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09 March 2013

Press review 09-03-2013

This was an eventful week, with two particular stories of great concern. First I'd like to highlight the intensifying situation in Syria. It was already known that Al Qaeda has been drafting Iraqi young men to fight along the Sunni factions; but on Monday Reuters published a piece confirming that Iraqis are also joining the ranks of the Shi'ite faction leaded by Assad. Later that same day the first armed operation linked to this conflict took place in Iraqi soil, with an Al Qaeda commando ambushing and executing dozens of Shi'ite soldiers that had surrendered to the Iraqi regular army.

The US and the UK seem very interested in fuelling the conflict by arming the Sunni factions; Al Qaeda will surely divert part of these weapons towards Iraq. On the current tack it seems impossible for both Syria and Iraq to emerge out of the conflict with the borders they have today. The effects on neighbouring countries and Petroleum production in the region is unpredictable.

Reuters
Shi'ite fighters rally to defend Damascus shrine
Mariam Karouny, 03-03-2013

(Reuters) - Shi'ite fighters from Iraq and Lebanon have joined fellow Shi'ite Syrian gunmen to defend a shrine south of Damascus which they fear is threatened by Sunni rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.

The presence of Shi'ite combatants from neighboring states - confirmed by sources in Iraq and Syria and highlighted in videos glorifying their mission - underlines how Syria's conflict is inflaming sectarian feelings in the region.

Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas brigade, named after a seventh century martyr son of Imam Ali who is considered the father of Shi'ite Islam, was formed several months ago and fights mainly around the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab on the southern outskirts of the Syrian capital, a source close to the brigade said.
Deutsche Wella
Gunmen kill dozens of Syrian soldiers in Iraq
04.03.2013

Dozens of unarmed Syrian soldiers have been killed in western Iraq. In the attack, unknown gunmen opened fire on an Iraqi military convoy transporting them towards the Syrian border, according to Iraqi officials.

Forty-eight Syrian soldiers died in the attack in Anbar province on Monday. The defense ministry said in an online statement that the attack was carried out "by a terrorist group that infiltrated into Iraqi territory coming from Syira," and added that nine Iraqi guards were also killed.

The Associated Press cited a senior military intelligence official who said the attackers appeared to have had information about the soldiers' movements and launched a well coordinated attack involving roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. The official said they finished it off by spraying the vehicles with bullets.
Also on Monday gas prices in Britain jumped by an amazing 50%, to a seven year record high. Storage was then down to 2 weeks of supply, the lowest it has have been this soon in the year. Temperatures are forecast to drop next week, foundering below zero in much of the island. Supply cuts to the industry and more diesel generated electricity are likely outcomes. Will the British government wake up this time?
Financial Times
UK natural gas prices reach seven-year high
Guy Chazan, 04-03-2013

UK natural gas prices soared on Monday to their highest in seven years, as problems at a gas processing plant in Norway squeezed supplies and raised fears of higher household energy bills.

The spike in prices underscored Britain’s growing reliance on gas from Norway and the lack of availability of liquefied natural gas imports from countries such as Qatar. It came with gas storage levels heavily depleted because of below-average winter temperatures.

Gas for same-day delivery rose more than 50 per cent to 115 pence a therm on Monday, the highest price since 2006.
Bloomberg
U.K. Natural Gas Stores May Empty in Two Weeks: Chart of the Day
By Matthew Brown, 05-03-2013

U.K. stores of natural gas, pushed to record lows by a dearth of tanker imports, will be exhausted in about two weeks unless temperatures rise, reducing demand for the heating fuel.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows inventories at Rough, the U.K.’s largest gas-storage facility, are at the lowest level on record for the time of year. There were 6,490 gigawatt-hours of gas in storage yesterday, which will be depleted in 15 days if the average rate of withdrawal over the past two weeks continues, according to National Grid Plc (NG/) data. [...]

“We’ll probably run out of storage in just over two weeks if stocks continue to be drawn down at this rate,” Craig Lowrey, a consultant at The Utilities Exchange Ltd., said yesterday by telephone from Ipswich, England. “With very little LNG coming to the U.K. there are fewer alternative sources of gas and that increases the risks if we do get to that point.”
Across the Atlantic the problem seems to be rather the excess of gas supply, prompting the hypothesis of Rail shifting to gas. Adapting the infrastructure may not be an issue, but running an industry like Rail on short term fuel contracts might.
Marketplace
Railroad to make shift to natural gas locomotives
David Weinberg, 06-03-2013

The freight railroad company BNSF made a big announcement today. It’s going to do a little experiment and switch from diesel to natural gas to power its locomotives. BNSF happens to be owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett is betting big on natural gas. If this latest natural gas play works, it could mean big profits and big changes for the entire rail industry.

