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The bioenergy delusion

The bioenergy delusion 

Biomass harvest

Replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy only takes us backwards, continuing our addiction to burning and extraction, and causing extensive ecological damage.

The bioenergy industry gives the impression of being at the forefront of tackling climate change. Every wood pellet that’s burned communicates the illusion of innovative progress away from fossil fuels and towards ‘renewable’ energy.

In the context of our urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is easy to be persuaded by a strategy which can supposedly help steer us away from impending doom. 

Before I took my job working to protect forests I was under the impression that bioenergy was something positive. 

Capitalism growth 

Since humans first discovered how to create fire about 1.5 million years ago, our ability to harness the flames has sustained us, warmed us, and fed us. 

Most of the world is fiercely globalised and intensely capitalist, focusing on – or subjected to – short-term economic gain. 

Societies in the global north have become demanding and consumerist, reaching ever further afield for products to satisfy our desires. We have plunged deep into oil wells, and exploited pristine, ecologically priceless ecosystems in the Arctic and Amazon

Burning materials to produce energy continues to drive our modern society. 

Many people will have heard and agree with the slogan ‘keep it in the ground’ in reference to coal, oil and gas. The need to do so could not be more pressing, as we teeter on the brink of global climate catastrophe. 

Climate denial 

A crisis is already playing out around us – more noticeably in some parts of the world than in others, and exerting greater pressure and injustice on certain communities than on others. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Exxon Evacuates All Foreign Staff From Iraqi Oilfield On Security Concerns

Exxon Evacuates All Foreign Staff From Iraqi Oilfield On Security Concerns

At the end of a week that’s witnessed a dangerous US military build-up in the Persian Gulf amid anti-Iran war rhetoric, Exxon Mobil has evacuated all of its foreign staff from Iraq’s West Qurna 1 oilfield, flying them to Dubai until “the situation is secure,” according to a company statement. 

Total staff evacuated is about 60, cites Reuters, and comes days after the US ordered all non-emergency personnel to leave the US embassy in Baghdad in an extremely rare security move, claiming intelligence that shows Americans are under immediate threat from Shia milias backed by Iran. Oil field in southern Iraq, via Iraq’s Ministry of Oil

Iraq’s state-owned South Oil Company, which owns the oil field from which the Exxon Mobil employees have been evacuated, announced Saturday that production is continuing without disruption at 440,000 barrels per day (bpd) under the operation of Iraqi engineers. 

“Exxon Mobil’s evacuation is a precautionary and temporary measure. We have no indication over any dangers, the situation is secure and very stable at the oilfield which is running at full capacity and producing 440,000 bpd,” a South Oil spokesman said.

And Exxon Mobile in a separate company press release said, “ExxonMobil has programs and measures in place to provide security to protect its people, operations and facilities. We are committed to ensuring the safety of our employees and contractors at all of our facilities around the world.”

The evacuation was reportedly completed early on Saturday in phases which had started on Friday: “Last night 28 employees were evacuated to the airport and the rest were sent to the camp. This morning they were evacuated to the airport and no (foreign) staff remain in the field,” according to a security firm which oversaw their emergency departure.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

THE END OF THE OIL GIANTS: And What It Means

THE END OF THE OIL GIANTS: And What It Means

Recently, Saudi Aramco, the world largest oil exporter, has acknowledged that Ghawar, the world largest oil field, is in decline. The news went mostly unnoticed except in the specialised media.  OK, so the Saudi have a bit of bother, so what?  In fact, this piece of news is extremely important. Previously the oil world had been led to believe that Ghawar was producing over 5 Million barrels/day (Mb/d).[1] As part of its fund-raising, Aramco has disclosed that it is in fact down to 3.8Mb/d.

THE END OF THE OIL GIANTS:  And What It Means

GUEST POST: By Dr. Louis Arnoux

The meaning of this news snippet takes a bit of explaining.  What the specialised media did not emphasise is what follows:

When giant oil fields go into decline, they usually decline abruptly. Ghawar’s decline is ominous. It was discovered in 1948 and until recently represented about 50% of the oil crude production of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Ghawar is representative of some 100 to 200 giant oil fields. Most of them are old.  The most recently discovered giants are of a diminutive size compared with those old giants.[2]

Giants represent about 1% of the total number of oil fields and yet produce over 60% of conventional oil crude.[3]Very few real giants have been discovered in recent years. The geology of the planet is now known well enough and prospects for new significant giant oil discoveries are known to be low.  In recent decades, discoveries of smaller oil fields have not been able to compensate for the eventual loss of the giants. Figure 1 illustrates the matter. It shows the net flux of addition to reserves per year (additional volumes less volumes used). 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Utility scale energy storage has a long way to go to make renewables possible

Utility scale energy storage has a long way to go to make renewables possible

What follows comes from my book  When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation , which is also where you’ll find the references backing up what I’ve written below. 

