Drumbeat: February 11, 2011

Fighting over Big Oil's $4 billion a year windfall

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The top five oil companies in the United States made nearly $1 trillion in profit since 2000.

The Obama administration is eying that huge pile of cash as it looks for ways to pay for its renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.

But the oil industry wants the government to keep its hands off its cash, saying it already shoulders a massive tax burden. The industry says it has a tax rate of 48% -- one of the highest for any sector -- and pays nearly $100 million a day in state, local and federal taxes. That adds up to more than $36 billion a year.

Hundreds of Iraqis protest lack of basic services

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Hundreds of Iraqis took to the streets Friday to demonstrate against a lack of basic services, the latest in a series of protests that have swept the country as turmoil rocks other parts of the Arab world.

Iraq has been slow to get back on its feet almost eight years after the U.S.-led invasion and is trying to tackle severe water shortages and a sporadic electricity supply. Infrastructure remains badly damaged.

U.S. natgas rig count slips 5 to 906-Baker Hughes

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of rigs drilling for natural gas in the United States fell this week for a second straight week, slipping five to 906, oil services firm Baker Hughes said on Friday.

Brazil Set to Become a Top Oil Producer

Petrobras has ambitious capital expenditure plans set to grow it rapidly, especially compared to the larger economy. The company wants to invest $224 billion into developing these fields by 2014.

That includes a huge amount of new equipment, such as 28 drilling ships, equal to a third of today’s global fleet. The project also requires 146 additional supply ships, 8 FPSOs and 72 large oil tankers.

By the time it buys all of that, Petrobras will have more ships than most nations’ navies!

Yet it does really need all of them due to the depth and remoteness of the fields. For example, rather than pipe oil to the coast, it will store it on floating platforms before taking it to shore in tankers.

Arbitrators find for Chevron in Ecuador dispute

(Reuters) - International arbitrators ordered Ecuador to suspend enforcement of any judgment against Chevron Corp in a marathon environmental case against the U.S. oil company, according to an order posted on Chevron's website.

The order, dated Feb. 9, came a day after a U.S. judge issued a temporary restraining order against the Ecuadorean plaintiffs to stop them going outside the United States to seek enforcement of any ruling against the company.

Unethical to Brand Oil Sands Ethical?

Critical debate is important because arguments that the oil sands contain almost half the world's total known oil reserves and will therefore ensure world peace, global food and energy supplies for the next half century are dangerously flawed. Current oil sand production of two million barrels a day is technically limited by water availability to approximately a maximum of five million barrels a day, a mere fraction of the world's daily consumption. This misrepresentation promises economic stability yet ignores global (peak) oil supply concerns, the technical upper limit of oil sand production, and climate change. Alberta's oil sands development will not deliver global economic stability in the face of these issues.

Feed-in tariff review accused of demolishing investor confidence

Renewable energy investors are dumping solar projects and revising their investment strategies in the wake of the government's surprise announcement that it is to formally review the feed-in-tariff (FIT) incentive scheme.

Your city is about to get a whole lot bigger (interview with Jeff Rubin)

How can cities prepare for a peak oil future?

The trend from the last four decades has been suburban sprawl. Increasing amounts of car ownership and huge extension of freeways moving into the hinterland has seen people moving from the cities to the suburbs. This is an unsustainable practice. Firstly, the cost of commuting is going to increase. Secondly, we’re going to find that much of the prime agricultural land that has been paved over to accommodate urban sprawl, like in Southern Ontario, will be needed for [agriculture].

In a world of triple-digit oil prices, we’re not going to get chicken wings from China. Sure, the wages are going to be cheaper there. But what we save we’ll more than squander on [the fuel it takes to get] food here. So there’s going to be a move back to local or regional agriculture dictated by higher prices. You’re going to see a movement of people from far-flung suburbs back into the city.

Oil-Drilling Boom Under Way

Oil-drilling activity in the U.S. has accelerated to a pace not seen in a generation as energy companies, oilfield contractors and landowners rush to exploit newly profitable sources of crude.

The number of rigs aiming for oil in the U.S. is the highest since at least 1987, according to Baker Hughes. The 818 rigs tallied by the oilfield-service company last week are nearly double last year's count and about 10 times the number in the late 1990s.

While the drilling surge is unlikely to yield enough crude to alter the global oil-supply picture, analysts predicted that the new activity, centered on so-called unconventional reservoirs, could greatly boost domestic oil production and help offset declining output in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

Exxon Looking for Buyers for Some Poland Shale Gas

Exxon Mobil's move comes at a time when demand for gas produced in Europe is expected to grow vigorously as countries intensify their efforts to reduce their dependence on Russia as a supplier. Exxon and its rivals are hoping to meet Europe's need for new local supplies by using the same techniques that led to a huge boost in U.S. gas production in recent years.

Barnett Shale in Denton, Wise Counties Is Candidate for EPA Study

The Barnett Shale in Wise and Denton counties is a finalist for a so-called retrospective study, which will investigate possible contamination of drinking-water supplies from oil and gas industry operations in areas where drilling and hydraulic fracturing have already occurred.

Canada to review PetroChina shale buy

Canada will review PetroChina's proposed C$5.4 billion (US$5.5 billion) purchase of half of a shale gas project from Encana Corporation, Industry Minister Tony Clement said today.

Australian Coal Premium May Widen on China, India Growth

Australian coal’s premium over Europe is poised to widen as economies in China and India expand after it narrowed 57 percent in the past month as floods in Queensland receded and demand for winter heating eased.

Shell, Aramco May Build Indonesia Plant, Hidayat Says

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s largest oil producer, may build a refinery in Indonesia even as National Iranian Oil Co. scrapped a similar plan, Industry Minister Mohamad Hidayat said.

US diplomat calls African dictator a good guy

JOHANNESBURG – A U.S. diplomat calls Equatorial Guinea's dictator of 31 years one of "the good guys" in leaked diplomatic cables urging Washington to engage with its third largest oil supplier or risk endangering energy security.

Kjell Aleklett: The Guardian, Wikileaks cables and oil production in Saudi Arabia

The problem with Saudi Arabia is “recovery factors”. They say that, at the start of production they had over 716 billion barrels (Gb) and that they have a recovery factor of 51%. The global average currently stands at 30% and in future might possibly reach 40%. Saudi Arabia says that they are much better at recovery than others. It is by using the 51% recovery factor that Saudi Arabia estimates their reserves as 226 Gb. But with a recovery factor of 30% their remaining reserves would only be 76 Gb and if it is 40% then the reserves would be 147 Gb. One can interpret the statement by Sadad al-Husseini as meaning that he does not believe in a recovery factor of 51%.

David Strahan: Saudi powerless to delay global peak

So according to al-Husseini’s numbers, Saudi production will peak in the early-to-mid 2020s, probably at a level scarcely 2 million barrels per day higher than current output. But by then the loss of existing production to depletion means the world will need some 40-60 mb/d of new capacity just to stand still. If al-Husseini is right - and his overall message has been consistent for several years – he simply confirms what many have long suspected: Saudi Arabia is quite incapable of staving off the global peak or even quenching the oil price in the medium term.

Malawi's Fuel Shortage Is Due to a Lack of Foreign Currency, Minister Says

Malawi is suffering from a fuel shortage because the country doesn’t have enough foreign currency to pay importers, Finance Minister Ken Kandodo said.

“The situation is pathetic,” Kandodo said in parliament in the capital, Lilongwe, yesterday. “We have inconvenienced the public and the economy is affected.”

Importers are demanding cash payments because Petroleum Importers Ltd. hasn’t repaid all debts from deliveries made on credit, Grain Malunga, the minister of energy, said on Capital Radio yesterday.

Malawi CSOs organise peaceful protest against fuel shortage

APA-Lilongwe (Malawi) Malawi civil society organisations will on Monday take the streets of the capital Lilongwe in protest against fuel shortage which has hardly hit the country rencently, APA learns here.

Pakistan: ‘Fewer power outages expected in summer’

Engineer Kahlid called for short, mid and long term energy policies along with control misuse of electricity to avert the crisis. He said there were 100 million mobile phone users while a cellular set took 30 to 40 watts electricity for charging and people all night keep it charging which was wastage of energy. He said the UPS consumed five electricity units to produce a single unit. He said Pepco operated its gas-based power plants on furnace oil during the winter which increased the cost of electricity. Thus, there was need to suspend the gas to CNG stations during the winter, he demanded.

Botswanan firms face petrol price increase

Businesses in Botswana could face higher fuel prices after the government was forced to find alternative sources to its traditional supplies in South Africa.

Enough Childish Name Calling

The article continues into familiar territory encountered by steady staters: there are no limits to growth; steady staters and their ilk are doomsday environmentalists trying to spoil everybody’s consumption party; seeking to debunk Malthus and Ehrlich because their predictions have not (yet) manifested – which, based on current trends that a lot of people are very, very worried about, is arguably a bit of premature congratulation.

U.S. Proposes New Forest Management Plan

While mining and timber industry groups seemed to take a wait-and-see attitude, several environmental advocacy groups quickly expressed deep disappointment over what they saw as setbacks for conservation.

“The bottom line is that this is a significant rollback of required protections for wildlife and habitat compared to what currently exists,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, an advocacy group that through litigation halted two forest management plans proposed by the administration of President George W. Bush. “It is amazing. The public had the right to expect more from the Obama administration.”

House Republicans Take E.P.A. Chief to Task

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans on Wednesday opened a formal assault on the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases, raising doubts about the legal, scientific and economic basis of rules proposed by the agency.

Run your car on compost

What if you could fill up your car's gas tank with fuel you made at home from food scraps, old newspaper and the remains of last night's Cabernet?

That's the idea behind E-Fuel, a 25-employee Silicon Valley startup that recently started selling a small-scale ethanol production system for turning household compost into high-octane homebrew. Such compost is abundant: Americans throw away some 30 million tons of food scraps each year.

Growth of Wood Biomass Power Stokes Concern on Emissions

Across the U.S., companies are planning scores of projects to burn trees and wood waste to produce electricity, claiming such biomass plants can be carbon-neutral. But critics contend that combusting wood is not really a form of green energy and are urging a go-slow approach until clear guidelines can be established.

A Peak Oil Animation - The Club of Rome

Peak Oil represents the point in time when roughly half of the ultimately available oil has already been used.

Many scientists and experts believe that we are very close to the peak of conventional oil today. We may have already passed the peak.

Crude Oil Advances in New York After Mubarak Speaks, Refuses to Resign

Oil rose as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak defied calls for his resignation, stoking speculation that renewed turmoil may disrupt crude supplies through the North African country.

Futures climbed as much as 1.2 percent in New York after Mubarak reiterated late yesterday he intends to stay on as president until elections in September, while handing some powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman in a bid to placate opponents. Prices reached a two-year high last week on concern the unrest may curb oil flows through Egypt’s Suez Canal and spread to other oil-producing nations in the Middle East.

Shell’s Ormen Lange Gas Field Halt Boosts U.K. Prices

Royal Dutch Shell Plc halted natural-gas output from its Norwegian Ormen Lange field, Europe’s third-largest, reducing supply and boosting U.K. gas and power prices.

“Production at Ormen Lange was shut in this morning due to a technical problem,” Kim Blomley, a company spokesman, said by telephone from The Hague. “We are trying to restore production from Ormen Lange as soon as possible.”

Rising cost of Brent crude creates opening for Gulf oil

The rise of Brent crude above US$100 a barrel could help Gulf producers sell more oil. Yesterday, Brent exceeded $102 while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell below $86.

The near record price spread of more than $15 per barrel between the two leading crude oil benchmarks is reflected in unusually wide spreads between Brent and other crude grades, opening up selling opportunities for Gulf producers.

That is because the price of Dubai crude, the regional benchmark, is not pegged to Brent, unlike the crudes pumped by west African states.

Rise in industry's input costs fuels inflation worries

The price of materials and fuel paid by UK manufacturers rose at an annual rate of 13.4% in January, according to the Office for National Statistics.

It means input costs rose at their fastest for more than two years and are above forecasts of a 12.6% annual rate.

Oil Risk Premium on Egypt Limited by Alternatives, Nomura Says

A further increase in oil prices because of political turmoil in Egypt is unjustified as supplies can be rerouted from the Suez Canal while stockpiles can make up for any shortfall, according to Nomura International Ltd.

Have Saudis Overstated How Much Oil Is Left?

