Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • JODI Oil and BP #7

    Posted on September 5th, 2016 Jo No comments

    I both love and loathe Geography at the same time. I squirm at the irregularities – not the Slartibartfastian squiggly coastlines – but the way that people of differing cultures, languages and political or religious adherences refuse to occupy territory neatly, and deny being categorised properly. Actually, no, that’s just a joke. I love diversity, and migration, and long may culture continue to evolve. I find the differing mental geographies of people intriguing – such as the rift between the climate change science community and those few shrill shills resisting climate change science; for some reason often the very same people ardently opposed to the deployment of renewable energy. How to communicate across psychological boundaries remains an ongoing pursuit that can be quite involving and rewarding sometimes, as the entrenched antis diminish in number, because of defections based on facts and logic. One day, I sense, sense will prevail, and that feels good.

    So I like divergence and richness in culture, and I like the progress in communicating science. What I don’t like is trying to map things where there is so much temporal flux. The constantly rearranging list of Membership of the European Union, for one good and pertinent example; the disputes over territory names, sovereignty and belonginess. When it comes to Energy, things get even more difficult to map, as much data is proprietary (legally bound to a private corporation) or a matter of national security (so secret, not even the actual governments know it); or mythical (data invented on a whim, or guessed at, or out of date). And then you get Views – the different views of different organisations about which category of whatever whichever parties or materials belong to. In my struggle to try to understand petroleum crude oil production figures, I realised that different organiations have different ways of grouping countries, and even have different countries in similar-sounding groups.

    So I decided that as a first step towards eliminating categorisation overlaps or omissions, I should establish my own geography which was flexible enough to accommodate the Views of others, and permit me to compare their data more knowingly. Here are my first versions :-

    1. Country Regional Grouping
    I have given up to three levels of geographical detail, and an alternative grouping for most of the main land masses. Here it is in Excel spreadsheet format (.XLS). And here it is as a Comma-Delimited text file (.CSV).

    2. Country Regional Comparison
    I have compared the definitions of territorial regions between the following organisations and agencies : JODI (Joint Organisations Data Initiative), BP plc (the international company formerly known as British Petroleum), OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), EIA (United States of America, Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration), IEA (International Energy Agency of the OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and the United Nations (UN). Here it is as an Excel spreadsheet (.XLS). And here it is as a Comma-Delimited text file (.CSV).

    There are some differences. Surprisingly few, in fact, if you only consider countries with significant oil production. I did find quite a lot of spelling mistakes, however, even in documentation that I assume was partially machine-generated.

    The result is that I can be fairly confident that if I separate out data for China, Mexico, Israel and Turkey and a few other less significant countries when I compare data sources, any large divergence in numbers will have to be down to the different ways that people count oil rather than the way they categorise territories.

  • JODI Oil and BP #4

    Posted on August 9th, 2016 Jo No comments

    In my seemingly futile and interminable quest to reconcile the differences between the data provided by the JODI Oil organisation and BP as revealed in part by the annual BP Statistical Review of World Energy, I have moved on to looking at production (primary supply), found a problem as regards Africa, and had some confirmation that a major adjustment in how the data is collected happened in 2009.

    First – the problem with Africa. The basket “Other Africa” for oil production is far less in the BP data than it is in the JODI Oil data – shown by negative figures in the comparison. For 2015, this is approximately 65% in scale (-3800 KBD) of the summed positive difference between the BP and JODI figures for the named countries (5884 KBD). This reminds me that there was a problem with the refined oil product consumption figures for “Other Africa” as well. Without a detailed breakdown of individual country accounts from BP it is almost impossible to know where these differences arise, it seems to me, or begin to understand why these differences are so large. Maybe I should just ask BP for a full country breakdown – if they’d ever deign to communicate this kind of information with me. Standing by my email Inbox right now… Could be here some time…

    It is fairly clear from the comparison for North America that a major shift in understanding by either BP or JODI Oil took place in 2009, as the oil production data converge significantly for that year onwards. There was similar evidence of this in the refined oil products consumption data.

    As with the consumption data, the production data for the Middle East region is strongly divergent between BP and JODI. I did read something potentially useful in the JODI Oil Manual, which I would recommend everyone interested in energy data to read. In the notes for Crude Oil, I read : “One critical issue is whether the volumes of NGL, lease or field condensates and oils extracted from bituminous minerals are included. All organisations exclude NGL from crude oil. If condensates are able to be excluded, it should be noted to the JODI organisation(s) of which the country/economy is a member. Most OPEC member countries exclude condensates.” Now, I guess, the struggle will be to find some data on condensates. Of which there are a variety of sources and nomenclature, be they light liquid hydrocarbons from oil and gas production or oil and gas refining/processing/cryoprocessing. There may be faultlines of comprehension and categorisation, such as about who considers NGPL or Natural Gas Plant Liquids from Natural Gas processing plants to be in the category of NGLs – Natural Gas Liquids, and therefore effectively in the bucket of Crude Oil.

    I’m no closer to any answers on why BP oil data doesn’t align with JODI Oil data. And it looks like I’ve just opened a whole can of condensate wormy questions.

  • JODI Oil and BP #3

    Posted on August 3rd, 2016 Jo No comments

    So after the mystery of why JODI Oil regional refinery products demand data (oil products consumption) is so different from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy for 2016, I took a look at the individual country data supplied by BP and compared it to the JODI Oil numbers.

    The first thing that struck me was that there are many items of data that are very similar between the BP and JODI Oil data; and yet there are also a good number that are significantly different – and the vast majority of these show BP reporting much higher oil consumption than JODI. This means that the definitions that BP and JODI are using for oil products consumption must correlate in many cases, when countries make their reports. But it also means that there are some understandings of oil consumption that BP has that do not have cognates in the JODI Oil reports.

    The second thing that struck me was that each region in BP apart from North America is showing a total much higher than JODI Oil. Only some of the countries are specifically named in the BP report, and other countries are lumped into the bucket of “Other” within each region. Each “Other” figure is much higher in the BP report than in the JODI Oil data. Part of the reason is clearly going to be because some countries have not been reporting to JODI Oil, or not reporting reliably. For example, for South and Central America, JODI Oil data for Bermuda, Cuba, El Salvador, Haiti and Suriname are all zeroes; and JODI Oil data for Bolivia has zeroes for NOV2015 and DEC2015 (other months average at 63 KBD). But these could all be expected to be low oil products producers; so it is unclear to me where BP thinks consumption is occurring outside of the individually-named countries.

    The “Other Africa” line is much higher in BP than in JODI, which looks dubious. I have not looked at this closely, but this might relate to countries such as Nigeria who produce and also consume a lot of oil.

    The most significant differences : countries where no JODI Oil data is available : Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Israel, Bangladesh, Pakistan; and also countries with medium-to-high BP oil consumption data compared to JODI : Brazil, Venezuela, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, all the named Middle East countries, South Africa, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam.

    It could be that in some cases the BP data is for all oil consumption – from national refineries and imports; whereas the JODI Oil data is for consumption from a nation’s own refinery. I would need to check this in more detail, but at first glance, the BP oil consumption data for the Middle East is much more divergent from the JODI Oil data than for other regions, and this does not make sense. I know that refinery product self-consumption is increasing in Middle East countries that are in strong economic development, but not all Middle East countries are experiencing increasing national demand, and I cannot imagine that oil products imports are so high in this region as to explain these differences between BP and JODI Oil data.

    Another thing to note is that Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) (formerly known as the “Former Soviet Union”) data divergence accounts for most of the data divergence in the “Europe & Eurasia” region; and that BP oil consumption data for the Russian Federation (which forms a part of CIS) is much higher than the data given to JODI.

    I now have too many questions about how and from whom all this data is sourced, how categories of liquid hydrocarbons are delineated, and doubts about how anybody could check the reliability of any of this data. Without more information, I cannot analyse this data further; but maybe looking at oil consumption is not that illuminating. There appears to be a small and steady increase in annual oil demand and consumption over the recent period – this is indicated by both BP and JODI Oil data. The real issues for my analysis are whether oil production is capable of sustainably satisfying this demand-with-small-annual-increases, so my next step is to move to look at liquid hydrocarbons production data.

  • JODI Oil and BP #2

    Posted on July 26th, 2016 Jo No comments

    Previously, I was comparing data from the annual BP Statistical Review of World Energy with the annual averages of JODI Oil data, and when I cast my eye over a table of differences, it was easy to spot that something happened in 2009 – the data from the two sources jumped to more closely correlate. For some countries and product types, if it didn’t happen in 2009, it happened in 2010; but since then some data lines have begun to diverge again. Either somebody was lying prior to 2009 (and by “lying”, I mean, making errors in reporting on hydrocarbon refinery), or something changed in the definitions of the sub-categories of hydrocarbon products from petrorefineries. At this stage, I cannot tell if the corrections were done by BP or by JODI Oil, but the corrections show a step change. This intrigued me, so, here follow a few diagrams and some summary notes.

    The example of North America is dominated by a correction in the data for the United States of America (whether the correction was in the JODI Oil data, or in the BP data) for the “Others” category. Since 2009, the data lines have been coming progressively closer, until it seems they are reporting from either the same sources, or using the same industry data to base their calculations on.

    Data from South and Central America as a whole is rather random when compared between BP and JODI – however there is a clear correction in the category “Others” in 2009, and perhaps a further correction to both “Light distillates” and “Others” in 2011. Since then, the trend is for BP and JODI data to diverge.

    The 2009 correction for the “Europe and Eurasia” region (an artefact) is mainly due to the big correction for the European Union in 2009 for “Light distillates” and “Others”. The data for CIS undergoes a smaller correction, and this is in 2010, for “Fuel oil” and “Others”.

    The “Others” category is also adjusted for the Middle East in 2009.

    There are minor corrections in the data for Africa in both 2009 and 2010, and recently a large divergence for “Middle distillates”.

    Asia Pacific data is corrected for “Light distillates”, “Middle distillates” and “Others” in 2009, reflecting corrections in both China and Japan data.

    Corrections in 2009 for OECD data are the main reason for the differences between BP and JODI to snap shut; whilst Non-OECD data still remains divergent.

  • JODI Oil and BP #1

    Posted on July 25th, 2016 Jo No comments

    Once a year BP plc publishes their Statistical Review of World Energy, as they have done for 65 years, now. Recent editions have been digital and anodyne, with lots of mini-analyses and charts and positive messages about the petroleum industry. Whenever energy researchers ask questions, they are invariably directed to take a look at the BP report, as it is considered trustworthy and sound. Good scientists always try to find alternative sources of data, but it can be hard comparing the BP Stat Rev with other numerical offerings, partly because of the general lack of drill-down in-depth figures. Two other reputable data sources are the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the JODI Oil initiative. I have already looked at EIA data and data from the National Energy Board (NEB) of Canada recently in order to check on the risks of Peak Oil. Now I’m diving into JODI.

    Two of my concerns of the week are to try to understand the status and health of the global economy – which can be seen through the lens of overall consumption of hydrocarbons; and to see if there are changes happening in relative demand levels for the different kinds of hydrocarbons – as this could indicate a transition towards a lower carbon economy. The BP Stat Rev of June 2016 offers an interesting table on Page 13 – “Oil: Regional consumption – by product group”, which breaks down hydrocarbon demand into four main categories : Light distillates, Middle distillates, Fuel oil and Other. The “Other” category for BP includes LPG – Liquefied Petroleum Gases, a blend of mostly propane and butanes (carbon chain C3 and C4), which are gaseous and not liquid at normal room temperature and pressure – so strictly speaking aren’t actually oil. They also have different sources from various process units within petroleum refinery and Natural Gas processing plants. The “Other” category also includes refinery gas – mostly methane and ethane (carbon chain C1 and C2), and hydrogen (H2); and presumably fuel additives and improvers made from otherwise unwanted gubbins at the petrorefinery.

    Not by coincidence, the JODI Oil database, in its Secondary data table, also offers a breakdown of hydrocarbon demand from refinery into categories almost analagous to the BP groupings – LPG, Gasoline, Naphtha, Kerosenes, Gas/Diesel oil, Fuel oil, and Other products; where LPG added to Other should be the same as BP’s “Other” category, Gasoline added to Naphtha should be equivalent to BP’s “Light distillates”; and Kerosenes added to Gas/Diesel oil should be analagous to BP’s “Middle distillates. So I set out to average the JODI Oil data, day-weighting the monthly data records, to see if I could replicate the BP Stat Rev Page 13.

    Very few of the data points matched BP’s report. I suspect this is partly due to averaging issues – I expect BP has access to daily demand figures, (although I can’t be sure, and I don’t know their data sources); whereas the JODI Oil data is presented as monthly averages for daily demand. However, there are a lot of figures in the BP report that are high compared to the JODI Oil database. This can only partly be due to the fact that not all countries are reporting to JODI – four countries in the Commonwealth of Indepdendent States (CIS) – formerly known as “Former Soviet Union” – are not reporting, for example. I’m wondering if this over-reporting in the BP report might be due to differences in the way that stock transfers are handled – perhaps demand for refinery products that are intended for storage purposes rather than direct consumption is included in the BP data, but not in JODI – but at the moment I don’t have any relevant information with which to confirm or deny this concept.

