Factor x: Israel's supergiant gas and shale oil discoveries
Moses' emerging legacy reshuffles cards anew

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Generations of Jews, most famously Golda Meir, Israel's former prime minister,
have lamented what, unwittingly, turned out to be an ill-based joke:
"Why did Moses lead us to the one place in the Middle East without oil?"
31.Dez 12 Experten warnen vor Glaubenskrieg bei Erdgassuche, Tages-Anzeiger, Stefan Häne
16 Jul 12   In Tiny Bean, India’s Dirt-Poor Farmers Strike Gas-Drilling Gold, NYT, GARDINER HARRIS
7.Mai 12   Russland ruft zur Erdölsuche nach Sibirien, NZZ, Benjamin Triebe
28.Apr 12   Röhrenblick und Mondbauten, NZZ, Gerald Hosp
28.Apr 12   Nord Stream zwischen Meilenstein und Milliardengrab, NZZ, Hans Dieter Sauer
16 Apr 12   Exxon and Russia’s Oil Company in Deal for Joint Projects, NYT, CLIFFORD KRAUSS
3.Jan 12   2,3 Milliarden Dollar für Anteil an einem amerikanischen Gasfeld, NZZ Online
3 Nov 11   Shale Gas Revolution, NYT, DAVID BROOKS
21 Aug 11   Tar Sands and the Carbon Numbers, NYT, editorial
7 Jul 11   Can Israeli Oil Shale Outsize Saudi Arabia?, Green Prophet, Maurice Picow
Jul 2011   CANADA’S EMISSIONS TRENDS, Ministry of the Enviroment
20 Jun 11   Israel's huge shale oil reserves may undercut OPEC dominance, Israel Insider, Lawrence Solomon
3 Jun 11   Huge strike will bring back a world bought by oil interests, Financial Post,.Lawrence Solomon
27 May 11   The world’s dependence on Israel’s enemies is dwindling, Financial Post , Lawrence Solomon
21 Mar 11   Moses after all did lead them where there's oil aplenty, The Australian, Wall Street Journal, Ian King
11 Mar 11   How Israel could revolutionize the global energy sector, Jerusalem Post , DORE GOLD
31 Dec 10   Israel’s Leviathan Gas Find Will Have Widespread Repercussions for World Power, Green Prophet, Susan Kraemer
Oct 2010   Shfela Oil Shale Pilot, Israel Energy Initiatives
17 Feb 09   New shale technologies: Heating Oil Shale & protecting aquifers with frozen barriers, Daily Reckoning, Dan Denning
Oct 2006   Oil Shale in Israel, Geological Survey of Israel, Tsevi Minster
Jun 2006   Geology and Resources of Some World Oil-Shale Deposits, US Geological Survey, John R. Dyni

geology.com    (USGS December 28, 2005, online June 2006)

Israel and Jordan Oil-Shale Deposits
(Reprint of: United States Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5294, Dec 28, 2005)
By John R. Dyni, USGS

Map of oil shale deposits in Israel (locations after Minster, 1994). Also, oil-shale deposits in Jordan (locations after Jaber and others, 1997; and, Hamarneh, 1998).

Twenty marinite deposits of Late Cretaceous age have been identified in Israel (fig. 10; Minster, 1994), containing about 12 billion tons of oil-shale reserves with an average heating value of 1,150 kcal/kg of rock and an average oil yield of 6 weight percent. Thicknesses ranging from 35 to 80 m were reported by Fainberg in Kogerman (1996, p. 263) and 5 to 200 m by PAMA, Ltd. (2000?). The organic content of the oil shales is relatively low, ranging from 6 to 17 weight percent, with an oil yield of only 60 to 71 l/t. The moisture content is high (~20 percent) as is the carbonate content (45 to 70 percent calcite) and the sulfur content (5 to 7 weight percent) (Minster, 1994). Some of the deposits can be mined by open-pit methods. A commercially exploitable bed of phosphate rock, 8 to 15 m thick, underlies the oil shale in the Mishor Rotem open-pit mine.

Utilizing oil shale from the Rotem-Yamin deposit, about 55 tons of oil shale per hour were burned in a fluidized bed boiler to power a steam turbo-generator in a 25-megawatt experimental electric power plant operated by PAMA Company. The plant began operation in 1989 (Fainberg and Hetsroni, 1996) but is now closed. The grade of the Rotem oil shale is not uniform; the heating values range from 650 to 1200 kcal/kg.

Jordan has few resources of oil and gas and no commercial deposits of coal. However, there are about 26 known deposits of oil shale, some of which are large and relatively high-grade (Jaber and others, 1997; Hamarneh, 1998, p. 2). The eight most important of these are the Juref ed Darawish, Sultani, Wadi Maghar, El Lajjun, Attarat Umm Ghudran, Khan ez Zabib, Siwaga, and Wadi Thamad deposits. These eight deposits are located in west central Jordan within 20 to 75 km east of the Dead Sea. The El Lajjun, Sultani, and Juref ed Darawish have been the most extensively explored by boreholes and many samples have been analyzed. Table 5 summarizes some of the geologic and resource data for the eight deposits.

The Jordanian oil-shale deposits are marinites of Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) to early Tertiary age. A number of deposits are in grabens and some may prove to be parts of larger deposits, such as the Wadi Maghar deposit that is now considered to be the southern extension of the Attarat Umm Ghudran deposit. The deposits listed in table 5 are at shallow depths, in essentially horizontal beds. As much as 90 percent of the oil shale is amenable to open-pit mining (Hamarneh, 1998, p. 5). The overburden consists of unconsolidated gravel and silt containing some stringers of marlstone and limestone and, in some areas, basalt. Overall, the oil shales thicken northward toward the Yarmouk deposit near the northern border of Jordan where the latter apparently extends into Syria and may prove to be an exceptionally large deposit-underlying several hundred square kilometers and reaching 400 m in thickness (Tsevi Minster, 1999, written commun.).

The oil shales in central Jordan are in the marine Chalk-Marl unit, which is underlain by phosphatic limestone and chert of the Phosphorite unit. The oil shales are typically brown, gray, or black and weather to a distinctive light bluish-gray. The moisture content of the oil shale is low (2 to 5.5 weight percent), whereas comparable deposits of oil shale in Israel have a much higher moisture content of 10 to 24 percent (Tsevi Minster, 1999, written commun.). Calcite, quartz, kaolinite, and apatite make up the major mineral components of the El Lajjun oil shale, along with small amounts of dolomite, feldspar, pyrite, illite, goethite, and gypsum. The sulfur content of Jordanian oil shale ranges from 0.3 to 4.3 percent. The sulfur content of shale oil from the Jurf ed Darawish and the Sultani deposits is high, 8 and 10 percent, respectively. Of interest is the relatively high metal content of the oil shales from the Jurf el Darawish, Sultani, and El Lajjun deposits, notably Cu (68-115 ppm), Ni (102-167 ppm), Zn (190-649 ppm), Cr (226-431 ppm), and V (101-268 ppm) (Hamarneh, 1998, p. 8). Phosphate rock underlies the El Hasa deposit.

Surface water for oil-shale operations is scarce in Jordan; therefore, ground water will need to be tapped for oil-shale operations. A shallow aquifer that underlies the El Lajjun deposit, and provides fresh water to Amman and other municipalities in central Jordan, is too small in capacity to also meet the demands of an oil-shale industry. A deeper aquifer in the Kurnub Formation, 1,000 m below the surface, may be capable of providing an adequate supply of water, but this and other potential ground-water sources need further study.

Israel Ministry of National Infrastructres    October 2006

Oil Shale in Israel
(Abridged  from a poster presented in the 26th Oil Shale Symposium, Golden, Colorado, 2006)
Tsevi Minster, Geological Survey of Israel

Sedimentary rocks containing anomalous values of organic matter are found in certain intervals of the sedimentary sequence in Israel and adjacent countries. However, only Upper Cretaceous sequence (Mount Scopus Group) deposited during the Santonian to Paleocene, and especially the Mishash and the Ghareb formations are considered in Israel to have possible economic potential. The Oil Shale Member of the Ghareb Formation reaches a maximum sub-surface thickness of ~130 m in the northern Negev.

Based on Hutton's nomenclature, Israeli Oil Shale can be termed Marinite. Bituminous sequences, which now occur in synclinal structures, represent increase in tectonic activity, deepening of basins and probably relatively high productivity levels. Suitable conditions (i.e., fast burial, depletion of oxygen in the water bodies) enabled the preservation of Oil Shale in many basins. It is plausible that their original distribution was wider than today but decreased due to oxidation and epigenesis.

In most rocks termed Oil Shale in Israel, the main inorganic constituent is carbonate (chalk and marl). The “rich” samples contain 65 to 80% carbonates and 2-15 % clays. The density of the domestic Oil Shale is between 1.6-2.1 gr/cm3, a value that decreases with an increase in the content of organic matter. Several studies have suggested that the organic-matter enriched sequence of the Mount Scopus Group is the source rock for hydrocarbon showings (oil, asphalt, gas) found in the Dead Sea Rift and its margins.

The rock is generally dense and of low permeability, so that the flow of a significant amount of fluid and gas is apparently possible only through cracks, or when promoted by heating. Parts of the Oil Shale sequence are also characterized by high moisture content (non-combined water) of some 20%. These properties may pose difficulties for in-situ utilization techniques.

Reserves and grades
There are indications that some 15% of the country is underlain by Oil Shale beds. The theoretical, geological Oil Shale reserves in Israel are enormous, and may reach a figure well above hundred billion tons. However, mineable reserves form only a tiny fraction of that figure and are probably applicable to deposits associated with active phosphate mining areas. Advance in the development of in-situ techniques may probably enlarge the mineable reserves figure of the Israeli Oil Shale.

They vary in thickness from 30 to 450 meters in more than 30 occurrences throughout the country. For most of these, overburden to the top of the Oil Shale is 50-250 m, and in a few fields (e.g., Nabi-Musa, En-Boqeq, Oron) parts of the sequence are exposed.

The organic matter content of Israeli Oil Shale is 10-25% EOM (easily oxidized material) or approximately 6-15% TOC. This is roughly equivalent to 40-100 shale-oil litres per metric ton, and around 800-1,800 KCal/Kg in calorific value units. These oil yield figures are equal to 12-27 U.S. gallon/ton; a rough, average figure of 20 gallon/ton may be used to characterize the Israeli Oil Shale. Thus, in terms of quality, the Israeli Oil Shale may be considered as of poor to medium grade.

In previous domestic surveys, a cut-off value of 10% EOM was used to calculate quantities and grades. In the Mishor Rotem deposit, prospecting activity began in the 1970's and has continued irregularly together with associated research into energy production.

Since the Oil Shale occurrences in Israel and Jordan have many similarities, bi-lateral cooperation may have an advantage.

The Oil Shale Fired Power Plant in Mishor Rotem
The first tests (1978-81) were carried out in a 0.1 MW pilot plant, and between 1982 and 1986, the PAMA company established and operated a 1 MW fluidized-bed pilot plant. An advanced R&D program was funded by PAMA and the Israel Ministry of National Infrastructures with an investment of some $30 million, and the ~13 MW demonstration plant was completed in 1989. It has been successfully operated since 1990. The generated energy is sold to the Israeli Electric Corporation, and low-pressure steam is supplied to an adjacent industrial complex. Since 2000, the power station has been operated by the Rotem Amfert group.

The power station is fed by approximately 0.5 million tons of Oil Shale annually, mined at a nearby open-pit mine. A large part of the ash generated in the process is used in products such as cat litter. Most of the ash product is distributed in Europe under the commercial name Alganite.

Environmental aspects
The development of the Israeli Oil Shale industry raises some environmental concerns, mainly due to damage that may be caused by large scale open-pit mining and the possibility that hazardous materials could be generated during utilization processes. Several solutions may reduce these concerns, of which two are presently important:

(1) Combined exploitation of the closely associated Oil Shale and phosphates. This would reduce the volume of extracted material (both overburden and rejected beds) and the costs, thus facilitating the mining of deeper ores.
(2)  Advanced in-situ utilization techniques. Such technologies may be applicable in deposits that are not mineable via open-pits and are close to urban and industrial areas.

Potential environmental hazards would more easily be monitored in what would be near-close-system processes.

Agenda of the Israeli Ministry of  National Infrastructures
The Israel Ministry of National Infrastructres encourages projects involving the testing of new methods, including in-situ, underground techniques, for the utilization of Oil Shale as an energy source.

The government is currently considering incentives to interpreneurs in this respect, taking into account environmental issues.

The Daily Reckoning    February 17, 2009

Oil Shale Reserves: Stinky Water, Sweet Oil
A Daily Reckoning White Paper Report
By Dan Denning

You won’t think much of Rio Blanco County if you ever drive through it. In fact, unless you take a right turn off Interstate-70 West at Rifle, head north on Railroad Avenue and then west on Government road to Colorado state highway number thirteen, odds are you’ll never even step foot in Rio Blanco County.

But even if you keep heading west toward Grand Junction, through the town of Parachute and the shuttered oil shale refineries from the 1970s, you’ll see the Book Cliffs geologic formation on your right. For miles and miles. It’s a bleak landscape. Almost lunar. At first glance, it’s the kind of land you’d never want to explore, much less settle down in.

