DrumBeat: May 10, 2009

David MacKay: Yes, we can solve the energy crisis

We have an addiction to fossil fuels, and it’s not sustainable. The developed world gets 80% of its energy from fossil fuels – Britain gets 90%. This is unsustainable for three reasons.

First, easily accessible fossil fuels will run out, so we will eventually have to get our energy from elsewhere.

Second, burning fossil fuels is having a measurable, and very probably dangerous, effect on the climate.

Third, even if we don’t care about climate change, a sharp reduction in Britain’s fossil-fuel consumption would seem a wise move if we care about security of supply. Continued rapid use of the North Sea oil and gas reserves will otherwise soon force Britain to depend on imports from untrustworthy foreigners. (I hope you can hear my tongue in my cheek.)

DAVID MACKAY: How 125 light bulbs can end the energy crisis

The public debate about our energy crisis will be a waste of time - unless we start using numbers we all understand.

China builds coal stockpile bases

CHINA, the world's largest coal producer and consumer, plans to build stockpiles of the fuel in the eastern province of Shandong to ensure supplies and help stabilise prices, the nation's top economic planner says.

The province would complete the construction of four to six coal stockpile bases within the next three to five years, the National Development and Reform Commission said.

The bases would each have a capacity to store more than 20 million tonnes of coal.

Shell Site in Western Ireland Attacked; Seven Men Charged

(Bloomberg) -- Irish police charged seven men after a protest late yesterday against a Royal Dutch Shell Plc gas pipeline in western Ireland.

Kuwait's oil revenue up 44 pct in 2008

DUBAI (Reuters) - Kuwait's oil revenue surged 44 percent in 2008 to 22.67 billion dinars ($77.74 billion) as energy prices soared, accounting for 94 percent of the OPEC producer's total state revenue, central bank data showed.

Kuwait's oil revenue rose from 15.75 billion dinars in 2007 after crude prices rallied to a peak of almost $150 a barrel last July, according to data posted on the central bank's website in a quarterly bulletin. (www.cbk.gov.kw)

Iraqi govt OKs Kurds crude oil export

AFP - BAGHDAD: An Iraqi oil official says Iraq's central government has approved Kurdish plans to start exporting crude oil next month. Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told The Associated Press on Sunday that the oil would be marketed by the government-owned State Oil Marketing Organization and shipped through a pipeline to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

U.S. Drops Research Into Fuel Cells for Cars

WASHINGTON — Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, once hailed by President George W. Bush as a pollution-free solution for reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, will not be practical over the next 10 to 20 years, the energy secretary said Thursday, and the government will cut off funds for the vehicles’ development.

Cogeneration: This Ain't Your Daddy's Energy Plan

Producing both electricity and heating from the same source is much more efficient than the energy production system we have now, but there are some problems in large-scale implementation. Although some countries, such as the Netherlands, have large centralized cogeneration plants, it is hard and inefficient to distribute the heat energy, and efficiency is lost in the transmission of electricity as well. On a smaller scale, several universities, including New York University, are considering using cogeneration to produce their heat and electricity and Massachusetts Institute of Technology has implemented a 10-year, 40 million dollar initiative to do just that. The largest potential for cogeneration, however, is in micro cogeneration, where small, highly efficient units produce both electricity and heat for individual buildings or complexes. If used with something called an absorption chiller, the heat energy can even be used to produce cold water for air conditioning in the summer.

Nuclear weapons and ’fourth generation’ reactors

In short, IFRs could produce lots of greenhouse-friendly energy and while they’re at it they can “eat” nuclear waste and fissile materials that might otherwise find their way into nuclear weapons.

Too good to be true? Sadly, yes.

Shift to Saving May Be Downturn’s Lasting Impact

The economic downturn is forcing a return to a culture of thrift that many economists say could last well beyond the inevitable recovery.

This is not because Americans have suddenly become more financially virtuous or have learned the error of their free-spending ways. Instead, these experts say, Americans may have no choice but to continue pinching pennies.

Weather adds to farmers' financial uncertainty

"Without moisture this wheat is going to continue to die," he said.

Add in the high costs of planting last fall -- the spike in oil prices drove up the price of petroleum-based fertilizers, fuel and chemicals -- and the chances of making a profit this year look bleak.

"Four or five years ago, we were buying $350 to $400 a ton fertilizer. This wheat crop here, when we fertilized last August or September, fertilizer was $1,100," Sellard says.

"Even if we had a decent crop, even if we cut it decently, this wheat crop will be in the red."

Saudi, UAE, Kuwait economies to shrink says IMF

The International Monetary Fund slashed its 2009 economic growth forecast for the Gulf region by more than half to 1.3 percent as the three largest oil-exporting economies, including Saudi Arabia, shrink in a global slowdown.

The IMF, which said in February Gulf states were set to grow 3.5 percent this year, warned on Sunday of downside risks from sustained low oil prices and any further deterioration in bank balance sheets due to exposure to weakening real estate markets.

Kuwait, China sign energy and other agreements

China and Kuwait signed agreements on oil and gas and the environment Sunday, as Beijing pushes to deepen ties to resource-rich countries to feed its energy-hungry economy.