While the world remains transfixed by the Egyptian revolt, a crisis with equally profound global consequences is quietly brewing elsewhere in the Middle East: WikiLeaks this week released U.S. diplomatic cables suggesting that Saudi Arabia may have vastly overstated its oil reserves — if true, that could dramatically accelerate the arrival of the long-feared "peak oil" moment, when oil production hits its final high before slowly declining, keeping prices rising for the foreseeable future and slowing global economic growth. But not all industry analysts are convinced by the claims in the cables.

Peak oil will have an adverse effect on all economies

The modern global economy has been built on cheap oil and its abundant availability. In spite of oil crises in the past, the world has so far survived unscathed. But what will happen to the world economy and to the Thai economy in particular in the aftermath of "peak oil"?

Static in the fibre-optic

For Australia, a big rise in oil prices would bring economic dislocation. Life in far-flung suburbs would change radically. Whether peak oil is true or not in all its detail, oil supplies cannot last forever. It is time our politicians and planners started factoring scarcer oil into their plans.

Why Crude Prices Haven’t Spiked Over “Peak Oil” Concerns in Saudi Arabia

The original source of the cable – Sadad al Husseini, a former senior Saudi oil government official — has spoken openly in the past about his belief that global oil production will peak by 2015. His comments about Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves probably sounded like just another one of his crackpot “peak oil” pronouncements.

What’s more, soon after The Guardian reported the story, al Husseini declared the information in the cables were taken out of context. Al Husseini is now saying he doesn’t challenge Saudi Arabia’s “official” oil-reserve data — which puts the kingdom’s reserves at 260 billion barrels — at all.

Schork Oil Outlook: The 'Peak Oil' Question

This revelation provided evangelical peak oilers with fresh new ammo.

So how did the oil markets react to this potentially explosive rumor? It depends on how you spell "rumour."

The oil market in New York finished the day down 23 cents, while the market in London jumped by $1.90. Thus, either New Yorkers are skeptical (go figure!) or Londoners are excitable (when is the last time you saw an Englishman excited?).

Leaked Cables Reveal U.S. Concerns Over Saudi ‘Peak Oil’

Dr. al-Husseini has voiced similar thoughts on peak oil and Saudi reserves on previous occasions, and the leaked cables did not move oil markets, signaling that their contents were unsurprising to oil traders.

Learsy: WikiLeaks Brings Misguided Joy to Preachers of Oil's Peak

The pleasure was surely visceral. If it's in WikiLeaks, it's got to be true. Certainly it was a moment of triumphal satisfaction for the Peak Oil Pranksters. There it was in digital 'black and white,' embedded in cables released by WikiLeaks and headlined by the the Guardian: "Saudi Arabia cannot pump enough oil to keep a lid on prices." The story reports that in November 2007 the U.S. Consulate General, subsequent to a meeting in Riyadh with a former Saudi Aramco "oil executive," cabled Washington that reserves of the world's biggest oil exporter were being overstated by nearly 40%. Really?!

Jeremy Leggett - Peak oil: We are asleep at the wheel

The peak oil debate – whether one uses the "P" word or not – involves huge stakes. If US diplomats based in Saudi Arabia harbour fears that the Saudis can't produce enough oil to head off ruinous oil prices, then they are merely telling the US government what a spectrum of UK industry is already telling the UK government. We are asleep at the wheel here: choosing to ignore a threat to the global economy that is quite as bad as the credit crunch, and quite possibly worse.

Don't Panic: The World Won't Run Out of Oil Before the Weekend

Schaeffer left me with this quote, which he said may be among the most revealing statistics in play for the energy markets.

"There are 700 cars for every 1000 Americans right now. There are 500 cars for every 1000 Europeans. Currently, there are 30 cars for every 1000 Chinese: And that number is expected to go up to 240 by the year 2035. That implies an enormous strain on existing crude oil supplies."

US Diplomat in Saudi Arabia Concerned Saudi Oil Reserves Overstated by 40% - Wikileaks Cables From the US Embassy

It is amazing how far the concept of Peak Oil has gone in the last decade. In the late nineties and early 2000s only a small group of people were raising their hands warning that the world was sneaking up against the limit of how much oil could be produced on a daily basis. With oil under $20 per barrel everyone ignored these folks thinking that they spent their days wearing tinfoil hats and their nights being abducted by aliens.

Egypt's military supports Mubarak; protesters mass

CAIRO – Egypt's military threw its weight Friday behind President Hosni Mubarak's plan to stay in office through September elections while protesters fanned out to the presidential palace in Cairo and other key symbols of the authoritarian regime in a new push to force the leader to step down immediately.

The statement by the Armed Forces Supreme Council — its second in two days — was a blow to many protesters who had called on the military to take action to push out Mubarak after his latest refusal to step down.

Chris Martenson - Egypt's Warning: Are You Listening?

The oil situation in Egypt has only very recently become an enormous and unavoidable issue.

The monthly peak occurred in December 1996 (the yearly peak was also 1996), and oil production is now down some 30 percent since then.

Bolivian President Rattled by Protests

Bolivian President Evo Morales has abruptly abandoned the southern highlands city of Oruro after protesters angered by rising prices booed him and set off dynamite.

Morales canceled plans to participate in a Thursday march, returning to La Paz, after people in the mining city mounted protests against rising food prices and shortages.

They are especially upset about a near doubling in the price of sugar after the government lifted subsidies.

Earnings up for Venezuela's state oil company

Venezuela's state oil company says higher world oil prices allowed it to increase earnings 35 percent during the first nine months of 2010.

Norway and Russia officially split Barents Sea

Norway has ratified the agreement on the Arctic, signed with Russia last year, defining the border between the two countries in the region, thus lifting the moratorium on prospecting the gas and oil deposits on the Arctic continental shelf.

Russian injunction on BP-Rosneft deal extended

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A court has extended an injunction on a deal between BP and Russian top oil producer Rosneft pending arbitration scheduled to start in early March, BP said on Friday.

Gazprom announces 15 per cent price hike for gas to western Europe

Moscow - Russian state energy giant Gazprom disclosed Friday it will be shipping more gas to western Europe this year - but also at higher prices, Interfax reported.

Russia's Gazprom Neft to cut 2011 investments 6 pct

(Reuters) - Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russia's to gas producer, Gazprom, is set to cut its investment programme 6.1 percent to $4.6 billion in 2011, the firm said in its presentation for investors on Friday.

China Eyes Mideast's Energy Resources

Qatar is negotiating with China to supply the state-owned energy giant Sinopec with millions of metric tons of natural gas a year to feed the Middle Kingdom's voracious energy appetite.

Watch Out America, China Is Coming For Your Oil And Gas!

Is America ready for this? It oughta be. It’s been nearly six years since Cnooc attempted an $18 billion takeover of California-based Unocal, only to be rebuffed by zenophobic politicians raging on about protecting America’s domestic energy supplies. Unocal was eventually bought by Chevron.

America’s response to the proposed Unocal takeover was shameful and hypocritical. If Americans expect U.S. oil companies to be allowed to take equity positions in oil and gas fields around the world, how could we prevent a foreign company from owning fields here?

Residents seek answers in Marcellus shale drilling

Dozens of residents attended an informational meeting sponsored by the West Virginia University Extension Service. These sessions are sponsored in part by Chesapeake Energy, a gas drilling company operating in West Virginia.

Patricia Wylie of Glendale came to the meeting because she’s concerned about water quality.

“I live just a short distance out of town and my dog goes and drinks the water that runs off of the hill and I have a friend who grew up playing in the creeks in our area and he has a young son and says he would never let his son play in the creeks because of what he has learned about the negative effects that this is having on our streams,” said Wylie.

Judge rules for Alaskan family in BP oilfield dispute

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to pay $4.92 million to an Alaska family that claims the agency failed to collect adequate compensation for use of private land at the BP-operated Niakuk oilfield on the North Slope.

Audits: PG&E delayed checking gas pipes for years

SAN FRANCISCO – The California utility under fire following a huge natural gas pipeline explosion put off inspecting its lines for years and used less thorough inspection techniques than its own safety guidelines recommended, according to state audits released Wednesday.

Allentown pipeline explosion revives natural gas worries

It's unclear whether the recent accidents are part of a large trend caused by bad weather or an aging pipeline system.

Alternative Energy: Why the President's Portfolio Approach Will Make us Leaders

The U.S. Air Force is the largest consumer of petroleum in the military. Every day, it burns more than 7.0 million gallons of oil. And where do we get that oil? In 2010, the U.S. spent more than $300 billion to import 4.2 billion barrels of oil, largely to make fuels needed to meet military and civilian transportation demands. One of the greatest threats to our economic and national security is the need to secure foreign oil. So, when President Obama confirmed a commitment to develop domestically renewable petroleum replacements from biomass, also known as bio-crude, he put a stake in the ground that alternatives are not just good for the environment, they're critical to our national and economic security. Bio-crudes are compatible with the DoD's current fleet of tanks, ships, and planes, which will be in use for the next 30 years.

Gulf Coast Wind Farms Spring Up, as Do Worries

South Texas now accounts for roughly one-ninth of the state’s total wind capacity. A substantial amount of the recent growth on the Texas electric grid, which gets nearly 8 percent of its power from wind, came from the coast, said Barry Smitherman, chairman of the Public Utility Commission. Transmission infrastructure is plentiful along the coast, unlike that in West Texas. And coastal winds are strongest in the afternoons and in the summer, wind experts say. That correlates well to the electric grid’s needs. West Texas winds, although more powerful, tend to blow strongest in the evening and overnight, and in the spring.

But the arrival of turbines along the Gulf shores has spawned a range of concerns, like their impact on birds and coastal habitat and the turbines’ effect on military radar.

Geothermal energy touted as last hope for Hawaii energy future

Its been several weeks since the Geothermal Working Group submitted their preliminary report to the 2011 State Legislature.

Its also been weeks since the co-chair of that effort, Hamakua farmer Richard Ha, made public his lofty goal of buying HELCO, the island’s power company, along with some partners.

One Million EVs Is Difficult But Doable

The Obama Administration’s dream of seeing 1 million electric vehicles on the road is laudable and necessary, but it’s going to require a Herculean effort if we’re to pull it off.

Think about it. There are roughly 251 million vehicles on the road in the United States, so a mere 1 million doesn’t sound like many — especially when Americans bought 12 million vehicles last year. But we’re talking about electric vehicles, and that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame because exactly two automakers sell mass-market EVs at the moment. General Motors sold 326 Chevrolet Volts last month, while Nissan sold 87 Leafs.

GM CEO Akerson says 'doors open' to alternative energy

Just because General Motors (GM) is touting its Chevrolet Volt electric car technology, it hasn't stopped pursuing other energy alternatives, from hydrogen fuel cells to natural gas, General Motors CEO Dan Akerson said Wednesday.

"We're keeping all the doors open or ajar," said Akerson, who took over as CEO in September. "I really do think what is good for this country is good for GM."

For Oil Exec, an Electric Car Can Wait

For Mr. Colton, the argument against the electric car is purely economic. “One word tells you the whole picture, and its starts with the letter B: batteries are not ready for prime time,” he said, noting that the last time he looked, the battery in the Leaf cost $17,000.

By his calculation, batteries cost $800 to $1,000 per kilowatt-hour, and that has to be reduced to $300 to $500 for electric cars to make sense. And the comparison with the internal combustion engine is a no-brainer, at least for him.

Ethanol pumping up food prices

Get ready for higher food prices, which appear to be just around the corner for U.S. consumers and potentially a crippling burden for the world's poor.

...The immediate causes of the rise are clear: bad harvests due to drought in Russia, China and Argentina and floods in Australia, among other things. But a longer-term cause may come as a surprise:— 24% of the U.S. corn crop is now mandated to go to ethanol, taking slack out of the world food market and making price shocks more likely, agricultural economists say.

Yet Another Route to Cellulosic Ethanol

The Ineos concept has a leg up over some other approaches in that it anticipates three revenue streams. The factory will get paid for taking in plant waste or possibly household garbage and will produce electricity as well as ethanol at a huge savings in carbon dioxide output.

China bids to ease drought with $1bn emergency water aid

China has announced a billion dollars in emergency water aid to ease its most severe drought in 60 years, as the United Nations warned of a threat to the harvest of the world's biggest wheat producer.

Beijing has also promised to use its grain reserves to reduce the pressure on global food prices, which have surged in the past year to record highs due to the floods in Australia and a protracted dry spell in Russia.

