On August 3, President Obama declared that “under the Clean Power Plan, by 2030, renewables will account for 28% of our capacity,” and “will save the average American family nearly $85 on their annual energy bill in 2030.”
In the accompanying EPA rule, the word renewables is not used consistently. Sometimes it includes hydroelectric power, sometimes not. Sometimes the focus is on wind and solar power, sometimes it is broader. As the readers are aware, capacity is not the same thing as generation, and for generation, prices vary widely during the day. This makes it unclear how we get from a 28% capacity to $85 in annual savings. It is common for energy analysts to use levelized costs to compare different sources, but a residential consumer is paying for 24/7 access to a working grid, not for electricity from individual sources.
Without any enabling legislation, President Obama plans to force the United States to make an enormous capital investment, of the order of a trillion dollars, in wind and solar power and the associated grid infrastructure. Politicians often talk about investments when they mean forced transfers, but this really would be an investment, and the goal of this post is to estimate the return for the consumer. The post was inspired by a post by Willis Eschenbach at What’s Up With That. I will not consider the health and climate impacts of the plan. Judy Curry started the discussion of these in her August 3 post.
If the residential electricity bills actually do go down $85 a year as President Obama promised, then that $85 would be the return on our investment. To evaluate an investment, we divide it by the annual return to get a payback time. The situation is different if the electricity bills go up. The return is negative. We are never paid back and we have also lost our investment. One can still calculate a payback time using the same formula but we get a negative payback time, which is worse than any investment with a positive payback time. The readers who are scientists and engineers may appreciate the analogy to negative-temperature systems that are hotter than any system with a positive temperature. Among those awful investments with negative payback times, the smaller the negative payback time the worse the investment.
One complication in assessing a return on wind and solar investments is that the primary subsidies for renewables in the United States are the 30% federal tax credit and the 2.2¢/kWh producer tax credit for wind. These subsidies are effectively paid for by the people who pay income taxes. The toll falls heavily on the upper 1% in income who pay 46% of net US income taxes. Another problem in assessing a possible return is that the US has not gotten very far in wind and solar power. They accounted for only 4% of the electricity generation in 2013.
Europe is a better place to evaluate an investment in wind and solar power. The primary subsidy in Europe is a feed-in-tariff. Who pays in the end is different from the US. The people who are well off enough to buy solar arrays effectively are paid by the people who are not well off enough to buy solar arrays. I will leave the question of whether this is good social policy or not to the Europeans, but for this post it is useful because it means that the residential electricity bills reflect the wind and solar installation costs. It also helps that Europe has installed more than twice as much wind and solar capacity as the US.
Our starting point is Figure 1, which shows a plot of residential electricity prices compared with the residential component of wind and solar capacity for OECD-Europe countries. The data and the figures for this post are available as an Excel file. Willis Eschenbach and Jonathan Drake also made price plots for EU countries. Our emphasis will be on the higher-income European countries that are members of the OECD. Some countries, like Norway and Switzerland, are in OECD Europe but not the EU, while Romania is in the EU, but not the OECD. BP deems that Estonia, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Slovenia are not significant enough to include in their electricity spreadsheets, and I omitted them also.
The residential component of the wind and solar capacity is calculated from the residential share of the final consumption reported by the IEA. At 15¢/kWh, Norway is an outlier, well below the other countries. It has a very large per-person residential consumption of electricity generated by hydroelectric power. Norway also provides profitable balancing services to the continent, consuming wind and solar electricity when the price is low and providing hydroelectric power when the price is high. Roger Andrews has an excellent post on this balancing. The trend line is calculated without Norway. Incidentally, the US residential price is 12¢/kWh, even lower than Norway. The US has low-cost natural gas and coal and the US emphasizes tax credits rather than feed-in-tariffs to subsidize wind and solar power. As Willis noted, higher wind and solar capacities are associated with higher prices. For European consumers the return on their wind and solar investment is negative.
Figure 1. Residential electricity prices vs the residential component of the per-person wind and solar capacity for OECD Europe Countries. The electricity prices are taken from the IEA, the capacities from BP, and the populations from the UN. Data are for 2013, except for the Spanish price, where I filled from 2011. The IEA prices are converted at the market exchange rates.
How negative is the return? I propose that we interpret the y-intercept of the trend line, 18.8¢/kWh, as the price of electricity without any wind or solar capacity. As a check, in Germany in 2000, when the wind and solar capacity were negligible, the price was 16.3¢/kWh, expressed in 2013 dollars with BP’s deflator. The difference between the actual price and the zero-wind-and-solar price becomes a per kWh surcharge for the wind and solar capacity.
If we multiply this by the annual residential consumption we get an annual per-person wind and solar surcharge. These are shown in Figure 2. Again there is a clear trend. More capacity is associated with a greater surcharge. The slope of the trend line in the figure is $1.14/y/W. If we divide this by the average cost of the cumulative wind and solar capacity, we get the return on the investment, which will be negative. I will take the average cost to be $4/W. Expressed as a negative payback time, this is 3.5 years. Expressed as a negative return, it is 29% per year.
Figure 2. Calculated annual per-person wind and solar surcharge vs the residential component of per-person wind and solar capacity for OECD Europe Countries. Hungary (11W/p, –$7/p/y) is omitted from the graph, but included in the trend calculation. The trend is constrained to go through the origin.
