SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- An Iranian Oil Ministry official says Iran will ask OPEC to call an emergency meeting to discuss oil prices if it slumps below USD 100 a barrel.
“To that effect, Iran’s oil minister [Rostam Qasemi] will have telephone conservation with OPEC president about an extraordinary meeting,” the official, who was not named, said Monday.
On Sunday, Qasemi said Iran wanted oil prices to stay above USD 100 per barrel, noting that “an oil price below USD 100 is not reasonable for anyone.”
Crude dropped to near USD 101 on Friday and ahead of the next meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on May 31.
Also on Monday, Iran’s former Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nowzari said USD 100 price would be a “fair price for both producers and consumers” although it is not realistic for crude oil.
“The oil price is always decided based on supply and demand,” said Nowzari, whom Iran has nominated for the post of OPEC secretary-general.
He noted that austerity measures enforced in some European countries have resulted in lower demand for crude oil in the global markets.
Nowzari stated that OPEC could play an effective role in this regard, noting that the organization has always adopted reasonable decisions in times of crisis.
London's Brent North Sea crude fell to USD 101.18 per barrel, the lowest since July 13, 2012.
Forecast downgrades for 2013 from OPEC, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) have rocked markets.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Squinting under the bill of his baseball cap, Leonary Marcus scans the treetops for ripe clusters of palm fruit to hack down with the aluminum scythe hanging from his shoulder. When a flame-red bunch catches his eye, he hooks the tool at the crux of the branch and yanks downward with all the muscle a 17-year-old can muster. The canopy shakes, a squawking bird flees and the fruit crashes to the ground in scattered heaps for him to gather into a rusty wheelbarrow. Leonary wipes the sweat from his face and moves on to the next row of trees, as he has done almost every day for the past five years.
The boy was invisible from the skies I flew in over the day before, wandering alone somewhere under cover of the plantations that blanket Malaysian Borneo. The monoculture is carved by muddy rivers where crocodiles lurk and laterite roads that lead to processing plants with belching steel smoke stacks. Patches of clear-cut earth indicate where some farms are being expanded to keep the boilers full and the profits flowing into the coffers of the multinational agro-businesses that own them.
On the ground, in the void between the giant trees, Leonary stands out. He plods along, despite the heat and unexpected arrival of an outsider with questions about where he's from, why he's not in school. After moving from Indonesia as a boy with his migrant worker parents, he attended a learning center run by a local non-profit organization. But because he did not have any legal documents, he was barred from secondary school, leaving him with no choice but to work the same farm as his parents for about $7.50 a day. "There is no other option for me," he says.
To the Malaysian government, Leonary Marcus officially does not exist.
He is one of an estimated 50,000 stateless Indonesian children living in Sabah province, the country's palm oil producing heartland. Thousands more have come from the Phillipines, born to workers that have arrived in waves since the 1970's to fulfill a demand for cheap labor in what is now the world's second-largest palm oil industry. Without papers that prove nationality, their children are likewise denied healthcare and education, while the rest of the region continues to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Over the past two months, life has grown even harder for migrant workers in Sabah. When followers of the mysterious Sultan of Sulu traveled to the region in early February to re-establish a land claim, a weeks-long standoff turned bloody, leaving more than 70 people dead and scores displaced. Malaysian forces are accused of rights abuses against the migrant community in the backcountry as they try to flush out remaining gunmen, while scores of Filipinos have fled the violence by boat.
In 2011, the export of palm oil and palm-based products earned Malaysia $27 billion -- a five-fold increase over the past decade -- thanks to brisk trade with China, the European Union, India and the United States, which is now importing record levels for its low price and long shelf life. Today, more than half of all products sold in U.S. supermarkets, from cosmetics to candy bars, contain palm oil. And with new government-mandated labeling requirements in the United States and Europe aimed at phasing out unhealthy trans-fats found in other types of oil, demand is increasing.
That's more good news for Sabah, which accounts for one-third of Malaysia's palm oil output. Twenty-five years ago, Lahad Datu, the provincial capital, was a forgotten backwater of clapboard buildings. Drunkards roamed cracked sidewalks by day and nightfall was a signal to stay indoors. Locals recall how their hapless police force was nowhere to be seen when a gang of pirates shot their way into the town's only bank, walking out with sacks of cash over a trail of dead bodies.
Such visions are hard to square with the robust development sweeping the area: Over the past 15 years the city's population has doubled; downtown real estate prices have quadrupled; gleaming business-class hotels and fast-food franchises line newly paved roads that are monitored by squad cars. In the middle of a busy traffic roundabout in the center of town, a gilded palm tree stands as a symbol for the government-led campaign to upgrade a region that has lagged far behind Malaysia's industry-rich Western peninsula.
