DrumBeat: May 23, 2009

US Energy Sec: World wants stable oil prices

ROME (AP) -- U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Saturday that the world wants oil prices to remain stable, warning that a new spike could harm the economic recovery.

Speaking in Rome where he is attending an energy meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized countries opening Sunday, Chu said that both the oil producing and the oil consuming countries have an interest in keeping energy prices stable.

"Another spike in oil certainly will have very big consequences" on the world's economy, he said at a joint news conference with Italian Industry Minister Claudio Scajola.

Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Naimi Says Oil to Reach $75 a Barrel

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali al- Naimi said the price of oil will climb to $75 a barrel when demand picks up.

“We’ll get there eventually,” al-Naimi told reporters in Rome today where he will attend meetings with energy ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations. “The trick is keeping it between $70 and $80. It will be achieved as demand rises and the fundamentals are better than they are now.”

Chesapeake Selling $1 Billion of Assets

Chesapeake Energy Corp. is "imminently about to close" on $1 billion in asset and output sales, Chief Financial Officer Marc Rowland said Wednesday.

The deals include $700 million of stakes in well output, known as volumetric production payments, and asset sales of $300 million, Rowland said at an investor conference in Austin, Texas, sponsored by UBS AG.

As Mexico Ramps Up Oil Exploration, High-Tech Firms Line Up

For decades, Mexico's deep waters have represented a sort of El Dorado for oil explorers. Rumors of oil riches stoked the imagination, but the high exploration costs kept it off limits.

Until now. State-run Petroleos Mexicanos, better known as Pemex, is starting to move into deep water to try and shore up plummeting output. A recent rise in exploration has specialized firms lining up for contract work with the state oil company.

Cash needs may drive energy deal with Kurds

Baghdad's desperation for more cash to rebuild after years of sanctions and war could provide a long-awaited catalyst for a deal with minority Kurds on oil and gas exports. Iraq's Oil Ministry on Monday rejected an $8 billion Kurdish plan to fill the Nabucco pipeline with gas for Europe, the latest spat in a long feud with the largely autonomous Kurdistan region over control of massive oil and gas reserves.

Lower Costs Give Oil Drillers Breathing Room

A long-awaited drop in the cost of drilling and maintaining wells has finally materialized, easing the pressure on oil and natural-gas producers whose profits are being squeezed by lower prices.

Executives at the companies that own and develop fields complained for months that as tumbling energy prices ate into revenue, margins were being hurt by the stubbornly high cost of materials, labor and drilling services needed to get oil and gas out of the ground. In recent weeks, that has finally begun to change.

GOP: Alternative energy alone won't meet US needs

WASHINGTON -- A GOP senator from the nation's leading coal-producing state contends Democrats will increase energy costs and make the U.S. more dependent on foreign oil if they focus solely on alternative energy.

In the party's weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Republicans support a more comprehensive energy plan that would increase funding for energy research, develop U.S. oil and gas resources and promote clean coal and nuclear power.

NOAA Predicts 9 to 14 Tropical Storms, 4 to 7 Hurricanes

Scientists with NOAA said they expect the coming hurricane season to produce fewer storms than last year.

The forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls for nine to 14 tropical storms with four to seven becoming hurricanes. Of those hurricanes, one to three could mushroom into a major hurricane with winds topping 111 mph.

Oil and our lives

Take away cheap oil and the world gets a whole lot smaller. Trade - either by air cargo or ship container - begins to shrivel. The tourist industry that many nations depend on starts to wither.

California strawberries and New Zealand lamb disappear from your supermarket. Suburbs turn into ghost towns as commuters ditch cars and move closer to city centres and public transit.

Rubin is not the first to make the link between oil, globalization and consumer values. There's little doubt that oil above $200 would wreak havoc on global trade and consumption.

The real question is whether he's right that prices will reach that level. There's plenty of debate among experts on the economics of oil supply and demand.

Will the Recession Make the World Smaller?

That’s the premise of a new book by a longtime source of mine, Jeff Rubin, the former chief economist for CIBC World Markets in Canada. I remember back when oil spiked to $147 in July of 2008, I interviewed Rubin about how nosebleed oil prices would change the world. His take was that we’d see a major rollback in globalization, with manufacturing once again being done at home, flying becoming a major luxury, and dinner plates getting a lot more bland with staples like imported salmon or asparagus no longer affordable. Basically, life would be some sort of cross between the 1940s and the 70s, with gas lines, victory gardens, newly re-empowered American working men turning out steel, cars and appliances for sale here at home.

Innovative technology may push oil aside

Two experts, Jeff Rubin, a respected Canadian market analyst, and Gregory Dorsey, an American financial commentator, are predicting oil selling at $200 a barrel within the next three years.

In the past, both men have correctly predicted the more dramatic fluctuations of oil and natural gas prices.

Their rationale is that world peak production of oil was reached in December 2007. The supply of oil around the world is now dropping. However, demand for oil increased substantially, reaching $147 a barrel last July, before the collapse of global economies.

The Next Oil Shock

Energy Policy: A top expert tells Congress that oil will be around for a long time and high inventories and low prices are no excuse not to find more. Oil shock? How about a no-oil shock?

Be careful what you wish for, goes the old proverb. Well, as we all had hoped, energy prices have fallen — but only as part of the global decline in economic activity. This has been used as an excuse to further discourage exploration for and development of domestic oil resources. But if the economy does recover, that policy could provoke another recession.

Colin J. Campbell: "Time for solutions is running out" (audio)

About "Transition Towns", "ordinary people vs. politicians", and more... It has been Colin's farewell appearance in public because...

U.A.E.’s Al-Suwaidi Calls Riyadh Selection Political

(Bloomberg) -- The selection of Riyadh to host a unified Gulf central bank for five oil-rich Arab states was politically motivated, United Arab Emirates central bank Governor Sultan bin Nasser al-Suwaidi said.

...The U.A.E., which has the world’s fifth-largest oil reserves and is the second-biggest Arab economy after Saudi Arabia, said May 20 it would no longer take part in the project to create a European Union-style monetary union. Two weeks earlier, Gulf leaders chose the Saudi capital of Riyadh as the site for the central bank.