Oil Shale Reserves: America’s Strategic Future
In the small world of geologists, though, the region is well-known. In fact, you might even say it’s the single most important patch of undeveloped, unloved, and desolate looking land in America. But you’d never guess this particular corner of the Great American Desert may play an integral role in America’s strategic future just by looking at it. You’d never guess that the whole stretch of brown, red, and orange land contains enough recoverable oil and gas to make you forget about the Middle East for the rest of time.

There are places in Rio Blanco County like Stinking Water Creek, named after the smelly mix of oil and water the first white settlers found there, that tell you oil’s always been around the Rocky Mountains. It’s just not always been easy to find. It’s one thing to find oil that bubbles out of the ground in liquid form. It’s quite another to drill a thousand feet down, and encounter oil locked up tight inside a greasy rock.

The first seeping pools of oil were discovered in Western Colorado as far back as 1876, the year the state entered the Union. But exploration didn’t get serious until drillers settled in the town of Rangely in Rio Blanco County.

By 1903, thirteen different drillers had come and gone in Rangely. According to the local museum, the only six wells that actually struck oil were producing just two to ten barrels of oil a day. Hardly a Spindeltop, the gusher that launched the Texas oil-boom on January 10th, 1901, and immediately began producing 100,000 barrels per day.

The energy reserves of the Piceance Basin, upon which Rio Blanco County sits, contain massive petroleum reserves of a very unusual nature: Oil shale.

Oil Shale Reserves: A Congressional Legacy
Most of the nation’s oil shale reserves rest under the control of the U.S. government – a legacy of a 95-year old Congressional Act. In 1910, Congress passed the Pickett Act, which authorized President Taft to set aside oil- bearing land in California and Wyoming as potential sources of fuel for the U.S. Navy. Taft did so right away. The Navy was in the process of switching from coal burning ships to oil burning ships. And the U.S. military, conscious of the expanding role of America in the world, needed a dependable supply of fuel in case of a national emergency.

From 1910 to 1925 the Navy developed the Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves Program. The program became official in 1927 and President Roosevelt even expanded the scope of the program in 1942 as the U.S. geared up for war with Japan and Germany.

Several of the oil fields set aside for the nation’s first strategic reserve, particularly Elk Hills in California, would go on to produce oil for the U.S. government. Elk Hills was eventually sold off to Occidental Petroleum for $3.65 billion in 1998 in the largest privatization in U.S. history. The shale reserves, however, still remain, locked 1,000 feet underground in the Colorado desert.

Unlocking The Future
The destruction of Hurricane Katrina shows the importance of a strategic petroleum reserve, or, more accurately, a strategic energy reserve. But the SPR in Louisiana only holds about 800 million barrels of emergency, enough to get the country through about 90 days of regular oil usage. That’s barely a band-aid for a country that faces a potential energy heart attack.

In other words, the future of oil shale may have finally arrived. Extracting oil from shale is no simple task, which is why the reserves remain almost completely undeveloped. But an emerging new technology promises to unlock the awesome potential of the oil shale.

“The technical groundwork may be in place for a fundamental shift in oil shale economics,” the Rand Corporation recently declared. “Advances in thermally conductive in-situ conversion may enable shale-derived oil to be competitive with crude oil at prices below $40 per barrel. If this becomes the case, oil shale development may soon occupy a very prominent position in the national energy agenda.”

Estimated U.S. oil shale reserves total an astonishing 1.5 trillion barrels of oil – or more than five times the stated reserves of Saudi Arabia. This energy bounty is simply too large to ignore any longer, assuming that the reserves are economically viable. And yet, oil shale lies far from the radar screen of most investors.

But we here at The Daily Reckoning are on the case. Just yesterday, I caught a first-hand glimpse of a cutting-edge oil shale project spearheaded by Shell. I trekked out to a barren moonscape in Colorado to tour the facility with Shell geologists. To summarize my findings, oil shale holds tremendous promise, but the technologies that promise to unlock this promise remain somewhat experimental. But sooner or later, the oil trapped in the shale of Colorado will flow to the surface. And when it does, it will enrich investors who arrive early to the scene.

Can Oil Shale Change The World?
America’s oil shale reserves are enormous, totaling at least 1.5 trillion barrels of oil. That’s five times the reserves of Saudi Arabia! And yet, no one is producing commercial quantities of oil from these vast deposits. All that oil is still sitting right where God left it, buried under the vast landscapes of Colorado and Wyoming.

Obviously, there are some very real obstacles to oil production from shale. After all, if it was such a good thing, we’d be doing it already, right? “Oil shale is the fuel of the future, and always will be,” goes a popular saying in Western Colorado.

But what if we could safely and economically get our hands on all that oil? Imagine how the world might change. The U.S. would instantly have the world’s largest oil reserves. Imagine…having so much oil we’d never have to worry about Saudi Arabia again, or Hugo Chavez, or the mullahs in Tehran. And instead of ships lined up in L.A.’s port to unload cheap Chinese goods, we might see oil tankers lined up waiting to export America’s tremendous oil bounty to the rest of the world. The entire geopolitical and economic map of the world would change…and the companies in the vanguard of oil shale development might make hundreds of billions of dollars as they convert America’s untapped shale reserves into a brand new energy revolution.

Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter may have been entertaining similar ambitions in the late 1970s when they encouraged and funded the development of the West’s shale deposits. A shale-boom ensued, although not much oil flowed. The government spent billions and so did Exxon Mobil. New boomtowns sprung up in Rifle, Parachute, Rangely, and Meeker here in Colorado.

And then came Black Monday. May 2, 1982. The day Exxon shut down its $5 billion Colony Oil Shale project. The refineries closed. The jobs left (the American oil industry has lost nearly as many jobs in the last ten years as the automobile and steel industries.) And the energy locked in Colorado’s vast shale deposits sat untouched and unrefined.

Oil Shale Technology – Old & New
Extracting oil from the shale is no simple task. The earliest attempts to extract the oil utilized an environmentally unfriendly process known as “retorting.” Stated simply, retorting required mining the shale, hauling it to a processing facility that crushed the rock into small chunks, then extracted a petroleum substance called kerogen, then upgraded the kerogen through a process of hydrogenation (which requires lots of water) and refined it into gasoline or jet fuel.

But the difficulties of retorting do not end there, as my colleague, Byron King explains:

“After you retort the rock to derive the kerogen (not oil), the heating process has desiccated the shale (OK, that means that it is dried out).  Sad to say, the volume of desiccated shale that you have to dispose of is now greater than that of the hole from which you dug and mined it in the first place.  Any takers for trainloads of dried, dusty, gunky shale residue, rife with low levels of heavy metal residue and other toxic, but now chemically-activated crap?  (Well, it makes for enough crap that when it rains, the toxic stuff will leach out and contaminate all of the water supplies to which gravity can reach, which is essentially all of ‘em.  Yeah, right.  I sure want that stuff blowin’ in my wind.)  Add up all of the capital investment to build the retorting mechanisms, cost of energy required, cost of water, costs of transport, costs of environmental compliance, costs of refining, and you have some relatively costly end-product.”

But a new technology has emerged that may begin to tap the oil shale’s potential. Royal Dutch Shell, in fact, has recently completed a demonstration project (The Mahogany Ridge project) in which it produced 1,400 barrels of oil from shale in the ground, without mining the shale at all.

Instead, Shell utilized a process called “in situ” mining, which heats the shale while it’s still in the ground, to the point where the oil leaches from the rock. Shell’s Terry O’Connor described the breakthrough in testimony before Congress earlier this summer (And Congress may have an acute interest in the topic, since the U.S. government controls 72% of all U.S. oil shale acreage):

“Some 23 years ago, Shell commenced laboratory and field research on a promising in ground conversion and recovery process. This technology is called the In-situ Conversion Process, or ICP. In 1996, Shell successfully carried out its first small field test on its privately owned Mahogany property in Rio Blanco County, Colorado some 200 miles west of Denver. Since then, Shell has carried out four additional related field tests at nearby sites. The most recent test was carried out over the past several months and produced in excess of 1,400 barrels of light oil plus associated gas from a very small test plot using the ICP technology…

“Most of the petroleum products we consume today are derived from conventional oil fields that produce oil and gas that have been naturally matured in the subsurface by being subjected to heat and pressure over very long periods of time. In general terms, the In-situ Conversion Process (ICP) accelerates this natural process of oil and gas maturation by literally tens of millions of years. This is accomplished by slow sub-surface heating of petroleum source rock containing kerogen, the precursor to oil and gas. This acceleration of natural processes is achieved by drilling holes into the resource, inserting electric resistance heaters into those heater holes and heating the subsurface to around 650-700F, over a 3 to 4 year period.

“During this time, very dense oil and gas is expelled from the kerogen and undergoes a series of changes. These changes include the shearing of lighter components from the dense carbon compounds, concentration of available hydrogen into these lighter compounds, and changing of phase of those lighter, more hydrogen rich compounds from liquid to gas. In gaseous phase, these lighter fractions are now far more mobile and can move in the subsurface through existing or induced fractures to conventional producing wells from which they are brought to the surface. The process results in the production of about 65 to 70% of the original “carbon” in place in the subsurface.

“The ICP process is clearly energy-intensive, as its driving force is the injection of heat into the subsurface. However, for each unit of energy used to generate power to provide heat for the ICP process, when calculated on a life cycle basis, about 3.5 units of energy are produced and treated for sales to the consumer market. This energy efficiency compares favorably with many conventional heavy oil fields that for decades have used steam injection to help coax more oil out of the reservoir. The produced hydrocarbon mix is very different from traditional crude oils. It is much lighter and contains almost no heavy ends.

“However, because the ICP process occurs below ground, special care must be taken to keep the products of the process from escaping into groundwater flows. Shell has adapted a long recognized and established mining and construction ice wall technology to isolate the active ICP area and thus accomplish these objectives and to safe guard the environment. For years, freezing of groundwater to form a subsurface ice barrier has been used to isolate areas being tunneled and to reduce natural water flows into mines. Shell has successfully tested the freezing technology and determined that the development of a freeze wall prevents the loss of contaminants from the heated zone.”

It may seem, as O’Conner said, counter-intuitive to freeze the water around a shale deposit, and then heat up the contents within the deposit. It’s energy-intensive. And it’s a lot of work. What’s more, there’s no proof yet it can work on a commercial scale.

Yet both technologies, the freeze wall and the heating of shale, have been proven in the field to work. The freeze wall was used most recently in Boston’s Big Dig project. It was also used to prevent ground water from seeping into the salt caverns at the Strategic Petroleum reserve in Weeks Island, LA.

But still, you may be wondering, does it really make sense to heat the ground up a thousand feet down for three or four years and wait? Of course it does. In case you missed O’Conner’s math, Shell could harvest up to a million barrels per acre, or a billion barrels per square mile, on an area covering over a thousand square miles.

It’s still early days in the oil shale fields of Colorado and Wyoming, but it looks to me like someone’s gonna make a lot of money out there. I’m working hard to discover how we outside investors can play along.

Shell’s Mahogany Ridge
Last week, I paid a visit to Royal Dutch Shell’s oil shale project in Colorado. The visit left me with more questions than answers, but I came away from the place with the sense that this opportunity is very real…or, at least, it soon will be.

After driving across a vast expanse of “Nowhere,” Colorado, my brother and I met up with a few geologists from Shell. Of course it’s just those large, unpopulated tracts of high desert that make the area so appealing from a geopolitical point of view. Tapping into the oil shale 2,000 feet underground isn’t going to bother too many people. And there are no spotted owls around either. If the technology to turn shale into oil works, the entire area will become a new American boom patch.

Soon after we arrived, the geologists escorted us around the facility, chatting all the while about the successes and challenges of their venture.

The two trickiest aspects of oil shale development, as the geologists and engineers explained, are heating the shale to extreme temperatures, while simultaneously surrounding the heated area with a subterranean ice wall. Shell doesn’t know, or isn’t saying, which part of the project will be the most challenging. If you were about to change the world by making it economic to tap into as much as 2 trillion barrels of oil under the Colorado plateau, you’d be pretty careful about showing your competitors how you were going to do it.

First, anything that heats up rock around it to around 600 or 700 degrees Fahrenheit has to conduct electrically generated heat well. The most conductive metals on the Periodic Table of Elements are, in order, silver, copper, and gold. Naturally, the number of heaters you put in a place affects the amount of time it takes to turn the shale goo into API 34 crude. The more heaters, the more cost, though.

And given the fact that Shell does not know yet if the heaters will be recoverable, you can see that sticking silver, copper, or gold heaters 2000 meters underground and then leaving them there once the kerogen has been pumped has a serious effect on the economics of your operation.

At the moment, Shell is not sure what the optimal size of production zones ought to be. The big issue here is how big can a freeze-wall be to be effective and freezing the groundwater surrounding a shale deposit? The test projects, as you can see, were quite small. Shell doesn’t know, or isn’t saying, what the optimum size is for a each “pod” or “cell”. That’s what they’ll have to figure out at the next stage…and the picture with the dirt is a football field sized project….where rather than creating the freeze-wall at 50 meters down…they will do it at 1,000 ft. down…. with 2,000 being the desired and necessary depth for commercial viability. I’m not sure anyone has ever created a freeze-wall at that depth….neither is shell. But we’ll find out. The oil itself that comes from the process looks like…oil. No heavy refining needed.