Oman oil output rises 6.1% in Q1 2009

Oman's oil output in the first quarter of 2009 rose 6.1 percent on the year to 786,700 barrels per day (bpd), official data published on Sunday showed.

Iraqi Kurdish region says it expects "historic" oil windfall

Arbil, Iraq - The government of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq announced on Sunday that it expected a 'historic' windfall from oil exports from the region, despite a dispute with Baghdad over the exports.

The regional government's Ministry of Natural Resources on Sunday said the Kurdish region would export roughly 100,000 barrels of crude oil a day in the next month from two oil fields, days after an official from the Oil Ministry in Baghdad denied there had been an agreement on exports.

Gas pipe fire lights up Moscow

The fire is Moscow’s worst for at least 20 years. There are conflicting reports of injuries: some said five people were hurt, but there has been no confirmation from city authorities. Nearby homes were evacuated as firefighters tried to stop the blaze spreading. Phone lines in the area were cut as underground cables melted.

Similar fires have been seen recently in other parts of the former Soviet Union. They are usually blamed on technical problems in ageing equipment which has suffered years of under-investment

Peak oil fails to register with Gordon Campbell and Carole James

The two main provincial political parties, the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. NDP, don't like talking about peak oil. They both seem to think it's good public policy to build a new multibillion-dollar bridge across the Fraser River.

Today, I've been reading Jeff Rubin's startling new book, Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and The End of Globalization (Random House Canada, $29.95). And I've got to say, it's pretty depressing to think that the two people with a shot at becoming premier both seem completely oblivious about international oil markets.

It's Not All Or Nothing In The Oil Versus Alternatives Debate

We should step away from the all-or-nothing debate on fossil fuels vs. renewables, they said, stop demonizing any of our potential energy sources, and get serious about addressing our energy problem before it’s too late. As the head of the API said, “The energy issue will intensify until cooler heads prevail,” and the debate desperately needs to be depoliticized.

But in the next breath, apparently unaware of the obvious contradiction in it, I saw those same executives complain bitterly about the policymakers who stand in the way of their progress. I heard them discount the potential of wind and solar to meet our energy needs, while trumpeting the much smaller footprint of modern oil and gas production. I heard overblown claims about how technology will continually increase reserves, and how offshore drilling in America could solve our problems if only they were allowed to do it.

White Energy files for bankruptcy protection

(Reuters) - Ethanol producer White Energy Inc filed for Chapter 11 protection in a Delaware bankruptcy court on Thursday, citing adverse market conditions, court documents showed.

In court filings, the company said that while cost of raw materials to produce ethanol were high, excess supply of ethanol in the market has kept ethanol prices low, resulting in "minimal or non-existent profit margins."

When Wilmington had windmills

A good rule of thumb would be, where there were cows, there would probably be a windmill to pump the water. Cows use a lot of water. Capt. Larz Neilson wrote that he remembered a windmill at Tom Daly’s dairy farm on Andover Street, known as Knollwood Farm.

Windmills began to go out of use in the early 1900’s, when people changed over to gasoline pump engines. In 1911, Reading Municipal Light Dept. wired the town, and many people got electric pumps. In 1928, Wilmington installed a town water system making windmill pumps obsolete.

Tree-Killing Hurricanes Could Contribute To Global Warming

ScienceDaily — A first-of-its kind, long-term study of hurricane impact on U.S. trees shows that hurricane damage can diminish a forest’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming, from the atmosphere. Tulane University researchers from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology examined the impact of tropical cyclones on U.S. forests from 1851–2000 and found that changes in hurricane frequency might contribute to global warming.

Cleanup funding benefits energy giants

Reporting from Sacramento -- Some of the country's wealthiest oil companies and gas station chains have collected hundreds of millions of dollars from a cleanup fund conceived to help smaller, financially struggling entities.

Environmentalists and former lawmakers who pushed to establish the fund, which motorists pay into whenever they buy gasoline in California, say they never intended it for large energy companies with the means to repair environmental damage from their own operations. Yet big firms have taken $490 million from the fund since it was created in 1989.

"Four or five years ago, we were buying $350 to $400 a ton fertilizer. This wheat crop here, when we fertilized last August or September, fertilizer was $1,100," Sellard says.

Fertilizer companies are moving higher in price on the equities market. This may be a reflection of the market in general, but the moves have been larger (such as AGU or POT).
Something is going on beyond market conditions, I believe.
Any insights?

POT is down about 60% from it's 230 July high.

Farmers (especially, corn farmers, I think) cut back, severely, on their fertilizer use this year, resulting in a bloodbath for share prices for INPK producers.

I imagine that we're just seeing the results of the "market" sorting itself out a bit.

Finally investment cannot keep up with depreciation (this is physical investment and depreciation, not monetary). The economy cannot stop putting its capital into the agriculture and resource sectors; if it did the scarcity of food, materials, and fuels would restrict production still more. So the industrial capital plant begins to decline, taking with it the service and agricultural sectors, which have become dependent upon industrial inputs. For a short time the situation is especially serious, because the population keeps rising, due to the lags inherent in the age structure and in the process of social adjustment. Finally population too begins to decrease, as the death rate is driven upward by lack of food and health services.

