This week’s Blowout features one of the few projected benefits of anthropogenic global warming – it will postpone the onset of the next ice age “by at least 100,000 years”. One assumes our descendants will be duly grateful. Thirty-four more informative stories below the fold, this week shuffled into no particular order. Read on and enjoy:
Humanity’s burning of fossil fuels is postponing the next global ice age for at least 100,000 years, according to new research that has discovered the tipping point which plunges the planet into deep freezes. Showing that human activity, via climate change, can alter global processes like ice ages is compelling evidence that the planet has entered a new geological epoch, dubbed the Anthropocene, according to the scientists. The new research also shows that a major ice age was narrowly missed just before the industrial revolution, probably because the development of agriculture had nudged the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just above the tipping point. “The bottom line is we are basically skipping a whole glacial cycle, which is unprecedented,” said Andrey Ganopolski, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany and who led the research. “It is mind-boggling that humankind is able to interfere with a mechanism that shaped the world as we know it.”
BHP Billiton has written down the value of its US shale assets by $7.2bn (£5bn) as a result of the dive in oil prices. The impairment charge adds to BHP’s recent woes following a fatal dam collapse in Brazil and tumbling commodity prices. BHP’s latest move means it has written down nearly two-thirds of its investment in US shale. “Oil and gas markets have been significantly weaker than the industry expected,” BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie said in a statement. “Although we expect prices to improve from their current lows, we have reduced our oil price assumptions for the short to medium term. Our long-term price assumptions continue to reflect the market’s attractive supply and demand fundamentals.” The company has cut operating costs and capital spending at its US onshore operations since the collapse in oil prices, reducing the number of its shale oil rigs from 26 a year ago to five now.
Energy & Carbon: The declining value of wind and solar to the German power system
New evidence suggests that the value of wind and solar power on German wholesale power markets may decline rapidly in the next five years, potentially inflating the support they receive, and reinforcing how traditional power markets may no longer be fit for purpose in a high-renewable energy world. How we integrate renewables into the power system has huge repercussions for the costs and value to the system of both solar and wind. This is currently a very hot issue in Germany which already has over 80GW of wind and solar capacity which is enough to serve more than the country’s needs on a good weather day. As the amount of installed German wind and solar capacity grows, the market value of that additional renewable power is likely to decline. This effect of falling value is all about the fact that renewable electricity has almost zero marginal cost of generation, because the sun and wind are free. As renewable power generation grows, the lower the price that such electricity receives: if the sun is shining and/or the wind is blowing, electricity exchanges in Germany are being flooded with almost zero-cost electricity, and power prices tank. As a result, wind and solar power generation is especially likely to receive lower prices on wholesale power markets.
UK oil firm BP said it would cut 4,000 jobs globally, 600 of which will be from its North Sea operations. It comes as profits continue to suffer as a result of a 70% collapse in oil prices leading to a big cutback in investment across the oil industry. The North Sea job cuts are expected to take place over a two-year period. BP said all the job losses would occur in its oil exploration and drilling business. The job losses amount to around 5% of BP’s total global workforce of 80,000. BP currently employs around 3,000 people in the UK. Meanwhile, Brazil’s oil giant, Petrobras, announced a massive scale back of its investment plans thanks to the lower commodity price. Petrobras will reduce investment by $32bn, 25%, over the next four years, its third cut in six months. The Brazilian giant said it was adapting to a new economic outlook. Its problems have been exacerbated by a fall of a third in the value of Brazil’s real, which makes servicing Petrobras’s mammoth dollar debts that much more expensive.