As investments, these are inconceivably bad and we would expect large opportunity costs at the national level. It is interesting that if we start on the right in our graphs and move left past Denmark and Germany, the big spenders are the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) that have been in the financial doghouse in recent years.
For consumers, the high electricity prices discourage the use of electricity for increasing safety. During the great European Heat Wave of 2003, 70,000 people died, most of them indoors. This is a horrible way to die. The people who were indoors could have been saved by a $140 Frigidaire window unit, but only if they could afford to pay for the electricity.
Dave Rutledge is the Tomayasu Professor of Electrical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology.
Oil prices fell in Asia on Monday as Iran and major western powers said they were closer than ever to a landmark nuclear deal that would lift sanctions and see Tehran’s crude exports return to global markets.
A forecast by the International Energy Agency (IEA) for slower world oil demand next year was also weighing on the market, analysts said.
US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for August delivery was down 86 cents to $51.88 and Brent crude tumbled 96 cents to $57.77 a barrel in late-morning trade.
“We have come a long way. We need to reach a peak and we’re very close,” Iranian President Sheikh Hassan Rouhani said in Tehran on Sunday.
“I hope we are finally entering the final phase of these marathon negotiations. I believe it,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who cancelled a trip to Africa to stay at the talks in Vienna.
Any deal to stop what the West suspects as Iranian efforts to build an atomic bomb will result in the lifting of punishing economic sanctions, allowing the country to resume oil exports.
More Iranian oil however will add to a supply glut, which has depressed prices.
The IEA has forecast that global oil demand would grow by 1.2 million barrels per day next year, slower than the 1.4 million projected this year.
However, global output grew by 550,000 barrels a day in June alone to 96.6 million barrels, IEA added.
This is up on average by 3.1 million barrels from a year ago, boosted by increased production from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
OPEC’s output climbed in June to a three-year high of 31.7 million barrels, the IEA said.
The editor-in-chief of the Iserlohner Kreisanzeiger und Zeitung (IKZ) daily Thomas Reunert dedicated an entire page on the topic of wind energy last Sunday, bearing the headline: “The Norwegians Are Giving Us The Finger!”
It is an interview with a former professor from the University of Bielefeld, Dr. Kurt Gehlert, 75, an expert in mining. It focuses on the state of Germany’s Energiewende (transition to green energies), particularly wind power and the illusions of energy storage technology.
The sub-heading reads
Dr. Kurt Gehlert is certain that the Energiewende has already failed. Or we will drown and cover ourselves in wind turbines.”
Germans pushing the Energiewende are aiming to see 80% of Germany’s energy needs being met by green energies by 2050. Some are even calling for doing away with natural gas, in addition to coal and oil.
But the monster-sized insurmountable obstacles loom as German policymakers begin to scramble in a confused state of denial.
Germany’s alternative baseload-capable sources, such as hydro and biogas, are severely limited and account for only 11.5% of Germany’s total energy supply today. Moreover there still does not exist a viable technology for storing the irregular supply of wind and solar power. Gehlert says these technologies are nowhere near being capable of taking on the role of providing a reliable baseload.
The 75-year old professor points out that although there is a huge capacity of wind and solar energy already in place, often both are not available because they are weather-dependent. Gehlert tells the IKZ that the media like to give the public the impression that the technology is not far away, but the reality is that it is nowhere near in sight.
Energy storage concepts such as accumulators, power-to-gas, compressed air storage are plagued by low efficiencies and sky-high costs. He reminds readers that using electric car batteries as a storage media is also a pie-in-the-sky-vision. Gehlert tells IKZ :
It sounds like a good idea and so let us illustrate it using a rough calculation. In 2020 it is planned to have 1 million electric cars on the roads in Germany. If we tap into them and remove 50% of the average 25 kwh charge capacity, then we will extract enough power from them (12.5 x 1000000 =12.5 gigawatt-hours) to cover Germany’s needs each day for 25 minutes and 17 seconds; Germany’s total daily consumption is 712 gigawatt-hours. And then all the electric car owners will have only 50% of the range available for their next trip.”
In Germany about 125 times more storage lakes than what exists today would need to be constructed by 2050. This area and topography simply does not exist at all.”
On the idea of using Norway’s, Switzerland’s or Austria’s mountainous regions to build the necessary pump-storage capacity, Gehlert tells the IKZ :
The Swiss are reacting allergically, and the Norwegians are giving us the finger.”
Go ruin your own landscape, and leave ours alone.
And even if it was possible to use pump-storage in foreign countries, Gehlert tells the IKZ that in order to bring the power from the above-mentioned mountainous countries to the big consumption centers in Germany’s industrial heartland, it would require the construction of about 70 high voltage power lines ranging from 300 to 1200 km in length!
Gehlert also scoffs at the idea of using wind-power-to-gas as a method for storing energy, which would be used to fire gas turbines to produce electricity in times of low-winds. And expanding the calculation to 50% constant electrical power from wind energy would require about 470,000 German wind turbines (Currently there are about 25,000). Gehlert elaborates:
The figure is difficult to fathom. Germany has an area of approximately 360,000 square kilometers. That means each of the 470,000 wind turbines would have 0.76 sq km.. The city of Iserlohn alone has an area of 125.5 square kilometers and so would have 165 wind turbines.”
The IKZ asks Gehlert to summarize:
The Energiewende under the given conditions in Germany is a failure […]. The policymakers state in a worried manner: Our predecessors have left behind a disillusioned population.”
