Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hmmm.. U.S. Asked to leave Uzbekistan air base

One of the side games to the U.S. invasion of the middle east (a.k.a. The War on Terror) is the oil situation in the Central Asia countries that are of the former Soviet Union. There's quite a bit of oil up there, and I gather that there's a game afoot to control that oil. One of the games is the U.S. plan to run a pipeline through Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and to the sea from there.

This meant that the U.S. was in suport of the Uzbeki government. Conveniently the Uzbeki government has been giving the U.S. land area to operate air bases, that have been used as staging for U.S. forces going to Afghanistan and perhaps other conflict areas. One purpose has been the encirclement of Iran, apparently.

But earlier this year the Uzbeki government brutally supressed a protest. Suppressed, as in killed scores of people. That kinda suppression, where there's blood in the street and lots of crying.

US asked to leave Uzbek air base (Saturday, 30 July 2005, BBC.CO.UK)

Apparently U.S. diplomats have been expressing official consternation over that kinda suppression.

Flights into the K2 (Karshi-Khanabad) base had been reduced at the request of the Uzbek authorities, after the US criticised the government over events in Andijan.

And now the Uzbeki authorities are asking us to leave. The article doesn't quite connect these, perhaps because the U.S. officials are professing to "not know why the request had been made", but anybody who can read between the lines can see there's a disagreement brewing.

The eviction notice came days after US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld returned from a visit to Uzbek neighbours Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Officials in Kyrgyzstan affirmed that US forces could continue to use Manas air base for as long as the Afghan war requires.

Mr Rumsfeld said he did not believe US operations in Afghanistan would be hurt if Tashkent denied continued use of K2, because there are other options in the region.

Oh, whew, at least our subversion of Central Asia can continue unabated. But what about the oil pipeline?

Okay, I'm being a little tongue in cheek about this. It seems to me this is a setback to U.S. plans, but I'm glad it's because the U.S. authorities were complaining about Uzbeki brutality.

But, wait, there's more. Here's the NY Times coverage: Uzbeks Order U.S. From Base in Refugee Rift (By STEVEN R. WEISMAN, and THOM SHANKER, NY Times, Published: July 31, 2005)

Uzbekistan formally ordered the United States to leave an air base that has been a hub for operations in Afghanistan in protest over a predawn United Nations operation on Friday to spirit out refugees who had fled an uprising in Uzbekistan in May, senior State Department officials said Saturday.

The article goes on to explain about the refugees. That they went to Kyrgyzstan, and that there have been recommendations to relocate them to Romania (?for safety?). The article goes on to explain how the U.S. is insisting on reforms.

About 450 Uzbek refugees arrive in Romania (Turkish Daily News, Saturday, July 30, 2005) reports that exactly this happened. That 450 Uzbek refugees arrived Friday July 29 in Romania.

CENTRAL ASIA: Weekly news wrap (29 Jul 2005 09:36:11 GMT, Source: IRIN, reported by Reuters, published on AlertNet) This Reuters "central asia wrapup" also reports on the same thing, giving a few more details.

Most of the article is discussing health aid being provided to several of these countries. It's not clear what this health aid has to do with the U.S. being asked to leave Uzbekistan, or the refugees, but this is a "wrap up" article. The article also discusses the general expectation from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) calling on the U.S. to provide a timetable concerning pulling out of central asia. They are accepting of U.S. presence so long as its necessary for the operation in Afghanistan, but apparently not one moment longer.

The NY Times article ends on this interesting note:

Mr. Rumsfeld received assurances from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that the American military could continue to use bases in those Central Asian nations to support relief and counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan.

"We feel we've had a good arrangement and good relationships in a number of those countries in the region," Mr. Rumsfeld said during his travels. "And obviously from time to time things may be adjusted one way or another."

The issue has been a test of the Bush administration as it has tried to balance two of its most prized foreign policy goals: democratization and counterterrorism.

Pentagon and military officials pointed out that it remained unclear whether the eviction from the Uzbek base would halt all bilateral relations with a nation on the rim of one of the most unstable regions in the world.

Those in the United States government and the military who argue for carefully managed engagement, even with dictatorial governments, note that without any formalized Western influence in places like Uzbekistan, there would most likely be influence from less-democratic sponsors, like Russia or China.

