Monday, 6 April 2009

Qatar remains undeterred on LNG projects

By Andrew England in Doha
Published: April 5 2009 17:46

Qatar, the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, is pushing ahead with its multibillion dollar gas projects in spite of the collapse in energy prices and a steep fall in demand, a senior official said on Sunday.
But Faisal al-Suwaidi, chief executive of Qatargas, one of two-state controlled gas companies, said he expected that new gas projects around the world would be put on hold for up to two or three years. This would lead to a “big” supply-demand gap in five years, he said.

I don’t think we will see any decision made on new projects for the next two or three years as a minimum because of the outlook for the prices,” Mr Suwaidi told the Financial Times.
“If you see all the projects that were planned or talked about you see almost (supply/demand) balance . . . But now by 2014 you will see a big gap between supply and demand . . . because of the number of projects that have been either shelved, cancelled or postponed.”
Gas prices, which are often linked to oil prices, have fallen sharply as demand has dropped because of the global economic crisis, causing industry experts to predict a gas glut that may put further downward pressure on prices, particularly in the US and UK.
LNG, which is super-cooled so that it can be transported by tanker, provides about 7 per cent of gas supply and has become increasingly important in meeting marginal demand. Most LNG is sold in long-term contracts, but some is also sold into spot markets.
Qatar has been rapidly expanding its LNG production in recent years and on Monday it will inaugurate Qatargas 2, a $13bn project with an annual capacity of 15.6m tons of LNG. The development – the world’s largest LNG project – is targeting the UK market and will be capable of supplying 20 per cent of the UK’s gas needs.
Two other projects – Qatargas 3 and Qatargas 4 – are scheduled to go online by the end of next year, with each adding an additional annual capacity of 7.8m tons with a focus on the US and European markets. Overall, Qatar plans to increase its LNG production capacity from about 31m tons to 77m tons by 2012.
Mr Suwaidi said the US would continue to take “any quantity” as long as producers were willing to accept the price, but he believed the UK market would be oversupplied for the next four or five years.
“All our projects are under construction . . . and we are not worried in the long term. I would say in [the next] one or two years we will need to pay more attention to the disposing of the quantity,” Mr Suwaidi said.
“Shorter term, yes, we have concerns [about prices], but in the longer term the fundamentals are the same.”
Qatar boasts the world’s largest natural gas reservoir, the North Field – estimated to be about 900tcf (trillion cubic feet). However, a moratorium on new projects in the North Field was expected to remain in place until 2013 or 2014 because of delays completing a study into the field’s reservoirs, Mr Suwaidi said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Antarctic ice bridge collapse hailed as new sign of global warming

An ice bridge holding a vast Antarctic ice shelf in place has collapsed, providing new evidence of the extent of global warming, according to scientists.

Satellite images of the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula showed how the ice suddenly gave way.
The satellite picture, from the European Space Agency (ESA), showed that a 40 km (25 mile) long strip of ice believed to pin the Wilkins Ice Shelf in place had splintered at its narrowest point, about 500 metres wide.

"It's amazing how the ice has ruptured. Two days ago it was intact," David Vaughan, a glaciologist with the British Antarctic Survey, told Reuters.
"We've waited a long time to see this," he said.
The Wilkins, now the size of Jamaica or the U.S. state of Connecticut, is one of 10 shelves to have shrunk or collapsed in recent years on the Antarctic Peninsula, where temperatures have risen in recent decades apparently because of global warming.
The ESA picture showed a jumble of huge flat-topped icebergs in the sea where the ice bridge had been, pinning the Wilkins to the coast and running northwest to Charcot Island.
"Charcot Island will be a real island for the first time in history," Mr Vaughan said.
The loss of the ice bridge, jutting about 20 metres out of the water and which was almost 100 km wide in 1950, may now allow ocean currents to wash away far more of the Wilkins shelf.
"My feeling is that we will lose more of the ice, but there will be a remnant to the south," said Mr Vaughan. Ice shelves float on the water, formed by ice spilling off Antarctica, and can be hundreds of metres thick.
Cores of sediments on the seabed indicate that some of these ice shelves had been in place for at least 10,000 years.
"We believe the warming on the Antarctic Peninsla is related to global climate change, though the links are not entirely clear," Mr Vaughan said.
The loss of ice shelves does not affect sea levels - floating ice contracts as it melts and so does not raise ocean levels. But their loss can allow glaciers on land to slide more rapidly towards the sea, adding water to the oceans.

