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Quick jump to below stories:
Exxon says N. America gas production has peaked
Senate Gives Feds Power to Approve LNG Terminal Sites
Oil Jumps to High Over $60
Opec ready for dialogue with China, Russia
U.S. Has Plans to Again Make Own Plutonium

[One of the major players in the energy industry has formally admitted that NA natural gas production is in irreversible decline. The industry response is to turn to coal and nuclear. But what about PV and wind turbines? An in depth series looking into our various options will be forthcoming on FTW beginning in the next couple months. We have some good news about renewable energy, and some bad news about the choices being made by our country and the energy industry. -DAP]

Exxon says N. America gas production has peaked

Tue Jun 21, 2005

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After weak prices in the 1990s due to oversupply, natural gas production in North America will probably continue to decline unless there is another big discovery, Exxon Mobil Corp.'s (XOM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) chief executive said on Tuesday.

"Gas production has peaked in North America," Chief Executive Lee Raymond told reporters at the Reuters Energy Summit.

Asked whether production would continue to decline even if two huge arctic gas pipeline projects were built, Raymond said, "I think that's a fair statement, unless there's some huge find that nobody has any idea where it would be."

Exxon is a major player in the two multi-billion dollar pipeline projects that could bring stranded arctic gas to Canada and the lower 48 states.

The Mackenzie Valley pipeline, which includes partners Imperial Oil (IMO.TO: Quote, Profile, Research) , Shell Canada (SHC.TO: Quote, Profile, Research) , ConocoPhillips (COP.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, has been stalled due to land access issues with native groups in Canada.

At a cost of some C$7 billion (US$5.6 billion), the Mackenzie line could by 2010 bring up to 1.9 billion cubic feet per day of much needed arctic gas in Canada to fuel steadily rising demand.

The larger Alaska Highway Pipeline, also stalled as Exxon, BP (BP.L: Quote, Profile, Research) and ConocoPhillips seek fiscal terms with the state of Alaska and regulatory clarity from the Canadian government, could tap as much as 6 bcfd of gas from the Alaska North Slope by 2012 at a cost of $15-20 billion.

"In terms of those two projects, I think Mackenzie is somewhat ahead of Alaska. Obviously both of them have to go through Canada and to that extent the Canadian government has a significant impact on the timing of both projects," he said.

"The facts are that gas production continues to decline, and will start to decline even more rapidly. By the time we get to that period (2010-2012), we'll need it badly."

Stranded natural gas reserves on the Alaskan North Slope and in the Canadian arctic could total more than 40 trillion cubic feet, according to analyst estimates.

While the number of U.S. rigs drilling for natural gas has climbed about 20 percent over the last year and prices are at record highs, producers have been struggling to raise output.

Experts said easy onshore and shallow water basins have been mostly tapped or are off limits for environmental reasons, and new technologies like horizontal drilling have been draining wells in two or three years, a much faster rate than the five years or more during the 1990s.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that natural gas production will be flat this year and increase only one-half percent next year.

At the same time, demand for the cleaner burning fossil fuel is expected to grow by two percent this year and almost 2.5 percent in 2006, according to EIA, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy.

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Senate Gives Feds Power to Approve LNG Terminal Sites

By Richard Simon and Miguel Bustillo
LA Times Staff Writers
June 22, 2005,0,3087476.story

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted on Wednesday to give federal regulators authority over the location of liquefied natural gas terminals, despite objections from governors that states should be have an equal say in deciding where such projects are built.

Republican and Democratic officials from city halls to Capitol Hill have expressed concern that the terminals could become targets of terrorist attacks or pose other safety risks, and they have sought a role in siting them.

But President Bush has pushed to put Washington in charge of deciding where terminals are built, saying that a lengthy approval process could delay the building of facilities critical to providing the natural gas needed to fuel the nation's economy.

On Wednesday, a majority of the Senate agreed with him. The lawmakers voted 52-45 against adding a provision to the energy legislation that would have given governors the authority to veto or impose conditions on the terminals.

As a result, the Senate bill -- like energy legislation approved by the House -- would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the final word on where terminals are built, virtually ensuring that the provision will be included in any final bill that emerges from Congress.

The action came as the Senate headed toward approval of a sweeping overhaul of national energy policy, a Bush priority that has gained momentum as energy prices have surged.

In another action, the Senate rejected, 60-38, a proposal by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., and John McCain, R-Ariz., to establish a mandatory cap on industrial emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. The measure garnered five fewer votes than a similar version two years ago.