Shell thinks the whole thing is economic at a crude price of $30. So barring a major reversal of geopolitical trends, they’re forging ahead.

Since the Bureau of Land Management owns about 80% of the oil shale acreage in Colorado, there is no investment play on private companies that might own land with rich shale deposits. Although, if Shell and the DOE are right that you can recover a million barrels of oil per acre…it wouldn’t take much land to make a man rich out here.

Oil Shale: Testing Public Lands
The Bureau of Land Management recently received ten applications (by eight companies) for a pilot program to develop Colorado’s shale reserves. The program allows the companies access to public lands for the purpose of testing shale-extraction technologies. You see below an interesting mix of large, publicly traded oil giants and small, privately held innovators.

•Natural Soda, Inc. of Rifle, Colorado.
•EGL Resources Inc. of Midland, Texas.
•Salt Lake City-based Kennecott Exploration Company.
•Independent Energy Partners of Denver, Colorado
•Denver-based Phoenix Wyoming, Inc.
•Chevron Shale Oil Company.
•Exxon Mobil Corporation.
•Shell Frontier Oil and Gas Inc
There is dispute within the industry over how long, if ever, demonstration extraction technologies can become commercially viable. I’ve spoken with some of the smaller companies that have applied for leases from the BLM. Some of them will have to raise money to conduct the project. And some of them have been less than forthcoming about how exactly their extraction technology is different or better than previous methods.

How will it all unfold? Well, for starters, it could all utterly fail. To me, Shell’s in-situ process looks the most promising. It also makes the most sense economically. There may be a better, less energy-intensive way to heat up the ground than what Shell has come up with. But Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil clearly have the resources to scoop up any private or small firm that makes a breakthrough.

And there are a host of smaller firms involved with the refining and drilling process that figure to play a key role in the development of the industry, should that development pick up pace.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, otherwise known as a listless piece of legislation without any strategic vision, does, at least, make provision for encouraging research into the development of shale. But government works slow, when it works at all. It’s going to take an external shock to the economy to really ratchet up interest and development of the nation’s energy reserves…say…something like a nuclear Iran.

Read more: Oil Shale Reserves http://dailyreckoning.com/oil-shale-reserves/#ixzz1RdeXeLd5

Green Prophet     December 31, 2010

Israel’s Leviathan Gas Find
Will Have Widespread Repercussions for World Power
Susan Kraemer

Share The gigantic $45 billion Leviathan gas find tosses out Israel’s previous relationship with the world. The biggest deep-water gas find in a decade has enough reserves to supply Israel’s gas needs for 100 years.

Oil and gas exploration that might benefit Israel has long been stymied by political fears. Because of worries about antagonizing current relationships with Arab partners, Big Oil had till now avoided the possibility of any political blow-back from finding any potential oil and gas in Israel.

So it took a relatively minor company, Noble Energy, to make the Leviathan gas discovery off the shores of Israel.
For years, only small Israeli oil and gas explorers like Riato and an Israeli energy firm, Delek Group, had persisted in trying to find fossil energy for Israel, according to the Wall Street Journal. Delek Group finally succeeded in enticing Houston-based Noble Energy to start exploring off the coast of Israel after the small independent company pioneered off-shore exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.

Because of the urgency of gaining energy independence, situated as it is in the midst of unfriendly neighbors, Israel had passed a very easygoing oil and gas deal back in 1952, with some of the world’s best perks for energy companies, including low royalties and corporate taxes on exploration. But this summer, the Israeli government started considering changing the law, to boost the government’s take of any gas find.

As it became clearer this year that the Tamar, and then the Leviathan gas finds could wind up being very large, Israel’s Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz proposed changing the terms, not just for future finds, but even retroactively, on these previously granted exploration leases. These would abolish tax breaks for energy firms and impose steep tax increases of 20% to 60% on windfall profits.

This would completely change the financial picture for energy companies who are operating on the previous basis. Noble Energy and Israeli oil executives fought back, even enlisting the US State Department and then former President Bill Clinton to lobby hard to keep the law the same.

“Your country can’t just tax a US business retroactively because they feel like it,” Clinton told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in July, after Noble Energy announced its first tentative findings, according to the Wall Street Journal report.

With the prospect of actual energy independence looming now for Israel, with the Leviathan gas find confirmed this week, how Israel handles the relationship between its government and its gas bonanza – will change its history. We have both extremes, from Nigeria, with no laws impeding the oil industry, to Norway, which is the only comparable democracy that has virtually nationalized its oil from the North Sea to benefit its people rather than oil tycoons.

But whatever the government does, the Leviathan gas find has already changed Israel’s relationships with other regions, and not just the great oil and gas powers of the Arab world.

Obviously its own natural gas fired electricity is a natural to power the electric vehicles being developed by local entrepreneur Shah Agassi, to replace the gasoline-powered vehicles that enrich its Arab neighbors.

But currently, electricity fueled by imported Russian coal supplies 71% of Israel’s electricity.

Not only could the nation now substitute for these risky foreign coal supplies by switching to natural gas, (since coal plants are fairly easily converted to burn natural gas, as US utilities have found) but by doing so, Israel can now easily and economically swap almost three quarters of its current electricity portfolio to one with less than half the carbon cost.

So this changes Israel’s relationship with a Northern nation which has been unafraid to bully Europe – when it was in dire need of Russian energy supplies – using its energy hegemony. Now Israel no longer needs Russian coal. With this find, it is not just energy independent, itself.

But customers from throughout Asia are now wooing the formerly friendless nation, desperate for the last drops of fossil fuels.

Image: Leviathan by Guillaume Rondelet

Jerusalem Post    March 11, 2011

How Israel could revolutionize the global energy sector

New data suggests Israel may not only have much larger gas resources than believed, but also the 3rd largest deposit of oil shale in the world.
Libyan oil accounts for less than 2 percent of world oil production, yet the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi has managed to shoot up the price of oil to more than $100 per barrel in the last month.

No one knows how long the internal instability in the Middle East will last, but according to the US Department of Energy, its share of the world’s total oil supply is expected to actually increase in the years ahead.

Simply, the world is using up the reserves of non- Middle East oil more quickly. Moreover, of the trillion barrels of proven reserves still left, according to the CIA roughly 800 billion barrels are to be found in the Middle East and North Africa, especially in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq.

The implications for Israel of the West’s growing dependence on Middle Eastern oil are troubling, for obvious reasons. Yet there are two new developments in our energy sector that could well offset these trends and eventually alter our standing in the world, especially with respect to Europe.

First, the gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean, which began to produce commercial quantities of natural gas in 2004, are generally well-known. The Tamar field, which should begin production in 2013, is expected to supply all of Israel’s domestic requirements for at least 20 years. The Economist suggested in November 2010 that the recently discovered Leviathan field, which has twice the gas of Tamar, could be completely devoted to exports.

All the undersea gas fields together have about 25 trillion cubic feet of gas, but the potential for further discoveries is considerably greater, given that the US Geological Survey estimates that there are 122 trillion cubic feet of gas in the whole Levant Basin, most of which is within Israel’s jurisdiction.

After the Leviathan discovery these numbers could go up further. Perhaps for that reason, Greece has been talking to Israel about creating a transportation hub for distributing gas throughout Europe from the Eastern Mediterranean that will come from undersea pipelines.

What is less well-known, but even more dramatic, is the work being done on this country’s oil shale. The British-based World Energy Council reported in November 2010 that Israel had oil shale from which it is possible to extract the equivalent of 4 billion barrels of oil. Yet these numbers are currently undergoing a major revision internationally.

A new assessment was released late last year by Dr. Yuval Bartov, chief geologist for Israel Energy Initiatives, at the yearly symposium of the prestigious Colorado School of Mines. He presented data that our oil shale reserves are actually the equivalent of 250 billion barrels (that compares with 260 billion barrels in the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia).

Independent oil industry analysts have been carefully looking at the shale, and have not refuted these findings. As a consequence of these new estimates, we may emerge as the third largest deposit of oil shale, after the US and China.

OIL SHALE mining used to be a dirty business that used up tremendous amounts of water and energy.

Yet new technologies, being developed for Israeli shale, seek to separate the oil from the shale rock 300 meters underground; these techniques actually produce water, rather than use it up.

The technology will be tested in a pilot project followed by a demonstration stage. It will be critical to demonstrate that the underground separation of oil from shale is environmentally sound before going to full-scale production. The present goal is to produce commercial quantities of shale oil by the end of the decade.

This particular project has global significance.

For if Israel develops a unique method for separating oil from shale deep underground, that has none of the negative ecological side-effects of earlier oil shale efforts, that technology can be made available to the whole world, changing the entire global oil market. The effect of the spread of this technology would be to shift the center of gravity of world oil away from Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf to more stable states that have no history of backing terrorism or radical Islamic causes. (In the Arab world, Jordan and Morocco have the most significant oil shale deposits.) WHEN WILL the West begin to treat Israel as a powerful energy giant and not as a weak client state that must be pressured? In the case of the Saudis, when the US realized the true extent of their oil reserves, after America’s reserves in Texas and Oklahoma were depleted by World War II, it sought to upgrade its military and diplomatic ties with the Saudi kingdom even before its production capacity was fully exploited. The US-Saudi connection grew as massive infrastructure investments for moving Saudi oil to Western markets were made, like the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (TAPLINE).

More capital was needed for the Saudi oil project. US companies, like Standard Oil of New Jersey (today, Exxon) and Standard Oil of New York (Mobil), joined Texaco and Standard Oil of California, the original holder of the Saudi oil concession, and created the ARAMCO consortium in the late 1940s. ARAMCO executives came to be regular guests at the State Department, where they could present the Saudi perspective.

In time, Saudi Arabia’s status grew as its future position in world oil came to be appreciated.

In the case of Israel, updated international reports verifying the true dimensions of both its undersea gas and oil shale should be forthcoming in the next year.

Many more international companies are likely to take an interest in its energy sector at that time. Moreover, the full exploitation of these energy resources will require massive infrastructure investment for pipelines, liquified natural gas plants and new oil exporting outlets in the Mediterranean and Red Sea.

Israel is uniquely situated by its geographical position and is able to direct its energy exports to either Europe or China and India. It may not have the capital to build this export capacity, but the involvement of foreign investors in these projects will give European and American banks new interests in developments.

Western policies will not change overnight. Nonetheless, Israel needs to tell the full story of its newly emerging role in the world energy sector if it wants to begin to alter the way it has been handled internationally.

The writer is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and served as ambassador to the UN.

Financial Post    May 27, 2011 – 9:48 PM ET

The world’s dependence on Israel’s enemies is dwindling
By Lawrence Solomon

"We cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace,” President Barack Obama said Sunday, referring to the Arab-Israeli conflict. “The extraordinary challenges facing Israel would only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.”

President Obama has it backwards. Time is very much on Israel’s side. In 10 years, the free world’s dependence on Israel’s enemies will likely have lessened immensely and the extraordinary challenges facing Israel will likely have diminished immensely. Peace will then have a chance.

Much of the world now sides with the Palestinians and not Israel. Some do so because they believe the United Nations was wrong to establish a Jewish state on what they viewed as Arab lands after the Second World War. Some do so out of sympathy for the millions of Palestinian refugees who remain homeless decades after Israel was established. Some believe Israel has treated Palestinians badly. Some sympathize with the underdog. Some simply are anti-Semitic.

And most, I submit, hold their views in good part because they are afraid. They believe the West must reach an accommodation with an often violent Islamic world. And they know that Islamic countries have an outsized influence over world energy markets and directly affect them whenever they fill their car up at the gas station.

In the decades after the United Nations established the state of Israel, Israel was popular in the Western world, seen as a plucky little country that, against all odds, had defeated the combined armies of eight invading Arab nations. The Academy Award winning 1960 movie, Exodus, starring Paul Newman, portrayed Israel heroically, as generally did the Western press. The U.K.’s Guardian, now anti-­Israel, was early on a fierce supporter. So, too, were most other European and North American media outlets. Among the most influential of writers was one Robert Kennedy, Middle East correspondent for The Boston Post and a passionate defender of Israel’s cause. His ongoing support for Israel, and his influence in liberal circles, would make him the first U.S. casualty of Arab terrorism — he was assassinated in 1968 by Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan while campaigning to be president. Kennedy had promised that, if elected, he would supply Israel with 50 fighter jets to ensure its continued survival.

The West in those first decades following Israel’s creation did not blame Israel for the many Palestinian Arabs kept in refugee camps — it blamed Israel’s Arab neighbours for refusing to take them in, unlike Israel which had welcomed the almost one million Jewish refugees who had been expelled from Muslim lands.

The West then also did not blame Israel for the Arabs’ continued belligerence against Israel, whose UN-established borders Arab nations refused to recognize. The West saw Israel as a democracy and as an idealistic member of the Socialist International; it saw the major Arab countries as backward military dictatorships, allied with the communist Soviet Union and overtly hostile to Western interests.