Reading between the lines, saying "without formalized western influence" and contrasting it with "influence from less-democratic sponsors, like Russia or China" points in the direction of a game of influence. Both statements are grounded in the thought that large countries are going to control the destiny of certain client countries. And it implies a contest between the U.S., Russia, and China to establish influence over Central Asia.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

A new kind of solar lighting

Maybe you're familiar with skylights .. y'know, cut a hole in the roof and install a window. They're great for ambient lighting, during the day. You don't have to turn on an electric light for that room, yet the room is well lit.

Another advantage is that the light is natural sunlight. The kind of light our bodies evolved over millions of years to love. Studies have shown that we function better in natural sunlight. Plus there's that concept that to create vitamin D in your body, you need natural sunlight.

Here's a new kind of skylight that has those benefits, but it's also directional and far more flexible than skylights. It uses zero electricity for great power savings.

It uses fiber optics to capture and carry light. Since fiber optics are highly flexible, this means you can route that light anywhere. Even rooms deep inside a building can have natural sunlight, simply by running the fiber optic cable to that room.


Q. When will a commercial product be available?

A. A commercially available product will be available in early 2007.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Are we surprised?? The gutting of the energy bill ...

As I noted yesterday, Congress is working on an "Energy" bill that's in response to GW's "National Energy Policy". According to the NY Times, the bill is getting worser and worser.

Provisions to Curb Oil Use Fall Out of Energy Bill (By CARL HULSE, Published: July 26, 2005, NYTIMES.COM)

Note that Congress has an artificial deadline of delivering a bill to Pres. Bush by August 1. I suppose that's so they can preserve the hallowed August Shutdown, allowing them all to take their vacation plans.

Working furiously to try to strike a deal on broad energy legislation, Congressional negotiators on Monday killed two major provisions aimed at curbing consumption of traditional fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal.

House members rejected an effort to incorporate a plan passed by the Senate to require utilities to use more renewable energy like wind and solar power to generate electricity. They also defeated a bid to direct the president to find ways to cut the nation's appetite for oil by one million barrels a day.

... But Republican opponents of the plan said the fuel savings target could lead to unpopular restrictions like mandatory car pools and put too much responsibility for achieving the goal in the hands of the president.

... Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the senior Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said his plan to require power plant operators who now rely on coal, oil and natural gas to increase their use of renewable fuels was a low-cost, market-driven approach to cutting demand for fossil fuels and easing air pollution.

Under the proposal, which has repeatedly passed the Senate, utilities would have to generate at least 10 percent of their electricity through renewable fuels by 2020.

"It would reduce our dependence on traditional polluting sources of electricity," Mr. Bingaman said.

And, to rub the salt in the wound of these contradictions ...

China is planning to produce 10% of its power from wind energy by 2020. Hmm, China can do what the U.S. cannot? What does this say?

In Search of a New Energy Source, China Rides the Wind (By HOWARD W. FRENCH, Published: July 26, 2005, NYTIMES.COM)

From the distance the turbines look almost forbidding, looming very large on the horizon like some clawed space invaders. But one must get up close, very close, to hear the slightest hum as their blades spin, harvesting power from the wind.

Apart from the random bleating from a huge herd of sheep, the loudest noise in this open, rolling grassland of Inner Mongolia is the buzz from the transformers that dot the plain, collecting electricity from this small army of 96 metallic monsters with their spinning blades.

Blessed with vast, empty countryside and a seemingly permanent stiff breeze blowing across the steppes, the buzz of transformers is growing steadily louder in this far northern province as investors pour money into the wind farm. It is already huge, and may soon be getting much larger.

... By 2020, starting from a minuscule base that it has established only recently, China expects to supply 10 percent of its needs from so-called renewable energy sources, including wind, solar energy, small hydroelectric dams and biomass like plant fibers and animal wastes.

... "We have huge goals for wind power development," Wang Zhongying, director of China's Center for Renewable Energy Development. "By 2010, we plan to reach 4,000 megawatts, and by 2020 we expect to reach 20,000 megawatts, or 20 gigawatts." If anything, Mr. Wang said, these targets are too conservative, and may be easily surpassed.


Monday, July 25, 2005

"Dreadful" energy bill before congress

GW Bush has been pushing an abysmal National Energy Policy for awhile. Now before congress is a bill meant to be their answer to his proposed policy.

Don't Blame Dems For Dreadful Energy Bill (by David Morris, July 25, 2005,

The House version appears to be HR 1640, "Energy Policy Act of 2005" but there's also a Senate version which I can't find.