Washington Post: Obama administration halts new coal leases on federal land
The Obama administration is halting new coal leases on federal lands until it completes a comprehensive review of fees charged to mining companies and coal mining’s impact on the environment. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Friday that companies can continue to mine coal reserves already under lease. The coal leasing program has not been significantly changed in more than 30 years and needs to be modernized to ensure a fair return to American taxpayers and to account for climate change, Jewell said. Officials also need to take into account new scientific data available on the impact of fossil fuels on the environment and on climate change, Jewell said. Roughly 40 percent of the coal produced in the United States comes from federal lands. It’s unclear what impact the moratorium will have on U.S. coal production, given the declining domestic demand for coal and the closure of numerous coal-fired power plants around the country. Coal companies have already stockpiled billions of tons of coal on existing leases.
An estimated $380 billion worth of oil and gas projects have been cancelled since 2014, according to a new estimate from Wood Mackenzie. Wood Mackenzie says that 68 major projects were scrapped in 2015, which account for around 27 billion barrels of oil and natural gas.In the latter half of 2015 when oil prices fell once again following a modest rebound in the spring, the industry pushed off 22 major projects worth 7 billion barrels of oil equivalent. The cancellations will lead to dramatically lower oil production in the years ahead. An estimated $170 billion in capex spending was slashed for the period between 2016 and 2020. All told, industry cuts will translate into at least 2.9 million barrels of oil production per day (mb/d) that will not come online until at least sometime next decade.
Wall Street Journal: Continental Resources CEO Sees Oil Prices Doubling by Year End
Energy executive Harold Hamm says oil prices should double to $60 by the end of 2016—a contrary prediction for a market currently bracing for oil to fall to $20. He also believes that Saudi Arabia made a “monumental mistake” in continuing to pump oil at a fast pace. The move not only depressed world prices but likely contributed to the lifting of the U.S. government’s 40-year ban on oil exports, Mr. Hamm said. Mr. Hamm, chief executive of top U.S. shale-oil producer Continental Resources Inc., believes that the current glut will ease substantially this year as U.S. shale companies ratchet down production until the market recovers. U.S. output has been falling recently but not as rapidly or by as much as many investors anticipated. He said that will end soon. With oil prices currently covering only half the cost of industry operations, Mr. Hamm said U.S. producers are cutting output at a rate that could amount to 1.6 million barrels a day by the end of the year. That rate of reduction could quickly take the U.S. back to levels three years ago. Though companies can continue to pump at this price, they can’t afford to drill new wells, ramping down future supplies, he said.
Despite the market focus on an oil supply surplus, demand side pressures are also hurting prices, as world trade growth slows, a top HSBC economist said on Thursday. “You have a situation where emerging markets in general are extremely weak, that in turn is causing commodity prices to decline rapidly, including oil prices, so rather than saying lower oil prices are a stimulus for the commodity consuming parts of the world, I think you should see lower oil prices as a symptom of weakness in global demand,” HSBC’s senior economic advisor Stephen King told CNBC. The 19-month plunge in oil has mostly been blamed on the Saudi Arabia-led OPEC policy of keeping production high even in the face of global oversupply, in an attempt push out higher production-cost rivals such as U.S. shale oil producers. But King said that the forces moving oil were more nuanced than that. “If it’s a situation where it’s a reflection of weaker global demand, you get lower oil prices and at the same time, much weaker low trade growth,” King said. “If it were simply a supply-side beneficial shock, then you get lower oil prices, higher real incomes in the west, maybe higher world trade growth. So it’s not just the fall in the oil prices itself but world trade growth which is extremely weak – both of which is symptomatic of this broad deflationary trend.”
Huffington Post: Saudi Arabia risks its future
Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company has continued to aggressively pump oil at an unprecedented rate. In the process of maintaining market share, it has driven oil prices down to just about $30 per barrel. Clearly, the goal of the Saudi Kingdom is to snuff out emerging oil producers in the United States, where new technologies and oil discoveries have allowed private producers to add needed jobs while reducing long-standing dependency on foreign sources of oil. But the Saudis, an extraordinarily large and strong member of OPEC, are acting in an irrational manner in the global market. Essentially it risks the end of the Kingdom itself. With oil prices below about $55 per barrel, the Saudi Arabian economy simply can’t be funded. At these prices, the Saudis can’t fund their payrolls and social programs. By driving down the global price of oil, the Kingdom is risking the future of its regime. They are cutting off their nose to spite their face.
