Editors: Tom Whipple, Steve Andrews
Quote of the Week
“Saudi and Russia are in damage control mode. It is not only about measuring demand. It is also about tracking US shale on a month-by-month basis in order not to allow shale to rebound back quickly.”
Christyan Malek, JPMorgan’s
“We’re eroding the capabilities of the planet to maintain human life and life in general.”
Gerardo Ceballos, ecologist, National Autonomous University of Mexico and lead author of a new study on mass extinctions.
Graphic of the Week
1. Energy prices and production
2. Geopolitical instability
3. Climate change
4. The global economy and the coronavirus
5. Renewables and new technologies
1. Energy prices and production
Oil prices posted a sixth weekly gain in London, more than doubling to $42.30 a barrel since April as demand recovers from the lockdowns. NY futures closed at 39.55 on Friday, up $2.14 for the day. The price jump came after the US Labor Department reported that US non-farm payrolls increased by 2.5 million jobs in May, far exceeding market expectations for a fall of more than 7 million jobs. Later it was learned that the Labor Department’s May survey had methodological problems arising from many surveyed workers not knowing whether they were “unemployed” or just temporarily furloughed from their regular jobs.
OPEC+: After a week of uncertainty, the OPEC+ coalition agreed on Saturday to extend their 9.7 million b/d production cut through July rather than reducing the cut to 7.7 million b/d at the end of June as previously agreed. Coalition members, principally Iraq and Nigeria, that didn’t implement 100 percent of their allocated production cuts in May and June will have to make extra reductions from July to September to compensate for their overproduction.
However, the new agreement also contains an element of risk. According to the communique, the 23-nation production agreement, which runs until April 2022, is contingent on every member making 100 percent of their pledged cuts. That’s something rarely achieved in the 3 1/2 years that OPEC+ has existed, or indeed during the decades-long history of OPEC itself.
Cutting production is painful for heavily oil-dependent states. In particular, Iraq needs every penny because it’s still rebuilding its economy following decades of war, sanctions, and the Islamist insurgency. The country made less than half of its assigned cutbacks last month, so compensating fully would require it to slash production by a further 24 percent to about 3.28 million b/d. Accepting such terms risks a backlash from Iraqi parliamentarians and rival political parties for bowing to international pressure. Analysts were skeptical that these cutback promises would be any different.
Talks are scheduled on June 18th for the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, which could recommend a further extension if deemed necessary, pushing the deep production cuts into August. That panel will meet every month until December, according to the draft communique.
Shale Oil: An odd situation is confronting oil traders and analysts scrutinizing US inventory data for signs of a market recovery–the math doesn’t add up. Various government data sets, including stockpiles, production, imports, and exports, are signaling that current official figures on at least some supplies are excessive. While it’s unclear where the discrepancy lies, the difference could potentially indicate that deeper cuts have taken place and portend a more bullish outlook for crude prices.
As prices return to $40 a barrel, US oil production is set to move higher, as shale producers eyeing OPEC’s move to support prices are poised to reactivate wells only a few weeks after shutting them. Output could rise about 2 million b/d or 20 percent between now and the end of August, as the bulk of the supply shut down during the recent price crash is brought back on stream. “In its bid to balance the market, OPEC+ has perhaps again forgotten that shale plays by its own rules.”
Last week, large independent producers in Texas’s Permian shale field, including EOG, Parsley Energy, and WPX Energy indicated they were bringing wells back online. Matt Gallagher, Parsley’s chief executive, said his company was adapting to “changing market dynamics” and would restore most of the 26,000 b/d it cut in May. But he said new drilling would remain suspended. WPX and EOG have shut in 30,000 and 85,000 b/d, respectively, but both said they had begun bringing some of this back online.
Baker Hughes reported that the number of oil and gas rigs in the US fell last week by 17, falling to 284, with the total oil and gas rigs sitting at 691 fewer than this time last year. While there is so much uncertainty as to where prices and demand are going, it is much safer for operators to startup recently closed wells or to frack drilled but not completed wells than to resume drilling new wells.
