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Friday, December 14, 2012

The Changing Balance of Power

One of the most significant trends is the shakeup occurring over petroleum and natural gas production. News 24, for instance, reports:
North America's shale oil and gas boom has shifted the balance in global energy markets, giving the US and Canada new leverage as exporters, despite the Middle East retaining a pivotal role.

While Canada has long been a major energy exporter, the rise of shale-based hydrocarbons has meant a crucial change for the United States, which could move from being the world's leading importer of oil to a net exporter by 2017.

It has become the gold rush of the 21st century, with tens of billions of dollars in revenues and hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

“That revolution is real,” Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil, said at a recent Platt's conference in New York.

“America suddenly has a 100 year supply of natural gas 'in the bank' and the world has 250 years, thanks in part to breakthroughs in the technology that unlock hydrocarbons from tight rock and shale.”

. . . In five years US crude oil production has risen 32%. In 2012 alone, it has jumped 14% from the previous year, to 6.4 million barrels a day.

The US Department of Energy says it could rise to 7.1 million barrels a day next year.

At that pace, the International Energy Agency predicts that the US could become the number one producer of oil by 2017, surpassing current leaders Saudi Arabia and Russia.

And the US could become totally energy-independent by 2030.
In the U.S., the primary barrier will be political--the Obama Administration has significantly reduced oil production on public lands (actually a misnomer since such lands are more akin to the King's forests that "commons") and restricted production from refineries. 

There will be shake ups from China, as well, which sits on significant coal reserves and, unlike the United States, is not afraid to develop those reserves. The problem facing China's energy future is actually the lack of water. The coal reserves are located in some of the driest parts of China. Circle of Blue ran this story in 2011 concerning the issue:

By any measure, conventional and otherwise, China’s tireless advance to international economic prominence has been nothing less than astonishing.
Over the last decade alone, 70 million new jobs emerged from an economy that this year, according to the World Bank and other authorities, generated the world’s largest markets for cars, steel, cement, glass, housing, energy, power plants, wind turbines, solar panels, highways, high-speed rail systems, airports, and other basic supplies and civic equipment to support a modern economy.
Yet, like a tectonic fault line, underlying China’s new standing in the world is an increasingly fierce competition between energy and water that threatens to upend China’s progress. Simply put, according to Chinese authorities and government reports, China’s demand for energy, particularly for coal, is outpacing its freshwater supply.
Students of Chinese history and geography, of course, understand that tight supplies of fresh water are nothing new in a nation where 80 percent of the rainfall and snowmelt occurs in the south, while just 20 percent of the moisture occurs in the mostly desert regions of the north and west. What’s new is that China’s surging economic growth is prompting the expanding industrial sector, which consumes 70 percent of the nation’s energy, to call on the government to tap new energy supplies, particularly the enormous reserves of coal in the dry north.
The problem, say government officials, is that there is not enough water to mine, process, and consume those reserves, and still develop the modern cities and manufacturing centers that China envisions for the region.
“Water shortage is the most important challenge to China right now, the biggest problem for future growth,” said Wang Yahua, deputy director of the Center for China Study at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “It’s a puzzle that the country has to solve.”
... Stripped to its essence, China’s globally significant choke point is caused by three converging trends:
--Production of coal has tripled since 2000 to 3.15 billion metric tons a year. Government analysts project that China’s energy companies will need to produce an additional billion metric tons of coal annually by 2020, representing a 30 percent increase. Fresh water needed for mining, processing, and consuming coal accounts for the largest share of industrial water use in China, or roughly 120 billion cubic meters a year, a fifth of all the water consumed nationally.
--Though national conservation policies have helped to limit increases, water consumption nevertheless has climbed to a record 599 billion cubic meters annually, which is 50 billion cubic meters (13 trillion gallons) more than in 2000. Over the next decade, according to government projections, China’s water consumption, driven in large part by increasing coal-fired power production, may reach 670 billion cubic meters annually — 71 billion cubic meters a year more than today.
--China’s total water resource, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, has dropped 13 percent since the start of the century. In other words China’s water supply is 350 billion cubic meters (93 trillion gallons) less than it was at the start of the century. That’s as much water lost to China each year as flows through the mouth of the Mississippi River in nine months. Chinese climatologists and hydrologists attribute much of the drop to climate change, which is disrupting patterns of rain and snowfall.

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