Hellenic Shipping News: OPEC’s Trillion-Dollar Miscalculation
Overall, OPEC members produced 36.5 million bpd of oil and natural gas liquids in 2014. When they met in November 2014, oil prices had already suffered a sharp fall from summer, but crude was still trading at ~$75/bbl. The world was probably oversupplied at that time by 1-2 million bpd, so if OPEC had merely decided to remove 2 million bpd off the world markets — only 5.5% of the group’s combined 2014 production — the price drop could have easily been arrested and maintained in the $75-$85/bbl range. That would have still given them 38.9% of the global crude oil market. For that matter, a production quota cut of 13% could have removed from the market a volume equivalent to all of the U.S. shale oil production added between 2008 and 2014. Would that strategy have cost them market share? Sure, a small amount. But assume they then pumped 34.5 million bpd at $80/bbl. That’s just over a trillion dollars in annual revenue. If in-stead they pump 36.5 million bpd at $35/bbl — which is actually more than they are getting as I write this — that’s $466 billion in annual revenues. The annual difference in those scenarios is $541 billion. OPEC already lost out on that much in 2015 from the sharp drop in prices. If prices remain at these levels for most of this year, the foregone revenue for OPEC in 2015 and 2016 will easily top $1 trillion since that November 2014 meeting.
Bloomberg: Iraq’s Kurds to Export Natural Gas to Turkey
Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region plans to start exporting 10 billion cubic meters a year of natural gas to Turkey by 2019-2020, according to an official at the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources. The KRG will double gas exports to 20 billion cubic meters a year by the early 2020s, the official said in an e-mailed statement on Friday. The final plans and costs for the project haven’t yet been finalized, the official said, asking not to be named because of ministry policy. Gas exports will allow the self-governed region to generate much needed revenue and will bring it closer to economic independence. The Kurdish region could hold as much as 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, more than Algeria or Nigeria, data from BP Plc show. Kurdish reserves represent about 3 percent of the world’s total deposits, according to the website of the KRG Ministry of Natural Resources.
Daily Caller: US to export LNG for first time ever
The tanker that will carry the first shipment of American liquefied natural (LNG) gas arrived in Louisiana Tuesday, symbolizing America’s status as a major new supplier to Asia and Europe. Exporting natural gas is likely to be a growth industry, as global demand for natural gas is expected to be 50 percent higher by 2035 than it is now, according to the International Energy Agency. American LNG exports are likely to significantly reduce energy costs in Asia and Europe. The Obama administration opposed natural gas exports on environmental grounds before reversing position in late 2014 after the Russian occupation of Crimea. The administration has still been slow to process permits for natural gas exports, making some projects wait up to four years, but is generally supportive of the process as American LNG exports are the only major alternative to Russian natural gas in Europe. American natural gas is also set to flow to Japan, where natural gas prices are nearly three times higher. Japan’s appetite for gas is only going to increase, especially since the country scaled back its nuclear power plant fleet after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
High Country News: Arch Coal declares bankruptcy
One of the nation’s largest coal companies, Arch Coal, filed for bankruptcy Monday, making it the second company with large Western mines to seek Chapter 11 restructuring in recent months. The St. Louis-based company announced that it expects to continue to operate its mines and pay its 4,600 employees while it seeks a bankruptcy court’s approval for its debt restructuring. The company’s financial troubles stem from its purchase of the International Coal Group for $3.4 billion in 2011, which made it the second largest producer of metallurgical coal, used to make steel. Following that deal, world prices for metallurgical coal tanked, leaving Arch swamped in debt. As HCN has reported, Virginia-based Alpha and Peabody, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, made similar bad investments in metallurgical coal mines when prices were near peak. Peabody’s stock, already a fraction of what it was just a few months ago, dropped 20 percent on Monday following Arch’s news.
