Wednesday, January 16, 2008

US gives Alberta a Crude Sting.

New energy legislation disallows any US federal agencies to buy fuel for vehicles that is made from unconventional sources if its life-cycle production of greenhouse gas emissions is not the same, or less than that derived from conventional oil. This is potentially bad news for Canada, since while the Alberta tar-sands are thought to be one of the world's greatest sources of "oil" (greater than is reckoned to exist under Saudi Arabia), it is also one of the dirtiest resources in terms of the CO2 emissions that are incurred in squeezing it from the bitumen which constitutes the "tar". Potentially, then, the tar-sand oil might not be on sale in the US, which I really cannot believe, as pressure and decline begin to step on supplies of conventional crude oil, which are anticipated to peak somewhere between 2010-2015, with the latest estimate by Chris Skrebowski, that it will strike in 2011-2012. I am quite sure that this legislation, only a month old, will be amended as necessary, according to prevailing circumstances as they unfold.

I am increasingly aware that many events are predicted for 2012, and find this slightly alarming since this is the year on which the Mayan calender ends. Now, it may be that this particular means for reckoning time will simply start again at year 1, but there are many who are of the faith that something pretty dramatic is due then: either a global catastrophe or a paradigm shift in human consciousness. Since there is wide denial blanketing the subject of peak oil - not that it is not due, but that we can install some alternative technology e.g. a "Hydrogen economy" in time to save our rears - there may well be a huge shift in human awareness when the stuff begins to run-out and that is that, and the facts, timing and consequences of the event can no longer be concealed.

Meanwhile, the rules are set to apply to all fuels, including biofuels, and presumably that might impact negatively on corn-ethanol, depending on which analysis is taken to be the truth about its production efficiency. World food prices are soaring both in consequence of rising demand, poor crop yields in the past year, and for corn that much of this potential food crop is being commandeered to make ethanol fuel. I am guessing that the same legislation could be applied as a brake to restrict such food-for fuel actions, thus converting precious arable land back to its original and most pressing purpose which is to grow food to feed a rising human population. Without oil and gas (modern mechanised farming and artificial fertilisers and pesticides), even the earth's total allocation of farmland suitable for crop-agriculture could barely support half the current human population of 6.5 billion.

Just how dirty Alberta tar-sand oil is, depends on who is doing the sums. Figures supplied by the Canadian Centre for Energy Information indicate that the emissions from tar-sand fuel are about 8% higher than the mean for all US imports of crude oil, while independent "experts" think the figure is closer to 20%. Pierre Alvarez, President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, stated that the industry will make the case that a substantial level of CO2 emissions are incurred in shipping oil from the Middle East and from further across the world. Given the reserves they have, the Canadians are hardly going to give in gracefully, and in the limit of conventional oil supplies falling with calamitous consequences on the world economy, I doubt anyone will want them to.

Closer to home (in Europe that is), a fall in production of oil from Norway has been noted, according to figures released by the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate. A total of 237.8 million cubic metres (m^3) of marketable oil equivalents were produced in 2007, which is reduced by 26.2 million m^3 from 2004, the record year (Norwegian peak oil?). However, gas production has increased, and Norway looks to become a gas-nation from the oil-nation it was. Four new fields have begun their production during 2007: Blane, Enoch, Ormen Lange and Snohvit, while three more are due to begin production in 2008: Alvheim, Vilje and Volve. The overall estimates of petroleum resources under the Norwegian Shelf have not been amended particularly and remain at around 13 billion m^3 of oil equivalent.

Related Reading.
[1] "Alberta crude may be too dirty, U.S. law says," Martin Mittelstaedt, "Globe and Mail".
[2] "Norwegian oil production drops - Gas production up," "The Norway Post."

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