Daily Archives: April 24, 2011

Oil and Gas Majors See Development Potential in Barents Sea

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The oil and gas majors are looking to the promise of the Barents Sea, attracted by Norway’s political stability against a backdrop of unrest in the Middle East and falling North Sea output.

Of 24 offshore oil and gas production licenses Norway awarded on April 15, half were in the Barents Sea in the Arctic, an unprecedented number.

There is unprecedented interest in our northernmost seas,” Norway’s Petroleum and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe said of the licensing round, adding “the present level of activity in the Barents Sea is high and increasing.”

Since peaking in 2001 at round three million barrels per day, Norway’s oil ouput has declined steadily to around two mbpd currently.

With reserves in the North Sea shrinking and major discoveries becoming rarer, Norway has decided to open up its northernmost waters in response to industry pressure and the need to ensure a steady source of income for its generous welfare state.

Exploration and development in the Arctic is technologically complex and expensive, with companies having to come with extremely low temperatures, sea ice, long distances from existing infrastructure and total darkness in winter,

But soaring oil prices and technological advances have made the region attractive despite the challenges, with the Arctic as a whole perhaps containing 13 percent of the oil and 30 percent of the gas on the planet not yet discovered, according to the US Geological survey.

Among the firms awarded licenses earlier this month were Norwegian state-owned giant Statoil, France’s GDF Suez, US giant ExxonMobil, Eni of Italy, German RWE Dea and Britain’s BG.

Statoil said it was pleased to have won licences near the Skrugard deposit, which it had called “one of the most important finds on the Norwegian continental shelf in the last decade.

The field could contain up to 250 million barrels of oil and its recent discovery rekindled interest in the Barents Sea.

Skrugard could mean that we are opening up a new oil province,” Statoil chief executive Helge Lund said of the find.

Before Skrugard, some 80 exploration wells had resulted in only two major finds in Norwegian waters of the Barents Sea — Snoehvit, a gas find developed by Statoil, and Goliat, run by Eni which should come on-line in 2013.

In Russian waters lies the enormous Shtokman gas field, for which Russian giant Gazprom has taken on Statoil and Total for its development.

If the oil majors are newly enthusiastic over the Barents Sea, environmentalists worry about potential damage to its fragile and fish-filled waters .

The oil industry can now frolic in vulnerable waters that should have never been opened up to prospecting,” Lars Haltbrekken of Friends of the Earth Norway said in reaction to the new licensing round.

By Pierre-Henry Deshayes (zawya)

Original Article

Thousands of protesters demand "A New Morocco"

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By Souhail Karam

CASABLANCA, Morocco | Sun Apr 24, 2011 1:12pm EDT

(Reuters) – Thousands took to the streets of Morocco on Sunday in peaceful demonstrations to demand sweeping reforms and an end to political detention, the third day of mass protests since they began in February.

Desperate to avoid the turmoil that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, authorities have already announced some changes to placate demands that King Mohammed cede more powers and limit the monarchy’s extensive business influence.

Some 10,000 people joined the protest in Casablanca, the largest city in one of the West’s staunchest Arab allies. Marchers in the capital Rabat also denounced corruption and torture as well as unemployment, very high among youths.

Policing has been low-key for protests by the February 20 Movement, named after the date of its first march, particularly compared to the turmoil elsewhere in North Africa.

“This is more about the young ones than it is about us,” said Redouane Mellouk, who had brought his 8 year-old son Mohamed Amine, carrying a placard demanding “A New Morocco.”

“Our parents could not talk to us about political issues. They were too afraid. This must change,” said Mellouk.

Although levels of popular anger have risen, ratings agencies assess Morocco as the country in the region least likely to become embroiled in the type of unrest that toppled Tunisian and Egyptian regimes and led to the conflict in Libya.

In Rabat, several thousand people marched through poor districts with high levels of unemployment and away from the center, where the previous monthly demonstrations have been held. There was no sign of trouble.