In any case, I'm not surprised they (Congress) has made a bad bill. They are all bought and controlled by the big money interests who've been crying for years that making any real move to renewable energy would damage business.

How bad is it? The most effective provision in either energy bill may be a small program to promote a technology that cuts off heavy-duty truck engines after 15 minutes of idling.

... One such provision, for example, allows the federal government to impose high voltage transmission lines on recalcitrant states. Another severely limits the authority of state and cities over the siting of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. Provisions stripping states and communities of their authority over private energy companies are accompanied by another that would have the same debilitating effect on federal authority. Both bills repeal the 70-year-old Public Utilities Holding Company Act (PUHCA). PUHCA was passed to clean up the mess created by massive utility mergers in the 1920s and the resulting wave of fraud and financial manipulations that helped to bring about the Great Depression.

PUHCA forced utilities to refocus their corporate structure on their core obligation -- the delivery of low cost, reliable electricity. And it endowed the newly created Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with the power and responsibility to examine the utilities' books and evaluate any merger proposals.

But, here's a positive development around this: Lawmakers Abandon MTBE Liability Shield to Help Clear Way for Passing Energy Bill (July 25, 2005 — By H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press, published on ENN.COM)

The article discusses a deal to close the problem over MTBE. The House wanted to put a liability limit on the MTBE producers, but there's evidence those companies knew about MTBE's dangers. Just like the cigarette companies, eh? That is, the cigarette makers knew for decades that smoking causes cancer, but they hid that evidence, killing millions of people, before the news was unveiled. So to with MTBE apparently.


Saturday, July 23, 2005

Wind power deployment facing a headwind (groan)

Wind power projects in Europe have a current installed capacity of 0.6 GW, however plans are afoot for around 54 GW of wind projects. Europe as a whole is more accepting of the idea that global warming gasses must be reduced, and they see infrastructure investment (e.g. wind energy projects) as the solution. This is opposed to GW Bush's stance that apparently reduction in global warming emissions would mean loss of american jobs, I suppose he's being short-sighted to his fossil fuel industry roots (there's a reason I call him President Enron, with Vice President Halliburton and Secretary of State Chevron) ... but, installing wind energy systems would mean new jobs.

Blustery Conditions for European Wind Power New Energy Finance White Paper Outlines Difficulties in European Wind Power Market (, July 22, 2005) with supporting data from New Energy Finance

The article goes through the wind energy plans in europe:

The most ambitious countries are Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, targeting 25GW, 9.1GW and 6GW respectively.

and the costs and financing issues:

So where is the bottleneck? An analysis of projects under development and national targets reveals that specific sites have been identified for 32.5GW (59%) of the proposed developments. Of those sites which have already been identified, and in some cases for which permits awarded, no less than 29.7GW (92%) have yet to secure financing. That translates into an immediate funding requirement of EUR 49.4bn (USD 62.4bn).

One of the reasons for the difficulties experienced by as-yet-unfunded projects is that offshore permitting is a lengthy process involving multiple authorities - industry sources claim as many as 14 different agencies can be involved in a single project. Streamlining of procedures is being actively tackled by British, Danish, Swedish governments.

Another concern is that the offshore services companies required to erect towers and lay cables may have insufficient capacity for the huge volume of work ahead.

The real problem, however, according to Ian Temperton of Climate Change Capital, is that as they stand, the projects are just not financially viable:

"If the projects make economic sense the funding is available", he says. "There is no shortage of experience amongst the major lenders and equity providers in financing onshore wind."

So, while promising, it's frustrating to see the roadblocks. Or should that be wind breaks?


Mall Mart and alternative energy? Hunh?

Normally you don't think of a big corporation like Wall Mart doing something nice like supporting alternative energy systems in a big way. But, well, here we are.

Wal-Mart Deploys Solar, Wind, Sustainable Design (by Jesse Broehl, Editor,, July 22, 2005) with further information on Wall Mart's site

The article focuses on the solar and wind energy aspects of the design, but Wall Mart did a lot more than that. For example, rather than impervious pavement covering the parking lot and walkways, they are using pervious materials. Pervious materials allow rainwater to soak through into the ground, which they say decreases runoff problems, but I suppose it also helps the health of the ground underneath the parking lots.