Meadows - Limits to Growth


Told TOD last year this would happen.

Farmers only get one year of good prices. And maybe a
good crop at the same time. Last year was it.

Exactly like 1974.

Supply will always exceed demand.

Please indulge my curiosity, McG -- what, exactly is it that keeps farmers on the farm. Everyone has known since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution that farming was a losing proposition -- financially, at least. Is there a spiritual dimension that makes up for the financial hardship?


This CBC news report (Quicktime format) suggests western grain farmers will do well this year.

See: http://www.cbc.ca/clips/mov/simms-grain-090509.mov


The trouble with public colleges

Great public universities like Florida have long been both the financial and academic safety plan for high-performing college-bound seniors and their parents. But now, just when families most need low-cost, high-quality schools, State U. is under intense financial pressure.

With the budget crunch states are suffering, I wonder how long the public college system can survive.

I suspect the well-endowed and the trade colleges will persist. But there are a)too many schools with too much overhead/debt and b)too many schools teaching things that may not be in high demand in next 10-20 years. When this all comes to light is anyones guess. My guess is within next year or two when the newly graduated become the newly unemployed.

Here's my pick for stable employment:

Obama seeks to double tax law enforcement budget

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama proposed on Thursday nearly doubling funds to enforce U.S. tax laws next year, with an aim of more than quadrupling funding for tax compliance to $2.1 billion within five years.

That will mostly be a big waste of money. When they give statistics of unreported money, the income includes: theft, prostitution, selling drugs, illegal gambling, barter [I will help you build your fence if you help me build mine - technically, income to both], many services (house cleaning, lawn care, handyman, baby sitting, etc) that work off the books, but who would not owe any income taxes even if they kept records and filed. Not going to make a dent in any of those areas.

Further, the tax code is so complex now that it takes a combination of computers plus experts (lawyers, CPA's) who specialize in specific areas of the tax law. There is probably as much specialization as there is in the medical field. So the IRS can never hire and train enough experts to go out and audit complex issues. And, even if they could, and they had some agents that were the equal of the lawyers and CPA's, most would say thanks for the training, but since you are paying me $50,000 - $75,000 for my services, I will go out into the public for twice as much. [Lots of fighter pilots do that, but the military has an easier time obtaining funds for that, and the public does not mind having an expert pilot flying them around in commercial airplanes.]

Like it or not, in my opinion, the only answer is a vastly simpler income tax system combined with a value added tax.

Retired tax CPA.

Frankly, I would be willing to pay more in taxes if filing was simpler and fairer. But it's not gonna happen. For political reasons. Tax law changes mean a huge flood of money into politicians' war chests. So of course, they can't resist tinkering. Even if we do manage to simplify the tax code (as Reagan tried), it won't last. Tax law is simply too profitable for politicians.

But if it was simpler and fairer, should we expect to pay LESS?

It depends on you are, of course.

If you're currently taking advantage of lots of deductions, you'll probably pay more. If you're making a lot of money, you'll probably pay more. Others may pay less.

Back when Forbes was pushing the flat tax, I figured I'd end up paying a little more than under the current system.

We have similar problems in Australia and I suspect in many parts of the world - an overly complex tax system. Currently the subject of a review (the Henry review) but we'll have to wait and see what comes of that.

Agree with respect to value added tax. We have the GST in aus but it doesn't go far enough.

IMO the way to go would be:

1. Eliminate income tax entirely
2. Apply VAT (GST, whatever) across everything
3. VAT tax rate varies with price, so that goods at or below the average price in category pay a base rate, more expensive (luxury) goods attract progressively higher rates.

There are certainly environmental reasons to tax consumption. But I can't see that ever passing the US. The objection is that it's massively regressive. Poor people spend more of their income - they have to. So they end up paying a larger percentage of their income in taxes than rich people do. That just seems inherently unfair.

And then there's what it would do to retirees. A lot of seniors have set up their finances with the idea that they'll need less money because they'll pay less in income taxes. If suddenly they have to pay the same taxes as everyone else, it would kill them. And they are politically powerful here in the US.

I think if there's ever a VAT in the US, it will be in addition to income taxes (thereby increasing complexity). Either that, or there would have to be some way of protecting the poor. Not taxing food and clothing, for example, as many states do. Or some kind of tax rebate for those with low incomes.

Like it or not, in my opinion, the only answer is a vastly simpler income tax system combined with a value added tax.

You're absolutely right.

So, what academic major and degree would you seek if you wanted to be a tax law enforcer? Would that be a legal, accounting or police function?

Historically, I believe, the tax collectors had no particular qualifications -- they just paid to get cut in on the spoils. Is that our future?

I have a feeling forensic accounting is going to be a growth industry.

Though I recall reading that IRS employees are among the least happy workers in the country. Someone who was hired to try and change that interviewed a bunch of them, and was amazed by the number of people who said, "I really hate it, but I only have 20 more years before retirement."

You need to be smart enough to be trained for the job, but dumb enough to not understand the consequences.
The ideal employee, in other words.
Most jobs have been so dumbed down, it is more your social skills, and lack of critical thought that makes advancement within the current economic system possible.

"So, what academic major and degree would you seek if you wanted to be a tax law enforcer? Would that be a legal, accounting or police function?"