Offshore: While the pandemic’s effects on onshore drilling may already be wearing off where drilling is less expensive, they may linger offshore. Despite significant progress made in reducing costs, offshore drilling generally remains more expensive than onshore drilling. What this means in the current environment is that offshore oil may suffer more than onshore oil.
According to a recent study, almost a third of the oil left on the UK continental shelf is no longer economical to extract in the North Sea. In the US Gulf of Mexico, Baker Hughes reports a rig count of just 12 in its latest weekly rig count. That’s down from 22 in March and 19 in April. This was the lowest GOM weekly rig count in ten years. And the rig count could continue to fall if prices stay where they are. Meanwhile, production platforms are shutting down, too.
Offshore oil accounts for almost a third of global total production. It tends to be costlier to extract than onshore crude, but it has a longer life than unconventional onshore oil. A whole segment of oilfield services is focused exclusively on offshore drilling and production. Many of the companies in that segment might not survive the crisis. Many new offshore projects have been put on hold as the new reality of the oil market sets in.
As oil and gas companies began shutting offshore production before the first tropical storm of the season in the US Gulf of Mexico, experts said restarting wells and refineries will take longer and prove more costly this year because of the virus. Well shut-ins typically last a few days or weeks at most. Still, oil companies have adopted stringent virus precautions for refinery and offshore staff, including frequent health checks, travel restrictions, onsite protective gear, and longer work stretches with pre-departure quarantines.
More time-consuming evacuations and slower restarts could lengthen post-storm recoveries, and for smaller producers strained by low prices, a bad storm may be the last straw for their production.
Investment: The pandemic has set in motion the most significant drop in global energy investment in history, with spending expected to plunge in every significant sector this year—from fossil fuels to renewables and efficiency—the IEA said in a new report. At the start of 2020, global energy investment was on track for growth of around 2 percent, which would have been the largest annual rise in spending in six years. But after the pandemic brought large swathes of the world economy to a standstill, global investment is now expected to plummet by 20 percent, or almost $400 billion, compared with last year.
Outlook: Now that the OPEC +’s production is “settled” for a while unless somebody cheats, we have the issue of how much demand will rebound and US shale oil production will recover—the two key variables. Global oil demand will decrease by 11.5 percent, or 11.4 million b/d, year on year in 2020, according to Rystad Energy’s latest demand forecast. Total oil demand is projected to fall to 88.1million b/d this year from approximately 99.5 million last year, Rystad added. May demand is expected to fall by 20.5 percent to 78.5 million, and June demand is forecasted to rebound to 84 million.
According to the EIA, US demand for oil products is still down about 25 percent from pre-virus months.
Some observers are forecasting that the combination of OPEC+ cuts and the decline in US shale oil production will be enough to drive prices higher as oil deficits arise around the world. One US oil executive says a case could be made for $70 oil in the fall. Russia’s Energy Minister Novak is predicting a shortage. He says that the global oil markets could see a shortfall between three and five million b/d in July, depending on the outcome of the OPEC+ meeting, which was favorable to his assessment. Of course, large amounts of crude in storage have to be worked off before shortages occur.
All forecasts depend on the coronavirus course, which is only starting to have an impact on regions such as Latin America, Africa, South Asia, some parts of the Middle East, and even parts of the United States. While the demand for oil from China is back to near normal, this is likely to change when its export demand withers. How the virus fares in Europe and other areas where restrictions are just now being lifted will not be known for several weeks.
2. Geopolitical instability
Iran: Tehran, which has been gradually relaxing its lockdown since mid-April, reported a sharp rise of new infections last week. Thursday’s toll of 3,574 new cases was the highest since February when the outbreak was first reported. President Rouhani insists that the country has no option but to keep its economy open despite warnings of a second wave of the epidemic. As with most states, the reported figures for the number of infections and deaths, in reality, are roughly 50 percent higher than official statistics.