I often get letters from people about energy breakthroughs in biofuels, solar, electric trucks, and so on. This post is about the “record breaking amount of battery storage add in 2018” (go here to read the article). 

To enhance your own evaluation of the constant barrage of happy news in the media, here’s why I didn’t get excited or cheered up and go back to thinking the future was bound to be bright and shiny.

First, let’s go over the four possible ways to store electrical energy. We don’t need to store much now, because we still have natural gas, which kicks in to balance solar and wind power (but not coal and nuclear, which are damaged by trying to do this), and for much of the year provides 66% of electricity generation (along with coal), because wind and solar are so seasonal.

So if the grid is to be 100% renewable someday, which it has to be since the 66% of power coming from fossil fuels now to generate electricity is finite, then utility scale energy storage is essential Let’s look at what it would take each of the four methods to store just one day of U.S. electricity generation, 11.12 Terawatt Hours (TwH). 

The only commercial way to store electricity is pumped hydro storage (PHS), which can store 2% of America’s electricity generation today. But we’ve run out of places to put new dams. Only two have been built since 1995. There are only 43 PHS dams now, and we’d need 7800 more to store one day of U.S. electricity.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Tight Oil Markets Could Be About To See A ‘Violent’ Price Spike

Tight Oil Markets Could Be About To See A ‘Violent’ Price Spike

VLCC

Supply disruptions in the Middle East on top of an already tight crude market could send oil prices violently upward, according to Rystad Energy.

Two Saudi Arabian oil tankers were reportedly attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) this weekend, sending crude futures sharply up Monday morning.

Commenting on the incident, Bjørnar Tonhaugen, Head of Oil Market Research at Rystad Energy, says:

“In the short term, the perceived risk of supply disruptions from the area will only add to the premium of short-dated oil contracts compared to deferred contracts on the futures curve, which are already trading at a high premium.”

The tightness in prompt supplies is caused by declines in production from Iran and Venezuela, along with ongoing OPEC cuts, outages in Russia owing to the Urals contamination, maintenance in Kazakhstan, plus planned maintenance in the North Sea during the summer months.

“The oil market is reacting today not because the physical market suddenly has lost more oil supplies, but because of risks that the market may lose more oil in the coming weeks and months given the heightened risk of supply disruptions from the critical Persian Gulf region. Raising tensions even higher, news flows suggest the latest incident might be related to the conflict between Iran and the US, which puts the Strait of Hormuz in play,” Tonhaugen said. 

The incident occurred near the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil artery. Around 40% of the world’s traded crude oil is transported through the waterway between Iran to the north and UAE/Oman to the south. Approximately 90% of Saudi Arabian crude exports and 75% of Iraqi exports pass through this shipping lane, in addition to all oil exports from Iran, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Oil Jumps After Saudis Admit Two Tankers Attacked As Iran Tensions Soar

Oil Jumps After Saudis Admit Two Tankers Attacked As Iran Tensions Soar

The bizarre and mysterious explosions that rocked the UAE port of Fujairah on Sunday just got even more strange after Saudi Arabia admitted overnight that two of its oil tankers were attacked while sailing toward the Persian Gulf possibly as part of the incident.

Crude prices quickly jumped as much as 2% on the news. Throughout Sunday as what was being reported in international press as multiple oil tankers exploding at port, local UAE officials had vehemently denied any explosion, much less that any sabotage incident, took place. 

But even more interesting is that it was primarily Iran-linked media, beginning with Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen, which first reported and pushed the story into mainstream coverage. But later in the day, we reported that the UAE finally acknowledged an incident, saying four commercial cargo ships were targeted by “sabotage operations” off its eastern coast, near the Gulf of Oman. And now, a full 24 hours later, this bombshell admission which is fast sending oil prices higher: 

Saudi Arabia said on Monday that two of its oil tankers had been sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, in attacks it described as posing a threat to the security of global oil supplies.

