February 24th, 2012
U.S. crude futures rose for a seventh day on Friday, ending with their best weekly performance since December, as a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog that Iran had stepped up work on nuclear enrichment was seen further inflaming tensions between Tehran and the West.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude for April delivery settled at $109.77 a barrel, gaining $1.94, or 1.8 percent, the highest settlement since May 3, when prices ended at $111.05.
In seven straight days, front month crude futures surged $9.03, or 8.96 percent, their biggest seven-day increase since Oct. 31, when they gained 9.25 percent. For the week, front-month crude rose 6.33 percent, the best weekly percentage gain since the week to Dec. 23, when prices rose 6.58 percent.
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April 22nd, 2011
By: Ruth Mantell
Retail prices for a gallon of regular-grade gasoline will average $3.86 from April through September, up from $2.76 for the comparable period last year, said the Energy Information Administration, the statistics arm of the Department of Energy.
In some areas, monthly average prices could top the national average by at least 25 cents a gallon.
“The continuing economic recovery tends to boost gasoline and diesel fuel consumption, while the effect of higher retail prices tends to dampen it,” according to EIA. “These counterbalancing forces are expected to be prominent features of the summer driving season.”
According to AAA’s daily fuel-gauge report, the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is about $3.79, up about 33% from $2.86 a year earlier.
The average U.S. household’s vehicle fueling costs will rise about $825 from last year’s level, hitting $3,360 in 2011, the EIA said.
The government also expects refiner acquisition costs of crude oil to average $112.50 a barrel this summer, up about 50% from the prior year.
Meanwhile, wholesale gasoline margins — the difference between the wholesale price of gas and the refiner acquisition cost of crude — are forecast to average 53 cents a gallon this summer, up 47% from last year.
The catalyst for the increase, according to EIA, will be “continuing strength in worldwide liquid fuels consumption.”
March 30th, 2011
By: Kevin Maurer
A North Carolina congressman said Thursday that he wants an investigation into reports that levels of a cancer-causing chemical in tap water at a Marine Corps base were downplayed and then omitted from official documents.
Democratic Rep. Brad Miller called for the probe by his House science subcommittee Thursday a day after The Associated Press reported on new documents that indicate massive fuel leaks at Camp Lejeune and high concentrations of benzene found in a water well there in 1984.
“I am just disbelieving of their failure to act. It may have been worse than a failure to act. They may have acted to minimize or prevent the risk from being disclosed,” Miller told the Associated Press on Thursday. “It is hard to imagine they would let this go on. There was too much information that they had to have consciously disregarded.”
Benzene, a carcinogen, is a natural part of crude oil and gasoline. Drinking water containing high levels of it can cause vomiting, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions and death. Long-term exposure damages bone marrow, lowers the number of red blood cells, and can cause anemia and leukemia, according to the EPA.
In 1984, an environmental contractor found benzene at 380 parts per billion at a well near a fuel farm. When a draft report was turned in, the level was changed to 38 parts per billion. The company’s final report on the well, issued in 1994, did not mention the benzene.
The Marine Corps had been warned nearly a decade earlier about the dangerously high levels of benzene, which was traced to massive leaks from fuel tanks at the base on the North Carolina coast. The benzene was discovered as part of a broader, ongoing probe into that contamination.
Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., the Chair Emeritus of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the Marines and their families “deserve to know exactly what was in the water.”
“I want to know whether there are still toxic chemicals contaminating the water at Camp Lejeune. If there are, what is the Navy’s plan for dealing with them?” Dingell said.
Health officials believe as many as 1 million people may have been exposed to tainted water at the base before the wells closed two decades ago. Critics say little information on benzene contamination had been publicly known until recently.
“It is hard to believe that they let Marines and their families drink this water for 30 years and didn’t say a word about it when they knew they had a fuel tank farm right by the water supply that was hemorrhaging fuel,” Miller said.
North Carolina’s congressional delegation has been active on behalf of the health claims of former Camp Lejeune residents.
A bill introduced by Miller would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health care to veterans and their family members who have fallen ill from the water. Miller’s bill is identical to the now-rejected Senate bill introduced by Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C.
Burr called the revelations disturbing.
“It’s very likely that this information will significantly change the direction and broaden the scope of the government’s scientific inquiry into the water contamination at Camp Lejeune,” Burr said.
