This week’s Blowout features the ongoing economic transition in China, which has potentially major implications for the world energy and natural resource industries:
A new report shows China’s move away from industrialization and construction to consumption and services is happening much quicker than previously thought. China’s economic growth is expected to slow to 7% in 2015 and may even slip below that – the slowest pace since 1990. While slower overall growth has long been expected, the transformation of China from an investment-led to a consumption driven economy appears to be happening much quicker than previously thought. After the years of breakneck infrastructure investment, urbanization and industrialization that created the supercycle in commodity demand, Beijing is now shifting focus of policy to the services-orientated sectors of the economy. A chart from oil giant BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2014 report shows how the energy intensive sectors of the Chinese economy “virtually collapsed”.
Stories below the fold include OPEC pumping more oil than ever, bargain-hunting in the North Sea, lack of progress at the Bonn climate talks, coal plant closures in Australia, EPA to regulate airline emissions, new renewables records set in UK, planning permission granted for the Swansea tidal lagoon, the decreasing competitiveness of nuclear electricity in France, nuclear to the rescue in drought-stricken California, and how global warming is forcing polar bears to eat dolphins while climate change ruins your weekend.
Bloomberg: OPEC’s Biggest Members Pump Record Amounts of Crude
OPEC’s biggest members are pumping record amounts of crude and this year’s rally in prices is under threat, the International Energy Agency said. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest member and the world’s largest crude exporter, raised production in May to 10.25 million barrels a day from 10.16 million in April. Iraq increased to 3.85 million a day from 3.75 million, and the U.A.E kept output at 2.87 million barrels a day. Global oil supply was about 96 million barrels. The IEA’s data for Saudi Arabia start in 1984. OPEC’s own data go back further and show Saudi Arabia is pumping the most since August 1981. The gains leave OPEC’s supply about 1.3 million barrels above its collective output target of 30 million barrels a day. The group reaffirmed this ceiling last week in Vienna as it persists with a Saudi-led strategy to preserve global market share. Demand levels for OPEC’s crude will average about 30.2 million barrels a day in the second half, according to the IEA.
Exploration World: OPEC welcomes Indonesia back into its ranks
Representatives of OPEC announced June 5 that the body had decided to allow Indonesia to rejoin its ranks, seven years after the country voluntarily left the group. In 2008, Indonesia requested that OPEC suspend its membership amid slumping oil production in the country as it transitioned into a net oil importer. OPEC agreed to suspend Indonesia in September of that year. Now though, the country is being welcomed back with open arms after Indonesian energy minister Sudirman Said expressed the country’s desire to rejoin OPEC at the June 4 OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria. “All the members of OPEC, including Saudi Arabia, stated their support to Indonesia to re-join OPEC, remembering that Indonesia [was] one of the [countries that participated] in founding and developing OPEC,” the Indonesian Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources said in a statement on Friday.
Economic Times India: US should ditch outdated oil export ban
The United States must lift an “outdated” ban on oil exports to take full economic and geopolitical advantage of its hydraulic fracturing boom, according to a study by Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group released on Wednesday. Lifting the 40 year-old ban imposed after the Arab oil embargo and easing restrictions on liquefied natural gas export terminals would add $23 billion to the economy by 2030, create tens of thousands of jobs, and provide the United States with additional clout overseas, the paper said. “Our energy resources have given the US important new diplomatic tools that can aid allies and counteract the ability of unfriendly countries to use oil and gas access to achieve political aims,” according to the research authored by Harvard Business School Professor Mark Porter and Boston Consulting Group’s David Gee and Gregory Pope. “Today, the ban on crude exports is reducing market opportunities for producers and reducing US growth, with no clear offsetting benefits for America or Americans,” said the study, which outlined several steps the country should take to fully benefit from the fracking boom.
Almost a year after Mexico opened its energy market to private investors, North American firms are rushing south to decide which pipeline or power plant to invest in. So far, the potential investors are mainly looking, not buying, with actual investments in Mexican energy projects coming in more slowly than some expected. The Mexican Energy Ministry has predicted $62.5 billion in both public and private investments over three years from the new program, which was signed into law last August. Since then, only five private equity deals worth a total of $2 billion have been announced, according to Pitchbook, a Seattle-based research firm. Though the money tap could eventually open, given the promise afforded by Mexican natural gas, oil and renewable energy projects, some of the reluctance to ink deals may be laid to the peculiar risks of doing infrastructure-related business in Mexico. Government bureaucracy, crime, challenging property rules and local opposition have delayed some projects and raised their costs, investors told Reuters.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro demanded on Tuesday that neighbouring Guyana stop oil exploration in a disputed offshore territory. The exploration is being carried out by US oil giant ExxonMobil. An international tribunal ruled in 1899 that the area formed part of Guyana, which at the time was a British colony. Venezuela never accepted the ruling, arguing it was unfair. On 20 May, ExxonMobil announced “a significant oil discovery” in the disputed area. A week later, President Maduro issued a presidential decree claiming sovereignty of the disputed waters. Guyana’s newly elected President, David Granger, in turn released a statement on Sunday calling Venezuela’s decree a “flagrant violation of international law”.He also accused Venezuela of wishing “to trample on the rights of a smaller country in order to obstruct the sovereign right of Guyana to develop its natural re-sources”. President Granger insisted that Guyana would continue to develop the offshore natural resources it considered its own.