    Anyway, the data is very close between BP and JODI for the United States in recent years, and there are some other lines where there is some agreement (for example – Fuel oil in Japan, and Light distillates in China), so I am going to take this as an indication that I understand the JODI Oil data sufficiently well to be able to look at monthly refinery demand, refinery output and oil production for each region and hopefully reach some useful conclusions.

  • Peak Oil Redux

    Posted on July 22nd, 2016 Jo No comments

    Peak conventional crude petroleum oil production is apparently here already – the only thing that’s been growing global total liquids is North American unconventional oils : tight oil – which includes shale oil in the United States of America – and tar sands oil from bitumen in Canada – either refined into synthetic crude, or blended with other oils – both heavy and light.

    But there’s a problem with unconventional oils – or rather several – but the key one is the commodity price of oil, which has been low for many months, and has caused unconventional oil producers to rein in their operations. It’s hitting conventional producers too. A quick check of Section 3 “Oil data : upstream” in OPEC’s 2016 Annual Statistical Bulletin shows a worrying number of negative 2014 to 2015 change values – for example “Active rigs by country”, “Wells completed in OPEC Members”, and “Producing wells in OPEC Members”.

    But in the short term, it’s the loss of uneconomic unconventional oil production that will hit hardest. Besides problems with operational margins for all forms of unconventionals, exceptional air temperatures (should we mention global warming yet ?) in the northern part of North America have contributed to a seizure in Canadian tar sands oil production – because of extensive wildfires.

    Here’s two charted summaries of the most recent data from the EIA on tight oil (which includes shale oil) and dry shale gas production in the United States – which is also suffering.

    Once the drop in North American unconventionals begins to register in statistics for global total liquids production, some concern will probably be expressed. Peak Oil just might be sharper and harder and sooner than some people think.

  • Forty Years of Silence

    Posted on March 2nd, 2016 Jo No comments

    I thought I’d dip into an energy textbook today, not realising that I would encounter a new angle on a story of forty years of silence and denial that’s been shocking climate change commentators.

    Ever since Inside Climate News published a report on the company Exxon and the history of its global warming research (“Exxon : The Road Not Taken”), strong reaction has continued to accumulate, on a spectrum from disbelief, to disappointment to deep cynicism.

    In the United States, almost predictably in that uniquely litigious culture, various lawsuits are accumulating with the large oil and gas companies as their targets, and Exxon is the latest defendant. It is a matter of political, social and environmental import to have the facts where there is suspected misleading of the public on matters of science. In this case, if proved, those misled would include shareholders in the company.

    And it’s not just a question of global warming science here – Exxon’s alleged readiness to obscure basic physics and the implications of carbon loading of the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning may have also resulted in an obscuring of the scientific realities underlying their own corporate viability.

    You see, Exxon’s business interests rely on their continued ability to find and dig up oil and gas. Now last year was a difficult one, as depressed crude oil and Natural Gas commodity prices put some of Exxon’s resources “off-books”, so their reserves replacement – topping up their bankable assets – was only 67% of their previous end-of-year. It could be easy to connect the dots on this one – some of the gas they could pump is just too costly right now to get to. But what if Exxon are finally meeting another kind of Nemesis – of their own making – because they’re working on faulty geophysical data, which they produced themselves ?

    So, let’s start where I did, with Chapter Eight “Basin stratigraphy” of the reference book “Basin Analysis” by Philip A. Allen and John R. Allen, 3rd edition, published by Wiley Blackwell, ISBN 978-0470673768.

    The chapter introduces many important concepts regarding how sedimentary basins formed in deep Earth time – sediments of organic matter that have in some cases become reservoirs of fossil fuels. It talks about how strata get laid down – the science of “process stratigraphy”. Much of the logic relies on the phenomenon of the rising and falling of sea level relative to land masses over geological cycles, correlating with significant swings in climate. The book mentions early work by Exxon scientists : “Using seismic reflection results, a team of geologists and biostratigraphers from Exxon constructed a chart of relative sea level through time (Vail et al., (1997b), updated and improved by Haq et al. (1987, 1988)).” The chapter goes on to critique one important working assumption of that original work – that all sedimentary similarities must be an indicator of synchronicity – that is, that they happened at the same time. The text goes on to read, “In summary, we follow Carter (1998) in believing that the Haq et al. (1997) curve is a ‘noisy’ amalgam of a wide range of local sea-level signals, and should not be used as a global benchmark…its use as a chronostratigraphic tool by assuming a priori that a certain stratigraphic boundary has a globally synchronous and precise age, which it is therefore safe to extrapolate into a basin with poor age control, is hazardous.”

    Why is this important ? Because all of the understanding of petroleum geophysics relies on the stratigraphic charts drawn up by these scientists. And yet, even at their inception, there was corporate “confidentiality” invoked. According to a paper from Anthony Hallam, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 1984, 12: 205-243 : “Most important, details of the evidence supporting the eustatic claims of the Exxon group (Vail et al 1977) are not published, and hence their claims cannot be checked directly”. What ? A data set relied on not only by everybody in the fossil fuel energy industry, but also all geologists and even climate change scientists, has a fault line in the evidence ? Why would Exxon want to obscure the origin of this data ? Did they need to keep quiet about their stratigraphy science because it revealed too much about climate change ? Are there problems with the science, but that even they didn’t find out ? And is there then the possibility that they have relied too much on faulty 40 year old research in fossil fuel exploration and discovery ?

    Exxon might be starting to be more transparent – as this set of charts from 2010 reveals, “A Compilation of Phanerozoic Sea-Level Change, Coastal Onlaps and Recommended Sequence Designations”, Snedden and Liu, 2010, AAPG Search and Discovery, in which the text includes, “The magnitudes of sea-level change in this chart follow the estimation of Haq and Schutter (2008) and Hardenbol et al. (1998). However, there is little consensus on the range of sea-level changes, though most believe that the sea-level position during most of the Phanerozoic was within +/- 100 meters of the present-day level.”

    To me, it remains an intriguing possibility that the whole oil and gas industry has been working with incomplete or misaligned data, in which case, can we really believe that there are another four or five good decades of good quality fossil fuels to exploit ?

    Other PDFs of interest :-

  • Fields of Diesel Generators

    Posted on February 19th, 2016 Jo No comments

    Recently, I had a very helpful telephone conversation with somebody I shall call Ben – because that’s his name, obviously, so there’s no point in trying to camoflage that fact. It was a very positive conversation, with lots of personal energy from both parties – just the sort of constructive engagement I like.

    Amongst a range of other things, we were batting about ideas for what could constitute a business model or economic case for the development of Renewable Gas production – whether Renewable Hydrogen or Renewable Methane. Our wander through the highways and byways of energy markets and energy policy led us to this sore point – that the National Grid is likely to resort to “fields of diesel generators” for some of its emergency backup for the power grid in the next few years – if new gas-fired power plants don’t get built. Various acronyms you might find in this space include STOR and BM.

    Now, diesel is a very dirty fuel – so dirty that it appears to be impossible to build catalytic exhaust filters for diesel road vehicles that meet any of the air pollution standards and keep up fuel consumption performance. It’s not just VW that have had trouble meeting intention with faction – all vehicle manufacturers have difficulties balancing all the requirements demanded of them. Perhaps it’s time to admit that we need to ditch the diesel fuel itself, rather than vainly try to square the circle.

    The last thing we really need is diesel being used as the fuel to prop up the thin margins in the power generation network – burned in essentially open cycle plant – incurring dirty emissions and a massive waste of heat energy. Maybe this is where the petrorefiners of Great Britain could provide a Renewable Gas alternative. Building new plant or reconfiguring existing plant for Renewable Gas production would obviously entail capital investment, which would create a premium price on initial operations. However, in the event of the National Grid requiring emergency electricity generation backup, the traded prices for that power would be high – which means that slightly more expensive Renewable Gas could find a niche use which didn’t undermine the normal economics of the market.

    If there could be a policy mandate – a requirement that Renewable Gas is used in open cycle grid-balancing generation – for example when the wind dies down and the sun sets – then we could have fields of Renewable Gas generators and keep the overall grid carbon emissions lower than they would otherwise have been.

    Both Ben and I enjoyed this concept and shared a cackle or two – a simple narrative that could be adopted very easily if the right people got it.

    Renewable Gas – that’s the craic.

  • The Lies That You Choose

    Posted on January 31st, 2016 Jo No comments

    I have had the great fortune to meet another student of the Non-Science of Economics who believes most strongly that Energy is only a sub-sector of the Holy Economy, instead of one of its foundations, and doesn’t understand why issues with the flow of commodities (which include energy resources) into the system is critical to the survival of the global economy, and that the growth in the Services Industries and Knowledge Economy cannot compensate for the depletion of freshwater, fossil fuels and other raw resources.

    This person believes in Technology, as if it can fly by itself, without seeming to understand how Technological Innovation is really advanced by state investment – a democracy of focus. This otherwise intelligent learner has also failed to grasp, apparently, that the only way that the Economy can grow in future is through investment in things with real value, such as Energy, especially where this investment is essential owing to decades of under-investment precipitated by privatisation – such as in Energy – investment in both networks of grids or pipes, and raw resources. And this from somebody who understands that developing countries are being held back by land grab and natural resource privatisation – for example ground water; and that there is no more money to be made from property investment, as the market has boomed and blown.

    How to burst these over-expanded false value bubbles in the mind ? When I try to talk about the depletion of natural resources, and planetary boundaries, people often break eye contact and stare vacantly out of the nearest window, or accept the facts, but don’t see the significance of them. Now this may be because I’m not the best of communicators, or it may be due to the heavy weight of propaganda leading to belief in the Magical Unrealism always taught in Economics and at Business Schools.

    Whatever. This is where I’m stuck in trying to design a way to talk about the necessity of energy transition – the move from digging up minerals to catching the wind, sunlight and recycling gases. If I say, “Look, ladies and laddies, fossil fuels are depleting”, the audience will respond with “where there’s a drill, there’s a way”. As if somehow the free market (not that a free market actually exists), will somehow step up and provide new production and new resources, conjuring them from somewhere.

    What are arguments that connect the dots for people ? How to demonstrate the potential for a real peak in oil, gas, coal and uranium production ? I think I need to start with a basic flow analysis. On the one side of the commodity delivery pipeline, major discoveries have decreased, and the costs of discovery have increased. The hidden underbelly of this is that tapping into reservoirs and seams has a timeline to depletion – the point at which the richness of the seam is degraded significantly, and the initial pressure in the well or reservoir is reduced to unexploitable levels – regardless of the technology deployed. On the other end of the commodities pipeline is the measure of consumption – and most authorities agree that the demand for energy will remain strong. All these factors add up to a time-limited game.

    Oh, you can choose to believe that everything will continue as it always seems to have. But the Golden Age of Plenty is drawing to a close, my friend.

  • Energy Security : National Security #3

    Posted on November 26th, 2015 Jo No comments

    Although the Autumn Statement and the Spending Review are attracting all the media and political attention, I have been more interested by the UK Government’s Security Review – or to give it is full title : the “National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015”, or (SDSR), document number Cm 9161.

    Its aim is stated in its sub-heading “A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom”, but on matters of energy, I would suggest it fails to nail down security at all.

    In my analysis, having dealt with what appears to be a misunderstanding about the nature of hydrocarbon markets, I then started to address the prospect of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) imports from the United States.

    My next probe is into the global gas pipeline networks indicated by this mention of the “Southern Gas Corridor” in Section 3.40 : “…measures to protect and diversify sources of [energy] supply will become increasingly important, including the new Southern Corridor pipeline, US liquid natural gas (LNG) exports, further supplies of Australian LNG, and increased supply from Norway and North Africa.”

    First of all, and perhaps of secondmost importance, the “Southern Gas Corridor” is more of a European Union policy suite than an individual pipeline. In fact, it’s not just one pipeline – several pipelines are involved, some actual, some under construction, some cancelled, some renamed, some re-routed, and some whose development is threatened by geopolitical struggle and even warfare.

    It is this matter of warfare that is the most important in considering the future of Natural Gas being supplied to the European Union from the Caspian Sea region : Turkmenistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Azerbijan. Oh, and we should mention Uzbekistan, and its human rights abuses, before moving on. And Iraq and Syria – where Islamic State sits, brooding.

    Natural Gas is probably why we are all friends with Iran again. Our long-lasting dispute with Iran was ostensibly about nuclear power, but actually, it was all about Natural Gas. When Russia were our New Best Friend, Iran had to be isolated. But now Russia is being a tricky trading partner, and being beastly to Ukraine, Iran is who we’ve turned to, to cry on their shoulder, and beg for an alternative source of gas.