"Life here used to be much different; it was a rough kind of place," says Tammay Bin Inton, 58, a community leader for whom the days of violent street crime and power outages are a not-so-distant memory. He sat with a group of friends at a popular Indian teashop, talking football over cups of milk tea and samosas. With some pride, he noted that both of his children had recently moved back from Kota Kinabalu, eastern Malaysia's largest city, to start projects of their own and take advantage of the boom. "The quality of life here has improved tremendously," he says. "Business is good."
South of town, lines of tanker trucks deliver crude palm oil around the clock to a sprawling, state-owned refinery complex where fresh lots have been set aside for potential investors. Provincial officials hope that a deep-water port currently under construction nearby will position the region to be a top exporter of biodiesel, if and when overseas demand surges. With government plans to double the overall area under cultivation by 2020, the prospects of Lahad Datu's inhabitants are poised to get brighter.
But when the subject changes to the migrant laborers who keep the tankers revving around the clock, the mood at the cafe table sours. Mention of the vital role legions of Indonesians and Filipinos play by filling menial plantation jobs that most Malaysians would never consider causes the men to grumble vaguely about an increase in troubling behavior ("...the migrants are causing public disturbances"); the erosion of local culture and traditions; and the threat migrants posed to local employment prospects ("...what about the locals?").
"The foreigners must be controlled. They are stealing jobs... Those that don't have documents should be kicked out of Malaysia," says Arnan Angkut, 50, a contractor. As for those who have toiled for decades to the benefit of the local economy, whose children are rejected by state schools and hospitals? "That's up to the bosses (of the plantations). They can take care of their workers as they see fit. We don't want to pay for anything."
It was several days later that I came across an interesting item in the Business Times newspaper: Malaysia is losing at least 3 billion Ringgit ($986 million) in potential exports and tax revenue due to unpicked palm fruit resulting from its labor shortage. To avoid huge losses and hit target output goals, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board estimated that 40,000 additional workers needed to be hired, and fast. The article pointed out that many oil palm planters are mechanizing agricultural practices wherever possible and offering better wages in the estates across the region.
"Despite this," the article continued, "many locals continue to shun plantation jobs." Officials lamented the loss of potential tax revenues and vowed to get approval for extra foreign workers. No mention was made of incentives that might be offered to retain existing Indonesian and Filipino workers, some of whom are starting to leave the country for rival Indonesia as palm plantations expand into virgin tracts of forest.
The contradiction seems to be lost on everyone in Sabah. Nasrun Datuk Mansur, a state assemblyman and assistant to the state's chief minister, later boasted to me that palm oil is the catalyst for a raft of business activities raising Lahad Datu's profile, and the region's.
Acknowledging the perennial need for migrant workers, he added, somewhat incongruously, that they "should leave their children behind" because of the extra burden it places on the state. "We have responsibility to take care of our own children here."
Until Malaysia gained its independence in 1957, all children could attend school regardless of where they came from or what documents they had. But with migrant populations now accounting from nearly one-third of Sabah's 3.2 million people, rights activists say that over the years burgeoning nativism has made the government less willing to pay for universal education.
"This whole question that arose from locals that, if you provide the education for migrant children, then the local children lose out," says Aegile Fernandez, program director of Tenaganita, a Malaysia-based nonprofit group that assists migrant workers. In other words: to propose reforms that would extend rights to migrants' children would prove costly at the ballot box. And with elections on the horizon in the coming months, no politician dares stray from the script.
When I reminded Mansur that his government does not currently provide any services, he feinted by complimenting the non-governmental organizations that are stepping up with help from foreign governments and agro-businesses, whose mega-farms dominate the countryside. "The companies are also making money," says Mansur. "They should be responsible to support the foreign children."
Pressed further about the thousands who are not taken care of, he ended the discussion and walked out of the room.They may lack government funding, but Sabah's stateless children have at least have Torben Venning. Tall and sturdy-built, with a fair complexion that refuses to adapt to the equatorial sun, the Danish native has waged a dogged campaign to sew education in plantation country since he arrived more than two decades ago as a traveler.
Venning and some friends opened a facility in 1990 to educate 70 farm children. Since then, his organization, Humana Child Aid Society, has established 128 "learning centers" (designated as such because they are not officially accredited) that offer instruction to more than 12,000 students with help from donors such as the European Union. "We came here as teachers and had no idea this was going to develop into the project it is today," he said.
It costs about $13 a month per student to provide lessons in core primary subjects, along with a uniform, two meals and salary for teachers, some of whom are brought from the students' home countries. Venning says that educating them will ultimately benefit the country by "ensuring that they have a future beyond the plantations and don't become part of the social problem."
Yet, ever the diplomat in a land not his own, he tiptoes around the question of whether the Malaysian government's must look after the children of its labor force. He prefers to focus on the heavyweight companies that are picking up some of the slack.