Herald Scotland: Neptune Venture seeks North Sea acquisitions
Private equity giants have signalled they will invest billions of dollars in the North Sea in the belief there is good money to be made in the area following the oil price plunge. Carlyle Group and CVC Capital Partners have recruited Sam Laidlaw a former head of the giant Centrica utility to lead a venture with an initial $5bn (£3.3bn) war chest for acquisitions in areas including the North Sea. The new venture, called Neptune, said it will look for large-scale investment opportunities. “This isn’t a bet on the oil price, because it could be with us for a while,” Mr Laidlaw told Reuters. He said the launch of Neptune had been timed to capitalise on the opportunities that will be created following the fall in the crude price from $115 per barrel in June to around $65 currently, which Neptune does not expect to reverse soon. Neptune expects to be able to do deals at bargain prices at a time when there are many North Sea assets up for sale and a limited number of buyers.
Nations have jointly promised to keep the global temperature rise below the 2C danger threshold. They are informing the UN how they will each cut their domestic emissions of greenhouse gases. But key countries are refusing to discuss whether the sum of these cuts will do the job. The EU, supported by African nations, wants to make countries face up to the fact that their collective cuts won’t keep the climate within the 2C threshold. But China, India and Brazil are insisting that the national contributions should not be discussed at the UN until the main summit in Paris in December, by which time it will be too late for countries to negotiate any increase in ambition. The Chinese chief negotiator, Su Wei, said talks about the procedure for a new UN climate regime were going so slowly there was no time to discuss whether the emissions cuts added up. “It has taken us 10 days here discussing procedural matters and we have made hardly any progress,” he told the BBC. “We cannot add any more items to the agenda to be discussed before Paris.”
Calls by the Group of Seven (G7) Monday to slash world carbon emissions did little to boost UN climate talks in Bonn, where frustration mounted over the snail-like progress. Groups of countries pleaded for greater efforts to streamline a draft text for a climate pact due to be adopted at a conference in Paris in just over six months. Due to end on Friday, the 11-day Bonn talks are tasked with shaping a draft text for the November 30-December 11 UN conference in Paris, which must yield a global agreement. The final document is supposed to enshrine the will of 195 countries to roll back climate change, spell out commitments to tackle greenhouse gases and provide aid to vulnerable economies from 2020. But after a week of wrangling, just about five percent had been shaved off a sprawling near-90-page draft, mostly by removing glaring duplications, said delegates.
Guardian: Five G7 nations increase their coal use
Five of the world’s seven richest countries have increased their coal use in the last five years despite demanding that poor countries slash their carbon emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change, new research shows. Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and France together burned 16% more coal in 2013 than 2009 and are planning to further increase construction of coal-fired power stations. Only the US and Canada of the G7 countries meeting on Monday in Berlin have reduced coal consumption since the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. The US has reduced its coal consumption by 8% largely because of fracking for shale gas. Overall, the G7 countries reduced coal consumption by less than 1% between 2009-2013, the Oxfam research shows.
Australian: Australian jobs blown away as turbines kill coal
Alinta Energy yesterday brought forward by 12 years the planned closure of its ageing coal-fired power plants at Port Augusta, 310km north of Adelaide, and its associated coal mine at Leigh Creek, 260km further north. A “massive oversupply in generation capacity” from wind and solar has reduced its share of the state’s power supply from 35 per cent to 15 per cent in the past two years and created net losses of $100 million. Grattan Institute energy program director Tony Wood said Alinta’s coal-fired power plants were the first to be “pushed out the back and picked off by the lions” as owners assessed viability in an industry making way for a required 6000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity to be built in Australia by 2020. The announcement of the closures came as Tony Abbott declared he wanted to limit the growth of wind farms and their “visually awful” turbines. But he said the move to renewables was inevitable.