Republicans criticized a mandatory limit as an unfair burden on the American economy, and noted that many other large emitters of greenhouse gases -- including China -- have not committed to reducing them. Democrats focused on recent scientific calls for action on global warming and argued that the United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, had a moral duty to respond.

The LNG debate created an unusual alliance, bringing together conservatives and liberals representing states where terminals have been proposed.

Five terminals are in operation on the East Coast and Gulf Coast. Dozens of new facilities have been proposed.

The terminals, which receive natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid so it can be transported in large tankers, are projected to play a key role in the nation's energy needs. LNG now accounts for about 3 percent of the nation's natural gas use, but it is projected to rise to more than 20 percent by 2025.

The legislation grew out of a legal dispute over a proposed LNG facility in Long Beach, Calif. FERC said it had sole jurisdiction over whether the terminal would be built, but California's Public Utilities Commission challenged that assertion in court. Lawmakers have expressed concern that such litigation could delay building of the terminals.

Long Beach residents opposed to the proposed terminal unsuccessfully lobbied the city earlier this month to cut off talks with developer Mitsubishi, saying they feared that congressional action could block any future city efforts to cancel the project. But officials at the city-owned port where the project would be built said that because Mitsubishi would need a port lease, the port still had the final say whether the project gets built.

Simon reported from Washington and Bustillo from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Deborah Schoch in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Oil Jumps to High Over $60

NY Times, June 26, 2005

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Oil prices leapt one percent to a record above $60 a barrel on Monday as robust U.S. demand appeared undaunted by soaring fuel costs, threatening to strain global production capacity later this year.

U.S. August (CLc1) crude oil futures traded as high as $60.47 a barrel, up 63 cents, extending a rally that has added 12 percent to prices in two weeks and 39 percent since January.

Oil was up 61 cents at $60.45 a barrel by 0216 GMT, surpassing the $60 mark for the first time since it began trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange in 1983.

London Brent crude was up 59 cents at $58.95 a barrel, also a new record.

"It really has been a momentum-driven push to $60 over the past week, we've seen the funds really pile in hard in an effort to push it over (that level),'' said Daniel Hynes, resource analyst at ANZ Institutional Banking.

Prices have soared as investors bet refiners and producers would struggle to meet peak winter demand in the world's biggest energy consumer. Speculators boosted their net long positions in U.S. crude to nearly 20,000 lots last week.

While high prices are eroding strength from a world economy already vulnerable to upsets, the overall picture remains solid, central bankers meeting in Switzerland said at the weekend.

This has encouraged speculators to keep testing consumers' ability to absorb higher costs, with some analysts saying only a significant pull-back in demand -- due to conservation, fuel switching or an economic slowdown -- will tame prices.

"The market is testing higher to see what price levels this demand can endure,'' said Naohiro Niimura, vice president at the derivative products division of Mizuho Corporate Bank.

Crude oil contracts for delivery through next August are now all trading above $60 a barrel as dealers see tight market conditions running for at least another year, especially for distillate products such as heating oil and diesel.

Heating oil (HOc1) traded up 1.91 cents or 1.2 percent at $1.6695 a gallon, below their April 4 front-month record of $1.6950 a gallon but still unseasonably strong.

Gasoline (HUc1), which typically leads the market during the summer when U.S. consumption surges to account for more than 10 percent of world oil demand, was up 1.58 cents at $1.6715.

Over the past four weeks, demand for distillates in the United States has risen nearly 7 percent from last year while gasoline consumption is up 2.5 percent.

With prices undeterred by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) largely symbolic output hike earlier this month, producers have begun consulting on another increase.

"We started yesterday, Friday," Sheikh Ahmad, who is also Kuwait's oil minister, told journalists in parliament. "I spoke with Attiyah and Naimi," he added, referring to the oil ministers of Qatar and top producer Saudi Arabia.

But a new increase of 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) -- an amount agreed by ministers in Vienna -- may do little to soothe oil traders who say it's a shortage of refining capacity, not crude oil, that's driving prices higher.

Oil analysts have also said the presidential election in OPEC member Iran -- won at the weekend by ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- could have implications for the oil market as it heightens uncertainty in the world's fourth-largest producer.

Ahmadinejad said after his victory over moderate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani that he would flush out corruption from the country's oil sector and favor domestic investors, although analysts do not expect a big shift in production policy.