Armies around the world go green to save fuel – and lives

And the military's new interest in eco-solutions could bring benefits to us all
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Sunday, 5 April 2009

You could, perhaps, call it the "military-ecological complex". For the world's most powerful armies are going green, trying to kickstart an environmental-technological revolution in civvy street in the process. Nearly half a century after the outgoing US president, former general Dwight Eisenhower, warned that a proliferating "military-industrial complex" threatened to drive the world towards destruction, defence establishments are beginning to try to help to save it instead. And they have found that green initiatives can preserve lives on the battlefield too.
The Pentagon – which gave the world the gas-guzzling, 68 ton M1 Abrams tank, which does just over half a mile to the gallon – is leading the charge. But Britain's own Ministry of Defence, responsible for 70 per cent of all the government's carbon dioxide emissions, is not far behind. And the prestigious Royal United Services Institute is to hold a conference this year on what other Nato countries are doing.
The US military – the country's largest single energy consumer – has embarked on a drive to save fuel, and thus lives. Half of its wartime casualties are sustained by convoys, which are mostly carrying fuel and are a favoured target for enemies. It estimates that every 1 per cent of fuel saved means 6,444 soldiers do not have to travel in a vulnerable convoy.
One simple innovation – insulating tents in Iraq and Afghanistan with a layer of hard foam, reducing the need to heat and cool them – has saved 100,000 gallons of fuel a day. The Pentagon aims to get a quarter of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. It is to buy 4,000 electric cars (the world's largest single order) for use on its bases, and is developing hybrid armoured vehicles for the battlefield.
It has saved fuel by cutting the weight of aircraft – removing floor mats, redundant tools, loading thick manuals on to laptops, and using lighter paint – and within seven years plans to fly them on a 50/50 blend of ordinary fuel and biofuel, probably made from algae.
Five weeksago the MoD identified "reducing dependency on fossil fuels" as a main object of its research. It has already reduced carbon dioxide emissions from its buildings by 10 per cent this decade. All RAF planes, apart from the Battle of Britain Memorial flight and a few training aircraft, have been certified to fly entirely on biofuels, when they are available, and researchers are looking into solar-powered unmanned attack aircraft.
Scientists hope that the massive spending power of the military will spin off environmental technologies into civilian life, as jet engines, microchips, and global positioning systems did in the past. "We can be a test bed for a lot of things that normally would not seem to make powerful economic sense," said the US Assistant Army Secretary, Keith Eastin.

Trees are growing faster and could buy time to halt global warming

Plants and trees are growing faster because of rising carbon dioxide levels, potentially buying Earth more time to address global warming, according to scientists.

By Urmee Khan Last Updated: 9:01AM BST 06 Apr 2009
The phenomenon has been discovered in a variety of flora, ranging from tropical rainforests to British sugar beet crops.
It means they are soaking up at least some of the billions of tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere by humans that would otherwise be accelerating the rate of climate change.

Plants survive by extracting CO2 from the air and using sunlight to convert it into proteins and sugars.
Since 1750 the concentration in the air has risen from of CO2 278 parts per million (ppm) to more than 380 ppm, making it easier for plants to acquire the CO2 needed for rapid growth.
A study by the University of Leeds, published in the science journal Nature, measured the girth of 70,000 trees across 10 African countries and compared them with similar records made four decades ago.
On average, the trees were getting bigger faster and researchers found that each hectare of African forest was trapping an extra 0.6 tons of CO2 a year compared with the 1960s.
If this is replicated across the world's tropical rainforests they would be removing nearly 5 billion tons of CO2 a year from the atmosphere.
Scientists have been looking for a similar impact on crop yields and the experiments generally suggest that raised CO2 levels would boost the yields of mainstream crops, such as maize, rice and soy, by about 13 per cent.
Professor Martin Parry, head of plant science at Rothamsted Research, Britain's leading crop institute, said: "There is no doubt that the enrichment of the air with CO2 is increasing plant growth rates in many areas.
"The problem is that humans are releasing so much that plants can remove only a fraction of it," he said.
Humans are believed to generate about 50 billion tons of the gas each year.
However, scientists have warned against drawing false comfort from such findings. They point out that although levels will boost plant growth, other factors associated with climate change, such as rising temperatures and drought, are likely to have a negative effect.
Fred Pearce, environment consultant for New Scientist, said: "We know that trees do absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and about half is taken up from nature and half of that is by forests. But it doesn't change the story greenhouse gases are accumulating more than 2 per cent a year.
"It won't buy us much time as humans are releasing much more CO2 into the air, but it is useful information if it helps to protect existing forests."