Archery, fencing, and horsemanship.


I would take the part of Robin Hood but I am not sure how to redistribute E-filings.

It depends...if you are going to be a Revenue Agent or Special Agent (Criminal enforcement) you need at least 24 hours of accounting along with a degree. Consequently, most folks in those categories have accounting degrees. Many become CPAs. All of them get schooled annually on tax law changes.

Revenue Officer who collect delinquent returns and unpaid money need a degree but are not required to have an accounting background since they don't analyze returns.

I know this because I just retired after 30 years of service in the IRS and I started out as a Revenue Officer.

Nate -

And further aggravating the problem is the fact that, in a never-ending game of status seeking and academic one-upmanship, many colleges during the last decade or so have been spending money as fast as they could on expansions and 'improvements' of their physical plant, little of which had anything to do with actually improving academics.

At present, many college endowments are shrinking rather than growing, and the potential to recoup these expenditures through raising tuition is running head up against over-strapped parents who simply cannot afford to pay even the current tuition.

No, when it comes to higher education there does not seem much to be bullish about.

The local college (which I never attended) has evidently been in some trouble lately much to my surprise. It recently changed from a being 2 year junior college to a four year institution. But the change flopped.

Formerly the school was a big beneficiary of the Hanson Foundation funded by the founders of Winnebago Industries. They gave millions and built a large part of the campus. Now both John K. Hanson and his wife are dead and the family sold a lot of stock when Winnebago (WGO) was at about $40 per share. Lately it has bounced off a low of about $3.50 to about $10 on the bankruptcies of Fleetwood and Monaco. It is now mostly owned by outsiders.

Without the support of the Hanson money, the college has fallen on hard times. They have decided to sell themselves to a profitable online 4 year college: Columbia Southern University in Alabama. This is quite a come down for a 100 year old religious (Lutheran) institution that seemed to be a permanent fixture of the community.

But Columbia Southern is supposedly highly profitable. It's hard to figure what is in it for Columbia. Perhaps the respectability of a 100 year institution and tax right offs on all the real estate that the Hanson Foundation paid for.


Since the quote mentions Florida...

Legislative session overview: Schools and casinos were among winners

While primary eduction may have done relativeley better than other areas...

The Legislature cut regular recurring funding for the State University System by 10.5 percent, or $211 million. But with federal stimulus dollars and approval of tuition increases of up to 15 percent, the system's budget might increase by $20 million, or 1 percent, according to the Board of Governors, the policy making body for state universities.

But that's not across the board. The Legislature allocated $21.2 million for new medical schools at the University of Central Florida and Florida International University, as well as other earmarked expenses.

Sheila McDevitt, chairwoman of the Board of Governors, said the state university system would actually take about a $200 million hit in its operating budget. That could lead to program cuts and layoffs at some schools.

Community colleges would receive about $1.7 billion from state funds and tuition and fees, up about 1 percent from last year.

As, WT says, get thee to the non discretionary side of the economy (and by impication get thee a degree-skill that will have some post-peak value).

And of course the post-peak forward transpsortation thinking got hammered:

Tri-Rail denied

Tri-Rail was a major loser. A $2 rental car tax in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties needed to sustain Tri-Rail was tied to a controversial commuter rail project in Orlando, which died late in the session.

Budget negotiators declined to include a $30 million infusion to keep Tri-Rail running. As a result, officials say they will cut down on trains and weekend service to save money.

The Florida State budget is a target rich environment, but one - I - gotta wonder if relying on gambling tax revenue is all that smart. Is gambling one of the last discretionary areas "consumers" let go of?

For that we have to go to:

Legislature passes gambling deal with Seminoles

The money

The deal would add $300 million to Florida's budget, which will take effect July 1. That figure includes about $150 million the tribe already has paid into escrow since signing the original deal with the governor in 2007. That deal was voided by the Florida Supreme Court in 2008.

Over the next 15 years, the tribe would pay at least $150 million a year to the state, plus part of net gambling profits.

The money will be funneled to the state's Lottery trust fund, which is used to pay for school construction projects, Bright Futures scholarships and other education programs.

Ya'll come down and gamble...our kids are counting on it.


After exposing my roommate to the concepts of peak oil, resource depletion and the collapse of societies, he decided to stop pursuing his architecture major and went into botany, with an emphasis on the practical parts of it. I am pursuing engineering with the eventual goal of starting a business that will produce practical durable goods for the post peak economy and therefore feed my arse. We both are in debt though, which I am counting on the eventual crash in the dollar to resolve my debts, aka pay off old debts with inflated money.

Native Americans exist on handouts from the Feds (commodities, grants etc) and on gambling - their primary source of income.

They are desperate to build more stone head casinos.

Native Americans are now responsible for their own genocide.

Good for them.

Do you think when a tribe ran some buffalo off a cliff, that they then went and blamed those animals for the gravity that brought them down?

No, SOP. White Euros in the US have created the economic and social policies that have both built the cliff, and flown the helicopters that are running the herds off of them. Good for us.

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
- George Orwell, Animal Farm, Ch. 10

I agree sbout the role played by the white euros and "the system" the US government created over the past few hundred years.