Washington Post: Should you be afraid of cyberattacks on nuclear power plants?
Twenty countries with nuclear weapon materials or nuclear power plants “do not even have basic requirements to protect nuclear facilities from cyber attacks,” according to a new report from a nonproliferation watchdog group. The Nuclear Threat Initiative’s finding comes in the wake of reports from researchers that a cyberattack last month caused a power outage in Ukraine, raising new concerns about the ability of the industrial sector to prevent digital attacks. In preparing its latest global ranking of nuclear security risks, NTI for the first time asked basic questions about regulations addressing how to protect nuclear facilities from cyberattacks. “What we have observed is what I call enormous unevenness on the global stage to address this issue,” said Page Stoutland, the group’s vice president for scientific and technical affairs and one of the report’s authors. The United States and other nations with developed programs often had regulatory safeguards, he said, while countries now developing nuclear programs were less likely to have formal policies in place.
Washington Post: Hackers caused a blackout for the first time, researchers say
Hackers caused a power outage in Ukraine during holiday season, researchers say, signalling a potentially troubling new escalation in digital attacks. “This is the first incident we know of where an attack caused a blackout,” said John Hultquist, head of iSIGHT Partner’s cyberespionage intelligence practice. “It’s always been the scenario we’ve been worried about for years because it has ramifications across broad sectors.” Half of the homes in Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk region were left without power for several hours on December 23rd, according to a local report that attributed the blackout to a virus that disconnected electrical substations from the grid. Researchers at iSight on Monday said their analysis of malware found on the systems of at least three regional electrical operators confirmed that a “destructive” cyberattack led to the power outage.
World Nuclear News: China to construct prototype floating nuclear plant
A demonstration floating nuclear power plant based on China National Nuclear Corporation’s (CNNC’s) ACP100S small reactor will be built by 2019, the company announced today. The move comes just days after China General Nuclear (CGN) said it will build a prototype offshore plant by 2020. CNNC said its Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC) subsidiary had completed a preliminary design for a floating nuclear power plant featuring the ACP100S reactor as well as “all the scientific research work”. Construction of a demonstration unit is to start by the end of this year, with completion set for 2019. In addition to the 100 MWe ACP100S, CNNC has also developed smaller sizes of the reactor – the ACP10S and the ACP25S, which it says could be used singularly or in pairs to create a floating plant with optimum capacity for its intended use. The ACP100 reactor design has been under development since 2010 and its preliminary design was completed in 2014. It is an integrated pressurized water reactor in which the major components of its primary coolant circuit are installed within the reactor pressure vessel.
South China Morning Post: Radiation fears grow in Hong Kong
Fifty years ago, when China first revealed its nuclear power ambitions, most in the West dis-missed them as Maoist propaganda, but there is nothing imaginary about the nation’s current boom in nuclear energy – and not everyone is happy about it. Scientists and conservationists fear the ever-increasing commercial and environmental pressure to expand the nuclear power sector means not enough attention is being paid to safety. Within a couple of decades, Hong Kong could be in close proximity to as many as 39 reactors, spread across Guangdong province. Two of them are nearing completion just 140km west of Hong Kong, in Taishan, in what has been labelled by green groups as the “most dangerous nuclear power plant in the world”. “China is de-veloping its nuclear capability too fast; they just don’t have enough trained staff or adequate independent safety infrastructure,” says civil engineer Albert Lai Kwong-tak, convenor of Hong Kong think tank the Professional Commons and a long-standing opponent of nuclear energy.
Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius, has said his country will absolutely refuse to buy electric power produced by two large Russian nuclear power plants under construction near his nation. The Baltic Nuclear Power Plant in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, neighboring Lithuania, and the Belarusian nuclear plant, being built by Russia in the border town of Ostovets, are largely viewed as environmentally unsound and economically unneeded. Lithuanian Energy Minister Rokas Masiulis in late December issued a call to Poland, Estonia and Finland to similarly boycott energy produced by these two plants, and that they unite to buy energy from a third country that, as he said, doesn’t build dangerous nuclear power stations. “We need to issue a clear signal that electric energy produced in violation of international regulations of nuclear safety and intergovernmental environmental impact assessments won’t be accepted in the EU,” said Masiulis, in a December 23 letter to his foreign counterparts.