New source of methane discovered in the Arctic Ocean
Methane, a highly effective greenhouse gas, is usually produced by decomposition of organic material, a complex process involving bacteria and microbes.
But there is another type of methane that can appear under specific circumstances: Abiotic methane is formed by chemical reactions in the oceanic crust beneath the seafloor.
New findings show that deep water gas hydrates, icy substances in the sediments that trap huge amounts of the methane, can be a reservoir for abiotic methane. One such reservoir was recently discovered on the ultraslow spreading Knipovich ridge, in the deep Fram Strait of the Arctic Ocean. The study suggests that abiotic methane could supply vast systems of methane hydrate throughout the Arctic.
The study was conducted by scientists at Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate (CAGE) at UiT The Arctic Univeristy of Norway. The results were recently published in Geology online and will be featured in the journal’s May issue.
“Current geophysical data from the flank of this ultraslow spreading ridge shows that the Arctic environment is ideal for this type of methane production. ” says Joel Johnson associate professor at the University of New Hampshire (USA), lead author, and visiting scholar at CAGE.
This is a previously undescribed process of hydrate formation; most of the known methane hydrates in the world are fueled by methane from the decomposition of organic matter.
“It is estimated that up to 15 000 gigatonnes of carbon may be stored in the form of hydrates in the ocean floor, but this estimate is not accounting for abiotic methane. So there is probably much more.” says co-author and CAGE director Jürgen Mienert.
Life on Mars?
NASA has recently discovered traces of methane on the surface of Mars, which led to speculations that there once was life on our neighboring planet. But an abiotic origin cannot be ruled out yet.
On Earth it forms through a process called serpentinization.
“Serpentinization occurs when seawater reacts with hot mantle rocks exhumed along large faults within the seafloor. These only form in slow to ultraslow spreading seafloor crust. The optimal temperature range for serpentinization of ocean crust is 200 – 350 degrees Celsius.” says Johnson.
Methane produced by serpentinization can escape through cracks and faults, and end up at the ocean floor. But in the Knipovich Ridge it is trapped as gas hydrate in the sediments. How is it possible that relatively warm gas becomes this icy substance?
“In other known settings the abiotic methane escapes into the ocean, where it potentially influences ocean chemistry. But if the pressure is high enough, and the subseafloor temperature is cold enough, the gas gets trapped in a hydrate structure below the sea floor. This is the case at Knipovich Ridge, where sediments cap the ocean crust at water depths up to 2000 meters. ” says Johnson.
Stable for two million years
Another peculiarity about this ridge is that because it is so slowly spreading, it is covered in sediments deposited by fast moving ocean currents of the Fram Strait. The sediments contain the hydrate reservoir, and have been doing so for about 2 million years.
“This is a relatively young ocean ridge, close to the continental margin. It is covered with sediments that were deposited in a geologically speaking short time period -during the last two to three million years. These sediments help keep the methane trapped in the sea floor.” says Stefan Bünz of CAGE, also a co-author on the paper.
Bünz says that there are many places in the Arctic Ocean with a similar tectonic setting as the Knipovich ridge, suggesting that similar gas hydrate systems may be trapping this type of methane along the more than 1000 km long Gakkel Ridge of the central Arctic Ocean.
The Geology paper states that such active tectonic environments may not only provide an additional source of methane for gas hydrate, but serve as a newly identified and stable tectonic setting for the long-term storage of methane carbon in deep-marine sediments.
Need to drill
The reservoir was identified using CAGE’s high resolution 3D seismic technology aboard research ressel Helmer Hanssen. Now the authors of the paper wish to sample the hydrates 140 meters below the ocean floor, and decipher their gas composition.
Knipovich Ridge is the most promising location on the planet where such samples can be taken, and one of the two locations where sampling of gas hydrates from abiotic methane is possible.
“We think that the processes that created this abiotic methane have been very active in the past. It is however not a very active site for methane release today. But hydrates under the sediment, enable us to take a closer look at the creation of abiotic methane through the gas composition of previously formed hydrate.” says Jürgen Mienert who is exploring possibilities for a drilling campaign along ultra-slow spreading Arctic ridges in the future.
The contracts with Russia’s biggest oil company Rosneft damaged by the West’s anti-Russian sanctions have cost ExxonMobil $1 billion, the company said in its annual report.
“In 2014, the European Union and United States imposed sanctions relating to the Russian energy sector. In compliance with the sanctions and all general and specific licenses, prohibited activities involving offshore Russia in the Black Sea, Arctic regions, and onshore western Siberia have been wound down. The Corporation’s maximum exposure to loss from these joint ventures as of December 31, 2014, is $1.0 billion,” the report said.
Rosneft and ExxonMobil established projects to conduct exploration and research activities in 2013 and 2014. The European Union and United States imposed sanctions relating to the Russian energy sector in 2014, prohibiting any activities that involve offshore work in the Russian Black Sea and Arctic regions, and onshore in western Siberia.
The two companies began an exploration project in the Kara Sea in August despite the sanctions. Oil reserves in the Kara Sea could be as high as 13 billion tons, which is more than in the Gulf of Mexico or the whole of Saudi Arabia.
Another joint venture known as the Sakhalin–1 Consortium in Russia’s Far East uses Berkut, the world’s largest oil platform and is producing 27,000 tons of oil a day.
Russia’s Rosneft and its President Igor Sechin have been put under US and EU sanctions. The provision of oil equipment and services such as drilling in offshore deep water projects such as in the Arctic, or shale well drilling were also banned due to the terms of the sanctions.
