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Energy Highlights

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The following are the highlights from around the world as reported in the Peak Oil Review for last week.

         U.S. fuel demand fell 5.2 percent in the first 10 months of this year, the biggest drop since 1981, the American Petroleum Institute said. Deliveries of petroleum products, a measure of consumption, averaged 19.6 million barrels a day in the period, down from 20.7 million barrels a day a year earlier. Gasoline demand averaged 9.06 million barrels a day from January through October, down 2.6 percent from a year earlier.

        The drop in crude prices is threatening investment needed to boost global oil production, Total CEO Christophe de Margerie said. In the long term, de Margerie said crude prices will rise, making investment worthwhile in projects such as the Shtokman field in Russia and Canadian oil sands.

         After the tanker Sirus Star was seized by pirates on Nov. 15, Saudi Arabia said it will join a fleet of NATO warships on an anti-piracy mission, as hijackers bolstered defenses around a Saudi tanker captured off the East African coast. Since January, at least 91 vessels have been attacked in the Gulf of Aden,

        Shippers controlling almost a fifth of the global fleet of crude-oil supertankers may avoid Egypt's Suez Canal after an escalation in piracy off east Africa, potentially increasing the cost of delivery and reducing supply.

        Pemex is preparing 68 new drilling sites at a geologically challenging oil basin-Chicontepec - that the company hopes will offset declining production in other oil fields.

        Brazil's Petrobras said on Friday that they found light oil in two new offshore wells, expanding its "pre- salt" discoveries. There may be 1.5 billion to 2 billion barrels of recoverable oil equivalent in the new find.

        Petrobras has postponed construction tenders for 28 deep-sea drilling rigs to the coming year.

        The global financial crisis has put the brakes on Brazil's biofuels boom, drying up foreign investment and domestic credit, stalling new projects and prompting cash-strapped ethanol producers to indefinitely postpone $30 to $40 billion of expansions.

        Russia's Gazprom would like to avoid supply cuts to Ukraine in 2009 but will not continue deliveries without a new contract for 2009.

         In Russia, the collapse in the value of oil is likely to have several catastrophic consequences for the economy, including a possible devaluation of the ruble and a severe drop in living standards next year.

         Russian oil companies may cut production and exports should they become unprofitable, Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said on Tuesday.

         According to Lukoil, a "significant" reduction in OPEC's oil production may drive the average price of crude back above $80 a barrel next year, aiding the Russian economy.

         In the current economic climate, 66 out of 262 approved wind farms in the US have either been outright canceled or postponed.

         Yemen is facing an economic and political crisis as the country's oil resources near exhaustion. The World Bank predicts that Yemen's oil and gas revenues will plummet over the next two years and fall to zero by 2017 as supplies run out.

        China, the world's second-largest energy user after the U.S., is accelerating plans to cut fuel prices for the first time in two years as the nation's economy slows and oil costs fall. The government will separately introduce a tax on retail gasoline and diesel sales to replace road tolls and maintenance charges.

         In Alaska, falling oil prices will take a bite out of the state budget and put a damper on oil-field investment, Governor Palin told a conference of major North Slope oil operators on Wednesday.

         Canada's oil-rich province of Alberta is rolling back a large portion of the royalty hikes that were to take effect in January in order to encourage drilling in the province's sagging energy industry.

         The biggest oil companies including Saudi Aramco, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Petroleo Brasileiro SA are accelerating spending cuts and delaying projects as the world enters a recession, said Morgan Stanley & Co. As many as 44 projects have been delayed and faced cuts in investments as of Nov. 18, compared with 19 in a Nov. 5 report.

         While the idea of running US vehicles on natural gas has lately received a great deal of attention, powering our cars with electricity is a more sensible option on all fronts--national security, efficiency, climate stabilization, and economics.

         Banks in Europe and Britain, and their borrowers, face another blow as plunging oil prices tighten the spigot of petrodollar deposits. With oil prices having fallen, dollar flows into European banks will likely drop dramatically. Moreover, a global recession and financial crises mean that oil producers such as Russia and the Middle East states will have to spend money at home, further diminishing the money available to international banking.

         In West Virginia, Synthesis Energy Systems and Consol Energy shelved an $800 million coal-to-liquid fuels plant, with Synthesis chief executive Tim Veil citing "the current state of U.S. credit markets."

         Dubai, the second largest of the seven sheikhdoms in the United Arab Emirates, is the most vulnerable place in the Gulf to lower oil prices as real estate prices and debt refinancing pose "real risks."

         Petro-Canada said it delayed to next year a decision whether to mine oil sands at the proposed C$25.3 billion ($20.6 billion) Fort Hills project in northeastern Alberta because of rising costs and falling oil prices.

         Tokyo Electric Power Co. received less liquefied natural gas and heavy fuel in October on expectations that the slowing economy will further reduce power demand.

         Officials in California have unveiled ambitious plans to turn the San Francisco Bay Area into one of the leading centers of electric vehicles in the world. If it succeeds, the strategy announced yesterday will see billions of dollars poured into a new power infrastructure that will turn the region away from fossil fuel and to renewable energy - and convince millions of people to switch to green technology.

         Oil prices fell well below the level needed for several OPEC countries to balance their budgets. For Venezuela that number is $102, Iran $83, Saudi Arabia $54, Kuwait $52 and UAE at $54. This is a strong motivation for these and other OPEC countries to really cut production rather than just say they are going to cut. Tanker tracker Petrologistics said OPEC shipments have declined by 1.2 mbpd as we approach the end of November but still less than the 1.5 mbpd announced quota cut.

Jim Brown

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