Technology for maximum fuel efficiency

Here's a look at what the automakers have up their sleeve to meet President Obama's tough fuel economy mandate.

Mow Power, Less Gas

Over the past month, I've trimmed my grass four times, sliced firewood with a chainsaw, torn up lawn to reseed and weed-whacked my overgrown two-acre property.

And I haven't used a single drop of gasoline.

It's shaping up to be the summer of the "alternative energy" outdoor power tools. From battery mowers and garden cultivators to a new propane-propelled string trimmer, manufacturers and retailers are rolling out consumer machines that run on gas substitutes and boast lower emissions and fewer maintenance headaches.

L.A. on two wheels

After I had my picture taken in front of Prada on Rodeo Drive (I had to wait in line behind a woman whose poodle was wearing sunglasses), I didn't see another cyclist for a good 20 minutes. This is, after all, the undisputed capital of car culture. And yet cyclists are out there; as I discovered, Los Angeles is indeed bikeable, and the city's growing community of cyclists is fighting to overcome what one activist I talked to, Ron Milam, called a “perception problem.”

Or, as he eloquently put it: “People think if they ride a bike here, they're going to die.”

Regional Climate Pact’s Lesson: Avoid Big Giveaways to Industry

As the U.S. Congress struggles to craft a bill that puts a cap and a price on carbon emissions, much of the legislative back and forth concerns the cost and consequences of limiting carbon pollution. What’s not being discussed, though, is whether the government has the experience and technical capacity to administer a cap-and-trade program, and whether it can work.

Based on a fledgling project in the northeastern United States, the answer to both questions is “Yes” — provided the federal legislation does not repeat the chief mistake of the regional program: Weakening the program’s clout by making too many concessions to industry.

Refiners blast proposed climate bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. refiners on Friday blasted landmark climate change legislation that is currently making its way through Congress as an "abject policy failure," saying it could lead to an increase in imports of refined products such as gasoline and diesel.

The National Petrochemical and Refiners Association said in a statement the roughly 1,000 page bill sponsored by Representatives Henry Waxman and Edward Markey that is aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions would make U.S. refiners less competitive internationally.

The sinking Titanic: interview with Michael C. Ruppert

Peak Oil is not just the end of globalization. I was saying clearly that globalization was dead five years ago. It was obvious. But Peak Oil is potentially the end of the human race and that outcome is perhaps just a few years away unless the human race essentially throws every ideological sacred cow out the window and starts with a fresh piece of paper. There are around five billion people alive today that were not sustainable before oil came along. There is no combination of alternative energies (nor will there ever be) that can possibly sustain the edifice built by oil. In the industrialized world there are ten calories of hydrocarbon energy involved in the production of every calorie of food. Our soils have been little more than infertile sponges onto which we throw massive amounts of chemicals derived from oil and natural gas.

Taskforce plan urged

Australia's former trade commissioner to China says the Tasman District Council needs to set up two taskforce teams to address the issues of peak oil and climate change.

Where to Find Cover When Black Swans Swarm

I would not suggest people buy energy hoping $147 oil goes to $200 a barrel. But natural gas got down to about $3.60 and almost every rig in the world has been shut down. That’s exactly the time you want to invest in it. We know peak oil is real and that we need energy even if we’re in a massive depression. We know we need food and food is an analog of energy. CBM is drilling in Indonesia and will know a month from now where they stand. That’s exactly the time you want to invest.

Propane suppliers skimping on refills

Backyard grillers may get a little steamed this holiday weekend when exchanging their propane tanks for prefilled ones: They will be getting less fuel for their money than last Memorial Day.

When oil prices soared in 2008, propane suppliers quietly reduced by 2 pounds the amount of gas pumped into each 20-pound tank, saying they wanted to avoid raising prices.

China energy expert sees coal power slowing from 2011

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's boom of coal-fired power plants is likely to slow after next year as excess capacity and then expanding renewable and nuclear energy sources kick in, a senior energy policy analyst said in an interview.

Jiang Kejun, of China's state-run Energy Research Institute, told Reuters the forecast slowing also reflected longer-term shifts in the country's energy use, as industrial growth slows while transport and household energy consumption expand.

Tar sands' climate threat, security promise both exaggerated -- report

NEW YORK -- Further development of Alberta's famous oil sands will be neither the climate disaster that activists fear nor the energy security panacea that proponents suggest it is, the Council on Foreign Relations concludes in a new report.

Harper says Canada needs oil sands

Canada's oil sands are critical to the Canadian economy and must be developed, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said today.

Reactor contract likely delayed

Next month's deadline for selecting the company to build Ontario's new nuclear reactors will likely be delayed, admits Energy Minister George Smitherman.

Renewable power mandate overcomes hurdle in Senate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A measure requiring utilities to generate a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, overcame a legislative hurdle in the U.S. Senate on Thursday.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted down an amendment offered by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions that would have removed the renewable electricity standard from the energy package the panel is currently debating.

The lithium boom is coming: The new bubble?

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New vehicle emission standards will likely be a boon for everything from aluminum to new plastics, but the producers of lithium -- a mineral used in batteries that power new generation vehicles -- could be the big winners.

But while the few public companies that mine lithium will likely see surging revenue, they will also face the pressure that comes with all booms -- making supply meet ever-tightening availability.

Rise in methane detected above Arctic: Experts not sure if it's melting permafrost, or something less troubling

OSLO - A rise in concentrations of a powerful greenhouse gas over the Arctic after a decade of stability is stirring worries about a possible thaw of vast stores trapped in permafrost, experts said.

Levels of methane in the atmosphere rose 0.6 percent in 2008, according to preliminary data from the Zeppelin station on a remote island in the Norwegian Arctic, after a similar 0.6 percent gain in 2007, Norwegian officials said.

Don't think this has been posted (did a quick search) but I'm having a bit of a TOD break.

Why does Russian energy giant Gazprom wield such power?

(CNN) -- Riding through the streets of Moscow or flipping through channels of Russian TV, it's difficult to escape messages from the country's natural gas monopoly, Gazprom.