A small community in Uganda is challenging a UN-backed international oil palm venture that has expropriated small farmers and obliterated an entire forest on a Lake Victoria island to establish a vast plantation. Three years after the grab, Friends of the Earth groups are backing the islanders legal action, which is launched today.
Fighting a land grab can seem like a hopeless cause: the odds are hardly even when farmers without land or a source of income are pitted against multinational corporations, European banks and UN Agencies. However in Uganda, one community is fighting back.
Four years ago, an oil palm plantation partly operated by the oil palm giant Wilmar International began on Bugula, a highly biodiverse island on Lake Victoria. Then home to about one hundred small-scale farmers, the project was sold to them with extravagant promises of employment and development.
Yet today, 3,600 hectares of pristine forest have been destroyed, replaced with a vast swathe of oil palm, and many farmers and their families find themselves destitute with little compensation – if any – awarded to them for the loss of their land.
Finding themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances, three of them are today launching their legal action on behalf of the rest of the community against the oil palm company, Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL), demanding the restitution of their land and compensation for lost crops and income.
Although nominally independent, OPUL is 90% owned by Bidco Uganda, itself a joint venture between the oil palm giant Wilmar International, Josovina Commodities and Bidco Oil Refineries, a Kenya-based company. Wilmar International holds at least 39% of the shares in OPUL and is providing technical expertise for the project.
In launching the legal action in Masaka today, the Bugula islanders are taking on more than just these mighty corporations.
The oil palm project is backed by the Ugandan government, which even helped to finance it, and by a United Nations agency: the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which is “directly overseeing” the project after providing a $52 million loan.
So this is ‘improving access to land and tenure security’?
Established in 1974 after the World Food Conference, IFAD’s ‘motto’ is “Enabling poor rural people to overcome poverty”. Its Financing Policies and Criteria state that the projects it finances should incorporate “engagement with indigenous peoples” and “improving access to land and tenure security”.
The Bugula project is carried out under IFAD’s ‘Vegetable Oil Development Project – Phase 2‘ which claims to be aimed at “increasing the domestic production of vegetable oil and its byproducts, thus raising rural incomes for smallholder producers and ensuring the supply of affordable vegetable oil products to Ugandan consumers.”
According to IFAD, “Oil palm activities are carried out on Bugula Island in Kalangala District (Ssesse islands) and Buvuma Island in Mukono District. In the course of the project, about 3,000 smallholder farmers will directly benefit from oil palm development and 136,000 households from oilseed development. The project is directly supervised by IFAD.”
It records a total project cost of $146.2 million, to which it is contributing a $52.0 million loan repayable in 2018, co-financed with SNV Netherlands Development Organization, which is contributing $0.3 million. It claims to benefit 139,000 households.
The Ecologist spoke today with Alessandro Marini, IFAD’s Country Representative for Uganda by telephone, but he repeatedly refused to comment at that time because he was “on his way into a meeting”. He has since failed to respond to our email requesting his views.
The UK is the single biggest contributor to IFAD.
John Muyiisa’s story
In January, Anne van Schaik of Friends of the Earth Europe joined NAPE / Friends of the Earth Uganda in a fact-finding mission to Bugula Island, Kalangala, and visited the house of John Muyiisa, one of the plaintiffs.
John saw his 43-acre plot taken for the palm oil project, and has since not stopped fighting to get it back. John showed us the state of his house, which is about to collapse because he doesn’t have the resources to repair it. The foundations of the new house he was planning to build for his family have been left abandoned since the project began.
When he showed us the small plot that was left to him, John said: “We all depended on this land. My land was not only my income but also a secured future income for my children. It would have provided me with the money I needed to buy a new house. Now I have lost my land and our plans are shattered.” These concerns have found little sympathy among local government officials.
We also visited the nearby island of Buvuma, where IFAD has financed another oil palm project. When we expressed our interest to hear from the local community about the effects of the island’s palm oil project, they exhausted themselves by explaining the benefits of the project.
“There will be electricity, employment, new roads, and extra income for local palm oil growers”, officials told us. This sounded all-too familiar to what we heard during a visit in 2013, but two years on, these promises seem emptier than ever.
Once we had finished speaking with the officials, we joined them at a community meeting at the district house to discuss compensation for lost land. When the chairperson gave farmers the floor to talk about the effects of the project, many raised their hands.
They talked about how the compensation had been inadequate, how it is totally unclear to them how it had been calculated, and how some of them didn’t want to leave their land but were given no choice. Clearly embarrassed and annoyed, a local official responded and corrected them. “People should not first sign an agreement and then complain after”, he said.
His unsympathetic stance was mirrored by other government officials on both islands. Often we heard jokes about how farmers drank away their compensation money in bars, got themselves a second wife or otherwise managed to fritter it away.
This indifference, although unspoken, is implicitly shared by IFAD, BIDCO, OPUL and Wilmar. Indeed, the chain of responsibility stretches back further – to banks in Europe and the USA whose financial support sets the wheels in motion for these devastating land grabs.
Europe’s mega-banks financing palm oil explosion
Taking the case of Wilmar International, in 2014 US and EU financiers had a total of €371 million of shares in the corporation, and 1.1 billion Euro in loans outstanding to them.
For instance in the Netherlands, ING held more than €26 million in shares; the British bank HSBC held €298 million in loans, while BNP Paribas and Dutch Rabobank held €189 million and €111 million respectively. Deutsche Bank held €4 million in shares and €12 million in outstanding loans.
