many shale projects. Indeed, the financial press is now full of reports on stalled or cancelled mega-energy projects. Shell, for example, announced in January that it had abandoned plans for a $6.5 billion petrochemical plant in Qatar, citing “the current economic climate prevailing in the energy industry.” At the same time, Chevron shelved its plan to drill in the Arctic waters of the Beaufort Sea, while Norway’s Statoil turned its back on drilling in Greenland.

In that sense Klare is right. Also profits like $32.6 billion in 2013 for Exxon (second only to Apple) and $21.4 billion for Chevron are unlikely to continue. Nevertheless these firms are not out of business. Some of the smaller producers in the sense of firms and countries may be, leading to possible failed states and security concerns. Russia will be producing less.

The bottom line, though, is that the crystal ball is clouded. Uncertainty prevails.

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1. Polar bears – uncertain future

The Mail on Sunday recently declared the polar bear in good shape on the basis of the opinion of biologist Dr Susan Crockford, who says:

“On almost every measure, things are looking good for polar bears … It really is time for the doom and gloom about polar bears to stop.”

It turns out that Crockford’s expertise is the archaeology of dead dogs and the identification of animal remains, and receives funding from the Heartland Institute to spread disinformation about human agency in climate change.

Information, reliable or not, is difficult to come by. This is a snapshot of one estimate of how the polar bear is travelling:

Polar bears_screenshot-2015-03-04-154610_575x539

In nine of the 19 populations of polar bears information is deficient.

On their future the best estimate is:

To keep polar numbers relatively healthy, though still lower than today, scientists suggest global temperatures should not exceed 1.25 degrees Celsius above the 1980-1999 average.

2. Arctic sea ice is getting thinner faster than expected

Measuring the thickness of the Arctic sea ice sheet is not a simple matter. data from disparate sources has been brought together for the first time.

in the central part of the Arctic Ocean basin, sea ice has thinned by 65% since 1975. During September, when the ice reaches its annual minimum, ice thickness is down by a stunning 85%.

3. UK auctions for renewables

Contracts worth £315 million have been awarded to 27 renewable energy projects with a combined capacity of 2.1 gigawatts.

The majority of the 27 schemes are windfarms, including 15 onshore and two offshore schemes (the blue and green chunks below). The remaining contracts went to five solar farms (yellow) and five schemes that will burn or gasify waste to generate energy (black and grey).

UK_Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 15.48.48_600

By peak capacity the outcome looks rather different:

UK_Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 15.48.54_600

The auction was divided into two pots, with one pot reserved for “less established” technologies.

The big surprise was the prices, which were lower than expected.

4. Keystone XL pipeline bill vetoed

It’s important to note that the pipeline bill has been vetoed, not the pipeline.

Keystone is not dead. The bill was a political Tea party move to pre-empt State Department approval, which will now continue until a recommendation in made to John Kerry as Secretary of State.

Meanwhile Nebraska landowners are fighting a case in the courts. They claim state law giving TransCanada the right to drive the pipeline through their land under ’eminent domain’ is unconstitutional.

If the landowners succeed TransCanada does not have a route for the pipeline.

A longer post on the issue is here.

5. The IPCC reviews it’s processes

Every seven years the IPCC publishes three whopping reports followed by a Synthesis Report. Working Group 1 looks at the physical basis of climate change. Working Group 2 looks at impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Working Group 3 looks at mitigation. Each of these whopping tomes has a Summary for Policy Makers of about 30 pages.

The main decision is that the program will continue with some minor modifications. They will try to link the second and third volumes more specifically to the first, while producing the whole series within about 18 months.

More special reports on specific issued will be produced during the interim years.

They will try to make the summaries for policy makers more readable.

6. NZ infestation of flat-earthers climate denialists

The Dominion Post is the newspaper of record for New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. Last Friday it featured an opinion piece by high profile climate denialists Bob Carter and Bryan Leyland titled Hypothetical global warming: scepticism needed. Gareth Renownden at Hot topic calls it

a “Gish Gallop” of untruths, half-truths and misrepresentations — a piece so riddled with deliberate errors and gross misrepresentations that it beggars belief that any quality newspaper would give it space.