The Senate passed legislation in September, backed Burr and Hagan, Richard Burr preventing the military from dismissing claims related to water contamination pending completion of several studies.
Among those is a mortality study that would determine if there are higher mortality rates for those who served at the base during the years water was contaminated.
A Hagan spokesman said that the senator would welcome a hearing, but that her top priority is completion of the studies.
“Right now there are Marines and their families who are sick and seeking answers. It is clear that benzene, a known carcinogen, was in the water supply in dangerous amounts,” Hagan said in a statement to AP. “We cannot leave these families with mounting medical problems and half answers.”
March 14th, 2011
Gas prices are still hovering around $4 per gallon in Chicago, but the disaster in Japan could actually bring them down a bit.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the average price of regular unleaded in Chicago is $3.71, about 1 cent cheaper than a week ago. At the Des Plaines Oasis Mobil station Monday morning, the price was $3.73 for regular, and $3.97 for super unleaded.
Now experts say in the short-term, the prices could continue to fall because of the devastation in Japan.
The tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last Friday has halted the fast-paced Japanese society, leading to a decline in the demand in oil there, and thus, a drop in worldwide oil prices and gas prices here at home.
AAA says Japan is the third largest consumer of crude oil.
Back in the U.S., in the past month, gas prices have surged up 37 cents, as a result of anxiety over unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.
While gas prices are starting to fall now, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is also calling on President Obama to help bring gas prices down in the long-term.
“As families and businesses are facing these high gas prices, I’ll be working with President Obama to urge him to release the strategic petroleum reserves so we can start stabilizing and bring these gas prices down,” Durbin said.
Experts say this week, prices will likely drop about 1 to 2 cents because of the woes in Japan. But it’s unclear how the prices will look in the coming weeks.
February 23rd, 2011
By: Ben Rooney
U.S. oil prices spiked above $100 a barrel for the first time in over two years Wednesday, as reports of Libyan oil production shutdowns swirled.
Italian oil giant Eni said Wednesday that it had partially shut down its 150,000-barrel-per-day production in the North African country.
Andrew Lebow, an oil broker at MF Global in New York, said the unrest has already cut Libya’s production by 300,000 barrels.
“But 300,000 barrels could be just the beginning,” he said. “The situation is very chaotic and it’s difficult to get good information, but the market is anticipating that more production will be lost.”
Libyan oil production grinding to a halt
Oil industry executives told the Financial Times that half of Libya’s production has been shut down. But Eni said those reports couldn’t be confirmed.
Crude futures for April delivery jumped $4.58, or 4.5%, to $100 a barrel in midday trading, a level not crossed since October 2008.
Brent crude, the European benchmark oil price, rose $5.72, or 5%, to $111.50 a barrel in extended trading.
Oil prices have surged this week as violence spread in Libya, the latest country to be swept up in a wave of anti-government protests that started earlier this year in Tunisia.
The rally continued Tuesday, as investors in the United States returned to work following the Presidents Day holiday and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi took a hard line — insisting that he is still in power and cracking down on the opposition.
Why the oil market is nervous
Libya, which exports 1.6 million barrels of crude per day, is the first oil exporting nation to be affected by the unrest in the Arab world. While it is the third-largest producer in Africa, Libya only provides 2% of the oil that the world consumes on a given day.
Prices have been driven higher by speculation that the unrest in North Africa could spread to oil rich nations in the Middle East.
“The market remains on edge that tensions will migrate across the Middle East, and toward major oil producer Saudi Arabia,” said Tom Pawlicki, an energy analyst at MF Global. “A spreading of potential revolution elsewhere in the Middle East may continue to boost oil prices in the near-term.”
The International Energy Agency, which was formed to protect against global energy supply disruptions, sought to ease those concerns Tuesday.
January 11th, 2011
By: Douglas McIntyre
BP (BP), ConocoPhillips (COP) and Exxon Mobil (XOM) have cut their oil production from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay field by 95% after a leak was discovered in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. No one is certain how long the leak will take to fix. It appears to be in a concrete casing along the pipeline at the North Slope pumping station. Alyeska Pipeline Service, the partnership among the oil firms that handles the pipeline’s operation, made the announcement over the weekend.
The news sent crude oil prices higher by over 2% to nearly $90. Traders are concerned because the pipeline carries about 15% of U.S. oil output.
It’s not clear whether the leak will have an immediate impact on U.S. crude reserves, which may be large enough to offset any loss of oil from the North Slope — for now.