Like Wilmar, many of these financiers have adopted policies to address the environmental, social and governance impacts of their investments. However, there is no accountability mechanism in place for most of these commitments, and so there is no financial or legal incentive for financiers to follow through.
This means that many European financial institutions, through their investments in agribusiness projects, are supporting a significant number of what are in fact land grabs in the global South. Such incidents are widespread and growing: new cases are reported to civil society organisations on a near-weekly basis in countries from Cambodia and Papua New Guinea to Indonesia, Myanmar and Nigeria.
Europe needs to take action at the political level. Both by ensuring financial institutions on its soil are not complicit in land grabs, and by voting this year to finish reforms to halt the expansion of agrofuels which compete for cropland.
UN-IFAD must hang its head in shame
And clearly IFAD is an organization crying out for abolition. Its financing of the Bugula Island land grab is in clear violation of its financing principles and criteria, indeed the very purpose of its existence – “Enabling poor rural people to overcome poverty”
While IFAD speaks of “community-driven development approach to fighting rural poverty“, “improving access to land and tenure security”, “dynamic and inclusive rural development“, “food and nutrition security for all”, “inclusive growth and poverty eradication”, and “sustainable smallholder agriculture” it is actually financing land-grabbing projects that achieve the precise reverse of all its empty rhetoric.
Indeed it is robbing poor farmers and farming communities of their land and livelihoods, leaving them destitute, and handing over their wealth for plunder by foreign corporations and profiteering financiers.
As for John and the rest of the former farmers of Bugula, the next steps in their fight for justice will be taken in court in Masaka. With pressure coming at them from both sides, the message to oil IFAD, palm companies and financiers alike is clear: the battle against land grabs is on.
Action: to support John Muyiisa’s struggle in his search for legal redress for the farmers of Kalangala, please visit our crowdfunding page.
Australian company Petrel Energy has announced that it has found and certified the existence of 20 potential oil deposits in the north of Uruguay, the only country in the region that imports all the hydrocarbons that it consumes.
Uruguayan state petrol enterprise ANCAP said that the certification includes “20 conventional explorations,” with an estimation of risk-free resources “of up to 1.8 billion recoverable barrels which implies 5.6 billion barrels originally in the sub-soil.”
ANCAP emphasized that there may be more oil yet to discover, for which “more exploratory work is required, like various drillings, in order to determine the existence of significant hydrocrabon accumulations.”
The results are “extremely encouraging,” the company said, adding that the Australian company Schuepach confirmed that it will drill four exploratory wells in the zone between 2015 and 2017.
In recent years, Uruguay set itself the task of trying to find oil in its territory, sparking several offshore projects in 2009 and 2012.
Official figures show the energy bills of the poorest 10 percent of British households have grown at almost twice as the average rate in the country under the Tory-led Coalition government.
The research by the House of Commons Library published on Wednesday showed electricity bills for the affected group rose by 39.7 percent between 2010 and 2013, compared to 7.5 percent for the top 10 percent of British households and 22.2 percent on average.
In addition, the poorest group saw their gas bills increased by 53.3 percent compared to 23.9 percent for the top 10 percent and 29.2 percent for the average British home.
Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint said since Prime Minister David Cameron’s government took office in 2010 the average household energy bill has risen by 260 pounds.
“These figures show that the poorest households are paying the heaviest price for the Tories’ failure to stand up to the energy companies and ensure that the full savings from wholesale cost falls are passed on to all consumers,” said Flint.
Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at the uSwitch.com website also called for lower energy tariffs amid falling world oil and gas prices.
“Given the huge reduction in wholesale prices – which make up around half of energy bills – we believe standard tariffs can and should be cut even further,” said Robinson.
The data comes just days after British think tank Policy Exchange revealed that of the 2.3 million homes living in fuel poverty, 1.1 million are working households with one or more members holding employment.
The UK has seen rising energy costs in recent years. A separate report has shown that the average gap between the family’s energy bill and what it can afford is estimated to be around £400.
There Are More Oil Seeps Than All The Tankers On Earth
Deep underwater, and deeper underground, scientists see surprising hints that gas and oil deposits can be replenished, filling up again, sometimes rapidly.
Although it sounds too good to be true, increasing evidence from the Gulf of Mexico suggests that some old oil fields are being refilled by petroleum surging up from deep below, scientists report. That may mean that current estimates of oil and gas abundance are far too low.
Recent measurements in a major oil field show “that the fluids were changing over time; that very light oil and gas were being injected from below, even as the producing [oil pumping] was going on,” said chemical oceanographer Mahlon “Chuck” Kennicutt. “They are refilling as we speak. But whether this is a worldwide phenomenon, we don’t know.”
Also not known, Kennicutt said, is whether the injection of new oil from deeper strata is of any economic significance, whether there will be enough to be exploitable. The discovery was unexpected, and it is still “somewhat controversial” within the oil industry.
Kennicutt, a faculty member at Texas A&M University, said it is now clear that gas and oil are coming into the known reservoirs very rapidly in terms of geologic time. The inflow of new gas, and some oil, has been detectable in as little as three to 10 years. In the past, it was not suspected that oil fields can refill because it was assumed the oil formed in place, or nearby, rather than far below.