While Iran’s epidemic was initially concentrated in Tehran and the holy city of Qom, the new flare-up has mostly been centered in Khuzestan province, an oil-rich region in Iran’s southwest. There, an ethnic Arab minority has, at times, balked at central government control. Doctors and residents say that widespread disregard for public health restrictions in Khuzestan has helped fuel the spread of the pathogen.
The need for water has doubled with the spread of coronavirus and the arrival of hot weather. Many provinces and cities across Iran are reporting severe water shortages exposing the country to still more coronavirus infections.
The UN’s atomic agency expressed “serious concern” last week about Iran’s failure to cooperate with its probe into undeclared nuclear material. Two reports sent to UN member states by the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has failed to give its inspectors access to two sites the agency wants to visit. The agency also said Iran didn’t answer questions about the use of possible undeclared nuclear material in the early 2000s and what had happened to it since.
The IAEA recorded another big jump in Iran’s nuclear-fuel stockpile, far above the levels permitted under the 2015 pact. Tehran has reduced its compliance with the deal in response to sweeping US sanctions. The Trump administration has called for its European allies—Britain, France, and Germany—to exit from the agreement and work with Washington on a new stricter accord with Tehran. Iran flatly rejects any negotiations until the US lifts the sanctions which, along with the virus, are doing severe damage to its economy.
The 800-pound gorilla in the Iranian nuclear issue is Israel. Tel Aviv, which has a mature and well-protected atomic arsenal, has said many times that Iran will never be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.
Iraq: As the pandemic devastates economies across the region, Iraqis are feeling a sense of dread again. Their country has been at the crossroads of Middle East tension, a hotbed of sectarian conflict, a proxy war between Iran and the US. Now it’s a question of financial survival, and a fight with rival oil exporters is threatening to undermine the fragile peace within the OPEC+ group. Baghdad’s oil ministry garnered only $1.3 billion in April by selling its oil at $13.80 a barrel and $2.09 billion in May by selling its oil at an average price of $21. Few of its obligations are being paid, including government salaries, at these oil prices.
Baghdad had agreed to trim its output by 1.061 million b/d in May and June. However, its oil exports, excluding those from the Kurdish region, fell only 6.6 percent in May. And according to the oil ministry, it did not cut its output under the new OPEC+ agreement. This failure to comply nearly torpedoed the 9.7 million b/d OPEC+ production cut until a compromise was reached late last week.
The new agreement reached at the OPEC+ teleconference on Saturday states that any member that doesn’t implement 100 percent of its production cuts in May and June will make extra reductions from July to September to compensate for their failings. It appears that Baghdad will be doing a lot of production cutting in the next few months. Unless oil prices climb substantially, Baghdad’s financial problems will only get worse.
Libya: Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government (GNA) captured the last major stronghold of eastern commander General Haftar near Tripoli on Friday. It is unclear how much the role of foreign mercenaries played in the offensive.
A Russian drive to recruit Syrians to fight in Libya for Haftar accelerated in May when hundreds of mercenaries were signed up. According to two senior Syrian opposition sources, a “private” Russian military contractor, Wagner Group, is conducting the hiring with Russian army supervision. A former Wagner Group member said it first sent Syrians to Libya in 2019.
Turkey, meanwhile, says it is providing military support to the other side of the conflict. Turkish President Erdogan said in February that fighters from the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army were in Libya and Turkey’s military.
This action last week caps the collapse of Haftar’s 14-month offensive on the capital. Military sources in Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) said their forces have withdrawn from the town of Tarhouna and headed towards Sirte, far along the coast.
The control of the GNA now extends across most of northwest Libya, reversing many of Haftar’s gains from last year. The GNA gains could entrench the de facto partition of Libya into zones controlled by rival eastern and western governments whose foreign backers compete for regional sway.
The LNA still controls the east and oil fields in the south, supported by Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Although foreign mercenaries have been helping both sides, Russia and Egypt did not seem interested in becoming more involved in the recent fighting.
The GNA victory will do little for Libya’s oil production that has fallen from more than a million b/d to zero in the last year. Foreign importers will not deal with the eastern government, and an attempt by a UAE tanker to load Libyan oil recently was driven off by a French warship.