"I'm driving under a huge Gazprom sign right now," Yuri Pogorely, vice-president of Interfax, the Russian business news wire, said in a phone interview. Television ad campaigns have promoted the company as a "national treasure" and, more recently, the business that makes "dreams come true."

"It can make someone think, why does a Russian monopoly need this kind of branding? After all, there are other state-owned companies that don't present themselves as a symbol of Russia," Pogorely said. "But Gazprom is not just any company."

If the Soviet Union promoted its interests through satellite states and military prowess, Russia today flexes its might on the global stage through its vast oil and natural gas fields. And no company exemplifies this more than Gazprom.

+ Associated Video: CNN's Richard Quest interviews Russian Gazprom Export CEO Alexander Medvedev.

Time lists Quest's interview subject Medvedev as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009 and says of him

Alexander Medvedev, head of Gazprom Export, is its link to the outside world. One-third of the gas consumed in Europe passes through Medvedev's hands, and 60% of Gazprom's total revenues come from exports.

...Yet as the recurrent gas wars between Russia and Ukraine demonstrate, Europe's energy security is an area of high tension. After four decades of being Europe's main gas provider, Russia has seen its originally stellar reputation — it pumped away even as the Soviet Union was disintegrating — become severely damaged. Medvedev can give brilliant rejoinders to critics, but more and more people are talking about how to ensure Europe's energy security against the whims of Russia, its lead supplier.

We always appreciate your updates. You no doubt have seen this one:

Russia-Ukraine transit gas down 50%

Transit of Russian gas through Ukraine to Europe has dropped almost 50% in the first four months of this year against the same period last year, Ukraine's energy ministry said today.

Russia transported 23.2 billion cubic metres of gas through Ukraine to Europe against 46.3 Bcm last year in January-April, according to the ministry's statement, wrote Reuters.

Economic growth in Europe has stalled and industrial activity has been cut, leading to far lower consumption of energy.

A senior industry source told Reuters earlier this month that the transit figure was lower -- at 21 Bcm.

Fees that Russia pays to use the Ukrainian pipeline system to transport gas to Europe are key for the finances of Naftogaz, which needs government financial aid to keep afloat.

As far as the methane levels go--I just posted on this the other day on my site, showing the latest numbers from Mauna Loa, which agree with the numbers mentioned in the article above. (When I say agree, I mean they show what looks to be identical increases in the overall trend for 2007 and 2008. See the graph I produced via the NOAA site--methane rises in a nearly a straight line from late 2006 until the present.)

My post: Methane checkpoint

We do know that the Arctic region is warming much more than the rest of the planet, and we've all seen or read about the methane bubbling up in various Arctic locations. But it's still premature to leap to the conclusion that it's the methane bomb going off. As the article points out, it could "merely" be extra methane from tropical areas caused by wetter conditions. Also, if you see the graphs in my post, you'll see that even just back to the mid-1980's we've seen a few of these run-ups in methane levels, so whatever the cause it could be just another of those, with a short downturn coming in a year or so. At least that's what I'm hoping it is...

Propane suppliers skimping

Exchange tanks have always been a big ripoff, they have never been filled completely since they started. Everybody assumes that if it's a 20Lb tank you are getting 20Lb. I got a few back when you could exchange an old (non OPD) tank for a new one. As soon as I got home I weighed them and found they contained 15-17 pounds.

Tanks should not be filled completely for safety reasons.

Not True, a 20Lb tank is full at 20Lb and still has the required safety margin. Early on with the OPD's I installed one on a tank and disabled it so it could be used upside down to refill other small tanks. Once when I took it to be filled, the attendant relied on the OPD to shut it off rather than by weight as normal. It got way past the correct amount looking at the gallon meter, he kept looking and wondering what was going on. He finally shut it down and told me "Man you got a bad tank here". Think it had 24 pounds when I weighed it at home. Put the float back in that one before refilling next time. A 20LB OPD valve in a 30Lb tank will get you some extra if they fill relying on the OPD.

Per BLS:

23 states had decreases in unemployment
18 states & DC had increases in unemployment
10 staes had no change yet the US had an increase from 8.5% to 8.9%

Calif. had a decrease from 11.2 to 11%, folks must be giving up on jobs.



I thought this seemed relevant mainly because it has to do with the incredibly complex systems that we have built, and the difficulties that we will have in maintaining them in the future.

GPS system 'close to breakdown'

Network of satellites could begin to fail as early as 2010

It has become one of the staples of modern, hi-tech life: using satellite navigation tools built into your car or mobile phone to find your way from A to B. But experts have warned that the system may be close to breakdown.

US government officials are concerned that the quality of the Global Positioning System (GPS) could begin to deteriorate as early as next year, resulting in regular blackouts and failures – or even dishing out inaccurate directions to millions of people worldwide.

Discussed yesterday.

Feh. Google turned up nothing. Another modern marvel that is prone to failure..

NAVSTAR GPS isn't an incredibly complex system. It's actually a pretty simple and robust system. And satellites break down all the time - space out there is pretty harsh on electronics you know. But they are also replaced all the time - by new better ones launched every now and then. And you dont need a space shuttle to do it - there are relatively small commercial rockets for that. So at any given moment there are enought satellites to cover the globe plus some spare ones.

You have to read Grauniad with a bit of salt. They've just taken a sentence out of standard procedure for US military begging more money from congress to mean that the sky is falling on us! The military loves their GPS! Most of their weapon systems and platforms use it as well as the troops on the ground. So when it comes to systems the US military operates, NAVSTAR will be the last one allowed to fail. What they are actually talking about is that the 'reduced funding' (in other words increased funding but not as much as they would like) is endangering the deployment of the new generation of much more expensive NAVSTAR constellation satellites (with things like more redundant signals and various ECM features).