    So we’ve back-pedalled on the concept of waging economic or military conflict against Iran, so now we have a more southerly option for our massive East-to-West gas delivery pipeline project – a route that takes in Iran, and avoids passing through Georgia and Azerbaijan – where Russia could interfere.

    The problem with this plan is that the pipeline would need to pass through Syria and/or southern Turkey at some point. Syria is the country where Islamic State is currently being bombed by the United States and some European countries. And Turkey is the country where there has been a revival of what amounts pretty much to civil war with the Kurdish population – who also live in Iraq (and the edges of Syria and Iran).

    Russia is envious of the southerly Southern Gas Corridor plan, and jealous of its own version(s) of the gas-to-Europe project, and influence in Georgia and Azerbaijan. So perhaps we should not be surprised that Russia and Turkey have had several military and political stand-offs in the last few months.

    We in the United Kingdom should also be cautious about getting dragged into military action in Syria – if we’re thinking seriously about future energy security. Further destabilisation of the region through military upheaval would make it difficult to complete the Southern Gas Corridor, and make the European Union increasingly dependent on Russia for energy.

    In the UK, although we claim to use no Russian gas at all, we do get gas through the interconnectors from The Netherlands and Belgium, and they get gas from Russia, so actually, the UK is using Russian gas. The UK gets over half its Natural Gas from Norway, and Norway has been a strong producer of Natural Gas, so why should we be worried ? Well, it appears that Norwegian Natural Gas production may have peaked. Let’s re-visit Section 3.40 one more time : “…measures to protect and diversify sources of [energy] supply will become increasingly important, including the new Southern Corridor pipeline, US liquid natural gas (LNG) exports, further supplies of Australian LNG, and increased supply from Norway and North Africa.”

    The problem is that nobody can fight geology. If Norway has peaked in Natural Gas production, there is little that anyone can do to increase it, and even if production could be raised in Norway through one technique or another (such as carbon dioxide injection into gas wells), it wouldn’t last long, and wouldn’t be very significant. Norway is going to continue to supply gas to its other trading partners besides the UK, so how could the UK commandeer more of the Norwegian supply ? It seems likely that “increased supply from Norway” is just not possible.

    But back to the Southern Gas Corridor. It is in the United Kingdom’s security interests to support fresh gas supplies to the European Union. Because we may not be able to depend on Russia, we need the Southern Gas Corridor. Which is why we should think very, very carefully before getting involved in increased military attacks on Syria.

  • Energy Security, National Security #2

    Posted on November 24th, 2015 Jo No comments

    The UK Government’s Security Review (SDSR), published 23rd November 2015, regrettably shows traces of propaganda not supported by current data.

    For example, the report states in Section 3.40 that : “…measures to protect and diversify sources of [energy] supply will become increasingly important, including the new Southern Corridor pipeline, US liquid natural gas (LNG) exports, further supplies of Australian LNG, and increased supply from Norway and North Africa.”

    I have already addressed my recommendation that the writers of this report should be more careful to distinguish between Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) which is a methane-rich product that can substitute for Natural Gas; and Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) which is a methane-poor product that cannot substitute for Natural Gas.

    However, assuming that the writers of the report are talking about cryogenically stored and transported Natural Gas-sourced energy gases, there is a problem in assuming that the United States will be exporting any large amounts of LNG to Europe any time soon. In fact, there are several problems.

    Just because the business and political press have been touting the exciting prospect of US LNG exports, doesn’t mean that the data backs up this meme.

    First of all, although American Natural Gas production (gross withdrawals from oil and gas wells) continues to grow at a rate that appears unaffected by low Natural Gas prices, the production of shale gas appears to have plateau’d, which might well be related to Natural Gas prices.

    Secondly, although exports of Natural Gas as a whole and exports of Natural Gas by pipeline remain healthy, LNG exports have fallen since the heady days of 2010-2011.

    Next, although the oil and gas industry proposed lots of LNG export terminals, only a handful are being constructed, and there are already predictions that they will run under-capacity, or won’t get completed.

    And further, as regards potential future LNG customers, although China is rejecting LNG imports for a variety of reasons, mostly to do with falling economic growth rates, none of that LNG currently comes from the United States. And China is planning to develop its own onshore Natural Gas and will take LNG from the Australia/Indonesia region.

    The bulk of US LNG exports go to Taiwan and Japan, and Japan is unlikely to restart many nuclear power plants, so Japan will continue to need this gas.

    On top of all this, the United States is a very minor LNG exporter, so major change should be considered unlikely in the near term.

    And it any LNG is heading for Europe, it will probably end up in France, perhaps because they need a better backup plan for their turbulent nuclear power plants.

    All of which adds up to a puzzled look on my face. How can the British Government reasonably expect the commencement of significant quantities of American LNG exports to arrive in the UK ? The only reason they believe this is because there has been American propaganda, promulgated through media of all kinds, for the last five or so years, to convince the world that the USA can achieve greater energy independence through the “explosion” in shale gas production.

    It’s a story told by many successive US Governments – that the US can achieve greater energy independence, but the reality is very, very different.

    The UK Government should not believe any narrative of this nature, in my view, nor include it in national security analyses.

    …to be continued…

  • Energy Security, National Security #1

    Posted on November 24th, 2015 Jo No comments

    Our assiduous government in the United Kingdom has conducted a national security review, as they should, but it appears the collective intelligence on energy of the Prime Minister’s office, the Cabinet Office and the Foreign Commonwealth Office is on a scale of poor to dangerously out of date.

    No, LNG doesn’t stand for “liquid natural gas”. LNG stands for Liquefied Natural Gas. I think this report has confused LNG with NGLs.

    Natural Gas Liquids, or NGLs, are condensable constituents of gas-prone hydrocarbon wells. In other words, the well in question produces a lot of gas, but at the temperatures and pressures in the well underground, hydrocarbons that would normally be liquid on the surface are in the gas phase, underground. But when they are pumped/drilled out, they are condensed to liquids. So, what are these chemicals ? Well, here are the approximate Boiling Points of various typical fossil hydrocarbons, approximate because some of these molecules have different shapes and arrangements which influences their physical properties :-

    Boiling Points of Short-Chain Hydrocarbons
    Methane : approximately -161.5 degrees Celsius
    Ethane : approximately -89.0 degrees Celsius
    Propane : approximattely -42.0 degrees Celsius
    Butane : approximately -1.0 degrees Celsius
    Pentane : approximately 36.1 degrees Celsius
    Heptane : approximately 98.42 degrees Celsius

    You would expect NGLs, liquids condensed out of Natural Gas, to be mostly butane and heavier molecules, but depending on the techniques used – which are often cryogenic – some propane and ethane can turn up in NGLs, especially if they are kept cold. The remaining methane together with small amounts of ethane and propane and a trace of higher hydrocarbons is considered “dry” Natural Gas.

    By contrast, LNG is produced by a process that chills Natural Gas without separating the methane, until it is liquid, and takes up a much smaller volume, making it practical for transportation. OK, you can see why mistakes are possible. Both processes operate at sub-zero temperatures and result in liquid hydrocarbons. But it is really important to keep these concepts separate – especially as methane-free liquid forms of short-chain hydrocarbons are often used for non-energy purposes.

    Amongst other criticisms I have of this report, it is important to note that the UK’s production of crude oil and Natural Gas is not “gradually” declining. It is declining at quite a pace, and so imports are “certain” to grow, not merely “likely”. I note that Natural Gas production decline is not mentioned, only oil.

    …to be continued…

  • What To Do Next

    Posted on October 4th, 2015 Jo No comments

    Status-checking questions. I’m sure we all have them. I certainly do. Several times a week, or even day, I ask myself two little questions of portent : “What am I doing ?” and “Why am I here ?”. I ask myself these questions usually because my mind’s wandered off again, just out of reach, and I need to call myself to attention, and focus. I ask these little questions of myself when I do that thing we all do – I’ve set off with great purpose into another room, and then completely forgotten why I went there, or what I came to find or get. I also use these forms of enquiry when I’m at The Crossroads of Purpose – to determine what exactly it is I’m deciding to aim for. What are my goals this day, week, month, age ? Can I espy my aims, somewhere on the horizon ? Can I paddle labouriously towards them – against the tide – dodge/defeat the sharks ? Can I muster the will to carry this out – “longhauling it” ?

    I’ve spent a long time writing a book, which I’m sure to bore everybody about for the next aeon. My intention in writing the book was to stimulate debate about what I consider to be the best direction for balanced energy systems – a combination of renewable electricity and Renewable Gas. I wanted to foster debate amongst the academics and engineers who may be my peers, certainly, hopefully providing a little seed for further research. Hopefully also having a small influence on energy policy, perhaps, or at least, getting myself and my ideas asked to various policy meetings for a little airing. But, if I could in some way, I also wanted to offer a bit of fizz to the internal conversations of companies in the energy sector. You see, it may be obvious, or it may not be, but action on climate change, which principally involves the reduction in the mining, drilling and burning of fossil fuels, principally also involves the co-operation of the fossil fuel extraction companies. Their products are nearly history, and so it must be that inside the headquarters of every transnational energy giant, corporate heads are churning through their options with a very large what-if spoon.

    Click to continue reading

  • A Partial Meeting of Engineering Minds

    Posted on July 14th, 2015 Jo No comments

    So I met somebody last week, at their invitation, to talk a little bit about my research into Renewable Gas.

    I can’t say who it was, as I didn’t get their permission to do so. I can probably (caveat emptor) safely say that they are a fairly significant player in the energy engineering sector.

    I think they were trying to assess whether my work was a bankable asset yet, but I think they quickly realised that I am nowhere near a full proposal for a Renewable Gas system.

    Although there were some technologies and options over which we had a meeting of minds, I was quite disappointed by their opinions in connection with a number of energy projects in the United Kingdom.

    Click to Read More !

  • DECC Dungeons and Dragnets

    Posted on July 14th, 2015 Jo No comments

    Out of the blue, I got an invitation to a meeting in Whitehall.

    I was to join industrial developers and academic researchers at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in a meeting of the “Green Hydrogen Standard Working Group”.

    The date was 12th June 2015. The weather was sunny and hot and merited a fine Italian lemonade, fizzing with carbon dioxide. The venue was an air-conditioned grey bunker, but it wasn’t an unfriendly dungeon, particularly as I already knew about half the people in the room.

    The subject of the get-together was Green Hydrogen, and the work of the group is to formulate a policy for a Green Hydrogen standard, navigating a number of issues, including the intersection with other policy, and drawing in a very wide range of chemical engineers in the private sector.

    My reputation for not putting up with any piffle clearly preceded me, as somebody at the meeting said he expected I would be quite critical. I said that I would not be saying anything, but that I would be listening carefully. Having said I wouldn’t speak, I must admit I laughed at all the right places in the discussion, and wrote copious notes, and participated frequently in the way of non-verbal communication, so as usual, I was very present. At the end I was asked for my opinion about the group’s work and I was politely congratulational on progress.

    So, good. I behaved myself. And I got invited back for the next meeting. But what was it all about ?

    Most of what it is necessary to communicate is that at the current time, most hydrogen production is either accidental output from the chemical industry, or made from fossil fuels – the main two being coal and Natural Gas.

    Hydrogen is used extensively in the petroleum refinery industry, but there are bold plans to bring hydrogen to transport mobility through a variety of applications, for example, hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles.

    Clearly, the Green Hydrogen standard has to be such that it lowers the bar on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – and it could turn out that the consensus converges on any technologies that have a net CO2 emissions profile lower than steam methane reforming (SMR), or the steam reforming of methane (SRM), of Natural Gas.

    [ It’s at this very moment that I need to point out the “acronym conflict” in the use of “SMR” – which is confusingly being also used for “Small Modular Reactors” of the nuclear fission kind. In the context of what I am writing here, though, it is used in the context of turning methane into syngas – a product high in hydrogen content. ]

    Some numbers about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) used in the manufacture of hydrogen were presented in the meeting, including the impact this would have on CO2 emissions, and these were very intriguing.

    I had some good and useful conversations with people before and after the meeting, and left thinking that this process is going to be very useful to engage with – a kind of dragnet pulling key players into low carbon gas production.

    Here follow my notes from the meeting. They are, of course, not to be taken verbatim. I have permission to recount aspects of the discussion, in gist, as it was an industrial liaison group, not an internal DECC meeting. However, I should not say who said what, or which companies or organisations they are working with or for.

    Click to Read More !

  • Shell and BP : from “Delay and Deny” to “Delay and Distract”

    Posted on June 3rd, 2015 Jo No comments

    Shell, BP and some of their confederates in the European oil and gas industry have inched, or perhaps “centimetred”, forward in their narrative on climate change. Previously, the major oil and gas companies were regularly outed as deniers of climate change science; either because of their own public statements, or because of secretive support of organisations active in denying climate change science. It does seem, finally, that Shell in particular has decided to drop this counter-productive “playing of both sides”. Not that there are any “sides” to climate change science. The science on climate change is unequivocal : changes are taking place across the world, and recent global warming is unprecedented, and has almost definitely been attributed to the burning of fossil fuels and land use change.