3. Climate change
Greenhouse gas emissions have plunged since the coronavirus pandemic; however, the earth’s carbon dioxide levels are at their highest point in human history and probably the highest in 3 million years. The carbon levels are so high because it’s incredibly hard to clear them from the atmosphere. A molecule of carbon dioxide released today can remain in the air for hundreds of years. Other greenhouse gases are shorter-lived; methane, for example, dissipates over decades.
By early April, worldwide CO2 emissions had fallen by 17 percent compared with the daily average in 2019 — an unprecedented drop, according to a study in Nature Climate Change. “The 2008 financial crisis decreased global emissions by 1.5 percent for one year, and they shot back up 5 percent in 2010. It was like it never happened,” according to Rob Jackson, a Stanford University professor.
The three most significant producers of greenhouse emissions — Europe, the US, and China — are preparing to push humanity in different directions. Last week, Europe laid out a vision of a green future, with a proposed recovery package worth more than $800 billion that would transition away from fossil fuels and put people to work making old buildings energy efficient.
In the US, the White House is steadily slashing environmental protections, and Republicans are using the Green New Deal to bash their opponents. However, a change in administration this winter would likely reverse the changes.
China has given the green light to build new coal plants but did not set specific economic growth targets for this year. The lack of targets reduces the pressure to turn up the country’s industrial machine quickly. China recently completed the construction of a $3.17 billion ultra-high voltage electricity line that, for the first time, will transport only clean energy. It will allow more renewables to be developed in Qinghai and Gansu provinces and deliver the electricity to Henan in central China.
4. The global economy and the coronavirus
The $1 trillion container shipping industry is in a slowdown. Some shipping lines, whose retail customers are being pounded by the pandemic, are reducing sailing speeds and taking longer routes around Africa, avoiding Suez Canal fees. Many shipping lines are also cutting down the number of voyages and providing short-term storage for clients as the industry faces its most significant downturn since the 2008 financial crisis.
The new tactics save on costs and help adapt to the needs of cash-crunched retailers – among their biggest customers. The latter are stuck with enormous inventory surpluses thanks to store closures and a collapse in consumer demand.
United States: Despite the exuberance in equity and oil markets, the US economy is still in a lot of trouble. US manufacturing activity eased off an 11-year low in May, though the recovery from the virus crisis could take years because of high unemployment. The US services sector shrank for a second month in May as pandemic triggered shutdowns and layoffs around the country. Activity did rise from levels last month that had not been seen since the recession.
The Congressional Budget Office said last week that the pandemic would inflict a devastating long-term blow on the US economy, costing $7.9 trillion over the next decade. Without adjusting for inflation, the agency said, the pandemic would cost $16 trillion over the next ten years.
Nearly 1.9 million people applied for US unemployment benefits last week, evidence that many employers are still cutting jobs even as the gradual reopening of businesses has slowed the layoffs. The total number of people receiving jobless aid rose slightly to 21.5 million, down from a peak of nearly 25 million two weeks ago but still at a historically high level.
The stock markets surged on Friday on news that the US unemployment rate “surprisingly” fell to 13.3 percent in May, down from 14.7 percent in April. Somehow, with most of the country still on lockdown in May, there were 2.5 million Americans added to the payrolls along with 345,000 new businesses that were formed. Analysts are disputing the Department of Labor’s numbers, and the government has admitted there was a problem in the way the data was collected.
China: Crude oil imports jumped by 13 percent from April to near record-highs of 11.11 million b/d in May. A factor in China’s near-record imports of crude was that the independent refiners – the so-called teapots—continued to actively procure oil, most likely because of the low prices. How long this surge in imports will continue is an open question; export demand is unlikely to rebound soon.
China’s crude imports from Saudi Arabia jumped by 800,000 b/d, following declines in the two previous months, while imports from Iraq surged by more than 400,000 b/d.
The cancellation of import orders from the US was made following the Phase 1 trade pact signed in January. China committed in the agreement to increasing purchases of US goods and services by $200 billion over 2017 levels. While US officials say China significantly stepped up purchases of American farm products since March, purchases in other sectors have fallen short of expectations.