I'm just very disappointed with the leadership of what remains of the Native American tribes and cultures.

Private colleges are also facing problems, so it's not just the public colleges that face survivability problems.

Since the US higher-education system, particularly in science and engineering, is highly regarded around the world, it is one of our few remaining exports, so public colleges are likely to be subsidized by the government for at least a while longer.

The larger problems are on the demand and supply sides. Demand for college education may go down given the costs and benefits. On the supply side, we may just have far too many such institutions. Once it is realized that there are going to be fewer and fewer jobs for highly educated people, demand may go down and take some of the supply along with it.

It appears that Chicontepec is producing about 36,000 bpd, half of their 72,000 bpd target for 2009.

Pemex’s bet means work for Houston

So far, Chicontepec’s production has reached just under half the 72,000 barrels of petroleum per day that planners hope for this year. But Pemex promises to increase the field’s production to more than 700,000 barrels per day within the next eight years.

“A lot of people think that Pemex will have difficulty achieving the targets,” (Mark) Brown said. “But at least they’re putting their best foot forward.” Pemex officials estimate that Chicontepec holds nearly 40 percent of Mexico’s estimated petroleum reserves and about 18 billion barrels worth of currently extractable oil. Unlike the vast pools in Mexico’s offshore fields, however, Chicontepec’s oil is locked in small pockets, making it difficult to tap and to get to market.

Thanks for your many and frequent updates on the crash of Mexican oil exports.

On a related issue, the Chicontepec field appears so far to be a classic example of falling EROEI. More specifically it doesn't look like Pemex will even have oil revenues this year that equal the amount of capital investment in Chicontepec. Granted more favorable comparisons are in store for the next few years, but the whole project in the long term appears to be have low energy returns for the investment required.

May 6, 2009

CEO: PEP to hit Chicontepec goals with higher rig count

Mexican state oil company Pemex's E&P subsidiary PEP plans to meet its goals for drilling wells in the Chicontepec area of Puebla and Veracruz states by boosting the rig count, PEP's CEO Carlos Morales Gil told a webcast.

Pemex's CEO Jes00FA,us Reyes Heroles said at the beginning of the year it planned to invest US$2.31bn in Chicontepec this year, the most funds for any single project among Pemex's 2009 investments.

The company's stated goal at the time was to complete 1,063 wells.

However, PEP completed 70 development wells in Chicontepec in the first quarter of the year, Morales Gil said in the webcast.

Morales Gil provided information on the Chicontepec rig count in response to a question from an analyst as to whether Pemex was running behind and expected to meet its goal.

PEP currently has 40 rigs in the area and plans to increase its rig count to 57 by mid-year, Morales Gil said.

"By the end of the year we expect to finish with 83 rigs working on the project. That will allow us to increase the number of wells finished and to comply with the goals that we expect in production wells," Morales Gil said.

As production declines from Pemex's traditional oil fields in shallow waters, the company is looking to ramp up production in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and the Chicontepec area.

The latter has low porosity and small pockets of reserves, thus requiring Pemex to drill more than 1,000 wells annually over the next 15 years in order to produce its hydrocarbons.

Chicontepec holds an estimated 39% of total 3P hydrocarbons reserves in the country, or 17.7Bboe - 11.7Mb oil and 29.5Tf3 (836Bm3) gas.

PEP's 2009 plan to drill about 1000 wells for $2 billion means each well cost $2 million (with related infrastructure). I have heard that these wells have low production, often below 100 barrels per day, sometimes only 10 to 20 barrels per day. The total envisioned production of 750,000 barrels per day after 10 years of drilling 11,000 wells bears this out.

Mexico is REALLY at the bottom of the barrel if Chicontepec requires so much effort for so little oil, which will supply less than 1% of world's total production and cost at least $20 billion investment.

In as much as this field has been discovered for over 30 years, there may be a reason other than a cold investment return for the decision to plan, and I emphasize "plan", $20 billion in investment.

(Reuters) - Ethanol producer White Energy Inc filed for Chapter 11 protection in a Delaware bankruptcy court on Thursday, citing adverse market conditions, court documents showed.

In court filings, the company said that while cost of raw materials to produce ethanol were high, excess supply of ethanol in the market has kept ethanol prices low, resulting in "minimal or non-existent profit margins."

h/t Leanan above.

STOCKHOLM (Standard & Poor’s) May 8, 2009– Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said today that it had revised its outlook on Switzerland-based oil refiner Petroplus Holdings AG to negative from stable due to worsened industry conditions, notably a strong contraction in middle distillate crack spreads, and a potential severe weakening of the company’s credit metrics in 2009.


James S. Tisch

Thank you for joining us on our call today. The Wizard of Oz famously said, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” and I feel like saying that today with respect to our first quarter earnings. Our subsidiaries are in good shape relative to the current business environment and are doing much better than what’s reflected by the earnings reported today.

"The conglomerate was also hurt by an impairment charge in its HighMount Exploration & Production LLC, natural gas and oil properties caused by lower commodities prices, which amounted to about $1 billion before taxes and $660 million after taxes."


Supply will always exceed demand.

Supply will always exceed demand.

Isn't that sort of the Achilles Heel of capitalism? And why the "free market" is never really free, but always struggles to obtain monopoly control?