    So Shell and BP have finally realised that they need to shed the mantle of subtle or not-so-subtle denial, although they cling to the shreds of dispute when they utter doubts about the actual numbers or impacts of global warming (for example : However, we have to grant them a little leeway on that, because although petrogeologists need to understand the science of global warming in order to know where to prospect for oil and gas, their corporate superiors in the organisation may not be scientists at all, and have no understanding of the global carbon cycle and why it’s so disruptive to dig up all that oil and gas hydrocarbon and burn it into the sky. So we should cut the CEOs of Shell and BP a little slack on where they plump for in the spectrum of climate change narrative – from “utter outright doom” to “trifling perturbation”. The central point is that they have stopped denying climate change. In fact, they’re being open that climate change is happening. It’s a miracle ! They have seen the light !

    But not that much light, though. Shell and BP’s former position of “scepticism” of the gravity and actuality of global warming and climate change was deployed to great effect in delaying any major change in their business strategies. Obviously, it would have been unseemly to attempt to transmogrify into renewable energy businesses, which is why anybody in the executive branches who showed signs of becoming pro-green has been shunted. There are a number of fairly decent scalps on the fortress pikes, much to their shame. Shell and BP have a continuing duty to their shareholders – to make a profit from selling dirt – and this has shelved any intention to transition to lower carbon energy producers. Granted, both Shell and BP have attempted to reform their internal businesses by applying an actual or virtual price on carbon dioxide emissions, and in some aspects have cleaned up and tidied up their mining and chemical processing. The worsening chemistry of the cheaper fossil fuel resources they have started to use has had implications on their own internal emissions control, but you have to give them credit for trying to do better than they used to do. However, despite their internal adjustments, their external-facing position of denial of the seriousness of climate change has supported them in delaying major change.

    With these recent public admissions of accepting climate change as a fact (although CEOs without appropriate science degrees irritatingly disagree with some of the numbers on global warming), it seems possible that Shell and BP have moved from an outright “delay and deny” position, which is to be applauded.

    However, they might have moved from “delay and deny” to “delay and distract”. Since the commencement of the global climate talks, from about the 1980s, Shell and BP have said the equivalent of “if the world is serious about acting on global warming (if global warming exists, and global warming is caused by fossil fuels), then the world should agree policy for a framework, and then we will work within that framework.” This is in effect nothing more than the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has put forward, so nobody has noticed that Shell and BP are avoiding taking any action themselves here, by making action somebody else’s responsibility.

    Shell and BP have known that it would take some considerable time to get unanimity between governments on the reality and severity of climate change. Shell and BP knew that it would take even longer to set up a market in carbon, or a system of carbon dioxide emissions taxation. Shell and BP knew right from the outset that if they kept pushing the ball back to the United Nations, nothing would transpire. The proof of the success of this strategy was the Copenhagen conference in 2009. The next proof of the durability of this delaying tactic will be the outcomes of the Paris 2015 conference. The most that can come out of Paris is another set of slightly improved targets from governments, but no mechanism for translating these into real change.

    Shell and BP and the other oil and gas companies have pushed the argument towards a price on carbon, and a market in carbon, and expensive Carbon Capture and Storage technologies. Not that a price on carbon is likely to be anywhere near high enough to pay for Carbon Capture and Storage. But anyway, the point is that these are all distractions. What really needs to happen is that Shell and BP and the rest need to change their products from high carbon to low carbon. They’ve delayed long enough. Now is the time for the United Nations to demand that the fossil fuel companies change their products.

    This demand is not just about protecting the survival of the human race, or indeed, the whole biome. Everybody is basically on the same page on this : the Earth should remain liveable-inable. This demand for change is about the survival of Shell and BP as energy companies. They have already started to talk about moving their businesses away from oil to gas. There are high profile companies developing gas-powered cars, trains, ships and possibly even planes. But this will only be a first step. Natural Gas needs to be a bridge to a fully zero carbon world. The oil and gas companies need to transition from oil to gas, and then they need to transition to low carbon gas.

    Renewable Gas is not merely “vapourware” – the techniques and technologies for making low carbon gas are available, and have been for decades, or in some cases, centuries. Shell and BP know they can manufacture gas instead of digging it up. They know they can do the chemistry because they already have to do much of the same chemistry in processing fossil hydrocarbons now to meet environmental and performance criteria. BP has known since the 1970s or before that it can recycle carbon in energy systems. Shell is currently producing hydrogen from biomass, and they could do more. A price on carbon is not going to make this transition to low carbon gas. While Shell and BP are delaying the low carbon transition by placing focus on the price of carbon, they could lose a lot of shareholders who shy away from the “carbon bubble” risk of hydrocarbon investment. Shell and BP need to decide for themselves that they want to survive as energy companies, and go public with their plans to transition to low carbon gas, instead of continuing to distract attention away from themselves.

  • Why Shell is Wrong

    Posted on June 2nd, 2015 Jo No comments

    So, some people do not understand why I am opposed to the proposal for a price on carbon put forward by Royal Dutch Shell and their oil and gas company confederates.

    Those who have been following developments in climate change policy and the energy sector know that the oil and gas companies have been proposing a price on carbon for decades; and yet little has been achieved in cutting carbon dioxide emissions, even though carbon markets and taxes have been instituted in several regions.

    Supporters of pricing carbon dioxide emissions urge the “give it time” approach, believing that continuing down the road of tweaking the price of energy in the global economy will cause a significant change in the types of resources being extracted.

    My view is that economic policy and the strengthening of carbon markets and cross-border carbon taxes cannot provide a framework for timely and major shifts in the carbon intensity of energy resources, and here’s a brief analysis of why.

    1.   A price on carbon shifts the locus of action on to the energy consumer and investor

    A price on carbon could be expected to alter the profitability of certain fossil fuel mining, drilling and processing operations. For example, the carbon dioxide emissions of a “tank of gas” from a well-to-wheel or mine-to-wheel perspective, could be made to show up in the price on the fuel station forecourt pump. Leaving aside the question of how the carbon tax or unit price would be applied and redistributed for the moment, a price on carbon dioxide emissions could result in fuel A being more expensive than fuel B at the point of sale. Fuel A could expect to fall in popularity, and its sales could falter, and this could filter its effect back up the chain of production, and have implications on the capital expenditure on the production of Fuel A, and the confidence of the investors in investing in Fuel A, and so the oil and gas company would pull out of Fuel A.

    However, the business decisions of the oil and gas company are assumed to be dependent on the consumer and the investor. By bowing to the might god of unit price, Shell and its confederates are essentially arguing that they will act only when the energy consumers and energy investors act. There are problems with this declaration of “we only do what we are told by the market” position. What if the unit price of Fuel A is only marginally affected by the price on carbon ? What if Fuel A is regarded as a superior product because of its premium price or other marketing factors ? This situation actually exists – the sales of petroleum oil-based gasoline and diesel are very healthy, despite the fact that running a car on Natural Gas, biogas or electricity could be far cheaper. Apart from the fact that so many motor cars in the global fleet have liquid fuel-oriented engines, what else is keeping people purchasing oil-based fuels when they are frequently more costly than the alternative options ?

    And what about investment ? Fuel A might become more costly to produce with a price on carbon, but it will also be more expensive when it is sold, and this could create an extra margin of profit for the producers of Fuel A, and they could then return higher dividends to their shareholders. Why should investors stop holding stocks in Fuel A when their rates of return are higher ?

    If neither consumers nor investors are going to change their practice because Fuel A becomes more costly than Fuel B because of a price on carbon, then the oil and gas company are not going to transition out of Fuel A resources.

    For Shell to urge a price on carbon therefore, is a delegation of responsibility for change to other actors. This is irresponsible. Shell needs to lead on emissions reduction, not insist that other people change.

    2.   A price on carbon will not change overall prices or purchasing decsions

    In economic theory, choices about products, goods and services are based on key factors such as trust in the supplier, confidence in the product, availability and sustainability of the service, and, of course, the price. Price is a major determinant in most markets, and artificially altering the price of a vital commodity will certainly alter purchasing decisions – unless, that is, the price of the commodity in question increases across the board. If all the players in the field start offering a more expensive product, for example, because of supply chain issues felt across the market, then consumers will not change their choices.

    Now consider the global markets in energy. Upwards of 80% of all energy consumed in the global economy is fossil fuel-based. Putting a price on carbon will raise the prices of energy pretty much universally. There will not be enough cleaner, greener product to purchase, so most purchasing decisions will remain the same. Price differentiation in the energy market will not be established by asserting a price on carbon.

    A key part of Shell’s argument is that price differentiation will occur because of a price on carbon, and that this will drive behaviour change, and yet there is nothing to suggest it could do that effectively.

    3.   A price on carbon will not enable Carbon Capture and Storage

    Athough a key part of Shell’s argument about a price on carbon is the rationale that it would stimulate the growth in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), it seems unlikely that the world will ever agree to a price on carbon that would be sufficient to stimulate significant levels of CCS. A price on carbon will be deemed to be high enough when it creates a difference in the marginal extra production cost of a unit of one energy resource compared to another. A carbon price can only be argued for on the basis of this optimisation process – after all – a carbon price will be expected to be cost-efficient, and not punitive to markets. In other words, carbon prices will be tolerated if they tickle the final cost of energy, but not if they mangle with it. However, CCS could imply the use of 20% to 45% extra energy consumption at a facility or plant. In other words, CCS would create a parasitic load on energy resources that is not slim enough to be supported by a cost-optimal carbon price.

    Some argue that the technology for CCS is improving, and that the parasitic load of CCS at installations could be reduced to around 10% to 15% extra energy consumption. However, it is hard to imagine a price on carbon that would pay even for this. And additionally, CCS will continue to require higher levels of energy consumption which is highly inefficient in the use of resources.

    Shell’s argument that CCS is vital, and that a price on carbon can support CCS, is invalidated by this simple analysis.

    4.   Shell needs to be fully engaged in energy transition

    Calling for a price on carbon diverts attention from the fact that Shell itself needs to transition out of fossil fuels in order for the world to decarbonise its energy.

    Shell rightly says that they should stick to their “core capabilities” – in other words geology and chemistry, instead of wind power and solar power. However, they need to demonstrate that they are willing to act within their central business activities.

    Prior to the explosion in the exploitation of deep geological hydrocarbon resources for liquid and gas fuels, there was an energy economy that used coal and chemistry to manufacture gas and liquid fuels. Manufactured gas could still replace Natural Gas, if there are climate, economic or technological limits to how much Natural Gas can be resourced or safely deployed. Of course, to meet climate policy goals, coal chemistry would need to be replaced by biomass chemistry, and significant development of Renewable Hydrogen technologies.

    Within its own production facilities, Shell has the answers to meet this challenge. Instead of telling the rest of the world to change its economy and its behaviour, Shell should take up the baton of transition, and perfect its production of low carbon manufactured gas.

  • The Price on Carbon

    Posted on June 2nd, 2015 Jo No comments

    Although The Guardian newspaper employs intelligent people, sometimes they don’t realise they’ve been duped into acting as a mouthpiece for corporate propaganda. The “strapline” for the organisation is “Owned by no one. Free to say anything.”, and so it seemed like a major coup to be granted an interview with Ben Van Beurden of Royal Dutch Shell, recorded for a podcast that was uploaded on 29th May 2015.

    However, the journalists, outoing editor Alan Rusbridger, Damian Carrington and Terry McAllister probably didn’t fully appreciate that this was part of an orchestrated piece of public relations. The same day as the podcast was published, Shell, along with five other oil and gas companies wrote a letter to officials of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

    Favourable copy appeared in various places, for example, at Climate Central, The Daily Telegraph and in the Financial Times where a letter also appeared.

    In the letter to Christiana Figueres and Laurent Fabius of the UNFCCC, Shell and fellow companies BP, BG Group, Eni, Total and Statoil, wrote that they appreciate the risks of the “critical challenge” of climate change and that they “stand ready to play their part”. After listing their contributions towards a lower carbon energy economy, they wrote :-

    “For us to do more, we need governments across the world to provide us with clear, stable, long-term, ambitious policy frameworks. This would reduce uncertainty and help stimulate investments in the right low carbon technologies and the right resources at the right pace.”

    “We believe that a price on carbon should be a key element of these frameworks. If governments act to price carbon, this discourages high carbon options and encourages the most efficient ways of reducing emissions widely, including reduced demand for the most carbon intensive fossil fuels, greater energy efficiency, the use of natural gas in place of coal, increased investment in carbon capture and storage, renewable energy, smart buildings and grids, off-grid access to energy, cleaner cars and new mobility business models and behaviors.”