Asia’s factory pain deepened in May as the slump in global trade worsened, with export powerhouses Japan and South Korea suffering the sharpest declines in business activity in more than a decade. With many of China’s trading partners still restricted, its new export orders remained in contraction, the private business survey showed on Monday.
Middle East: The economy of the energy-exporting GCC region — Saudi Araba, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain — will shrink 4.4 percent in 2020, with Oman having the worst contraction of 5.3 percent.
Saudi Arabia’s net foreign reserves fell by about $21 billion in April after Riyadh transferred money to its sovereign wealth fund to finance an overseas spending spree. Figures released by the central bank revealed that the country’s foreign reserves had fallen to $444 billion, the second consecutive monthly decline. The decline was expected after the finance minister, said that $40 billion in foreign reserves had been transferred to the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is aggressively buying stakes in US and European companies as it seeks to take advantage of the pandemic to snap up assets cheaply.
The use of Saudi Arabia’s reserves to finance the PIF’s activities is contentious. The kingdom conservatively invested its reserves, and predominantly bought US Treasury bills and other low risk and liquid assets. “Risking the sovereign’s reserves for uncertain returns is a very high-stakes game rarely done,” said an analyst. Economists estimate that the kingdom needs to keep its reserves above $300 billion to preserve the riyal’s dollar peg. The government has introduced stringent austerity measures, including cutting state spending, suspending civil servants’ cost of living allowances, and tripling VAT to 15 percent.
India: New Delhi reported a record 9,887 new coronavirus cases on Saturday and overtook Italy as the world’s sixth-biggest outbreak. With its total number of cases rising to more than 236,000, India now has fewer infections than only the United States, Brazil, Russia, Britain, and Spain. For a country of 1.4 billion people, the infection and death counts are very low, suggesting that there is massive undercounting for a crowded country starting to feel the coronavirus’s impact.
Prime Minister Modi’s government, anxious to jump-start an economy crippled by the epidemic and put millions of people back to work, is easing its lockdown of the 1.3 billion population imposed in March, which the government says helped avoid an exponential rise in cases. Restrictions will be loosened from today going forward, but experts are worried it is too soon.
5. Renewables and new technologies
A new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency says the attractive prices of renewables relative to fossil fuel power generation could help governments embrace green economic recoveries from the coronavirus pandemic. Lower costs of renewables mark a turning point in a global transition to low-carbon energy, with new solar or wind farms increasingly cheaper to build than running existing coal plants.
The report’s authors calculated that the world could save up to $23 billion of power system costs per year by using onshore wind and solar PV to replace the most expensive 500 gigawatts of coal-fired power. These are mostly found in China, India, Ukraine, Poland, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and the United States. Such a switch would also reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by about the equivalent of 5 percent of the total CO2 emissions in 2019.
Most wind towers are made of steel – one of the most carbon-intensive products in the world and one that has not yet found a viable large-scale solution to cut emissions. However, a new design concept and new material for wind towers could lead to carbon-neutral and a more cost-efficient wind power generation. Wooden tower structures can be made of renewable engineered wood products, according to Swedish engineering company Modvion. The firm recently installed its first wooden wind tower for research purposes just outside Gothenburg in Sweden. The company expects to build the first commercial wooden towers in 2022.
This year China will add 52 percent more new wind and solar power capacity than in it added in 2019. The world’s biggest energy consumer has space on its grids to add 36.65 gigawatts of wind and 48.45 gigawatts of solar. Last year, China added 25.74 gigawatts of wind and 30.11 of solar to the network, but coal remains by far its biggest power source.
Commonwealth Fuel Systems is developing a system powered by high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets that it says are key to getting a commercial fusion energy system operating by the early 2030s — years earlier than several major fusion projects around the world. CFS, a US-based startup that came from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is developing its HTS technology to deliver what it claims will commercialize nuclear fusion power. Bill Gates and the Norwegian oil and gas company Equinor are among the firm’s backers.