I just took up pottery as a recreation and art form about a year ago. I am astounded by how many pots I can produce -- and I'm not good at this at all. How in the world do professional potters control the supply? And then, industrialize the production!

And that's just pots. Wheat and corn have the same problem. Of course, you can make beer and put it into pots for storage -- but even there, there is a limit. Kidneys just can't keep up.

Supply exceeding demand is what pushes "Prices" down. Many of us would argue that that is a "feature," not a "bug."

A farmer with a 24 row planter can plant about 10 Million corn seeds in a day. He doesn't need a couple of weeks of good weather to get his planting done. Just a couple of "Days." That could be the difference between the U.S. harvesting 12 Billion Bushels this year, or 10 Billion.

"Capitalism" is what makes that 24 row planter possible. And, the diesel big enough to pull it.

But the farmer who has bought the diesel and the 24 row planter will have an irresistible incentive to plant corn in monoculture year after year, right? Especially after he has developed a market for the millions of bushels of corn, which includes feeding cattle and marketing sweetened ink to pre-diabetics. I mean what is he going to do? Convert the 24 row planter to planting peas? And what will he do with millions of bushels of peas? The pre-diabetics are addicted to high-fructose corn syrup and burgers.

So then does capitalism create irresistible incentives for soil depletion and super-pest evolution (and pesticide development and ecosystem destruction)?

He'll, basically, do what's worked best for years, and still does. He'll plant corn one year, and beans the next (or, whatever his profit-optimizing crop rotation is.) He'll just be more efficient doing it. And, tie up less land doing it.

Farmers here started to plant corn in April. They still are not done. In fact not even really started good.

The weather NEVER cooperates. I have never seen say 3,000 acres planted in 'a couple days'.

What population rate are your farmers seeding at? How many acres in that 'a couple of days'?

And let me add. You have to combine your winter wheat as well. That means head changes,etc. And I won't even talk about 'breakdowns' for that happens even on new equipment. I work on the electronics. I do it often. There are always delays and problems.

Right now I have to take a combine auger over two states away to get it rebuilt. The wheat will be ready soon and yet no corn planted, with the farmer I work for , when I do work.

So a blanket statement is rather worthless. Again if you have 4 tractors, 4 planters and only 1,000 acres? Sure. But thats not how its done.

And I might add that we do not hire our combining done here like they do in the plains.




This isn't the type of farm I grew up on, and "hilly" obviously has a different definition in Iowa than it does in Tennessee, or Kentucky, but this dude's planting 29,000 seeds/acre, and knocking off about 30 acres/hr.


And let me add.. There is far more to planting corn than just running a planter over the field.

First if your doing no-till you have to do a chemical burndown of the weeds and grass. Maybe a pre-emergence as well. A couple more days!!!

Then you have to lay down fertilizer. Either inject Nh3 or have a spreader truck do it. And everyone is calling the agchem guys at the same time. This can take more than a 'couple of days'.

Then you plant.The easy part. Ahh well if you have absolutely square or rectangular fields? Yes you can go without having to make fancy turns at the headlands. Yes the 'autosteer' or lightbar GPS can do a lot for you. But the same groundspeed must be held no matter. The planter dictates much of this...IF you radar gun is working.

And just one breakdown for parts? Could be a lot longer.

Then you have to make seed runs. Doesn' show up automatically on your doorstep. But if the season changes then you must switch to a different genetic or earlier germinate, and so it goes. A crap shot for a lot of the time. Always the weather. Different at different regions.

Large fields? We do river bottom ground that can go on for miles. Like you konw? The Mississippi River? Huh? Or have you ever seen the Missouri Bootheel? Flat and level far as the eyes can see. Hill ground is decidely different...and you DID NOT qualify your statement.

This is how bullshit gets started and then someone else repeats it and it takes on a life of its own. Really.

Airdale-and we use the same planter for beans as well as corn. As I am sure you know but others may not. Try getting stuck in a mudhole in the river bottoms and you can count the hours and hours to get unstuck. Or run a semi into a wet field or stick a combine. That takes some doing to fix. I have seen 2 huge front end assist tractors unable to budge a stuck combine. Same to pull a loaded semi out of a bad field. Been there. Done that and almost slapped the shit out of the idiot farmers son who motioned me on in.

AND I am sitting here looking at a front field that has been burned down twice and still the fescue is coming back for a third time and we have yet to see spreader truck tracks. Deadline in 6 or so days and then boommmmm a bad corn harvest. Yep...a couple of days.....
You don't get much planting this late in this zone.

Climate change ...donchaknow.

Airdale, I was raised on a sand farm in the bootheel. I managed to hang a disc in the Only tree in a forty acre field. Got the tractor hung up in the Only muddy spot on the whole damned farm. Think Dad was proud of his little honey?

Our water table was so high you could be discing along on dry ground, but, in this particular field, if you spun your wheels twice you were buried.

Wasn't much of a farm, but raised some great watermelons.


"And I've got to say, it's pretty depressing to think that the two people with a shot at becoming premier both seem completely oblivious about international oil markets."