    The obvious problem with this call is that the oil and gas companies are pushing responsibility for change out to other actors in the economy, namely, the governments; yet the governments have been stymied at every turn by the lobbying of the oil and gas companies – a non-virtuous cycle of pressure. Where is the commitment by the oil and gas companies to act regardless of regulatory framework ?

    I think that many of the technological and efficiency gains mentioned above can be achieved without pricing carbon, and I also think that efforts to assert a price on carbon dioxide emissions will fail to achieve significant change. Here are my top five reasons :-

    1. Large portions of the economy will probably be ringfenced from participating in a carbon market or have exemptions from paying a carbon tax. There will always be special pleading, and it is likely that large industrial concerns, and centralised transportation such as aviation, will be able to beat back at a liability for paying for carbon dioxide emissions. Large industrial manufacture will be able to claim that their business is essential in sustaining the economy, so they should not be subject to a price on carbon. International industry and aviation, because of its international nature, will be able to claim that a carbon tax or a market in carbon could infringe their cross-border rights to trade without punitive regulatory charges.

    2. Those who dig up carbon will not pay the carbon price. Fossil fuel producers will pass any carbon costs placed on them to the end consumers of fossil fuels. A price on carbon will inevitably make the cost of energy more expensive for every consumer, since somewhere in the region of 80% of global energy is fossil fuel-derived. Customers do not have a non-carbon option to turn to, so will be forced to pay the carbon charges.

    3. A price on carbon dioxide emissions will not stop energy producers digging up carbon. An artificial re-levelising of the costs of high carbon energy will certainly deter some projects from going ahead, as they will become unprofitable – such as heavy oil, tar sands and remote oil, such as in the Arctic. However, even with jiggled energy prices from a price on carbon, fossil fuel producers will continue to dig up carbon and sell it to be burned into the sky.

    4. A price on carbon dioxide emissions is being touted as a way to incentivise carbon capture and storage (CCS) by the authors of the letter – and we’ve known since they first started talking about CCS in the 1990s that they believe CCS can wring great change. Yet CCS will only be viable at centralised facilities, such as mines and power plants. It will not be possible to apply CCS in transport, or in millions of homes with gas-fired boilers.

    5. A price on carbon dioxide emissions will not cause the real change that is needed – the world should as far as possible stop digging up carbon and burning it into the sky. What fossil carbon that still enters energy systems should be recycled where possible, using Renewable Gas technologies, and any other carbon that enters the energy systems should be sourced from renewable resources such as biomass.

  • Shell’s Public Relations Offensive #2

    Posted on June 1st, 2015 Jo No comments

    And so it has begun – Shell’s public relations offensive ahead of the 2015 Paris climate talks. The substance of their “advocacy” – and for a heavyweight corporation, it’s less lobbying than badgering – is that the rest of the world should adapt. Policymakers should set a price on carbon, according to Shell. A price on carbon might make some dirty, polluting energy projects unprofitable, and there’s some value in that. A price on carbon might also stimulate a certain amount of Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS, the capturing and permanent underground sequestration of carbon dioxide at large mines, industrial plant and power stations. But how much CCS could be incentivised by pricing carbon is still unclear. Egging on the rest of the world to price carbon would give Shell the room to carry on digging up carbon and burning it and then capturing it and burying it – because energy prices would inevitably rise to cover this cost. Shell continues with the line that they started in the 1990s – that they should continue to dig up carbon and burn it, or sell it to other people to burn, and that the rest of the world should continue to pay for the carbon to be captured and buried – but Shell has not answered a basic problem. As any physicist could tell you, CCS is incredibly energy-inefficient, which makes it cost-inefficient. A price on carbon wouldn’t solve that. It would be far more energy-efficient, and therefore cost-efficient, to either not dig up the carbon in the first place, or, failing that, recycle carbon dioxide into new energy. Shell have the chemical prowess to recycle carbon dioxide into Renewable Gas, but they are still not planning to do it. They are continuing to offer us the worst of all possible worlds. They are absolutely right to stick to their “core capabilities” – other corporations can ramp up renewable electricity such as wind and solar farms – but Shell does chemistry, so it is appropriate for them to manufacture Renewable Gas. They are already using most of the basic process steps in their production of synthetic crude in Canada, and their processing of coal and biomass in The Netherlands. They need to join the dots and aim for Renewable Gas. This will be far less expensive, and much more efficient, than Carbon Capture and Storage. The world does not need to shoulder the expense and effort of setting a price on carbon. Shell and its fellow fossil fuel companies need to transition out to Renewable Gas.

  • Shell’s Public Relations Offensive

    Posted on June 1st, 2015 Jo No comments

    Well, the Paris climate conference is less than six months away. Just the right time for Royal Dutch Shell to begin to ramp up their public relations offensive, this time by sending their CEO, Ben Van Beurden, to be interviewed by The Guardian, in a most interesting and revealing podcast. My transcript is below…

    [Narrator] This is “The Biggest Story in the World”. And today we meet Shell.

    Right at the very start of the campaign, The Guardian set their focus on Keeping it in the Ground. Keep the coal in the hole, and the oil in the soil. They decided the best way of doing that was to call on the big institutions to divest their funds from fossil fuel companies, effectively de-legitimising them, like the tobacco industry before them.

    So what about the fossil fuel producers themselves ? What do they think about divestment ? Are they scared ? Do they even agree with Bill McKibben’s “Keep it in the Ground” numbers ? We know they’ve made noises about renewables in the past, but are they serious about moving off fossil fuels entirely ? And if they are transitioning, can they possibly do it in time ?

    So today we go straight to the wellhead, to Shell’s Ben Van Beurden, one of the men taking it out of the ground to see whether he sees a future.

    [Alan Rusbridger ?] I’m here with Damian Carrington and with Terry McAllister, that’s our Environment Editor and our Energy Editor. And we’re waiting for Ben Van Beurden to come in from Shell. Terry, just give us a quick outline of who Shell is, how big they are, what do they do ?

    [Terry McAllister] To all intents and purposes, the second largest oil company in the world. They’re owned rather strangely jointly between the UK and Holland. They’re involved in all aspects of fossil fuel production. They bring it out to the ground, they refine it, they ship it all over the world, and of course you’ll see their petrol stations. They’ve got revenues of around $500 billion dollars a year. They’ve got proven reserves of 13 billion barrels of oil, which amounts to 4.5 gigatonnes of carbon. And…

    [Alan Rusbridger ?] …and any of us who have a pension, quite a lot of that money’s probably coming from Shell, isn’t it ?

    [Terry McAllister] …And they are very, very attractive to all our pension funds because of their high dividends that they pay on the back of their enormous profits which are around £15 billion a year.

    [Alan Rusbridger] And who is Ben ?

    [Terry McAllister] Ben is a new Chief Executive, who’s come in 18 months ago. And he’s an interesting cut away from the traditional rather dour Chief Executives that Shell have had in the past. He is a Shell “lifer”, so he has come out of the system. But he’s upbeat, accessible, articulate, and becoming a very high profile advocate of a new, responsible oil company.

    [Alan Rusbridger] And Damian, there is a controversial company, because what they’re doing in tar sands and the Arctic. What are they doing ?

    [Damian Carrington] So, in terms of tar sands, which is digging up large chunks of Alberta and boiling the oil out of it, they’re already there in a big way. The problem with that is not only does it take a lot of energy to get that oil out, it’s also expensive and a number of analyses have suggested that any sensible scenario for climate stability does not include tar sands. That argument also applies to the Arctic, again, probably because of the cost of it. But I think with the Arctic, in addition, there is also great controversy, because any accident that would happen in the Arctic could be catastrophic for both the environment up there and for the company in terms of the cost of trying to deal with it.


    [Alan Rusbridger] And they’re also controversial because of who they fund. There’s an outfit called the American Legislative Council. Who are they and why is that controversial ?

    [Terry McAllister] Well, they’re most known certainly to environmentalists as climate deniers, pure and simple. So Shell’s involvement in that organisation looks curious. I mean, it’s a very controversial organisation for Shell to be associated with.

    [Damian Carrington] I think other companies have left, have they Terry ?

    [Terry McAllister] Yes they have.

    [Alan Rusbridger] Well, let’s see what he’s got to say.


    [Alan Rudbridger] Um. Ben. Thank you for coming in. It’s good of you to come in and talk. Let’s accept for the purposes of this conversation that fossil fuels have brought great benefits to society. They’ve enabled riches beyond measure to develop; that we live much more comfortable lives; as a result of oil. But nevertheless, there is a wider cost and a wider fear about the future of fossil fuels. So, what do you think about what seems to be a widespread acceptance that if we go beyond two degrees of warming then there are major, major problems for the human race, and the kind of existence that we lead at the moment ?


    [Ben Van Beurden] You know, I accept the fact that, you know, having the climate change beyond two degrees C is probably highly undesirable and we should do everything to prevent that from happening. In that sense there is no contest. And whether it’s two degrees, or two and a half, or one and a half, or whatever, I don’t really mind too much. What I do know is that we will have to act quite effectively and quite early now to make sure that we have a chance of staying within CO2 concentrations that are often linked to this two degree scenario.


    What I find troubling is that we have known this for some period of time, but as a result of it not much has happened. Now, we can go into a long discussion, why is that, and who is to blame, and what could we have done differently. But the result is, because nothing much has happened. As a matter of fact, a lot of the things that we have done whilst setting targets and having tough language around this and maybe here and there a few measures, is that we have been increasing the intensity of our economy, in terms of carbon emission, and policy, really meaningful policy action, has been delayed. Now what that has done in my mind, and partly for me as well, it has created a sense of frustration. And of course, I can do something about it in a slightly different way than the general public. And the frustration with the general public is now leading to well, we’ve gotta do something, yeah ? So, now, whether that is going to be, well, let’s divest from companies like Shell, or let’s make statements of whatever kind, I think that you can debate that.


    My view is that the things that need doing is meaningful policy change or policy adoption. And we should be very, very careful that the current argument around the “carbon bubble” and “we cannot allow this to happen”, and “we should divest from fossil fuel companies”, that that actually is creating the illusion that there is a simple solution out there. Whereas in reality, we all know, there isn’t.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Let’s come back to the solutions [in]… ’cause I just want to see what we accept, so what the common ground for this conversation [is]. So, two degrees, you broadly accept ?

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Yes, absolutely.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Now, you’ll be familiar with the Bill McKibben article in Rolling Stone, I guess.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Yes. The budget. Yeah.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Let’s just see what you think of the two other figures there. Two degrees is the first interesting figure. The second interesting figure is if we’re going to stay within two degrees we can afford to burn about 565 gigatonnes. Do you accept that there’s a figure of around about that that is compatible with staying within two degrees ?


    [ Ben Van Beurden ] You’re absolutely right. If you do simple math along those lines you could argue that there is a limited number of tonnes of carbon that we can burn in an unmitigated way. Absolutely right.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] So, let’s just see what you think of the third figure. Which is the amount of proven oil, gas and coal reserves which he says is 2795 gigatonnes. He says that’s about four or five times the amount that we can safely burn. Do you accept that ?

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Not sure about again the precise numbers. But if you will add up all the carbon that we have sitting in the ground – gas, oil, coal you will come to a number that if again you would just burn it in an unmitigated way it would probably have a CO2 loading in the atmosphere that is above the level that people link to CO2. There is no contest there, Alan.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] So, commonsense interpretation of those figures is that companies like yours have got already far more oil, gas and coal than they can ever use.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] I think that’s where the logic goes wrong.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Tell me where that’s wrong.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] So, yeah, you’re absolutely right. There is probably more hydrocarbon resources sitting in the ground than we collectively can dig or pump up and burn, but at the same time they are in different types of carbon. So if you look again at coal – coal has a much higher carbon intensity. If you look at the sort of CO2 equivalent of the coal resources that we have – that is actually almost half of what is available. If you want to use the concept of a budget, then indeed we have an issue.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Can I [say]… when you say we have an issue. What you’re saying is you own more than could be used.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] We as society have an issue.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] And do you say that about Shell, too ?

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] No. I think in the end of course the resources that will get used, if we all behave rationally, or if there are policies that do the most rational thing, the resources that are going to be used hopefully are going to be the resources with the lowest carbon intensity. So that may be class of resource like gas or coal, but within the type of resource, it may be resources that from a well-to-wheel perspective have the lowest carbon intensity. So if we want to look at our business, we want to make sure that our business is as future-proof as possible – from a number of perspectives, including CO2.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Your argument is that you’re more interested in the cleaner fuels than the dirtier fuels, if I can be… I’m the lay man in this room, so I’m using ordinary language.

    [ Ben Ven Beurden ] That’s fair enough. I would probably say the lower-intensity fuels than the higher-intensity fuels.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] So, gas rather than…

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] …Gas, [coal] oil and…

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] …oil.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] …[oil] coal. Because bear in mind that people often confuse climate change with the pollution that comes from coal in the form of particulates, which are of course two separate issues.