It is true that today many applications use GPS positioning such as logistics tracking and coordinating, emergency services etc. Fortunately (or atleast I hope they do) they have a backup system to function when the GPS signal is lost - for various reasons. I have been involved with many systems, both commercial and military, that take advantage of GPS - and navigation systems generally - and everytime it is emphesized that you CANNOT RELY on GPS signal alone - you need a backup system of some kind. Not because the civilization might crash - or even because US might turn it off for your country because it has declared you hostile - or even because it is so easy to block or even divert - but simply because it is not very good :P - the signal is pretty weak - even below the noise level - so that your car navigation - or missile homing system - can loose the signal at any point and time. And what then? GPS is nice and works 99% of the time - but ONLY 99% the time - the tricky bit is figuring out what to do with the 1%. Fortunately there has been technology for that for decades now. And fortunately truck drivers can still read maps and road signs (or can they?).

ransu -

I wonder how many sea captains and their navigators are no longer capable of using a sextant and other traditional means of navigation.

Just like the number of engineers who are proficient with a slide rule is shrinking by the day. Or the number of people in western industrialized countries who can actually write a letter in legible cursive.

I have an uneasy feeling that some of these outmoded techniques and skills are going to come in handy some day.

Been sailing around the Carabbean for the last 12 years,

the scary thing is that nowadays you can not be sure that anyone is on lookout.

Bahamas, three(maybe four) years ago, two mail boats collided off of Cat Island both on autopilot with on lookout. (few died, bunch injured)

Bahamas, two years ago, friends of mine going north on the Exuma Banks in a 45ft sailboat hit a southbound 70' Yacht. Both on autopilot and no-one on deck. (nobody hurt, both boats made port)


Won't that be fun when a LNG-ship collides with a VLCC in prolonged heavy pea-soup fog plus heavy seas due to no lookouts, no Loran, no GPS, no use of sextants, no shipboard radio, or even radar? Even flashing lights and/or flag semaphore is useless in thick fog, and very difficult to even find channel buoys.

It still boggles my mind that the Exxon Valdez just powered itself onto the rocks even though it had all the state of the art equipment.

Having all the "state of the art equipment" is the problem.

It breeds the "why should I drive the ship when the autopilot can while I read my book and look outside every 20 minutes or so"


I think just launching satellites is an incredibly complex system.

As it is, we're seeing governments having to choose which satellites to launch. Military spy satellites or scientific climate-change monitoring satellites? I think those decisions are only going to get tougher.

Leanan: you have it all upside down - occationally launching a few new satellites to maintain a constallation of a couple of dozen satellites for our civilization - is not a critical undertaking - or something I would call 'a complex system under threat' - in this world. It's just engineering - and not even that now - rockets, guided, with payload have been flown since WWII - and the resources to fly them are relatively few - GPS consists of only a couple of dozen satellites - and the system has no 'growth' or 'flow' issues - issues which are limiting factors in systems I would consider calling complex. Nazi Germany was able to build some of its most advanced weapons, and use them, even up untill the last months of the war - when their whole other infrastructure, industry, economy and resource base, had been irreparably destroyed already. That will be the fate of systems like GPS too in our downfall.

Examples of much more complex threatened systems are: how to feed 6 billion people in a world which is depleting and deteorating - how to renew ever growing needs for the infrastructure they require - for example how to maintain water supply and sewage treatment (the pipes are rusting away underground faster then we can replace them in our cities) - the erosion, salination, depletion of the soil we rely for our food... these are the complex systems which we are unable to manage - even with our 'complex' rocket science - because basically we are just stupid monkeys - monkeys which will find the time and resources to keep their satellites running - and erecting new statues with ever heavier hats - until the day the last tree has been cut down...

Joules: first of all sea captains do study celestial navigation even these days and know it very well. My school friend studies to become a sea captain - took him over 10 years - he can look at the night sky and immediately point north even when there are only a few stars in sight. Not only do they study the sun and other celestial bodies - but they also practice 'blind navigation' or dead-reckoning as it is called - finding your way from a known point by estimating the direction and distance of your travel. And he sure knows how to use a slide rule as well. You are required to do the all the calculations with paper and pen and rulers (there many tables of monograms they use - kind of primitive slide rules).

You might base your prejudice on the hobby 'sea captains' down at your marina. But real sea captains who steer large cargo vessels at high seas still have to know all this stuff. The education at the naval colleges hasn't changed for decades - centuries even. And further - there are many many simple navigations systems which vessels can use at sea other than GPS - from simple radio direction finding - to ADF - and then there is LORAN - a fine trustworthy system - which despite all the talk of GPS replacing it - is still held in high regard amongst sea goers and aviators.

ransu -

I don't doubt that traditional navigation techniques are still being taught in the naval and maritime academies. But if one has become accustomed over the last several decades to relying on the user-friendly stuff like GPS, LORAN, etc., then one starts to lose those skills.

About a hundred years ago I took several courses in nuclear engineering but today hardly remember a damn thing. Ditto for stuff like differential equations. With a handful of minor exceptions, the last time I had to solve a differential equation was on the final exam of the differential equation course.

It's sort of fundamental: if you don't use it, you lose it. My only point in my previous comment is that there are many basic useful skills that are being lost in our high-tech dependent environment. There are high school graduates who would have trouble doing long division without a calculator.

Apparently the Navy tried to drop celestial navigation all the way back in the ancient days of 1998. So I do have some doubts - I wonder whether they finally dropped it, or sidelined it as an obscure elective, in order to "save money".

Oh, and don't count on the button-pushers for anything, such as maintaining even a sham of situational awareness. Consider these clowns (first item at link), who ran their ship aground by ignoring a broken antenna connection. Apparently the town lights brightening dead ahead meant nothing, nor did the alarms emanating from the pretty computerized display. I'd like to hope they lost their mariner's licenses, but who knows.

I suppose it's down to Arthur Clarke's third law, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Computerized GPS-driven displays are certainly magic. Not only are they magic but, dude, they're technology. So why would anyone think they'd need something as archaic as an antenna?

Examples of much more complex threatened systems are: how to feed 6 billion people in a world which is depleting and deteorating

I don't see that as the same kind of problem. Agriculture will be a priority, no matter what. And when it fails, it is likely to be gradual. Heck, it fails regularly, even now.