B.C. has some gas plays in the Peace River district and a bit of oil here and there, but the petroleum business isn't front and centre for them like it is with Alberta. Their major industries are forestry, pensioners' colonies (in the Okanagon and Vancouver Island areas) and hard-rock mining. The vast majority of the population lives in the Lower Mainland (Fraser River delta, metro Vancouver) area. Peak Oil isn't on their radar screen.

Like many politicians, the Liberals and the NDP will put off such problems until it blows up in their face and everyone goes into crisis mode, exactly the method used by American politicians that allowed the Panic of 2008 to erupt.

125 light bulbs my arse. The problem is peak demand. Here in Ontario we are currently under utilizing the power grid. Between 23:00 and 06:00 and on weekends, excess electricity is burned off as steam. If this electricity was stored in batteries or held in capacitors we would have enough electricity to power the transportation needs of the plastic pumpkin buying consumer.

Also Charging E-cars/bikes.. and running the freight and mail at night, which could possibly be encouraged with e-trains and pricing that encourages such balances.

Building fridges/freezers with maybe 48hrs storage, so they can charge when rates invite it.. (needn't be smart grid.. could as easily be a web based price-signal.

(What about heat-up storage for industrial processes that can import the power cheap and hang onto it until shifts begin.. do they already do this, or is the storage too expensive to bother leveraging the differencial?)

wonder if Jeff Rubin will be at the Denver ASPO conference?

Hats off to Ball State and Hampton University for replacng their dirty coal-fired central boilers with a geothermal heating and cooling system.

BSU starts $70 million alternative-energy project
The university is undertaking the largest geothermal project in the country.

MUNCIE -- Ball State University broke ground Saturday on a $70 million geothermal energy project that President Jo Ann Gora said would "debunk the erroneous assumption that alternative energy projects are always too expensive and impractical."....

See: http://www.thestarpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090510/NEWS01/9...

Out with the coal, in with the new at HU

A tall, brick smokestack dominates the skyline of Hampton University and is the departure point for a new environmental initiative that will yield a healthier community and a more sustainable future for this venerable institution of higher learning....

Demonstrating real leadership in financially difficult times, Harvey is looking past the seemingly cheaper, short-term fix of continuing to rely on fossil fuel, to instead invest in an ecologically and economically sound solution. He recently committed to moving HU to an efficient (using 75 percent less energy) geothermal-based system of heat pumps to provide both heating and cooling.

See: http://www.dailypress.com/news/opinion/dp-op_cuker_0510may10,0,4786512.s...


Interesting article about how "optimism bias" applies in our assessments of ourselves:

Stumbling Blocks on the Path of Righteousness

The best way of estimating what you'll do in a given situation is to guess what other people will do. We all think we're not like other people, but, well, we are.

Good news, everyone: there's oil on Mars.


(propaganda film from API -- made about the same time Hubbert was predicting a peak)

The Green Left article on 4th generation nuclear reactors and the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation is a sad commentary on the mindless prejudice of many in the green movement against nuclear power.

We desperately need to eliminate the use of coal in electricity generation.This is a big ask in the time frame available and will mean using every bit of clean generation technology.This must include nuclear.

Nuclear weapons are here to stay.That is regretable but it is a separate issue from nuclear power.Linking the two is counter productive and it just means we are digging a deeper hole for ourselves.

Disclaimer - I have no financial interest in nuclear power and I have been a "greenie" for longer than the author of the article has been alive.

Quite frankly, I would like to see nuclear waste eaten up with something like an IFR.

But I have also come to the conclusion that we humans, and our human institutions, be they public or private, ae not smart and disciplined enough to safely work with nuclear technology. Witness:

A. The Brown's Ferry fire in 1975 - came close to losing control of the plant when a worker using a candle to check for air leaks (because he didn't have a supply of the little smoke genration devices he was supposed to use) started a fire in the insulation, which then caught the cabling on fire. You'd think after that, the word would be "let's have some helacious fire suppression systems wherever the control cables run and make sure there's nothing burnable in the area". But the Japanese had an uncannily similar accident earlier this decade, and the Brown's Ferry reactor was restarted in 2007 after a $1.8 billion rehab job - with waivers to the fire safety rules put in place after the original accident.

B. At the Davis-Besse reactor near Toledo, OH in March 2002, after the government had allowed a delay in safety inspections past a December 31, 2001 deadline, it was discovered that boric acid had eaten almost all the way through the 6½-inch thick reactor pressure vessel head. A breach might have partially flooded the reactor's containment building with reactor coolant, and resulted in emergency safety procedures to protect from core damage. This incident is only rated as the tenth-closest a US reactor has come to a major accident.

If you review the history of accidents and incidents at US nuclear power plants, you too would come to the conclusion I stated above - we humans are incapable of operating nuvlear power safely.

But I have also come to the conclusion that we humans, and our human institutions, be they public or private, ae not smart and disciplined enough to safely work with nuclear technology.

Coal kills over 20,000 Americans per year producing half our electricity, perhaps a million over the world. Our 104 nuclear plants would have been 104 coal plants killing another 8,000 – 10,000 people had we followed this philosophy. That is at least two Chernobyl equivalents per year prevented by the U.S. nuclear industry.