The California Energy Commission has released a UC Irvine study for the construction of renewable hydrogen production plants. The study concludes that, with appropriate policy support, the renewable hydrogen sector could reach self-sustainability (at parity with conventional fuel on a fuel-economy adjusted basis) by the mid- to late-2020s.
6. The Briefs (date of the article in the Peak Oil News is in parentheses)
limiting LNG production is more complicated than crude. LNG trains are difficult to shut down, or even run at substantially reduced rates, meaning that closing down production is usually the last option a producer will consider. US natural gas futures closed at $1.82 per million Btu on Wednesday. This price means that once the cost of liquefaction and freight is added in, the cost of delivering a cargo of US LNG to Asia would be at least $5 per million Btu – more than double the current spot price it would fetch. (6/3)
Europe is so awash with natural gas amid weak demand and limited storage capacity than gas suppliers may have to cut flows to prevent natural gas prices from plunging further. Demand for natural gas is still feeble as major economies in Europe are emerging from lockdowns, while gas in storage across the continent is at a record high for this time of the year. Prices didn’t move much even after the most significant gas exporter to the continent, Gazprom, saw its flows on a critical pipeline fall to zero last week. (6/3)
The European Union told automakers to do more to meet stringent fuel efficiency and emission targets after a new report showed carbon dioxide pollution from cars increased. Average emissions of new passenger cars registered in the EU and Iceland in 2018 rose to 120.8 grams of carbon dioxide a kilometer, up 2 grams from the previous year. That’s more than a quarter higher than the fleet-wide target of 95 grams taking effect from this year. (6/4)
Major Russian oil spill: President Vladimir Putin has declared a state of emergency after 20,000 tons of diesel oil leaked into a river within the Arctic Circle. The spill happened when a fuel tank at a power plant near the Siberian city of Norilsk collapsed last Friday. Ground subsidence beneath the fuel storage tanks is believed to have caused the spill. Arctic permafrost has been melting in hot weather for this time of year. The accident is believed to be the second-largest in modern Russian history in terms of volume. Greenpeace has compared it to the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. President Putin expressed anger after discovering officials only learned about the incident two days later. (6/4)
In Pakistan, a shortage of major petroleum products is developing. None of more than 80 oil distribution companies are maintaining mandatory stocks of products. Authorities have just recently become aware of the problem. (6/5)
China has given the go-ahead to plans for a massive $20-billion refinery and petrochemical complex in the Shandong province. The mega petrochemical complex has been years in the planning. It looks like the world’s top oil importer is looking to spend money on oil infrastructure to reinvigorate the economy. (6/3)
Angola vulnerable: The world’s top oil importer, China, is Angola’s primary creditor, and the African country is repaying part of its debt to China with oil cargoes to its major state-owned oil firms. However, the oil price crash and the pandemic has severely constrained Angola’s income. The country now seeks to cut cargoes to China for which it doesn’t receive hard currency. Angola is one of the worst-hit oil producers in the oil price crash because it lacks large sovereign wealth buffers as some Middle Eastern oil exporters do. (6/6)
Canada is the US’s top energy trade partner and was the largest source of American energy imports last year, the US EIA said. The value of US energy imports from Canada stood at US$85 billion in 2019. (6/6)
In Canada, the oil price and demand crash in April resulted in energy exports plunging by the most on record, with crude oil exports plummeting by 55.1 percent. As the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns to contain it crushed demand for oil in Canada’s key export market, the US, exports of energy products plunged by US$2.66 billion, the most substantial decrease on record. (6/5)
Guarding against U.S. shale oil rebound: Now that crude has rallied on the back of those cuts from below $20 a barrel to $40 or more, OPEC+ faces a fresh challenge: stopping US shale production delivering another surprise by recovering equally quickly. (6/5)
Colorado’s drilling crash: The oil price crash has forced producers in Colorado to slash their capital expenditure, suspend completion activities, and release rig crews, leaving just six operating rigs. As of May 29, this is the lowest number of rigs in at least 28 years. Lower liquidity and constrained access to capital could make life for the companies operating in Colorado’s oil patch much more difficult. (6/2)
