This week we condense OPEC, oil prices, Ukraine, Russia, energy shortages, climate change, terrorism, the European Union, Fukushima, Ed Davey and everything else that ails the world into one featured article:
Business Week: Only three minutes to Doomsday
Our leaders are failing, and planetary destruction is nigh. That’s the message sent today by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which moved the historic Doomsday Clock forward by two ticks. It’s now three minutes to midnight. The rising threats from unchecked climate change and nuclear weapons have created the biggest existential crisis for humanity since the Cold War, according to the group. Not since the 1950s has civilization been more imperiled.
And Colima, our local volcano is getting ready. This was last Thursday (credit Webcams de México).
The usual ration of varied stories below the fold, including more on “the warmest year on record”, OPEC, coal in China, health impacts of Australian wind turbines, Dungeness to stay open, Austria sues over Hinkley Point, Greenpeace names Nazca Lines despoilers, how climate change will cause more devastating La Niñas, European countries running out of gas and UFOs sighted over French nuclear plants.
The Nasa climate scientists who claimed 2014 set a new record for global warmth last night admitted they were only 38 per cent sure this was true. In a press release on Friday, Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) claimed its analysis of world temperatures showed ‘2014 was the warmest year on record’. The claim made headlines around the world, but yesterday it emerged that GISS’s analysis – based on readings from more than 3,000 measuring stations worldwide – is subject to a margin of error. Nasa admits this means it is far from certain that 2014 set a record at all.
New York Times: US Senate reject human role in climate change
On Thursday, the Senate voted 56 to 42 not to take up an amendment that declared that climate change is real, is caused by humans and wreaks devastation. The amendment also called on the federal government to lead the way in the national transition away from dependence on fossil fuels. Senators voted 54 to 46 not to take up an amendment that also declared human-caused climate change to be real and devastating, and urged the government to support research on technologies that would capture carbon emissions from fossil fuels. A third, Republican-sponsored amendment, which was rejected 51 to 46, called on the Senate to nullify a climate change agreement in November between the United States and China in which both nations pledged to reduce their carbon emissions.
Saudi Arabia’s new king is expected to continue a policy of keeping oil output steady to drive out rival producers, though the royal succession has focused market attention on the future of the kingdom’s long-serving oil minister. While the new king is not seen as likely to change Abdullah’s policies of keeping output high to protect the OPEC cartel’s market share, some analysts said the succession has focused attention on the future of the oil minister Ali Al-Naimi. “King Abdullah was the architect of the current strategy to keep production high and force out smaller players instead of cutting,” said John Kilduff, partner, Again Capital LLC in New York, adding that he expected Salman to keep production high. FGE analyst Tushar Bansal said: “By and large, as of now, no major change is expected in Saudi policies” but he said the market would focus on whether the oil minister might step down.
One of the many monuments dedicated to King Abdullah of Saudia Arabia, whose 10-year reign over the Middle Eastern oil giant ended with his death on Friday — is the independent renewable and nuclear energy organization founded under his name. The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, or Ka-Care, was established by royal decree in 2010, with the nominal aim of “[B]uilding a sustainable future for Saudi Arabia by developing a substantial alternative energy capacity fully supported by world-class local industries.” King Abdullah was well-known for working to keep oil prices high enough to sustain lucrative revenues for the world’s second largest oil producer, but low enough to keep international customers thirsty for petroleum. But he also knew that the oil treadmill could quickly prove unsustainable for the kingdom, which has a booming population and rapidly increasing electricity needs — particularly for energy-intensive technologies like water desalination, on which Saudi Arabia greatly depends.
Salt Lake Tribune: Oman joins oil producers criticizing OPEC
Oman, the biggest Middle Eastern oil producer that’s not a member of OPEC, joined Venezuela and Iran in questioning the group’s decision to keep its output target unchanged even with crude prices falling. Oman is having a “really difficult time” because of low oil prices, Oman Oil Minister Mohammed Al-Rumhy said Wednesday at a conference in Kuwait City. Standard & Poor’s lowered the country’s outlook to negative from stable on Dec. 5, citing a risk that oil may drop more than expected. “I really fail to understand how market share became more important than revenue,” Al-Rumhy said. “We have created volatility, and volatility is one of those words that’s bad for business.”
