oilprices

This is a sampler of the increasingly confused and borderline panicky reactions around the world to the plunging price of oil.   Intensely interesting puzzle emerging, as temporary price drops tease consumers, but more thoughtful observers see grave danger for producers, and the economies that are too reliant on them.

Setup: OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) had a meeting this week to consider the consequences of rapidly dropping oil prices.  The conventional wisdom was that Saudi Arabia, in concert with others, would cut production, thereby constricting supply, and pushing price back up.
In a twist, OPEC decided to do nothing, and prices responded by plunging even further – see graph above. Savvy observers take that as a sign that OPEC wants to wait it out, and strangle the production of exotic oil in the US and Canada – “exotic” because they require advanced and very expensive techniques to frack, cook, and process the flood of new oil coming on to the market.  Without the high prices we’ve gotten used to, that production begins to collapse.  The stage is set for classic boom and bust.

dropdead

Dallas Morning News:

In Vienna Thursday, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries voted to maintain production of 30 million barrels a day, about four times that of the United States. The news came as a shock to markets following predictions that governments in Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are heavily dependent on oil for public spending, would maneuver to try to raise the price of oil.

“We will produce 30 million barrels a day for the next six months, and we will watch to see how the market behaves,” OPEC Secretary-General Abdalla El-Badri told reporters in Vienna after the meeting, according to Bloomberg News. “We are not sending any signals to anybody. We just try to have a fair price.”

The fallout from OPEC’s decision is likely to mean more bad news for oil companies operating in the United States. Shale plays like the Eagle Ford in Texas and Bakken in North Dakota, which have boomed in recent years, are dependent on cost-intensive drilling techniques that analysts say are already uneconomic for some companies at current prices.

A report by Moody’s Investors Service earlier this week projected that capital spending by oil producers will decline 20 percent next year with “room for deeper cuts if weak oil prices persist.”

The financial press is reacting. Barrons, below, not known as a starry eyed promoter of sustainable futures, asks if oil may be accelerating its own decline.
Key phrase: “Volatility sells Teslas“.

Barrons:

The price of oil is plunging–and the shares of producers with it–after Opec decided not to cut production yesterday. Wolfe Research’s Paul Sankey and team think this is the beginning of the end for oil:

This is going to be volatile, and we can’t understand how that helps the Saudis. Volatility sells Teslas (TSLA). There seemed to be a clear degree of irritation in Saudi oil minister Al-Naimi’s comments to the crush of journalists; as ever, he had front run his position: no real cut because as he said, he expects the market “to stabilise itself eventually“. He is wrong…

We don’t think that global oil demand will significantly react to lower oil prices, and thus we think the market will clear at the point of US supply growth destruction. That will take six months to work through, at which point we will likely hit a significant slowdown in US oil production growth, falling Russian production, deteriorating OPEC member stability – notably in Venezuela, Nigeria, and of course Libya – and rising global demand. So we go low, to storage economics (likely $50/bbl WTI) in Q1 2015 and then squeeze supply. And then we squeeze radically higher. As a result, the world accelerates its move away from oil. The conclusion will be, OPEC, like Rockefeller, ultimately damned itself.

The New York Times mentions “winners” and “losers” in this development. Losers include oil  state economies, Vladimer Putin, and – with a big questionmark – the climate.

NYTimes:

Winner: Global consumers. Anybody who drives a car or flies on airplanes is a winner, as lower oil prices are already translating into lower prices for gasoline and jet fuel. Lower transportation costs will also give manufacturers and retailers less urgency to raise prices, as their costs fall.

This is, in effect, a global supply shock, the reverse of what happened with energy in the 1970s (or, to a smaller degree, the mid-2000s) when petroleum shortages and embargoes led to a sharp rise in prices. It may not last forever, but for now consumers in the United States and beyond will be winners.

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Clip from “The Newsroom” making the rounds.

Glum, dumb, or numb?
My take, a blanket “we’re screwed” is just kind of lazy, and probably wrong.
If we can’t stop a 3 degree future, (a lot of folks say we can) that’s still a far better thing than a 10 degree future.

Like a Crow in Snow

November 29, 2014

Smart.

And we’re gearing up to kill off half of all species, just as we’re beginning to appreciate how much we can learn from them.

Below, Dr. Jim White, of the University of Colorado, on species extinction.

Hat tip to reader redskylite.

ScienceAlert:

Australian scientists are developing wind turbines that are one-third the price and 1,000 times more efficient than anything currently on the market to install along the country’s windy and abundant coast.