While oil companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc eliminate jobs and curb capital spending to cope with prices that have fallen two-thirds in 18 months, renewables are enjoying a renaissance underpinned by rules designed to curb fossil-fuel emissions damaging the atmosphere. Another “strong year” is in store for renewables in 2016, said Angus McCrone, chief editor at BNEF, stopping short of saying another record will be reached. Balancing that is a potential slip in funding for yieldcos, which drew higher investment in 2015, and a clouded outlook for offshore wind in its biggest market. “There is a lot of uncertainty on how strong U.K. support for offshore wind is going to be,” McCrone said. “It is conditional on costs coming down, and I think that will happen, but it’s hard to say how many will be supported.” China remained the biggest market for renewables, increasing investment 17 percent to $110.5 billion. That’s almost double the $56 billion invested in the U.S., which was second in the BNEF rankings. The strength of the dollar helped boost the value of investment. In India, funding for clean energy rose 23 percent to $10.9 billion, and new markets including Mexico, Chile and South Africa attracted tens of billions of dollars. Brazil bucked the trend with a 10 percent drop to $7.5 billion.
A new era of zero subsidy for Spain’s wind power sector looks to have been entered following Thursday’s auction of 500MW of wind and 200MW of biomass electricity generation capacity, according to a spokesman for utility Iberdrola which was among the unsuccessful bidders. This would make Spain one of the first – if not the first – country in Europe to attempt to develop a subsidy-free segment of its wind power sector. Participants bid into the government-led auction to develop new capacity at the lowest cost. In the case of wind power, all the capacity was acquired at bids of zero – meaning no financial support will be required. As a result the winners have committed to provide wind power at the free electricity market price, assuming they are actually able to build the projects free of support. The big winner was Forestalia, which reportedly won 300MW of wind and 108.5MW of biomass. However there has been no official acknowledgment of the winners from the energy ministry or OMIE, the market operator that arranged the auction.
Solar Power Portal: Scottish Renewables calls for 50% renewable energy by 2030
Trade body Scottish Renewables has called for Scotland to derive half of its total energy demand from renewables by 2030 ahead of this year’s Scottish election. The group has today published a manifesto setting out what it labels an ambitious aim to derive 50% of the country’s total electricity, heat and transport demand from renewable sources. In 2014 Scotland’s renewable electricity generators produced just under 19,000GWh and this has been forecast to reach 33,000GWh by 2020 as part of Scotland’s EU targets. Scottish Renewables however wants this to be expanded to 51,500GWh by 2030, equivalent to around 110% of total demand. The surplus in electricity generation would offset lower heat and transport contributions – 20% and 14% of demand respectively – to produce total combined energy generation from renewables of 67,100GWh. Niall Stuart, chief executive at Scottish Renewables, said that existing targets for 2020 had signalled a “clear intent” for Scotland to lead the way in transitioning towards a low-carbon economy. “Together, renewables now produce the equivalent of 15% of Scotland’s ener-gy use across electricity heat and transport. But with only four years to go, it is now time to look be-yond 2020 and for Scotland to set a stretching target for renewables to produce the equivalent of at least 50% of all energy use across electricity, heat and transport by 2030.” (The manifesto can be accessed here.)
Families could have to pay an extra £40 a year to fill up their cars as Britain attempts to hit EU green energy targets, experts have warned. Ministers have disclosed that they are drawing up new proposals to meet an EU requirement that 10 per cent of transport energy must come from renewable sources by 2020. Experts say this is likely to require the introduction of new ‘green’ petrol that could add 1p per litre on to pump prices, and would also be less efficient. Under the UK’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), most petrol currently includes almost five per cent renewable bioethanol, derived largely from crops. This is likely to have to be doubled to 10 per cent before 2020 through the introduction of so-called ‘E10’ petrol, experts say.
