Cal on December 20th, 2014





The European Space Agency tells us what might happen if an asteroid 120 feet across with the explosive power of a hydrogen bomb landed on our planet. (with video) The simulation imagined an asteroid ranging in size from 60 to 120 feet in diameter – spanning roughly the range between the 2013 Chelyabinsk airburst and the 1908 Tunguska event – and travelling at eight miles per second.

Both of those events happened in Russia. The Tunguska event was the largest impact event in human recorded history, destroying 80 million trees over an area of 800 square miles in the Siberian forest. Even though it was in an isolated area, more than 1500 people were injured and 7300 buildings damaged by the intense overpressure generated by the shockwave at the Earth’s surface. Many people were injured by shards of flying glass as they looked out of windows to see what was happening. What would have been the consequences if had landed in a heavily populated city?

Last month ESA and national disaster response offices from Germany and Switzerland rehearsed how to react if a threatening space rock is ever discovered to be on a collision course with Earth. The ESA believes we likely would only have three days advanced notice of an asteroid  heading our way. The group went through a countdown to an impact, practising steps to be taken if asteroids of various sizes were ever detected.

In order to predict the effects and damage from any asteroid impact it is necessary to know the size, mass, speed, composition and impact angle of the object.  For example, the asteroid that hit the Earth 66 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs was devastating not only because of its size (10 kilometers across) but also because of the shallow angle of its trajectory into the Gulf of Mexico.

The purpose of the ESA simulation is to help create a comprehensive set of measures that could be taken by governments around the world should an asteroid come our way. These measures should be general enough to accommodate a range of possible effects.

In a real strike, ESA’s role would be crucial. It will have to warn both civil protection authorities and decision-makers about the impact location and time. It would also have to share reliable scientific data, including possible impact effects..ESA is also working with international partners, agencies and organisations, including the UN, to help coordinate a global response to any future impact threat.

With the aim of strengthening ESA’s and Europe’s response, similar exercises will be held in the future. The next, in 2015, will include representatives from additional countries.

In a related article see The Age of Asteroids where the New York Times interviews Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May who discusses asteroids and the threats they pose to life on Earth.

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“The world has such an improved outlook for crude oil supplies. Peak oil theorists have been run out of town by American ingenuity.”

– Bill Colton, Exxon’s chief strategist

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Cal on December 15th, 2014

This week we learned the Chinese economy has overtaken that of the US to become the world’s largest.  New data from the International Monetary Fund reveals China will produce $17.6 trillion this year with the US second at $17.4 trillion. As recently as 2000 the US economy was three times the size of China’s.

ExxonMobil, in its yearly energy outlook, maintained its view that global energy demand will grow 35% by 2040, due to significant global growth in the middle class, an additional 2 billion people in the world’s population, and increased strength in emerging economies.  It added, however, crude oil and natural gas will meet about 65% of global demand growth in 2040, up from last year’s prediction of 60%. Also, it foresees North America being a major net exporter of liquid hydrocarbons by 2025.

With the price of crude oil continuing to fall, analysts say there are some 2 million barrels per day going into storage around the world.  China in particular is taking advantage of low oil prices to store away millions of barrels in their newly built strategic reserve facilities.  As there is a limit to how much oil these facilities can hold, the stream of tankers carrying crude oil to Chinese strategic stockpiles will likely slow soon adding to the supply/demand imbalance.

The number of supertankers sailing to China jumped to a record amid signs that the oil-price plunge is spurring the Asian nation to stockpile. The cost of hiring the vessels surged to the highest in almost five years, according to Baltic Exchange data.

Unless there are major, and unexpected, production cuts in the immediate future, some analysts predict we could see crude oil prices as low as $30 per barrel as we did in 2008, simply because there is no place to store the excess production. With the Middle East oil producers and Russians, who are low-cost producers, insisting they will not cut production, the most likely place where there will be cuts in the short term will be among the high-cost producers in the US and Canada. As offshore oil and tar sands projects are mostly large and expensive, and cannot be easily slowed, most attention is focusing on US shale oil producers who must drill hundreds of new wells every month simply to keep production level.

This week the United Arab Emirates energy minister, Suhail Al-Mazrouei, said OPEC would not cut crude oil output even if the price dropped as low as $40 a barrel. He told Bloomberg at a conference in Dubai: “We are not going to change our minds because the prices went to $60 or to $40. We’re not targeting a price; the market will stabilise itself.”

In the US state of North Dakota Bakken shale oil is now selling for close to $40 a barrel at the well head, a price which outside observers say is well below costs of production for many if not most new wells being drilled in that state.

Canadian heavy crude oil prices fell to near $40 a barrel, threatening several  projects currently under construction.

Accountancy firm Moore Stephens said 18 businesses in the UK oil and gas services sector had become insolvent in 2014 compared with just six last year. It said that although the increase was from a low base, it was significant because insolvencies in the sector had been rare over the last five years.

Energy consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie estimates that 32 potential European oil field developments worth more than £55 billion are waiting for approval and could be at risk if oil prices continue to slump. More than 70% of these projects have a breakeven price in excess of $60 a barrel.

A new report from IHS finds the amount of crude oil carried on the North American rail system should peak in 2016 at 1.5 million barrels per day, up from the 20,000 bpd recorded in 2010. At its peak, rail will transport more than 10% of the North American crude oil production.

Investors in giant liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals from Australia to Canada are facing the prospect of losing billions of dollars put into these projects as rapidly falling oil prices darken the outlook for the industry.  The decline could wipe out returns for companies such as Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell which have committed nearly $250 billion combined to LNG projects over the past seven years to meet rising Asian demand for the cleaner-burning fuel. To fund their plans, the companies have typically agreed to sell most of the gas up front, ahead of the completion of their projects, at rates linked to crude oil prices. The oil-linked pricing means LNG producers stand to get much less revenue when they deliver their first shipments than if crude oil prices had remained nearer its peak of $116 some six months ago.

One issue being discussed is whether a contraction of US shale oil production could trigger a major financial crisis. The energy industry is said to be holding some 18% of the high-yield “junk” bonds outstanding and some say that as much as 40% of energy junk bonds could default if crude oil prices remain low for an extended period. It is believed that a default of this magnitude could be enough to trigger a financial market meltdown.

An Israeli energy company said it has discovered what may be the third largest natural gas basin in the country in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The Royee field may hold around 3.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Israel’s giant Leviathan offshore natural gas field has been increased to 21.9 trillion cubic feet, up from the previous estimate of around 18.9 trillion cubic feet. The reserve estimate for Tamar, the second largest offshore field, has an estimated 8.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.

China has plans to construct some 50 plants to gasify coal in its western provinces and send it by pipeline to the eastern cities thereby reducing the need to burn coal in densely populated areas. This is part of the country’s plan to reduce carbon emissions and pollution.

Total US. sales of plug-in electric vehicles have increased in recent years, but still represent only about 0.7% of new vehicle sales in 2014, up from 0.6% in 2013 and 0.4% in 2012.



with h/t Tom Whipple



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Cal on December 15th, 2014

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