New superconductor-powered wind turbines could be installed off the coast of Australia within the next five years to finally take advantage of the country’s 35,000 km of coastline, which offers up some of the best wind resources in the world.

Developed by a team at the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, the wind turbines are a significant improvement on current technology. Right now, wind turbines cost about $15 million each to construct, and are super-heavy and tough to ship. They also require a whole lot of maintenance because they’re run using a complex, heavy, and costly piece of machinery called a gear box.

“In our design there is no gear box, which right away reduces the size and weight by 40 percent,” said lead researcher and materials scientist Shahriar Hossain. “We are developing a magnesium diboride superconducting coil to replace the gear box. This will capture the wind energy and convert it into electricity without any power loss, and will reduce manufacturing and maintenance costs by two thirds.”

Superconductors are a class of materials that have been getting a lot of attention this year due to their potential to completely revolutionise power systems and batteries as we know them. Right now, these systems generate power by running an electric current through a copper conduction loop, but during this process up to 10 percent of the energy is lost due to resistance. This, and the fact that the copper wire decays quickly, means our current power systems are relatively inefficient with short lifespans.

But superconducting materials generate no electrical resistance, which means they’re able to store electricity with no loss of energy. The current is also able to circulate over and over indefinitely, even if power is turned off. The Australian team is making their superconducting coil out of magnesium and boron, both of which are cheap, durable and easy to make.

The team estimates that their superconductor wind turbines will cost just $3-5 million each to build, because by next year, the magnesium diboride coil will cost just $1 per metre to manufacture.

 

“What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?” – Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson

First point – the “humanity” that Tillerson refers to consists mainly of ultra-wealthy one-hundredth of one percenters like himself, whose holdings in  fossil fuel mineral rights may become worthless as humanity moves to renewables.  Running the world on energy that is free, and available to all, can only improve the lot of the vast majority of human beings.

Second point: One of the things that bothers me about science fiction movies like “Interstellar” is that they perpetuate this idea that it should be relatively easy to find other nice places to live in the Universe, and that, hey, if we screw up this planet, no problem, we’ll just move elsewhere.
I’ve actually heard self-described “conservatives” express this idea.

Yeah, that’s conservative. Kill one planet? Get another.

Then there’s this.

Science:

The universe may be a lonelier place than previously thought. Of the estimated 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, only one in 10 can support complex life like that on Earth, a pair of astrophysicists argues. Everywhere else, stellar explosions known as gamma ray bursts would regularly wipe out any life forms more elaborate than microbes. The detonations also kept the universe lifeless for billions of years after the big bang, the researchers say.

“It’s kind of surprising that we can have life only in 10% of galaxies and only after 5 billion years,” says Brian Thomas, a physicist at Washburn University in Topeka who was not involved in the work. But “my overall impression is that they are probably right” within the uncertainties in a key parameter in the analysis.

The sheer density of stars in the middle of the galaxy ensures that planets within about 6500 light-years of the galactic center have a greater than 95% chance of having suffered a lethal gamma ray blast in the last billion years, they find. Generally, they conclude, life is possible only in the outer regions of large galaxies. (Our own solar system is about 27,000 light-years from the center.)

Things are even bleaker in other galaxies, the researchers report. Compared with the Milky Way, most galaxies are small and low in metallicity. As a result, 90% of them should have too many long gamma ray bursts to sustain life, they argue. What’s more, for about 5 billion years after the big bang, all galaxies were like that, so long gamma ray bursts would have made life impossible anywhere.

But are 90% of the galaxies barren? That may be going too far, Thomas says. The radiation exposures Piran and Jimenez talk about would do great damage, but they likely wouldn’t snuff out every microbe, he contends. “Completely wiping out life?” he says. “Maybe not.” But Piran says the real issue is the existence of life with the potential for intelligence. “It’s almost certain that bacteria and lower forms of life could survive such an event,” he acknowledges. “But [for more complex life] it would be like hitting a reset button. You’d have to start over from scratch.”

This idea is does not play well with the popular “Star Wars” bar-scene idea of a universe teaming with civilizations and intelligent life.  Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee sketched some of the other showstoppers for intelligent life in their 2003 book “Rare Earth”.
Below, a review:

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Many people don’t trust Obama on Climate – and one can certainly question how he has set priorities from early in his term. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the depth of the race-inspired hatred that would cause republicans in congress to so furiously stonewall every initiative from the Black guy.

That said, he’s got the language right here.

Another clip from “Years of Living Dangerously”.

Happy to see this clip made available from the ‘Years of Living Dangerously” series.

Jigar Shah is one very impressively smart guy.  If you don’t know his name, you should.