Category Archives: big oil

British Petroleum on Staff at UC Berkeley


Oil giant BP has been in negotiations with UC Berkeley since February on a partnership to research renewable energy technologies, specifically biofuels. BP will provide the university with $500 million over 10 years. The contract was signed a couple of weeks ago on November 14, but the deal remains a controversial one. Two days before the contract was signed Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! hosted an interesting discussion between two UC Berkeley professors with opposing views on the debate. Miguel Altieri is a Professor of Entomology and a renowned expert in agroecology, or sustainable agriculture. He is opposed to the deal between BP and UC Berkeley. Daniel Kammen is a professor in the Energy and Resources Group, as well as professor of public policy and nuclear engineering. He directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and is on the executive committee of the Energy Biosciences Institute, which will carry out much of the research under the deal. Kammen is generally supportive of the deal. I highly suggest you read the entire transcript of the interview, but here are some excerpts that highlight views on both sides of the story:

Critics at UC Berkeley point to the corporatization of academic research, the ecological dangers of biofuels, and BP’s long history of environmental irresponsibility, they say. They call this an act of greenwashing by BP and have been protesting the deal since it was announced in February of this year. But supporters claim that the corporate – academic partnership allows the university to realize its renewable energy research agenda and provides the most effective and economical means of addressing the looming environmental crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the issue of BP giving this enormous sum of money, $500 million over the next ten years, is this of concern to you, the issue of the privatization of a public institution?

DANIEL KAMMEN: Well, I think that the size of the grant can be a concern, but not for the reasons that you’re raising. I actually think that this amount of money is relatively small change, both for the oil industries around the world and, in fact, for the amount of money it takes to bring new products to market. New cars and new drugs frequently take that much money — half a billion dollars — to bring them to market. And as a research pot of money to start with, I actually don’t regard it as that much money.

The chance, though, that this amount of money would alter what a university does is a concern to me, and the degree to which a university might see grants like this as a reason or as an excuse or as a mechanism to alter what they would work on — say, move away from some areas and move into others — is a concern if it was being done in a way that I thought that the company had that driving force.
MIGUEL ALTIERI: Well, my concerns is that, first of all, Professor Kammen is saying, it’s very little money, and eventually it’s little money for BP, but a lot of money for UC Berkeley. And what they’re going to do with this money is basically skim off what 200 years of public investment has done. It would be very expensive for BP to build a university and a research facility. They will come with $500 million. They skim off what the public university has built over years, and then they bring fifty scientists from BP that are going to have access to students, and so therefore what they’re going to do is influence the research agenda of the public university. And it’s already happening.

And anybody that has protested — faculty — have been basically dismissed and disregarded as a colorful — as part of the colorful character of the campus. You know, we have to have these people that are always protesting.

And what worries me is that, on the one side, they’re promoting the wrong technology: biofuels is the wrong way to go. There’s no discussion, for example, in this proposal about alternative transportation systems, how to curb consumption patterns of petroleum and how to promote other alternatives that are much more viable. And biofuels are going to cause tremendous problems not only in the United States, but in third world countries especially, because if we devoted all the corn that is in this country, 125,000 square miles, we would only satisfy 12% of the gas needs. So obviously what’s going to happen is that it’s going to be grown in the third world, and basically the people in the third world are going to be paying the price for the over-consumption and the old-based style of living of Europe and the United States.

DANIEL KAMMEN: Well, I think there’s a couple really good points in what Miguel just said. The first one is I’m actually, as well, concerned, that I thought that the debate on campus is not one that has been as open as it could be. And you’re right, there has been sort of high-profile protests, but protests and actually having sit-downs between the sides has been somewhat lacking. And I actually really view that as a feature that the campus is responsible for the lack of that, not BP so far, and the campus needs to do a better job in that regard.