Extreme weather batters the insurance industry

"One thing we as a society don't really do anymore is build for where we live. We build for how we want to live," said Julie Rochman, chief executive of the Institute for Building and Home Safety, the industry-sponsored group behind the wind tunnel initiative. "There's a wonderful ability to be living in denial and where disaster happened a long time ago we get disaster amnesia."

2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal

Kurzweil believes that we're approaching a moment when computers will become intelligent, and not just intelligent but more intelligent than humans. When that happens, humanity — our bodies, our minds, our civilization — will be completely and irreversibly transformed. He believes that this moment is not only inevitable but imminent. According to his calculations, the end of human civilization as we know it is about 35 years away.

EcoLogic: Living within the Earth’s means

“At least the leak isn’t at our end of the boat.”

I was living abroad when I first clipped that headline out of a London newspaper. I am reminded of it whenever I read articles about famine and drought, mudslides and wildfires, public education, unemployment and corporate bailouts. Really, I can apply that phrase to almost any current events topic. It perfectly illustrates our disconnect from one another and our environment.

Will Carbon Nation succeed where An Inconvenient Truth failed?

"Bin Laden hates this car" says the bumper sticker on former CIA director Jim Woolsey's plug-in hybrid. Though he's no longer in the secret service, Woolsey cares about defending America's national security, and for him that means weaning the country off its dependence on foreign oil.

The former spook turned clean-tech venture capitalist is just one of the all-American heroes who feature in Carbon Nation, an intriguing new documentary about climate change solutions aimed at the American right.

Kent says no new laws needed to cut greenhouse gases

Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent says Ottawa and the provinces will have to adopt tough new regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but insisted that no new legislation is needed to carry out the Conservative government's environmental plan.

"What many people don't realize is that Environment Canada already has the legal tools it needs to execute our plan," Kent said in a speech Thursday to the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto. "It requires no new legislation."

Climate: A New Study Finds That Global Warming Could Dry Out the Southwest

The report found that the already dry states of the American Southwest—Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah—will face a major water shortfall over the next century just based on population and income growth alone. (The region has long been one of the fastest-growing in the U.S., in part because of the hot and dry weather.) But climate change could make the situation much, much worse. According to the SEI study, global warming could increase the long-term water shortfall by a quarter, adding an additional 282 million to 439 million acre feet of water to the 1.815 billion acre feet shortfall already expected. Based on the price of adding reservoir capacity in California, meeting the baseline water shortage could cost $2.3 trillion—yes, that's "trillion" with a "t"—plus $353 billion to $549 billion if climate change is factored in. Higher water prices would make adaptation even more expensive—assuming additional water could be found at all in a drier future.

Re: Rising cost of Brent crude creates opening for Gulf oil

This article fails to mention the fact that oil from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq are priced at the Argus Sour Crude Index, which is a much higher level these days compared with WTI. One wonders what benchmark is used by Mexico and Venezuela...

E. Swanson

...or even that Lousiana Light Sweet spot is ~$102/bbl. The narrow focus of this piece is astonishing.

Which makes one wonder what fraction of US oil is actually being priced at the WTI price. In other words, since there are so many different ways to price crude, what is the average price for oil in the US market? And, why do most of the business media (and web pages such as TOD) focus on WTI instead of Brent or the other indexes?

E. Swanson

what fraction of US oil is actually being priced at the WTI price.

Good question. My WAG: Cushing is located in PADD II, with (clearly) limited connectivity to Gulf Coast. Per EIA, PADD II refinery production levels are at about 3Mbbl/day for gasoline and diesel (2Mbbl gasoline, 1Mbbl diesel). So perhaps 15-20% of our motor vehicle consumption is influenced by the WTI price, maybe less if PADD II is too wide an area to make this calculation on. Seems like a reasonable guess but plenty of room for argument...

Here in Colorado a good chunk of our gasoline is Canadian syncrude, so it is likely well correlated with today's WTI.

EDIT: EIA table is used: http://www.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/pet_pnp_refp_dc_r20_mbblpd_a.htm

3MB is the sum of Finished Motor Gasoline and Distillate.

Today's market news is that the Trade Deficit has reached alarming proportions, mostly due to the cost of oil imports. The deficit in December was $40.6 billion, of which $25.3 billion went for petroleum. And, the price of imported oil, which averaged $79.78 a barrel in December, has climbed steadily since then...

E. Swanson

IIRC, something like only 200k barrels per day is current WTI production.
The reason it's the most widely published price here in the U.S. is probably because it's the benchmark carried on the NYMEX, the New York Merchantile Exchange.
(Don't take this to the bank or anything. I haven't exactly been battin' 1,000 lately):-)

There is far more Canadian crude trading in the US Midwest than West Texas Intermediate. Most of it is much lower quality than WTI, but the sheer volume of it is enough to depress the price of WTI at the trading hub in Cushing, Oklahoma. The tanks there are full to the top with Canadian oil.

According to the Canadian Daily Oil Bulletin , at close of trade yesterday, Brent was trading at $100.87/bbl; OPEC Basket Price at $97.59/bbl; West Texas Intermediate at $86.73/bbl; and Western Canadian Select at $60 to $61/bbl.

If you were running a refinery, which one would you prefer to buy?

The price spreads are just getting crazy. It's gotten to the point where the railroads are running 100-car trains of Canadian oil down to California to supply the refineries there.

I mean, realistically, the difference between Canadian oil sands and California Kern River heavy oil is purely in the myopic eye of the environmental movement beholder. For a refinery, it is all the same sticky black stuff. Only the price is different.

Technically, Cushing storage is only about 72% filled (as of Wednesday). By the end of 2011, total available storage capacity at Cushing will be around 50 million barrels - as compared to 37.4 million barrels stored there per the latest EIA report.

Is America ready for this? It oughta be. It’s been nearly six years since Cnooc attempted an $18 billion takeover of California-based Unocal, only to be rebuffed by zenophobic politicians raging on about protecting America’s domestic energy supplies. Unocal was eventually bought by Chevron.

Interesting rant, but hard to take someone seriously when they can't be bothered with the correct spelling of 'xenophobic'.

Perhaps he was referring to politicians who are afraid of paradoxes?

+5 :-D

Nice! :)

Breaking: Mubarak steps down.

Military seems to have forced him out. Military now in control of country apparently.

Matt Drudge does it again.

Does what? Spread more neocon propaganda? I happened to view Drudge last night at about 1 AM EST and Drudge was simply relaying the latest from the wires...

E. Swanson

So instead we have a vice president who was the willing and able ally and torturer for Mubarak.

The protests won't end until the entire top rank is gone. Who cares which one of the kleptocrats has the big hat?

(The top generals in the army are all part of the kleptocracy. It is the grunt on the street that supports the protesters. )

And, has been said already, what good will democracy be to the people now that they are on the brink of starvation?

It's hard to accept that our governments have helped bring them to this pass.

Although the VP made the announcement on State TV he said that power had been handed to the army - not to him. He looked worried.

Time to get out of Dodge. I expect to hear that Mubarak, et. al., have left the country soon.

Perhaps the second Friday of the second month will be their Bastille Day. Best hopes they work things out quicker than the French did.

The Vice President is not in charge, the military is running things now. How they respond and what they will do remains to be seen. None of have a crystal ball and can say what they will do. We will just have to wait and see.

Our government, or more precisely our president, tried to help bring peace to the area by requesting that Mubarak make concessions to the protesters. And you find that hard to accept? What would have you had him do?

Ron P.

I've nothing against Obama. It is the previous 30 years support from the US and many other countries that kept the guy in place for so long. Any SOB as long as he is our SOB.

At the end of it, we have burnt their oil, and they are 90M people in a land that may support 20M.

That's the great irony in all this -- in 50 years countries will go from perpetually poor with 10M people, to modestly better off and hopeful with 25M people, to destitute and hopeless with 50M people.

Pretty ironic that free energy may be the worst curse of mankind.

Our government, or more precisely our president, tried to help bring peace to the area by requesting that Mubarak make concessions to the protesters. And you find that hard to accept? What would have you had him do?

Yesterday Mubarak said that he don't want foreign interference. Obama's requests can make it worse. 'The police agent of the world' telling a military man what to do ?

Ron - probably not a terribly relevant question but was the military running the country already? IOW was HB prez because he followed the military's dictate? I don't know but if the military did effectively push HB out then it seems fair to say he never was calling the shots except publicly. So it seems safe to presume that who ever the miltary appoints as his replacement will still follow their lead.

Hosni Mubarak was vice president and became president when Anwar Sadat assassinated in 1981. He then declared military rule until it was safe to return to civilian rule. In other words Mubarak was the one who declared that the military was in charge. And of course he was in charge of the military. He was in charge of the military until he wasn't of course. And he never lifted the military rule the whole time he was in office.

I don't know where things will go from here but I doubt seriously that the military will simply name another dictator. I think that is highly unlikely. I expect that they will name a temporary ruler and declare that elections will be held sometime soon. That is just a guess of course.

Of course there is no guarantee that the next guy will be any better than the last one. But I expect that the new guy, whoever he is, will try. But given that Egypt is already a basket case, I don't expect that he will have much success.

Ron P.

I expect that they will name a temporary ruler and declare that elections will be held sometime soon.

That is my expectation as well. BBC, claimed the high ranking military was concerned that too many junior officers and lower supported the people. The wiser move is to bow to the wind, and thats what I expect them to do. Meanwhile, I think they are under notice that they could lose their aid if they botch this.

...but was the military running the country already? IOW was HB prez because he followed the military's dictate?
I certainly don't know for sure, but from what I have been reading, it sounds like Mubarak created the national police to enforce his regime. The military appears to have stepped back from an obvious active role in politics, until this uprising. How active they were behind the scenes though is a whole different question.

One does get the sense however, that the military as a whole has been somewhat conflicted about the whole thing. The high officer corps are mostly old geezers who might be expected to have a strong stake in the status quo. The troops are said to be conscripts, who may not be too eager or willing to start slaughtering their own people. Probably the biggest question mark going forward is about the lower and middle officer corps (lieutenants, captains, and majors). Where do they stand? That may have a huge influence on how this plays out.

I agree Ralph.

I doubt it matters who takes over in Egypt. They will be facing "austerity" measures indefinitely going forward no matter who is in charge.


And we the people will continue to accept our government's help in bringing these events to pass all over the world:

US diplomat calls African dictator a good guy (from leanan's links above):

"There are good guys and bad guys here. We need to strengthen the good guys — for all his faults, President Obiang among them — and undercut the bad guys," Smith wrote in a May 9, 2009 cable."

The "good guys" are those leaders who will sell their peoples to the USA as biofuel if necessary.

Right now, the Egyptian people are jubilant. Their celebration is long coming and well deserved. Let them have their moment in the sun. But in the back of my mind, I think of the morning, the hangover of reality that will come with the sunrise. Sad that their joyous moment in history comes with the bitter pill of austerity enforced by the laws and limitations of nature.

Our media, of course, is incapable of putting all this in an ecological and resource based context. Unfortunately, there will be no successful revolution against the laws and limitations of nature for we left the Garden of Eden even before the Egyptians.

T, I no longer distingish between our media, our government, etc.

It is our culture. What kinds of pathetic psychos would fixate on "All Liquids" while ignoring the body bags necessary to sustain "all liquids" production?

Human remains are the next commodity for the All Liquids addicts.

For the time being, We the Industrial Piglets will continue to keep several degrees of seperation between Us, the Consuming Piglets and Them, the Piglets-to-be-Consumed - just to maintain our illusion of morality and civility.

The "Gulf Between Rich and the Poor" will be renamed "The Gulf Between Rich and the All Liquid Fuels."

Their celebration is long coming and well deserved.
Sad that their joyous moment in history comes with the bitter pill of austerity enforced by the laws and limitations of nature.

My feelings as well. Although I think it will take several months to a few years before the serious constraints on their future are recognized. Overthrowing Mubarak was the easy part, overthrowing Malthus, not so easy. It isn't of course cast in stone that they can't do well. But, it would require that they outcompete the overpopulated cities in the rest of the world more a good share of the city-produced trade goods.

And as if on cue, oil markers are easing...

Brent dropped about $1.20 but then bounced and recovered most of the losses. Now at $101.30. Let's see where it ends the day though.