Another topic they're addressing is the heat island effect. This is one of those fairly obvious things that took scientists awhile to study. Basically urban areas are hotter (in summer anyway) than rural areas, and it's because urban areas tend to have large expanses of dark colored objects. For example large parking lots, and dark colored rooftops. Additionally you have few trees and other plantlife. This combines to amplify the heat in urban areas. There's several ways of addressing this, such as light colored rooftops. Wall Mart is claiming this decreases their cooling costs, because their building is not in a heat zone.

They've also built a rainwater collection pond, and arranged several facets of the site design to channel rainwater to that pond. The pond then provides wildlife habitat, and the water is also used for irrigation. The net result is less dependance on city water.

A very interesting thing to me is the presence of two wind turbines, and nearly 100 kilowatt capacity of solar panels.

One wind turbine is a large (50 kilowatt) design by Bergey Windpower that's prominently displayed in the center of the parking lot, and can be seen for miles around. It's a new design that's supposed to provide power even in low wind conditions. The other is a small unit attached to the big sign, providing the power required to run the sign.

The solar installation is covering their garden center, and is also designed to allow some light to filter through so that the garden center doesn't require added lighting.

This is an interesting and positive trend. Wall Mart is doing this as a special experiment, and working with NASA to record all sorts of data. However if it works out as expected, one can expect new big box stores to be built in a similar way. Especially as Wall Mart is sharing the data with the public, the result will be that other corporate interests can look at the data themselves and use it in their decisions around how to build new buildings.


Friday, July 22, 2005

Oregon Senate Passes Broad Biofuels Bill

Oregon Senate Passes Broad Biofuels Bill: The Oregon Senate today approved an amended version of House Bill 3481 that supports a growing biofuels industry in Oregon through the use of tax credits.

The bill uses a broad definition of biofuel: “liquid or gaseous fuel produced from a biological source, including but not limited to waste and residue from agriculture, forestry or related industries or other industrial or municipal waste.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A (very) different kinda wind turbine

Wind energy is one of the exciting areas of alternate energy development. It's cost is dropping down to where it's naturally competitive with "regular" (fossil fuel) systems, and the deployment of large scale wind generation is accelerating.

A turn for the better Wind turbines are ugly and no one wants to live near one. Right? Wrong. Steve Rose on the new architects of spin (Monday July 18, 2005, The Guardian)

Architects of Spin (July 18, 2005 12:20 PM - Lloyd Alter, Toronto)

The turbine in question is kinda turned on its side. Rather than looking like a stick with a propeller, it looks like an "eggbeater" standing upright. There's some good pictures in the articles, so take a look.

The Guardian article wants to say the propeller-on-a-stick designs are ugly ... I happen to think they're beautiful. But this design is more than interesting. One technical advantage is that it doesn't matter which direction is blowing, it'll capture wind from any direction. The propeller-on-a-stick designs are either fixed directional, or you have to design in rotational capabilities. Another technical advantage to this design is that all the moving parts are at the bottom, making maintanence easier.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

How biofuels can help end Americas oil dependence

I'm looking at a very interesting report put together by scientists from the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) and several universities and government agencies. They have studied the potential for "biofuels" to end "oil dependence".

How biofuels can help end Americas oil dependence

First they point out the several problems with "oil dependence": a) the U.S. has basically no domestic reserves (we have 2% of the worlds reserves) but use 25% of the worlds oil production, b) meaning the U.S. exports dollars to pay for oil imports, c) the U.S. is increasingly dependant on unstable countries, d) huge health risks from the emissions that come from burning oil.

They claim to have studied the issue up and down, and see that producing "biofuels" instead of "oil" will solve all those problems, plus provide increased wildlife habitat.

Hmm... that's quite a claim, so let's look closer.

The "biofuels" in question are derived from "cellulosic biomass", currently seen to be waste matter. e.g. straw's and husks.

With appropriate processing there are a number of plant material sources which can be converted to a liquid with the same properties as gasoline or diesel, and can be burned in existing vehicles just like gasoline or diesel are used today. Yup, their solution for "oil dependance" is to continue using a liquid fuel, but somehow because it is derived from "biomass" (plant matter) they get away without calling it "oil". Hmmm.... I guess all those PhD's gave them the right to split hairs.

Well, let's get back to the point, as the study itself points to a very positive direction.