On a searing hot morning Venning drove me out to what he described as a model of corporate social responsibility. The pavement on the outskirts of Lahad Datu crumbled into a dirt track that winded up steep switchbacks before descending into an expanse of oil palm plantations where the dense canopy scarcely allowed any light through.
We finally arrived at the gate of plantation owned by Wilmar International, one of Asia's largest agribusiness companies and the world's largest listed palm oil firm, with more than $30 billion in revenues in fiscal year 2010.
Manager Frederick Chok greeted me with skepticism at one of four learning centers on the premises. Wearing a white company polo shirt, he pointed out athletic fields and a mosque just a short walk away, as well as a new series of concrete barracks where, we were told, veteran workers and their families were housed.
Inside the classroom, walls featured bilingual posters and a flat-screen television with a satellite connection. Twenty-plus students, ages 5-15, were upbeat and engaged. Their teacher, a young Indonesian woman in a lavender headscarf, said off-the-cuff that she'd been surprised by the amenities made available to her, to Venning's visible delight. He capped the visit off by leading the group in an off-key rendition of his Humana theme song, which borrows heavily from a Donna Summer track. Even Chok mustered a smile.
Afterward we had coffee on the veranda of the great house that overlooked the sprawling, 8,000-hectacre property, the size of a small national park. Chok stressed the importance of corporate social responsibility like a mantra and said his company spends nearly $1 million every year to take care of migrant children. In the "competition" to retain experienced workers, Chok added that doing the right thing also made good business sense. (Singapore-based Wilmar has its critics, however. The Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco-based environmental group, alleges the company's security forces have used violence and heavy machinery against villagers in Indonesia's Sumatra province. Wilmar rejects the claims.)
In Venning's view, larger companies like Wilmar were generally doing more to look after workers' children since the advent of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The Zurich-based non-profit stakeholders group was formed in 2004 to address social and environmental problems associated with palm oil. The group, which unites investors, traders, and oil palm growers with retailers and social organizations to better monitor supply chains and promote sustainability, now certifies about 14 percent of the palm oil produced worldwide.
But systemic challenges persist. Greenhouse gas emissions are not included in the RSPO certification process. As peatlands, the earth's largest single source of stored carbon, are cleared for palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia, massive amounts of carbon are being released.
In the wilds of Malaysian Borneo, the high cost of logistics inhibits the construction of more learning centers, giving children no alternative to palm oil work. For all Venning's efforts, Humana and its partners take care of only one-fifth of the children estimated to be living on Sabah's plantations. Even those lucky enough to receive some degree of education have little to no mobility once they become adults.
Off a nameless back road about an hour's drive from Lahad Datu, Fatima Binti, 18, gazes out into the endless maze of trees. A shortage of money and the long distance from the small plantation the family works forced her to stop going to the nearest learning center a year ago. Absent documents, she can't go into town, fearful she might be picked up and harassed by police.
The maximum fine for not having official documents was 10,000 Ringgit ($3,200), a sum that would exceed the family's haul for the year. The alternate scenario, deportation and being split apart from her family, was unthinkable.
The rain is falling hard as she clicks her scuffed pink nails on the rail of the porch, waiting. She wants to be a doctor and longs to join her friends in class. She hopes her siblings will attend school "so they will be able to read and count."
Until then, Fatima is resigned to stay close to her parents, cutting and clearing palm branches from dawn until dusk, helping them earn whatever they can.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – David Hatfield, an Arkansas wildlife photographer and minister, rose before dawn on Monday and headed to Lake Conway.
Even though he had lived nearby for 25 years, Hatfield never knew of the threat now oozing near this 6,700-acre habitat 25 miles north of Little Rock, the largest game and wildlife commission reservoir in the United States.
"It surprised me that we had a pipeline here," he said.
But ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline has been buried here for more than six decades, quietly propelling oil between Texas and Illinois beneath the backyards of Mayflower, Arkansas. Pegasus' years in obscurity ended March 29, when it ruptured, spilling at least 12,000 barrels (504,000 gallons/1.9 million liters) of heavy Canadian crude oil and water into the neighborhood. (See related "Pictures: Arkansas Oil Spill Darkens Backyards, Driveways.")
Now, the broken conduit is at the center of a national debate—the plan to transport much larger volumes of heavy oil from the Canadian tar sands through the United States, through both older pipelines like Pegasus and new ones like the proposed Keystone XL. (See related interactive map: "Keystone XL: Mapping the Flow of Tar Sands Oil.") The line break in Arkansas may provide a real-world test of a hotly contested issue: Is tar sands oil more corrosive and damaging than other types of crude? . (See related story: "Keystone XL Pipeline Path Marks New Battle Line in Oklahoma.")
Although the U.S. State Department's environmental impact analysis last month concluded that there was no evidence that tar sands oil was worse than other forms of crude oil, it noted the issue was still under study. The results of a National Academies of Science review of the literature are due in July. But with President Barack Obama's decision on a permit for Keystone XL expected sooner than that, the Arkansas spill is providing new ammunition for foes of the project.