    But the point is, Alan, and I think there’s nothing wrong with the logic, is we cannot burn all the hydrocarbon resources that we have on the planet in an unmitigated way, and expect to have a CO2 loading in the atmosphere that is often being linked to the 2 degree scenario. So we have to do a number of things. Part of it is shifting to the cleanest form possible. Part of it is having as much as possible an efficiency drive, so that we do not use or need as much as we can. As much renewables or any other form of energy that has no carbon associated with it. And even then, we are not going to get to that, sort of constraint, if you like. So on top of it we will need to do extra tricks, which is capturing the carbon and storing it.


    And I’m absolutely convinced that without a policy that will really enable and realise carbon capture and storage on a large scale, we’re not going to be able to stay within that CO2 emission budget.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] OK, let’s come back to that, because that’s very important. Why are you spending so much time looking for more oil if you’ve got more than you could use already ?

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Well, all the oil that we have we will use, even under a scenario where we will have a very, very effective set of policies to drive down the use of hydrocarbons, there will still be need for hydrocarbons for some time to come of course. And the rate with which we will be able to either sort of slow growth or even reduce, or switch from growth to shrinkage, the rate with which we will be able to do that, is always going to be lower than the rate with which resources deplete. So there will always be, even in the most aggressive scenario, a gap between supply and demand if we don’t continue to invest.


    So there will always be a need for investment. Because it will take longer before we get to a point that we will have no need for hydrocarbons. I think we will get to the point where we will have zero emissions, by the end of the century, definitely, I’m a firm believer in that, but even then, some of the hydrocarbons that we will use, and the emissions that will come from it, will simply be mitigated, rather than not produced. There will be significant sectors in the industry that will depend on hydrocarbons – petrochemicals for instance, yeah. So I think to just say, “we can do without hydrocarbons” and “we don’t need them any more”, “let’s stop exploring for them because they are coming out of our ears already”, that is not quite an accurate reflection for a company like us.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] So there’s one argument about the quantum of oil that you’re searching for. Another is the type and location. People find tar sands very problematical as an environmental […] How do you defend that ?


    [ Ben Van Beurden ] It’s a mining operation. I’ll be the first one to say that mining operations do not look pretty. You’re right that there is a significant CO2 emission. Take our Athabasca project in Canada where we are 60% shareholders – 6.5 million tonnes of CO2 coming out of the mine and the upgrader combined. And that’s of course a significant number. So we have to look for ways and means to deal with that. What we are doing at the moment is investing in a carbon capture and storage project on this particular mine. So we will be capturing of that 6.5 million tonnes, 1 million tonnnes of CO2, and that sort of gets us a fair way towards the average CO2 intensity of North American oil.


    [ Terry McAllister ? ] Let me just very briefly on that, you’re talking there about the emissions that derive from getting the fuel out of the ground – not from [the] actual burning the fuel itself. You’re talking about the operations.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Yeah, that’s true. That 6.5 million tonnes is the mining and upgrading operation. Burning the fuel in cars and etc. is of course still the bulk of it. But in that sense, it’s no different, or as a matter of fact, because it is a synthetic route that we make there, it actually is a higher quality crude, so the CO2 emissions associated with use of that crude are probably somewhat lower than the average. But in the main you have to look therefore from well to wheel, or mine to wheel, and that’s the only sensible way to look at CO2 intensity.


    [ Damian Carrington ?] Fair enough, yeah. I wanted to come back. You were talking before about, the very clear conversation you and Alan had to begin with about accepting that all the reserves when you add them up are too much, you know. And you were talking about using, like it would be logical to use the least carbon-intensive first, OK. But there’s another logic in the real world, which is using the least cost first, OK. That’s where some of Shell’s operations start to look difficult, in the sense that tar sands come out at the very high cost end, the Arctic comes out at the very high cost end. And so in a rational world, if we’ve decided we’re not going to burn everything, those are the projects that get stranded first. So I’m just wondering if you accept that there’s too much. What’s special about Shell’s tar sands or Arctic, which means that it is sensible to go after them when they’re clearly high cost, and Saudi crude would be far cheaper and more sensible to use ?


    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Yeah, yeah. It in the end is going to be market forces of supply and demand that set price, and then there’s going to be rational decision-making of investors that are going to figure out, “do I get a return on investing in this project ?”. The only way you can impact that, and this is why we are also great advocates of what I’m going to say, is put a price on carbon, and then say, well, I’m not really interested in the merit order that may flow from sort of normal rational decision-making around economics, I’m going to trick the playing field, I’m going to put a serious price on carbon. That is the sort of rational decision-making that we would like to see much more of. And that’s why we’re advocating for a firm price on carbon.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Just to go on the Arctic. It’s very high risk, isn’t it ? Some people say it’s reckless.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] I’m familiar with that argument, Alan.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] And your response ?

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Yeah. Well, the more I listen and think about it, I actually hear two sets of arguments. And there’s one argument that says, “Listen, this is a very sensitive environment. It’s pristine to a very large degree. Of course, it will have great difficulties to deal with environmental impacts. Putting oil and gas operations right in the middle of it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.”


    There’s a second line of reasoning that I also hear, and I hear that probably more loudly. Which is, “Listen, you know, we have climate change. The Arctic is disproportionately impacted by climate change, which is probably a fact, yeah ? And climate change is caused by of course oil and gas, and therefore exploring for oil and gas in the Arctic is insulting.” That is an emotional argument, and there is no amount of reasoning that I can bring to bear to deal with that emotional argument. And I’m not going to try that even, because I think it probably does us a disservice as well. In the end we also have to make our decisions on the basis of logic. The opening about the Arctic is not our decision, it is the decision of an Arctic nation, in this case the United States. And it’s our task to figure out can we do this responsibly, can we do this profitably, and can it be done at all, yeah ? And if the answer to all of that is yes, then we should consider it as an investment opportunity. And we can only get into the Arctic in a responsible way if we can completely convince ourselves that we are able and ready to do this at a level of risk that is completely acceptable. And believe me I have had to go through a personal journey on that as well. Bear in mind I had the opportunity very early on in my tenure to say, “that’s it. Let’s pull the plug on it.” And we decided no, we have to follow this through, we have to understand whether it can be done.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] When you came to The Guardian last, you said you had the same discussions around your breakfast table as everyone else. And you’ve just hinted in your last answer that you sort of wear two hats as an individual. You’ve got your member of society, and [but] then I guess you go into work and you then have your primary responsibility is to shareholders. How often do those come into conflict ?


    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Erm, I could either say all the time, or never. It… Let me explain what I mean by that. You are a very different person as well, yeah ? I have of course read your editorial, when you said, “listen. This is one of the regrets that I may have, and I want to do something about that.” And that is, in my mind, the same sort of drive that I have in this matter. Of course, I’m driven by business success etc. but what I’m also driven by, and this is why I am very, very happy to come and talk to you, even though we probably will never agree on a number of points, is that we need to do the right thing here. It’s very, very good that there is a broad societal debate on this, because I am completely with everybody else on this subject, that we need to tackle this. I’m also completely [aware] that there is a secondary moral challenge – which is supplying affordable energy to billions of people who do not have an acceptable lifestyle. And where I get a lot of my energy from is that if I see that as part of the societal debate seems to suggest a very simple solution that we know in reality is not there, I think we are creating somehow as society, a red herring, and doing ourselves a disservice.


    And in a way we are, because of the belief that there may be a simple solution out there, like divesting out of fossil fuel, or stop using it, or whatever else, we are actually delaying meaningful policy action. Whereas in reality it will not happen this way. In reality there will be an inexorable drive for people to raise their living standards, to use hydrocarbons, because that will be the only meaningful volume of energy that is available. So we have to do something else, Alan.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] What do you think of the argument that says, this isn’t a level playing field, that your industry is getting too much in subsidies. And if the renewable [energy] industries got as much subsidies as you get, we’d crack that problem quite soon.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] First of all I’m not at all in favour of subsidies. Now, you have to be a bit precise about what you mean by subsidies, but directly subsidising fuel use like for instance happening in developing countries etc. I do not think is meaningful. I think companies like ourselves effectively don’t get subsidies, yeah ? It […] as a matter of fact, we pay significant taxes. You can talk about externalities, pricing that fully into, and then, but that’s not a subsidy.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] The IMF came up with $10 million dollars a minute the other day.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Yeah, the $5.3 trillion dollars. Yeah, these are pricing in the externalities of air pollution into the price of energy etc. And I’m sure that these numbers have validity, but that’s not a subsidy.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] But do you accept that the odds are stacked against the renewable industry ?

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] No, I…

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] You’ve got tremendous power, your industry…

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] …No, I don’t think so…

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] …in terms of lobbying and access…

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] …No, I don’t think so. If you look at renewables, and let’s be very clear, we have a renewables business, and I work very, very hard to understand how we can meaningfully participate, and of course make money with that as well. But if you look at the rate with which renewables are growing it’s absolutely unprecedented, yeah ? It is growing at I think the fastest pace of any new form of energy, almost reaching the point where it’s 1 percent of the total energy mix. But it’s only 1 percent. Bearing in mind that the energy system will have to double in size over the first half of the century to serve all these new energy users that we need to serve around the planet, renewables is not going to cut it. So we will have to do multiple things here.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] I’ve got lots of hands waving to my right.

    [ Terry McAllister ? ] If I could…first on the poverty side ? You talked in your response to Alan there about feeling this kind of moral responsibility, you know, as an energy provider. I think the point where we might disagree is about whether fossil fuels are the solution to that particular problem. And I just wanted to very briefly tell you a bit about what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said, which of course is written and reviewed by thousands of the world’s scientists, and signed off by 195 nations. They say climate change, driven by unchecked fossil fuel burning is [quote] “a threat to sustainable development.” They say that limiting climate change’s effects is “necessary to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication”. And they go further than that and say that “climate change will prolong existing and create new poverty traps”. So, I mean that’s a pretty authoritative document saying that fossil fuels are not the answer to providing energy to billions of people.


    [ Ben Van Beurden ] No, it doesn’t say that.

    [ Terry McAllister ? ] OK.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] It says that climate change is indeed also devastating probably disproportionately the poor people in the world. And I can fully support that, having lived in Africa myself for quite a few years, in the Sudan. But it doesn’t say that fossil fuels is not the solution for it, or that energy is not the solution for it. People in these circumstances will still need access to fossil fuels, will need access to energy in general. And the most sensible way to do that on the scale that they need it will be unfortunately through fossil fuels.


    [ Terry McAllister ? ] I don’t understand how you have one without the other. You’re kind of saying climate change is a problem, but they still need fossil fuels. But fossil fuels are the things that are driving climate change.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] But this is. OK. So this is the dilemma that we need to solve. We need to find a way to providing affordable energy to poor people in the world that do not have access to affordable energy at this point in time, and at the same time we need to reduce CO2.


    And if we somehow think that we can do all of that with renewables, that is just ignoring the realities of economic and technical development.


    [ Terry McAllister ] Well, that’s fair enough. But people disagree with you. And I’ve seen it in India, you know, where when you’re a long way in rural communities, they’re not going to have a grid there, they’re not going to have big fossil fuel power stations, and solar is cheap.


    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Absolutely. And you will see that happen. You will see probably the development of countries that do have nothing at the moment following a fundamentally different path than the UK, or Germany or the United States, absolutely. But they cannot skip large scale energy provision for meaningful economic development, yeah ? That is just not going to happen by solar and wind.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Now, I’m not expecting you Ben to come here today and say that you agree with divestment as an idea, and I’m going to anticipate that you say that it’s better to have good money in your companies rather than bad monies, and that you prefer the idea of engagement. And I’m just going to see if whether Francesca can just play a little clip. Because we had Jonathon Porritt sitting in your chair a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about this, he’s spent 40 years in this business trying to engage with companies like you, and let’s just listen to what he says about engagement.


    [ Jonathon Porritt ] They’ve had so many opportunities to put their houses in order and get after this much smarter decarbonised route to energy security, affordability and sustainability. They really have, I mean, limitless opportunities over the last decade. [But you just say], you’re all smart, you’re all paid God knows how much money to steer through these complex areas. You have a fiduciary duty to your shareholders, and yes you’ve been meeting that at one level, but at another level, in terms of guaranteeing long term value creation for shareholders, you are betraying your shareholders. And you are risking the write-off, the destruction of massive value inside the company.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] I’m sure you know Jonathon. He’s not a sort of extremist, or loony eco-warrior. He’s somebody who’s tried to build a business engaging with people like you. And in the end he said he’s come to the conclusion : it’s just never going to happen. Because of the, you know, it’s the wrong question to ask you. You’ve got different priorities.


