Tuesday, September 30, 2014

U.S., India to Collaborate on Earth, Mars Missions - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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US Poised To Become World's Largest Liquid Petroleum Producer

September 29, 2014 5:10 pm

US poised to become world’s leading liquid petroleum producer

Floor hands Jose Garza, left, Jose Salinas, center, and Omar Cano make a pipe connection on Orion Drilling Co.'s Perseus drilling rig near Encinal in Webb County, Texas, U.S., on Monday, March 26, 2012. The Perseus is drilling for oil and gas in the Eagle Ford Shale, a sedimentary rock formation underlying an area of South and East Texas©Bloomberg
Drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale in Webb County, Texas
The US is overtaking Saudi Arabia to become the world’s largest producer of liquid petroleum, in a sign of how its booming oil production has reshaped the energy sector.
US production of oil and related liquids such as ethane and propane was neck-and-neck with Saudi Arabia in June and again in August at about 11.5m barrels a day, according to the International Energy Agency, the watchdog backed by rich countries.





With US production continuing to boom, its output is set to exceed Saudi Arabia’s this month or next for the first time since 1991.
Riyadh has stressed that the rise of the US should not detract from its own critical role in oil markets. It says it has the ability to increase its output by 2.5m b/d if needed to balance supply and demand.
Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia’s deputy oil minister, said earlier this month that the kingdom was the “only country with usable spare oil production capacity”.
However, even Saudi officials do not deny that the rise of the US to become the world’s largest petroleum producer – with an even greater lead if its biofuel output of about 1m b/d is included – has played a vital role in stabilising markets.
Global crude prices have fallen in the past two years, in spite of the turmoil in Syria and Iraq, fighting in Libya and Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.
Brent crude hit its lowest level in more than two years last week at about $95.60 a barrel, down from a peak of over $125 a barrel early in 2012.
Over that period, the growth in US production of more than 3.5m b/d has almost equalled the entire increase in world oil supplies.

Interactive map

New extraction techniques and high oil prices boost US oil production
The US industry has been transformed by the shale revolution, with advances in the techniques of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling enabling the exploitation of oilfields, particularly in Texas and North Dakota, that were long considered uncommercial.
Crude prices that are high by the standards of a decade or more ago have made it profitable to use those techniques to extract oil.
US production of crude hit 8.87m b/d earlier this month, up from 5m b/d in 2008, and is on course to break through 9m b/d before the end of the year.
Rising oil and gas production has caused the US trade deficit in energy to shrink, and prompted a wave of investment in petrochemicals and other related industries.
It is also having an impact on global security. Imports are expected to provide just 21 per cent of US liquid fuel consumption next year, down from 60 per cent in 2005.
Although that decreased import dependence has not led the US to disengage from the Middle East, it has encouraged calls for a reduced military commitment to the region.
China’s emergence as a larger oil importer than the US has increased its interest in the Middle East, reflected in the first visit by a Chinese warship to Iran this week.
US crude oil production in August was still lower than either Saudi Arabia’s, at about 9.7m b/d, or Russia’s at 10.1m b/d. The overall US leadership in petroleum is accounted for by its higher production of natural gas liquids such as ethane and propane, which have a lower energy content and are often used as feedstocks for the petrochemical industry rather than for fuel.
Still, on current trends the US could catch up with Saudi Arabia and Russia on crude production alone by the end of the decade.

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: US Bombed Wrong Refineries in Syria; Iran Seeks to Stop Oil Price Slide; Sanctions Won't Impede Arctic Drilling

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Fueling ISIS, Inc.

Fuelling Isis Inc

An al-Qaida-inspired militant stand guard at a checkpoint captured from the Iraqi Army outside Beiji refinery, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, June 19, 2014. The fighting at Beiji comes as Iraq has asked the U.S. for airstrikes targeting the militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. While U.S. President Barack Obama has not fully ruled out the possibility of launching airstrikes, such action is not imminent in part because intelligence agencies have been unable to identify clear targets on the ground, officials said.(AP Photo)(AP Photo)©AP
Waiting for his job interview, the young Syrian was impressed by the array of high-end camera equipment, video-editing pods and overall organisation in the offices of his prospective employer. The salary, five times that of a typical Syrian civil servant, was not bad either.
“They offered me $1,500 a month, plus a car, a house and all the cameras I needed,” says the one-time tailor in his late 20s. “I remembered looking around the office. It was amazing the equipment they had in there. I remember thinking, these people can’t just be getting their money on their own. There has to be a state behind this.”