Oil flows coming out of the Persian Gulf area have slowed significantly over the last week, and at first glance, I don't think they will improve quickly based upon today's events - although Egypt's military are said to be in control of the Suez Canal (perhaps that is why a strike there fizzled out).

Obvious problems in that region also include hijacking large oil tankers, and with pirates safely docking the recently hijacked oil tanker off Somalia, it also represents a valid concern about shipping.

Military seems to have forced him out.

No, they did not. This is what popular will looks like.

The military has been an instrument of this will. We'll see if it stays that way.

Had the military supported a Chinese option though, it would have been likely a very different outcome. A few hours before the resignation announcement apparently the tanks surrounding the presidential palace symbolically turned their guns inwards and away from the protestors.

Statement from the army expected shortly according to State TV.

Egyptian Finance Minister on BBC News just used interesting words. "it is not just Mubarak - the whole of the Oligarchy has been removed". Says he remains in office however as Finance Minister under the Military Council. Obviously he doesn't consider himself a part of "The Oligarchy".

Also: Swiss Govt Freezes Mubarak accounts.



Which countr(ies) will be next?

Clever money would bet $150 oil.

Tenner on Jordan!

2 dictators gone... 50? more to go.
But I'm afraid new one will sprout faster than weeds after rain. Jordan and Yemen seem quite fragile but I worry more about Algeria. It's a major oil and gas exporter toward Europe, is already facing protest but the government and army have shown in the 90's that they were willing to kill thousands to remain in power. And they can pretend more convincingly that islamist and terrorist would take the power otherwise. Morocco is more stable so far but could turn in a major source of worry since they are the main supplier of phosphate for Europe agriculture.

Today's economist magazine (published 10 Feb) includes its guess at Middle East unrest, called the 'shoe thrower's index'. They put Yemen 1st followed by Libya. Reference to it here:


Ralph W "Which countr(ies) will be next?"
I'd guess any country where America has been supporting dictators to further her own interests. Egypt could be the sccene of a rennaisance in arab nationalism adding more fuel to the "arab agenda" which will culminate in the mother of all blowbacks. Time to pay the piper.

Frequent, severe fires turn Alaskan forests into a carbon production line

“Since the proliferation of black spruce, Alaskan soils have acted as huge carbon sinks,” ... “But with more frequent and more extensive burning in recent decades, these forests now lose more carbon in any fire event than they have historically been able to take up between fires.”

...the researchers found that the annual carbon losses from forest fires in 2000 to 2009 were more than twice the carbon lost during each of the previous five decades.

"2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal"

I guess Kurzweil's forgotten that machines still need to be plugged in...

Until a way can be found to make a machine self-replicating, as well as self-supporting in terms of its own energy requirements (like biotic organisms do, essentially from sunlight), supercomputers will be reliant on fossil fuel inputs.

I don't think battery storage capability has caught up with exponentially-growing machine "intelligence".

Perhaps Kurzweil is imagining that cyber-intelligence will solve that problem.

Edit : superintelligent plants, anyone ?

Yeah... I had my "Kurzweil-moment" 25 years ago, when I saw the first The Terminator (1984) movie and I was all like "WOW! Yup! That could happen! Hooooly sh....oot!", but now I know stuff I didn't know back then and sadly, I think Kurzweil is plainly wrong. Machine "intelligence" is not the same as human intelligence. It needs almost infinite computing power for machine to become "self-aware" and to do some basic decisions that would lead to self-preservation. I think Kurzweil put the year of immortality to 2045 for a very good reason(s):

a) he will be probably long dead by then (I know, a little bit morbid, but I also could do some nice predictions for 2100 and not many people living today could prove me wrong. :P)

b) it gives him/us the required time for possible scientific breakthroughs to make it all seem achievable. Would he settle for the year 2025, he would surely become a laughing stock even for technocornucopians. Well... for those at least, who retain some touch with the reality, of course...

I think, as you do spring_tides, that he totally forgot about machines needed to be plugged in. Probably he is not that much familiar with Peak Oil and its limits, eh...? :P



Skynet anyone?


Nice! :D

Hopefully, no robot will upload information: "Humans are stupid! Kill them all!!!1!1!" to RoboEarth, cuz then... "Hasta la vista, baby!" :D

no, not skynet, just a little bit of hype for some gravy-train grant money being parceled out to people with the right connections.
As a matter of fact this whole scene in the research/academic world, the past decade and change, should worry you not a single bit-
the funding, the focus, and indeed almost every single thing being done, are actually the result of the whole field of multiagent systems research giving up
on attacking any of the hard AI problems, and just chasing after gimmicks and tie-ins to e-commerce 'platforms'.

For some good laughs, read up on the 'semantic web'. Its where all of the funding has been in the field for a while now. The focus is on turning out nice looking demos to people who are accustomed to shiny web interfaces and dot-com sales pitches.

Actually, I think Kurzweil chose 2045 because that's the longest he can reasonably expect to be alive. He'll be 97 by then.

IMO, he really believes what he preaches, and he thinks he'll be one of the new immortals. He's talked about how he takes supplements, etc., in hopes that his body will survive until the singularity arrives.

Oh, well... Yes, the man and his dream of immortality. Kinda reminds me of another movie - Highlander. As kids, we wanted to be just like him. Immortal forever, until our head us part. :))

Well, I wish Kurzweil good luck with his pursue of immortality... Hopefully he will be an asset for future generations in his immortal form. :P

Well, it's only four years till we get hoverboards (or live the shadow of Biff's casino, I forget which).

about machines needed to be plugged in

But machines do a better job of conversion of photons to work than (most)* biological systems.

Photon -> PV Panel -> electric motor -> work
Photon -> plant -> Animal -> work

If one is trying to maximize for "work" out of photons - machines are the way to go.

* The hornet that uses sunlight directly is why I'll go with most.


I guess Kurzweil's forgotten that machines still need to be plugged in...

C'mon now...Everybody knows how that's going to turn out.

The sky is covered by thick black clouds created by the humans in an attempt to cut off the machines' supply of solar power.

The machines responded by using human beings as their energy source in conjunction with nuclear fusion, later growing countless people in pods and harvesting their bioelectrical energy and body heat.

We [humans] always said fusion was 30 years off.

The only logical conclusion for machine intelligence under those circumstances would be to leave Earth entirely, in order to get solar energy directly, without the need for an atmosphere, since they wouldn't need to breathe.
Humans would get the Earth back, and machines would then be free to colonize space.

"machines would then be free to colonize space."

Imagine that!


yup ;)
Mars Rover "Spirit" operated way longer than its original design specs - presumably machine intelligence could solve those human operating design flaws...

Edit : "Intelligence" and "Life" are two different concepts - we certainly know of life which is not self-aware, yet can self-perpetuate and use external energy to support its life

Even if a machine becomes hyperintelligent, there's no way it can be called "alive" unless it can self-perpetuate and provide its own energy - in the same way as a simple earthworm can.

Definition of "Life" :-
the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally.

yup ;)

But you know, Spirit wasn't able to repair itself. That it lasted longer than its original design specs is almost the same as frozen produce lasts longer in your freezer - like when the "best before" label says "December 2010" and it's already February 2011, but it's still edible. :D It's because people give some conservative estimate, but things are not obliged to break down exactly on the date printed on them. They can last longer (if we are lucky). But that doesn't mean every piece will last as long as that one. :P Maybe Spirit 2.0 would break down few minutes before it could discover life on Mars! :D Who knows...? ;)

Component life is a random process. Sometimes you just get lucky. :)

I'm sure both rovers have numerous failures, only most just happened not to be critical. A stuck wheel is a nuisance until the whole vehicle is stuck. A stuck vehicle is mission affecting but not survival-critical until winter. Eventually stresses and faults stack up until the system can no longer maintain homeostasis, and it fails, crippled and alone, on a cold, dark, winter night a few million miles from home.

and it fails, crippled and alone, on a cold, dark, winter night a few million miles from home.

Sounds depressing, doesn't it..? :))

And yes, I agree. Sometimes we just get lucky. :) ;)

The end can be poignant:


All right. That seems to show the Kurzweil meets Spielberg angle on robots.

I might not even have been able to sleep tonight.. but thank God Nasa didn't put 'big sad eyebrows' over the video cameras of the Rovers so I could be clearly shown just 'how the droid is feeling..'

The funniest part of almost all of our Robot Dystopia stories is how the robots decide they Hate us and need to Exterminate us.. talk about Projection! .. maybe it's 'Projected Siblng Rivalry'

I find it much more interesting to surmise that some extraordinary team of programmers and philosophers manages to make smart machine-intelligence, and it then becomes quickly aware of how redundant and useless much of the human conversation is, and it chooses to largely ignore us (or to TEACH us) .. BUT probably also determines quickly that it is still heavily dependent upon us too, for protection, power, dexterity perhaps, and has to figure out those tricky balances of life, where one finds they are the brilliant flea on a great, dumb, smelly dog, but killing the dog would spell (speak and spell?) certain doom.

I would also expect that any machine intelligence and 'life-form substitutes' that we create will lack the depth and layers of resilience that our biological history has had reinforced and burnished for so many ages. It will tend to be thin a brittle. As with the Collapse scenarios.. we can point out how other human societies have failed, but in so many ways, we are recipients of the fruits of their successes and failures. We carry traits learned in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Ancient China and India.. we forget and have to relearn just painful volumes of these lessons again and again.. but we're here, and still even telling some of their old stories, applying their laws. "There is nothing new under the Sun" Eccl.

Cleverness may often turn to destruction, but I believe intelligence has other directions to try. 'Violence is resourcelessness' -

Pretty cool ! (for a machine)
I'm not sure I'd want it making medical diagnoses though....

Seems like a computer Jeopardy machine would be a pairing of human language parsing and interpretation and a very fast, comprehensive database.

Kind of like the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, minus the personality.

Not intelligent, but a really sweet database/search engine with a clever human/machine interface.

It is still an enormous leap to HAL 9000.

"I'm sorry, Dave, but Peak Oil arrived in 2005"

they are the brilliant flea on a great, dumb, smelly dog, but killing the dog would spell (speak and spell?) certain doom

See 'The Matrix'

I'm plenty familiar with the Matrix.. but I'm saying that those sorts of interpretation or prediction says a lot more about us and our fears than they do about the likely direction that techn. and AI would be apt to take, if it takes any at all (on its own, that is).

Skynet seems to be forming all right, but not because of any 'malicious machines'. Guns do kill, but they don't have Anger Management issues. None of them.

I personally think that humanity will /never/ create [intelligent, sapient, sentient] artificial life, and further not such life that is able to reproduce.

We have and likely will in the future create very complex systems which can exhibit emergent behaviors/phenomena, but I highly doubt will will create machines will motive, malice, introspection, love, etc.

Makes for cool SciFi though.

I could be proven wrong though...if so, and I am still alive, I would like to converse with the first intelligent machine.

Kurzweil is a smart guy that went off the rails. Look, just because something is on an exponential growth path, that doesn't mean it will continue. Moore's law is ending. The exponential growth of our ability to travel (walking, animals, trains, cars, planes, then rockets.) ended.

Our technological progress is ending its exponential phase too.

He is afraid of death and has deluded himself into believing a fantasy. Virtually everyone does it . . . they just have a different name for it, "religion".

Moore's law is about the amount of transistors you can fit into an integrated circuit. It is true that with current technology the transistors can't be made much smaller, but new technology could make it possible. The recent (~2006) discovery of the memristor, http://www.memristor.org/, that is a 4th basic element of electronics along with the resistor, capacitor and the inductor could make this possible.
This discovery opens up a huge new research field, that might lead to 2nm transistors or smaller, super fast non volatile memory, and more, all operating on very low power. This opens up for moores law to continue growing, and might enable the production of new technology, for example analog computers and so on.

Ray Kurzweil may live forever, but he will only have been young once.

People power 'overlooked by energy policies'

The way that people use and live in their homes has been largely ignored by existing efforts to improve energy efficiency, a study has suggested.

...Within the policy and research sphere, Dr Janda said that the "information deficit model" tended to dominate the social dimensions of the energy debate. In other words, households and bill payers lacked the knowledge they needed in order to "correct" their energy-use habits.

She quoted research that compared people's energy use with shopping in a supermarket that did not list prices on individual items. Instead, the shopper was presented with a bill for the purchases at the end of each month.

In other words, households and bill payers lacked the knowledge they needed in order to "correct" their energy-use habits.