He then identifies 24 specific errors or misrepresentations.

7. EU adopts climate change targets for Paris conference

The EU formally adopted on Friday climate change targets for December’s Paris conference including a 40 percent cut in emissions by 2030, climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said.

The targets were agreed on by leaders of the 28 European Union member states at a summit in October, but the confirmed benchmarks have now been officially sent to the UN, Canete said.

The EU was the second after Switzerland to publish its submission.

In other EU news, the Commission is to spend €100 million on projects aimed at connecting energy networks across the continent.

8. El Niño finally arrives

El Niño has finally arrived at a time of the year when they usually decay. It’s weaker than usual and is unlikely to have much impact on world weather.

9. US weather conundrum

Last week I reported (Item 1) that the planet had just experienced the hottest 12 months, while it was freezing in eastern North America during January and February and into March.

Because winter includes December and December was mild, no state had a record low winter. In fact the East’s brutal cold was offset by record warmth in the West, which was caused by warmth in the Northern Pacific. The experts think this pushed the jet stream out of shape, bringing Arctic air further south in the east.

It seems the Northern Pacific warmth has now moved to the Central Pacific, causing the weak El Niño referred to above.

Reminder Climate clippings is an open thread and can be used for exchanging news and views on climate.

Keystone XL pipeline bill vetoed

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President Obama has vetoed a bill to approve construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil from Canada down to Texas refineries on the Gulf coast.

It’s important to note that the pipeline bill has been vetoed, not the pipeline.

For starters, pretty much everyone has noted that Keystone is not dead. All the veto means is that Congress isn’t able to force the pipeline’s construction through legislation — the process is just going back to being centered on the State Department’s administrative review procedure, as it largely has been for the last six years.

The State Department will consider the proposal and in their own good time make a recommendation to John Kerry as Secretary of State.

The bill was a political Tea party move to pre-empt State Department approval.

Meanwhile important court proceedings are taking place in Nebraska and South Dakota. The pipeline authority TransCanada is claiming ’eminent domain’ giving then the right to drive the pipeline through properties. About 90 Nebraska landowners claim that state law giving TransCanada the right to seize land under eminent domain is unconstitutional.

If the landowners succeed TransCanada does not have a route for the pipeline.

At Climate Central we learn that

the energy required to process tar sands oil is so great that oil piped through the Keystone XL will emit 1.3 billion more tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the pipeline’s 50-year lifespan than if it were carrying conventional crude oil.

President Obama has said he would only approve Keystone XL if it didn’t significantly increase carbon emissions. To me that makes the decision quite straightforward, but the argument is being put that the tar sands will be developed anyway, so the pipeline makes no difference.

Obama has said also that there is no need for the US to use oil from tar sands. Apparently energy security is a factor in his thinking.

A new study suggests that the majority of the oil will be used in the US.

My guess is that Obama does not want a tar sands pipeline approval as part of his legacy.

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1. Pope Francis becomes active on climate change

Pope Francis is going to give climate change action a red hot go in 2015:

In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.

The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

He also wants to change the financial system from one based on raw consumerist exploitation to one based on ethics which respect ecological principles. He should have a chat with Naomi Klein!

Giles Parkinson has more at RenewEconomy, including the note that Pope Benedict kicked things off by buying carbon credits in the form of a Hungarian forest to make the Vatican carbon neutral, and the possibility that the Catholic church may divest funds invested in the fossil fuel industry.

2. 2014: the year climate change undeniably arrived

John H. Cushman Jr. at InsideClimate News in reviewing the year thinks 2014 was the year climate change undeniably arrived. It was the hottest year ever, the science became conclusive, and a mushrooming climate movement pressed world leaders to act, which to some extent they did.