Satellites, OTOH, are at risk because they don't seem all that urgent. We can get along without them. So there's a temptation to keep pushing it off.

There's also an "all or nothing" quality to satellite launches that isn't present in our agriculture system. If you can't actually get the satellite into orbit, you lose. You don't get any benefit from the system.

While with our agriculture system, there's room for a gradual failure. The individual parts of the system - irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, tractors, etc. - are useful, even if you're missing other parts.

I don't see that as the same kind of problem. Agriculture will be a priority, no matter what. And when it fails, it is likely to be gradual.

I agree with that - there are many different agriculture systems the world over, some more vulnerable than others. There will be shortages here and there, because of higher price of inputs. The USA, however, runs a surplus and exports a lot of calories and vegetable protein mostly as animal feed, as well as some high-value fruits & wine etc. Some of the US surplus goes (or has gone) in variable amounts as emergency aid. The recent devotion of US corn crop for biothanol, could be temporary.
Whether segments of USA population will find it increasingly difficult to afford food is a different matter.

Please see my posting downthread. Consider that making long-term, truly sustainable O-NPK recycling agriculture #1 is not important in Zimbabwe, Somalia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan,....USA?

Please let me know which country has added many additional inches of rich, mulchy, wormy, healthy topsoil over the past 100 years.

Food is usually a priority. But especially when people are hungry, food is a priority, no matter what. Curious, then, that famines ever occur, what with all our prioritizing. Maybe we're not in as much control over the food as we think we are.

But anyway we're talking about two completely different surrounding environments. Yes, on the upslope of energy, things fail, and everything else around is running smoothly to lessen the effects of the failure.

And in the past I might have claimed that on the downslope that failures will compound and cascade, because surrounding environments won't be running smoothly, but now I'm advocating that we all just sit back and see what happens. If the gradual-crashers are right, they'll have time to rub it in. If the fast-crashers are right, we'll all likely be dead so who was right won't matter.

I think dealing with collapse is the most complex problem mankind has ever faced. Far more complex than any engineering problem - from GPS to the flight to the moon.

I too was ones very keen on all kinds of scenario plans and how to be self sufficient from all these 'complex systems': how to put up some solar panels and get off the grid etc. And it was all easy - all you need is engineering skills and money - and I have plenty of both.

However eventually I realised I was looking at the wrong end of the problem. Sure you have to try to have a contigency plan for every eventuality - but even in this you cannot have the cake and eat it. I might spend a fortune on an independent power generating system, have a well drilled with solar pumps and storage tanks installed. There are volumes written on the subject - whole movements dedicated to various levels of 'survivalism'. But in the end its all useless...

Because I realised that the real problem is people. People who have for too long lived in a world where you don't have to share anything with other people - even with members of your family. Every problem to do with sharing resources, space, time - can be 'solved' in our world with a bit of money - people are used to it. What they aren't used to is having to share things communally - having to manage and regulate a shared water table for example - or a stream to irrigate their garden plots.

Even having to trade with each other - in person - haggling the right price for example - few people have the life skills for these things anymore. We are all used to going to the 'shop', being 'served' by impersonal drones everywhere - and even more by automated systems - not having to make any human contact. We have lost the ability of having to deal with other humans directly. Having to argue for a point and compromise and understand where the other person is coming from and find a common ground which leads away from conflict and doesnt harm the community. In a future world 'other people' aren't going to be strangers anymore - people who you can ignore, or anger and run away. You might have to live with the person as neighbour for the rest of your life (and we all know how well we get on with our neigbours).

People come together in a crisis only in movies. Civilized (non communal) people aren't used to tragedy - they don't know how to deal with it - because they don't have to - because our civilization allows us to ignore tragedy - bypass it - buy it off. In a tribal community, it is a tragedy if a weather event wipes out your regular food supply for weeks - and you have to go by eating roots meanwhile - a tragedy which the people accept and deal with in a human way: they come together, help each other and suffer together. But in our society a shortage is unacceptable: there must be 'solution' for it - and rather than deal with it as a tragedy of life - we deal with is as a crisis - an emergency which breaks us down into individuals trying to survive on their own. And that leads to what is known as 'tragedy of the commons' problem. In communal societies a 'tragedy' isn't 'a problem' - its part of life.

The point about GPS is important. Our civilization is very good at finding the resources to maintain its technological systems - as I said its only engineering - a problem you can solve by throwing resources and money at it. The last tank full of fuel for the German tanks in the eastern front was painstakingly extracted from coal, even as the population starved and soldiers themselves had to supply themselved by pillaging. And so did too the easter islanders concentrate all their resources on hauling ever bigger statues to the beach to appeace the gods even as their society and way of life where crumbing away in an ecological catastophy. That is the how GPS or the electric grid will go too. They are relatively resient systems - and we will always find a bit of money to throw at them to not allow them to fail - even when we take the money away from things that might save us in the long run. A program for promoting and implementing communally managed and distributed non-irrigated no-till organic agriculture is something we will never see the point of putting our time and resources on - because arguing for it requires deep analysis of complex systems (understanding peak-oil, understanding NPK problem, understanding soil-heath, soil-salination, water table behaviour...). Whereas arguing for launching a satellite to keep GPS working is self-evident to all - if you want these and these systems which rely on GPS to remain functioning - you WILL find the money for it...

The point about technology being kind to magic is irrelevant. Technology is easy. We know how to do it - and dutifully we apply it to every problem. What we don't know how to do is live as sustainable harmonious communities - because there is no gadget for that - they is no tech solution for that - you actually have to work hard on a human level to achieve that - and I'm afraid we've lost the aptitude to do anything on a human level a long time ago...

So my plan would 'rely' on things like a working electricity grid or GPS - because I'm pretty sure civilization will keep them functioning till the end in a slow collapse scenario. And so instead of worrying about being independent from the grid and wasting all my time and resources to achieve such - I can concentrate on the difficult long term problems: how do I gather and empower a community around me which will one day be able to function with each other on a human level - as well as without the grid and GPS. How they do it, be it solar panels or anything is irrelevant. If you cannot solve the human problem first - then all your technological problems are moot.