Israel lost its reputation as an underdog on June 5, 1967, when in six days it defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. It did not lose its popularity with the public and the press, however. In 1969, when president Charles De Gaulle tried to regain France’s former influence in the Arab world by reversing France’s long-standing military support for Israel, “De Gaulle came under stinging attack for his anti-Israel policies from the once subservient French press,” Time magazine reported. “In an unprecedented demonstration of unanimous scorn, French newspaper reporters boycotted the Information Ministry’s regular Wednesday briefing in what amounted to a direct snub of the general himself.”

Israel’s loss of popularity would come four years later, after a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria known as the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel survived that war, the fourth Arab-Israeli War in 25 years, but its popularity didn’t. The Egyptian-Syrian strategy included an agreement with Saudi Arabia to use the “oil weapon” — an embargo of oil shipments to the West. This embargo, begun during the war and now known as the 1973 OPEC oil crisis, led to skyrocketing oil prices that hit Western consumers at the pump and at home — oil was then commonly used in home heating.

Popular opinion in Europe soon swung decisively against Israel. The 1979 OPEC oil crisis, which saw further dramatic price increases, deepened the West’s sense that it was dependant on Middle East oil and furthered the swing. By then, the West had other reasons, too, to feel burdened by its relationship with Israel. The Arabs of the region had a charismatic new leader — Egyptian-born Yasser Arafat — and a new identity as a people — the newly coined “Palestinians” — and a new organization to represent them — the Palestinian Liberation Organization. (Before then, the Arabs in Palestine, overwhelmingly immigrants from neighbouring Arab lands or their children, hadn’t seen themselves as a nation. As the Arab Higher Committee to the United Nations told the UN General Assembly in 1947, in arguing against the creation of either a Jewish or an Arab state in Palestine, “Palestine was part of the Province of Syria… the Arabs of Palestine were not independent in the sense of forming a separate political entity.”)

Under Arafat, a motivated PLO became the world’s pre-eminent terrorist organization, hijacking planes, taking hostages and killing Westerners when its demands weren’t met (among its demands was the release of Sirhan Sirhan, whom some believe killed Kennedy on Arafat’s’s direct orders). Adding to the burden, numerous other terrorist agencies soon followed its path, among them al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and various Muslim states such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria. In Europe, especially, the desire to appease the Muslim world became strong. There in the past decade, and now in the United States under the Obama administration, the belief has grown that an end to turmoil throughout the Middle East, and thus the secure energy supply that Western economies need, depend on a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That belief will likely soon wane for a number of reasons. Chief among them, as I will argue next week, will be an emerging new world energy order, Israel’s pre-eminent role in that new order, and the effect on global security of that new order.

Financial Post    Jun 3, 2011 – 7:12 PM ET

Oil redeems Israel
Huge strike will bring back a world bought by oil interests
by.Lawrence Solomon

An oil drilling site at Tamrur cliff in the southern Israeli city of Arad in the Dead Sea area. AFP

Prior to the 1973-74 OPEC Oil Crisis, Israel was the darling of the left, extolled as a feisty, altruistic country that made socialism work in a hostile neighbourhood of Arab military dictatorships and Muslim theocracies. The liberal press defended Israel against those who objected to Israel’s existence. The liberal intelligentsia — Jew and non-Jew alike — sent their youth to Israeli kibbutzes, to be inspired by this utopian model of communal life where all received the same wage, regardless of occupation.

Almost immediately after the OPEC nations quadrupled oil prices to punish the West for its support of Israel, the left turned, along with many in the center and on the right, too. Israel soon became a pariah state, while the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose airplane hijackings and other acts of terrorism against Western targets had previously drawn condemnation, became praiseworthy.

In 1974, PLO leader Yasser Arafat assumed statesman status and was invited to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York. One more year and the UN General Assembly branded Zionism as a form of racism.

Oil wasn’t the only factor in the world’s change of attitude toward Israel. In that hyper-ideological Cold War period, anti-capitalists and anti-colonialists wanted the West and its allies out of the Middle East, others wanted to appease Arab grievances to end terrorism, or they sympathized with the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab states that had lost wars to Israel. But oil was decisive in causing the world to reconsider where its interests lay.

Take black African countries, most of whom had excellent relations with Israel prior to OPEC. Though Israel was itself poor when it began its aid program in 1958, 10 years after its founding, Israel became the world’s second-largest per-capita donor of foreign aid, most of it for Africa. Israelis felt pride in having helped an estimated 250,000 Africans by transferring to them technologies in which Israel excelled, such as in agricultural and water management.

But Israel’s relationship with black Africa would not survive the OPEC oil embargo because the Arabs had a persuasive case to make. “Join us in our fight against Western imperialism and colonialism by cutting off diplomatic relations with Israel,” OPEC asked black African nations. “If you do, we will supply you with cheap oil and more aid for roads and other infrastructure than the Israelis give you. And if you don’t cut off relations with Israel,” they made clear, “we will cut off your oil, just as we cut off the West.”

The black African countries, almost en masse, cut off relations with Israel and formed an Islamic-African voting bloc, buttressed with other so-called “non-aligned nations” that would vote against Israel at every turn in the United Nations. It is this voting bloc of now more than 100 nations of the 192 in the UN — known today as the “automatic majority” — that in 1975 passed the United Nations resolution branding Zionism as a form of racism, and whose members would systematically condemn Israel and almost no one else for human rights abuses: Israel has been condemned by the United Nation’s Human Rights Commission 33 times compared to zero for countries such as Iran, Zimbabwe, or even Sudan, despite its decades-long atrocities in Darfur.

The left and the African countries weren’t alone in turning on Israel — they also had allies in the oil multinationals. Nationalization by Third World countries of multinational assets had already begun by 1973, and the oil companies knew that their dealings throughout the Middle East were at risk if they were seen to be hostile to the Arab street. To head off the backlash that they faced, the oil multinationals lobbied Western governments to turn on Israel. In an ad for The New York Times, for example, Mobil Oil urged that it was “time now for the world to insist on a settlement in the Middle East” to avoid the wrath of the Arab oil states, a message it also sent to its shareholders. In concert, Exxon and other multinationals likewise argued that the West had far greater interests in a secure oil supply than in a tiny patch of oil-less land called Israel.

This anti-Israeli coalition succeeded brilliantly in rebranding Israel as a pariah state, to the satisfaction of the oil multinationals. Although their assets were in the end nationalized, the goodwill they had earned with Arab dictatorships, and their windfall from the OPEC price hikes that they helped engineer, let them maintain their status as one of the world’s most profitable industries. For others — such as black Africa — it didn’t work out so well. Not only did Arab aid fail to develop the continent — black Africans actually became poorer — but Islamic Arabs and Christian black Africans often war with each other.

Neither did the West’s turn against Israel to appease the Arab world work out well for the West, which was rewarded with a second OPEC oil crisis in 1979, the Iranian hostage taking, two Gulf Wars, a war in Afghanistan, and a major increase in terrorism against Western targets.

Neither did the Arabs’ political success in marginalizing Israel work out well for the Arab citizenry. The Arab states, despite their oil wealth, have had abysmal growth, their stunted economies sometimes faring even worse than black Africa’s. With the chaos that has come of the Arab Spring and its potential for more radical Islamic or failed states, the outlook could not be bleaker for the Middle East.

With one exception — Israel, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and one of the most advanced: Per capita it ranks No. 1 in scientific papers, high-tech startups, civilian R&D and PhDs.  Especially important to the left, Israel has become hip, a gay-friendly mecca for the arts and entertainment that attracts big-name Western performers. Lonely Planet ranks Tel Aviv third among the cities of the world for its cafés, nightclubs, and music and film scenes.

Especially important to all, Israel will soon rival Saudi Arabia as the Middle East’s single-largest store of oil. This tiny patch of land called Israel, it turns out, has an immense oil patch southwest of Jerusalem, far from any disputed territory. Israel also has immense natural gas deposits off its north coast.

Once these oil and gas resources are developed, Israel will become a major exporter, freeing the West from dependency on hostile oil-exporting regimes and enabling the West to judge Israel on its merits. The West will then be at liberty to determine afresh where its interests truly lie.

LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com    Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe. Second in a continuing series.

Israel Insider    June 20, 2011 at 10:00am

Israel's huge shale oil reserves may undercut OPEC dominance
by Lawrence Solomon

In the first 25 years after Israel’s founding in 1948, it was repeatedly attacked by the large armies of its Arab neighbours. Each time, Israel prevailed on the battlefield, only to have its victories rolled back by Western powers who feared losing access to Arab oilfields.

The fear was and is legitimate – Arab nations have often threatened to use their “oil weapon” against countries that support Israel and twice made good their threat through crippling OPEC oil embargoes.

But that fear, which shackles Israel to this day, may soon end. The old energy order in the Middle East is crumbling with Iran and Syria having left the Western fold and others, including Saudi Arabia, the largest of them all, in danger of doing so. Simultaneously, a new energy order is emerging to give the West some spine. In this new order, Israel is a major player.

The new energy order is founded on rock – the shale that traps vast stores of energy in deposits around the world. One of the largest deposits – 250 billion barrels of oil in Israel’s Shfela basin, comparable to Saudi Arabia’s entire reserves of 260 billion barrels of oil – has until now been unexploited, partly because the technology required has been expensive, mostly because the multinational oil companies that have the technology fear offending Muslims. “None of the major oil companies are willing to do business in Israel because they don’t want to be cut off from the Mideast supply of oil,” explains Howard Jonas, CEO of IDT, the U.S. company that owns the Shfela concession through its subsidiary, Israel Energy Initiatives. Jonas, an ardent Zionist, considers the Shfela deposit merely a beginning: “We believe that under Israel is more oil than under Saudi Arabia. There may be as much as half a trillion barrels.”

Because the oil multinationals have feared to develop Shfela, one of the world’s largest oil developments is being undertaken by an unlikely troop. Jonas’s IDT is a consumer-oriented telecom and media company that is a relative newcomer to the heavy industry world of energy development. Joining IDT in this latter-day Zionist Project is Lord Jacob Rothschild, a septuagenarian banker and philanthropist whose forefathers helped finance Zionist settlements in Palestine from the mid-1800s; Michael Steinhardt, a septuagenarian hedge fund investor and Zionist philanthropist; and Rupert Murdoch, the octogenarian chairman of News Corporation who uncompromisingly opposes, in his words, the “ongoing war against the Jews” by Muslim terrorists, by the Western left in general, and by Europe’s “most elite politicians” in particular.

Where others would have long ago retired, these businessmen-philanthropists have joined the battle on Israel’s side. While they’re in it for the money, they are also determined to free the world of Arab oil dependence by providing Israel with an oil weapon of its own. The company’s oil shale technology “could transform the future prospects of Israel, the Middle East and our allies around the world,” states Lord Rothschild.

To win this war, Israel Energy Initiatives has enlisted some of the energy industry’s savviest old soldiers – here a former president of Mobil Oil (Eugene Renna), there a former president of Occidental Oil Shale (Allan Sass), over there a former president of Halliburton (Dick Cheney). But the Field Commander for the operation, and the person who in their mind will lead them to ultimate victory, is Harold Vinegar, a veteran pulled out of retirement and sent into the fray. Vinegar, a legend in the field, had been Shell Oil’s chief scientist and, with some 240 patents to his name over his 32 years at Shell, revolutionized the shale oil industry.

Before oil met Vinegar, this was dirty business, a sprawling open mine operation that crushed and heated rock to yield a heavy tar amid mountains of spent shale. The low-value tar then needed to be processed and refined. The bottom line: low economic return, high environmental cost.

Vinegar boosted the bottom line by dropping the environmental damage. No open pit mining, no spent shale, no heavy tar to manage. In his pioneering approach, heated rods are inserted underground into the shale, releasing from it natural gas and light liquids. The natural gas provides the project’s need for heat; the light liquids are easily refined into high-value jet fuel, diesel and naphtha. The new bottom line: oil at a highly profitable cost of about $35-$40 a barrel and an exceedingly low environmental footprint. Vinegar’s process produces greenhouse gas emissions less than half that from conventional oil wells and, unlike open pit mining, does not consume water. The land area from which he will extract a volume of oil equivalent to that in Saudi Arabia? Approximately 25 square kilometers.

Although the Israeli shale project is still at an early stage, its massive potential and Vinegar’s reputation have already begun to change attitudes toward Israel. “We have been approached by all the majors,” Vinegar recently told the press, and for good reason. “Israel is very well positioned for oil exporting” to both European and Asian markets. The majors have other reasons, too, for casting their eyes afresh at Israel. Through its natural gas finds in the Mediterranean’s Levant Basin, and with no help from the oil majors, Israel is becoming a major natural gas exporter to Europe. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Levant Basin has vast natural gas supplies, most of it within Israel’s jurisdiction.

Attitudes to Israel in some European capitals – those in line to receive Israeli gas — have already warmed and the shift to Israel may in time become tectonic, in Europe and elsewhere, when oil is at stake – 38 countries have an estimated 4.8-trillion barrels of shale oil, many of which would benefit from the shale oil technology now being pioneered in Israel. Speeding that shift could be the Arab Spring, which many fear will flip pro-Western Arab states into hostile camps. Long time U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is reportedly so distrustful of the U.S. following its abandonment of long-time Egyptian ally, President Hosni Mubarak, that it has pulled back its relationship with the West in favour of China.

