News & Current Affairs

August 30, 2008

Energy-hungry Europe warms to Norway

Energy-hungry Europe warms to Norway

Amid frantic newspaper headlines about the possibility of a new Cold War, more and more governments around Europe are talking about their need for “energy security”.

What most of them actually mean is that they are not sure whether or not to trust the Russians.

A gas platform off the coast of Norway

Norway remains one of only two major fossil fuel exporters in Europe

There are only two big exporters of fossil fuels in Europe: Russia and Norway, so the choice – for countries without energy reserves of their own or fast depleting them – is limited.

And, undiplomatic as it is to admit it, the Norwegians stand to do very well out of the current political situation.

Officially, a healthy and productive competition exists between the two countries who share a border well above the Arctic Circle.

“We are also partners,” says Norway’s Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, “because both Russia and Norway have an interest in the development of the European oil and gas market.

“And we welcome them into the market, because the market will be bigger if there are several suppliers.”

Mr Stoltenberg was speaking at the opening of an international conference about offshore energy in Stavanger, southern Norway.

Transparency

And, alongside the reassurances to his Russian neighbours, he did hint at his country’s trump card, when asked why the rest of Europe should take Norway as its energy supplier of choice.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

Norway offers a reliable energy supply and a stable democracy

“We are a reliable supplier. And we have proved that over many years. And we have a very transparent, open energy sector.”

The head of the conference, ONS Director Kjell Ursin-Smith, was prepared to go even further.

“The situation is very interesting for Norway, of course. We are looked upon as a stable nation, whereas Russia still has a tainted reputation in that respect. So I think we will try to prove that we are a stable producer of oil and gas for Europe.”

The proof of the UK’s commitment to Norway as a gas provider of the future is a massive new pipeline – the biggest engineering project of its kind in the world – known as Ormen Lange.

The pipeline, whose name means “giant serpent” in old Norse will stretch from the Norwegian North Sea fields to Easington on the East Yorkshire coast.

Further afield

Some 745 miles of steel tubing have been painstaking laid up and down the canyons of the seabed, designed to deliver about 20% of the UK’s domestic gas needs for the next 50 years. It came on stream late last year.

The Ukraine issue sent a shiver down the European energy spine and Georgia is a recent episode which will focus a lot of minds.
Malcolm Wicks, UK energy minister

The days when Britain could rely on its own reserves to be self-sufficient in oil and gas are long gone – with a current annual depletion rate of about 8% a year – so there is no choice but to look abroad.

Britain has always made a virtue of its lack of political interference in the energy market, preferring to make deciding on a supplier a matter of pure economics and stress the need for “diversity of supply”.

But things might be changing.

“We’re aware of what’s going on now”, says the UK Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks.

He still stresses the need to source from more than one country, more than one route.

High stakes

But, he adds, referring to the incident in 2006 when Russia turned off gas supplies to its neighbor in order to force higher prices: “The Ukraine issue sent a shiver down the European energy spine and Georgia is a recent episode which will focus a lot of minds.

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“I think we have to be – how can I put it? – streetwise, when it comes to issues around energy security. Norway is a great partner to have. It’s a very sophisticated democracy with a great record when it comes to human rights. So the new pipeline is a good piece of democratic politics.”

The proportion of its energy western Europe has to import is likely to rise to about 70% in the coming decades, so the market is guaranteed and the stakes are high.

It remains to be seen whether the big two suppliers – Norway and Russia – will clash or co-operate when it comes to developing what is a potential El Dorado of the North – vast swathes of Arctic territory, largely in the Barents Sea, which new technology is opening up to oil and gas exploitation for the first time.

The disputes have already begun as to who owns what territory. Vast amounts of money are to be made.

Norway has known great wealth for nearly 40 years now, mostly thanks to its fossil fuel resources.

Russia, with an average per capita income still about a tenth the size of that of its tiny Scandinavian neighbor, has not.

And in these days of ‘new’ Russia rediscovering its confidence, reasserting its power in the world, observers of geo-politics can almost certainly expect fireworks.

August 15, 2008

Nigeria cedes Bakassi to Cameroon

Nigeria cedes Bakassi to Cameroon

Bakassi villagers

Thousands of people have moved from their homes in Bakassi

Nigeria has handed over the potentially oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, bringing an end to a long-standing dispute over the territory.

The handover ceremony was moved from the peninsula’s main town to Calabar in Nigeria amid security concerns.

Over the past year about 50 people have been killed in clashes.

The majority of the local population considers itself Nigerian, but an international court ruled in favor of Cameroon in 2002.

There are unconfirmed reports that militants have attacked a boat traveling to Abana, the main town on the Bakassi peninsula.

Unresolved pain at Bakassi handover

Nigerian security sources said between three and seven people were killed when militants ambushed the boat as it made its way from Cameroon.

Correspondents say security had been beefed up ahead of the ceremony.

On the Cameroonian side, there have been celebrations as people moved back into the peninsula.

In recent years, at least 100,000 people have moved from the peninsula to Nigeria, local leaders say.

The International Court of Justice ruling was based on an early 19th century colonial agreement between Britain and Germany.

Nigeria challenged the ruling, but finally agreed to relinquish the territory two years ago.

“The gains made in adhering to the rule of law may outweigh the painful losses of ancestral homes,” said the head of the Nigerian delegation at the ceremony, Attorney General Mike Aondoakaa.

Part of the territory was handed over to Cameroon two years ago.