Bloomberg: French nuclear struggles to compete
Electricite de France SA’s sale of atomic power to competitors for the second half of the year has sunk to a fraction of what it was in 2014, signaling nuclear energy may be losing competitiveness. The state-controlled utility sold a quarter of the volume, or 4 terawatt-hours, to rivals, according to energy regulator Commission de Regulation de l’Energie. The 12.3 terawatt-hours sold for the first half was also less than half the 34.6 terawatt-hours for the second half of 2014. The utility, the world’s biggest nuclear operator, is required to offer about a quarter of its annual French atomic output to rivals under a regulated system known as Arenh that’s aimed at increasing competition on the domestic market. They can buy it at the current price of 42 euros ($47.44) a megawatt-hour or turn to the market where prices are lower. “There is an imbalance between nuclear generation costs and wholesale power market prices,” said Louis Boujard, a utilities analyst at Oddo Securities in Paris. “Nuclear energy is less competitive than it was in the past.”
Environmental Research Web: France 100% renewable by 2050?
The Hollande government has promised to cut the proportion back to 50%, and has a quite ambitious programmes for renewable energy (32% of all energy by 2030) and energy saving (a 50% cut in all energy use by 2050). But going further has often seemed a fantasy, not least in terms of cost. However that’s now changed, with a new government report suggesting that it would be possible to move to 100% renewables. The report, by Ademe, the French Environment and Energy Agency, a draft of which was leaked by the media, says that supplying all the nation’s electricity with renewables by 2050 would cost about the same as the plan currently favored by the President and the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, which is to meet France’s electric power needs with 50% nuclear, 40% renewables, and 10% fossil fuel by 2050. It says achieving a 100% renewable electricity mix will require diversity of sources and it projects a mix of 63% offshore and onshore wind, 17% solar, 13% hydro, and 7% thermal energy (including geothermal). Getting to 100% renewables would also require demand management that lowers consumption by 14%, despite a projected population increase of 6 million inhabitants.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday called for regulating U.S. aircraft emissions, expanding the government’s effort to crack down on industries officials say are contributing to global warming. The EPA issued what’s known as a preliminary finding of endangerment. The agency declared the emissions are harmful to human health and contribute to climate change — a declaration that lays the groundwork for the government to eventually regulate the airline industry. Wednesday’s finding coincides with a multi-year push by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a branch of the United Nations, to develop global aircraft emissions standards.
Businessgreen: UK renewables smash energy share record
Strong winds and a sunny day on Saturday helped renewable energy in the UK set a new record, official figures have shown. According to trade association RenewableUK, wind and solar power peaked at 12GW on Saturday, equal to 40 per cent of power generation on the grid. The figures, provided by independent analysts at Enappsys, also showed that wind alone beat all other sources of fossil fuel generation and was second only to nuclear power on the grid across the whole day. Meanwhile, analysis by Chris Goodall at the Carbon Commentary blog suggested that renewable energy provided 13.4GW at 2pm on Saturday, equal to 43 per cent of power supply. “Summer days that are both windy and sunny are rare,” he wrote. “In no sense were the daylight hours of Saturday 6 June 2015 typical. But it did provide an inspiring moment that showed how renewables could eventually replace fossil fuels.” He added that the surge in low carbon power output, including from the UK’s nuclear and hydropower fleet, meant coal-fired power was almost forced from the grid. “At 3pm, coal was providing only 7 per cent of British electricity, a total of just over 2.3GW,” Goodall said.
Clickgreen: May sets wind power record in Scotland
May 2015 broke all previous May records for wind power output in Scotland. Thanks to a combination of increased capacity and stronger winds, output jumped 83% compared to the same period last year. Analysis by WWF Scotland of wind and solar data provided by WeatherEnergy found that for the month of May: Wind turbines in Scotland alone provided an 924,405MWh of electricity to the National Grid, enough to supply, on average, the electrical needs of 101% of Scottish households (2.454 million homes). Wind generated enough output to supply 100% or more of Scottish homes on 14 out of the 31 days of May. For homes fitted with solar PV panels, there was enough sunshine to generate an estimated 110% of the electricity needs of an average household in Edinburgh, 108% in Aberdeen, 102% in Inverness, and 96% in Glasgow. For those homes fitted with solar hot water panels, there was enough sunshine in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness to generate an estimated 100% of an average household’s hot water needs.
The energy and climate change secretary has given planning permission to one of the most ambitious and potentially expensive “green” energy schemes ever seen in Britain. Amber Rudd agreed the £1bn project to provide power for 150,000 homes from a tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay, although she has become embroiled in a separate but connected row over a super-quarry to provide stone for the Welsh project. Mark Shorrock, chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay, said his marine power project was a “game-changer” that should trigger a much wider industry in tidal energy around the UK. “The tidal lagoons that follow – at Cardiff, at Newport, elsewhere in the UK and overseas – must each make their own compelling social, environmental and economic case to proceed. But they have a pilot project to guide them and a blossoming technical and industrial network to support them.” Planning permission is essential to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon scheme but its future ultimately depends on a separate decision by the department on subsidies.