Via AFP/Haaretz: Saudi cargo ship Bahri Yanbu next to British crude oil tanker Nordic Space (L) waiting in the port of Le Havre, May 9, 2019

The state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said Monday that one of the vessels was due to be loaded with Saudi crude oil from the port of Ras Tanura, after which it would eventually supply customers in the United States. International shipping monitors identified the Saudi vessels as Bahri-owned crude carrier Amjad and crude tanker Al Marzoqah

No casualties or oil spills were reported as part of the “sabotage” incident, but the statement acknowledged “significant damage to the structures of the two vessels.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Global Economic Growth In Serious Trouble When U.S. Shale Oil Peaks & Declines

Global Economic Growth In Serious Trouble When U.S. Shale Oil Peaks & Declines

The global economy would be in serious trouble if it weren’t for the rapid growth of U.S. shale oil production.  Since the 2008 financial crisis, U.S. shale oil production has increased by more than 6 million barrels per day.  Without these additional barrels of oil, the massive money printing and asset purchases by the central banks would not have been as successful in propping up the economy and markets.

We must remember this simple fact; energy drives the markets, not finance. Finance steers the market.  So, for the economy to expand, there must be oil production growth.  However, it would be unwise for the market-economy to rely upon the U.S. shale industry as the leading driver of global oil production growth for the foreseeable future.

Why?  Well, there are several reasons, but let’s first look at how much the increase in U.S. shale oil production has accounted for the rise in global oil supply since 2008. Of the 9.6 million barrels per day (mbd) of global oil production growth 2008-2017, the United States supplied two-thirds or 6.3 mbd of the total:

Interestingly, global oil production minus the United States and Canada didn’t increase in 2009, 2010 or 2011.  There was a small bump up in 2012 and finally by 2105-2017 did global oil production minus the U.S. and Canada increase by 1.7 mbd.  Now, let me repeat that.  If we add up ALL THE OTHER COUNTRIES in the world producing oil, the net increase from 2008 to 2017 was only 1.7 mbd. Thus, of the total 9.6 mbd of global oil production growth 2008-2017, the U.S. (6.3 mbd) and Canada (1.6 mbd) accounted for 82% of the total.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Does Chevron know exactly what shale oil and gas are worth?

Does Chevron know exactly what shale oil and gas are worth?

Welcome to the bidding war that didn’t happen. The decision last week by international oil giant Chevron Corp. to leave its takeover bid for shale oil and gas-heavy Anadarko Petroleum Corp. unaltered in the wake of a higher offer from rival bidder Occidental Petroleum Corp. surprised some who had expected a back and forth escalation between the two competitors.

Chevron’s CEO told Bloomberg, “Winning in any environment doesn’t mean winning at any cost.” Chevron’s hesitancy to pay up for Anadarko’s assets suggests a measured assessment about what Anadarko might deliver, one tempered by emerging political developments and perhaps a less sanguine view about the durability of the shale boom.

Anadarko, after all, has considerable operations in Colorado which recently enacted a billincreasing the ability of municipalities to curtail oil and gas development, authorizing more stringent air quality monitoring and rules, and turning the commission which was tasked with “fostering” oil and gas development into one which actually regulates it. That spells less oil and gas development in a state that has been critical to Anadarko and to the shale boom.

The promoters of shale oil and gas investment are pretending as if the kind of backlash which happened in Colorado could not occur elsewhere. Don’t count on that being the case.

Beyond this, energy writer Nick Cunningham summarizes the most recent update of prospects for shale hydrocarbons released by a skeptical Post Carbon Institute. Issues identified by the institute way back in 2012 have continued to unfold as foretold. All the technological improvements since then are only hastening the day when production will turn down according to the report’s author. Simply put, production from oil and gas shale deposits is being “frontloaded.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Excerpt from The Patterning Instinct: Can We Transform Our Society for a Flourishing Future?

Excerpt from The Patterning Instinct: Can We Transform Our Society for a Flourishing Future?

Ed. note: Excerpted from the final two chapters of Jeremy Lent’s award-winning book, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, (Prometheus, 2017) which explores the different ways cultures have patterned meaning into the cosmos, and reveals how various worldviews arose and shaped the course of history. The book uncovers the hidden foundations of our modern unsustainable worldview, and offers a potential vision for a more harmonious future. Jeremy is founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute, dedicated to fostering an integrated worldview that could enable humanity to flourish sustainably on the earth. More info: jeremylent.com.

Ideological lock-in

The reasons our civilization continues hurtling towards a precipice are multi-layered. There are some readily identifiable factors; underpinning these are certain structural characteristics of our global system that lock in our current momentum; and underlying these are cognitive frames –  mostly concealed – that form the basis for our collective behavior. Each of these layers must be addressed to make a meaningful course correction.