DISAFFECTED YOUTH

A 74 year-old man in Casablanca who gave his name only as Ahmed said Morocco’s youths were right to protest.

“Look at them. They are educated and like most young educated Moroccans, they are idle,” he said. “Everything in this country is done through privileges. You need an uncle or a relative somewhere to get somewhere.”

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, but the constitution empowers the king to dissolve the legislature, impose a state of emergency and have a decisive say in government appointments.

King Mohammed last month announced constitutional reforms to give up some of his powers and make the judiciary independent, but protesters want more.

There is also resentment at the royal family’s business interests through its holding company SNI.

One of the banners waved by the Casablanca marchers depicted the King’s holdings as an octopus with tentacles stretching out to subsidiary companies. “Either money or power,” it said.

Islamists also joined in the protests, demanding the release of all political prisoners. Authorities freed 92 political prisoners, most of whom were members of the Islamist Salafist Jihad group, earlier this month.

In Rabat, the wife of Islamist Bouchta Charef, who has said he was tortured in prison while accused of terrorism, called for all Islamists to be freed.

“They have made my children homeless,” Zehour Dabdoubu told Reuters. “Every month I move from one house to another. I’m persecuted because people think I am the wife of a terrorist.”

The banned Islamist opposition group Al Adl Wal Ihsane has maintained a low profile at the February 20 demonstrations, but said it supports them.

“It’s excellent what’s happening in Morocco. It’s a quiet revolution,” Nadia Yassine, daughter of the movement’s founder, told Reuters by telephone. “We’re moving slowly but surely.”

Original Article

Syria: Where is President Obama?

Posted on Sunday, April 24, 2011by Elliott AbramsOn Friday, the Syrian regime killed another hundred peaceful protesters, and then fired at people attending their funerals on Saturday, killing yet another dozen.

What has been the Obama Administration’s response?  To toughen up its rhetoric a bit, but to do nothing.

On Friday, after an especially weak performance by the President’s press spokesman (who contrasted the terrible situation in Libya with what he apparently thought was a far better one in Syria), the White House issued a new statement from the President.

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators,”  the statement said.  And, “We strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens,” it concluded.  What’s wrong with that?

First, where is the President?  This statement carefully avoided using the word “I” and was handed out by the White House.  The President’s appearance on camera, delivering such words personally so that they can be carried into Syria on al Jazeera and YouTube, would be much more effective.  With hundreds now dead in the streets of Syria, it is past time for him to speak.

Second, the Friday statement continues to appeal to Assad: “We call on President Assad to change course now, and heed the calls of his own people.”  That might have been acceptable 300 deaths ago, but it is now absurd.  The President called on Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, a long-time American ally, to leave; why the reticence about Assad, a long-time American enemy?

Third, the White House statement is just words.  It does not promise, suggest, or announce any actions.  This Administration has spent two years engaging with the Assad regime and loosening U.S. sanctions on it.  “The World Trade Organization’s 153 members granted Syria observer status after the U.S. dropped its opposition in a sign the Obama administration is softening its stance toward the Middle Eastern nation,” Bloomberg reported a year ago, noting also that “President Barack Obama’s administration has already loosened export-license curbs on aircraft repairs for state-owned Syrian Arab Airways.” So this  Administration, having followed a foolish policy of engagement with this barbaric regime, has a special obligation to correct its course.  The first action should be recalling our ambassador to Syria, who should never have been given his recess appointment to the post last year.  Second, the United States should be calling immediately for special meetings of the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council, to bring additional focus on the murders of peaceful protesters in Syria and seek sanctions against the regime, in the hope that this attention will constrain its bloody hand.

As in Tunisia, as in Egypt, as in Libya and Bahrain, the President has been slow to react.  This is inexcusable in the face of the mounting death toll—and the very real gains for the United States if the vicious Assad regime falls.