In terms of the fuel issues around the world, I actually take quite a different view than that by Miguel. It is true that if we devoted all of our corn to making ethanol in the US, we would only reach about 10% or 12%, so it wouldn’t be a significant effort, and you wouldn’t want to give up all that corn use for ethanol. But an interesting and, I think, a critical feature of the BP proposal is that, in fact, corn ethanol is excluded. Everyone who works on ethanol and biofuels worldwide recognizes that alternate fuels are available that are far better, the so-called cellulosic crops, that even include using garbage and using the waste carbon dioxide that comes out of power plants on just the land sitting next to those power plants. Those are areas for research in this proposal, not corn.

And so, if there was to be an approach that would look at alternatives that did not make the tension between food and fuel worse, it’s a project like this. In fact, in many parts of the developing world, the potential to grow crops that are useful for farmers locally at much higher efficiencies than they draw today — for food stocks, again, not corn — is an option that this proposal should be looking at. And the degree to which we do a good job there, I think, is very much due to the sort of things that Miguel said, and that is having this broader discussion and analysis not only of what we should be doing, but also how it goes on.

MIGUEL ALTIERI: I think what we need is, first of all, is to call again for an open debate, which has been suppressed, because basically the people that were questioning this have been accused of attempting against academic freedom. And basically what academic freedom now means in Berkeley is just that you cannot question the financial associations of faculty.

I mean, we need to look at the record of BP. We cannot associate with BP. It has a horrible record in terms of environment, in terms of human rights, and so on. And they have been, you know, destroying the environment for many years, and now they come as the doves of ecology.

We need to also put in place people that are going to be looking critically at the social, ecological impacts. We cannot leave in charge climate change and ecological questions to a bunch of engineers and chemists and genetic engineering people. We need to bring ecologists, social scientists, but also that are critical and are independent, that are not associated with this proposal and therefore open to debate, and also bring the public of California to question their public university that is being funded by them. They need to reclaim their university, their public university.

My question is: How many universities is BP trying to infiltrate? They have also recently teamed up with researchers at the Biodidesign Institute at Arizona State University to learn more about using cyanobacteria as a biofuel feed stock. Don’t get me wrong, it is nothing new for companies to be teaming up with universities to do research, but the sheer scale and influence of a mega-company like BP changes the dynamic of the game. It may be inevitable that the oil giants will take over the biofuels industry, if only by brute force, but is it necessary, or even allowable, that they take over our universities and intellectual freedom as well?


Get ‘em When They’re Old, Too

Grandma vs. the Oil-Sands Mine


Eighty-five-year-old grandmothers aren’t typically subject to censorship, but Liz Moore is no ordinary grandma. After touring an oil-sands operation in Canada, Moore returned to her home in Colorado and began researching the mining process. Eventually, she spent $3,600 on a website that chronicles the destructive environmental impacts of oil-sands mining.

“I was appalled at what I saw—the devastation of the land,” she says of her visit to a Syncrude mine in Fort McMurray, Alberta. “I came home and decided people in the U.S. needed to hear about this, because we’ll be buying more and more oil from Canada.”

Soon legal threats arrived. The mining giant Syncrude Canada Ltd. and a branch of the Alberta government threatened legal action if Moore did not remove certain photos from the website, she says.

“It made me angry at a very deep level,” Moore says. “I don’t like censorship, and if it’s done to me, I like it even less.” Moore later learned that a release she signed before her tour gave the company the right to limit the use of her photos.

Excerpts from Moore’s presentation:oilsand72.jpg

















To see the entire presentation, check grandma Moore’s website,


H.R. 6: CLEAN Energy Act of 2007 – is it enough?

WASHINGTON, June 22 — Automakers had to know they were in serious trouble when Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat with deep blue-collar roots, announced that she had lost patience with their annual objections to higher gas mileage rules.

“When automobile manufacturers told me they could not meet the increased standards, I listened,” said Ms. Mikulski, who said she had always been swayed by the potential loss of middle-class manufacturing jobs. “I listened year after year, and now I have listened for more than 20 years. After 20 years, I firmly do believe it is time for a change.”

Bolstered by such converts as Ms. Mikulski, the Senate just before midnight Thursday approved an energy bill that would for the first time in more than two decades require auto companies to produce cars and trucks that get substantially more out of a gallon of gas.