    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Err, I wouldn’t say that. It, err. So, we’ll get to the question of divestment in a moment. But the question probably that, or the challenge in here was, do we sufficiently recognise the need for a transition, either because of assets getting stranded, or because of the new opportunities that we as a sort of a responsible member of society need to also explore and develop. I fundamentally do not believe that that actually holds business rationale, simply because even under a very, very aggressive scenario where we get out of fossil fuels, the scenario with which fossil fuels’ existing production depletes will always result in a divestment or an investment, opportunity, so therefore investing in fossil fuels will remain relevant for a very, very long time to come, for our shareholders as well.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Just to jump in there, you have got people like the Governor of the Bank of England flagging that up as an issue.


    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Yeah, well OK, I will not comment on the Governor of the Bank of England. But investment opportunity will always remain, and if you have an “advantage portfolio”, you will always be able to make money out of that. So therefore that argument in my mind is just comprehensively non-existent. It may sound seductive, but it’s just not there. Now the other argument which is “do we have opportunity, or do we have even an obligation to invest in low a carbon energy future ?” : absolutely. Because I also know that whatever I’m going to find as a business model or as a technology that will work for me is going to take decades to be pulled off.


    Can I just remind you that we have been very, very active participants in solar energy, in wind energy, biofuels. We were in forestry. In many, many areas we have been ahead of our time, simply because you know the opportunity to really meaningfully invest in it was just not there. So I want to be on the one hand careful that we do not repeat that mistake. On the other hand we are very actively experimenting with new businesses to find how we can participate in a renewable-based energy system. Because it will come there.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] There’s a letter in The Times today that says you spend three times as much finding new fossil fuel reserves as you do on developing renewables. Does that sound the right figure ?

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Yeah, but it… No. We do not spend a lot of time sort of inventing an improved wind turbine or figuring out what sort of new solar panel technology would be there. You have to also in that sense go back to core capabilities. If you were to set up a solar PV business, you wouldn’t hire a bunch of geologists to figure out how to do that. But making money out of a renewable future, absolutely, this is something that we need to do.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Tell me about these conversations with people like Wellcome and [Bill] Gates. They say we like investing in companies like Shell, because we have influence. And if we took our money out we wouldn’t have that influence. But nobody can ever point to what that influence looks like, or what results from that. Can you enlighten us [as] to what good things come from good conversations with good people as opposed to bad people ?


    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Of course we talk to all our shareholders. And certainly, and of course, from certain groups you hear this more than from other groups, there is concern around the “carbon bubble”. And that is probably a mix of concerns, where some people are really concerned with the Governor of the Bank of England argument, like, “can these assets really become stranded ?” And you have people who are in there indeed for again sort of belief reasons, fundamental reasons. I do not want… I believe fossil fuel is bad, it sits in a bracket of investments that I don’t want to be in. Some of the advocacy can help to point out that you know there’s a lot of good things that come from energy. As a matter of fact, people use energy and fossil fuel products much more than they will ever realise. And they don’t realise what the world would look like without it. And I think we can also help people a little bit more along the understanding line by pointing out what it is that we are doing, and where we think we are indeed a progressive company, in making the energy transition work.


    The problem with that is, Alan, is that we’re not very good at it, you know, at that sort of public advocacy piece. We have over [the] many years built up a reflex that engagement has more reputational downsides than upsides. And I think to some extent therefore we are partly to blame for the dysfunctionality of the debate in society at the moment. So, I want to change that. I want to be working for a company, or leading a company, that is not only considering itself a force for good, but is being recognised as a company that is responsible, does the right things, as well.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] You’re sometimes now compared with tobacco, or with South Africa, as a kind of, a thing in society that is becoming toxic. Do you accept that that’s just going to get worse for companies like Shell ?

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] That would be a tragedy I think, and not only for a company like Shell and its employees, and for me personally, but I think also for society. It would be tragic if people thought that having access to modern energy, and basically having access to the lifestyle, the security, and the life expectancy that we have, was actually [a] bad thing. And sometimes a little facetiously, I just tell people if you want to divest your portfolio out of fossil fuel companies, as much as people have divested them from tobacco companies etc. you probably are going to make more impact by divesting your lifestyle from fossil fuels. And then look for a moment what that will do to you.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] You’ve essentially, I think, put the responsibility for change on the policymakers. So that’s like saying, “stop me before I kill again”.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Yes. OK.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] You’re saying, “we can’t do this as a company, unless there’s a level playing field for everyone” and you say you’ve been lobbying for this, but you’ve still put a lot of money into things like the American Legislative Council, which other people have pulled out, which is lobbying in the other direction. You’ve got mixed messages.


    [ Ben Van Beurden ] I do not want to leave the impression that it’s all the policymakers’ fault. That would be too easy. Policymakers respond to input and insight that they get. Sometimes that is indeed by voters and public opinion, and I think we can do more, and we should do more, to advocate for sensible policy. And I am not ashamed, because we are advocating for things that I can 100% stand up for. If anything, I feel that we have not done well enough. I think sometimes our policy advocacy has been too high level. We can do more, we can do better, and I wish I was ready, but I will be in a few months’ time to tell you a whole lot more about what it all means in detail, because we have a massive amount of work going on in that sense. To have much more bespoke, targetted policy advice, based on the sort of transitions that we can see happening [in] different types of economies around the world.


    Now, some of the advocacy we do on our own. Some of the advocacy we do in the context of a trade association, or a professional advocacy group. And what you typically find if you are in there is that, well some of them you have high degrees of agreement, and some, not at all. We have done it on many occasions, where we, you know, we are part of a trade association, and say, well we stand for all the things they say here and there, but this point we disagree with, and our advocacy is the following…


    [ Damian Carrington ] But can I ask… ?

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] …just let Terry…

    [ Terry McAllister ] Still in terms of um, your overall position : you’re keen to be seen as progressive. You’re keen to be seen as responsible. And it, obviously that’s um, to be lauded, and the industry desperately needs someone to step into that space. But still it’s confusing in terms of the kind of lobbying groups that you support. But it’s confusing when your own emissions, your own carbon emissions, are going up year by year. They’re set to increase even more, by taking over BG [BG Group, formerly known as British Gas]. Your involvement in oil sands, tar sands and the Arctic, still you sort of put it down to, well, “if it’s available, through policymakers then we’re going to proceed”. But companies like Total have said that they won’t explore in the Arctic. Would an oil spill in the Arctic potentially end the future of Shell, financially ?


    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Well, the thing is of course to avoid a very large oil spill in the Arctic. The risk of a very large oil spill in the Arctic is unacceptable for me. So if I feel that there is a risk that that could materialise, we would simply not go ahead with this, yeah ? So I do not think we send any conflicting signals on our advocacy. If we indeed associate ourselves from time to time with trade organisations or with advocacy groups that have a different viewpoint, we go at lengths to explain how our viewpoint is different, if it’s meaningful. And if it’s too substantial, then we will just step out of these organisations, so watch that space as well.


    If you go back to our own emissions. Of course, our own emissions will go up because we will combine with BG. But it doesn’t mean that…

    [ Terry McAllister ] But they’re going up anyway.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Yeah…emissions in general will go up, it’s just that we have become a different company. I think to look at sort of emissions as an absolute way is somewhat meaningless as well. You have to look at the emission intensity of the classes of assets in which you operate.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] We’re running out of time, so I’m going to ask you one last question. When we did a Q&A with The Guardian readers on the site, the only question that readers wanted to know about me was what car I drove. And I was able to answer truthfully that I thought I was the only editor to have owned not one but two G-Whizzes, described by Jeremy Clarkson as the worst car in the world. What car do you drive, Ben ?

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] I drive a BMW.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] What kind of size are we talking about ?

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Oh, it’s a 645 convertible.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] That’s terrible. That’s an enormous gas-guzzler. You should be ashamed of yourself, coming in here, talking like this.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Ah. Come on. You have to believe in your product as well. So, I put the full V Power [in it] all the time, and it drives wonderful.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Oh, you’ve ruined everything. Well, anyway, Ben, thank you very much for coming in, and stepping into the lions’ den, and talking so eloquently. Thank you.

    [ Ben Van Beurden ] Thank you very much. And thank you very much also for your leadership in this space, Alan. I really appreciate that as well.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Terry, Damian. What did you make of that ?

    [ Terry McAllister ] I’m still troubled by the fact that there’s a lot of drivers that encourage Shell and the Chief Executive to go in a fossil fuel direction despite all the interesting comments he had to make about the importance of climate change and wanting to lead this debate and be a responsible actor. I’m still very unconvinced by the difference between what they say and what they do. And particularly the I’m afraid the sort of inadequate answers over your questions on things like tar sands, and particularly the Arctic, where they’re still taking a massive risk. And I don’t see how the company can hope to be taken very seriously on the issue of climate change, and emissions controls, when its own emissions are going up, it’s growing the size of the fossil fuel business, it’s moving into a very, very dangerous and pristine environment like the Arctic.


    [ Alan Rusbridger ] To do him credit, it was fairly remarkable that a CEO of a company like Shell should come into The Guardian and take part in a conversation like this. I mean, that is a different breed of executive, isn’t it, for a company like Shell ?

    [ Damian Carrington ] Absolutely. I mean, Terry will I’m sure tell us in a minute because he’s met many more energy CEO’s than I have, but I think it is remarkable. And I think if you just contrast it for example with our current relationship with ExxonMobil, where they send us the same sentence every time we ask them for a comment, which is, “we’re not talking to you.”

    [ Terry McAllister ] What’s interesting about it is that Ben Van Beurden at the end of the interview talked about how Shell itself was looking at fine-tuning its own policies on these issues, and indeed at the moment is looking at producing its own document. It seems to me that they genuinely are in a position of flux. Fortunately they’ve got a Chief Executive who seems to be very self-confident. He’s very articulate and genuinely interested, and wants to be engaged. And as you say, his predecessors didn’t do that, despite repeated requests. So, I think it is encouraging. And I do get the impression they may be open to argument and persuasion.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] And what about the size of his BMW ?

    [ Terry McAllister ] I actually asked the same question of Jeroen Vandeveer, one of his predecessors, and he told me that he rode a bicycle ’cause fuel cost too much. So I don’t know which was more amusing. I rather expected Ben Van Beurden to be driving a large scale saloon as he said as a vote of confidence in his own business.

    [ Damian Carrington ] Can I say one last thing, which is that, you know, obviously, The Guardian has done this, you know, this big piece of work, this project on divestment, over the last few months, and what’s become clear is that you can imagine a model for a fossil fuel company for the future, and you start to see the shape of it with E.On splitting its business out for example – they’re a big utility. So, and just in the interview there, you know, Ben Van Beurden told us that in 2050 we probably will have a very, very large segment of renewable energy. And you can imagine a fossil fuel boss – their challenge is to persuade their shareholders that this makes sense – but you can imagine them setting out a future which says over the next few decades we are going to ramp down our fossil fuels and we’re going to increase the other parts of our business. And at that point I think most people in divestment would say, actually that’s OK.

    [ Alan Rusbridger ] Kodak never became a digital company, did it ?

    [ Narrator ] The Biggest Story in the World is narrated by me Alex Kitovsky. It’s produced by Alana Chance…

  • Amber Rudd : First Skirmish

    Posted on May 29th, 2015 Jo No comments

    As if to provide proof for the sneaking suspicion that Great Britain is run by the wealthy, rather than by the people, and that energy policy is decided by a close-knit circle of privileged dynasties, up bubbles Amber Rudd MP’s first whirl of skirmish as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change : her brother Roland is chairperson of a lobbying firm, Finsbury, which is seeking to get state approval for a controversial gas storage scheme at Preesall, near Fleetwood, on behalf of the developers, Halite Energy of Preston, Lancashire.

    Whilst some claim there is a starkly obvious conflict of interest for Rudd to take part in the decision-making process, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) could have denied it, but have instead confirmed that the potential reversal of a 2013 decision will be made, not by Rudd, but by Lord Bourne.

    New gas storage in the United Kingdom is a crucial piece of the energy infrastructure provision, as recognised by successive governments. Developments have been ongoing, such as the opening of the Holford facility at Byley in Cheshire. Besides new gas storage, there are anticipated improvements for interconnectors with mainland Europe. These are needed for raising the volume of Natural Gas available to the British market, and for optimising Natural Gas flows and sales in the European regional context – a part of the EC’s “Energy Union”.

    An underlying issue not much aired is that increased gas infrastructure is necessary not just to improve competition in the energy markets – it is also to compensate for Peak Natural Gas in the North Sea – something many commentators regularly strive to deny. The new Conservative Government policy on energy is not fit to meet this challenge. The new Secretary of State has gone public about the UK Government’s continued commitment to the exploitation of shale gas – a resource that even her own experts can tell her is unlikely to produce more than a footnote to annual gas supplies for several decades. In addition, should David Cameron be forced to usher in a Referendum on Europe, and the voters petulantly pull out of the Europe project, Britain’s control over Natural Gas imports is likely to suffer, either because of the failure of the “Energy Union” in markets and infrastructure, or because of cost perturbations.