Modern reactors do not have the design flaws of the Chernobyl reactor, which were well known before it was built and never allowed in the U.S. or other countries. Modern reactors are designed to contain a full meltdown without hurting anybody. Realistically they are far too safe. We spend a great deal of money to prevent a very improbable financial loss.

We don’t need perfect reactors that never have accidents, we just need reactors that have accidents without killing people in large numbers, and modern designs meet this criterion.

In 1942 the world knew very little about reactor design and even less about plutonium, yet by 1944 we had a massive plutonium production reactor running at full power. A large block of graphite filled with holes with Columbia River water running through it unpressurized, with small cylinders of uranium metal pushed gradually through the block where they were exposed to neutrons for a few weeks.

If a country wants nuclear power and nuclear weapons their best bet would be to build an IFR for power and build a dirt simple plutonium production reactor in 1/5 the time for 1/5 the cost. If we give up the IFR they can still have relatively cheap nuclear weapons.

Running an IFR with a low capacity factor short refueling cycle to make weapons grade plutonium makes less sense than using a Boeing 747 as an Alaska bush plane.

Giving up Gen 4 reactors to avoid nuclear weapons makes no more sense than giving up commercial aviation to prevent the production of military aircraft.

If you review the history of accidents and incidents at US nuclear power plants, you too would come to the conclusion I stated above - we humans are incapable of operating nuvlear power safely.

Coal kills about 24,000 people per year in the US. The question isn't "is it safe?"; the question is "is it less dangerous?"

Gore pointed out in his testimony April 24 that for the 8 years he was vice-president most nuclear proliferation problems involved nuclear energy programs.

The headline "Peak oil fails to register with Gordon Campbell and Carole James," is a decent article and interestly a local "Green Party" candidate's comment about Carole James party, the BC NDP (British Columbia New Democratic Party)involved some clear omissions when he clearly endorsed the BCNDP's ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve). The ALR was the first of its kind in North America when it became legislation in 1974, it protected farmland from land development very effectively until our current gov't assumed power in 2001. It shows quite clearly that while the BCNDP may not be perfect, they have had forward thinking policies for decades now, that dealt with some of the issues that Peak Oil is making more apparent today. In actual fact, the BCNDP has been at the forefront of much of the best environmental legislation in not only our country but on the continent. If elected this tuesday, I would suggest that they have the depth, experience and understanding to deal with the matter of Peak Oil in a way that may well make them leaders in the world of Peak Oil preparedness. Stay tuned.

I have some sincere questions that relate to two of the articles posted.

In the article above (It's Not All Or Nothing In The Oil Versus Alternatives Debate) Chris Nelder writes:

“But to claim that limits on drilling are the only problem, or that renewables cannot provide the energy we need in time, exploits that illiteracy and deliberately confuses the debate.”

I wonder about the statement concerning renewables.

How is it, exactly, that renewables *can* provide “the energy we need in time.”

Under what conditions? At what cost to the economy? And, if this cost is so high so as to "crash" or even (merely) "crunch" the economy, what sectors of the economy would be able to afford the electricity that is subsequently generated?

What “time” is he thinking about? Is he thinking about a peak in oil production as of July, 2008? Peak now, in other words?

And, under a scenario of what decline rate? Or, I should say, decline "rates", - or, I could say "variation in ability-to-use supply rates". By this I mean: taking into account uneven distribution of the oil that is produced, eg., “Export Land Model”, or, perhaps countries that have locked-in delivery via contracts, rather than purchasing oil.

Does Chris - or anyone - know of a study that answers this question, either way?

I also wonder about what we might call the “hierarchy of dependence” (though someone may have a more elegant term for it).

What happens with the combination of relatively high decline rate(s) and a near-term peak?

What happens once there are shortfalls in requirements for diesel fuel to maintain roads? What about the grid maintenance? What about the installation of “renewables” - installation that requires a functioning grid, hence functioning roads?

I have a similar set of questions about the article by David MacKay, especially with its confident title: DAVID MACKAY: How 125 light bulbs can end the energy crisis

MacKay writes;

“Second, if economic constraints and public objections are set aside, it would be possible for the average European energy consumption of 125kWh/d per person to be provided from these renewable sources.”

Is he talking about electrical generation in isolation from the other aspects of the fossil fuel infrastructure on which it depends?

Hello TODers,

Is China thinking about ramping O-NPK recycling to a massive scale?

China can sink carbon in soil by Jiang Gaoming

..There are 1.2 million square kilometres of farmland in China, with an average carbon storage capacity of 1.2 tonnes per square metre. Raising organic soil content by 1% would be the equivalent of absorbing 30.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even if this were to take three decades, one billion tonnes of carbon could be fixed in the soil each year. China's net annual carbon emissions arising from economic activity are currently around seven billion tonnes, and this is likely to rise to over 10 billion tonnes by 2015. Thus, there is a huge potential for carbon sequestration in the soil, with easy-to-implement technology...

Source: China Dialogue Jiang Gaoming is a professor and Ph.D. tutor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Botany. He is also vice secretary-general of China Society of Biological Conservation and board member of China Environmental Culture Promotion Association. He is known for his concepts of "urban vegetation" and allowing damaged ecosystems to recover naturally.
Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?