Original Article

Obama Threatens War against Syria

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Sun, Apr 24, 2011, 03:18 AM
by Tom McGregor

President Barack Obama is threatening another war against a Middle East country. He is demanding Syria allow for so-called democratic protests, or face the consequences. Nevertheless, the Syrian government does not wholeheartedly agree with the Obama Doctrine, otherwise known as George Soros’s foreign policy concept of Right to Protect, and is rebuking Obama for interfering in its own internal affairs.

According to Fox News, “a Syrian official fired back at President Barack Obama’s condemnation of the latest use of force by the government against demonstrators as two parliamentarians resigned in protest over the violent crackdown.”

A government official from Syria expressed regret over Obama’s criticism, arguing that it was not “based on an objective and comprehensive view of what is truly happening.”

As reported by Fox News, “Obama on Friday said the regime’s ‘outrageous’ use of violence against the protestors must ‘end now.’ Syrian security forces killed at least nine people when they opened fire on thousands at funeral processions Saturday.”

Rights campaigners told Reuters on Sunday that secret police raided homes nearby Damascus overnight in an effort to suppress opposition against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

To read the entire article from Fox News, link here:

Original Article

Bill would require vessels on standby

Published: Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
By Kathrine Schmidt
Staff Writer

HOUMA — A safe ride should be close by if something goes wrong offshore.

That’s the goal of a bill introduced last week by U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, which would require that a “standby vessel” be within 12 miles, or a one-hour range, of manned offshore platforms or drilling rigs in the Gulf.

Even though there were life boats and life vests aboard the Deepwater Horizon, when the rig went up in flames some still had to make the “unimaginable” decision to jump overboard in hopes of saving their lives, Landry said.

Had it not been for a supply vessel that happened to be nearby and a fishing boat that helped rescue workers, the death toll could have been higher, he said.

“We could end up with fatalities for no reason,” said Landry, who announced the bill earlier this week and said it would be considered by the House Natural Resources Committee, of which he is a member. “I felt the industry could use a little nudge.”

The bill could mean a big economic benefit for the local offshore vessel industry.

That could translate into valuable support as Landry fights to keep his seat after the redistricting session carved up his 3rd Congressional district, forcing him to run against U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, in a district that favors Boustany.

A spokesman for Landry, Millard Mulé, rebuffed the suggestion that the bill intends to curry favor.

“Saving lives is not political at all,” he said. “That’s what this legislation is about.”

U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin of Chackbay introduced a similar bill back in the mid-1980s, but it failed amid industry opposition because of the expense.

Landry said he intends the latest legislation, H.R. 1572, to be a “common-sense” solution improving worker safety, but is also willing to work with industry and be flexible on the specifics.

The fate of the bill is still uncertain: Landry doesn’t have any cosponsors yet, and Louisiana Sens. David Vitter and Mary Landrieu didn’t respond to requests this week about whether one of them would introduce a corresponding bill in the Senate.

“The most valuable resource in the Gulf of Mexico is not the oil and gas underneath the Gulf; it is the men and women who are willing to risk their lives to extract America’s energy,” Landry said in a release this week.

But some contend the bill as written would be impractical and redundant, given the thousands of manned platforms in the Gulf, high level of service traffic already present and response capacity from the Coast Guard.

“You can’t put a policeman at every corner,” said Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. As for safety response, he said, “I think we have those practices in place.”

Others say Landry’s bill is a step in the right direction when it comes to planning for the worst, particularly if a platform is especially remote or inaccessible by air because of bad weather.

Jim Adams, CEO of the Offshore Marine Service Association, said the group has not taken an official position on the bill.

“One of the lessons learned from a year ago is that the industry, in a comprehensive fashion, needs to have better contingency planning for safety,” he said.

“There is a role for an identified vessel to provide emergency response. The particulars of what that capacity would be, and the proximity, needs to be developed in a collaborative matter.”

Original Article

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