LNG exports steep decline: Feedgas deliveries to the six major US LNG export terminals plunged June 1 to their lowest level in 9 months amid a wave of cargo cancellations due to weak market conditions. The most significant drops in flows were seen at Cheniere Energy’s two terminals – Sabine Pass in Louisiana and Corpus Christi Liquefaction in Texas – and at Freeport LNG south of Houston. About 45 LNG cargoes scheduled to be loaded in July at US export terminals were said to have been canceled by customers, approximately double the number of cancellations for June. (6/2)
Feds vs. states: US EPA chief Andrew Wheeler signed a rule that would limit state powers to block pipelines, coal terminals, and other energy infrastructure projects. The move comes as the Trump administration grows increasingly frustrated with left-leaning states like California and Washington that have “misused” their authority under the US Clean Water Act to halt fossil fuel projects. (6/2)
Oil production health risk: Humans have lived side by side with oil development for over a century, but it’s only recently that scientists started tracking the health consequences of that proximity. A new paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives shows that pregnant women in rural areas who lived within one kilometer of high-producing wells were 40 percent more likely to have low birth weight babies than those who lived further away. Birth weights below 5 lbs. 8 oz. correlate with a higher risk of health problems in early childhood, sometimes even carrying into adulthood. (6/4)
Israel, which hopes to become energy-independent with its vast natural gas fields, is aiming to significantly boost its solar power generation over the next decade under a new $22.8 billion plan. While 2/3s of Israeli power generation currently comes from natural gas, they plan to boost solar power from 5 percent today to 30 percent by 2030. (6/2)
Cesium, a critical metal: The ‘Cold War’ with China is being played out on multiple fronts: control of essential metals, dominance over 5G, national security, and deep space. All those fronts involve cesium. There is only one mine currently producing cesium: the Sinclair in Australia—primarily controlled by China. PowerMetals may open a mine for the metal in the province of Ontario. (6/4)
Diamond batteries? Researchers at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology are proposing a design based on the mechanical properties of nanostructures containing diamonds that could potentially be used in mechanical energy storage devices, including batteries, biomedical sensing systems, wearables, and small robotics and electronics. The mechanical functions of a diamond nanothread (DNT) bundle can store and release energy when stretched or twisted. (6/4)
Covid-19 issue: The Netherlands ordered a mass mink cull to extinguish a coronavirus outbreak linked to at least two human cases, hastening the demise of an industry ordered to cease by 2024. Culling will start Friday and cover nine farms raising the semi-aquatic, carnivorous mammals for their soft pelts. (6/4)
UK’s climate: May was the driest month in 124 years, and this spring was its sunniest on record. That came as welcome relief to millions of people locked down at home to slow the spread of Covid-19. It also helped create new records for the amount of renewable energy in the British electricity mix. But as a sign of what a warmer future might hold, it’s not great. (6/4)
The UK’s sunniest spring on record has boosted solar power’s share of the electricity mix to new heights. Clear skies throughout May, with low power demand during the coronavirus lockdown, helped the clean power source to provide a new high of 33 percent of the country’s electricity on May 30. (6/2)
African airlines had been piling on debt long before the pandemic, but government bailouts allowed them to limp on for years. As sub-Saharan Africa faces its first recession in a quarter-century, some airlines will find it harder to survive. 6/3)
We are in the midst of mass extinction, many scientists have warned — this one driven not by a catastrophic natural event, but by humans. The unnatural loss of biodiversity is accelerating. If it continues, the planet will lose vast ecosystems and the necessities they provide, including freshwater, pollination, and pest and disease control. The extinction rate among terrestrial vertebrate species is significantly higher than prior estimates. The critical window for preventing mass losses will close much sooner than formerly assumed — in 10 to 15 years. (6/2)
Solar geoengineering: A program that releases SO₂ to decrease average temperatures by about 0.1C would cost less than $5 billion per year. This should prompt the world to prepare for its inevitability. Dozens of countries have both the capacity and possible motivation. The operative word is “when,” not “if.” (6/4)