". If you cannot solve the human problem first - then all your technological problems are moot."

Double plus good.

You nailed it.

"...and then there is LORAN...

Maybe, maybe not, since once again they want to shut it down in order to "save" a minute speck of pocket lint in the Federal budget. Maybe this time they will. And it's about the only backup left that gives wide coverage and provides highly accurate time. And you might not believe how many systems depend on highly accurate time, and how many of them rely solely on GPS...

Two Illinois banks fail, 36 for the year

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Strategic Capital Bank and Citizens National Bank failed on Friday, bringing the total bank failures for 2009 to 36, up from 25 in all of 2008.

The failure of Strategic Capital, a Champaign, Ill.-based bank, will cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s deposit insurance fund $173 million; Citizens National, of Macomb, Ill., will cost the FDIC $106 million.

Florida bank collapses - firms swoop in

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A consortium of private equity firms has acquired BankUnited FSB in Florida after the savings and loan was shut down by federal regulators Thursday.

The 34th bank to fail this year and the largest so far, BankUnited (BKUNA) had $12.8 billion in assets, $8.6 billion in deposits and 85 branches. The new institution will be named BankUnited.

Chavez: Bank of Venezuela Belongs to the People

On Wednesday, the chairman of the Finance Committee of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Ricardo Sanguino, said the purchase of the Bank of Venezuela by the State would strengthen the country's financial system.

The BankUnited event was in the works for some time and even as of a year ago may have been too late - but probably cost us less. This goes back to at least January 2008! The sordid history of BU is here.

What makes the BU deal so - uhh - interesting is that we the tax paying people got soaked for $4.9B while a Private Investment Group (aka PIG) only paid $900M for the "clean remains".

Coud be a sign of more of these kind of deals - another trough for another class of the PIGpeople.

BankUnited Sale May Signal FDIC Shift in Buyout Rules

May 22 (Bloomberg) -- WL Ross & Co., Blackstone Group LP and Carlyle Group’s purchase of BankUnited Financial Corp., the largest U.S. bank to collapse this year, came with a signal from regulators that they may be willing to let more buyout firms snap up banks as failures soar to a 15-year high.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., citing the interest of private-equity firms in buying banks in receivership, said yesterday that it will soon provide “policy guidance” for potential investors. Spokesman David Barr declined to elaborate on the statement.


The investors, BlackRock and Carlyle, bloody handed pirates, pay $900 million, or less than 20% of what the taxpayer pays, and take control of the bank's assets, minus that $4.9 billion in toxicity. Nice gift if you can get it, but what's up with that?.

from: http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/

The investors, BlackRock and Carlyle, bloody handed pirates, pay $900 million, or less than 20% of what the taxpayer pays, and take control of the bank's assets, minus that $4.9 billion in toxicity.

Aren't you comparing two different things, then jumping to a conclusion? The $4.9B is the responisibily of the insurer (the FDIC) to make good on the depositor's savings assets. The remnant value of the banks remaining business has no direct relationship to the amount the insurance program had to come up with (that money went to the depositors). Now, I'm not saying the new investors might not be getting a sweetheart deal, just that the sizes of those two numbers cannot be used to conclude that.

I commented yesterday about a rediculous California "study" which said that electric cars powered by biomass produced electricity were more efficient than corn ethanol.

I said that the only electric car currently available for comparison was the Tesla Roadster. Turns out there is another one, the 2010 E Mini Cooper.


There could be a valid comparison if a version could be made which runs on ethanol. A valid comparison must be of nearly identical vehicles, one powered by biomass electricity and the other powered by ethanol or a high percentage of ethanol i.e. E85. Performance such as range and pay load capacity has to be considered as well as mileage IMO.

Now all a valid study needs is data from a commercial biomass electric power plant and E Mini Cooper that can run on E85, neither of which exist, to make a true comparison.

I doubt the electric car will end up being the more efficient since according to Autosavant it weighs 600 pounds more than the gas Mini because of the batteries.

X, I'm not following what you say doesn't exist. I've no clue if there is an E85 mini-Cooper somewhere, but if you're saying there are no commercial biomass power plants, you're flat wrong. We have several decent sized commercial biomass (wood chip) power plants here in New England, and a few more are in the permitting process.

ETA missing 'not'

When I read your posts I always wonder: Are you getting paid for this? Does someone pay you to get on the internet and spread mis-information about ethanol?

You seem pretty intelligent. You're posts are well written, but they always sound like propaganda to me. Your arguments rarely drive to a point, but seem instead designed to make the issue more confused.

The article you linked to yesterday suggests that it may be possible to fuel our vehicle more efficiently by burning biomass for electricity than refining corn into ethanol.

You responded by saying that there are no electric cars and no biomass plants.

You were quickly corrected, and made no response.

You start a new thread today, state nearly the same argument. Then create a hypothetical situation, two cars exactly the same except for the power source. Then you say that this will never happen, but if it did the ethanol car would be more energy efficient.

What's your angle man? Are you hoping that if you scream the same nonsense time and time again it will become true? Who are you trying to convince, us, or yourself?


X, Stand up and advocate for your positions. Your Hit and Run approach is really getting tiresome.

I've described any number of ways that 'one can validly compare unlike things', and if you have a useful counterpoint, say something. Your current mode is disingenuous.

Bob Fiske

When I read your posts I always wonder: Are you getting paid for this? Does someone pay you to get on the internet and spread mis-information about ethanol?

He's a corn farmer from Iowa.

Well lets have a look. This Popular Mechanics Article claims a 150 mile range on a 35kwh battery pack. That's roughly .14 kwh/km. This switchgrass burn test produced 19,607,000 kwh from 15,647 tons of switchgrass. I'll toss out a yield of 14 tons per ha as a guestimate for yield giving around 17,500 kwh per ha, enough to move the mini 125,000 km.

With a corn yield of 450 bu/ha thats around 1350 gallons of ethanol. Base minicooper gets 41 mpg on gasoline, maybe 35 mpg on ethanol (58 km/gal). That'll be around 79,000 km per ha.

Peak malls?