According to marine geologist Harry Roberts, at Louisiana State University, “petroleum geologists don’t accept it as a general phenomenon because it doesn’t happen in most reservoirs. But in this case, it does seem to be happening. You have a very leaky fault system that does allow it to migrate in. It’s directly connected to an oil and gas generating system at great depth.”
What the scientists suspect is that very old petroleum — formed tens of millions of years ago — has continued migrating up into reservoirs that oil companies have been exploiting for years. But no one had expected that depleted oil fields might refill themselves.
Now, if it is found that gas and oil are coming up in significant amounts, and if the same is occurring in oil fields around the globe, then a lot more fuel than anyone expected could become available eventually. It hints that the world may not, in fact, be running out of petroleum.
“No one has been more astonished by the potential implications of our work than myself,” said analytic chemist Jean Whelan, at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts. “There already appears to be a large body of evidence consistent with … oil and gas generation and migration on very short time scales in many areas globally,” she wrote in the journal Sea Technology.
“Almost equally surprising,” she added, is that “there seem to be no compelling arguments refuting the existence of these rapid, dynamic migration processes.”
The first sketchy evidence of this emerged in 1984, when Kennicutt and colleagues from Texas A&M University were in the Gulf of Mexico trying to understand a phenomenon called “seeps,” areas on the seafloor where sometimes large amounts of oil and gas escape through natural fissures.
“Our first discovery was with trawls. We knew it was an area of massive seepage, and we expected that the oil seeps would poison everything around” the site. But they found just the opposite.
“On the first trawl, we brought up over two tons of stuff. We had a tough time getting the nets back on board because they were so full” of very odd-looking sea floor creatures, Kennicutt said. “They were long straw-like things that turned out to be tube worms.
“The clams were the first thing I noticed,” he added. “They were pretty big, like the size of your hand, and it was obvious they had red blood inside, which is unusual. And these long tubes — 3, 4 and 5 feet long — we didn’t know what they were, but they started bleeding red fluid, too. We didn’t know what to make of it.”
The biologists they consulted did know what to make of it. “The experts immediately recognized them as chemo-synthetic communities,” creatures that get their energy from hydrocarbons — oil and gas — rather than from ordinary foods. So these animals are very much like, but still different from, recently discovered creatures living near very hot seafloor vent sites in the Pacific, Atlantic and other oceans.
The difference, Kennicutt said, is that the animals living around cold seeps live on methane and oil, while the creatures growing near hot water vents exploit sulfur compounds in the hot water.
The discovery of abundant life where scientists expected a deserted seafloor also suggested that the seeps are a long-duration phenomenon. Indeed, the clams are thought to be about 100 years old, and the tube worms may live as long as 600 years, or more, Kennicutt said.
The surprises kept pouring in as the researchers explored further and in more detail using research submarines. In some areas, the methane-metabolizing organisms even build up structures that resemble coral reefs.
It has long been known by geologists and oil industry workers that seeps exist. In Southern California, for example, there are seeps near Santa Barbara, at a geologic feature called Coal Oil Point. And, Roberts said, it’s clear that “the Gulf of Mexico leaks like a sieve. You can’t take a submarine dive without running into an oil or gas seep. And on a calm day, you can’t take a boat ride without seeing gigantic oil slicks” on the sea surface.
Roberts added that natural seepage in places like the Gulf of Mexico “far exceeds anything that gets spilled” by oil tankers and other sources.
“The results of this have been a big surprise for me,” said Whelan. “I never would have expected that the gas is moving up so quickly and what a huge effect it has on the whole system.”
Although the oil industry hasn’t shown great enthusiasm for the idea — arguing that the upward migration is too slow and too uncommon to do much good — the search for new oil and gas supplies already has been affected, Whelan and Kennicutt said. Now, companies scan the sea surface for signs of oil slicks that might point to new deposits.
“People are using airplane surveys for the slicks and are doing water column fluorescence measurements looking for the oil,” Whelan said. “They’re looking for the sources of the seeps and trying to hook that into the seismic evidence” normally used in searching for buried oil.
Similar research on known oil basins in the North Sea is also under way, and “that oil is very interesting. There are absolutely marvelous pictures of coral reefs which formed from seepage [of gas] from North Sea reservoirs,” Whelan said.
Analysis of the ancient oil that seems to be coming up from deep below in the Gulf of Mexico suggests that the flow of new oil “is coming from deeper, hotter formations” and is not simply a lateral inflow from the old deposits that surround existing oil fields, she said. The chemical composition of the migrating oil also indicates it is being driven upward and is being altered by highly pressurized gases squeezing up from below.
This upwelling phenomenon, Whelan noted, fits into a classic analysis of the world’s oil and gas done years ago by geochemist-geologist John Hunt. He suggested that less than 1 percent of the oil that is generated at depth ever makes it into exploitable reservoirs. About 40 percent of the oil and gas remains hidden, spread out in the tiny pores and fissures of deep sedimentary rock formations.
And “the remaining 60 percent,” Whelan said, “leaks upward and out of the sediment” via the numerous seeps that occur globally.
Also, the idea that dynamic migration of oil and gas is occurring implies that new supplies “are not only charging some reservoirs at the present time, but that a huge fraction of total oil and gas must be episodically or continuously bypassing reservoirs completely and seeping from surface sediments on a relatively large scale,” Whelan explained.
So far, measurements involving biological and geological analysis, plus satellite images, “show widespread and pervasive leakage over the entire northern slope of the Gulf of Mexico,” she added.