"The tragedy is a lot of these issues haven't been given the attention they merit," said Anthony Swift, an attorney with the international program of the environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In the wake of the Arkansas spill, he and other opponents intend to make sure questions they have long been raising about tar sands oil—the risks to pipeline integrity, and the challenges for cleanup—get a greater hearing.
Oiled Ducks, Uncertain Risks
As Hatfield approached Lake Conway on Monday morning, a couple of miles from the line break, he saw children at a bus stop holding hankies or towels to their faces. "The smell of oil was almost overwhelming," he said. "I grew up in Oklahoma, so it's a familiar smell." But by afternoon, Hatfield said, the odor had been eliminated. Also, he didn't see any oil encroaching on the lake itself, just plenty of workers in hazmat suits, digging contaminated soil.
The oil sullied backyards and poured down at least one storm sewer, and 22 homes were evacuated. But emergency workers said they stopped the flow before it reached Lake Conway. Still, 16 ducks, two turtles, and a muskrat were oiled. Before an ExxonMobil contractor, Wildlife Response Services of Seabrook, Texas, took over the rescue effort, a local all-volunteer nonprofit group, the HAWK Center (Helping Arkansas Wild "Kritters"), washed and cared for the animals, posting some photos on its Facebook page. Lynne Slater, HAWK Center founder and director, said it was impossible to identify some of the ducks (there were gadwalls, mallards, and blue-wing teals) until some of the oil was removed with dishwashing soap. "It was really like removing peanut butter and tar mixed together," she said. "It was super, super sticky."
But it's an open question whether heavy Canadian oil—and specifically, oil from Alberta's tar sands—is any worse than conventional crude, which has proven its ability to cause damage whether in Prince William Sound, the Gulf of Mexico, or the sands of Kuwait.
The raw product extracted from Alberta's tar sands is known as bitumen, and it is as viscous as cold molasses. It can't be transported in pipelines unless it is processed or diluted. (Exxon Mobil says the oil that spilled in Mayflower was not diluted bitumen, but heavy Canadian oil. But there may be little practical difference between the two, since the company did confirm the presence of dilutants in the oil. And Canada's National Energy Board says western Canada heavy crude contains some bitumen.)
Questions on the properties of diluted bitumen, known as dilbit, first came to the fore in 2010 when a pipeline operated by Calgary's Enbridge burst near Michigan's Kalamazoo River, contaminating 40 miles of river and wetlands with dilbit. Workers are still cleaning up the site, at a tab now running north of $800 million, making it the costliest onshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Oil typically floats on water, so booms were deployed at the surface to contain the damage to the Kalamazoo, Swift said. But the barriers proved useless when the heavy oil sank beneath them.
In the wake of Kalamazoo, NRDC conducted its own analysis of U.S. pipeline spill statistics, concluding that pipelines in the northern Midwest, which have been carrying dilbit since the late 1990s, longer than other pipelines in the United States, spilled 3.6 times as much crude per mile than the national average between 2010 and 2012. Swift and his colleagues at NRDC argue that the influx of tar sands on the U.S. pipeline network will pose greater risks to pipeline integrity and challenges for leak detection systems, and will significantly increase impacts to sensitive water resources when spilled. "It's thicker, it's heavier, it moves at higher temperatures because it generates friction," Swift said.
But other studies have reached different conclusions.
A study released this year by consultants for the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) concluded that dilbit "is no more corrosive than comparable heavy sour crudes and in many cases may be less corrosive." The report argued that the industry need not take any additional measures for corrosion control "over and above what is already standard practice."
That study has been derided by some critics for its affiliation with CEPA, a pipeline industry group, but the findings largely have been corroborated by researchers at the University of Washington. That report addresses the "highly debated topic with oil sands products . . . the degree of corrosivity with respect to pipeline transport." That report, too, concludes that "ongoing research suggest that oil sands products are not more corrosive than standard crude oils and thus do not pose an increased risk for transmission pipeline corrosion."
In its environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department examined Alberta's crude oil pipelines, which carry massive amounts of diluted bitumen. The study found that corrosion is indeed the main case of pipeline spills, accounting for 37.7 percent. But the report found that percentage not significantly greater than in the United States, where it's 34.4 percent. "Therefore no evidence is found that Alberta's pipeline contents are more corrosive than average crude oil."
The study has not yet been completed, so there is much anticipation—from environmental and industry groups alike—around the National Academies' effort. Results are expected this July; in the meantime, committee members aren't talking. If the study finds that dilbit is more corrosive than traditional crude, a second phase will endeavor to figure out what to do about it.