Before 1973, when the Arab world first punished the West for its relationship with Israel, Israel was a favourite of the left and of most of the free world. Under Arab punishment, much of the world started seeing the world through Arab eyes and turned on Israel.

But freed of the threat of Arab punishment, and in a new world energy order, Western countries may turn again, back to Israel and to their benefit. Rupert Murdoch well expresses the highest hopes of his partners: “If [our] effort to develop shale oil is successful, as I believe it will be, then the news we’ll report in the coming decades will reflect a more prosperous, more democratic and more secure world.”

LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com    Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe.

The Australian, Wall Street Journal    March 21, 2011

Oil shale reserves can turn Israel into major world producer
Ian King

THE JOKE has been told by generations of Jews, most famously Golda Meir, the former prime minister of Israel:
'Why did Moses lead us to the one place in the Middle East without oil?'
But an updated version may be required if Harold Vinegar and his colleagues get their way. Dr Vinegar, the former chief scientist of Royal Dutch Shell, is at the centre of an ambitious project to turn Israel into one of the world's leading oil producers.

Israel Energy Initiatives, where Dr Vinegar is chief scientist, is working on projects to extract oil and natural gas from oil shale from a 238sq km area of the Shfela Basin, to the south and west of Jerusalem.

Oil shale mining is often frowned upon, not least by the environmental lobby, as a dirty process that is both energy and water-intensive. IEI believes that its technique will be cleaner than that of other operators because the oil will be separated from the shale rock up to 300m beneath the ground. Water will be a by-product of the process rather than being consumed by it in large volumes.

Related Coverage
US shale gas debate heats up, Perth Now, 27 Jun 2011
Digging deep for Saudi oil, The Australian, 24 May 2011
Water supply safe from fracking: MPs, The Australian, 24 May 2011
According to Dr Vinegar, Israel has the second-biggest oil shale deposits in the world, outside the US: "We estimate that there is the equivalent of 250 billion barrels of oil here. To put that in context, there are proven reserves of 260 billion barrels of oil in Saudi Arabia."

The marginal cost of production, IEI estimates, will be between $US35 and $US40 per barrel. This, Dr Vinegar points out, is cheaper than the $US60 or so per barrel that it costs to extract crude from inhospitable locations such as the Arctic, and compares with $US30-$US40 per barrel in some of the deepwater oilfields off the coast of Brazil.

"These Israeli deposits have been known about, but have never been listed before. It was previously assumed there was not the technology to deal with it."

According to Dr Vinegar, IEI, which is owned by the American telecoms group IDT Corp, hopes to begin production on a commercial basis by the end of the decade, with a view to producing 50,000 barrels per day at the outset. This would be a fraction of the 270,000bpd consumed daily by Israel, but would be a significant step towards making the country energy-independent.

Dr Vinegar estimates that, with one barrel of oil comprising 42 gallons, each tonne of oil shale contains approximately 25gallons.The extraction process involves heating the rock underground, using electric heaters, to approximately 325C, the level at which the carbon-carbon bonds in the rock start to "crack". The oil produced by the process is light and easily refined to a range of products, including naphtha, jet fuel and diesel.

The project is attracting serious interest from outside investors. In November, 2010, an 11 per cent stake in Genie Oil & Gas, the division of IDC that is the parent company of IEI, was acquired for $US11m ($11.05m) by Jacob Rothschild, the banker, and Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, parent company of The Times. Genie's advisory board includes heavyweight figures such as Michael Steinhardt, the hedge fund investor, and Dick Cheney, the former US vice-president.

Dr Vinegar said that an appraisal now under way would be followed by an 18-month pilot stage. Among the issues this will address will be concerns raised by environmental groups, including an examination of IEI's claims that the process does not require excessive use of water or energy. Reassurance will also be sought that a local aquifer, which is several hundred metres below the shale deposits, will not be contaminated by the work.

Assuming that these early stages are completed successfully, a demonstration phase would then take place over three to four years, during which the work completed in the pilot phase would be continued on a larger scale. Only then would the commercial operations begin. Dr Vinegar said that, by this stage, up to 1000 people would be employed on the project, many of them specialist engineers from outside Israel.

He added: "Funding is not needed for the pilot and demonstration, although once we were getting to 50,000 barrels per day, we would want to have a partner. We have been approached by all the majors."

Dr Vinegar said that the project still faced a number of hurdles: "There is a geological risk: Is the resource there? What is the risk to the aquifer? We have no doubts here, and in particular that the resource is there and is of good quality, but the pilot can prove these things.

"Then there is the technological risk: Can we drill long horizontal wells and can the heaters be placed in them? And can they last?

"And finally there is the economic risk, what the price of oil does. But I think the price is going to continue rising, to the extent that, by 2030, we will be at around $US200 per barrel."

To that, there can be added a fourth potential risk for the project: whether it is capable of overcoming criticism from the environmental lobby to win popular support. This, perhaps, is the greatest challenge facing Dr Vinegar and his colleagues.

Green Prophet    July 7th, 2011

Can Israeli Oil Shale Outsize Saudi Arabia?
Maurice Picow

Share An oil shale trial plant in Colorado. Does Israel want its Negev and Galilee regions torn up for “black gold”?

Until recently, Israel has been an energy poor country, with nearly all its energy needs having to be supplied by importing both petroleum – bought mainly on the international Spot Market – and coal. Previous attempts to find oil in Israel have only been marginally successful, with small amounts discovered outside the city of Ashdod, and on the shores of the Dead Sea. But following the discovery of large amounts of natural gas in offshore Mediterranean  fields, such as the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields off the coast of Haifa, Israel has begun to become a potential world player in energy production, with ideas to export natural gas to Europe in an undersea pipeline, despite security and environmental implications. But these finds could be nothing, compared to vast amounts of oil shale waiting to be processed.
Lawrence Solomon

All of this, including the natural gas finds, are small in comparison to estimates of as much as a half trillion barrels of  oil in the form of oil shale, that has been estimated to be lying under parts of Israel’s Negev and Galilee regions; and just waiting for the proper technology to extract it.

Extracting liquid petroleum from rock-hard oil shale (which looks and feels like solid rock) is not an easy task, however.

The process involved is very expensive as well as not very environmentally friendly. This has been already found out in locations like Alberta Canada, where Israeli geothermal energy company Ormat Industries teamed up with Canadian company Opti Canada Inc. to extract oil from shale-like tar sands by using high pressure steam.

But despite the drawbacks, there are now research teams working on ways to be able to extract oil from these large Israel oil shale reserves as reported recently on Canada’s Sun News Service, environmentalist Lawrence Solomon told Sun’s reporter that Israel’s oil shale reserves “may be as much or more than all of those in Saudi Arabia”.

Some “big gun” energy investment players appear interested in the Israel oil shale venture, including media mogul Rupert Murdoch, former US Vice President Dick Cheny, and business planning strategist Barry Rothschild.

Solomon believes  that oil can be produced from Israeli oil shale for a price of between US $35 and 40 per barrel. The idea, according to the SUN News video clip, is to break OPEC’s control of the world energy market, particularly the portion in the hands of Arab countries.

If this is true, and if Israeli geologists and energy production experts are successful in extracting this energy, OPEC’s global influence may be severely damaged, if not broken entirely.

Hearing this kind of prediction from a person like Solomon is a bit strange, however. His Energy Probe NGO has spoken out against causes of global warming (of which over use of fossil fuels has been blamed), extraction of oil from the Alberta Tar Sands, and use of nuclear energy.

For a small country like Israel, with limited geographical space compared to Canada, intense production of oil from oil shale could be very environmentally damaging. This has already been seen on a lesser extent by a pilot oil shale production project Mishor Rotem that is being shut down due to environmental concerns.

If oil shale production by Israel may be eventually profitable, and even turn Israel into a major energy exporter, what environment price will have to be paid in order to become a world energy player? Tearing up large portions of the Negev and the Galilee to extract this energy does not sound very environmentally plausible. And despite all this “black gold” , the Israeli public will not benefit as the government seems bent of adhering to the “Norwegian Plan” of levying high energy taxes despite the availability of oil .


August 21, 2011

Tar Sands and the Carbon Numbers

This page opposes the building of a 1,700-mile pipeline called the Keystone XL, which would carry diluted bitumen — an acidic crude oil — from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast. We have two main concerns: the risk of oil spills along the pipeline, which would traverse highly sensitive terrain, and the fact that the extraction of petroleum from the tar sands creates far more greenhouse emissions than conventional production does.

The Canadian government insists that it has found ways to reduce those emissions. But a new report from Canada’s environmental ministry shows how great the impact of the tar sands will be in the coming years, even with cleaner production methods.

It projects that Canada will double its current tar sands production over the next decade to more than 1.8 million barrels a day. That rate will mean cutting down some 740,000 acres of boreal forest — a natural carbon reservoir. Extracting oil from tar sands is also much more complicated than pumping conventional crude oil out of the ground. It requires steam-heating the sands to produce a petroleum slurry, then further dilution.

One result of this process, the ministry says, is that greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector as a whole will rise by nearly one-third from 2005 to 2020 — even as other sectors are reducing emissions. Canada still hopes to meet the overall target it agreed to at Copenhagen in 2009 — a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. If it falls short, as seems likely, tar sands extraction will bear much of the blame.

Canada’s government is committed to the tar sands business. (Alberta’s energy minister, Ronald Liepert, has declared, “I’m not interested in Kyoto-style policies.”) The United States can’t do much about that, but it can stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

The State Department will decide whether to approve or reject the pipeline by the end of the year. It has already delivered two flawed reports on the pipeline’s environmental impact. It should acknowledge the environmental risk of the pipeline and the larger damage caused by tar sands production and block the Keystone XL.

November 3, 2011

Shale Gas Revolution

The United States is a country that has received many blessings, and once upon a time you could assume that Americans would come together to take advantage of them. But you can no longer make that assumption. The country is more divided and more clogged by special interests. Now we groan to absorb even the most wondrous gifts.

      Green Blog: The Fracking Divide: Who Will Prevail in N.Y.? (October 31, 2011)

A few years ago, a business genius named George P. Mitchell helped offer such a gift. As Daniel Yergin writes in “The Quest,” his gripping history of energy innovation, Mitchell fought through waves of skepticism and opposition to extract natural gas from shale. The method he and his team used to release the trapped gas, called fracking, has paid off in the most immense way. In 2000, shale gas represented just 1 percent of American natural gas supplies. Today, it is 30 percent and rising.

John Rowe, the chief executive of the utility Exelon, which derives almost all its power from nuclear plants, says that shale gas is one of the most important energy revolutions of his lifetime. It’s a cliché word, Yergin told me, but the fracking innovation is game-changing. It transforms the energy marketplace.

The U.S. now seems to possess a 100-year supply of natural gas, which is the cleanest of the fossil fuels. This cleaner, cheaper energy source is already replacing dirtier coal-fired plants. It could serve as the ideal bridge, Amy Jaffe of Rice University says, until renewable sources like wind and solar mature.

Already shale gas has produced more than half a million new jobs, not only in traditional areas like Texas but also in economically wounded places like western Pennsylvania and, soon, Ohio. If current trends continue, there are hundreds of thousands of new jobs to come.

Chemical companies rely heavily on natural gas, and the abundance of this new source has induced companies like Dow Chemical to invest in the U.S. rather than abroad. The French company Vallourec is building a $650 million plant in Youngstown, Ohio, to make steel tubes for the wells. States like Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York will reap billions in additional revenue. Consumers also benefit. Today, natural gas prices are less than half of what they were three years ago, lowering electricity prices. Meanwhile, America is less reliant on foreign suppliers.

All of this is tremendously good news, but, of course, nothing is that simple. The U.S. is polarized between “drill, baby, drill” conservatives, who seem suspicious of most regulation, and some environmentalists, who seem to regard fossil fuels as morally corrupt and imagine we can switch to wind and solar overnight.

The shale gas revolution challenges the coal industry, renders new nuclear plants uneconomic and changes the economics for the renewable energy companies, which are now much further from viability. So forces have gathered against shale gas, with predictable results.

The clashes between the industry and the environmentalists are now becoming brutal and totalistic, dehumanizing each side. Not-in-my-backyard activists are organizing to prevent exploration. Environmentalists and their publicists wax apocalyptic.

Like every energy source, fracking has its dangers. The process involves injecting large amounts of water and chemicals deep underground. If done right, this should not contaminate freshwater supplies, but rogue companies have screwed up and there have been instances of contamination.

The wells, which are sometimes beneath residential areas, are serviced by big trucks that damage the roads and alter the atmosphere in neighborhoods. A few sloppy companies could discredit the whole sector.

These problems are real, but not insurmountable. An exhaustive study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded, “With 20,000 shale wells drilled in the last 10 years, the environmental record of shale-gas development is for the most part a good one.” In other words, the inherent risks can be managed if there is a reasonable regulatory regime, and if the general public has a balanced and realistic sense of the costs and benefits.