Herald Scotland: Sturgeon accused of “rank hypocrisy”
Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of “rank hypocrisy” after launching a stinging attack on cuts to renewable energy subsidies. The First Minister claimed Scotland’s green power potential was “at risk of being switched off” by UK Government policies which she condemned as “an absolute, total disgrace”. Her comments, during First Minister’s Questions, came a day after Finance Secretary John Swinney confirmed he was axing £10million of tax breaks for renewable firms in Scotland and were seized on by Conservative and Labour MSPs. Murdo Fraser, the Scots Tories economy spokesman, accused her of “rank hypocrisy” and Sarah Boyack, Labour’s environmental spokesman, said the First Minister had been “posturing” when she talked up Scotland’s record on green energy during last month’s Paris climate summit. Mr Swinney signalled in his budget last month that rates relief for renewable energy would end later this year. Scottish Renewables, the industry body which represents green power producers, said the decision was “disappointing” and would make the country’s renewable energy sector less economically viable.
Sydney Morning Herald: Australian investment in large-scale renewable energy “stagnant”
Investment in large-scale renewable energy in Australia remains stagnant almost two years after the Abbott government began a review of the sector, according to an annual survey by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.Investors spent just $15 million since February 2014 on big wind, solar or other clean energy projects that were not otherwise supported by government programs such as the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. The Abbott government’s repeal of the carbon tax in July 2014 – which removed long-term price support – and a mishandled review that led ultimately to a cut of about one-fifth in the 2020 Renewable Energy Target (RET) meant “confidence evaporated” in the sector, said Kobad Bhavnagri, head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Australia. “It can’t be understated that the actions of the Abbott government have destroyed confidence in the renewable energy market,” Mr Bhavnagri said. “Lenders in the market are almost all of the view that the political risks in the RET … have made it too risky to invest in.”
Concerns over the electricity strike price – a government subsidy for the power generated – remained a “problem”, he told a committee of MPs. Questioned about tidal power on Tuesday, Mr Cameron said: “The problem with tidal power, simply put, is that at the moment we have not seen any ideas come forward that can hit a strike price in terms of pounds per megawatt-hour that is very attractive. That is the challenge for tidal. Maybe they can come up with something. They are very long-term schemes with big investments up front, and they can last for many, many years, but right now my enthusiasm is reduced slightly by the fact that the cost would be quite high.”
World Coal: Cameron defends decision to scrap CCS funding
UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has defended last November’s decision to scrap £1 billion of funding for carbon capture and storage (CCS) development saying that “the economics of car-bon capture and storage really aren’t working at the moment”. Appearing before the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons, the prime minister faced criticism from SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil over the decision, which has been included in the Conservative manifesto be-fore the General Election last year. MacNeil, who chairs the Energy and Climate Change Com-mittee, accused the prime minister of incoherence in energy policy after the Department of Ener-gy and Climate Change had referenced the £1 billion funding for CCS in a submission to his committee only a month before it was withdrawn. “It looks as though one arm of Government doesn’t know what the other arm is doing,” MacNeil said. Meanwhile, the prime minister’s claims that CCS wasn’t working at the moment had been directly contradicted by US Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, who tweeted on 7 January: “Carbon capture is critical for solving climate change. And it’s working.”