His prospective employer, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the al-Qaeda offshoot known as Isis, has pretensions to being a state but it is not there yet. The group controls a third of Iraq and a quarter of Syria but the young man was not being recruited to take up arms. Instead, he was being hired to work at the group’s media office – the sort of operation more often associated with multinationals – in Raqqa, the Syrian city that is the de facto capital of the group’s self-declared Islamic Caliphate or state.
He chose not to take the job – staying in Syria was too dangerous, he decided – but the story illustrates the level of resources and funding available to the terror group that has grown out of the Syrian conflict into an organisation that President Barack Obama committed the US to “degrade and ultimately destroy” this month.
Strangling the source of that revenue – which estimates put at anywhere between $1m and $5m a day – is seen by the US and its allies as essential to halting the Isis advance.


The number of oil fields under Isis control in Syria and Iraq
Western investigators have sought to trace bank account numbers in the Gulf and locate jihadi donors as far afield as Indonesia. In addition to nefarious ransom and extortion rings, Isis taps areas under its control for money, charging retail stores about $2 a month in taxes. In coming days, it plans to charge for electricity and water consumption to make money in areas under its control, according to one activist in Syria.
But experts say that to crack down on Isis’s finances, western governments and their Middle East allies must look first at a decades-old oil smuggling network, which is now being tapped by the group to finance its proto-state. This lucrative unofficial trade encompasses northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southern Turkey, parts of Iran and, according to western officials and leading international experts, is where Isis earns the bulk of its money.
Isis Syria and Iraq oil map
Maplecroft, the risk management firm, says in a recent report that Isis now controls six out of 10 of Syria’s oilfields, including the big Omar facility, and at least four small fields in Iraq, including those at Ajeel and Hamreen.
Oil smuggling has deep roots in the region. After the imposition of UN energy sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s, a robust network of smugglers, traders and bootleg refineries have flourished.


Iraq’s ranking in Transparency International’s corruption index
Hundreds of entrepreneurs emerged, buying and selling small parcels of Iraq’s oil at discounted prices and transporting them across the Turkish border to sell at a markdown. Many of the business people have grown rich and powerful, with vested interests and political ties.
Energy experts and western officials say Isis may be laundering up to 80,000 barrels of oil a day worth several million dollars through this shadow market. The oil is smuggled through rugged mountain and desert routes or even legitimate crossings at Reyhanli, Zakho or Penjwan for consumption in Turkey, Iran or Jordan.
“The fact that Iraq was under sanctions for so long led Kurdish and Iraqi businessmen to fill a vacuum and create smuggling networks for Iraqi oil,” says Valerie Marcel, a Middle East and Africa energy specialist at Chatham House, the London think-tank. “Turkish, Iranian, Syrian, Iraqi networks have grown because of decades of bans on exports. From Iraq and now from Syria there is this grey market. That’s becoming a huge problem.”
Iraq oil
Black market oil is often refined at plants in Iraqi Kurdistan that are partly the byproduct of the tensions between Kurdish leaders and Baghdad. In recent years the Kurdistan Regional Government looked the other way as homegrown refineries popped up to supply the local market after Baghdad banned the export of petroleum products without its consent.
This means that the Kurds are potentially helping put money in the coffers of the jihadi group that its own peshmerga forces are fighting. “It’s now possible that Isis could be selling crude [via middlemen] to these knock-off refineries,” says Bilal Wahab, an energy expert at the American University of Sulaymaniyah. “The KRG is unwilling to shut them down because it would have to raise the price of gasoline. It can’t raise the price of gasoline because it can’t pay salaries, and it can’t pay salaries because the central government hasn’t given the KRG its budget in eight months. Yes, it’s illegal. Yes, it’s bad. But it is what greases the wheels of the economy.”
‘It is pumping oil and selling it to fundits brutal tactics, alongwith kidnappings, theft and extortion’
- John Kerry, US secretary of state
International officials accept that the bulk of Isis’s funds are raised within the vast areas of Iraq and Syria it controls.
“It’s pumping oil and selling it to fund its brutal tactics, along with kidnappings, theft, extortion and external support,” John Kerry, US secretary of state said last week. Asked if the administration was looking at bombing oilfields or refineries controlled by Isis, Mr Kerry said: “I have not heard any objection.”
The boundaries of the mostly Kurdish black market zone have never been easy to police, rarely recognised by people with cross-border kinship and trade ties. The terrain ranges from the grassy plains dividing Turkey from northwest Syria to the forbidding mountains between Iraqi Kurdistan and its Turkish and Iranian neighbours to the flatlands along Iraq and Syria’s Jordanian borders.
Isis oil
Smuggling underpins the economy of the semi-autonomous, three-province KRG with smugglers’ coves dotting its borders with Iran, Syria and Turkey. In towns like Hajj Omran along the Iran-Iraq border smugglers openly regale visitors with tales of their exploits.
Iraqi Kurdistan officials warn they have limited resources to police the trade – it now shares a 1,000km border with Isis – and complain that funds have shrunk since Baghdad began withholding budget revenues to the region, another example of how Iraq’s political divisions benefit Isis.
“The government is doing all it can to control the borders,” says Sherko Jawdat Mustafa, a member of the Kurdistan region’s parliament. “But recession is prevailing over Kurdistan with all its institutions and apparatus.”
Officials also suspect border guards in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey are bribed to allow shipments to pass. “It’s like a drug cartel and a criminal organisation which is also benefiting from official support or [those in power] turning a blind eye,” says Ms Marcel. “It couldn’t exist on the scale that it is right now without some army and customs people being complicit and benefiting.”