Today I started buying wood pellets for heating. I have been heating using 2 corn stoves for about the last 5 years. But now with corn at about $6.60 locally it doesn't make economic sense anymore.

Corn and wood pellets have the same heating value when burned. I bought some wood pellets today for $3.49 plus 7% sales tax or $3.73 for 40 pounds or .09325/lb. not counting Federal and State Income Tax on the .09325.

A bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds but I don't have to pay sales or income tax when I burn it since I grow it. So the cost per pound is about $6.60/56 or .118/lb. meaning that recently corn has become more expensive than wood pellets by about 2.5 cents per pound.

This has never happened before since I started burning corn. It may explain why corn stoves are not selling. One of mine was acting up so when I saw one marked down to $1200 from $1500, I bought it as a backup. Another reason they are not selling as well is that LP prices are down IMO because little corn was dried last year and natural gas is so cheap.

Burning corn was nice while it lasted. And easy too. I just pailed it out of the bin and into the stove. With pellets I have to carry sacks from the store to my vehicle and then from it into the house which is more work.

I do not believe these high corn prices will last long. But while they do, I'm switching to wood pellets as much as I can (if the price is right).

I have been heating using 2 corn stoves for about the last 5 years

The self identified "Corn Farmer" sees all problems are solveable with a Corn-y solution.

Burning food for heat - how "1st world".

At least he's been avoiding the middle man ;-)

I note how in his 'explanation' how he's 'factoring in payments to the government' and yet I do not see those same factors on how much the government kickback to him to grow the corn.

I do remember posts from the corn farmer wanting to see government payments and mandates to make sure the others who buy corn to feed animals could afford the corn for sale and how the mandates to make ethanol were a good thing.

photons -> biomass is one thing.

photons -> biomass supported by fossil fuels with kickbacks to grow the biomass while complaining about payouts to government is another.

The right thinking answer is insulation to cut the heat needed to place into the structure and looking at more direct photon to build heat solutions like photons -> evacuated glass tubes to warm water in a radiant heat system or even proper building construction so photons get into the building envelope directly to warm the building. Direct photon conversion is a good deal - you don't have to cut it down, split it, run it thru a combine, dig it up, et la.

Preachin' to the choir, Eric.

Like it or not, that is what most of TOD is. I'm sure we've changed some minds with our preaching/telling others in the choir "you are flat" or "you are off-key".

Re. the headlines above: Run your car on compost and Growth of Wood Biomass Power Stokes Concern on Emissions .

Pray we collapse too quickly for these idiots to breed.

WTI Brent gap now 15.22!


That link shows both prices side by side.


Re Your city is about to get a whole lot bigger (interview with Jeff Rubin)

How slums can save the planet

27th January 2010 — Issue 167

Sixty million people in the developing world are leaving the countryside every year. The squatter cities that have emerged can teach us much about future urban living ...

Title for future article by Mother Nature:

"Squatter Cities: The Perfect Growth Medium for Homosaptrophic Pathogens"

Also from the Jeff Rubin interview (linked up top):

The biggest issue will be public transit. I forecast out of a vehicle stock of roughly 250 million vehicles in the U.S., some 20 per cent would take the exit lane if motorists had to pay the same fuel prices as Western Europeans have for the last 10 years. But if [those] drivers were to get off the road right now and try to get on a bus or a subway, they wouldn’t be able to. No transit system in North America has 20 per cent spare capacity

This is, quite frankly, appalling, especially coming from someone like Jeff Rubin (assuming the interview has been transcribed correctly) - 20% spare capacity on any transit system of any size cannot be compared to 20% of the motoring public - the spare capacity on transit systems would need to be orders of magnitude greater.

Even with enormous amounts of capital available (it never will be) - it would be impossible for all cities to acquire a massive (and unprecedented) increase in rolling stock, drivers, maintenance staff, fuel and so on.

Why does Rubin fail to state the obvious and undeniable - there is no solution.

We have plenty of spare capacity.


Even with enormous amounts of capital available (it never will be) - it would be impossible for all cities to acquire a massive (and unprecedented) increase in rolling stock, drivers, maintenance staff, fuel and so on.

At one time American cities had all the rolling stock and other infrastructure in place - in the form of streetcar systems. Unfortunately in the ensuing three-quarters of a century it has all been abandoned in favor of freeways. It will be very difficult for them to get back to where they were three-quarters of a century ago.

Starting to get a little upsetting, eh? and earlier Pittsburgh,not to mention San Francisco last fall.

Infrastructure collapse is not getting much attention, or dollars.

Infrastructure collapse is not getting much attention, or dollars.

Thats because our masters know it requires taxes or fees, and they don't want any case for anything that might cost them to be made. So aside from the occasional TV spectacle, we will downplay it.

For Oil Exec, an Electric Car Can Wait

For Mr. Colton, the argument against the electric car is purely economic. “One word tells you the whole picture, and its starts with the letter B: batteries are not ready for prime time,” he said, noting that the last time he looked, the battery in the Leaf cost $17,000.
By his calculation, batteries cost $800 to $1,000 per kilowatt-hour, and that has to be reduced to $300 to $500 for electric cars to make sense. And the comparison with the internal combustion engine is a no-brainer, at least for him.

The Leaf has a 24KWH battery pack. $17K/24KWH = $708/KWH. Apparently Mr. Colton is not very good at doing his calculations. Nor is he good at keeping up with the news. Recent comments from a GM executive said that the $1000/KWH figure was way off and that the truth was "a bit more than half that amount" . . . (Something over $500/KWH).

Batteries are still expensive, no doubt. But they have come down a lot and they will come down more with mass manufacturing. Between oil prices going up and battery prices coming down, they will make economic sense very soon.

Two questions come to mind:

For how long will "(batteries) make economic sense" ?

For who will "(batteries) make economic sense" ?

I don't understand your 'how long' question . . . are you talking about the lifetime of a batter? Or longer term in the future?

For who . . . well, if you are implying that the rich will benefit more, that is undoubtedly true. But then don't they always? I think EVs will not be the dream drop-in replacement for ICE cars running on cheap oil. But with EVs, we will be able to for the most part continue the car culture (for good or bad). The average price paid for a car these days is just little less than the unsubsidized cost of a Nissan Leaf. Granted, those cars are bigger, have long range, faster, etc. But if gas prices spiral out of control, the average family will be able to buy an EV instead . . . they'll just have to deal with a smaller vehicle and have shorter ranges.

Who will be your fuel source and how long will they last?

How many miles per other-people's-lives/resources/children do you plan on getting?

Uranium, thorium, coal, natural gas, all available domestically in N.A. And we can pay for the rest with fiat dollars to dictators and the threat of Hiroshima.

How long these resources last is anybody's guess.

Your second question is a straw man. Humans are built by nature to pass on their genes, which involves kin selection. This is why we are divided into nations, classes, tribes. Last I checked there was no world government, or heck even one language that everybody speaks or one religion that everybody follows.

Personally, I would put up with an electric car when the time comes. Beats walking, cycling, or taking the bus and subway with the hoi polloi.

Thank you oilman for making my point.

Ye the usual prescription of Fiat dollars and threats of force should do. And we are seven year old children who cannot be expected to control ourselves, or our appetites.

The "devil made me do it," "it's in our DNA," "it tastes just like chicken" - whatever you need to tell yourself to make it easier to swallow.

And in contrast...

For Founder of PostPeakLiving.com, an Electric Car Can't Wait

I mentioned last week that I put my name on the waiting list for the Toyota plug-in Prius. I expect 10 miles of electric-only driving will make a big difference for me when the gasoline shortages start (I don't have to commute to a job). For me it's not an economic decision so much as ensuring mobility.

At worst, I can own it for a few years then trade it for a model that has 30 or 40 miles of electric-only range.

That might even be the Volt if it proves to have good reliability.

#4 on the waiting list in San Francisco for the Prius.

Aangel, I think you are grossly underestimating your "at worst" scenario.

Hmm...I don't think I was coming from the place you're coming from. I meant, "at worst, if 10 miles isn't enough it's a place holder car until I get another one." Yes, I am assuming some sort of car company will sell something I can use.

If everything goes to hell, well, someone will probably steal the car anyway.

How much is enough?

At what cost?

How many other-people's-dictators do we have left to hide behind? Are you sure we have enough petty tyrants to sustain our pigstye through two or three cycles of EVs?

I expect 10 miles of electric-only driving will make a big difference for me when the gasoline shortages start....

When I first started to understand just how much energy is stored in gasoline, and related fuels, and in such an easy to store and transport form, I looked at the price you pay at the pump and I realized how unbelievably cheap it is. You have to pay as much for bottled water per volume as you do for gasoline - and people complain? In Western Europe their governments make them pay as much as you would for boutique bottled water - oh the injustice!

And then I thought some more and I realized our entire way of life required it to be this cheap. If and when the gasoline shortages begin, everything will start to break down. Including power generation. Even if your power plants run on coal, nuclear or hydro, they still need gasoline, diesel and related inputs to function.

Agreed. And those who have moved away from towns will see dramatic changes in lifestyle. It's a guess where the best practical lifestyle will last longest.

Kind of interesting watching Live Democracy Now! of the Celebrants in Tahrir square.. a guy is making Fireworks of a sort by blowing oil/gas/alch.. into a string of fireballs over his head. It's probably Ethanol, I suppose, but I've seen street jugglers do this with a bit of gasoline, too. But he's doing it again and again.. kind of seems apropos to the view of world events through our filters here.


FROM WAY UP TOP "President Teodoro Obiang is accused of making his family and a small group of people fabulously wealthy off oil while U.N. figures show child mortality has increased and a third of children do not finish primary school. In the space of less than one generation, oil wealth has transformed the tiny West African nation of 600,000 from being one of the poorest in the world to one of its richest, per capita. The per capita income is listed at $31,000 a year, but the average citizen is unlikely to live beyond 50. Yet someone in Brazil — with an average income of less than $10,000 — can expect to live to 72."

I've ranted on TOD about EG many times before so I'll pass this time. But I will offer a very biased interpretation of the words from the State Dept. There is a very good reason why that govt jerk considers the homicidal president (who is starving to death a large part his population as well as intentionally spreading malaria) "one of the good guys". New definition of good guy: the leader of any country who ships a large portion of their oil production to the U.S. regardless of human rights violations he might commit. And there's a good reason you don't hear any protest coming from those great humanitarians in the EU: they receive the other big chunk of EG oil production along with a lot of LNG.

And don't be expecting protest in EG such as we're seeing in Egypt. Some time ago El Presidente amended the country's constituion to allow him to have anyone executed without a trial. His reason did make sense: since he is in direct communication with God then if it's OK with God then it should be OK with the rest of us. And we wonder why much of the world doesn't consider us "one of the good guys" anymore.

How is that a new definition?

True Leanan...I was talking about the good (very) old days when foreigners waved our flag when we came ashore. At least that's what we saw in the news reels.

unemployed for two years, master degree from Columbia University in physics and 20 year experience in the semiconductor industry. I am just as unemployed as any Egyptian. U.S. federal government good guys NEVER!

Sorry Ed, you don't count. And please hide yourself away from our vision because it is very hard to enjoy my standard of living if I have to watch you dying in the gutter outside my mansion.

Hey, what are you planning to do with your body when you are finished using it? I have some rose gardens out back that could use some NPK.

reminds me of the bad line from an old song:

"Mother I can't see you work so hard...
...can you please close the door!"

Wisconsin Governor has National Guard on standby after announcing that he wants to eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees:


That sounds rather more dramatic than the actual situation. The National Guard are not on standby. No one's been activated. He's "briefed" them in case they need to take over prison guard duties, if the correctional officers walk out, but no such threat has been made.

And note there's no need to take over for the police. Police and firefighters are exempt from the cuts. The fact that they supported said Wisconsin governor in the election is just coincidental, I'm sure.

I suppose that some people might perceive a slight semantic difference between being "On Standby" and being "On alert," but it escapes me. Actually, being "On Alert" sound rather more dramatic to me.


The Wisconsin National Guard has not been activated but it is on alert.

"Plan for the worst, expect the best," Gov. Scott Walker explained to a jam-packed press conference this morning in the State Capitol.

It was the official roll-out of his broad rollback of collective bargaining rights for unionized government employees, part of his budget repair bill, seeking to resolve a $150 million shortfall in the next five months.