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Opec ready for dialogue with China, Russia


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

VIENNA: Opec is hoping to set up regular dialogue soon with China, which is now one of its biggest oil consumers, the cartel's president Sheikh Ahmad Fahd Al Sabah said yesterday.

Opec was also aiming for a similar arrangement with Russia by the end of the year, Sheikh Ahmad said after a ministerial meeting of the 11-nation oil-producing cartel.

"We are happy if we can start our dialogue with China. We have already received an official request to start this dialogue," Opec's president, who is also Kuwait's oil minister, told journalists.

"I hope in September as president I will visit Beijing. This has not been decided 100 percent, this is one of the proposals," he added.

China's booming industrial growth and energy needs are believed to be fuelling the current lack of spare petroleum capacity on the market.

"I think China is helping. China is the main reason the price is high because they are coming in with big demand," Opec's president said.

He nonetheless highlighted a lack of adequate refinery capacity in the Asian giant.

Opec forecasts have predicted that China will be the fastest growing oil consumer ahead of the United States over the next two decades.

"We believe after 2006 the growth of demand in China will be between 400 (thousand barrels per day) to 600 yearly," Sheikh Ahmad said.

Opec ministers and officials met counterparts from the European Union on June 9 in the first of what is planned to be regular meetings aimed at stepping up cooperation and promoting dialogue between oil producers and consumers.

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[Nuclear power is not a viable substitute for cheap oil and gas. A substantial minority of observers believe that it's not viable at all, if you factor in the staggering technical problems of nuclear waste storage and disposal. But Uncle Sam is feeling bullish: "Officials say the program could cost $1.5 billion and generate more than 50,000 drums of hazardous and radioactive waste." That's another way of saying "energy independence," the way "eminent domain" says "ownership society."

Then there's the question of just why we "need" another 330 pounds of the most harmful substance in the universe:

Project managers say that most if not all of the new plutonium is intended for secret missions and they declined to divulge any details. But in the past, it has powered espionage devices.

"The real reason we're starting production is for national security…"

I feel more secure already.


U.S. Has Plans to Again Make Own Plutonium

June 27, 2005

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

The Bush administration is planning the government's first production of plutonium 238 since the cold war, stirring debate over the risks and benefits of the deadly material. The substance, valued as a power source, is so radioactive that a speck can cause cancer.

Federal officials say the program would produce a total of 330 pounds over 30 years at the Idaho National Laboratory, a sprawling site outside Idaho Falls some 100 miles to the west and upwind of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Officials say the program could cost $1.5 billion and generate more than 50,000 drums of hazardous and radioactive waste.

Project managers say that most if not all of the new plutonium is intended for secret missions and they declined to divulge any details. But in the past, it has powered espionage devices.

"The real reason we're starting production is for national security," Timothy A. Frazier, head of radioisotope power systems at the Energy Department, said in a recent interview.

He vigorously denied that any of the classified missions would involve nuclear arms, satellites or weapons in space.

The laboratory is a source of pride and employment for many residents in the Idaho Falls area. But the secrecy is adding to unease in Wyoming, where environmentalists are scrutinizing the production plan - made public late Friday - and considering whether to fight it.

They say the production effort is a potential threat to nearby ecosystems, including Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and the area around Jackson Hole, famous for its billionaires, celebrities and weekend cowboys, including Vice President Dick Cheney.

"It's completely wrapped in the flag," said Mary Woollen-Mitchell, executive director of Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, a group based in Jackson Hole. "They absolutely won't let on" about the missions.

"People are starting to pay attention," she said of the production plan. "On the street, just picking up my kids at school, they're getting keyed up that something is in the works."

Plutonium 238 has no central role in nuclear arms. Instead, it is valued for its steady heat, which can be turned into electricity. Nuclear batteries made of it are best known for powering spacecraft that go where sunlight is too dim to energize solar cells. For instance, they now power the Cassini probe exploring Saturn and its moons.

Federal and private experts unconnected to the project said the new plutonium would probably power devices for conducting espionage on land and under the sea. Even if no formal plans now exist to use the plutonium in space for military purposes, these experts said that the material could be used by the military to power compact spy satellites that would be hard for adversaries to track, evade or destroy.

"It's going to be a tough world in the next one or two decades, and this may be needed," said a senior federal scientist who helps the military plan space missions and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the possibility that he would contradict federal policies. "Technologically, it makes sense."

