Following closely on last week’s March for Science, activists are preparing for the People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29. This event will mark President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, and comes as the Trump administration is debating whether the United States should continue to participate in the 2015 Paris Agreement on limiting global carbon emissions.
Among the areas now at risk are Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which protects more than 1.3 million acres of land. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management/flickr/cc)
President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered federal officials to launch a review of national monument designations, potentially setting the stage to gut environmental protections for public lands and oceans.
The executive order instructs the Department of the Interior to review the designation of every monument larger than 100,00 acres protected by the Antiquities Act since 1996. It could give fossil fuel companies access to millions of acres for new drilling, climate justice advocates warned. Continue reading →
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates has been invited to testify publicly before Congress on the investigation into alleged Russian election meddling.
The hearing is expected to take place after May 2. Former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper are also scheduled to testify.
Yates was originally set to appear before the House Intelligence Committee in March, but the hearing was canceled by then-lead investigator Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who has since stepped down amid accusations of ethics violations. Continue reading →
It appears that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gotten himself elected dictator of Turkey through 2029, by a conveniently slim margin of 51-49%. So for other autocratic world leaders out there hoping to replicate his feat—who are tired of pesky Constitutions and Executive limitations—here are a few helpful steps he took that you can follow:
(1) Stage a military coup against your authoritarian regime and blame the so-called conspiracy on an America-living cleric (Fethullah Gulen), who you can then accuse of being a shadowy foreign puppet. And don’t worry if you’re actually a member of NATO and host U.S. military bases on your territory, most of your paranoid lumpen supporters will barely notice the disconnect between your words and reality. Continue reading →
Exxon is applying for a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department to bypass U.S. sanctions against Russia and resume offshore drilling in the Black Sea with the Russian oil company Rosneft, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Among those charged with deciding to grant the permit is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon who previously oversaw the company’s Russia operations. Continue reading →
Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails began a hunger strike on Monday, protesting dismal conditions as well as “Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation.”
Some said as many as 1,500 political prisoners in six jails across Israel were participating in the open-ended strike, commemorating Palestinian Prisoners’ Day and coming ahead of June’s 50-year anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War, when the occupation began. Solidarity rallies were also taking place in the occupied cities of Ramallah, Hebron, and Nablus. Continue reading →
Two weeks after President Donald Trump gave military officials wider authority for conducting airstrikes in Somalia, the United States military said that dozens of troops had arrived in the country, a sign of increased U.S. involvement there.
The arrival of the roughly 40 regular troops in the capital of Mogadishu occurred on April 2, and marks, as the BBCwrites, “the first time regular U.S. troops have been deployed in Somalia since 1994,” months after a notorious battle that left thousands of Somalis dead. Continue reading →
Turkish women are leading the opposition. “This is not a coincidence,” writes author and activist Elif Shafak. “When societies slide into authoritarianism, ultranationalism and fanaticism, women have much more to lose than men.” (Photo: Guido Menato/cc/flickr)
Turkish citizens head to the polls on Sunday to vote on a historic referendum that could potentially cement autocratic rule in the nation, consolidating power for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
If the referendum passes, “it will abolish the office of prime minister, enabling the president to centralize all state bureaucracy under his control and also to appoint cabinet ministers,” AFPreports. Erdoğan would also “control the judiciary” and essentially “rule by decree,” Foreign Policy in Focus columnist Conn Hallinan further noted. Continue reading →
Arctic lands and waters hold irresistible allure for global oil companies. Despite opposition from environmental groups and President Obama’s 2016 ban on drilling in federal Arctic waters, exploration in Alaska has revealed massive new volumes of oil.
This comes at a time of low oil prices, when many observers felt the Arctic would remain off limits. Alaska has proved precisely the opposite. Although it has gone largely unnoticed outside the industry, foreign firms are partnering with American companies to pursue these new possibilities. I expect this new wave of Arctic development will help increase U.S. oil production and influence in world oil markets for at least the next several decades.
This is a global story, spurred by continued growth in world oil demand, especially in Asia; the dynamism of the oil industry; and the fact that the United States has become a major new petroleum exporter, something that would have seemed impossible only a few years ago. Such realities imply that decisions made in Washington, D.C. are far from the only forces shaping U.S. energy and climate change policy.
Fracking comes to the Arctic
Over the past year oil companies have discovered volumes on Alaska’s North Slope totaling as much as five billion barrels or more of recoverable oil. This is a 14 percent increase in U.S. proven reserves, based on recent estimates, which is no small thing.