I think that we are in the early stages of what will be a very ugly battle over how to divide a shrinking economic pie, and there won't be winners; it's a question of who loses the least, versus who loses the most. Here in Texas, some estimates put the layoff total on the order of 100,000 people statewide, as a result of cutbacks in the state budget.

In any case, it's interesting that the National Guard has already been put on alert this early in the process in Wisconsin.

"Stand by," at least in this neck of the woods, means the soldiers have been called up and are ready to deploy.

Some areas had the National Guard on standby during the recent storms to help with snow removal. They had to stay at their armories until they were deployed or released.

Ok, now is everybody here starting to get it?

Police protected, National Guard on standby.

Cuts and joblessness for everybody else.

Good luck with your transition towns and organic gardening and bicycle lanes. Yeah, that'll sure convince somebody with a gun that all you need is love.

New 313mpg VW XL1 in pictures


Volkswagen XL1 review
Volswagen's amazing 300mpg-plus XL1 two-seater diesel/electric hybrid is a supercar where mpg matters more than mph.


Price/on sale: Probably £30,000 to £40,000/2013
I reckon they are Imperial gallons (=4.55 liters)not American gallons =3.78 liters.
Even so, impressive.

Huh. When the Prius came out, I asked the VW reps at the local car show about a hybrid VW and was told "Never!"

I guess I now know how long "Never!" is.

Let me guess: It will not be available in the USA.

Study investigates reasons for low enrollment in natural resource majors

A troublesome trend is occurring at colleges and universities around the country: fewer students are graduating with degrees in natural resource related degree programs. As a result, the number of qualified professionals to manage fish and wildlife programs is dwindling.

...Students who left admitted they were not expecting fast paced, advanced math and science pre-requisite courses, nor did they understand the relevancy of such courses. Even students that were academically competitive in high school found these courses to be a challenging task.

Others simply equated it [the major] to be like being a biologist on television, walking through nature and easily finding animals to study.

I wouldn't worry too much about these sorts of stories. We are soon going to have a glut of educated people in every sector. The current people won't let go of their jobs willingly and certainly won't retire unless forced to.

Watch institutions of higher learning shut down in droves in a few more years.

Heh, right on. I have a graduate degree in the natural sciences. Ask me what I'm doing to put food on the table.

Ask me what I'm doing to put food on the table.

I would, but I fear the answer will be too depressing.....

Sure, I'll bite, what degree did you get, where, what specific research focus, and (if PhD.) who was your adviser?

I could easily believe a biology dude getting nowhere with bacteria studies, since nobody funds antibiotic studies anymore.

The field in doubt is Natural Resources, not Bio per se. It's always been hard in that field, most employment has always been government. And gov is cutting way back here, not to mention we just don't have the natural resources to safeguard anymore. Salaries have historically been low in comparison, seems today's students are looking for a lottery windfall at graduation.

On a related topic, I've been wondering if the advent of video games, over-protective mothers, and obesity was going to lead to a drop in the number of kids interested in all out backpacking and camping expeditions, not to mention other outdoor activities.

I've noticed that while RV parks seem to be full up most of the time, I've had much less trouble than expected finding really nice tent camping locations out in the national forests. Pool equipped, WI-Fi and cell-phone covered campgrounds jammed; water side campsite with nice beach nearby on the small lake with no power or cell phone coverage, and too steep for an RV to park; wide open.

I approve of this trend, at least until I'm too old to sleep on the ground.

I've noticed that while RV parks seem to be full up most of the time, I've had much less trouble than expected finding really nice tent camping locations out in the national forests.

I have seen similar trends, and I think you are right. I've read that vists to most National Parks have decreased. Denali National Park is one of the exceptions where visits have increased....but mostly from cruise ship passengers who do a short bus day tour into the park. Backcountry camping in Denali uses a permit system (to keep use spread out), but permits appear to be easier to obtain that in the past. And many of the backcountry campers are foreign kids visiting Alaska.

I approve of this trend, at least until I'm too old to sleep on the ground.

My creaking bones in the morning tell me I'm already too old to sleep on the ground when camping, but I still do it anyway!

'P' Summit calls for a 'new alchemy' around phosphorus and food

Increasingly scarce, yet commonly overused in agricultural fields, polluting streams and lakes, this essential component of our bones, our DNA, the periodic table and the dinner table may soon join oil on the endangered species list – without change in attitudes of policy-makers, research ingenuity and sustainable strategies.

"Phosphorus sustainability is a 'wicked' problem, but it is not a rarified problem," says Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures in Sydney, Australia. "We need to learn from other resource areas, address things in a cost-effective way. Food affects everyone. There is strong economic and social advantage to create a 'soft landing'."

I have a question regarding carbon capture and storage. I apologize if this isn't the appropriate place for this, but comments are closed for the relevant threads.

In this thread (http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/6398), Rembrandt listed the currently available options for carbon capture as:
1) Post combustion
2) Pre combustion
3) Oxyfuel

My question is, what about separating out the carbon during combustion? From a coal nozzle you have a spinning cone of pulverized coal mixed with air. The fire starts about a yard out from there, and then you have two more-or-less distinct combustion zones. First the volatiles burn off, and then there is a much longer burnout area where the carbon soot burns to completion. It seems to me that these combustion zones could provide an opportunity to separate out most of the carbon particles at a reasonable energy cost.

The flame area is too hot to hang solid things in it such as baffles or airfoils. However perhaps the carbon particles could be separated by centrifugal force or an electric field (if the carbon and/or the burned gases are sufficiently ionized at that point). If it proved to be possible and practical, this approach could significantly reduce the cost of post combustion or oxyfuel carbon capture by reducing the amount of material that must be handled. Does anyone know if something like this has been tried before?

I will probably get in over my head answering this, but since no one else has:

Apparently the guys n' girls who design these things find it cheaper and easier to improve the burner design to get particulates down to within the regulatory limits than to seperate the soot particles inside the combustion chamber -plus there are scrubbers on most or all new smokestacks at new plants to catch nasty emissions such as sulphur, that apparently also get some or most of the soot;you don't see much if any black smoke at new power plants.

have a question regarding carbon capture and storage.

I fear you misunderstood what the term "carbon capture" means. They are trying to burn all the carbon to maximize energy yield, then separate off the resultant CO2. Unburned carbon, is just evidence of incomplete combustion. The problem with the seperation phase, is that when burnt with air, there is roughly 4 nitrogen (N2) molecules as CO2 molecules in the exhaust stream.
3) Means using Oxygen instead of air to burn the fuel. But, then you gotta separate the O2 from the Nitrogen ahead of time, which costs money and energy. And pure oxygen plus fuel would burn way too hot for any materials, so some sort of fancy arrangement which removes heat before the temp can get too high must be used. But at least the exhaust gases would be mostly CO2 then, simply filter out inpurities and compress.

I suspect 2) is to react the coal with say steam, and only burn the hydrogen -leaving CO2 to be absorbed by the remaining coal seams.. Perhaps someone can correct me if that isn't right.

In the UK our houses used to have piped 'town gas' instead of methane from the ground. This was the volatiles from hot coal, with the remaining 'coke' being nearer pure carbon. I take it that you are considering making town gas and not using the remaining coke? What would we do with the millions of tons? I don't think the economics would allow it to work.

What I had in mind was the possibility of separating the combustion into two exhaust streams, and burning them both to completion. The combustion stream from the soot burnout would be much higher in CO2 than the combustion products from the volatiles. With an oxyfuel type boiler the soot exhaust would be nearly pure CO2. The flame could be moderated with cooled recirculated CO2.

Even with a post-combustion chemical scrubber, the required equipment size and energy input could be reduced if you just scrub the soot exhaust, which would capture most of the CO2. Granted that still is releasing the CO2 from combustion of volatiles, but the cost and fuel savings could make that a good tradeoff.

For example, if you were burning a bituminous coal with a moisture content of 15% and a volatiles content of 20%, that's 35% of the exhaust stream you could potentially avoid having to treat.

For example, if you were burning a bituminous coal with a moisture content of 15% and a volatiles content of 20%, that's 35% of the exhaust stream you could potentially avoid having to treat.

I wasn't aware there was so much non C in coal. Perhaps if you could drive-off/utilize the volatiles in some sort of pre maincombustion process, you could somewhat reduce the cost of the separation process. I'm told the energy cost of concentration is proportional to the logarith of the ratio of the concentration bewteeen the source and the sink. And fewer impurities probably helps too.

That's called coking and it's usually done in a coking oven. The output from that is nearly pure carbon, and the burned off volatiles are what heats the oven. You could also make steam for power from the coking process. So a precombustion process would work, but you'd have to build an oven probably as big as your power plant.

I was thinking of something that might be applied to an existing boiler. For instance, I've been told that a flame is ionized enough to be strongly affected by an imposed magnetic or electric field. If you could steer different parts of the flame it should be possible to achieve separation.

It would take some R&D to prove out and scale up. I was just wondering if some nice folks out there have already done the heavy lifting for me.

After further review, even if separation of volatiles and carbon at the flame could be made to work, I don't see a reasonable way to apply it to existing PC power plants. I'll try to think these things through a little better in the future.

ANALYSIS: Post-Mubarak Egypt energy sector faces uncertainties

...One UK-based expert on the region, Claire Spencer, noted that the arrival of a new government seeking to establish its credentials with the Egyptian people may seek to change export patterns, with more domestically produced oil and gas channeled to the domestic market.

Any new government will want to satisfy the Egyptian public's economic aspirations, said Spencer, who heads the Middle East and North Africa Program at the UK's Royal Institute of International Affairs. "If Egypt's economy carries on liberalizing, their own energy requirements will go up," cutting into exports, said Spencer.

UK Navy chief reveals the military response to climate change

Senior British Royal Navy Officer Rear Admiral Neil Morisettis, who also acts as the nation's Climate and Energy Security Envoy, said the military was already training in readiness to deal with the effects of a warming world.

And he explained how the Ministry of Defence was working hard to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and described how it was working with industry and suppliers to develop new ways of increasing energy efficiency.

In a revealing analysis, the Rear Admiral revealed how other countries had reported running out of helicopter hours mid-year due to the increased incidences of extreme weather events.

...“We’re not alone in recognising these threats – colleagues overseas have reported running out of helicopter hours mid-year due to the increased incidences of extreme weather events. We’re also not alone in looking for solutions – last year the US Navy launched the F-18 “Green Hornet” fighter jet flying on a 50/50 biofuel blend.

Possibly due to a miscalculation of the effects of the Alaska pipeline shutdown (a few weeks ago) on West Coast refineries, gasoline supplies in Southern California are in short supply:

L.A. gasoline spikes up 7 cts on squeeze -trade
HOUSTON | Fri Feb 11, 2011 1:07pm EST

HOUSTON Feb 11 (Reuters) - Los Angeles wholesale gasoline spiked up 7 cents on Friday as a trader was caught short of gasoline blended to meet California's strict environmental standards, according to traders and brokers.

Wholesale gasoline for February delivery sold at a 20.5-cent-per-gallon premium to the March RBOB gasoline contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Gasoline finished on Thursday at 13.5 cents over March RBOB. (Reporting by Erwin Seba)


Retail gas prices rise in spite of supply glut and reduced Middle East tensions
February 11, 2011 | 1:18 pm

Retail gasoline prices continued to rise in California and around the rest of the U.S., in spite of falling oil prices, mounting optimism about Middle East unrest, and U.S. fuel supplies so plentiful that their like has not been seen in 17 years.


Ethanol pumping up food prices, above:

The immediate causes of the rise are clear: bad harvests due to drought in Russia, China and Argentina and floods in Australia, among other things. But a longer-term cause may come as a surprise:— 24% of the U.S. corn crop is now mandated to go to ethanol, taking slack out of the world food market and making price shocks more likely, agricultural economists say.

....but not so fast:

Hard red wheat generally trades between $3 and $6 per sixty-pound bushel. It went up to $12, then $15, then $18. Then it broke $20. And on February 25th, 2008, hard red spring futures settled at $25 per bushel. . . . The irony here is that in 2008, it was the greatest wheat-producing year in world history.

. . . The other outrage . . . is that at the time that Goldman and these other banks are completely messing up the structure of this market, they’ve protected themselves outside the market, through this really almost diabolical idea called "replication" . . . .

Peak Oil, soil and water depletion, and climate change not-with-standing, with central banking control of global markets, we humans are using greed as an excuse to hold food hostage. Make A Buck: Starve Your Neighbor.

Support your local grower this year!