BNSF considered using natural gas in its locomotives back in the '80s, but there is a big difference between then and now. Natural gas is way cheaper than the diesel today.

“Something has to take advantage of that economic arbitrage,” says energy analyst David Bellman. He points out that BNSF is doing exactly that -- taking advantage of the low-cost of natural gas.
À propos, Dave Summers, one of the founders of TheOilDrum.com, gave a long interview some weeks ago to OilPrice.com. I only read it this week and fully recommend it, especially to those dreaming of a new age of fossil fuels based on shale resources.
OilPrice.com
Peak Oil, The Shale Boom and our Energy Future: Interview with Dave Summers
James Stafford, 28-02-2013

This where we stand, and it's a fairly bleak view: Peak oil is almost here, and nothing new (with the possible but unlikely exception of Iraq) is coming online anytime soon and while the clock is ticking - forward movement on developing renewable energy resources has been sadly inadequate. In the meantime, the idea that shale reservoirs will lead the US to energy independence will soon enough be recognized as unrealistic hype. There are no easy solutions, no viable quick fixes, and no magic fluids. Yet the future isn't all doom and gloom - certain energy technologies do show promise. We had a chance to speak with well known energy expert Dave Summers where we cut through the media noise and take a realistic look at what our energy future holds.
An odd piece on Environmentalism and Journalism caught my eye. Keith Kloor reflects on the reasons behind the declining interest of the populace on Environmental issues. He forgot to write "It's worth than we thought" but makes clear the discomfort of his class in the present juncture, where economic woes make impending catastrophes that never materialise less trendy. He clearly demonstrates the problem: he thinks environmental journalism is generally independent and idoneous. Unfortunately, that way the media continues to report (or not reporting) on energy issues shows otherwise; environmental journalism seems most of the time at the service of political and/or corporate agendas. As long as folk like Keith Kloor don't understand this nothing will change, and the public will continue missing the real environmental challenges our civilisation is facing.
Discover Magazine
Green Fatigue
Keith Kloor, 04-03-2013

On Saturday, the International Herald Tribune (a global version of the New York Times) reported on its Rendezvous blog: “Environmental warning fatigue sets in.” The post was a quick summary of a new poll that reveals:
Environmental concerns among citizens around the world have been falling since 2009 and have now reached twenty-year lows, according to a multi-country GlobeScan poll.
This is the sort of news that would almost certainly have appeared on the New York Times Green blog, but on Friday the Times shut it down, which triggered immediate waves of angst and outrage in journalism (and environmental) circles. The move shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Two months ago, the Times dismantled its “environmental desk,” which essentially was a pool of reporters and editors dedicated to environmental issues. (Nobody was fired; reporters were assigned to other areas of the paper.) So has environmental fatigue set in at the Times? [...]

There’s more to it than that, I think. Environmental journalism has, unfairly or not, a perception problem. Bud Ward, writing ten years ago in Harvard’s Nieman Reports, discussed a charge then hurled at environmental journalists: “greens with press passes.”
Closing is a piece published by Forbes on the perils of using Microsoft Excel that only now came to my attention. It is not only a bad piece of software, it induces malpractice and the loss of huge amounts of money. The last time I used Excel was almost a decade ago, why so many folk insisting on paying to use it is beyond my understanding.
Forbes
Microsoft's Excel Might Be The Most Dangerous Software On The Planet
Tim Worstall, 13-02-2013

No, really, it’s possible that Microsoft‘s Excel is the most dangerous software on the planet. Yes, more dangerous than rogue code running a nuclear power plant, than the Stuxnet that was deliberately sent off to sabotage Iran‘s nuclear program, worse, even, than whatever rent in the fabric of space time led to the invention of Lolcats. Really, that serious.

There’s a danger at one level: it’s all become so complex and it’s handled in such a slapdash manner that no one is really on top of it anymore. And don’t just take it from me as an assertion, there are very serious people indeed warning about this:
That's it for this week, see you some other time.