Archive for March, 2013



March 19, 2013

UPDATE:  Still sick, but I hope to be fully recovered and back to regular posting by the beginning of next week (4/1).

I have been battling a severe case of influenza for the past week, which is why there have been no new posts.  I hope to be able to resume posting by the end of this week.


Arctic mining in the balance as Greenland votes today

March 12, 2013

Tiny Greenland, with just 57,000 inhabitants, has the eyes of the energy world on it today as it holds an election which will determine whether or if the vast stores of mineral wealth off its frozen shores will be developed by world energy companies.

From EurActiv:

Not one mining or oil project has got off the ground yet.

But more than 100 exploration licenses have been awarded. There are large deposits of rare earths, used in products from wind turbines to hybrid-powered cars. China accounts for the majority of world supply. There are hopes for gold and zinc.

Government officials says reserves may be equivalent to as much half of the entire North Sea.

Central to the debate in Greenland is a $2.3 billion (€1.76 bn) project for an iron ore mine by the British-based London Mining Plc near a fiord in Nuuk. It may involve diesel power plants, a road and port and would supply China with iron to fuel its economy.

Some 2,000 Chinese workers – the equivalent of around four percent of Greenland’s population – could fly in for its construction, touching nerves where unemployment is rising.



Green bona fides of EVs questioned

March 11, 2013

Bjorn Lomborg has a piece up at the Wall Street Journal that references a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of battery powered electric vehicles (BEVs).  Because of the energy costs associated with the extraction of rare earth minerals, plus the fabrication of those minerals into advanced batteries, BEVs on average are actually responsible for greater greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than are vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.  The production GHG output is so much greater that one would have to drive a BEV longer than its theoretical battery life to catch up (and, when you add the GHG emissions associated with a replacement battery, you have to drive it even longer).  So, in return for presenting the owner a false veneer of environmental consciousness, a BEV costs more up front and emits more GHG over its lifetime.

Lifetime Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Hawkins, et al, 2012)

Lifetime Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Hawkins, et al, 2012)

Of course, there are other reasons for owning a BEV – they appeal to the gadget and status conscious, and the rising cost of gasoline may make some models financially attractive for urban commuters (especially in warm climates – batteries do not always wake up on  very cold mornings in the northeast).

The LCA to which Lomborg refers is titled Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles by Troy Hawkins, Bhawna Singh, Guillame Majeau-Bettez and Anders Hammer Stromman and was published last year in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.  A free copy is available here in pdf  format.


Future Arctic Sea Lanes

March 8, 2013

Two UCLA geographers have used various climate models to predict the locations and seasonal longevity of Arctic sea lanes in both the near and middle term futures.  From the abstract:

Recent historic observed lows in Arctic sea ice extent, together with climate model projections of additional ice reductions in the future, have fueled speculations of potential new trans-Arctic shipping routes linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. However, numerical studies of how projected geophysical changes in sea ice will realistically impact ship navigation are lacking. To address this deficiency, we analyze seven climate model projections of sea ice properties, assuming two different climate change scenarios [representative concentration pathways (RCPs) 4.5 and 8.5] and two vessel classes, to assess future changes in peak season (September) Arctic shipping potential. By midcentury, changing sea ice conditions enable expanded September navigability for common open-water ships crossing the Arctic along the Northern Sea Route over the Russian Federation, robust new routes for moderately ice-strengthened (Polar Class 6) ships over the North Pole, and new routes through the Northwest Passage for both vessel classes. Although numerous other nonclimatic factors also limit Arctic shipping potential, these findings have important economic, strategic, environmental, and governance implications for the region.

Arctic Shipping Routes

The opening of the Arctic to even seasonal maritime activity will represent the greatest geopolitical earthquake of our time; perhaps of all time.  The northern shores of Asia and North America have always been impervious to maritime assault; for the first time in human history, that is about to change, with new threats and opportunities for all.



March 7, 2013

Well, not really the Committee on Foreign Relations (and , not really NOAA, for that matter), but a team of researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Michael Levi, energy fellow at the CFR are engaged in a fierce debate over the extend of methane emissions from natural gas production.  Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than is CO2, and if natural gas production releases much methane, than it cancels out (or worse) any gains  we would get from its lessened CO2 output.

Two NOAA studies have claimed that there is massive methane leakage associated with natural gas production.  Levi, however, has made serious methodological critiques on those studies and has instead found a much lesser level of leakage.  Sadly, the national press has given much coverage to the NOAA studies, but next to none to Levi’s critiques.

There is no definitive answer to the debate at the moment.  We will have to wait for careful collection of new data to determine which side is right, or at least closer to the truth.  A full explanation of the debate can be found on Levi’s blog here (with links to all the relevant papers and notes, including those from NOAAA).


Oil Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

March 6, 2013
West Africa Oil Regions

West Africa Oil Regions

West Africa n general and the Gulf of Guinea in particular contains one of the largest proven reserves of oil outside the Middle East.  It is not, however, the most productive, as the region is plagued by poor governance and criminality.

In this month’s issue of Proceedings , Martin Murphy examines what he calls “Africa’s Leaking Wound” – the oil piracy that plagues the region, hinders the development of civil institutions, and funds criminal and Islamist groups across the continent.



A Great Rift in Central Asia?

March 5, 2013

Central Asia has long figured prominently in geopolitical theory, dating back at least to Halford Mackinder’s formulation of “Heartland Theory.”  Most recently, the regions vast trove of natural resources – in particular fossil fuel reserves – have led to competition for favor among three Great Powers – China, Russia and the US.  Each of the three has tried to organize the space to its advantage, summarized in the table below (from this post a few years back).

Table 4

The  US has largely abandoned its efforts, at least in the heart of Central Asia, and is in the process of disengagement east of the Caspian.  China and Russia, however, are both aggressively pursuing their interests in the region and, to that end, the SCO and CSTO are drifting apart, with the SCO becoming more and more a Chinese enterprise rather than a joint Sino-Russian effort.

Now, it seems, that Russia is even looking upon the SCO as a true rival to its interests.   This is an opportunity for the US – even as we retreat, we can use the reality of increasing Chinese influence in what Russia sees as its rightful sphere of influence as a means of both dividing those powers and of developing strategic cooperation with Russia to help contain Chinese strength.  “Containment” is a word that China hates to hear, but the stronger it gets, the more likely it is to be openly embraced by all of her neighbors and rivals.