There is no question about the ethanol mandate causing the price of food staples to rise-partly due the actual fermentation of corn, and partly due to the diversion of crop land previously used to grow other crops to growing corn.

But I would take the "speculation" arguments in relation to food prices with a bit of salt.

When wheat was supposedly headed for twenty dollars, I could buy all I wanted for not over a third of that-I can't remember the actual price, as we don't raise it and buy only a small amount for livestock feed for animals raised for our own table, along with some corn, soybean meal, etc;we are primarily orchardists, and don't need enough grain to bother growing it.We do grow a couple of hundred dozen ears of swweet corn every year for the table and friends and relatives. ;)

Now it is possible for somebody with enough money to corner a market-but large buyers buy well ahead, and or hedge their bets in order to know their costs.

Darwinian's arguments in respect to oil prices and speculators hold for grain for the most part.Most of the folks who are actually responsible for prices going up , due to creating shortages in the market places, are governments and very large actual users of grains. Putting a few hundred thousand tons into storage for the very good reason that it might not be available next year, or the year after that, is only hoarding or speculating to people who want to think of it in such terms.

I suggest a better way to think of it is as better than money in the bank, and food in the national pantry.Of course building such a stockpile now runs food prices up now; but when the grain is eventually sold or distributed, it will have an equally powerful effect in lowering prices.

In real terms, this makes speculation pretty much of a wash over any extended period.Grain isn't subject to the sort of market manipulation that the diamond syndicate exerts over the supply of diamonds.The syndicate manages to buy up and hold back just about all the natural diamond production, thereby making it possible to get a very high price for what they do actually sell, and earning a big profit by doing so.

But there is no syndicate capable of buying up the world grain crop-there are millions of farmers who don't sell by forward contract; and it is not possible to physically store many billions of dollars worth of grain safely for very long periods;the farmers of the world will certainly plant hedge row to hedgerow , glut the market, and drive prices down to less than production costs within a very few years, four or five at the most- if the weather cooperates, and there is sufficient land, water , fertilizer, and so forth available.

The problem is mostly that while demand is growing, along with population just about everywhere and wealth in many places, production inputs-land, water, fertilizer, machinery, trucks for shipping, fuel,etc, are all either shrinking in supply or rising in price.And of course the weather is most certainly not cooperating recently.

I believe that prices are up mostly because lots and lots of bottlenecks and pinch points are developing in the production and distribution system;on the farm operating costs are up, and middle men's costs are up , in a big way in both cases, with production down in lots of places due to bad weather. Arable land supply is shrinking, fast, due to drought/desertification, lack of irrigation water, and development.

Add to this the fact that while many tens of millions are on the verge of starvation, probably as many more are eating upscale these days, in an ever more populous world with an ever shrinking resource base of good land and clean water.Everybody from the growers to the final retailer are getting very good prices for thier goods or services-with the exception of the growers who are wiped out by the weather or other bad luck.

Our very best years, the only years we have ever made middle class money , were years when we had a big crop but most other growers lost thiers due to late frost, drought, etc.

But if I owned a few hundred acres free and clear suitable for growing corn, I would be making a pretty good living right now, and working only a few months a year.

Yair...OFM. As I have posted before I do not necessarily agree that "Arable land supply is shrinking".

The supply of arable land in larger parcels suitable for medium to large scale crop production is shrinking but I believe in the next fifty years or so most of the seasonal food will be produced on smaller acreages within a fifty to one hundred kilometer radius of any given town or city's CBD.

I believe such land will have access to recycled water and a variety of mechanised systems developed that will encourage folks to put what is now largely "lifestyle" blocks into production.

I see no other option.

I sort of agree with your contention that arable land may increase in the future, but for a different reason.

Should the FF plateau continue much longer, I forsee large acreages in Africa, the Serengeti, and South America being farmed. These areas will suddenly have access to capital from foreign buyers that have precluded development in the past.

And I recall talking to the head miller for western General Mills in the height of the last wheat spike. He was paying over $25/bu for hard red that winter, as he said, when he could find it. Often he was scurrying, having to substitute $20 whites in his mixes and wondering if it would work.

Refurb: Comparing Passivhaus and Decent Homes

The government’s target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2015 means that housebuilders need to implement changes, starting now. But with so many ways to reduce emissions in new and existing homes, how do you decide which regulations to follow?

How to green the existing housing stock has become a hot topic within the past few years. Much ink has been spilled on the merits of Passivhaus standards, whether the Decent Homes initiative was a missed opportunity and whether the Green Deal can really work. But the big question remains: how much should be spent on improving an existing home? Should we restrict ourselves to a few “quick wins” such as topping up roof insulation and putting in some low-energy light bulbs or go the whole hog with a Passivhaus refurbishment? How much do these two approaches really cost and how long does it take to recoup the capital expenditure?

See: http://www.building.co.uk/technical/design-and-specification/refurb-comp...

Thirty plus year paybacks don't sound overly promising.


Payback comes when the grid goes down and your neighbors are freezing their butts off (or moving in with you ;-)

Touché. I've never begrudged a penny spent on these types of investments (even the ones that won't payback in my lifetime) but, let's face it, you and I and most of the folks here aren't cut from the same cloth; after all, many consumers won't even pop a few extra bucks to buy a CFL, even though the economic payback is typically a few months. With luck, more affordable/cost-effective options will become available and/or attitudes will change but, until then, I'll keep pretending I'm off my meds. :-O


I have to second that.

As I've said about putting money into renewables, I think that the 'payback' issue is the wrong gauge, at least if it's the only point under consideration, and sets this up for unequal comparisons. What's the payback on health insurance, or on reroofing, repainting or building the old porch into a new playroom? People do these things because they want them, or they are just 'what one does'.. they make good sense, they bring you forward a bit, make you safer perhaps.

There are a lot of reasons for making a heavy investment that we are well used to seeing one another put passion and hard earned Lucre into which don't have to meet this onerous qualification. It's almost funny to me that since Insulation actually DOES recapture its investment in 'real dollars no longer going OUT in fuel expense', albeit slowly perhaps (and I don't necessarily accept their conclusions) that it's now held so tightly to this standard, and often enough, none other it seems.

In moving into my Mother's house this last year, I put those multi-layer frames into all the window areas, particularly the skylights, and a few other simple fixups so far, and this top floor of 3 is now steady and comfortable (mid 60s) with 2.5 of the three radiators turned off, and the space-heater hasn't been used since October. I'm looking forward to seeing the numbers start to come in, as Mom kept her Oil and Elec. records together as well.

But I'm confident in saying even this very small start is clearly 'worth it', and these lovely old (1850) Portland Homes surely deserve the effort and return the value in many ways.

Careful with those costs.

If you look at the way the two options have been costed up, and then think about how you would actually go about the same task, you'll find there is much scope for better bang for the buck in your approach.

In particular the passivhaus approach used was not sensible, and included costs for one off units, rather than mass produced.

Take with industrial strength pinch of salt.

Hi Gary,

I suspect you're right. I'm guessing this was more a proof of concept/test bed to prove that you can take the equivalent of a 1973 Ford LTD and turn it into a 2011 Prius. No doubt the approach will be fine-tuned as time goes on.


Hey Paul;
Just going through the article a bit, to see what costs were involved..

In order to deal with problems of airtightness connections, thermal bridging and condensation at floor junctions, the timber floor joists were hung inside the thermal envelope and are now supported by new steel beams, which themselves rest in insulated pockets within the party walls. Because the steel beams were integral to the energy efficiency strategy, these will be included in the costs in the same way as new joist hangers will be included in the other project costs analysis.

Seems they weren't really trying to approach it in a cost-effective way, so the payback gauge is made tougher still.. they also said the exterior was to remain unchanged. A lot depends upon initial assumptions.. and we're paying for the architects learning curves.

All good food for thought, though! Thanks,

.. I'm still going!.. boy, there are a lot of variables in here. That 30 years was assuming an average 5% yearly increase in energy costs, and 18 years at 10%

I like the heating and Ventilation Air Recovery project.. it's a lot of pieces in one system, though, so I bet the occupants will be memorizing that guy's phone #.. but notice the pre-cool and pre-warm for the Heat Pump from that ground loop? Didn't I just ask you all about that a couple days ago? I bet it would be a huge boon to an Air Sourced system..

Measures on the services include: mechanical ventilation with heat recovery unit (MVHR) and corresponding extract and fresh air supply ductwork. This particular MVHR unit also incorporates a 200-litre hot water cylinder, an immersion heater and a small air source heat pump all in one unit, three solar thermal panels connected to an additional 300 litre hot water cylinder and the MVHR. The special feature of this project is the inclusion of a labyrinthine underground heat exchanger below the lower ground floor slab. The stable temperature of the ground will pre-cool fresh air in the summer and pre-heat it in the winter.

Read more: http://www.building.co.uk/technical/design-and-specification/refurb-comp...
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution


Hi Bob,

I have to tell you the reference to condensation at the floor joists sent a chill down my spine when I first read it -- one of those "oh oh" I never thought of that moments. As you may recall, we've heavily insulated our walls from the inside but obviously not the joists, so now I'm wondering if frost will build-up on these relatively cold surfaces and lead to subsequent moisture problems.

I was a bit taken back by the final cost as well, but I'm guessing they had to go to some extremes to get this home up to Passivhaus standards and with so many unknowns they probably pushed things a little further than they would otherwise to ensure they made the cut (you could imagine the disappointment and embarrassment of falling just shy of the mark). No doubt they will carefully evaluate the relative performance and practicality of each measure undertaken to determine what lessons can be applied to future work of this kind.

I wish I new more about this MVHR system because it sounds like an interesting product. I don't know this for sure, but I suspect the underground heat exchanger is pre-conditioning the air that's run through the heat recovery unit and supplied to the home for ventilation purposes, as opposed to pre-heating/cooling the air that's fed to the compressor itself. [I apologize if I had misunderstood your question the other day, but I had thought you were thinking of pre-heating the air feed to the outdoor compressor by forcing it to draw its supply through an earth tube.]

I'm glad to hear you're taking such good care of your mom's home, and I hope you'll share more of your own experiences and insight as you continue this journey. I'm pretty wowed by some of your past work and eager to learn more.


Thanks Paul.

I was curious why they kept the outer shell inviolate, as covering the outside seems to be the best way to shield the building structure from the very problems that all their steelwork was then meant to manage.. plus turning all the interior material into productive thermal mass.

I have two 1850 woodframe buildings on the west end of Portland, now. The one we moved out of is 3 rentals now, and a block away, and this one is us and one renter below. I would be very happy to put a few inches on the outside of both buildings at this point, and complete the cellulose in the remaining wall cavities.. but it'll take a burst of cash to make that come about, or convincing the wife that we should take out a loan. Neither is insurmountable, but there are other fires drawing our attention away as well, of course.

I don't think I can do Len Gould's (??) approach of a full 7 or 8 inches outside, as I'm tight to neighboring properties, but it's essentially in line with my goals. I may do 4" on the outside and 1" on the inside, plus the cellulose..

Thanks for giving us something creative to chew on, yet again!


"I may do 4" on the outside and 1" on the inside, plus the cellulose.."

Brutha Bob, I put 1/2" radiant ISO board on the inside of our exterior walls. The R-3+ and the radiant foil combine to have a larger effect on R value than regular 1" foam board for less cost. It's a vapor barrier of course. We used Refectix on the ceilings between the drywall and joists to provide a thermal break and radiant/vapor barrier. Working very well. Look for quantities of these things at salvage; I got 88 sheets of the ISO really cheap ($2/sheet IIRC) that had edge damage from a forklift. A bit more work, but sweat equity is tax free income ;-)


What are you doing to face the 1/2" stuff inside? 3/8" sheetrock or such?

We used 1/2" drywall. We had to hold the elecrical boxes out a bit. One benefit is that the ISO also insulates all of the steel joist straps that we installed. A friend showed me a video of an infrared energy audit he had done, and those staps (required by code) were quite visible behind the drywall, conducting heat over the walls. It answered his question as to why he was getting drywall swelling and paint cracking every 16 inches along the ceiling. He installed heavy crown moulding and pumped foam in the cavity. I told him he needed to turn his humidifier down a few percent, but his wife and kids have respiratory issues.

Another loss was the electrical boxes. He pulled the devices out and pumped foam behind and around all of the boxes on exterior walls. I wish I had his energy (and money :-)

Good question. It could be that the home owners wanted to retain the original look or that the planning council/heritage board wouldn't permit it.