The environment: Not green, just gloomy

The Guardian, Monday 6 April 2009

In his new book on global warming, the distinguished sociologist Anthony Giddens coins a paradox. What he helpfully calls Giddens's Paradox runs thus: however massive the dangers posed by climate change, their lack of immediate visibility in daily life means many people will do nothing concrete to tackle it; by the time they are prompted to action it will, by definition, be too late.
Other issues are semi-invisible to the naked eye but huge in their consequences. It has been apparent for years that our energy infrastructure needs renewal and yet, as we report today, business leaders warn that ministers are still not doing enough to ensure the UK does not run out of power. Today's energy strategy from the Confederation of British Industry is not averse to a plea for a subsidy here and a sop there. Ministers should approve new coal plants, it says, even without carbon capture and storage.
One cannot blame business lobby groups for lobbying. Where the CBI certainly is right is in pointing out that renewing our energy infrastructure offers an important route to move the economy to a lower-carbon footing. After all, nearly 40% of Britain's carbon emissions come from electricity generation. Yet the credit crunch is having a particularly disastrous impact on the renewables industry, which is struggling to raise finance. Even big players are pulling in their horns. Last week BP announced that it is to cut 620 jobs from its solar energy business. The company's "Beyond Petroleum" slogan should be revised - "Back to Petroleum" would now be more appropriate.
Markets do not ever do the long term especially well, but they get particularly myopic during a crisis. This poses a particular problem for Labour, which has long favoured a private led approach to both energy provision and to adapting to climate change. Worryingly, there was little sign of this altering at last week's G20 summit. True, there were the necessary warm words in the communique. But a summit that was supposed to define the terms on which the world economy is to be rebuilt has ducked the toughest challenge - how to reconcile prosperity with environmental security.
The same is true of the fiscal stimulus being launched by so many countries. Much of the money is being burned trying to reheat the old, carbon-intensive economy. For every South Korea, which claims 81% of its stimulus is green, there is a Britain, at just 7%. That pathetic figure is half the world average. Amid a market crisis, the UK government is still failing to assume a leadership role. This must change - and soon. Taken to its logical conclusion, Giddens's Paradox does not point to a happy ending.

UK climate policy not up to scratch, warns CBI

Juliette Jowit and Terry Macalister
The Guardian, Monday 6 April 2009

Business leaders have delivered a surprise attack on the government's environmental policy, arguing that ministers are not doing enough to cut global warming emissions or make sure the UK does not run out of power.
The CBI says billions of pounds of necessary investment will move to the US and China unless the government takes "urgent action".
It comes amid widespread disappointment that the G20 heads of state failed to come up with any real push on green issues as part of a $1.1tn (£743bn) financial aid package for the global economy.
The warning from the CBI follows a series of announcements by major energy companies, including Shell, BP and Centrica, that they would axe or reconsider investment in "low carbon" energy such as wind and solar power and carbon capture for coal-fired power stations.
Richard Lambert, the CBI's director general, said "politics and policy", not the recession, were delaying investment in the UK. He said the government's policies were on the "right path", but companies were "jittery" about investing in the UK because of delays with planning permission, poor National Grid connections, slow funding for new technology, and uncertainty over long-term carbon prices.
The government needs "to get on with it," said Lambert, ahead of today's launch of a new strategy for the energy industry. "If they don't, the risk is that the private capital needed will not come here in the volumes required."
Further evidence of the growing crisis of confidence in the green energy sector is exposed today by a survey which revealed that more than three quarters of Britain's green energy companies were now facing enormous financial difficulties gaining vital access to loans and investment money - a finding that has seriously shaken the industry's parent body.
Out of 39 member companies that responded to a poll by the Renewable Energy Association (REA), 32 said they were suffering from a shortage of cashflow and other problems, while only six said they were not affected at all.
Philip Wolfe, the director general of the REA, said the survey highlighted the need for immediate action by ministers. "Given all the rhetoric on the Green New Deal and Green Tech, it is astonishing that the renewables industry has received no dedicated support - even in areas that don't cost extra money," he said.
"As so little has been done, the last opportunity comes in this month's budget. Other countries have already committed huge stimulus monies to their renewables industries while we have nothing, so the UK industry is now at a serious competitive disadvantage."
Lambert said: "It's a bit of an edgy moment. If we're going to go to where we want to get to by 2020, we need to be moving pretty aggressively on policy."
The CBI's new strategy, one of four "road maps" to a low-carbon economy published today, will call for immediate and short-term actions, including clear planning guidance to fast-track investment in offshore wind farms and nuclear power stations and an upgraded National Grid. Ministers also need to make a quick decision about a promised trial of carbon capture and storage, and fund at least one other, says the business group.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change said there were "clear signals that there's an appetite for investment in nuclear energy" and this month it had increased the incentive for offshore wind power by 50%.
"The government has been working to ensure that the short, medium and long-term environment for energy investment remains healthy in Britain and that any barriers identified are swiftly removed," the department said.