Kevin Garrity, past president of an association of corrosion engineers called NACE International, said his group is keeping a close on the process. "We at NACE want to know if we need to do anything different so that we can develop the standards and test measures to address that."
Heavy and Sticky
But the National Academies study will look only at the corrosion issue, not the equally contentious question of whether dilbit behaves differently in the environment. The State Department's EIS on the Keystone XL pipeline says that diluted bitumen is lighter than water, and would tend to float like crude oil. But once dilbit spills from a pipeline, says Swift, "it doesn't stay in combination for long." The heavy bitumen separates from its dilutants, which are natural gas liquids like benzene that evaporate easily.
"It's very hard to get off," said Steve Hamilton, a professor of ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry at Michigan State University, who advised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Enbridge on the Kalamazoo spill. Because the river was high, the bitumen eventually coated a vast expanse of land as the water dropped. "The only way to get it off was to harvest all the vegetation and scrape the soil," Hamilton said. At one point, the enterprise occupied more than 2,000 workers. "People literally were going in with shovels and clippers and plastic bags collecting all this stuff." Detergents were ineffective, Hamilton said. And dispersants work only in saltwater.
Today, bitumen still lies on the river bottom, and when it is disturbed, sheens appear on the surface. Nevertheless, wildlife and vegetation are returning.
Hamilton believes accidents like the one in Kalamazoo need more oversight and scrutiny, but those are only short-term answers. In the long run, he is more concerned about the source of the bitumen—Alberta's tar sands. "It's an immense reserve of fossil fuel," he said. "I think the most serious issues involving this material is its ultimate effect on climate." (See related photos: "Satellite Views of Canada's Tar Sands Over Time.")
But climate activists believe that how Alberta's oil gets to market will have a decisive impact on the climate question. Keystone XL, with a capacity of 800,000 barrels per day, would be the first direct pipeline connection to the advanced-technology refineries of the Texas Gulf Coast. ExxonMobil's now-closed Pegasus pipeline, with a capacity to move 90,000 barrels a day, has been one of the few circuitous routes for moving tar sands oil to the Gulf refineries until now. Pegasus long had transported Texas oil into the Midwest, but in 2006, Exxon reversed its direction to send northern oil south. The EPA issued a corrective action order on Pegasus this week, ordering ExxonMobil to find the cause of the spill, noting that a change in direction of flow can affect the hydraulic and stress demands on the pipeline.
If so, it's yet another risk connected to the influx of Canadian oil. Other pipeline reversals to move heavy Canadian oil south and east are being contemplated or have taken place—the largest was the reversal earlier this year of Enbridge's Seaway pipeline, which now has capacity to move 295,000 barrels per day from Oklahoma to Texas.
There are other hazards. Already, some tar sands oil is moving by train; a train derailed in western Minnesota and spilled 350 barrels (14,700 gallons/55,566 liters) two days before the Arkansas spill. (See related story: "Oil Train Revival: North Dakota Relies on Rail to Deliver Its Crude.") And there will be a push for other conduits, because Canada plans to triple oil sands production to 5.1 million barrels per day by 2035.
That's why those concerned about the atmospheric impact of tar sands development are focusing attention on what happens on the ground.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The Mayflower, Arkansas oil spill continues to be the source of questions about the long-term health, environmental and financial consequences for residents in a town the state’s attorney general described as a scene out of ‘The Walking Dead.'
After thousands of barrels of crude oil spilled from ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline over Easter weekend in the small Arkansas town, residents who were forced to evacuate from the 22 affected households continue to wonder what will become of their neighborhood and their lives.
While many are still unsure when they will one day be able to come home, questions about the energy giant's cleanup and compensation efforts have left both local residents and state officials less than satisfied.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who spoke of litigation as a “certainty,” derided attempts by ExxonMobil representatives to manage his visit to the site.
“I explained to them I’m not here for a tour and I’m not getting in a van. We’re here on behalf of the State of Arkansas as the state’s lawyer, a constitutional officer empowered by the General Assembly to enforce our laws, and we’re here to conduct an investigation, not take a tour,” the Log Cabin Democrat cites him as saying on Wednesday.
“I didn’t appreciate how we were treated, so I can only imagine how some of the homeowners must have felt.”
McDaniel said he had issued a subpoena for documents, data and other evidence from ExxonMobil pertaining to the ruptured pipeline, setting an April 10 deadline for the oil and gas conglomerate to produce the requested evidence.
Speaking of potential reductions of property value in wake of the spill, McDaniel said that monetary losses resulting from those attempting to sell their houses “should not fall on the shoulders of homeowners.”
McDaniel characterized the affected area as something out of the post-apocalyptic TV series 'The Walking Dead,’ where “people in Hazmat suits” scoured the otherwise abandoned streets.
The attorney general estimated that some 600 responders were currently on the ground, not counting those who were offering assistance off site.