I briefly considered adding two inches of Styrofoam insulation to the exterior of our home but it would have required the removal and replacement of the cedar siding which is still in pretty good shape. We decided to rip out the walls from the inside and re-insulate that way because it allowed us to upgrade the electrical, plumbing and heating systems at the same time, and we also wanted to ensure that the vapour barrier remained on the inside of the home (crossing fingers here).

It's important to weigh your options carefully so that your money is well spent... not an easy task by any means. I have no idea how much it came to (I'm afraid to think about it), but the various upgrades to our home and the switch away from oil is saving us over $5,000.00 a year on our heating bill. Fuel oil prices have more than doubled since we took possession in 2002 and I doubt we could afford to stay here if they were to double again, had we not taken these steps. You had mentioned insurance, and I'm hoping all of this will help ensure I won't be eating cat food and freezing in the dark when I turn 75.


Oh, as far as the Cooltube sourcing the compressor..

I don't know the ins/outs of ASHP's well enough to have been making that clear of a proposal, it just seemed to me that if they function better at 30 deg than they do at 5 deg, then there's a way to give them those warmer temps, at least for a portion of their run-time. I do realize it probably would mean creating a sinus system underground that was far more sizable than the simple draintubes we used, but ultimately, it seems that the functionality and the value would be far better. (Can't, of course speak to Payback.. but I've already placed that rant today. I'm just talking about 'doing it right'.)


I wish I knew the volume of air that's typically transferred through the outside coils. For a conventional heat pump (ducted), the recommended airflow for the inside coil is reportedly in the range of 50 to 60 litres per second, per kW, or 400 to 450 cubic feet per minute, per ton, and I'm guessing the airflow for the outside coil is substantially higher than that. It would seem you have to push a lot of air through these things to get them to work properly.



The 800-mile line known as TAPS appears to have "multiple conditions" that "pose a pipeline integrity risk to public safety, property or the environment," according to the Feb. 1 letter to operator Alyeska from the U.S. Department of Transportation's pipeline safety division.

The letter, called a "notice of proposed safety order," requests that Alyeska take several measures to mitigate risks along the line, including replacing some piping. DOT told Alyeska to expect a forthcoming "safety order" requiring action.

"It appears that the continued operation of the affected pipeline without corrective measures would pose a pipeline integrity risk to public safety, property, or the environment," the letter said.

The oil companies have not being doing much maintenance on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline because they know they will have to shut it down because of insufficient flow in the not-too-distant future.

However, if the government pushed the issue too hard, the companies might shut it down early, which would strand the remaining oil in Northern Alaska. It currently handles 12% of the oil produced in the US.

The oil companies have not being doing much maintenance on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline because they know they will have to shut it down because of insufficient flow in the not-too-distant future.

What is your estimate of "not-too-distant future"? Six months...1 year...5 years...10 years...??? Please be more specific.

I imagine they will have to shut the pipeline down in 5-10 years. This depends on a lot of factors, though - one of being whether they find more oil in Northern Alaska.

With the current de-facto drilling ban, they're not likely to find more oil in Northern Alaska before the pipeline has to shut down.

I thought I had read commentary a while ago, from some folks whom I assessed as potentially credible sources on TOD, that TAPS might be able to run up to another 10-15 years until the flow becomes too low.

I am not sympathetic to the plea that the government could push too hard...the government would be fulfilling its role to compel Alyeska to operate the system properly and safely.

I imagine there have been some nice profits that have come from this venture (TAPS) to all concerned parties (Alyeska, the oil companies producing and selling the oil, etc), and that it would have been prudent and proper business practice to diminish those profits somewhat and invest in better preventative maintenance.

Maybe the people of Alaska could have chosen to refuse their Alaska Fund checks and direct that money be put that towards pipeline maintenance?

"Maybe the people of Alaska could have chosen to refuse their Alaska Fund checks and direct that money be put that towards pipeline maintenance?"

Many Alaskans would starve and freeze without those checks. I've been watching "Flying Wild Alaska", about ERA airlines in Northern AK. Many of the small towns they fly supplies to exist almost entirely on outside monies and hunting, including their oil fund. Keeping them supplied is very expensive. I wonder what will become of these folks when the oil stops flowing.


It's true that the oil companies have made a lot of profits in Alaska over the years, but those days are mostly gone.

You have to realize that one of the reasons the oil companies are having so many maintenance problems in Alaska is that they didn't design the facilities to last any longer than this. When they started production, they knew how long they had to last because they knew how much oil they had and how long it would take to produce. There's a lot of planned obsolescence in the systems.

The people of Alaska are going to be severely disappointed at tax time once most of the state's oil production is shut down. They've gotten used to getting a free ride, and it's coming to an end.

In the lower 48 states, governments have managed to persuade companies to eke a lot of extra oil out of the ground with favorable tax rules. If companies had to pay a lot of extra taxes and incur a lot of extra costs, they would just shut in and abandon the oil fields rather than keep them running. This means a lot of oil would stay in the ground rather than being produced.


I understand your comments, but...

It seems that the oil companies and Alyeska did not know how much oil they had and how long it would take to produce, and did not budget for proper preventative maintenance, otherwise they would not be in this position today.

I imagine that if I saw the environmental impact statements and other legal paperwork filed with the Alaskan and Federal Governments, that Alyeska is obligated to run TAPS in 'good operating condition' (that is to say, without breaks and spills beyond a certain defined limit) for either x number of years, or it may be stated 'For the entire operational period of the system'.

I also would bet that Alyeska is required to decommission and remove the pipeline equipment (not the roads) in an environmentally acceptable manner. They best have budgeted for that as well.

Edit: There is a choice here: Either the money is spent to keep the pipeline in good working order, or any remaining North Slope oil will be shut in at some point. If the companies turn their lint-filled pockets inside out, then it is the taxpayer to the rescue, either through the general fund (debt) or through an increased tax on oil or oil products such as gasoline.

If we want it, we pay for it, one way or the other.

The whole thing smacks of poor planning, poor regulation...all underlain by the almighty buck.

A couple comments regarding TAPS

Almost two decades ago (in the early 90's) I was in an employee town hall where an ARCO VP confidently told us that unless something was done, TAPS would be shut down "in a few years". "Something" (actually quite a number of things) was done, and TAPS is still in operation.

Being somewhat close to the action, my personal WAG is that TAPS will continue to operate for at least another 10 years, and probably well beyond that. This will be true particularly if oil becomes more scarce and prices go higher, which I think most everyone on TOD will agree will be the case.

Maintenance by Alyeska has certainly been an issue, as the recent leak, shutdown, and emergency repairs highlight. The original estimate for Prudhoe Bay total production was 9.7 billion bbls, and the pipeline was designed with that in mind. Particularly during the period of lower oil prices (which was not that long ago) Alyeska was under intense pressure to minimize costs. Even in the best of times Alaska is a higher cost area to produce oil, and cost control is an issue. And BP, particularly under Lord Browne, carried that to extremes. On the other hand, Alyeska has been and is now making efforts to fix things. In all the excitement around the recent shutdown it wasn't generally noted that the particular pipe that leaked was in fact scheduled for replacement this coming summer.

There are several reasons why I think TAPS will continue in operation for good while longer. First, Alaska continues to be quite profitable for the oil companies, especially in an era of increasing oil prices. For example see: Conoco Phillips Alaska profits grow to $1.7 billion , and Black Gold: Alaska oil profits high, despite Palin-era taxes: ConocoPhillips reports much higher profits in Alaska compared to rest of the country . Conoco in particular has made a lot of noise about reducing Alaska's state oil taxes, but they still keep investing money in the state.

As I have noted in other posts, most people believe there is somewhere in the neighborhood of an additional billion bbls which are likely to be produced from Prudhoe Bay. The other large N Slope fields have smaller but still significant volumes of readily producable oil remaining. I'm not suggesting those fields will go on forever, but they will go on for a lot longer than many people realize.

RMG said "The oil companies have not being doing much maintenance on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline because they know they will have to shut it down because of insufficient flow in the not-too-distant future." However, those same companies are in fact investing significant amounts of money in projects which will depend on TAPS continuing for a long while. In spite of permitting delays, Exxon is moving ahead with condensate development at Pt. Thomson. While it has been delayed, BP is still serious about continuing the Liberty project. While Conoco did not find a bonanza in NPRA, they did find a modest addition to Alpine Field (though that is still hung up in permmitting difficulties I think they will move it ahead).

These projects will add small but incrementally significant volumes to offset some of the decline in TAPS throughput. Pt Thomson will add about 10,000 bbls/day, and Liberty about 40,000 bbls/day. Other smaller operators have also been busy. ENI just started production at Nikaitchuq, which is expected to add 23,000 bbls/day. Note that none of this is dependent on "yet to discover" oil.

The best estimates that I have heard, from people who might actually know, is that TAPS can continue to operate in it's present configuration down to about 300,000 bbl/day of throughput. I have been told that there are modification which could be made to allow it to operate at even lower rates. It all comes down to economics. If oil goes higher, it can be done.

While the N Slope isn't exactly booming, and TAPS has some serious issues, things are likely to continue for a lot longer than many people expect.

Edit: fixed a typo in Nikaitchuq production rate.

Thank you once again for giving us the benefit credible info from your first-hand experience.

I imagine, that one way or another, TAPS will continue as long possible...oil will likely get scarcer from her eon out and we just won't be able to walk away from the oil under our own lands.

Eat the Suburbs: Gardening for the End of the Oil Age


Do I Hear $150? Oil Prices Could Go Up "Very, Very Fast," Says Stephen Leeb

"There's much less excess capacity in OPEC than people believe and that, I think, is exactly why you're seeing this incredible relationship between small increase in demand and large increase in oil prices."

Best main stream video I have seen


Re: Fighting over Big Oil's $4 billion a year windfall, up top.

The article is good in that it says there are nine tax subsides that oil receives and that the Obama administration wants modified or eliminated. The article leaves out a few biggies: the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the cost of keeping Mideast shipping lanes open for oil tankers and of course the Wars for Oil Security over the last 20 years.

It appears they were left out because to remove these subsidies would affect the power of the government itself directly.

We often here rants about the evil ethanol blenders credit subsidy which is collected mostly by oil companies, but which also benefits ethanol. Ethanol is held to a standard that oil does not have to meet. It is claimed that ethanol should compete with oil without subsidies.

The article clearly lays out how silly that "free market" argument is. For example, ethanol producers can not deduct the 15% depletion allowance given to oil. This is a de facto tax increase on ethanol when compared to oil.

There is no soil depletion allowance for farmers even though many claim that ethanol feedstock production depletes the soil. Farmers have to pay up where oil gets a tax write off. Not only that, farmers have to pay property taxes. Oil does not have to pay property tax on reserves in the ground.

Ethanol can not take advantage of the foreign tax credit given to oil because it is mostly domestically produced. Here again imported oil is subsidized even though it drains wealth from the economy and supports sometimes unfriendly governments as in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, the home of many 911 terrorists.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve subsidy is untouched because it would threaten the Empire if eliminated. But ethanol has no Strategic Ethanol Reserve which would subsidize ethanol by removing excess production that causes periods of low prices. Farmers and ethanol producers would dearly love the government to start a Strategic Ethanol Reserve, especially if were held by contractors such as ethanol plants.

Farmers would also love to have a Corn Reserve which they did have years ago. It was used to prop up prices and helped create huge surpluses in storage. That is why it was eliminated. But the storage payments of 25 cents per bushel per year to farmers was nice income back in the day.

But oil continues with the oil reserve without any question. It uses it, if I'm not mistaken, to make payments in kind for royalties owed the government. Farmers use to do this too. It eliminated price risk. If a loan on the Corn Reserve corn in storage had a higher price than the market, farmers could forfeit the corn to satisfy the loan instead of paying up with cash.

Oil has so many subsidies it is difficult to remember them let alone count the amounts.

But few seem to care. The important thing is to get rid of ethanol subsidies and make ethanol compete in a "free market".

What a joke!

The preponderance of writings I have read on TOD indicate that ethanol production is, at best case, only marginally more than unity for net energy production...and perhaps a net-energy loser.

Perhaps someday Ethanol may be justified to run the farmers' machinery, as an internal food production cost of doing business.

But, I would have to compare it to the economics of producing Ammonia with wind and/or solar power.

Along with other possibilities, ethanol probably will have a small but important role.