Recession Turns Malls Into Ghost Towns

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Malls, those ubiquitous shopping meccas that sprang up in the 1950s, are dwindling in number, with many struggling properties reduced to largely vacant shells.

Whomever is working on the MEGAPROJECTS study, you might like to know that Fort McMurray's Suncor Voyageur is going into "safe mode". Word is it'll be mothballed for 2-3 years. There was some speculation here in Fort Mac that it might start up again this summer, but now know for a fact that she is going into safe mode. Talk is that Petro Canada Fort Hills and Suncor Firebag are still a go though, when no one knows. Firebag feeds Voyageur so it makes sense to do that first. Voyageur was to add an extra 200-300 thousand extra barrels a day for Suncor.

Thanks. I think "ace" (Tony Eriksen) has been doing that. He is in Australia, so is available in the evening and at night.

I don't know enough about geology to know what to make of this short YouTube video - but there are a lot of smart people reading this site so, can anybody tell me what is wrong with the logic please? (I think it might something to do with the date that the continents broke apart and the relatively short history captured in ocean floors.)


You can start here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expanding_Earth_theory

Also your video is a creation of Neal Adams

Neal Adams (born June 12, 1941, Governors Island, Manhattan, New York City) is an American comic book and commercial artist best known helping to create some of the definitive modern imagery of the DC Comics characters Superman, Batman and Green Arrow among others.

...Advocacy of expanding-Earth theory

Adams has put forth ideas on a new model of the universe in his Growing Earth Theory, a derivative of a widely discredited theory (credited to Samuel Warren Carey) that the Earth and every other celestial body are growing. (See Expanding Earth theory).[7][8]

Thanks, I should have known to search wikipedia!

It just occured to me - geologic subduction is probably the source of 'abiotic' oil?

and ... just maybe ... the current landmasses are the remains of the surface of whatever hit the earth and made the moon ... a bit like the shell of a smashed egg ... maybe plate tectonics and Carey's 'small globe' are both parts of the same Earth geological history explanation?

Four out of every five homes in the Pine state are heated with oil and, collectively, Mainers consume almost 600 million gallons of fuel oil annually.

Bill seeks big push to reduce oil usage

A new state energy agency would direct tens of millions of dollars into weatherization, conservation and efficiency programs under a bill facing final consideration in the Maine Legislature.

To be called the Efficiency Maine Trust, the agency would pull together many existing energy-related programs now operating in state government and launch an unprecedented effort to wean Maine's economy from its dependence on oil.

Supporters also expect the public spending to spawn private investment that in time could create thousands of jobs in companies that insulate and inspect homes, as well as make and install alternative energy products and technology.

See: http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=257013&ac=PHbiz


With a little over 1.3 million people in Maine that works out to about 460 gallons of heating oil per person. But what percentage of Mainers use heating oil? For those who use it the number of gallons per person is some higher number.

New England needs to move away from heating oil in a hurry.

For your veiwing pleasure and comments from - of all places - Bill Maher.

Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank
Simon Johnson, economist
Jon Meacham, author

Not the whole show - each segment is about 9-10 minutes - the first segment (Part 3) and half of the next segmment (Part 4) are about the economy.



Teaser - the rest of Part 4 and Parts 5 and 6 is about Cheney, Guantanamo, etc


Hello TODers,

ZIMBABWE: Another year without much food

..A 50kg bag of fertiliser costs US$35 on average, while 25kg of wheat seed costs US$30. Gasela, who is also a farmer, said about 600kg of Compound D fertiliser, as well as top dressing fertiliser and 100kg of seed were required to prepare one hectare.

During a recent tour of Mashonaland Central Province, once a robust farming region, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said wheat planting for 2009 had fallen far below expectations. "This province has the capacity to plant 18,000 hectares of winter wheat but managed only 150 hectares, just enough for a single farmer."
50 kg = 110.23 lbs for $35, but from an energy viewpoint using this Zim pricing info:

Paroan then released 38,190 litres of diesel worth US$54,000 to Hall after being duped into believing that the transfer had been genuinely effected.
38,190 liters = 10,088 gals @ $54,000 = $5.35 per gal for diesel.

$35/$5.35 = 6.54 embedded diesel gals per 110 lb bag. I am assuming the subsistence farmer wheelbarrows [backpacks?] the needed number of bags from the local I-NPK warehouse to his farmgate to save additional costs as the link above doesn't specify if that is the delivered or non-delivered price to the farmgate.

Mad Max in real life:

Harare — A BULAWAYO-based truck driver was on Sunday morning robbed of one tonne of sugar and 50 litres of diesel by six knife-wielding robbers who stripped him naked before making off with their loot.

How high does this I-NPK/diesel embedded ratio have to go here in the US before most of our farmers cannot afford the fuel, seeds, pesticides, and ferts, to plant their crops?

If diesel hit a sustained $6/gal across the USA--would most of us non-farmers be starving?

Have you hugged your bag of NPK today?

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Some more thoughts:

1. Consider that Zimbabwe is landlocked and above sea-level, therefore imported I-NPK has to move long distances. Hopefully by RR, not by unsafe truck over decrepit, badly pot-holed, muddy roads. This is like Colorado's distance from Texas seaports to bring in I-NPK from Morocco, Russia, Trinidad, etc.

2. I think most Zim farmers do not store I-NPK & Seeds on their property as the theft value would be too high. They probably do not have sufficient wealth to even build adequate storage to keep the I-NPK high & dry, and the seeds away from rodents.

Thus, they get it in small quantities from the guarded warehouse, then immediately disperse it to the final square foot. This results in lots of round trips by wheelbarrow or tlameme backpacking, as in example above: 600 kg/hectare is approx. 12 bags/hectare. Thieves are not going to sift the soil to get the seeds and I-NPK out of it--too much work.

3. Additionally, my guess is that getting repair parts for tractors or small roto-tillers is next to impossible--the farmer cannot miss the seasonal timeslot, so if he even has a tractor and it breaks down--the whole family is immediately required to get out in the field for manual completion. The required parts may finally show up months later.