The easily identifiable forces propelling humanity on its current course are the special interests that gain financially and politically – at least, in the short-term – from continued economic growth and use of fossil fuels. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually in political lobbying and funding for those who deny the threat of anthropogenic climate change. They currently exert enough power over the U.S. legislative process to thwart meaningful legislation at the national level.

However, even without these special interests, some structural characteristics of our global system make it very difficult to change direction. One of these is known as technological lock-in: the fact that, once a technology is widely adopted, an infrastructure is built up around it, making change prohibitively expensive.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth

Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth

Preface. Some of the points I found most alarming or interesting:

  • After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on Earth. 
  • Concrete is a thirsty behemoth, sucking up almost a 10th of the world’s industrial water use. This often strains supplies for drinking and irrigation
  • If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest CO2 emitter, accounting for 4 to 8% of the world’s CO2
  • Puts roofs over the heads of billions, fortifies defenses against natural disasters, and the structure for healthcare, education, transport, energy and industry. When combined with steel, it is the material that ensures our dams don’t burst, our tower blocks don’t fall, our roads don’t buckle and our electricity grid remains connected.
  • But they also entomb vast tracts of fertile soil, constipate rivers, & choke habitats
  • we may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet. 
  • All the plastic produced over the past 60 years amounts to 8bn tonnes. The concrete industry pumps out more than that every two years.
  • The amount of concrete laid per square meter in Japan is 30 times the amount in America (the same as California using as much concrete as the entire U.S.)
  • Many engineers argue that there is no viable alternative. Steel, asphalt and plasterboard are more energy intensive than concrete. The world’s forests are already being depleted at an alarming rate

Watts, J. 2019-2-25. Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth. The Guardian.

After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on the planet. But its benefits mask enormous dangers to the planet, to human health – and to culture itself

Can Renewable Portfolio Standards make RE Work?

Can Renewable Portfolio Standards make RE Work?

Guest post by Geo who is a geologist working in Alaska

People want energy to be cleaner (i.e. emit less carbon dioxide). One way to do this is to use regulations to force either greater efficiency, or a switch to cleaner fuels.

A good example would be Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in the United States. They were first enacted by the United States Congress in 1975, after the 1973–74 Arab Oil Embargo, to improve the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks (trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles) produced for sale in the United States. The idea was that slowly, across the board, the mileage of all cars and trucks produced in the U.S. would gradually increase. Over time this would result in cleaner air, and reduced oil usage. And perhaps save consumers money…

And it more or less worked as advertised. Standards were raised, and efficiency increased, largely without additional cost. U.S. cars are twice as fuel-efficient today as they were 40 years ago, saving car owners millions of dollars, and reducing air pollution. Arguably a win-win.

Figure 1: EPA “Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 through 2017,” EPA-420-S-18-001, January 2018.

A slight nuance was added in some markets. Certificates for high mileage vehicles could be traded, so that some manufacturers could continue producing low mileage vehicles. For example, under California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Regulation and those of states that have adopted California’s standard, vehicle manufacturers are required to earn or purchase credits for compliance with their annual regulatory requirements. This means that a certain number of electric cars must be sold to balance any low mileage vehicles.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Reason Renewables Can’t Power Modern Civilization Is Because They Were Never Meant To

The Reason Renewables Can’t Power Modern Civilization Is Because They Were Never Meant To

“The Energiewende — the biggest political project since reunification — threatens to fail,” reports Germany's largest news magazine.

“The Energiewende — the biggest political project since reunification — threatens to fail,” reports Germany’s largest news magazine. DER SPIEGEL

Over the last decade, journalists have held up Germany’s renewables energy transition, the Energiewende, as an environmental model for the world. 

“Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset,” thanks to the Energiewendewrote a New York Times reporter in 2014.

With Germany as inspiration, the United Nations and World Bank poured billions into renewables like wind, solar, and hydro in developing nations like Kenya.

But then, last year, Germany was forced to acknowledge that it had to delay its phase-out of coal, and would not meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction commitments. It announced plans to bulldoze an ancient church and forest in order to get at the coal underneath it.

After renewables investors and advocates, including Al Gore and Greenpeace, criticized Germany, journalists came to the country’s defense. “Germany has fallen short of its emission targets in part because its targets were so ambitious,” one of them argued last summer.

“If the rest of the world made just half Germany’s effort, the future for our planet would look less bleak,” she wrote. “So Germany, don’t give up. And also: Thank you.”

But Germany didn’t just fall short of its climate targets. Its emissions have flat-lined since 2009.