This kind of balance is exactly what our political system doesn’t deliver. So far, the Obama administration has done a good job of trying to promote fracking while investigating the downsides. But the general public seems to be largely uninterested in the breakthrough (even though it could have a major impact on the 21st-century economy). The discussion is dominated by vested interests and the extremes. It’s becoming another weapon in the political wars, with Republicans swinging behind fracking and Democrats being pressured to come out against. Especially in the Northeast, the gas companies are demonized as Satan in corporate form.

A few weeks ago, I sat around with John Rowe, one of the most trusted people in the energy business, and listened to him talk enthusiastically about this windfall. He has no vested interest in this; indeed, his company might be hurt. But he knows how much shale gas could mean to America. It would be a crime if we squandered this blessing.

NZZ Online  3. Januar 2012, 14:18

2,3 Milliarden Dollar für Anteil an einem Gasfeld
Französischer Total-Konzern steigt in Schiefergasförderung in den USA ein

Der französische Erdölkonzern Total steigt mit 2,3 Millarden Dollar in die umstrittene Förderung von Schiefergas in den USA ein. Versprochen wird eine umweltfreundliche Förderung im Gliedstaat Ohio.
(sda/afp) Total übernimmt 25 Prozent des Gasfelds des US-Energieunternehmens Chesapeake in Utica im Gliedstaat Ohio, wie der Konzern am Dienstag mitteilte.

Bei Vertragsabschluss zum Jahresende hat Total bereits eine Teilsumme von fast 700 Mio. Dollar in bar bezahlt. Das Gasfeld ist 2500 Quadratkilometer gross.

Grosse Umweltrisiken
Die Förderung von Erdgas aus Schiefergestein birgt grosse Umweltrisiken. Im vergangenen Jahr hatten amerikanische Forscher eine Studie veröffentlicht, wonach bei dem Abbau von Schiefergas giftiges Methan ins Trinkwasser gelangt.

Das Gemeinschaftsunternehmen mit Chesapeake soll das Gas laut Total umweltfreundlich fördern. In Frankreich ist die umstrittene Technik, mit der Schiefergas gewonnen wird, verboten.

Schiefergas: Bewegt die Märkte und die Politik

2 Leserkommentar:
Anton Keller (3. Januar 2012, 19:45)
Was willst Du in die Ferne schweifen, sieh, das Gute liegt so nah!    (zensuriert)
Europas strategische Oel und Gasversorgung liegt in den Gestaden des Mittelmeers (Libyen) und im Nahen Osten (Irak, Israel: www.solami.com/oil.htm).

Karl-Heinz Andresen (3. Januar 2012, 16:19)    Etwas ungewöhnlich ist es schon,
wenn US-Unternehmen so frank und frei auswärtige Firmen beteiligen am ureigenen nationalen Geschäft. Einige Erfahrung spricht dafür, daß Total sich dabei eine blutige Nase holen könnte.
Recht oft geschah dies englischen (wegen der Überschätzung der Bedeutung der gemeinsamen Sprache) sowie auch deutschen (die sich gern selbst überschätzen) Unternehmen in USA.

April 16, 2012

Exxon and Russia’s Oil Company in Deal for Joint Projects

HOUSTON — Exxon Mobil and the Russian state oil company Rosneft signed a strategic agreement on Monday that will open American domestic oil and gas fields to Russian investment for the first time.

A blog about energy and the environment.
For Exxon Mobil, the deal offers expanded access to Russia’s offshore Arctic fields as it strains to find new reserves. But the agreement also means that Exxon will be wading more deeply into Russia’s risky business environment.

The deal is potentially even more significant for Russia, which will gain at least some access to modern drilling techniques developed in American shale fields over the last decade. Since the days of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin has been eager to exploit giant nonporous rock fields in western Siberia, but the fields have proved unproductive using conventional vertical drilling techniques.

The Russian prime minister Vladimir V. Putin signaled the importance of the agreement, the broad outlines of which were agreed to last August, by hosting the signing ceremony at his home near Moscow.

The agreement will form joint ventures in the frigid Kara Sea north of Siberia and the Black Sea, with initial exploration plans costing an estimated $3.2 billion. The Kara Sea prospect alone is estimated to hold 36 billion barrels of recoverable reserves, well more than the American company’s entire reserve base of oil and gas.

Meanwhile, a Rosneft subsidiary will acquire minority shares in two shale and nonporous rock oil fields in West Texas and western Canada and more than a dozen oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico operated by Exxon Mobil.

“Today Rosneft and Exxon Mobil enter offshore projects of unprecedented scale,” said Eduard Y. Khudainatov, Rosneft’s president. “In so doing, we lay the foundation for a long-term growth of the Russian oil and gas industry.”

The deal has been in the making for months, but Exxon Mobil, which is based in Irving, Tex., had warned that it could not complete major investments in Russia’s Arctic without first receiving assurances of a fair, long-term taxation regime. Mr. Putin appeared to try to put that concern to rest last week when he announced the canceling of high taxes on exports from new offshore fields for five to 15 years, depending on the scale of the project.

By creating what he called “globally competitive conditions,” Mr. Putin was looking to attract investment in Russian oil and gas projects from Exxon Mobil, Total of France and Statoil of Norway to ensure the continued production of roughly 10 million barrels of oil a day as domestic consumption climbed. High oil prices have been a boon to the Russian economy.

Energy specialists said that because Rosneft will be a minority investor in American fields, Exxon Mobil can control how much technology will be accessible to the Russians.

“They will only see what is happening through the boardroom,” said David L. Goldwyn, a former State Department coordinator for international energy affairs. Nevertheless, the deal “gives Exxon access to the Arctic and gives Russia access to Exxon’s sophisticated project management, capital discipline and technologies,” he said. “These have not been the hallmarks of Russian national oil companies.”

Western oil companies have long desired to invest more deeply in Russia, which is virtually tied with Saudi Arabia as the biggest oil producer in the world. But Russia has reneged on oil deals before, and the politics that surround the rough-and-tumble Russian business sector can be unpredictable.

Rosneft’s effort to complete a similar strategic partnership with BP collapsed last year. The British company had a separate joint venture with another group of Russian investors, who sued and blocked the Rosneft deal in an international court. It was an embarrassment for Mr. Putin, who had publicly endorsed the BP-Rosneft arrangement, and for BP, which was trying to regain momentum after its giant Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.

Six years ago, the Kremlin compelled Royal Dutch Shell to sell half of a Sakhalin Island offshore development project to Gazprom, a state company, after Shell spent more than $20 billion on the project.

The Exxon-Rosneft deal represents a major new Russian investment in the United States. The Russian oil company Lukoil has a network of gas stations around the country, and Lukoil has expressed interest in investing in American oil and gas fields. But until now, the Russians had not followed Chinese, Australian, Canadian and several European companies in investing in American shale fields.

“Russia’s current fields are maturing and the country needs to develop a new generation of fields,” said Adnan Vatansever, a specialist in the Russian energy sector at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“This deal may help the Russians learn how to develop them, and it will take some time and expertise to do that,” he said.

Until now, Exxon’s top investment in Russia has been a production sharing agreement on Sakhalin Island, which waived local taxes and provided the Russian government a share of the produced oil. Exxon Mobil reduced its involvement in Russia after its effort to buy a piece of the Russian oil company Yukos was upended by the arrest in 2003 of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who owned Yukos at the time.

“Today really is a historic day,” said Rex W. Tillerson, Exxon Mobil’s chief executive, at the signing ceremony. “It marks the beginning of a new and broader relationship between our companies.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung    28. April 2012

Nord Stream zwischen Meilenstein und Milliardengrab
Ein Augenschein auf der schwimmenden Schweissfabrik in der Ostsee
Hans Dieter Sauer

Die Pipeline der Nord Stream durch die Ostsee, die vor zehn Tagen fertiggestellt worden ist, ist zweifellos eine technische Meisterleistung. Sie soll Europa mit Erdgas aus Sibirien versorgen. Doch es gibt auch Stimmen, die ihren Nutzen infrage stellen.
Plötzlich leuchtet im Halbdunkel ein greller Lichtbogen auf. Zwei Schweisser, zu erkennen an der charakteristischen Maske mit dem schmalen Sichtfenster, in der Hand eine Tastatur, die über ein dickes Kabel mit einer funkensprühenden Apparatur verbunden ist, beobachten aufmerksam, wie sich in die Rille zwischen zwei aneinandergepressten Stahlrohren eine Schweissnaht legt. Wir befinden uns an Bord der «Castoro Sei», eines Spezialschiffs, das gegenwärtig im Auftrag von Nord Stream bei der schwedischen Insel Gotland die letzten Kilometer vom zweiten Strang der Ostsee-Pipeline verlegt. Am 18. April wurde das letzte der 99 953 Stahlrohre dieses Strangs verlegt, etwas früher als budgetiert. Die «Castoro Sei» ist eines der drei Verlegeschiffe, auf ihr wurden innerhalb von zwei Jahren rund 70% der insgesamt 199 716 mit Beton ummantelten Stahlrohre verschweisst.

Zusammenschweissen des letzten Rohrs der Ostsee-Pipeline auf der «Castoro Sei» vor zehn Tagen. (Bild: Keystone / EPA)

«Firing Line»
In der «Firing Line» wird an ein weiteres Rohrstück angeschweisst. Es ist 24 Meter lang und in einer vorgelagerten Station aus zwei 12-Meter-Rohren zusammengefügt worden. Grösser können die Grundbausteine nicht sein, sie wären sonst beim Transport von der Fabrik bis zum Schiff mit mehrmaligem Umladen kaum zu handhaben. Nach einigen Minuten wird die frisch geschweisste Rohrverbindung 24 Meter weiter zu einer Station geschoben, wo mittels Ultraschalls etwaige Fehlstellen detektiert und nötigenfalls behoben werden. Doch nicht das Rohr bewegt sich – das ist unmöglich, weil es ja fest mit der Pipeline verbunden ist, die vom Schiff bis auf den Meeresboden reicht – vielmehr bewegt sich das Schiff.

Dabei ist Schiff eigentlich eine irreführende Bezeichnung für die «Castoro Sei». Sie hat keinen Rumpf, sondern ist aufgebaut wie ein Katamaran, allerdings von riesigen Ausmassen, 150 Meter lang und 70 Meter breit; und mit dem Unterschied, dass das Deck nicht zwischen den Schwimmkörpern liegt, sondern erhöht auf jeweils fünf gewaltigen Säulen ruht. Markanteste Merkmale sind zwei wuchtige Kräne, mit denen von Zubringerschiffen die Stahlrohre an Bord gehievt werden, und eine exponierte Helikopterplattform.

Sechs Anker
Die Fortbewegung des Ungetüms geschieht auf eigenartige Weise. Von den beiden Schmalseiten aus sind wie gespreizte Finger sechs Stahltrossen mit Ankern ausgelegt. Auf der Brücke hat ein Offizier ihre Position auf einem Bildschirm im Auge. Auf sein Kommando hin treten an zwei Steuerpulten zwei Maschinisten in Aktion. Während ihr Blick zwischen verschiedenen Anzeigegeräten hin und her wandert, spielen sie leichthin mit sechs Hebeln, so als ob sie an einem Mischpult den Sound regeln würden – tatsächlich bedienen sie Ankerwinden mit einer Zugkraft von 124 Tonnen. Während die vorderen Stahltrossen eingezogen werden, müssen synchron die hinteren gelöst werden, damit der Koloss ohne Ruck auf vorgeschriebener Linie um genau 24 Meter weitergleitet.

Im Abstand von fünf bis zehn Minuten wiederholt sich das Manöver, von Zeit zu Zeit versetzen zwei Schlepper die Anker. So schiebt sich die schwimmende Schweissfabrik Tag für Tag im Schnitt um 2,5 Kilometer voran, hinter sich die Pipeline zurücklassend.

Eigner der «Castoro Sei» ist die Saipem AG in Mailand mit weltweit 33 000 Mitarbeitern, die seit Jahrzehnten im Offshore-Geschäft tätig ist. Die 1978 gebaute «Castoro Sei» war schon in der Nordsee, im Mittelmeer und im Persischen Golf im Einsatz. Registriert ist die schwimmende Fabrik auf den Bahamas, sie fährt also unter einer sogenannten Billigflagge. Das hat zur Folge, dass die 330 Mann starke Besatzung ausser einigen Führungskräften aus Nichteuropäern besteht, überwiegend sind es Filipinos. Sie verrichten aber keineswegs nur einfache Arbeiten, sondern üben auch hochqualifizierte Tätigkeiten aus wie eben das Verschweissen der Rohre oder das Manövrieren der Plattform.

Hohe Sicherheit
An sich ist die Ostsee kein besonders schwieriges Gewässer für das Verlegen einer Pipeline, wären da nicht die zahlreichen Blindgänger aus dem Zweiten Weltkrieg. Doch durch eine sorgfältige Inspektion des Trassees, bei der an die hundert gefährliche Objekte geräumt wurden, konnte diese Gefahr gebannt werden. Die Verlegearbeiten verliefen ohne Zwischenfall. Auch sonst ereigneten sich keine schweren Unfälle, geschweige denn Todesfälle. Für ein Projekt, bei dem ständig mit schweren Stahlrohren hantiert wurde, ist das keine Selbstverständlichkeit. In wenigen Tagen wird die «Castoro Sei» die Stelle erreicht haben, bis zu der bereits ein Stück der Pipeline von Norden her verlegt ist. Dann ist ihre Mission beendet.