He further assessed that for a relatively small spill, the cleanup is “just not going great.”
“I hope they realize for the homeowners in this area, it is not small. It is catastrophic. For those who fear for their drinking water, it is not great,” the attorney general continued.
In an interview with RT, McDaniel said he has “more questions than answers after having visited with [Exxon] executives and seeing the site. They haven’t told me any kind of cause that they have ascertained at this point.”
Even Republican lawmaker Tim Griffin also spoke of the palpable environmental impact the spill had had.
Griffin, who complained of suffering from headaches after “limited exposure” during his visit to the site on Wednesday, said both staffers and local schoolchildren had experienced nausea from the fumes. He however added that based on reports from officials, air quality checks in the neighborhood tested “negative for dangerous substances.”
“I have confidence if there’s a problem we need to know about, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the Department of Transportation would tell us,” the daily cites him as saying.
Muddying the compensation waters
While McDaniel says ExonMobil’s legal office has thus far responded in good faith to his requests, residents feel that the oil conglomerate is being evasive about compensation details.
Responding to a written request from RT, Exxon media relations manager Alan Jeffers told RT that teams are working directly with residents of Mayflower and are “paying all valid claims relating to the spill and providing interim housing for people from the homes which the city of Mayflower recommended be evacuated following Friday's spill.”
However, resident Chris Harrell posted to his Twitter after meeting with ExxonMobil that claims would only be dealt with individually and following the completion of the cleanup.
“The above statement was what I was told by the person at the Exxon claims center,” Harrell told RT via email. “Granted, they are covering some out of pocket expenses in regards to room and board but no time line is being given to address compensation for long term effects on residents. I suppose Exxon gets to determine what a 'valid claim' really is.”
He had previously said that ExxonMobil had given no assurances as to when the cleanup would be finished.
Divide & Conquer
For the company's part, Griffin, the local GOP legislator, said it would be a matter of days, not weeks before residents from the 22 households forced to evacuate would be allowed to return.
He said the responders were currently removing soil saturated with crude oil and doing other landscape work so that people would be able to return home.
During a closed, invite-only meeting held by Exxon on Tuesday night, Harrell told residents in attendance that those living on the side of the street which was least affected could potentially be back by this coming weekend. However, he continued that “there was no solid timeline” for others, who may “have to be determined on a case-by-case basis.”
Harrell said that during the meeting, which was closed to the press, “some tough questions were asked and all were sidestepped by Exxon officials and residents were continuously referred to a claims hotline.”
“One neighbor told me there was a sense of a ‘divide and conquer’ mentality on the Exxon side. Officials continually stated that questions and claims would be handled individually on a case by case basis,” Harrell continued.
After suffering several bouts of headaches and dizziness, Harrell expressed fears about the "longtime health impact on residents of the area, and particularly children."
"My 4-year-old daughter complained of a stomach ache yesterday at her preschool. It may have had no relation to the oil but it definitely raises concern."
With ExxonMobil saying that some 10,000 barrels – that's 420,000 gallons – of oil had been recovered, the company estimates that between 3,500-5,000 barrels of the crude mixture known as “tar sands” were spilled following the rupture.
The Pegasus pipeline, which can carry 90,000 barrels of crude from Illinois to Texas per day, crosses 13 miles of the Lake Maumelle watershed. The watershed incidentally provides much of the water for the Arkansas state capital, Little Rock.
When the pipeline ruptured on Friday, it was carrying Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude, a bitumen oil originating in the Canadian province of Alberta.
And while environmentalists have classified tar sand oil as more hazardous than conventional crude, oil companies transporting it are actually exempt from a tax that doubles as dues to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which was established to force owners to pay for the containment, cleanup and damages resulting from a given spill.
“The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund is funded by an 8-cent-per-barrel excise tax on domestically produced and imported crude oil and on imported refined products such as gasoline," David Turnbull, the Campaigns Director from Oil Change International told RT. "However, the IRS has classified tar sands as different from conventional oil, and thus the tax levied to fill the liability trust fund is not levied on tar sands crude."
Turnbull argues that the loophole should be closed, as it doesn’t line up with the actual intent of the tax or the fund.
“Given how toxic and dangerous tar sands oil – or bitumen – is, it’s entirely irrational that this oil would be exempt from being taxed in order to pay for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. As these sorts of heavy oils that are exempt from this tax continue to make up a larger percentage of oil transported in the US, it will only serve to stretch the fund even further, while putting families, communities and ecosystems at greater risk,” he continued.
After the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a temporary no-fly zone over the Arkansas oil spill on Monday, speculation abounded that the ban was an attempt to keep the media from fully assessing the impact of the spill.