4. It would be interesting to know the extent of O-NPK recycling in Zim--my guess is that it is pretty low if their overflowing sewage is causing chlorea and other disease outbreaks. The high price of diesel probably makes it prohibitive to ship feedlot livestock manure very far,too.

IMO, Zim needs to build out narrow gauge Spiderwebs to augment their standard gauge decrepit RRs, thus boosting O-NPK recycling over a much larger dispersive area. It would be interesting to know the current price of installed asphalt/mile in Zim, but maybe this industry shut down a long time ago.

one other point: I was thinking about just the pure chemistry & physics of I-NPK to the Zim final square foot. My guess the $35/bag price is due to Aid Donations and/or gifts to defray the price. The actual embedded price may be much higher: 2x to 6x!

Hey Toto (and other TODers):

My June 2009 copy of Scientific American came in the post (snail mail, that is) today, and I figure you'd appreciate that it has a feature article on phosphorus. A summary of the article without all the nice graphics is online, and it's entitled Phosphorus: A Looming Crisis.

Although Scientific American may not be MSM, it's also not a narrow discipline journal (e.g. European Journal of Agronomy or Bulletin of the Japanese Society of Fisheries Oceanography. So, maybe this will help get the information that you've been posting here about I- and O-NPK to a wider audience. Didn't see anything in the article about golf courses shutting down, though. Too bad.

Your posting a day or so ago on struvite was interesting, and it got me wondering what it was that H.C.G. von Struve had done in his life to warrant having a sewer mineral named for him. No luck so far on that, but I did find this, in a book entitled Urinary Stone Disease (p. 5 in this link) by Stoller and Meng:

Magnesium ammonium phosphate hexahydrate, also known as struvite, is credited to Heinreich Christian Gottfried von Struve (1772-1851). Struve, also known as Baron von Struve, was a Russian diplomat and naturalist, who lived in Germany. His scientific interests included geology and mineralogy. The name struvite was coined in his honor in 1845 by Georg Ludwig Ulex, a Swedish geologist. Before that time, magnesium ammonium phosphate was sometimes referred to as guanite because the mineral was detected in bat guano. However, from the clinical realm, the scenario of the combination of phosphate stones with alkaline, ammoniacal urine and putrefaction was recognized by Marcet earlier, in 1818. Certain dogs, especially Dalmations, can produce remarkable large, smooth, milky-white tetrahedrons of well-crystallized struvite.

Now that's some interesting scatology!

And thinking of Number 2, this now has me thinking about the classic definition of mineral:

1) Naturally occurring
2) Inorganic
3) Solid
4) Crystalline
5) Has a definite chemical composition

Number 2 in this above list of course refers to the typical chemistry definition of organic (meaning the study of carbon-containing compounds other than carbonate, bicarbonates, cyanides, and carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide and maybe others?) vs. inorganic.

So maybe, in just the same way that a clam shell or an echinoid plate (which are made of calcite produced by an organism through a biomineralization process) will, when buried, become limestone, and the calcite in that limestone will be (and is) considered to be a mineral, fossilized Dalmation turds at some future time, in all their tetrahedral glory, will also be considered a mineral, by the geologists of the time.

Food for thought.

Hello Petrographer,

Thxs for the links and info.

Mugambe isn’t stupid. He may be corrupt and evil, but he is clearly suffering from the Law of Unintended Consequences (LUC- Treating symptoms causes worse problems). He kicked out the commercial farmers who were producing for export and settled the farms with landless non-farmers. Unfortunately he did not anticipate that this would destroy the domestic agriculture supply infrastructure, and take away the source of fertilizer and seed from the food producing subsistence farmers. The transition from BAU to a lower level of complexity is a killer. Populating Iowa with city folk would drastically increase the suffering of all.

Mugambe wants Zimbabwe to prosper so that he can skim more, and he retains skilled and educated advisors to give him ideas. But they are all trapped by LUC. At this point, a new leader would have great difficulty pulling Zimbabwe up by its bootstraps. There are no new solutions.

Egypt is on the path of Zimbabwe. When the people became hungry, the government instated price control on bread (corn). When commercial production of corn stopped, the government stepped in. When the government cannot afford to subsidize food, the shelves empty (Egypt continues because they can borrow). When the people starve, removal of price controls does not help because starving people have no money, AND the domestic food producing sector of the agricultural industry does not exist.

Get thee to the heirloom open-pollinated grain sector of the economy.

Cold Camel

The United States is on the path of Zimbabwe. When the people could no longer borrow, the government instated price controls on interest rates. When private creditors disappeared, the government stepped in. When the government cannot afford to subsidize debt, the shelves empty (U.S. continues because we can borrow). When the people starve, removal of price controls does not help because starving people have no money, AND the domestic business sector does not exist.

Cold Camel

Ah, your mistaken about egyptian food production. its a major food grower, processor and exporter. It does however produce only about half its grain needs, in part because the people eat so much subsidised bread. Bread is so cheap not because the farmers are paid so little but because the flour is subsidised (IIRC last year at the peak of grain prices the government was selling flour to the bakers at 18L.E. that cost the govt 100 L.E.). what will undo Egypt is that food and fuel subsidies are now the bulk of govt expenditure and the deficit is aproaching 10% of GDP. Whilst I currently live in Australia its Egypt that is the home that I have planned on retiring to so I'm despairing about my chances of a planned for retirement (Population growth, water supply, muslim ratbags, declining oil production etc are screwing Egypt).

A GOP senator from the nation's leading coal-producing state contends Democrats will increase energy costs and make the U.S. more dependent on foreign oil if they focus solely on alternative energy.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Republicans support a more comprehensive energy plan that would increase funding for energy research, develop U.S. oil and gas resources and promote clean coal and nuclear power.

Where was Sen Barrasso when the Bush admin cancled FutureGen? And secondly, "Clean coal" is going to be much more expensive than natural gas fired electricity or wind. Then he goes on to try to say the Oil Shales will replace our oil supplies and that somehow the Democrats are stopping this from happening (as if Carter's funding of the long ago failed shale projects never happened).

More politics instead of a rational energy / climate policy.