The Alaska Pipeline is rarely mentioned as a factor that affects the price of oil. Recent debate has centered on increased demand in rapidly growing nations like China and the refusal of OPEC to raise output. Crude prices can also be impacted by weather, especially in the Gulf of Mexico, which is sometimes plagued by hurricanes. But the hurricane season has already come and gone. Political instability in some large oil-producing nations is a more acute issue. Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, and Nigeria are among the ten largest oil producers in the world based on reserves. Rebels in Nigeria have disrupted oil operations in that country, and the political situation in the other countries is constantly open to question.
A pipeline break may raise crude prices, but it also shows how unpredictable events can quickly change perceptions of oil supply and demand.
October 10th, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Rising energy prices and a shift to Western consumption patterns will continue to push global food prices higher in the coming decade, according to the annual agricultural outlook issued by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
Higher prices of crude oil are set to increase food prices, particularly in countries that import large amounts of food or those, such as the United States, that rely heavily on petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, increasing affluence and the adoption of a Western diet in Third World countries is expected to turn more land toward cultivation of animal feed and away from cultivation of staples.
“As incomes rise, diets are expected to slowly diversify away from staple foods towards increased meats and processed foods,” the report reads.
Grain prices are now projected to rise 15 to 40 percent relative to the 1997-2006 average, in comparison with last year’s forecast of only a 10 to 20 percent increase. The price of vegetable oils is forecast to rise 40 percent, in contrast to last year’s forecast of 30 percent. And while last year’s report actually predicted a drop in meat and dairy prices, the new report has reversed that projection and anticipates a price increase.
All projected price increases are adjusted for inflation.
Although prices are expected to continue climbing, the report says they will probably not reach the same levels as during the food crisis of 2008, which sparked riots around the world. Nonetheless, it says, “further episodes of strong price fluctuations … cannot be ruled out, nor can future short-lived crises.”
The report further warned that rising prices may lead food-importing nations such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia to feel “strategically vulnerable,” leading to a “race for [food] self-sufficiency.” Such anxiety has already led to land grabs in poorer countries, contributing to riots and civil unrest in those nations.
February 1, 2010
By E. Huff
As the price for crude oil continues to rise over time, the cost of producing petroleum-based plastic products continues to rise with it. Alternatives such as bio-plastics, which currently cost more to produce than existing plastics, may someday become more cost effective than petroleum-based plastics.
Frederic Scheer, owner of a company called Cereplast that makes sustainable bio-plastic material from vegetable and grain starches, believes that petroleum prices will eventually exceed the costs of producing his own product. By 2013, he believes that industry giants like DuPont and BASF will pursue his technology as a replacement for their soon-to-be outdated petroleum plastics.
Scheer’s company has developed a method of converting starch from corn, wheat, tapioca, and potatoes into biodegradable plastic resins. Because they effectively biodegrade in a mere 90 days, they are an excellent alternative to traditional plastic cups, containers and packaging materials.
Cereplast also produces a hybrid resin composed of 50 percent renewable bio-plastic which cuts waste and conserves energy. This blend is useful in things like cars and children’s toys. By cutting the amount of polypropylene plastic used in products, the kind most typically used in consumer products, Scheer hopes his company will help to reduce the negative environmental impact caused by plastic products.
Similar to using corn ethanol as fuel, the practicality of utilizing agricultural byproducts to produce sustainable energy is dependent upon the often fluctuating costs associated with obtaining them. The recent worldwide food crisis, for example, caused the prices of many commodities to rise dramatically, making some alternative energy projects no longer feasible.
In order to overcome this problem, Scheer is diversifying his efforts by researching the potential for utilizing algae. Because it can be grown quickly and cheaply, it is likely to work even better than starch because its costs would remain more stable. His company plans to release an algae-based plastic by the end of 2010.
Another hot commodity receiving little attention in the mainstream is the hemp plant. Hemp is a renewable biomass source that would not only work well in producing clean, biodegradable plastic products, but would also pave the way for energy independence by eliminating the need for fossil fuels. The uses for hemp are endless.
With a market topping $2.5 trillion worldwide, the plastics market holds a lot of potential for those with alternative ideas. The push for cleaner, “greener” products may eventually result in a tremendous gain for those like Scheer who have developed and continue to develop viable alternatives to fossil fuels.