But that was about the only industry it took on. The measure, approved on a bipartisan 65-to-37 vote, essentially spared oil and gas companies and major utilities and fell short of goals initially set by supporters in areas like renewable fuels.


Jan 18, 2007: This bill passed in the House of Representatives by roll call vote. The totals were 264 Ayes, 163 Nays, 8 Present/Not Voting. View Votes (roll no. 40)


Jun 21, 2007: This bill passed in the Senate by roll call vote. The totals were 65 Ayes, 27 Nays, 7 Present/Not Voting. View Votes (roll no. 226)

Washington, DC [] In a flurry of activity, the U.S. Senate voted down two amendments yesterday that would have created $32 billion worth of energy tax incentives and a National Renewable Energy Portfolio (RPS) requiring utilities to generate 15% of electricity from renewables by 2020. Later that same evening however, the Senate passed H.R. 6, the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007, 65-27.

The Clean Energy Act of 2007 is designed to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil by investing in clean, renewable resources, promoting new emerging energy technologies, developing greater efficiency and creating a Strategic Energy Efficiency and Renewables Reserve.

But two key amendments that would have provided billions of dollars worth of incentives and revenue for the U.S. renewable energy industry were rejected. The Energy Tax Package—approved by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and House Ways & Mean committee earlier this week—contained a five-year extension of the tax credit for the production of electricity from wind, geothermal, biomass as well as the solar ITC extension.

Bill Status

Having passed in both the House and Senate, the bill may proceed to a conference committee of senators and representatives to work out differences in the versions of the bill each chamber approved. The bill then awaits the signature of the President before becoming law.

[NYTimes, RebewableEnergyAccess,]

Surviving the Climate Crisis

The Nation has a new issue out, with much of it dedicated to climate change and energy issues. Most of the articles are all available free of charge on their website (some are subscription only).

Topics include carbon offsets, green utilities, climate change, carbon taxes and trading, air travel, China, and more.

Follow the link below for more:

[The Nation]

The Power of Green


Here it is. The article you’ve been waiting for. Find somewhere comfy, make yourself a cup of tea, and read this article. If you only read one article to completion this year, make this one it. Tom Friedman might have been terribly wrong on Iraq, and his writing on globalization makes you often wonder whether or not he ever took economics in college, but he gets energy.  Read this one, trust me…


ConocoPhillips: The anti-Exxon

Here’s yet another sign that the debate over climate change has shifted decisively: ConocoPhillips today becomes the first U.S.-based oil company to support mandatory national regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Mulva said no particular event caused ConocoPhillips to step forward. “We believe that the science is quite compelling,” he said. “Human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels, is contributing to climate change. Now is the time we need a national mandated framework to deal with climate change.”

He didn’t endorse a specific regulatory regime. But ConocoPhillips has become the second major oil company – after BP America, a unit of British-based BP – to join the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an alliance of big companies and environmental organizations that support federal action to achieve “significant reductions” in greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning fossil fuels.


Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil has posted a great four part series of exceprts from the new John Ghazvinian book “Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil.” As with all articles, if you’re not a subscriber you’ll need to view a short ad first, but it’s definitely worth it. From what Salon has posted, the book seems full of really important information about oil production in Africa that many of us are unfamiliar with – we’ve already ordered a copy off of Amazon

Some excerpts from Part 1, “Does Africa Live Up to the Hype?”:

Although Africa has long been known to be rich in oil, extracting it hadn’t seemed worth the effort and risk until recently. But with the price of Middle Eastern crude skyrocketing, and advancing technology making reserves easier to tap, the region has become the scene of a competition between major powers that recalls the 19th-century scramble for colonization. Already, the United States imports more of its oil from Africa than from Saudi Arabia, and China, too, looks to the continent for its energy security.

…one of the more attractive attributes of Africa’s oil boom is the quality of the oil itself. The variety of crude found in the Gulf of Guinea is known in industry parlance as “light” and “sweet,” meaning it is viscous and low in sulfur, and therefore easier and cheaper to refine than, say, Middle Eastern crude, which tends to be lacking in lower hydrocarbons and is therefore very “sticky.”