Early in the nuclear era, the government became fascinated by plutonium 238 and used it regularly to make nuclear batteries that worked for years or decades. Scores of them powered satellites, planetary probes and spy devices, at times with disastrous results.

In 1964, a rocket failure led to the destruction of a navigation satellite powered by plutonium 238, spreading radioactivity around the globe and starting a debate over the event's health effects.

In 1965, high in the Himalayas, an intelligence team caught in a blizzard lost a plutonium-powered device meant to spy on China. And in 1968, an errant weather satellite crashed into the Pacific, but federal teams managed to recover its plutonium battery intact from the Santa Barbara Channel, off California.

Such accidents cooled enthusiasm for the batteries. But federal agencies continued to use them for a more limited range of missions, including those involving deep-space probes and top-secret devices for tapping undersea cables.

In 1997, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration prepared to launch its Cassini probe of Saturn, hundreds of protesters converged on its Florida spaceport, arguing that an accident could rupture the craft's nuclear batteries and condemn thousands of people to death by cancer.

Plutonium 238 is hundreds of times more radioactive than the kind of plutonium used in nuclear arms, plutonium 239. Medical experts agree that inhaling even a speck poses a serious risk of lung cancer.

But federal experts say that the newest versions of the nuclear batteries are made to withstand rupture into tiny particles and that the risk of human exposure is extraordinarily low.

Today, the United States makes no plutonium 238 and instead relies on aging stockpiles or imports from Russia. By agreement with the Russians, it cannot use the imported material - some 35 pounds since the end of the cold war - for military purposes.

With its domestic stockpile running low, Washington now wants to resume production. Though it last made plutonium 238 in the 1980's at the government's Savannah River plant in South Carolina, it now wants to move such work to the Idaho National Laboratory and consolidate all the nation's plutonium 238 activities there, including efforts now at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

By centralizing everything in Idaho, the Energy Department hopes to increase security and reduce the risks involved in transporting the radioactive material over highways.

Late Friday, the department posted a 500-page draft environmental impact statement on the plan at The public has 60 days to respond.

Mr. Frazier said the department planned to weigh public reaction and complete the regulatory process by late this year, and to finish the plan early in 2006. The president would then submit it to Congress for approval, he said. The work requires no international assent.

The Idaho National Laboratory, founded in 1949 for atomic research, stretches across 890 square miles of southeastern Idaho. The Big Lost River wanders its length. The site is dotted with 450 buildings and 52 reactors - more than at any other place - most of them shut down. It has long wrestled with polluted areas and recently sought to set new standards in environmental restoration.

New plutonium facilities there would take five years to build and cost about $250 million, Mr. Frazier said. The operations budget would run to some $40 million annually over 30 years, he said, for a total cost of nearly $1.5 billion.

An existing reactor there would make the plutonium. Mr. Frazier said the goal was to start production by 2012 and have the first plutonium available by 2013. When possible, Mr. Frazier said, the plutonium would be used not only for national security but also for deep-space missions, reducing dependence on Russian supplies.

Since late last year, the Energy Department has tried to reassure citizens living around the proposed manufacturing site of the plan's necessity and safety.

But political activists in Wyoming have expressed frustration at what they call bureaucratic evasiveness regarding serious matters. "It's the nastiest of the nasty," Ms. Woollen-Mitchell said of plutonium 238.

Early this year, she succeeded in learning some preliminary details of the plan from the Energy Department. Mr. Frazier provided her with a document that showed that production over 30 years would produce 51,590 drums of hazardous and radioactive waste.

He also referred to the continuing drain on the government's national security stockpile, saying the known missions by the end of this decade would require 55 pounds of plutonium for 10 to 15 power systems. Those uses, he said, would leave virtually no plutonium for future classified missions.

Ms. Woollen-Mitchell was unswayed. In January she told the Energy Department that so much information about the plan remained hidden that it had "given us serious pause."

The Energy Department is courting Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free because it has flexed its political muscle before. Starting in late 1999, financed by wealthy Jackson Hole residents like Harrison Ford, it fought to stop the Idaho lab from burning plutonium-contaminated waste in an incinerator and forced the lab to investigate alternatives.

In the recent interview, Mr. Frazier said he planned to talk to the group on Tuesday and expressed hope of winning people over.

"I don't know that I'll be able to make them perfectly comfortable," he said, "but they know that the department is willing to listen and talk and take their comments into consideration."

"We have a good case," Mr. Frazier added, saying the department could show that the Idaho plan "can be done safely with very minimal environmental impacts."

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