Die Pipeline wird ohne zwischengeschaltete Kompressorstationen gebaut, sondern das Erdgas wird in Russland mit so hohem Druck eingepresst, dass es ohne weitere Eingriffe bis nach Deutschland gelangt. Dabei nimmt der Druck ab. Aus Kostengründen ist die Pipeline deshalb in drei Abschnitte mit abnehmender Wandstärke unterteilt. Diese Teilstücke müssen nach Abschluss der Verlegearbeiten unter Einsatz von Taucherglocken noch unter Wasser zusammengeschweisst werden. Bereits Ende 2012 soll mit dem Transport von Erdgas von Russland nach Europa begonnen werden.

Politisches Prestigeobjekt
Nord Stream sieht es als Meilenstein auf dem Weg zu einer langfristigen Energiepartnerschaft zwischen der EU und Russland und erhält dafür volle politische Unterstützung. Bei einem Festakt zur Einweihung des ersten Stranges im vergangenen November an der deutschen Anlandestation Lubmin waren die deutsche Bundeskanzlerin, der russische Präsident, der französische und der niederländische Premierminister sowie EU-Energiekommissar Günther Öttinger zugegen. Als Hauptargument für die Ostsee-Pipeline und die damit verbundenen Lieferverträge nennt Nord Stream den zunehmenden Erdgasbedarf der EU. Der Import werde von gegenwärtig 312 Mrd. m³ bis 2030 auf 523 Mrd. m³ steigen. Es gelte eine «Importlücke» von 211 Mrd. m³ zu schliessen. Die Zahlen stammen von der Internationalen Energieagentur (IEA). Doch wie schon der Titel der betreffenden Studie andeutet – «Are we entering a Golden Age of Gas?» –, sehen die IEA-Experten eigentlich keine Knappheit, sondern eher ein reichliches Angebot von Erdgas voraus.

(Bild: NZZ-Infografik / cke. / tcf.)

Bewirkt hat das die neue Methode des Fracking, die es erlaubt, bisher nicht zugängliche Vorkommen von Schiefergas auszubeuten. Dadurch sind die USA, für die sich noch vor wenigen Jahren ein zunehmender Importbedarf abzeichnete, fast zum Selbstversorger geworden. Weil mit Fracking weltweit Schiefergas und auch Erdgas in Kohleflözen förderbar wird, haben sich die globalen Gasressourcen quasi über Nacht verdoppelt und reichen laut IEA «komfortabel» für 120 Jahre. Angesichts der neuen Situation sieht Alan Riley von der City University London die Ostsee-Pipeline mit Skepsis. In Erwartung der amerikanischen Gasnachfrage seien weltweit zahlreiche Flüssiggas-Projekte auf den Weg gebracht worden. Aus deren Angebot könnten sich auch europäische Konzerne bedienen, sofern sie nicht wie im Fall der Ostsee-Pipeline durch langfristige Lieferverträge gebunden seien.

Zudem sei bei der Beurteilung des Projekts noch zu berücksichtigen, dass die Erdgasquellen an der Mündung des Ob, aus denen die Pipeline gespeist wird, ihr Fördermaximum erreicht hätten. Um die Leitung voll auszulasten, müssten neue Vorkommen auf der Jamal-Halbinsel und im Shtokman-Feld in der Barentssee erschlossen werden. Unter den extremen Bedingungen jenseits des Polarkreises sei das aber ungemein kostspielig. Der Erdgasbezug aus Sibirien könne sich am Ende als eine teure Angelegenheit erweisen.

Doch selbst wenn man die langfristige Kopplung an die sibirischen Gasressourcen als vorteilhaft ansieht, stellt sich die Frage, ob es dazu einer Leitung durch die Ostsee bedurfte. Die Energiepartnerschaft zwischen der EU und Russland hätte sich auch via Lettland, Litauen und Polen realisieren lassen.

Laut einem ukrainischen Medienbericht ist Nord Stream eine Spielkarte im Machtpoker zwischen Russland, Weissrussland und der Ukraine. Dafür spricht die Aussage Putins bei der Einweihungsfeier in Russland, mit der Ostsee-Pipeline befreie man sich vom Diktat der Transitländer. Er spielt damit auf die Konflikte zwischen Gazprom und den nationalen Gesellschaften von Weissrussland und der Ukraine über Erdgaspreise und Transitgebühren an, die zu Lieferunterbrüchen geführt hatten. Offenbar sieht Putin auch die EU-Mitglieder Lettland, Litauen und Polen als problematische Transitländer. Das ist verständlich, hegen sie doch historisch bedingt ein gewisses Misstrauen gegenüber dem Nachfolger der Sowjetunion. Weniger verständlich ist, dass die EU diese Argumentation hinnimmt.

Rentabilität infrage gestellt
Nord Stream deutet die politischen Gründe für die Ostsee-Pipeline nur dezent an, betont hingegen, die Entscheidung für die Seeleitung beruhe auf einer umfassenden Machbarkeitsstudie von 1999. Sie habe gezeigt, dass der Weg durch die Ostsee am günstigsten sei. Die Eckdaten der Anschlussleitungen für die Ostsee-Pipeline in Deutschland – kurz Opal und NEl – besagen allerdings etwas anderes. Bezogen auf die Transportkapazität sind die Investitionskosten einer Landleitung nur halb so hoch wie durch die Ostsee. Dabei ist noch nicht berücksichtigt, dass in den weitaus dünner besiedelten Gegenden des Baltikums und Nordpolens die Baukosten noch geringer wären. Das Ergebnis dieser Überschlagsrechnung deckt sich mit der Aussage von John Tiratsoo, dem Chefredakteur der Zeitschrift «Pipelines International», wonach die Kosten für eine Offshore-Leitung wenigstens dreimal so hoch sind wie für eine entsprechende Leitung an Land.

Keine Transitgebühren
Den massgeblichen Vorteil einer Seeroute lässt Nord Stream unerwähnt. Es ist der Wegfall der Transitgebühren. Sie werden nicht öffentlich angeschlagen und variieren stark. Riley gibt als Grössenordnung 1000 € für 1 Mio. m³ über 100 km an. Danach liessen sich mit der Ostsee-Pipeline anstelle einer Landleitung rund 500 Mio. € jährlich sparen. Das erschien offenbar ausreichend, um die milliardenschweren Mehrkosten für die Seeleitung zu rechtfertigen, sonst hätten sich kaum 24 Banken an der Finanzierung beteiligt. Bleibt nur zu fragen, ob es im Sinne nachhaltigen Wirtschaftens ist, 5 Mio. t hochwertigen Stahls auf Nimmerwiedersehen einer Wiederverwertung zu entziehen. Die Umweltverbände Bund und WWF haben nach anfänglichem Widerstand ihren Frieden mit dem Projekt gemacht. Nord Stream zahlte 10 Mio. € in eine Umweltstiftung.

Zentrale in Zug
Hds. Die Nord Stream AG mit Firmensitz in Zug ist ein internationales Joint Venture zum Bau und Betrieb einer Erdgasleitung durch die Ostsee. Mehrheitsaktionär mit 51% ist der russische Energiekonzern Gazprom; die deutschen Unternehmen BASF/Wintershall und E.On Ruhrgas halten jeweils 15,5%, die niederländische Gasunie und die französische GDF Suez je 9%. Die Leitung besteht aus zwei Strängen von 1,15 m Durchmesser und kann pro Jahr 55 Mrd. m³ Erdgas transportieren. Sie verläuft von Wyborg am Finnischen Meerbusen über 1224 km nach Lubmin bei Greifswald an der mecklenburgischen Küste. Gespeist wird sie mit Erdgas aus Vorkommen östlich des Urals an der Mündung des Ob. Die Projektkosten belaufen sich auf 7,4 Mrd. €, wovon allein 2,6 Mrd. € auf die Stahlrohre entfallen. Die Finanzierung erfolgt zu 30% durch Eigenkapital und zu 70% durch Kredite.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung    28. April 2012

Röhrenblick und Mondbauten
Gerald Hosp, Scheremetjewo

Der russische Staatskonzern Gazprom scheint die Nase vorne zu haben: Nachdem Gazprom-Chef Alexei Miller vor kurzem in Budapest gewesen war, meldete das ungarische Energieunternehmen Mol Bedenken an dem Pipelineprojekt Nabucco, an dem Mol selbst beteiligt ist. Mit Nabucco soll Erdgas aus dem kaspischen Raum nach Europa gebracht werden, um die russische Dominanz bei den Energielieferungen einzudämmen. Gazprom hingegen treibt die Röhre South Stream voran, die durch das Schwarze Meer Erdgas nach Süd- und Südosteuropa bringen soll.

Mol bohrte in den Wunden von Nabucco: Das Projekt sei zu teuer, Lieferländer und -bedingungen unklar. Der Plan war, Gas aus Aserbeidschan, Turkmenistan, dem Irak und möglicherweise aus Iran über die Türkei bis zum Gasknotenpunkt Baumgarten in Österreich zu liefern. Die wichtigste Entscheidung in diesem Zusammenhang muss das Konsortium treffen, das das aserbeidschanische Erdgasfeld Schah-Denis-2 betreibt. Ohne dieses Gas käme Nabucco wohl nicht zustande. Eine Entscheidung soll 2013 fallen, drei Projekte buhlen darum. Auch die Mol-Drohung, sich aus der Nabucco-Gesellschaft zurückzuziehen, gefährdet das Vorhaben. Dabei kristallisiert sich immer mehr heraus, dass ohnehin eine abgespeckte Variante, Nabucco West, am wahrscheinlichsten ist. Der britische Konzern BP, Konsortialführer von Schah-Denis-2, ging vor kurzem von der verkürzten Pipeline aus, die nur von der türkischen Grenze nach Wien führen würde.

Die Gefährdung für Gross-Nabucco war die Entscheidung von Aserbeidschan und der Türkei, die Transanatolische Pipeline zu bauen. Aserbeidschan ist bemüht, sein Erdgas nach Europa unter Umgehung Russlands zu verkaufen. Das Projekt ist noch mit Fragezeichen versehen. Die teure Gazprom-Pipeline South Stream überzeugt auch nicht ganz. Auch im Pipelinegeschäft gilt wohl (für Nabucco), dass Totgesagte länger leben. Bis es eine endgültige Lösung geben wird, werden noch viele Pipelineträume zerplatzen und entstehen.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung    7. Mai 2012

Russland ruft zur Erdölsuche nach Sibirien
Geringere Fördersteuern sollen unkonventionelle Explorationen attraktiver machen
Benjamin Triebe, Moskau

In seinen letzten Tagen als russischer Ministerpräsident hat Wladimir Putin eine Steuerreform für Erdölkonzerne in Auftrag gegeben. Sie soll dem Staat den anhaltenden Genuss des Rohstoffreichtums ermöglichen.
Kurz vor seiner am Montag anstehenden Ernennung zum Präsidenten hat Wladimir Putin Erdölgesellschaften Steuervorteile versprochen, wenn sie sich in Russland an die Exploration schwer zugänglicher Vorkommen wagen. In einer seiner letzten Amtshandlungen als Ministerpräsident wies er die Regierung Ende vergangener Woche an, bis Oktober ein entsprechendes Konzept zur Senkung der Fördersteuer zu erarbeiten. Gemäss dem stellvertretenden Energieminister Pawel Fedorow sollen nationale und internationale Investoren so für die kommenden fünf bis zehn Jahre Planungssicherheit erhalten.

Hohe Ausstoss-Ziele
Als schwer zugänglich gelten zum Beispiel unkonventionelle Erdölvorkommen in Schiefergestein oder sehr schweres Rohöl mit einer hohen Dichte, das sich schwieriger und teurer fördern und verarbeiten lässt als herkömmliches Öl. Ferner stellen die klimatischen Bedingungen in der russischen Arktis eine besondere Herausforderung dar. Russland besitze wahrscheinlich unkonventionelle Reserven im Umfang zwischen 180 Mrd. und 365 Mrd. Fass, sagte der designierte Präsident Putin am Donnerstagabend in Moskau; dennoch stammten gegenwärtig nur rund 4% der Produktion aus solchen Quellen.

Putin verspricht sich von der Steuermassnahme eine zusätzliche Erdölförderung zwischen 0,8 Mio. und 2 Mio. Fass pro Tag – allerdings erst ab dem Jahr 2020, denn die Umsetzung der anspruchsvollen Projekte kostet naturgemäss Zeit. Nach jüngsten Angaben des Energieministeriums förderte Russland im April 10,3 Mio. Fass pro Tag, fast der höchste Stand seit dem Ende der Sowjetunion. Putin hat bereits das Ziel ausgegeben, den Ausstoss in den kommenden zehn Jahren konstant über 10 Mio. Fass pro Tag zu halten.