The FAA further prompted fears ExxonMobile had been given a free hand in managing the situation by saying that “only relief aircraft operations under direction of Tom Suhrhoff” – who identified himself as an aviation adviser for ExxonMobil on his LinkedIn profile – were permitted in the area.
in that circumstance.” He however stressed that he is “comfortable” that the FAA's temporary flight restrictions are “fair and related to safety.”- www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A senior Indian official says trade ties between Iran and India are “on the rise,” stressing that New Delhi will not halt oil imports from the Islamic Republic.
“Any kind of permanent halting of oil shipments from Iran is not feasible at this point of time,” the Indian daily The Hindu quoted a senior Commerce Ministry official as saying.
The official noted that any decision to stop Iranian crude will “jeopardize” the rising bilateral trade relations.
“The Iranians have shown interest in import of various business commodities including agricultural products and any adverse decision on the crude oil front will jeopardize that great opportunity,” the official said.
The comments came only days after India’s Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister M. Veerappa Moily rejected the recent Western reports that that his country might halt imports of Iranian crude over the US-led sanctions against Tehran's energy sector.
An Indian oil official also recently announced that details of an insurance fund for Iranian oil shipments would be outlined in the near future, adding that India's national insurance companies, the Oil India Development Board as well as other major players in the nation’s oil industry will contribute to the insurance fund.
India is among Asia’s major importers of energy, and relies on the Islamic Republic to satisfy a portion of its energy requirements.
The United States, the Israeli regime and some of their allies have repeatedly accused Iran of pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program.
Iran has categorically rejected the allegation, arguing that as a committed signatory to the the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) it is entitled to acquire and develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. -www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Sudan and South Sudan have agreed to resume the flow of southern oil exports through pipelines in Sudan within two weeks, more than a year after Juba shut down its entire output.
An African Union mediator announced the deal on Tuesday, which rekindles trade between the two countries after South Sudan shut down its 350,000 barrel-per-day output in January last year in a dispute with Khartom over fees.
Idris Mohammed Abdel Gadir, Sudan's chief negotiator, signed a deal with his South Sudanese counterpart Pagan Amum setting out a timeline for resumption of oil after four days of African Union-brokered talks in Addis Ababa.
Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa who is mediating between the two sides said that the companies have been ordered to resume oil flows by March 10 but also have an extra period of two weeks.
Both countries depended heavily on oil for revenue and use foreign currency to import food and fuel, but disputes over the border and other issues prevented the two from resuming exports.
The rival countries also agreed at the talks in the Ethiopian capital on Friday to order the withdrawal of their troops from contested borders within a week to ease tensions and open the way to resuming the oil exports.
South Sudan's army spokesman, Philip Aguer, said soldiers would take around two weeks to withdraw southwards from a series of flashpoint border areas.
Troops must "start moving to the designated areas, 10km away from the buffer zone," Aguer told reporters, reading a letter with orders from the army chief of staff.
In Sudan, a statement on Monday from Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein said his forces were committed to the timetable signed under African Union mediation last Friday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"From yesterday our troops started withdrawing from the buffer zone," he said.
The two countries agreed in September last year to set up a bufferzone, after going through the worst border clashes in April since their split, but did not implement the agreement.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – For the first time, China has overtaken the United States as the world’s top oil importer – at least for one month last year.
In what New York-based Citigroup Inc. oil analyst Eric Lee calls another milestone in the march toward U.S. energy independence, he used December data from U.S. and Chinese government agencies to show that U.S. net imports averaged 5.987 million barrels a day while Chinese net imports averaged 5.994 million barrels per day.
Though the figures are only for one month and December is a traditionally lower-demand month in the United States, Mr. Lee expects it won’t be long before China takes the title as the world’s largest net importer of crude and petroleum products.
“What it shows is it’s on the cusp of happening,” Mr. Lee said. “We could see in the next few months that the U.S. goes back to the No. 1 spot.
“But really, this crossover should be happening this year. This is a harbinger of things to come.”
Demand in China has been ticking up over the past two decades amid rapid economic growth and the proliferation of vehicles, while refining capacity continues to grow.
At the same time, the U.S. has seen flat or lowered demand for oil – in part from increasing fuel efficiency – and increasing domestic crude production.
Mr. Lee expects a further drop in overseas light oil imports to the U.S. as increased North American pipeline capacity comes online, allowing more room for Canadian heavy oil and U.S. shale oil to reach the Gulf Coast later this year and in 2014. -www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –World demand for oil will reach its peak between 2035-2040, after which solar power or gas will take the lead a study by Royal Dutch Shell predicts.
After research into global energy prospects, Shell has come up with two possible scenarios called ‘Mountains’ and ‘Oceans’. The first one predicts slow international economic development and the markets largely controlled governments that will stimulate nuclear energy exploitation.
It also suggests that ecology-friendly natural gas will become the backbone of the world’s energy system substituting coal as the main fuel in electricity generation. In this case, there will be some changes in transportation, with trucks and cars largely powered by electricity and hydrogen, and CO2 emissions will be reduced.