Energy tycoon Boone Pickens predicted on Friday that oil prices would be back near $70 or $80 a barrel by the fourth quarter of this year. Oil producers in West Texas and North Dakota “can’t drill for $45 oil,” Pickens said on CNBC’s “Street Signs.” “In the last 30 days they’ve dropped 300 rigs…. You’re gonna reach an all-time high on the inventory of oil, and it will be reached within the next six weeks, and then it will start to decline. ” In December, Pickens forecast that oil prices would be back near $100 a barrel in 12 to 18 months. On Friday, he said he stood by that call.
The Toronto stock market closed sharply higher amid a surprise quarter-point rate cut by the Bank of Canada. The S&P/TSX composite index jumped 251.98 points to 14,560.42. The Canadian dollar plunged 1.53 cents to 81.07 cents US after the central bank cut its key rate to 0.75 per cent due to economic fallout from the collapse in oil prices. The energy sector was a major boost for the TSX as oil rose $1.31 to US$47.78 a barrel and traders considered how a lower Canadian dollar will be a positive for some TSX sectors. Energy producers benefit because a lower Canadian dollar makes the cost structure for domestic producers cheaper as opposed to U.S. producers.
Warming ties between China and Russia are giving a big boost to Chinese imports of Russian oil, to the chagrin of OPEC nations jockeying for a slice of China’s market. Chinese customs data released Friday show that China’s crude imports from some big OPEC nations have plummeted, while imports from Russia surged 36% in 2014. Meanwhile, imports from Saudi Arabia fell 8% and those from Venezuela dropped 11%.
CNN Money: China to save $100 billion in oil imports
China will save $100 billion on its oil import bill in just six months thanks to the collapse in crude prices. That assumes prices remain at current levels, said Boqiang Lin, a leading China energy economist. “And we don’t have to do anything,” he added.
China Daily: China’s coal production falls
China’s coal production dropped in 2014, the first time since 2000, the China National Coal Association said Friday. In the first 11 months of last year, China produced 3.5 billion tons of coal, 2.1 percent less than the same period in 2013, said Jiang Zhimin, vice-president of the CNCA, during a media briefing. The CNCA estimated a 2.5 percent drop in production for the whole year. Contributing factors to the grim situation include sluggish coal demand, overcapacity and a large import volume, said Jiang, adding relief measures carried out by the coal industry were beginning to see some positive changes.
Digital Journal: Six European countries left without Russian natural gas
Russian president Vladimir Putin has ordered Gazprom to cut supplies to and through the Ukraine by 60 percent. He accuses the Ukraine of siphoning off supplies for Europe and stealing Russian gas.Russia claims that due to “transit risks for European consumers in the territory of the Ukraine” the supply cuts had to be made. As a result of the move Gazprom gas supplies to Europe plunged by 60 percent. Ukraine confirmed that Russia had shut off the gas supply. A total of six countries reported a complete shut off of Russian supplied gas. Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey all reported there had been a stop to gas shipments from Russia coming through the Ukraine. Croatia said that it had to reduce supplies to industrial customers. Bulgaria claimed that it was in a crisis situation and had gas for only a few days.
Eagle Ford Texas: UK gas storage at lowest level since 2011
Even though this winter has provided areas around the world with above-normal temperatures, serious concerns regarding the United Kingdom’s natural gas supply have arisen According to Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE), the U.K.’s natural gas storage has hit its lowest level since 2011. As of January 16th, the storage unit’s natural gas inventory was at 3.34 billion cubic meters. Some are fearing a repeat of winter 2012-2013 when freezing air and a higher demand for heat almost emptied the entire natural gas storage reserve.
Dungeness B nuclear power station is to stay open beyond its scheduled closing date of 2018, its owner, EDF, has announced. The ageing reactor, on the south Kent coast, had been due to decommission in 2018 but will now remain until 2028 as a result of £150m extra investment. EDF Energy chief executive Vincent de Rivaz said: “The decision to extend the life of Dungeness B is only possible because of the collaboration, innovation and technical expertise of EDF Energy and its long-term partners. Customers will benefit from this significant investment through many more years of reliable, low-carbon electricity.”