Independent: UK government trying to fast-track fracking
The Government is attempting to fast-track fracking by doing away with the need for the public to be consulted before test drilling goes ahead. Under the proposed new permit regime, the Environment Agency will no longer visit the site and conduct a thorough environmental audit before drawing up a set of tailored requirements for the exploration company. Instead, it will create a one-size-fits-all permit based on a set of rules that will be awarded to oil and gas companies showing they can meet the criteria. “This is a big deal,” said David Santillo, a senior scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories. “To be looking to relax the rules on what is essentially a relatively new activity I think is irresponsible. There is still so little experience with what can go wrong with the geology in the UK.”
Guardian: North Sea oil tax forecast slashed
The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that North Sea oil and gas could generate just £100m a year in tax in future after it dramatically slashed its forecasts for North Sea tax receipts. In a significant blow to the Scottish National party’s quest for full fiscal autonomy, the OBR said it now believed the sector could only generate a total of about £2bn in tax revenues over the 20 years from 2020 to 2041, compared with its forecast last year of £37bn for the same period. Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, said the OBR’s new figures “highlight the madness of full fiscal autonomy for Scotland. The SNP is looking to deliver something that they know is economically illiterate and raises questions about their economic credibility.” The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies warned in April that fiscal autonomy would deepen Scotland’s financial black hole by a further £7.6bn in this financial year, on top of existing debts and the current spending gap shared by Scotland.
Daily Mail: UK nuclear plants increase cancer risk
Women living downwind from nuclear power plants are at five times greater risk of developing breast cancer, experts have warned. In three separate studies, a team of scientists looked at the rates of various cancers in populations living close to Trawsfynydd power station in North Wales, Bradwell in Essex and Hinkley Point in Somerset. They discovered breast cancer rates, in particular, were higher than expected national averages at all three sites. At Trawsfynydd, rates of the disease were five times greater than average, while in Essex and Somerset women had double the risk of developing breast cancer. The research, supervised by Dr Chris Busby, who was previously based in Aberystwyth but is now attached to the Latvian Academy of Sciences in Riga, also found other types of cancer were recorded at double the rate in Trawsfynydd.
The only power facility in California that does not use any of the state’s precious fresh water is the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County. And it can even produce additional freshwater for the nearby community. The nuclear plant desalinates ocean water using reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration. The nuclear plant depends on the desalination plant as its sole source of fresh water, used for the plant’s two nuclear reactors as well as all other water needs such as drinking water for its employees and irrigation of its grounds. Although a relatively small plant, Diablo Canyon’s seawater desalination plant is presently the largest operating desal facility on the West Coast, producing about 675,000 gallons of freshwater a day. But the desal facility is not running at maximum capacity. It can actually produce a million and a half gallons of fresh water a day, and can ramp up right now, with very little upgrade and additional costs. Pacific Gas and Electric Company, who owns the Diablo Canyon plant, is happy to maximize production at the desal plant (but) opponents to desalination complain that there are significant environmental issues.
Pioneer News: Polar Bears Eating Dolphins
Scientists out of Norway have recently announced that they are finding polar bears eating dolphins in the Arctic for the very first time. Indeed, this is a new finding and scientists blame global warming as the reason the bears have had to expand their diet. Now, polar bears typically feed on seals but, according to Jon Aars with the Norwegian Polar Institute has caught on camera polar bears devouring dolphins on the shore. Aars said, recently, “It is likely that new species are appearing in the diet of polar bears due to climate change because new species are finding their way north.”
(We) might actually run out of beer. From California to the Czech Republic, hop production is being hit by rising temperatures and a lack of water. Carbon dioxide doesn’t just heat up the atmosphere, it also turns the ocean into an acidic soup that eats away the shells of much-loved molluscs. If it continues, many shellfish are in danger of disappearing from the fishmonger. The world is running out of chocolate. That’s because climate change and crippling poverty are driving Africa’s cocoa farmers to produce other crops. (T)here’s nothing worse than a hangover. Except maybe a hangover with no coffee. Annoyingly, the coffee growers of flooded Honduras and drought stricken Brazil and all those other places you didn’t know your coffee came from might not be able to get coffee beans to grow in a warmer climate. The traditional wine regions of France, Chile, Australia and California are all going to become too hot to supply your favourite plonk.