The second forecast, ‘Oceans’, considers a more dynamic and ‘fluid’ global economy where reforms trigger a productivity growth and whose development will be determined largely by market forces and civil society, with a smaller role of government.
Energetically speaking, this scenario focuses on solar power that can become the dominant energy source overshadowing the traditional ones in 2060s-2070s as high energy prices unlock more expensive resources and technologies. Renewable energy could reach “60-70% saturation if the time horizon is extended still further,” Shell reported in its study. If this is the case, nuclear energy development will be restrained by the popular concern while coal will continue to be widely used in electricity generation, Shell experts predict.
“Despite their differences, in both scenarios energy consumption is about 80% bigger in 2060 than it is now,” said Jeremy Bentham, responsible for Shell’s Global Business Environment team.
Oil consumption has already lowered in some countries, for example in US, falling last year to its lowest level since 1996. The demand for oil has been declining every month except May, and at the end of the year decreased by 2.08% to 18.56 million barrels per day.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Chubby caterpillars show that scientists have engineered a plant with oily leaves, an advance that could enhance biofuel production and lead to improved food for animals.
The results, published in the current issue of The Plant Cell, show that researchers could use an algae gene involved in oil production to engineer a plant that stores lipids or vegetable oil in its leaves—an uncommon occurrence for most plants.
Traditional biofuel research has focused on improving the oil content of seeds, in part because oil production in seeds occurs naturally. Little research, however, has been done to examine the oil production of leaves and stems, as plants don’t typically store lipids in these tissues.
Christoph Benning, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Michigan State University, led a collaborative effort with colleagues from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC).
“Many researchers are trying to enhance plants’ energy density, and this is another way of approaching it,” Benning says. “It’s a proof-of-concept that could be used to boost plants’ oil production for biofuel use as well as improve the nutrition levels of animal feed.”
Benning and his colleagues began by identifying five genes from one-celled green algae. From the five, they identified one that, when inserted into Arabidopsis thaliana, successfully boosted oil levels in the plant’s leaf tissue.
To confirm that the improved plants were more nutritious and contained more energy, the research team fed them to caterpillar larvae. The larvae that were fed oily leaves from the enhanced plants gained more weight than worms that ate regular leaves.
For the next phase of the research, Benning and his colleagues will work to enhance oil production in grasses and algae that have economic value. The benefits of this research are worth pursuing, Benning says.
“If oil can be extracted from leaves, stems, and seeds, the potential energy capacity of plants may double,” he says. “Further, if algae can be engineered to continuously produce high levels of oil, rather than only when they are under stress, they can become a viable alternative to traditional agricultural crops.”
Moreover, algae can be grown on poor agricultural land—a big plus in the food vs. fuel debate, he adds.
“These basic research findings are significant in advancing the engineering of oil-producing plants,” says Kenneth Keegstra, GLBRC scientific director and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.
“They will help write a new chapter on the development of production schemes that will enhance the quantity, quality, and profitability of both traditional and nontraditional crops.”-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Israel has authorized drilling for oil on the disputed Golan Heights, local media report. The first license has been awarded to the US-Israeli energy company Genie (GNE).
The process of granting the license began following geological tests, which indicated a large potential oil discovery in the southern Golan Heights – an area of thousands of hectares. The license covers half the area of the Golan from the latitude of Katzrin in the north to Tzemach in the south.
Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, former US Vice-President Dick Cheney and banker Jacob Rothschild are among the shareholders of GNE, a New Jersey-based company. It is headed by Effie Eitam, a Golan settler and former hardline rightwing Israeli cabinet minister.
Genie Energy is the parent company of Israel Energy Initiatives Ltd. (IEI), which is moving forward on a venture to develop shale oil deposits in the coastal plain.
Another company which took part in the bid for the oil extraction license was local Ultra Equity Investments Ltd. Israel’s Ministry of Energy and Water Resources' Petroleum Council reportedly recommended awarding the license to Genie Energy for professional reasons several days ago.
Israel’s move, reported by Tel-Aviv’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper on Thursday, is likely to draw international protest.
"Awarding a drilling license on the Golan could cause an international fracas, given the Golan's status as occupied Syrian territory under international law," wrote business journal Globes.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981. The move wasn’t recognized by the international community, but the strategic plateau has been extensively settled by Israelis.
The Golan's status has been at the heart of past Israeli-Syrian peace talks, with Damascus demanding its full return. Oil exploration for the area was halted 20 years ago, as Israel hoped for a peace deal with Syria, but the accord is yet to be signed.
Permission for oil drilling on the Golan Heights was granted a month before US President Barack Obama is due to pay a visit to the Hebrew state. In November 2012, Washington swiftly condemned the move as unhelpful, ahead of a visit by Vice-President Joe Biden.-www.shfaqna.com/English