The US love of energy has been supported by subsidies and protection of the oil industry. Last month the administration took a step to reducing those subsidies in a new energy bill. And now a report confirms the collusion and apathy among regulators and the industry. A report has unsurprisingly declared that the Interior Department’s program to collect billions of dollars annually from oil and gas companies that drill on federal lands is troubled by mismanagement, ethical lapses and fears of retaliation against whistle-blowers. And this was an internal report! The yearlong investigation and concluding report grew out of complaints by four auditors at the agency, who said that senior administration officials had blocked them from recovering money from oil companies that underpaid the government.
While the report stopped short of accusing top agency officials of wrongdoing this may have been pragmatism owing to insufficient specific evidence. It offered a sharp description of failures at the Minerals Management Service, the agency within the Interior Department responsible for collecting about $10 billion a year in royalties on oil and gas. Investigators also softened their internal critique by saying that the whistle-blowers were sometimes unaware of other efforts under way to recover the missing money and that they sometimes simply disagreed with top management. Nevertheless it notes that the agency is too cozy with oil companies and that internal critics had good reason to fear punishment. This article from the NYT offers some juicy illustrations.
None of this is surprising to those who have seen the cynical approach of oil companies to pollution, environmental degradation and energy security (including alternative energy). Given the history of collusion we are not hopeful of immediate change, but the report is another sign that oil is not the panacea it has been sold as and the carelessness of the industry is being brought to light.
Coincidentally, BusinessWeek reported on the intransigence of big oil to introducing ethanol mix in its forecourts. Despite receiving billions in subsidies to provide ethanol it is using overt and covert tactics to keep E85 (85% ethanol 16% petrol, which directly substitutes for petrol) out of drivers’ tanks. It is another page in the tales of deception by big oil.
There have been several reports recently of the increasing popularity of nuclear as a solution to rapidly emerging concerns with fossil fuel energy. But this may be more a result of propaganda than pragmatism and principle.
A collaborative approach, which had been adopted in the UK, is breaking down. Recently the UK government initiated a public review of nuclear power which included environmentally aware stakeholders. Unfortunately, these stakeholders have withdrawn from the process protesting the biased review. The accusations are damaging because the government is bound by its own guidelines to keep an open mind on new nuclear power stations until after the “fullest public consultation” and if the government is forced into a third consultation it could delay major energy decisions being made for at least a year.
The coalition review process was forced upon the government by the high court, which ruled in February that a previous consultation was “seriously flawed” and “manifestly inadequate and unfair”. At least six groups, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF and Green Alliance, claim the government is distorting the evidence by not presenting the alternative scenarios provided and say they are considering whether to take the case to court again. What is clear is that the dangers of nuclear power still appear to be at the forefront of public concern, with 89% of people worried about safety and 92% alarmed at the prospect of creating more nuclear waste.
Unfortunately, our reading of the situation is that government is leaning toward nuclear because it provides a “solution” that is sellable to the public and supported by rich lobbies, while its costs are postponed to be the problem of later incumbents. Nuclear is the GM of energy. It looks great if your listening to the people selling it, but the users and the locals where it happens have their environment and livelihoods destroyed.
Then there are the greens who support it because it can be a solution to climate change. This is an act of desperation because they are rightfully fearful that people will not change their behaviour in time to make a difference. They would rather have a planet with radioactive acne than one in which nature dies. Its not the easy choice that it is made out to be. However, if people are informed about lifestyle choices and consequences we usually do the right thing and change behaviour. That is what the review needs to promote and where it has failed.
Further reading: Nuclear’s power’s new age from The Economist concludes: “One of the reasons why the public turned against nuclear power last time round is that it found itself bailing the industry out. It would be wrong, not just for taxpayers but also for the industry, to set up another lot of cosy deals with governments. The nuclear industry needs to persuade people that it is clean, cheap and safe enough to rely on without a government crutch. If it can’t, it doesn’t deserve a second chance.”
Their briefing Atomic Renaissance focuses on the expected expansion of US nuclear and its influence on policy elsewhere.
That’s the objective of Gordon Murray, ex-Formula 1 car designer who recently launched a new company to design a green family car, the T25. Production will be outsourced for this concept car which Murray would like to have online in 18 months. He’s aiming for safety, efficiency and cost competitiveness. Let’s hope this initiative helps transform the personal transport industry.
Oil prices are reaching new highs as September draws to a close. They are peaking above $82 a barrel. If winter in north America and Europe comes in hard these prices will add to economic difficulties, though the majors will benefit as usual.
Energy Use in the New Millennium by the International Energy Agency published on 10 September draws a gloomy picture of efforts made by the 26 IEA member countries to control their energy consumption since 1990, the reference year of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
“Final energy-use increased by 14% between 1990 and 2004. This increased energy-use fed directly into the level of CO2 emissions, which also rose by 14%.”
“These findings confirm the conclusions of previous IEA analyses – that the changes caused by the oil-price shocks in the 1970s and the resulting energy policies did considerably more to control growth in energy demand and reduce CO2 emissions than the energy efficiency and climate policies implemented since the 1990s.”
What this tells us is that either we, as individuals, must take globally responsible initiatives to reduce our energy consumption, or we will all be faced with increasing shocks, in pain and frequency, to societies increasingly withdrawn from nature by modern conveniences.
IEA: Energy Use in the New Millennium | Executive summary
EU: Energy Efficiency pages