“For example, Ian MacDonald at Texas A&M has published some remarkable satellite photographs of oil slicks which go for miles in the Gulf of Mexico in areas where no oil production is occurring.” Before this research in oil basins began, she added, “changes in reservoired oils were not suspected, so no reliable data exists on how widespread the phenomenon might be in the Gulf Coast or elsewhere.”
The researchers, especially the Texas team, have been working on this subject for almost 15 years in collaboration with oil industry experts and various university scientists. Their first focus was on the zone called South Eugene Island block 330, which is 150 miles south of New Orleans. It is known as one of the most productive oil and gas fields in the world. The block lies in water more than 300 feet deep.
As a test, the researchers attempted to drill down into a known fault zone that was thought to be a natural conduit for new petroleum. The drilling was paid for by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Whelan recalled that as the drill dug deeper and deeper, the project seemed to be succeeding, but then it abruptly ended in failure. “We were able to produce only a small amount of oil before the fault closed, like a giant straw,” probably because reducing the pressure there allowed the fissure to collapse.
In addition to the drilling effort and the inspection of seeps, Whelan and her colleagues reported that three-dimensional seismic profiles of the underground reservoirs commonly show giant gas plumes coming from depth and disrupting sediments all the way to the surface.
This also shows that in an area west of the South Eugene Island area, a giant gas plume originates from beneath salt about 15,000 feet down and then disrupts the sediment layers all the way to the surface. The surface expression of this plume is very large — about 1,500 feet in diameter. One surprise, Whelan said, was that the gas plume seems to exist outside of faults, the ground fractures, which at present are the main targets of oil exploration.
It is suspected that the process of upward migration of petroleum is driven by natural gas that is being continually produced both by deeply buried bacteria and from oil being broken down in the deeper, hotter layers of sediment. The pressures and heat at great depth are thought to be increasing because the ground is sinking — subsiding — as a result of new sediments piling up on top. The site is part of the huge delta formed over thousands of years by the southward flow of the massive Mississippi River. Like other major deltas, the Mississippi’s outflow structure is continually being built from sands, muds and silts washed off the continent.
Analysis of the oil being driven into the reservoirs suggests they were created during the so-called Jurassic and Early Cretaceous periods (100 million to 150 million years ago), even before the existing basin itself was formed. This means the source rock is buried and remains invisible to seismic imaging beneath layers of salt.
In studying so-called biomarkers in the oil, Whelan said, it was concluded that the oil is closely related to other very old oils, implying that it “was probably generated very early and then remained trapped at depth until recently.” And, she added, other analyses “show that this oil must have remained trapped at depths and temperatures much greater than those of the present-day producing reservoirs.”
At great depth, where the heat and pressure are high enough, she explained, methane is produced by oil being “cracked,” and production of gas “is able to cause sufficient pressure to periodically open the fracture system and allow upward fluid flow of methane, with entrapment of oil in its path.”
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.
Earlier this week, economist Roger Bezdek gave a presentation at the Ronald Reagan Building titled “Carbon Dioxide: Social Cost or Social Benefit?” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank covered the event and published a short review titled “The new climate denialism: More carbon dioxide is a good thing.”
Granted, it’s hard to develop an argument about a complex, technical subject in a 760-word column, but Milbank doesn’t even try. He takes cheap shots and spouts off without knowing whereof he speaks.
Milbank starts with a snarky putdown, asserting that “though Bezdek is an economist, not a scientist, he played one on Monday.” How so? Some of Bezdek’s slides show the fertilization effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on crop yields and plant growth. For example:
That is not playing scientist, it is citing scientific research.
Another slide shows that, over the past 250 years, CO2 emissions closely correlate with population growth, life expectancy, and per capita GDP.
Milbank retorts that “correlation is not the same as causation.” Deep! But does he really think unprecedented improvements in the human condition — a greater than doubling of average human life expectancy, an eight-fold increase in the sheer abundance of human life, and an eleven-fold increase in global per capita GDP — would have occurred without fossil fuels?
Milbank repeatedly misfires, as the excerpts below (indented in blue) and my comments (standard width in black) show.
For years, the fossil-fuel industries have been telling us that global warming is a hoax based on junk science.
Name a single CEO of any major energy company or trade association who says that! If there are any, they are outliers. Skeptics argue that predictions of catastrophic global warming are based on speculative interpretations of selective evidence and models projections that increasingly diverge from observations. That’s a different thesis — and much harder to refute. Milbank inveighs against a straw man.
But now these industries are floating an intriguing new argument: They’re admitting that human use of coal, oil and gas is causing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to rise — but they’re saying this is a good thing.
New argument? The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change has emphasized the ecological and health benefits of atmospheric CO2 enrichment since its inception in 1998. Founder Sherwood Idso’s first peer-reviewed paper on the subject was published in 1991.
I pointed out to Bezdek that increasing energy use fueled the economic growth, and CO2 was just a byproduct. So wouldn’t it make more sense to use cleaner energy?
CO2 does not dirty the air, so reducing/capturing CO2 emissions does not make energy cleaner. CO2 is not “just” a byproduct; it is the inescapable byproduct. Thus, UN emission reduction targets endanger both existing economic, health, and welfare benefits and progress towards a wealthier, healthier world.
He [Bezdek] went on to point out that “35,000 people every year in the United States die in automobile accidents, but the solution is not to ban automobiles. You try to make them safer.” And the solution to climate change is not to ban energy but to make it cleaner.