By moving towards producing biofuel from plant material, the authors expect farmers to begin growing crops that make the required plant material. In fact the farmers are already growing some crops, and they point out that by selling different parts of the plants they grow to different markets, the farmers can increase their income and diversify their risk.

To produce 7.9 million barrels (equivalent) of biofuels will require 1.3 billion tons of cellulosic biomass each year. Somebody has to grow that biomass, and it's the farmers who will do so and receive the income for that work.

It looks good to me. It is essentially a method of moving dollars spent from exporting dollars to investing them domestically. Further, the technique doesn't have to be limited to the U.S. but can be employed around the world. The most interesting feature to me is to localize production of energy resources.

Currently the production of "energy" is done a long ways away, with oil being mined halfway around the world, and shipped to us here. But that need not be, and there is a lot of wastage just in shipping oil hither and yon. But with fuels derived from plants, the plants can be grown nearby, processed nearby, and therefore the world isn't wasting as much resource on the shipping of oil when it's produced nearby.


Exxon/Mobil and the oil peak

It's one thing for a bunch of lunatic fringe people to talk about oil production peaking. It's yet another thing for serious minded people like a large oil corporation to talk about it. At least that's the tone of this article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Oil: Caveat empty (By Alfred J. Cavallo, May/June 2005 pp. 16-18 (vol. 61, no. 03) © 2005 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

The article discusses this report: The Outlook for Energy: a 2030 view

Basically Exxon/Mobil are admitting, in a very quiet and understated way, that oil production will not be able to meet demand. Their proposed solution? Greater efficiency.

The figures in the Exxon/Mobil presentation are that demand is going to keep growing in all energy sectors ... that the wind and solar alternatives are just beginning to make a measurable amount of energy (that is, make enough energy that they show up as more than an asterisk in a footnote) ... and that efficient automobiles will "produce" enough oil to make up for the shortfalls in production.

That last point is stated a little backwards. This is related to the "negawatt" concept. A negawatt is electricity production that does not have to be built because the customers use less electricity.

Likewise when the customers buy fuel efficient cars, then less oil has to be produced. In Exxon/Mobil-speak, the demand growth curve is flattened some due to efficient cars.


Energy "return on investment" (EROI) study for biofuels

When you consider whether to use an energy alternative to the existing fuels (a.k.a. fossil fuels) part of the analysis has to be whether it is sustainable. Whether the world can continue using that energy alternative for a decade or more.

In producing any energy product, you have an "energy input" which is the energy consumed to produce the energy product. Once the product is available you have "energy output" which is the energy available from that product.

Sustainability comes when energy input is less than energy output. If the input is greater than the output, then you have an energy deficit that has to be replenished from somewhere.

This is important because, as the oil peak scenario becomes reality, we won't have that oil lying around to make up the deficit. Either the alternative energy source does the whole job, or it doesn't, and we'll all starve.

Academic Study Discredits Ethanol, Biodiesel (July 15, 2005,

The article discusses a study from Cornell University and UC Berkeley that shows the EROI for Ethanol and Biodiesel is negative. That is, the energy input for both is greater than the energy output. In running the study they took into account as many factors as they could, such as e.g. the fuel running the tractors on the farm, or the oil used in producing fertilizers used to grow the crops, etc.

What's most interesting is to read the comments to the article.

For example the US Department of Energy has been studying the same issue, and found that biodiesel has a positive EROI rather than the negative EROI claimed by these researchers. Now, maybe the DoE has been compromised by big money interests, as claimed in the other comments. Or maybe the DoE (or even these researchers) are missing something.

Another point is that the study only looked at Ethanol from Corn, and Biodiesel from soybeans. There are probably more efficient ways to produce either one of those. For example rapeseed produces much more oil than does soybeans.

I'd earlier showcased a method to produce biodiesl from algae where the majority of the energy input is solar energy, to produce the light and heat required to grow the algae.

This shows a different way to interpret EROI. Not all energy has to come from oil. If you calculated the EROI for the biodiesel-from-algae process, you would include as energy input the solar energy. If you do, you might end up with a negative EROI (input greater than output). But in this case the energy input is free because it doesn't come from fossil fuel, but rather from the Sun.


Monday, July 11, 2005

Wind-turbine based bird deaths found to be less than thought likely

While wind power is getting economically feasible, it's facing one repetitive criticism. That the turbines kill lots of birds.