Austria is to launch a legal challenge against the European Union’s (EU) decision to allow billions of pounds of subsidies for Hinkley Point C, casting fresh doubt over the UK’s first planned nuclear reactors in 20 years. In October, the EU approved the controversial £17.6bn subsidy deal for the power station, which is expected to provide 7% of the UK’s electricity by 2023. David Cameron had previously hailed the subsidy deal between the French state-owned EDF and the UK government as “a very big day for our country”. But the appeal by Austria, a non-nuclear nation, will be launched by April and could delay a final investment decision by the UK government for over two years. The Guardian understands that Luxembourg is very likely to support the case in the European court of justice, arguing that the UK’s loan guarantees – over a 35-year period – constitute illegal state aid.
S&C Electric Company, a global leader in energy storage integration, today announced that Europe’s largest battery-storage project has been officially opened by Amber Rudd, minister at the Department for Energy and Climate Change at Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, England. S&C Electric Europe, Samsung SDI and Younicos collaborated to deploy the technology onto a United Kingdom Power Networks substation. The fully automated 6MW/10MWh Smarter Network Storage (SNS) project will assess the role of energy storage in cost-effectively supporting the UK’s Carbon Plan, and will save more than £6 million ($9.4 million) on traditional network-reinforcement methods.
Herald Scotland: EU to retain post of Chief Scientific Adviser
The European Commission has agreed to retain the role of EU Chief Scientific Adviser. Details of the u-turn were divulged to Scottish Tory MEP Dr Ian Duncan by First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans. Mr Duncan said: “I am delighted that the Commission has seen sense and reinstated this crucial post. The role of science has never been more important and for the EU to have done away with its Chief Scientist would have been hugely damaging and sent all the wrong signals. I am glad that the pressure exerted on the Commission has resulted in a u-turn, and a victory for informed European policy making.”
Business Week: Greenpeace names Nazca despoilers
Greenpeace has provided Peruvian authorities with the identities of the four foreign activists principally responsible for vandalizing the Nazca Lines heritage site during last month’s international climate negotiations in Lima, Bloomberg Businessweek has learned. The mastermind of the Nazca Lines action was Wolfgang Sadik, a veteran campaigner with Greenpeace Germany, the Greenpeace report reveals. Two of the other three activists named in the report also work for Greenpeace Germany: Martin Kaiser, who was responsible for all of Greenpeace’s actions at the Lima summit, and Iris Wiedemann, Greenpeace’s chief communications officer at the summit. The fourth individual is Mauro Fernandez, a staffer with Greenpeace Argentina who served as an interpreter during the Nazca action. Greenpeace has suffered heavy blows to its reputation, external support, and staff morale. Donors have withdrawn grants, supporters have canceled memberships, and street canvassers have been harassed, Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard wrote in an e-mail earlier this month.
People living near wind farms face a greater risk of suffering health complaints caused by the low-frequency noise generated by turbines, a groundbreaking study has found. The study by acoustics expert Steven Cooper is the first in the world in which a wind turbine ¬operator had fully co-operated and turned wind turbines off completely during the testing. Funded by wind farm operator Pacific Hydro, the study was conducted at Cape Bridgewater in southwest Victoria where residents have long complained about headaches, chest pains and sleep loss but have been told it was all in their minds. The report found offending sound pressure was present at four distinct phases of turbine operation: starting, maximum power and changing load by more than 20 per cent either up or down.
A new study concludes that extreme La Nina events will become twice as likely in the future due to climate change. The study in Nature Climate Change found that the La Nina extreme weather — which happens about once every 23 years — will occur every 13 years by the end of this century, based on an analysis of 21 climate models. Three-quarters of those increased La Nina events would follow extreme El Nino events “thus projecting more frequent swings between opposite extremes from year to the next.”
Several UFOs have been seen over nuclear power plants in France and Belgium over the last few months. They have been reported as unidentified drones, but a director at one of the plants in France says, unequivocally, that these were not drones, they were UFOs. The media and authorities have suspected the objects were drones flown by anti-nuclear activists to demonstrate that the plants were open to terrorist attacks via drones. However, the drones are of such a high level of sophistication that the authorities have not been able to track them. The largest anti-nuclear organizations have also denied any involvement.