Making energy “cleaner” in the present context means banning (rapidly phasing out) the carbon-based fuels that currently supply 82% of U.S. and world energy consumption, and are projected — absent additional market-rigging interventions — to supply 80% of U.S. energy in 2040.
The presentation began as a standard recitation of the climate-change denial position, that “there’s been no global warming for almost two decades” and that forecasts are “based on flawed science.”
Milbank provides no evidence that the “standard recitation” is incorrect – very likely because he can’t.
So instead, he resorts to name calling and labels Bezdek a ‘denialist.’
Enough back and forth. What matters is the big picture. Some 1.3 billion people in developing countries have no access to electricity and 2.3 billion people face chronic electricity shortages.
Even in Europe and the United States, millions of low-income households struggle with high energy costs. Many must choose between heating and eating.
Source: EU Fuel Poverty Network
Source: Bezdek (2014)
Forcing an energy-starved planet to abandon fossil fuels before cheaper substitutes are available is bound to have profound social costs. That is Bezdek’s thesis, and it is spot on. Milbank is in denial.
Natural gas and oil are widely considered to originate on Earth from the chemical evolution of biological debris. A view, widespread in earlier times and entertained by Mendeleev among others, was instead that these substances originated in materials laid down in the formation process of the Earth, and later percolated towards the surface.
Similar hydrocarbons are widespread on many other planetary bodies, as well as on comets and generally in deep galactic space, clearly not related to biological materials there.
Thermodynamic considerations show that in the high-pressure, high-temperature regime of the outer mantle of the Earth, hydrogen and carbon will readily form hydrocarbon molecules, and some of those will be stable during ascent into the outer crust. There is no reason now for invoking the unique origin of biology for the Earth’s hydrocarbons, different from the origin of similar materials on the other planetary bodies.
The many molecules of unquestionably biological origin in petroleum – hopanes, pristine, phytane, steranes, certain porphyrins – can all be produced by bacteria, and such microbial life at depth is indeed now seen to be widespread. The presence of these molecules can no longer be taken to be indicative of a biological origin of petroleum, but merely of the widespread presence of a microflora at depth. The presence of helium and of numerous trace metals, often in far higher concentrations in petroleum than in its present host rock, has then an explanation in the scavenging action of hydrocarbon fluids on their long way up. Many mineral deposits may be due to the formation and transportation of organo-metallic compounds in such streams, often interacting with microbial life in the outer crust.
A 6.6 km deep well drilled in the granite of Sweden shows petroleum and gas, and bacteria that can be cultured, all in the complete absence of any sediments, and hence of any biological debris. Combustible gas in large sample containers has been brought to the surface from a depth of more than 6.5 km. It will readily burn, and it shows a composition which includes methane and heavier hydrocarbons up to C-7, as well as free hydrogen. The greatest concentrations of this gas are in and close to the various intrusions of volcanic rocks (dolerite), indicating that the gases have used the pathways from depth that the volcanic rock created or used in its ascent.
The Origin of Methane (and Oil) in the Crust of the Earth
U.S.G.S. Professional Paper 1570, The Future of Energy Gases, 1993
The deposits of hydrocarbons in the crust of the Earth have long been regarded by many investigators as deriving from materials incorporated in the mantle at the time of the Earth’s formation. Outgassing processes, active in all geological epochs, then transported the liquids and gases liberated there into porous rocks of the crust. The alternative viewpoint, that biological debris was the source material for all crustal hydrocarbons, gained widespread acceptance when molecules of clearly biological origin were found to be present in most commercial crude oils.
Modern information re-directs attention to the theories of a non-biological, primeval origin. Among this information is the prominence of hydrocarbons—gases, liquids and solids—on many other bodies of the solar system, as well as in interstellar space. Advances in high-pressure thermodynamics have shown that the pressure-temperature regime of the Earth would allow hydrocarbon molecules to be formed and to survive between the surface and a depth of 100 to 300 km. Outgassing from such depth would bring up other gases present in trace amounts in the rocks, thus accounting for the well known association of hydrocarbons with helium. Recent discoveries of the widespread presence of bacterial life at depth point to this as the origin of the biological content of petroleum. The carbon budget of the crust requires an outgassing process to have been active throughout the geologic record, and information from planets and meteorites, as well as from mantle samples, would suggest that methane rather than CO2 could be the major souce of surface carbon. Isotopic fractionation of methane in its migration through rocks is indicated by numerous observations, providing an alternative to biological processes that have been held responsible for such fractionation. Information from deep boreholes in granitic and volcanic rock of Sweden has given support to the theory of the migration of gas and oil from depth, to the occurrence of isotopic fractionation in migration, to an association with helium, and to the presence of microbiology below 4 km depth.
The gas methane, CH4, the principal component of natural gas, does not contain sufficient evidence in itself from which to deduce its origin on the Earth. There is some evidence from its isotopic composition, but interpretations of that are not unique. Information, however, exists in the mode of occurrence of natural gas reservoirs, in the geographic and geological relationships, in associated chemicals, and, above all, in the frequent association with other hydrocarbons, specifically crude petroleum and bituminous coal. Although there are numerous occurrences of natural gas without the heavier hydrocarbons, the association is generally so clear that one cannot contemplate an origin for the natural gas deposits independent of those of petroleum. We shall therefore first consider the origin of the whole set of hydrocarbons, including natural gas, and then discuss aspects that are specific to methane. … continue