I saw a study once describing this. The idea is based on the wind farm in California's Altamont Pass. The experience there is that those turbines do kill lots of birds, especially rare raptors. However further study showed several fixable problems with the Altamont Pass wind farm, and the solutions have been put into use in newer wind farms. Why the solutions haven't also been put into use in the Altamont Pass is beyond me.

Basically the problem was twofold: 1) the turbines in Altamont Pass are located primarily on ridgelines, a place where the birds frequently fly, placing them in more frequent proximity to the turbines; 2) the turbines in Altamont Pass are small, with fast moving blades, and the tower design also gives many places for birds to roost, all of which contributes to more frequent contact between birds and turbine blades.

Wind turbines not so deadly for birds -Dutch study (Tue Jul 5,12:00 PM ET, AMSTERDAM (Reuters))

In The Netherlands and other parts of Europe they've been installing massive wind turbines. The blades on these are often 100 meters in diameter, and each tower produces around 1 megawatt of electricity.

And, their experience with bird deaths is that they're a lot less frequent than expected. e.g.

The new study suggests the Netherlands' 1,700 wind turbines kill about 50,000 birds a year. About 2 million birds perish each year on Dutch roads, it said.

This was predictable from the study I read of the Altamont Pass. With the larger turbines, the blades actually move a lot slower, making it easy for birds to dodge the blades. Further, when the tower makers pay attention, they make sure there's no ledges for birds to sit on, making it less likely the birds will stay around the towers in the first place. Finally, siting of the towers makes a difference, simply by putting the towers in places the birds don't stay in.

Several years ago Home Power Magazine published this summary of research into bird death around wind turbines. The article concludes the issue is overblown - for example, the recorded bird deaths in Altamont Pass are small compared to the birds killed in collisions with buildings or radio towers and the like.

Further the rates of bird death at other wind farms in California are a fraction of the rates at Altamont Pass, so there must be something special about Altamont Pass. Namely, the population growth in the San Francisco Bay Area is causing an out-migration of wildlife, and the Altamont Pass area is pretty open (other than the wind turbines) giving refuge to the out-migrating wildlife.


Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Thorium safer for nuclear reactors than uranium

I was an avid reader of Robert Heinlein's novels, and one detail I recall is that the nuclear reactors were generally running on thorium. I'm remembering that now, and thinking it strange we've accepted Uranium as being The Fuel for so long without questioning why. Uranium does, after all, have jillions of bad side effects ...

Some have been questioning "why Uranium" and because of those bad side effects, demanding that there be NO NUKES at all.

Torium Fuels Safer Reactor Hopes (July 5, 2005; WIRED NEWS)

What the article says is that

  1. Thorium produces half the waste that Uranium does
  2. Thorium's waste is not convertable to bombs or other weapons
  3. Scientists have made recent breakthroughs in using Thorium
  4. India and Australia have most of the Thorium deposits



Sunday, July 3, 2005

Struggling to find oil

Oil industry ‘struggling to find new reserves’ (By Carl Mortished, International Business Editor, Times Online of London)

The Wood Mackenzie report, Global Oil and Gas Risks and Rewards, shows that typical annual returns from oil exploration — in the region of between three billion and five billion barrels — have not changed since the early 1990s. The only exception to the largely stagnant exploration trend was the discovery in 2000 of Kashagan, a ten billion barrel oilfield, in the Caspian Sea.

Graham Kellas, vice-president at Wood Mackenzie, reckons that the international oil companies were highly successful in finding oil during the past decade, but now are working in a diminishing field of opportunity. “The hunt for oil continues, but it is becoming increasingly difficult,’’ he said. “There are few areas of the world that are unexplored and that is why the larger companies are so keen to get access to areas that are off-limits.”

Shut out from the large known reserves of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq, the West’s oil companies have had significant successes, such as in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, Angola and Nigeria. There have also been failures, such as Brazil and Azerbaijan.

Mr Kellas said: “Deep- water Brazil has been a big disappointment. No commercial discoveries have yet been made by international oil companies, despite having spent nearly $1.5 billion.” The collapse in the oil price in 1998 and the ensuing wave of company takeovers led to cutbacks in exploration spending that the oil companies have been slow to restore, fearing further oil gluts. Exploration drilling peaked in 1998 with a total of 725 wells drilled, but in 2003 the West’s oil industry completed just 554 wells.

Peak oil, energy, and local solutions: reports from recent conferences

Peak Oil: Russian Style