On the science, he was referring mainly to the IPCC report where already in 2013 the Physical Science Working Group moved the probability of human causation up a notch from “very likely” (>90%) to “extremely likely” (>95%) which is about as good as it gets. In the Synthesis Report of 2014 the language was ramped up saying that harm from greater warming if we stay on the current course could be “severe, pervasive and irreversible.”

Action looked promising with mitigation pledges by the EU, China and the US, also the UN climate talks at Lima.

On the “mushrooming climate movement he is talking about a:

phenomenon that emerged in a spectacular way in September, on the eve of Ban Ki-moon’s UN summit—the coming of age of a new popular movement demanding climate action now.

Hundreds of thousands of marchers filled the streets of Manhattan, curb to curb for 50 blocks or more. Their presence attested to a new dynamic in which inside-the-beltway lobbyists and well-heeled think tanks joined forces with grassroots anti-fracking and anti-pipeline protestors, in which labor unions and school kids found common cause.

A fine effort, but then, you see, sensible voters stayed at home and allowed the Republicans to take over Congress.

3. Precarious Climate

Climate and political blogger James Wight at Precarious Climate reviews the year, kind of, mostly by listing his best posts.

The last, Australia continues climate obstructionism in Lima, was an excellent wrap of the Lima talks. I was not aware (I’d wondered) that Julie Bishop is a climate denier, along with Andrew Robb, just the pair we needed to represent us at international climate talks.

4. Utility scale solar surges

But not in Australia:

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The big surge is in Asia and North America, but other continents have come to life through installations in Chile and South Africa.

5. Production of shale oil increases

The production of shale oil in North Dakota has increased month by month in 2014, in spite of falling prices.

ndoil

Meanwhile falling oil prices have hidden a new global warming fee on the purchase of gasoline in California.

6. Compressed air technology

Not everyone reads the discussion threads, so I’m repeating here some links made by Jumpy to compressed-air technology.

Danielle Fong with her company LightSail Energy is bringing compressed-air energy storage technology to the market.

Both Peugot and Citroën are developing compressed-air hybrid cars that use 2 litres per 100 kilometres of fuel. Apart from the hybrid compressed-air powertrain both cars are using light-weight materials and aerodynamics to improve economy. The also have narrow tyres pumped up high.

Of course these cars use twice as much fuel as the electric hybrid Volkswagen XL1 which plans to put 250 cars on the road, at a price. That article is from July 2013 – not sure how they are going.

The price of oil

Recently John Quiggin in The fossil fuel crash of 2014 asked what should we make of the fact that oil prices have fallen from more than $100/barrel in mid-2014 to around $60/barrel today? He also looked at coal, I’ll stick with oil. Quiggin poses the questions:

The big questions are
(i) to what extent does the price collapse reflect weak demand and to what extent growing supply
(ii) will these low prices be sustained, and if so, what will be the outcome?

Quiggin says:

The answer to the first question seems to be, a mixture of the two, with some complicated lags.

I thought it was the Saudis increasing supply to put the American frackers out of business. This turns out not to be the case. Richard Heaney gives us this graph on monthly oil production:

image-20141219-31034-s3o1c6_600

So it is the Americans who have largely increased supply. The Saudis have simply decided not to reduce supply, the usual tactic to increase the price. I’m sure they are hoping the American frackers will feel the squeeze.


Anjli Raval gives
this graph of costs:

f9c2521e-8058-11e4-872b-00144feabdc0.img

Raval says that most at risk are the Canadian oil sands, US shale plays and other areas of “tight oil”. Also vulnerable are Brazil’s deepwater fields and some Mexican projects. Crude at $70 puts at risk projects for 2016 to the extent of 1.5 million barrels per day.

Raval has perhaps the best discussion of what might happen in the future. The short answer is that we don’t know. A pull-back in investment could lay the basis for the next price surge. There may also be a switch to cleaner energy sources.