Vor Saudiarabien ist Russland derzeit der grösste Erdölproduzent der Welt und zudem der grösste Energieexporteur. Die Kapazitäten der noch aus Sowjetzeiten stammenden Erdölfelder in Westsibirien gehen allerdings in absehbarer Zeit zur Neige. Die Steueranreize würden Westsibirien ein zweites Leben einhauchen, präsentierte sich Fedorow deshalb zuversichtlich. Die Fördersteuer orientiert sich am Preis der russischen Hauptexportsorte Urals und betrug nach Angaben der Nachrichtenagentur Bloomberg im vergangenen Jahr durchschnittlich 21 $ je Fass (der Spotpreis für Urals liegt bei rund 111 $). Als Leitlinie gab Putin eine Reduktion der Steuer auf 0% bis 10% für äusserst komplexe, auf 10% bis 30% für mittelschwere und auf 30% bis 50% für weniger anspruchsvolle Explorationen vor. Laut Experten besitzt Russland eines der schärfsten Steuerregime für Energiegesellschaften. Kurioserweise ist die allgemeine Erdölfördersteuer laut Bloomberg dieses Jahr bereits um 6% angehoben worden. Für die Erdgasexploration hatte der Kreml vergangene Woche eine Vervielfachung der entsprechenden Abgabe beschlossen. Auch als Ministerpräsident wird Putin mit einem wohlbekannten Zielkonflikt leben müssen: Die Hälfte des Staatsbudgets hängt vom Rohstoffsektor ab. Moskau hat die Wahl zwischen dem leichten Weg – dem kurzfristigen Anziehen der Steuerschraube – und dem Setzen von steuerlichen Anreizen, die sich langfristig über eine höhere Rohstoffförderung positiv in der Staatskasse niederschlagen. Letzteres ist natürlich zukunftsträchtiger, auch weil heimische Firmen nur profitieren können, wenn ausländische Unternehmen mit der nötigen Technik und Erfahrung für schwierige Explorationen attraktivere Bedingungen für eine Zusammenarbeit in Russland vorfinden.

Anschub für Kooperationen
Analytiker der Alfa Bank werten Putins Steuerpläne denn auch als Unterstützung für die russischen Erdölkonzerne, besonders für Rosneft. Zuletzt war der grösste inländische Erdölproduzent mehrere Kooperationen mit internationalen Wettbewerbern eingegangen, die dem Riesen unter anderem den Zugang zu externem Know-how eröffnen (vgl. Zusatz). Experten der Investmentbank Troika Dialog weisen hingegen darauf hin, dass steuerliche Erleichterungen allein die unkonventionelle Förderung noch nicht profitabel machen. So geniesse das Mineralölunternehmen Tatneft bei einem anspruchsvollen Bitumen-Projekt bereits seit Jahren die Befreiung von der Produktionssteuer, erwirtschafte dort aber stets Verluste.

July 16, 2012

In Tiny Bean, India’s Dirt-Poor Farmers Strike Gas-Drilling Gold

Rawat Singh and his son Sohan, rear, in the family’s new home in Lordi, India, built with profits from guar farming. Their old mud hut is now used by goats. Kuni Takahashi

LORDI, India — Sohan Singh’s shoeless children have spent most of their lives hungry, dirty and hot. A farmer in a desert land, Mr. Singh could not afford anything better than a mud hut and a barely adequate diet for his family.

But it just so happens that when the hard little bean that Mr. Singh grows is ground up, it becomes an essential ingredient for mining oil and natural gas in a process called hydraulic fracturing.

Halfway around the world, earnings are down for an oil services giant, Halliburton, because prices have risen for guar, the bean that Mr. Singh and his fellow farmers raise.

Halliburton’s loss was, in a rather significant way, Mr. Singh’s gain — a rare victory for the littlest of the little guys in global trade. The increase in guar prices is helping to transform this part of the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, one of the world’s poorest places. Tractor sales are soaring, land prices are increasing and weddings have grown even more colorful.

“Now we have enough food, and we have a house made of stone,” Mr. Singh said proudly while his rail-thin children stared in awe.

Guar, a modest bean so hard that it can crack teeth, has become an unlikely global player, and dirt-poor farmers like Mr. Singh have suddenly become a crucial link in the energy production of the United States.

For centuries, farmers here used guar to feed their families and their cattle. There are better sources of nutrition, but few that grow in the Rajasthani desert, a land rich in culture but poor in rain. Broader commercial interest in guar first developed when food companies found that it absorbs water like a souped-up cornstarch, and a powdered form of the bean is now widely used to thicken ice cream and keep pastries crisp.

But much more important to farmers here was the recent discovery that guar could stiffen water so much that a mixture is able to carry sand sideways into wells drilled by horizontal fracturing, also known as fracking.

The fracking boom in the United States has led to a surge in natural gas production, a decline in oil imports and a gradual transition away from coal-fired power plants. Fracking may also have spoiled some rural water supplies and caused environmental damage in parts of the United States, but it is hard to find anyone in Rajasthan who sees fracking as anything but a blessing.

“Without guar, you cannot have fracturing fluids,” said Michael J. Economides, a professor of engineering at the University of Houston who is a fracking expert. “And what everybody is worried about is that there is virtually no guar out there now.”

India produces about 85 percent of the world’s guar. As worries rose about the prospects for this year’s monsoon, which is vital for an adequate crop, speculation over guar production built to a frenzy. Trading in guar futures was even suspended, and with the monsoon still behind schedule, it remains postponed. Ramesh Abhishek, India’s chief commodities market regulator, said guar trading would resume when supplies proved adequate.

“If the physical market doesn’t provide enough supplies, then the futures market causes more harm than good,” Mr. Abhishek said.

Now, an international effort is under way to ensure that guar supplies come closer to meeting the soaring demand, and hundreds of thousands of small farmers here have been recruited in the effort. Leading the way is Vikas WSP, an Indian company that specializes in the production of guar powders.

Many farmers sold their seed stock last year when prices shot up, so Vikas has held rallies in small towns to pass out free seeds, including new high-production hybrids. The company persuaded farmers with irrigated land in the state of Punjab, north of Rajasthan, to plant guar in the spring instead of cotton. That crop is now coming to market.

And Vikas signed contracts with farmers guaranteeing a return of nearly $800 per acre if they planted guar, no matter what this year’s monsoon brought.

“Whatever they produce, we will buy,” said Sanjay Pareek, a Vikas vice president.

Anticipating a heavy crop, Vikas is more than doubling its processing capacity by building two new plants in Jodhpur, the second-largest city in Rajasthan. By next year, the company will be able to produce 86,400 tons of guar powder each day, it said. Smaller producers are taking similar steps.

“Last year was an extraordinary year,” said S. K. Sharma, managing director of Lotus Gums and Chemicals in Jodhpur. “In 35 years in this business, I’ve never seen that.”

Mr. Sharma said his company would soon open a second plant dedicated entirely to serving gas companies, adding that he was cautiously optimistic that guar prices would remain robust. “But we know there are efforts to grow guar in China, Australia, California and elsewhere, and it has us worried,” he said.

Despite the expanding supply, many analysts believe that guar prices will remain high for the foreseeable future. Neil Beveridge, an oil analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, said demand for fracking services should continue to grow rapidly as the industry expanded outside North America. “We’re already starting to see a big increase in Eastern Europe, Argentina, Australia, China and India itself,” he said.

Susan L. Sakmar, an energy analyst in San Francisco, cautioned that the fracking boom could slow and that guar alternatives could be developed. But Mr. Economides, the Houston fracking expert, dismissed such talk. “There are no easy or cheap alternatives to guar,” he said.

That is good news for guar producers. Farmers, traders and processors around Jodhpur admitted fulfilling some long-held dreams with the profits they made last year. Some took trips to Europe; some bought gold; others got married.

At a Massey Ferguson tractor dealership in Jodhpur, where sales have doubled in recent years, Nathu Parjapat of Haripura was buying a tractor for his father-in-law, whose own profits from farming guar allowed him to provide a dowry of 12 grams of gold and half a kilogram of silver when Mr. Parjapat married his daughter.

“So now I’m buying a tractor for him,” Mr. Parjapat said as his father-in-law stood next to him, nodding with grave approval.

Mr. Singh, the farmer with the new house, said he would plant his entire field with guar this year instead of spreading his risk among other crops. His family is able to sleep on the stone roof, where a constant breeze keeps them cool. His old mud house, now occupied by goats, has a roof made of sticks that did not allow such a luxury.

Mr. Singh’s sister, Issa Rathore, showed off a silver ankle bracelet and a toe ring, both bought with guar profits. But her smile quickly vanished when she was asked whether she expected a similar windfall in the coming months. She glanced at the sky, and the children around her grew hushed. “Will the monsoon be enough this year?” she asked. “Who knows?”

Sruthi Gottipati contributed reporting.

Tages-Anzeiger    31.Dezember 2012

Experten warnen vor Glaubenskrieg bei Erdgassuche
Von Stefan Häne

Politiker von links bis rechts lehnen das Fracking ab. Auch der Bundesrat äussert Zweifel. Laut Geologen gefährdet diese Bohrtechnik die Umwelt aber nicht.
Experten fordern eine sachliche Diskussion: Anlage der Erdgas Ostschweiz AG. Bild: Keystone

Unter Schweizer Geologen wächst die Sorge, dass diffuse Ängste die Debatte über die Erdgassuche in der Schweiz dominieren. «Es braucht mehr klare, sachlich-wissenschaftliche Informationen statt Glaubensdiskussionen», sagt Peter Burri, Präsident der Schweizerischen Vereinigung von Energie-Geowissenschaftlern. Das findet auch Georg Stucky, Verwaltungsratspräsident der Aktiengesellschaft für Schweizerisches Erdöl: «Es sind technische Fragen, die nicht verpolitisiert werden dürfen.»

Ausgelöst hat die Kontroverse eine Technik bei der Erdgassuche: das Fracking. Am Bodensee suchen britische Konzerne nach Erdgasvorkommen, die in 2000 bis 3000 Meter Tiefe in dichtem, wenig durchlässigem Gestein eingeschlossen sind. Herauslösen lässt sich das Gas nur, indem Risse im Gestein erzeugt werden – mit hohem Druck und bisher meist mit einem Gemisch aus Sand, Wasser und Chemikalien. Die Gegner befürchten, dass dies das Trinkwasser verpesten könnte. Sie verweisen auf die USA, wo an mehreren Orten der Giftcocktail durch Risse in den Erdschichten ins Grundwasser gesickert sei.

Wirtschaft gibt Gegensteuer
Der Bundesrat ist gegenüber dem Fracking kritisch eingestellt. Umweltministerin Doris Leuthard (CVP) mahnte jüngst, es seien bei dieser Methode noch viele Fragen offen, speziell was die Umweltaspekte anbelange. Die Wasserqualität werde oft nicht beobachtet, sodass man Langzeitschäden nicht abschätzen könne. Besorgt geben sich auch Parlamentarier. SVP-Nationalrat Lukas Reimann qualifiziert Fracking als «nicht hinnehmbares Risiko», der Bodensee diene über vier Millionen Menschen als Trinkwasserspeicher. In einem Vorstoss fordert er nun, dass sich der Bundesrat auf internationaler Ebene gegen die Fracking-Pläne einsetzt. Unterzeichnet haben ihn über 50 Nationalräte aus allen grossen Parteien.

Diese breite Front schreckt Experten auf. Auch die Wirtschaftsverbände Economiesuisse und Swissmem warnen davor, diese Technik vorschnell zu verteufeln. Es geht um einiges: Im Schweizer Untergrund vermuten Fachleute bis zu 200 Milliarden Kubikmeter Erdgas – eine Menge, die ausreicht, um den Schweizer Erdgasbedarf während über 60 Jahren zu decken. Ohne Fracking ist es laut Burri kaum möglich, diese Volumina zu fördern. «Die Technologie hat sich in den letzten Jahren enorm entwickelt», sagt Burri. So sei es heute möglich, Bohrungen abzuteufen, ohne der Umwelt zu schaden, zum Beispiel mit Fracking ohne Wasser und ohne chemische Zusätze.

Die Vorfälle in den USA führt er nicht auf die Fracking-Methode zurück, sondern auf «lausige, unsorgfältige Bohroperationen». Es gebe aus Zehntausenden von Bohrungen in Nordamerika nicht einen einzigen nachgewiesenen Fall von Fracking-Rissen an die Oberfläche oder ins Grundwasser.

Gute Erfahrungen am Genfersee
Gute Erfahrungen gemacht hat auch Werner Leu, leitender Geologe bei Petrosvibri. Die Schweizer Explorationsfirma hat am Genfersee kürzlich eine Tiefbohrung direkt am Ufer abgeteuft, ohne dass Gewässer verschmutzt worden seien. «Sicherheitsmassnahmen wurden sorgfältig vorbereitet und mit Behörden und Umweltschutzorganisationen abgesprochen und kontrolliert.»

Just diesen Punkt heben die Experten als entscheidenden Vorteil hervor: In Europa und auch in der Schweiz lasse sich die Erdgassuche professionell und nach klaren Umweltvorgaben durchführen und kontrollieren, sagt Burri. Eine einheimische Produktion verschwende zudem nicht unnötig Energie, so, wie dies der Fall sei, wenn Gas etwa von Sibirien über 4000 Kilometer nach Westeuropa transportiert werde. Erste Kantone wie Aargau und Solothurn regeln nun mit neuen Gesetzen die Suche im tiefen Untergrund (TA vom 15. Dezember). Das weckt Ängste vor einem föderalen Geflecht. Burri fordert deshalb landesweite Richtlinien.