Now comes a major article in the country’s largest newsweekly magazine, Der Spiegel, titled, “A Botched Job in Germany” (“Murks in Germany“). The magazine’s cover shows broken wind turbines and incomplete electrical transmission towers against a dark silhouette of Berlin.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Renewables Are Dead

Renewables Are Dead

Gustave Courbet The man made mad by fear 1844

If I’ve said once that those among us who tout renewable energy should pay more attention to the 2nd law of Thermodynamics, I must have said it a hundred times. But I hardly ever get the impression that people understand why. And it seems so obvious. A quote I often use from Herman Daly and Ken Townsend, when I talk about energy, really says it all:

“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”

Using energy produces waste. Using more energy produces more waste. It doesn’t matter -much- what kind of energy is used, or what kind of waste is produced. The energy WE use produces waste, in a medium of which WE cannot survive. The only way to escape this is to use less energy. And because we have used such an enormous amount of energy the past 100 years, we must use a whole lot less in the next 100.

We use about 100 times more energy per person, and a whole lot more in the west, than our own labor can produce. We use the equivalent of what 500 billion people can produce without the aid of fossil fuel-powered machines. We won’t solve this problem with wind turbines or solar panels. There really is one way only: cut down on energy use.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

US Oil Exploration Drops by 95 Percent

US Oil Exploration Drops by 95 Percent

It is well known that oil discoveries are in continuous decline worldwide in spite of ever-increasing investments. What is less known, however, is that spending on oil exploration is fast dropping in the United States. Exploratory drilling has been decreasing year after year and now stands at only five percent of its 1981 peak. In other words, once the currently producing shale oil wells are gone, there won’t be much to take their place.

According to figures derived from US Energy Information Agency (EIA) data by French oil geologist Jean Laherrère, oil exploration has already peaked twice in the United States. The first time was in the mid-1950s, with just over 16,000 wells drilled in a single year. The second major peak dates back to 1981, with 17,573 exploration wells. This number fell to only 847 in 2017.

Another even more revealing phenomenon is the decrease in NFWs. New field wildcats are exploration wells drilled in areas that have never produced oil, as opposed to wells drilled simply to help better delineate already known oil sectors (shown as red and greenlines in the graph). NFWs also declined by 95 percent, from 9,151 in 1981 to just 450 in 2017. According to Laherrère, this means that the United States have been almost entirely explored for oil and gas since 1859 and that few sites are worth drilling anymore. “There are only a few unexplored areas left offshore”, he notes.

In comparison, the number of operating wells (used to pump oil from previously known fields) was 646,626 in 1985, 597,281 in 2014, and 560,996 in 2017. However, nearly 400,000 of these wells are very old and produce at a marginal rate – fewer than 15 barrels a day and sometimes as little as one. They are described as marginal wells in the graph above.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Pipeline Bottlenecks Cost Canadian Producers $20 Billion

Pipeline Bottlenecks Cost Canadian Producers $20 Billion

Costing Money

Canada has plenty of oil, and demand is high, but the Canadian oil industry has nevertheless taken a major hit this year thanks to its persisting pipeline bottleneck. The Albertan oil industry has long been plagued by insufficient pipeline volumes but has not been able to fix the issue with any semblance of efficiency thanks to major bureaucratic and litigation-based delays on building new infrastructure like the long-delayed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

With pipeline capacity maxed out, Canadian oil producers have run out of storage space, leading to a major glut in oil reserves with nowhere to go. This has forced Canada to sell their oil at a major discount. In fact, a new study released this week by conservative think tank the Fraser Institute calculates that Canadian oil producers missed out on a whopping $20.62 billion more than they earned this year thanks to their severely depressed prices. Compared to the West Texas Intermediate benchmark, in the last year Canadian heavy crude traded, on average, at a discount of $26.50 U.S. a barrel. This is a huge dive from the five-year preceding, when Canadian heavy crude traded at an average of just $11.90 U.S. a barrel less than West Texas Intermediate.

The pipeline capacity deficit has negatively impacted the Canadian economy in a number of ways. “Canada’s lack of adequate pipeline capacity has imposed a number of costly constraints on the country’s energy sector including overdependence on the US market and reliance on more costly modes of energy transportation,” states the Fraser Research Bulletin. “In 2018, these factors, coupled with the maintenance downtime at refineries in the US Midwest, resulted in significant depressed prices for Canadian heavy crude (Western Canada Select) relative to US crude (West Texas Intermediate) and other international benchmarks.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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