Daily Archives: June 21, 2010

Fiona Harvey

As we reported earlier, a claim that the IPCC was wrong on the effects of rainfall on the Amazon has been retracted.

What happened was, in brief, this: in its landmark 2007 report on climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that an estimated 40 per cent of the Amazon forest could be at risk from the sorts of reductions in rainfall expected from climate change.

Unfortunately, the source for this finding in the IPCC was not properly given. It was confused with a separate claim, based on a Nature paper, that was mainly about other factors that destroy the Amazon, such as logging, ranching and forest fire.

This confusion in the sourcing allowed climate change sceptics to claim that this was another example of the IPCC making things up.

It wasn’t. In fact, the 40 per cent finding had a highly credible source: the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM).

But the sceptics either did not know this, or ignored it.

Now, the spotlight has been thrown on this debacle once more because the UK’s press watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission, has ruled in favour of a scientist, Simon Lewis, who was misquoted in the report on the Amazonian claim run by the Sunday Times in January this year.

Dr Lewis told Energy Source he had been trying to point out that the Amazonian finding was correct, but should have been attributed to two separate sources.

So now it is clear that the original finding was correct. Some sceptics, however, have been scoffing still, saying that the science behind the finding was out of date and that the 2005 droughts in the Amazon showed that the rainforest was resilient to a lack of rainfall.

But Dr Lewis pointed out to us that he was co-author of another recent Science paper that backed up the original finding, by showing that the Amazon could under conditions of reduced rainfall – and even in the case of a reduction in rainfall that is smaller than the reductions the IPCC is forecasting – be extremely vulnerable.

The debacle shows how in the heat of the “Climategate” affair, claims were made about the IPCC’s findings and practices that have not all been borne out. The IPCC admits to one error, of claiming that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. But the handful of other complaints that have been brought – the Amazonian finding, which has been much discussed all over the blogosphere; a finding that parts of North Africa could see crop yields decline drastically (which the IPCC concedes was “poorly worded”); complaints concerning its use of “grey literature” that had not been peer-reviewed – it stands over.

An inquiry convened by the IPCC into the claims is not expected to report until the autumn.

That the IPCC has been vindicated in the case of this alleged error is unlikely to make much impression on jubilant sceptics. Nor is the story likely to gain the prominence that the original allegation did. Unfortunately, mud – Amazonian mud, in this case – sticks.

Kate Mackenzie

Whatever the outcome of the latest efforts to contain oil flowing from the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, the problem will ultimately only be fixed by the two relief wells.

BP has said the wells, for which drilling began on May 2 and May 19 respectively, will be completed in July or August. BP’s latest update and this diagram published on Friday (click through for full size), shows the well just shy of 16,000 feet – or about 2,000 feet away from its target depth [Update: to clarify, these distances include the water depth, which is why they are longer than the distances given by Unified Command.]

Regardless of how far the well is from reaching its target depth, intercepting the well look like being the next big unknown. The Ixtoc and Montara relief wells – both in much shallower waters – show how difficult this can be.

Sheila McNulty

Royal Dutch Shell recognises that the industry has ground lost in public perception of safe drilling by the oil spill in the Gulf. Marvin Odum, head of Shell’s business in the Americas, said in an interview that the past few years of educational outreach by the industry – and its own safety record – had started to pay dividends.  People in the US were getting a clear picture of oil and gas and its importance to the energy mix and energy security. That is why, he said, President Barack Obama had moved toward opening more areas to offshore drilling when the disaster in the Gulf struck:

The progress we made on that point was very significant. This accident and this spill in the Gulf has clearly set that back. The industry has a tremendous amount of ground to be gained back with the public. We understand that.

He intends to do that by telling and showing regulators, politicians and others that Shell’s global drilling standards and operating procedures and culture of safety first allows for protecting the environment  while meeting energy needs. Shell’s global standards often exceed regulatory requirments. This is an argument everyone has been making, but Shell recognises decision makers must see and understand the effectiveness of this approach and it intends to show it to them.

Specifically, Odum’s pitch for Shell to get back into the deepwater of the Gulf is that it has developed a rigorous training program for well engineers.

Kate Mackenzie

These very true words are in the latest FT column by Christopher Caldwell, on the energy policy dilemma facing the US – not just in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, but the challenges of addressing the rising cost of oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Addiction is not too strong a word for Americans’ relationship to oil – there are communities that would die of withdrawal symptoms without it. A decade ago, petrol cost $1.50 a gallon. Many neighbourhoods built then become uninhabitable when it reaches $4. Long commutes can render low-wage jobs not worth taking and shopping trips not worth making. Like any addiction, oil addiction involves pre-existing dispositions as well as selfishness.