Revellers

A spokesman for Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua said the process was “painful… for everyone including the president”, but added that Nigeria had made “a commitment to the international community and we have a responsibility to keep it”.

Map

Cameroon said the final handover would mark “the end of a crisis”.

On the beaches of the northern part of the island there were parties and celebrations as Cameroonians prepared to go into the last section to be turned over to them.

“We are going straight to the place, and we’re going to be happy,” one reveller told in Bakassi.

But in Nigeria there is still bitterness about the deal.

“The government has abandoned its duties,” said Kayode Fasitere, the lawyer acting for some displaced from Bakassi who sought to have the handover delayed.

The transfer of Bakassi had been described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as “a model for negotiated settlements of border disputes”.

A group of Bakassi leaders have been seeking compensation from the Nigerian government.

About 90% of the area’s population, estimated at up to 300,000, is made up of Nigerian fishermen.

About 30,000 of the residents have moved out to an area in Cross Rivers State set aside for them, but it has no access to the sea, campaigners say.

Bakassi has a rich fishing culture and people say the handover has destroyed their way of life.

The Bakassi peninsula juts out into the Gulf of Guinea close to the Niger Delta.

Its offshore waters are thought to contain substantial oil fields – untapped because of the border dispute – which Nigeria and Cameroon will now work together to explore.

August 5, 2008

Tropical Storm Edouard hits Texas

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Tropical Storm Edouard hits Texas

Resident of Galveston

The mayor of Galveston has not ordered an evacuation

A powerful tropical storm has hit the upper coast of Texas, bringing heavy rains and winds of up to (65mph) 100km/h, US weather forecasters said.

Tropical Storm Edouard made landfall between Galveston and Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The near-hurricane strength storm is expected to weaken as it moves inland, with flooding the primary concern.

The governor of Texas has declared 17 counties disaster areas, while a state of emergency was declared in Louisiana.

About 6,000 residents of two communities in western Louisiana had been asked to evacuate low-lying coastal areas.

Evacuations

The mayor of Galveston has not ordered an evacuation but sent in about 1,200 National Guard troops.

Edouard is the fifth tropical storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.

Map

Tropical Storm Edouard was just short of hurricane strength when it came ashore between High Island and Sabine Pass, weather forecasters said.

A storm is considered to be a hurricane once its winds reach an average speed of at least 74mph (119 km/h), according to the NHC.

It had formed near a major oil and gas producing area of the northern Gulf of Mexico, causing disruption.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port has stopped offloading tankers and two oil firms evacuated workers from platforms.

Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell said they were removing employees from rigs as a precaution, but both insisted that production had not been affected.

The Houston Ship Channel was also closed.

Heavy rain near Houston

Edouard is the second tropical storm to hit the Gulf states in two weeks

A storm surge of 2-4ft (0.6-1.2m) was expected in coastal areas between Grand Isle, Louisiana, and Sargent, Texas, the NHC said.

Rainfall of up to 5in (12.7cm) was predicted in Louisiana, and up to 10in (25.4cm) in Texas.

It is the second bout of severe weather to batter the Gulf’s coastline in a month.

On 24 July, a state of disaster was declared in 14 Texas counties when Hurricane Dolly lashed the state’s coast with winds of 100mph (161km/h).

The Gulf of Mexico supplies about 25% of the US’s crude oil.


Are you in Texas or Louisiana? How are you preparing for Tropical Storm Edouard? Send us your comments

US Gulf states prepare for storm

Weather forecasters in the US have warned that a tropical storm could gain near-hurricane strength winds before reaching Texas or Louisiana.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Tropical Storm Edouard was crossing the Gulf of Mexico and could make landfall by Tuesday morning.

The governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency as winds reached sustained speeds of 45mph (75 km/h).

Oil workers have left some offshore rigs but no damage has been reported.

Evacuations

A hurricane watch is in place from west of Intracoastal City, in western Louisiana, to Port O’Connor in Texas, south-west of Galveston.

About 6,000 residents of two communities in western Louisiana had been asked to evacuate low-lying coastal areas.

The mayor of Galveston has not ordered an evacuation but has asked residents and visitors to be prepared.

A storm is considered to be a hurricane once its winds reach an average speed of at least 74mph (119 km/h), according to the NHC.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port has stopped offloading tankers and two oil firms were evacuating workers from platforms, Reuters news agency said.

Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell said they were removing employees from rigs as a precaution, but both insisted that production had not been affected.

Oil prices dropped below $120 a barrel on Monday for the first time since early May as it appeared unlikely that the storm would significantly affect oil and gas facilities.

The Houston Ship Channel has also closed.

Hurricane Dolly

At 1300 CDT (1900 BST) Edouard was 145 miles (230km) south-southeast of Lafayette, Louisiana and 240 miles (390km) east-southeast of Galveston, Texas, a statement by the NHC said.

“Edouard could be nearing hurricane strength before reaching the coastline,” it added.

Rainfall of 3ins to 5ins (7.6cm to (12.7cm) was predicted in Louisiana, and up to 10 inches (25.4cm) in Texas.

With winds extending outwards from the centre of a tropical storm for 35 miles (56km), residents were braced for the second bout of severe weather to batter the Gulf’s coastline in a month.

On 24 July, a state of disaster was declared in 14 Texas counties when Hurricane Dolly lashed the state’s coast with winds of 100mph (161km/h).

The Gulf of Mexico supplies about 25% of the US’s crude oil.


Are you in Texas or Louisiana? How are you preparing for Tropical Storm Edouard? Send us your comments

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