Then there is the geographic accident of Africa’s being almost entirely surrounded by water, which significantly cuts transport-related costs and risks. The Gulf of Guinea, in particular, is well positioned to allow speedy transport to the major trading ports of Europe and North America. Existing sea-lanes can be used for quick, cheap delivery, so there is no need to worry about the Suez Canal, for instance, or to build expensive pipelines through unpredictable countries.

A third advantage, from the perspective of the oil companies, is that Africa offers a tremendously favorable contractual environment. Unlike in, say, Saudi Arabia, where the state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco has a monopoly on the exploration, production, and distribution of the country’s crude oil, most sub-Saharan African countries operate on the basis of so-called production-sharing agreements, or PSAs. In these arrangements, a foreign oil company is awarded a license to look for petroleum on the condition that it assume the up-front costs of exploration and production. If oil is discovered in that block, the oil company will share the revenues with the host government, but only after its initial costs have been recouped. PSAs are generally offered to impoverished countries that would never be able to amass either the technical expertise or the billions in capital investment required to drill for oil themselves. For the oil company, a relatively small up-front investment can quickly turn into untold billions in profits.

Yet another strategic benefit, particularly from the perspective of American politicians, is that, until recently, with the exception of Nigeria, none of the oil-producing countries of sub-Saharan Africa had belonged to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)…The more non-OPEC oil that comes onto the global market, the more difficult it becomes for OPEC countries to sell their crude at high prices, and the lower the overall price of oil. Put more simply, if new reserves are discovered in Venezuela, they have very little effect on the price of oil because Venezuela’s OPEC commitments will not allow it to increase its output very much. But if new reserves are discovered in Gabon, it means more cheap oil for everybody.

But probably the most attractive of all the attributes of Africa’s oil boom, for Western governments and oil companies alike, is that virtually all the big discoveries of recent years have been made offshore, in deepwater reserves that are often many miles from populated land. This means that even if a civil war or violent insurrection breaks out onshore (always a concern in Africa), the oil companies can continue to pump out oil with little likelihood of sabotage, banditry, or nationalist fervor getting in the way. Given the hundreds of thousands of barrels of Nigerian crude that are lost every year as a result of fighting, community protests, and organized crime, this is something the industry gets rather excited about.

All these factors add up to a convincing value proposition: African oil is cheaper, safer, and more accessible than its competitors, and there seems to be more of it every day.

Part I: Does Africa Live up to the Hype?

Part II: Yes, We Have No Bananas

Part II: Will Oil Change São Tomé and Príncipe?

Part IV: When ExxonMobil came to Chad

Iraq experts say draft oil industry law fraught with problems

From politricks.mnp:

AMMAN (AFP) – Some Iraqi oil experts and politicians are aghast over their government’s approval of a bill that many fear will deliver the country’s oil wealth to international firms on a platter.

In February, capping months of bitter wrangling, the Baghdad government approved a draft law that aims to distribute revenue from crude oil exports equitably across Iraq’s 18 provinces and open the sector to foreign investors.

The multi-party government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sees the legislation as a key plank in moves to reunite a country torn apart by sectarian violence, and hopes that parliament will ratify the bill in May.

But former Iraqi oil industry officials, experts and lawmakers gathered in Jordan to debate the bill have warned that the timing is wrong, and expressed strong concerns that
Iraq would lose control of its own “black gold.”

shocking, right?


Refining 101: Summer Gasoline

“Just what is summer gasoline? Twice a year, in the fall and in the spring, you hear about the seasonal gasoline transition. However, most people probably don’t understand what this actually means.” 

The Oil Drum explains, with a look at how summer temperatures, Reid vapor pressure (RVP), and ethanol affect fuel prices.  Interestingly, they note the blending of ethanol into the gasoline pool has been controversial because (among other things) it increases the vapor pressure of gasoline blends. This has resulted in the need for a 1 psi waiver in the Clean Air Act for ethanol-containing fuels. This of course means that ethanol will exacerbate smog at certain times of the year, and has resulted in a campaign by Senator Diane Feinstein to limit ethanol blending in California.