Much of the discussion, including a Financial Times editorial arguing that the fall in the price of oil was good for the economy (the concern was over deflation), ignores climate change.

John Quiggin says, inter alia that:

if we are to reduce emissions of CO2, a necessary precondition is that the price of fossil fuels should fall to the point where it is uneconomic to extract them.

I’m confused. I thought the aim of carbon pricing was to make fossil fuels more expensive to discourage use and to make the use of renewable alternatives competitive.

Adair Turner in a piece Please Steal Our Fossil Fuels goes into considerable detail about the transition to renewables. If all the fossil fuels were stolen we would not be stuck (or not for long) and it would in the long run cost a negligible amount more. However, the assumption is that the transition will depend on price. Unfortunately electric cars may not be cheaper until the late 2020s. There is plenty of oil in the ground and whilst it is available we will keep using it.

Turner says “we should commit to leaving most fossil fuels forever in the ground” and no great harm would befall us economically if we did, but we won’t. Miracles would be required.

At this point I’ll state my case that we should act out of policy, not rely on markets or miracles. If Germany can forswear nukes because they are dangerous and evil, why can’t we do the same in relation to fossil fuels, which are even more dangerous? Sooner or later we’ll have to ignore the fossil fuel mafia.

Before I go, Heaney has this graph of the oil price in recent years:

image-20141219-31034-wl7wo0_550

It demonstrates that oil can be extremely volatile. There is no way of telling where the current crash will end, but my guess is that it will more or less stabilise soon. After that we are in uncharted territory.

Elsewhere Jeffrey Frankel makes several interesting points.

Firstly most dollar denominated commodities have fallen in price, including iron ore, silver, gold, platinum, sugar, cotton and soybeans. So something general is going on beyond the vagaries of specific commodities.

Secondly, The Economist’s euro-denominated Commodity Price Index has actually risen over the last year.

Third, and most importantly, it seems, there is a link between commodity prices and interest rates. When interest rates go up, commodity prices fall. Frankel suggests that traders are anticipating a rise in interest rates in the US next year. It’s not the whole story, but perhaps an important factor overlooked elsewhere.

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Stuff happens. We have a household of three with separate access to our online service and last week the youngest member blew our monthly usage budget downloading games, 11 days out from when it renews automatically on 17 March. So the speed became truly painful. Bigpond have given us a once only ‘goodwill’ 2 gigs to go on with. Trouble is, by he time I found out what was going on we’d already used a third of it.

Trouble also is that when the speed slows my email connection just doesn’t happen.

Anyway I’ve prepared a CC for this week from material to hand, then I’m going to disappear to preserve my email.

1. You’ve been told

When a link came through on a feed about a conference on what the planet would be like with 4C warming it looked a bit familiar. Then I noticed the date – October 2009. The link is now broken, but the conference is here. There’s a lot of good material in the presentation downloads, mostly depressing, some of which I looked at before things gummed up.

In the article it said that Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who advise Angela Merkel on climate change, had dropped in President Obama’s top people, who told him that the political system couldn’t cope with what he was saying about the science. He wasn’t impressed. Continue reading Climate clippings 70

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1. Planning for storm surges

It seems the trickiest bit of planning for sea level rise is dealing with the increased risk of storm surges. Scientists have been taking a look at New York City.

The biggest they know about was a 3.2 metre surge in 1821, a one in 500 year event. Most buildings have a 60 to 120-year usable lifespan. With a 3-foot rise a once a century surge of 5.7 feet above tide level could occur every three to 20 years. Continue reading Climate clippings 68

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Wind electricity to be fully competitive with natural gas by 2016

So says Stephen Lacey at Climate Progress:

The best wind farms in the world are already competitive with coal, gas and nuclear plants. But over the next five years, continued performance improvements and cost reductions will bring the average onshore wind plant in line with cheap natural gas, even without a price on carbon.

That’s according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. They say that cost reduces by 7% for every doubling of installed capacity, while efficiency has steadily improved. Continue reading Climate clippings 54