The so-called turboelectric generator (TENG) uses strips of upright plastic ‘grass’ blades. One side of each blade is coated with nanowires while the other is coated with indium tin oxide. As the wind brushes the blades, they come into contact with each other, allowing electrons to pass from one piece of grass to the next and generating an electric current as a result. It’s known as the triboelectric effect, where contact between two dissimilar surfaces builds up an electric charge (it’s the same principle that causes static electricity). The team behind the new power-generating artificial grass, from China’s Southwest Jiaotong University and the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, says it would be especially suitable in areas where the wind is often changing direction, as well as locations where windmills are impractical. When they tested an iteration with 60 strips of plastic grass on a model rooftop, it was enough to power 60 LED lights once the blast of an electric fan was trained on them. The system can reportedly work with winds as light as 21 km/h (13 mph), while the sweet spot in terms of energy efficiency is a rather blustery 100 km/h (62 mph). After doing the maths, the researchers predict that a 300-square-metre (3,230-square-foot) rooftop would produce about 7.11 kilowatts – almost enough energy to power a home on its own. Putting this idea into practice is still a long way off though – not only do they need to find an efficient way of storing the energy before it’s used, they also need to find a replacement for indium tin oxide, which is both toxic and expensive.
Five environmental activists who failed to convince a court that their attempt to block crude oil trains near Seattle was a legally justifiable act of civil disobedience on Friday were nonetheless praised by a judge as “part of the solution” to climate change. On Friday, the campaigners were convicted in a court in suburban Seattle of misdemeanor trespassing relating to a September 2014 protest in which they blocked railway tracks used by crude oil trains in Everett, Washington. They were acquitted of a second count of misdemeanor obstructing a train. The so-called “Delta 5” – Michael LaPointe, Patrick Mazza, Jackie Minchew, Elizabeth Spoerri and Abigail Brockway – had hoped that their trial would mark the first time that a US jury was allowed to consider the “necessity defense” in a case of climate activism. The defendants intended to argue that their acts, though illegal, were necessary to prevent the greater harm of catastrophic climate change. But after allowing two days of expert testimony on topics ranging from the Paris climate talks to railway safety standards and the health impacts of particulate matter, Judge Anthony E Howard ruled that the defense had failed to present sufficient evidence to show that the defendants had “no reasonable legal alternative” to trespassing on a private rail yard and blocking trains.
JPMorgan Chase & Co executives said on Thursday they do not expect losses on the bank’s oil and gas loans to accelerate with the pace and severity that the decline in oil market prices might suggest. “The oil folks have been surprisingly resilient,” Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said in a conference call with analysts. His comment came after being challenged on whether the bank had boosted its reserves too little in the fourth quarter when it added $124 million to cover losses on its oil and gas portfolio. The portfolio amounted to $42 billion, 5.3 percent of wholesale loans and less than 2 percent of total assets, as of the end of September. Dimon said the damage to oil producers’ revenue from lower prices had been offset somewhat by the fact that the cost of getting oil out of the ground has “dropped dramatically, and probably much more than most of us would have expected.” In some cases production costs are down as much as 50 percent, Dimon said earlier, on a call with journalists after posting quarterly results.
The first signs of a thaw are emerging for the battered oil market after Russia signalled a sharp fall in exports this year, a move that may offset the long-feared surge of supply from Iran. The oil-pipeline monopoly Transneft said Russian companies are likely to cut crude shipments by 6.4pc over the course of 2016, based on applications submitted so far by Lukoil, Rosneft, Gazprom and other producers. This amounts to a drop of 460,000 barrels a day (b/d), enough to eliminate a third of the excess supply flooding the world and potentially mark the bottom of the market. Russia is the world’s biggest producer of oil, and has been exporting 7.3m b/d over recent months. Transneft told journalists in Moscow that tax changes account for some of the fall but economic sanctions are also beginning to inflict serious damage. External credit is frozen and drillers cannot easily import equipment and supplies. New projects have been frozen and output from the Soviet-era fields in western Siberia is depleting at an average rate of 8pc to 11pc each year. Russia’s deputy finance minister, Maxim Oreshkin, told news agency TASS that the oil price crash could lead to “hard and fast closures in coming months”. What is unclear is whether the production cuts are purely driven by markets or whether it is in part a political move to pave the way for a deal with Saudi Arabia.
