Royal Dutch Shell has confirmed it is not planning to drill off Alaska’s north coast this summer, in an admission that the controversy that has dogged its Arctic exploration plans has set back its ambitions for another year.
In a statement, Shell said it had told the US Minerals Management Service that it had withdrawn its Plan of Exploration for the Beaufort Sea for 2007-09, meaning that it will miss the short window for drilling in the area this summer.
The move is really only a formal acceptance of a position that was generally understod already: drilling this year was going to be too difficult. Shell insists, however, that this is a setback, not a defeat. In the Arctic, one of the last great frontiers for oil and gas exploration, it is playing the long game.
The US government is creating four Renewable Energy Coordination Offices and a string of smaller renewable energy teams in key states to expedite applications, processing, reviews and permitting of renewable energy projects. Time is of the necessity, according to Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior:
At no time in our history has the need for a new energy policy been so urgent. We import more than two-thirds of our oil, costing us hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Unemployment is at 8.5 per cent. Carbon emissions are rising. Our national security is threatened. And countries like China and India are ready to cash in by leading the global clean energy economy.
The main Renewable Offices will be in California, Nevada, Wyoming and Arizona. The smaller ones will be in New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Oregon.
Mr Salazar noted the Interior department is investing $41m through the president’s economic recovery plan to facilitate a rapid move to large-scale production of renewables on public lands.
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has become the latest organisation to wade into the murky waters of the Waxman-Markey bill, the proposed legislation that would introduce a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide in the US.
Devon Energy, the US’ biggest independent oil and gas company, reported today a net loss of $4bn for the first quarter, or $8.92 per share. That poor result stemmed from a $4.2bn non-cash, after-tax reduction in the carrying value of oil and gas properties, which have fallen with the plunge in commodity prices. Without that charge, Devon earned $216m, or 48 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2009.
Nonetheless, the net results looked particularly grim when compared with net earnings of $749m, or $1.68 per share in the first quarter of 2008. Those results came when oil and natural gas prices were on the rise, before the economic downturn hit.
Yet, despite the downturn, Devon has forged ahead with production, with combined oil, gas and natural gas liquids production averaging 685,000 oil-equivalent barrels per day in the first quarter. That was a seven per cent increase in production, compared with the year-earlier quarter, at a time when many others in the industry are scaling back given the sharp dropoff in demand.
A leaked letter from the Finnish safety inspectorate to Areva, the French nuclear company which is building a new reactor in Finland, has been seized upon by green campaigners opposing the operation.
The letter expresses concerns about the control and protection systems at the site, and holds out the prospect that construction will have to be halted.
Teollisuuden Voima Oyj , in response to reports on the letter in the Finnish media, said the construction was carrying on.
The letter, from Jukka Laaksonen, director general of STUK, the Finnish nuclear watchdog, to Anne Lauvergeon, the chief executive of Areva, does raise serious issues, however.
In it, Mr Laaksonen writes: “The construction of Olkiluoto 3 plant seems to proceed generally well but I cannot see real progress being made in the design of the control and protection systems. Without a proper design that meets the basic principles of nuclear safety, and is consistently and transparently derived from the concept presented as an annex to the construction license application, I see no possibility to approve these important systems for installation. This would mean that the construction will come to a halt and it is not possible to start commissioning tests.”
Areva has not yet replied.
A survey of global utility company executives from PWC, the professional services group, released on Thursday morning, gives a sobering view of the impact of the global recession and the credit crunch on energy companies’ investment plans, and also on the fight against climate change.
It is further evidence of how governments hoping to deliver steep reductions on carbon dioxide emissions still have a great deal more to do.
Two thirds of the power utility executives surveyed – from 65 companies in 39 countries – said the credit crunch was having a high or very high impact on their business. Almost four fifths felt that the recession would slow down responses to climate change.
A crisis is also an opportunity, as the cliche has it, but those responses show how governments trying to use the economic and financial crisis as an opportunity to restructure the energy industry are fighting uphill.
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