One discovery, “Horseshoe,” made this year by the Spanish company Repsol in partnership with Denver-based Armstrong Oil and Gas, is the largest new U.S. find in more than 30 years. It is estimated at 1.2 billion barrels, and comes just after a find by ConocoPhillips in January, called “Willow,” evaluated at 300 million barrels.
Both of these are dwarfed by “Tulimaniq,” a spectacular discovery drilled by Dallas-based Caelus Energy in the shallow state waters of Smith Bay, about 120 miles northwest of Prudhoe Bay, in October 2016. Caelus has confirmed a total accumulation of as much as 10 billion barrels of light, mobile oil, with 3-4 billion barrels possibly recoverable at current prices of about US$50 per barrel.
These new finds may only be the beginning. Tulimaniq will produce from reservoirs of the same age as Horseshoe and Willow, 75 miles to the southeast. This strongly suggests that a large new stretch of the North Slope, mostly on federal land and in state waters (within three miles of shore), has been defined for further exploration. Burgundy Xploration of Houston and Australia-based 88 Energy also have another new drilling program underway to test shale intervals known to have sourced some of the oil at Prudhoe Bay, a supergiant field that has produced some 13 billion barrels to date.
A number of these new wells will be fracked – the first use of this technique in the Arctic. One or more of the oil-bearing rock units at sites being explored on the North Slope have low permeability, meaning that oil can’t flow within them very well or at all. Company engineers expect that hydraulic fracturing will be able to free such oil so it can be produced. Such has been the result for other shales and low-permeability reservoirs in places like North Dakota and Texas.
The logistics of finding large quantities of water and sand needed for fracking in the Arctic will be challenging, and probably more expensive than similar operations in the lower 48 states. It remains to be seen whether operators will clean, reuse and carefully contain frack water.
Green lights from the Trump administration
In another significant find, Italian company Eni has developed an oil field that lies in state waters, and so is not affected by Obama’s drilling ban. But the oil reservoir extends into federal waters of the Beaufort Sea. Called the Nikaitchuq Unit, it lies just west of Prudhoe Bay and is producing around 25,000 barrels per day.
Eni developed this field between 2005 and 2015 using an artificial island to drill horizontal wells in various directions from a single site. The company stopped activity in 2015 when prices collapsed, but intends to drill up to six wells this year. Its leases, which continue north into federal waters, were not automatically canceled by the federal ban, but Eni needs a federal drilling permit and has submitted an application to the Interior Department. The company plans to run a long horizontal well to access the additional oil, thereby avoiding any need for a rig in federal waters.
The Interior Department is now reviewing Eni’s application, which I expect it will approve. Geologic studies indicate that the oil continues across the state/federal boundary, and Eni’s proposal to use a horizontal lateral from an existing drill site appears to be aimed at minimizing environmental impacts.
Moreover, the Trump administration has pledged to promote fossil fuel development. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is a former congressman from Montana, which produces oil, gas and coal, and Alaska senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are strong proponents of oil and gas development.
The oil industry’s new dynamics
Why is all of this new Arctic drilling happening at a time when oil prices are low and in a place where production costs are high? The oil price collapse that has occurred since mid-2014 is the deepest slump since 1986.
Oil companies have ways of being nimble in hard times, such as selling assets, adjusting production levels and seeking mergers. Now rapid innovations in drilling, seismic imaging and data processing enable well-run companies to cut costs in multiple areas. Some firms can make money today at prices as low as $35 to $40 per barrel or even lower. This includes drilling offshore and fracking onshore.
Innovation and cost-cutting have made U.S. firms a potent global force and eroded OPEC’s dominance by keeping oil supplies high, despite a significant production cut by the cartel and many non-OPEC producers, including Russia. In this new era, smaller companies are making inroads in areas once reserved for giants like BP and Exxon. This shift is significant because smaller, independent companies, for whom new discoveries are especially important, tend to be aggressive explorers.
Oil remains our one unreplaceable energy source. Global mobility and a modern military are, as yet, inconceivable without it. Growth in global demand, centered in developing Asia, will continue for some time, as it did even from 2010 through 2014 when prices were above $90 per barrel.
The United States now exports around 5.7 million barrels per day of crude oil and refined petroleum products, double the level of five years ago and by far the largest volume in our nation’s history, thanks to major increases in sales to Japan, South Korea, India, Taiwan, Singapore and China. In short, we would be expanding fossil fuel production even without a Trump administration.
If these new discoveries become producing fields, the Alaskan Arctic will write a new chapter in the U.S. oil industry’s dramatic ascent. It will increase our leverage over OPEC and may help to counter Russia’s geopolitical influence. This prospect raises a new question: How will we will use our clout as the world’s most important new oil power?