The cost of energy on the wholesale market tumbled to £36.76 per megawatt hour on the Power Index, compiled by market information provider ICIS. The causes were a mild winter and lower global commodity prices, ICIS said. Pressure is mounting on the UK’s big six energy suppliers to cut their prices in line with falling costs. Amber Rudd, who took over as energy secretary after last year’s general election, wrote to the big six soon afterwards to question them about whether their prices were reflecting the wholesale market. But the energy firms have said they are operating in a highly competitive environment. Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “It’s extremely disappointing millions of us are still paying way over the odds for our energy. Consumers will rightly ask why their bills haven’t been cut dramatically when wholesale costs have dropped. The industry insists they have. There is fierce competition for fixed price deals. Customers who switch can save hundreds of pounds. But according to the energy regulator, Ofgem, 70% of consumers remain on standard variable tariffs which have hardly changed since early last year.
Oil prices have crashed to below $30-a-barrel amid warnings the rout could reach as low as $10 and bring down petrol prices to levels last seen in 2009. Standard Chartered became the latest major bank to downgrade its oil outlook to $10, joining the likes of Goldman Sachs, RBS and Morgan Stanley in making ultra-bearish calls as prices have collapsed by 15pc this year. Standard Chartered said there was no bottom in sight until “money managers in the market conceded that matters had gone too far”. “Given that no fundamental relationship is currently driving the oil market towards any equilibrium, prices are being moved almost entirely by financial flows caused by fluctuations in other asset prices, including the dollar and equity markets,” said Standard Chartered. Oil last slumped to $10 during the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1998. A $10 world would lead to petrol prices falling back to 86p-per-litre, said Simon Williams at RAC.
International Business Times: Five million UK pensioners can’t afford heating bills
With the Met Office forecasting freezing conditions in the UK over the coming days, a study just released shows that nearly five million pensioners cannot afford their heating bills. The figures outline how nearly half of those over 65 will have to turn down the heat in the cold spell, putting their health in danger, in revelations that will put pressure on energy companies to cut their prices. The study by comparethemarket.com found that over the past two years, wholesale energy prices fell by almost 50 per cent, but the average household bill of more than £1,300 a year has come down by only 14 per cent. Since May 2015, wholesale prices have fallen by a fifth but only one company, British Gas, has cut bills — by five per cent and only on gas.
It is not the sexiest of titles. “Implementation day” refers to the date when Iran can start providing oil once again to the world markets. But it is certainly one of the most important dates of the year for the global economy, alongside its major diplomatic and political significance. Iran has the fourth-largest oil reserves in the world. At one stage it was believed the implementation date would land at some point over the next six months as Iran moved to satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency that its nuclear ambitions were purely civil. Senior sources in the oil industry now believe “implementation day” will be much sooner. One executive told me that plans were in place for January 27 after the IAEA cleared Iran’s nuclear programme of having any offensive use. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, will front the announcement, the source said.
Geim and his colleagues at the University of Manchester have found that graphene filters are effective at cleaning up the nuclear waste produced at nuclear power plants. This application could make one of the most costly and complicated aspects of nuclear power generation ten times less energy intensive and therefore much more cost effective. In research published in the journal Science, the Manchester researchers used the graphene as a sieve to sort protium, the lightest stable isotope of hydrogen, from deuterium, which, unlike protium, contains a neutron in its nucleus. Deuterium appears in larger amounts in so-called heavy water, which is an essential component of some types of nuclear reactors. Though it’s not radioactive like tritium, the heaviest hydrogen isotope, in high enough concentrations, it can cause cell dysfunction and death. Deuterium is also widely used in analytical and chemical tracing technologies. The Manchester researchers experimented to see if the nuclei of deuterium, deuterons, could pass through the two-dimensional (2-D) materials graphene and boron nitride. The existing theories seemed to suggest that the deuterons would pass through easily. But to the surprise of the researchers, not only did the 2-D membranes sieve out the deuterons, but the separation was also accomplished with a high degree of efficiency.