Many US administrations have tried to wean the country off its addiction to oil, particularly to imported oil. They failed, of course.

Kate Mackenzie

The Desertec project – an ambitious proposal to supply Europe with solar power from the Sahara desert – seems to be making some progress, with officials declaring there will be some transmission under way within five years.

At least, the potential political hurdles faced by Desertec supporters are being addressed, if reports of a multilateral talks involving Guenther Oettinger are anything to go by. From Reuters:

“I think some models starting in the next 5 years will bring some hundreds of megawatts to the European market,” Oettinger told Reuters after a meeting with energy ministers from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

He said those initial volumes would come from small pilot projects, but the amount of electricity would go up into the thousands of megawatts as projects including the 400 billion euro ($495 billion) Desertec solar scheme come on stream.

“Desertec as a whole is a vision for the next 20 to 40 years with investment of hundreds of billions of euros,” said Oettinger. “To integrate a bigger percentage of renewables, solar and wind, needs time.”

Oettinger said the risk of the cables being used to transmit energy generated from fossil fuels rather than renewables was “a good question”, but not one that should stop the project going ahead.

There’s nothing like a credit downgrade to focus the mind.

After Moody’s cut Anadarko’s rating to junk late on Friday, the US oil company (and 25 per cent non-operating investor in the Macondo well) broke its eight-week silence with this message from CEO Jim Hackett.

(Emphasis ours).

The mounting evidence clearly demonstrates that this tragedy was preventable and the direct result of BP’s reckless decisions and actions. Frankly, we are shocked by the publicly available information that has been disclosed in recent investigations and during this week’s testimony that, among other things, indicates BP operated unsafely and failed to monitor and react to several critical warning signs during the drilling of the Macondo well. BP’s behavior and actions likely represent gross negligence or willful misconduct and thus affect the obligations of the parties under the operating agreement.

Under the terms of the joint operating agreement (JOA) related to the Mississippi Canyon block 252 lease, BP, as operator, owed duties to its co-owners including Anadarko to perform the drilling of the well in a good and workmanlike manner and to comply with all applicable laws and regulations. The JOA also provides that BP is responsible to its co-owners for damages caused by its gross negligence or willful misconduct.

The operator of a well determines the detailed planning and execution of the well, and is responsible for the day-to-day activities of, and decisions executed by, personnel on the rig. Consistent with standard industry practice around the world, non-operating investors rely upon the operator to make the appropriate decisions on the rig.

So, Anadarko is trying to invoke a clause in a Joint Operating Agreement that challenges its share of any costs related to the oil spill on the grounds of gross negligence by BP.

Sheila McNulty

There are many ways people can get notoriety from the oil spill in the Gulf. Obviously the politicians are first in line. People such as Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal; the Congressmen who grilled Big Oil last  week; and even President Obama, who can win points if he plays it right.

But there are others who also stand to benefit. The dishwashing liquid soap, Dawn, is capitalising on the fact that those tasked with cleaning birds oiled in the spill have found its product to be the most effective.

Kate Mackenzie

The Sunday Times has published a correction of its report from January that a claim in an IPCC report that 40 per cent of the Amazon could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall was not based on peer-reviewed science. From the correction:

In the case of the WWF report, the figure had, in error, not been referenced, but was based on research by the respected Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) which did relate to the impact of climate change.

The World Wildlife Fund issued its own refutation of the report several months ago. WWF was also the source of the now-notorious claim quoted by the IPCC that Himalayan glaciers could be completely melted by 2035. Back in February, the organisation conceded that its Himalayas claim was indeed inaccurate. But at the same time, it said the Amazonian claim was correct and was sourced to a peer-reviewed publication; WWF had simply failed to cite that source.

Kate Mackenzie

In case the latest upward revision of official estimates of the rate of oil flowing wasn’t enough, Democratic congressman Ed Markey released what he says is an internal document showing that BP considered a worst case scenario of 100,000 barrels per day leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

There is no date on the document, but Markey says:

“At the time this document was made available to Congress, BP claimed the leak was 5,000 barrels a day, and told Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the worst case scenario was be 60,000 barrels a day”

Markey told media in early May, after a meeting with BP, that company executives had cited 60,000 as the worst case scenario.

Kate Mackenzie

- Countdown to disaster

- Shear ram failure tied to myriad factors

- 10GW of solar PV in 2010?

- Tony Hayward and the cleanup campaign

- European wind vs fossil fuel use

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