Oil fund

The Islamist group now controls 10 oilfields including the big Omar facility in Syria and those at Ajeel and Hamreen in Iraq
Iraq ranks 171 out of 177 in Transparency International’s 2013 ratings of perceived official corruption. Security forces often look the other way in exchange for a cash payment.
“A lot of money also goes to the guys at the checkpoints,” says Mr Wahab. “So you have to enforce accountability at the checkpoints and find ways to keep them from taking bribes.”
A Turkish official recently said seizures of smuggled fuel had risen from 35,260 tons in 2011 to more than 50,000 tons in the first six months of 2014 alone, suggesting an explosion in the trade. But the market appears to have shifted in recent weeks in response to a tightening of Turkish border controls.

Self sufficient

Isis charges stores $2 per month in taxes and is set to introduce electricity and water charges
Much of the trade is carried out inside Isis-controlled areas, making efforts to curb it even tougher. “Now most of the traders are Iraqi,” says Othman al-Sultan, an activist in the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor. “All the Iraqi traders come to buy the crude and take it back into Iraq. Syrian crude is cheap and they use it for generators and factories in Iraq.”
Isis has sought to divorce itself from dependence on international donors in its efforts to create a self-sufficient economy since establishing itself as a significant presence in the Syria conflict. It was in part a disagreement over #whether to raise funds locally or internationally that led to friction with other Syrian rebel groups, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al Nusra.
Analysts suggest tracking down account numbers or arresting international supporters will do little to damage the finances of a group that deals almost exclusively in cash. Most Gulf supporters seeking the removal of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, are now largely shunning the group.
“Given that the Islamic State has sought to minimise its reliance on the international banking system, the group is comparatively less prone to asset seizures or international financial sanctions,” says the Maplecroft report.

Big earner

Analysts believe oil represents the single biggest income stream for Isis with the bulk of raised inside its area of control
In addition, the group is believed to have distributed its money across a wide geographic area. “Stopping smuggling operations will not affect the Islamic State in the short run,” says Hisham Hashemi, an authority on Sunni insurgents in Baghdad. “They have enough money – in cash – that could keep them going for a good two years.”
But Isis’s outsized ambition and refusal to compromise might lead to the downfall of its financial empire. Isis’s pretensions toward statehood have compelled it to attempt to take control of the entire process and cut out the middlemen. There are also signs that international momentum is building to stifle the black market oil trade. The governments of Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan have announced fresh interdiction efforts. Prices of crude oil in Syria have risen from $25 to $41, suggesting decreased production following Turkey’s clampdown on the border, an activist says.
At the smuggling village of Hacipasa, near the Syrian border, residents recently railed at government efforts to block illegal border crossings that provide a livelihood for many Turks. If the recently installed Baghdad government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi resumes long-delayed budget payments to Kurdistan, it would create even more of an incentive for Kurds to crack down on bootleg refineries that purchase black-market oil.
“Isis is trying to take the oil products as close to the end user as possible to capture more profit,” says Ms Marcel. “By doing that, Isis’s finances become probably easier to target than a constellation of little middlemen with small volumes crawling around the whole territory.”
Supply chain: Industry on alert to spot rogue oil
The quantities are small but the risks are large for any global trader found to be handling oil from Isis-controlled fields, writes Anjli Raval in London .
The biggest traders say they are confident they have avoided purchases of any smuggled oil because of the procedures – counter parties have to pass through strict due diligence and other “know your customer” processes – already in place. As a result low volumes of poor-quality, unauthenticated crude are unlikely to make it into their networks, they say.
Analysts, however, warn there is a small chance that oil smuggled out of Iraq by truck could enter the global supply chain. Once extracted it can be easily mixed and processed with oil from legitimate sources, disguising its origin, and making it more difficult for traders to identify its source.
Shwan Zulal, an Iraqi oil analyst, says the volumes of Isis oil that could enter the international markets are minimal. But he adds that it is possible for trucked crude to be mixed with pipeline oil in storage facilities at the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
“Nobody wants to get involved in this stuff, but this is really the only way [traders] could inadvertently be buying Isis crude,” says Mr Zulal.
After Isis’s June takeover of much of northwestern Iraq the UN Security Council warned that those caught trading crude from regions controlled by the group could face sanctions. This could affect bank credit lines.
Richard Mallinson, geopolitical analyst at Energy Aspects, a consultancy in London, says: “The Kurdistan Regional Government and operators in the region want their oil to be credible. There is little advantage gained through the smuggling and selling of Isis oil.
“What is more likely, is crude via these small refining units being sold within the region to domestic buyers,” he says. “It is much easier to see the end users being located in these areas rather than the oil getting into the international markets in any real way.”
Even so the industry is on alert, says Stéphane Graber, general secretary of the Geneva Trading & Shipping Association. “We are following the situation with our members very closely to ensure [they are] not breaking any existing international rules.”
Additional reporting by Piotr Zalewski in Ankara, Geoff Dyer in Washington and Lobna Monieb in Cairo