    Amber Rudd MP is sitting on a mountain of trouble, undergirded by energy policy vapourware : the promotion of shale gas is not going to solve Britain’s gas import surge; the devotion to new nuclear power is not going to bring new atomic electrons to the grid for decades, and the UK Continental Shelf is going to be expensive for the Treasury to incentivise to mine. What Amber needs is a proper energy policy, based on focused support for low carbon technologies, such as wind power, solar power and Renewable Gas to back up renewable electricity when the sun is not shining and wind is not blowing.

  • The Great Transition to Gas

    Posted on April 8th, 2015 Jo No comments

    Hello, hello; what have we here then ? Royal Dutch Shell buying out BG Group (formerly known as British Gas). Is this the start of the great transition out of petroleum oil into gas fuels ?

    Volatile crude petroleum oil commodity prices over the last decade have played some undoubted havoc with oil and gas company strategy. High crude prices have pushed the choice of refinery feedstocks towards cheap heavy and immature gunk; influenced decisions about the choices for new petrorefineries and caused ripples of panic amongst trade and transport chiefs : you can’t keep the engine of globalisation ticking over if the key fuel is getting considerably more expensive, and you can’t meet your carbon budgets without restricting supplies.

    Low crude commodity prices have surely caused oil and gas corporation leaders to break out into the proverbial sweat. Heavy oil, deep oil, and complicated oil suddenly become unprofitable to mine, drill and pump. Because the economic balance of refinery shifts. Because low commodity prices must translate into low end user refined product prices.

    There maybe isn’t an ideal commodity price for crude oil. All the while, as crude oil commodity prices jump around like a medieval flea, the price of Natural Gas, and the gassy “light ends” of slightly unconventional and deep crude oil, stay quite cheap to produce and cheap to use. It’s a shame that there are so many vehicles on the road/sea/rails that use liquid fuels…all this is very likely to change.

    Shell appear to be consolidating their future gas business by buying out the competition. Hurrah for common sense ! The next stage of their evolution, after the transition of all oil applications to gas, will be to ramp up Renewable Gas production : low carbon gas supplies will decarbonise every part of the economy, from power generation, to transport, to heating, to industrial chemistry.

    This is a viable low carbon solution – to accelerate the use of renewable electricity – wind power and solar principally – and at the same time, transition the oil and gas companies to become gas companies, and thence to Renewable Gas companies.

  • Renewable Gas : A Presentation #2

    Posted on March 6th, 2015 Jo No comments

    So, this is the second slide from my presentation at Birkbeck, University of London, last week.

    When making an argument, it is best to start from consensus and well-accredited data, so I started with government analysis of the energy sector of the economy in the United Kingdom. Production of Natural Gas in the UK is declining, and imports are rising.

    I did not go into much detail about this chart, but there is a wealth of analysis out there that I would recommend people check out.

    Despite continued investment in oil and gas, North Sea production is declining, and it is generally accepted that this basin or province as a whole is depleting – that is – “running out”.

    Here, for example, is more DECC data. The Summary of UK Estimated Remaining Recoverable Hydrocarbon Resources, published in 2014, had these numbers for UK Oil and Gas Reserves :-

    billion barrels of oil equivalentLowerCentralUpper
    Oil and Gas Reserves4.58.212.1
    Potential Additional Resources1.43.46.4
    Undiscovered Resources2.16.19.2

    The summary concluded with the estimate of remaining recoverable hydrocarbons from the UK Continental Shelf (offshore) resources would be between 11.1 and 21 billion barrels of oil equivalent (bboe).

    Other data in the report showed estimates of cumuluative and annual oil production :-

    billion barrels of oil equivalentCumulative productionAnnual production
    To date to end 201241.30.6 (in 2012)
    To date to end 201241.80.5 (in 2013)
    Additional production 2013 to 20307.00.44 (average 2014 to 2030)
    Additional production 2013 to 20409.10.21 (average 2031 to 2040)
    Additional production 2013 to 205010.40.13 (average 2041 to 2050)

    Another source of estimates on remaining oil and gas resources, reserves and yet-to-find potential is from the Wood Review of 2014 :-

    billion barrels of oil equivalentLow caseMid-caseHigh case
    DECC reference122235
    Wood Review1224

    So it’s clear that British oil and gas production is in decline, and that also, reserves and resources to exploit are depleting. The Wood Review made several recommendations to pump up production, and maximise the total recoverable quantities. Some interpreted this as an indication that good times were ahead. However, increased production in the near future is only going to deplete these resources faster.

    OK, so the UK is finding the North Sea running dry, but what about other countries ? This from the BP Statistical Review of Energy, 2014 :-

    Oil – proved reserves
    Thousand million barrels

    At end 1993

    At end 2003

    At end 2012
    United Kingdom4.54.33.0

    Natural gas – Proved Reserves
    Trillion cubic metres

    At end 1993

    At end 2003

    At end 2012
    United Kingdom0.60.90.2

    Oil and gas chief executives may be in denial about a peak in global crude oil production, but they don’t challenge geology on the North Sea. Here’s what BP’s CEO Bob Dudley said on 17th February 2015, during a presentation of the BP Energy Outlook 2035 :-

    “The North sea is a very mature oil and gas province and it will inevitably go through a decline. It peaked in 1999 at around 2.9 millions barrels per day and our projections are that it will be half a million barrels in 2035”.

    That’s “inevitably” regardless of the application of innovation and new technology. New kit might bring on production sooner, but won’t replenish the final count of reserves to exploit.

    So what are the likely dates for Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas production in the North Sea bordering countries ?

    Norway : by 2030.

    The Netherlands : peaked already. Due to become a net importer of Natural Gas by 2025.

    Denmark : net importer of oil and gas by 2030.

  • Zero Careers In Plainspeaking

    Posted on March 5th, 2015 Jo 1 comment

    There are many ways to make a living, but there appear to be zero careers in plainspeaking.

    I mean, who could I justify working with, or for ? And would any of them be prepared to accept me speaking my mind ?

    Much of what I’ve been saying over the last ten years has been along the lines of “that will never work”, but people generally don’t get consulted or hired for picking holes in an organisation’s pet projects or business models.

    Could I imagine myself taking on a role in the British Government ? Short answer : no.

    The slightly longer answer : The British Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) ? No, they’re still hooked on the failed technology of nuclear power, the stupendously expensive and out-of-reach Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), and the mythical beast of shale gas. OK, so they have a regular “coffee club” about Green Hydrogen (whatever that turns out to be according to their collective ruminations), and they’ve commissioned reports on synthetic methane, but I just couldn’t imagine they’re ever going to work up a serious plan on Renewable Gas. The British Government Department for Transport ? No, they still haven’t adopted a clear vision of the transition of the transport sector to low carbon energy. They’re still chipping away at things instead of coming up with a strategy.

    Could I imagine myself taking on a role with a British oil and gas multinational ? Short and very terse and emphatic answer : no.

    The extended answer : The oil and gas companies have had generous support and understanding from the world’s governments, and are respected and acclaimed. Yet they are in denial about “unburnable carbon” assets, and have dismissed the need for Energy Change that is the outcome of Peak Oil (whether on the supply or the demand side). Sneakily, they have also played both sides on Climate Change. Several major oil and gas companies have funded or in other ways supported Climate Change science denial. Additionally, the policy recommendations coming from the oil and gas companies are what I call a “delayer’s game”. For example, BP continues to recommend the adoption of a strong price on carbon, yet they know this would be politically unpalatable and take decades (if ever) to bring into effect. Shell continues to argue for extensive public subsidy support for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), knowing this would involve such huge sums of money, so it’s never going to happen, at least not for several decades. How on Earth could I work on any project with these corporations unless they adopt, from the centre, a genuine plan for transition out of fossil fuels ? I’m willing to accept that transition necessitates the continued use of Natural Gas and some petroleum for some decades, but BP and Royal Dutch Shell do need to have an actual plan for a transition to Renewable Gas and renewable power, otherwise I would be compromising everything I know by working with them.

    Could I imagine myself taking on a role with a large engineering firm, such as Siemens, GE, or Alstom, taking part in a project on manufactured low carbon gas ? I suppose so. I mean, I’ve done an IT project with Siemens before. However, they would need to demonstrate that they are driving for a Renewable Gas transition before I could join a gas project with them. They might not want to be so bold and up-front about it, because they could risk the wrath of the oil and gas companies, whose business model would be destroyed by engineered gas and fuel solutions.

    Could I imagine myself building fuel cells, or designing methanation catalysts, or improving hydrogen production, biocoke/biocoal manufacture or carbon dioxide capture from the oceans… with a university project ? Yes, but the research would need to be funded by companies (because all applied academic research is funded by companies) with a clear picture on Energy Change and their own published strategy on transition out of fossil fuels.

    Could I imagine myself working on rolling out gas cars, buses and trucks ? Yes. The transition of the transport sector is the most difficult problem in Energy Change. However, apart from projects that are jumping straight to new vehicles running entirely on Hydrogen or Natural Gas, the good options for transition involve converting existing diesel engine vehicles to running mostly on Natural Gas, such as “dual fuel”, still needing roughly 20% of liquid diesel fuel for ignition purposes. So I would need to be involved with a project that aims to supply biodiesel, and have a plan to transition from Natural Gas to Renewable Gas.

    Could I imagine myself working with a team that has extensive computing capabilities to model carbon dioxide recycling in power generation plant ? Yes.

    Could I imagine myself modelling the use of hydrogen in petroleum refinery, and making technological recommendations for the oil and gas industry to manufacture Renewable Hydrogen ? Possibly. But I would need to be clear that I’m doing it to enable Energy Change, and not to prop up the fossil fuel paradigm – a game that is actually already bust and needs helping towards transition.

    Could I imagine myself continuing to research the growth in Renewable Gas – both Renewable Hydrogen and Renewable Methane – in various countries and sectors ? Possibly. It’s my kind of fun, talking to engineers.

    But whatever future work I consider myself doing, repeatedly I come up against this problem – whoever asked me to work with them would need to be aware that I do not tolerate non-solutions. I will continue to say what doesn’t work, and what cannot work.

    If people want to pay me to tell them that what they’re doing isn’t working, and won’t work, then fine, I’ll take the role.

    I’d much rather stay positive, though, and forge a role where I can promote the things that do work, can work and will work.

    The project that I’m suitable for doesn’t exist yet, I feel. I’m probably going to continue in one way or another in research, and after that, since I cannot see a role that I could fit easily or ethically, I can see I’m going to have to write my own job description.

  • Renewable Gas : A Presentation #1

    Posted on March 2nd, 2015 Jo No comments

    Last week, on the invitation of Dr Paul Elsner at Birkbeck, University of London, I gave a brief address of my research so far into Renewable Gas to this year’s Energy and Climate Change class, and asked and answered lots of questions before demolishing the mythical expert/student hierarchy paradigm – another incarnation of the “information deficit model”, perhaps – and proposed everyone work in breakout groups on how a transition from fossil fuel gas to Renewable Gas could be done.

    A presentation of information was important before discussing strategies, as we had to cover ground from very disparate disciplines such as chemical process engineering, the petroleum industry, energy statistics, and energy technologies, to make sure everybody had a foundational framework. I tried to condense the engineering into just a few slides, following the general concept of UML – Unified Modelling Language – keeping everything really simple – especially as processing, or work flow (workflow) concepts can be hard to describe in words, so diagrams can really help get round the inevitable terminology confusions.

    But before I dropped the class right into chemical engineering, I thought a good place to start would be in numbers, and in particular the relative contributions to energy in the United Kingdom from gas and electricity. Hence the first slide.

    The first key point to notice is that most heat demand in the UK in winter is still provided by Natural Gas, whether Natural Gas in home boilers, or electricity generated using Natural Gas.

    The second is that heat demand in energy terms is much larger than power demand in the cold months, and much larger than both power and heat demand in the warm months.

    The third is that power demand when viewed on annual basis seems pretty regular (despite the finer grain view having issues with twice-daily peaks and weekday demand being much higher than weekends).

    The reflection I gave was that it would make no sense to attempt to provide all that deep winter heat demand with electricity, as the UK would need an enormous amount of extra power generation, and in addition, much of this capacity would do nothing for most of the rest of the year.

    The point I didn’t make was that nuclear power currently provides – according to official figures – less than 20% of UK electricity, however, this works out as only 7.48% of total UK primary energy demand (DUKES, 2014, Table 1.1.1, Mtoe basis). The contribution to total national primary energy demand from Natural Gas by contrast is 35.31%. The generation from nuclear power plants has been falling unevenly, and the plan to replace nuclear reactors that have reached their end of life is not going smoothly. The UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change have been pushing for new nuclear power, and project that all heating will convert to electricity, and that nuclear power will provide for much of this (75 GW by 2050). But if their plan relies on nuclear power, and nuclear power development is unreliable, it is hard to imagine that it will succeed.