‘Madam Secretary’ Preview — First Impression of CBS Pilot in the Fall Line-Up | TVLine

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Elon Musk: From space race to space war - Video - Business News

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Where to eat and drink in Galveston - Houston Chronicle

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Jack's South America: Election War Is A Battle Of Styles As Silva Forces...

Jack's South America: Election War Is A Battle Of Styles As Silva Forces...: Home World Africa Asia-Pacific Europe Latin America & Caribbean Middle East & North Africa UK US & Canada The Worl...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Before Sending Human Colonists To Mars We Must Seriously Study A Little Movie

Thanks too Netflix I got to see this jewel of a little known film. It's about three groups of people who decided to forsake normal civilized life and got to live on the island of Floreana in the Galapagos Islands. Some were highly-trained professionals. The story did not have a happy ending. One couple,most likely, was murdered. The probable killers died later in a boating mishap between islands. A German medical doctor who settled there died of either accidental or intentional poisoning. Ironically some other people survived and built a life there.
For all of those in NASA and in private companies with a goal of colonizing Mars, this film is a "must see." It shows some of the pit falls of sending humans far away to a hostile environment. I am a firm advocate of sending humans to live on Mars. This film made me think. We must plan such endeavors with the greatest care.
Directed by Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine. With Cate Blanchett, Sebastian Koch, Thomas Kretschmann, Diane Kruger. About a series of unsolved disappearances on the Galapagos Island of Floreana in the 1930s.

Scots Vote To Decide Future Of Their Union With The UK

Last updated: September 18, 2014 2:17 pm

Scots vote to decide future of their union with UK

Scots are voting to decide whether their country should remain part of the UK or end the 307-year-old union and begin life as an independent nation.
A total of 4.29m, or 97 per cent of the electorate, have registered to vote, the largest electorate Scotland has ever seen. The result of Thursday’s historic referendum is expected early on Friday, with the opinion polls in the past two days suggesting it is going to be extremely close.





On markets, sterling is up 85 pips to $1.6359, having fallen last week fell to a nine-month low of $1.6050 after polls showed a small Yes majority. It has halved its September losses as investors increasingly bet the No camp will win.
Campaigners in the leafy west end of Glasgow reported that queues formed outside polling stations before they opened at 7am. Greeting voters outside Hyndland Secondary School, Peter Taylor, a 64-year-old Glasgow Labour party member, said: “I’ve stood outside this school several times for elections before. I would say this is getting on for 50 per cent greater [number of people].”
Several voters were still undecided when they showed up to the polling station and asked campaigners to persuade them either way.
Independence activist Johnny Hunter, a retired environmental health officer, said: “I’m the last face people see of the Yes campaign – I need to make sure it’s a happy face to match the positive message of the campaign.”
Hilda Marshall, a retired pro-independence voter, said: “I felt as though the Hallelujah chorus should have erupted when I put the cross down.”

Scotland’s referendum count: When to expect what

epa04390677 (FILES)Voters in Scotland will vote in a referendum on the 18th September 2014 in what may be described as a D (for Destiny) Day in the country's long history and as the day draws near the Yes and No campaigners are stepping up their respective campaigns with the result in the balance. Here, a young resident of Edinburgh, waves a Scottish flag with the word Yes emblazoned on it during a 'Rally for Scottish Independence' i 21 September 2013. EPA/GRAHAM STUART
An approximate timetable of what to expect during the night of the count – when the results will come in from the 32 council areas
Speaking on his way to vote “No” in Ruchill, north Glasgow, Kenneth Gould, 63, said: “I’m going to march right in there and will tick the box with confidence, without hesitation.” He joked he would wave his ballot in the air and cry “look how I’m voting folks”.
But he added of the possible result: “I’m nervous. Once you make that decision, that’s it.”
Ipsos MORI’s final poll of the campaign, published on Thursday, shows the No campaign with a very narrow lead, in line with other polls in recent days.
Based on responses from 991 people questioned on Tuesday and Wednesday, 50 per cent of those certain to vote said they would vote No, with 45 per cent saying they would vote Yes and 4 per cent still undecided. Excluding those undecided, 53 per cent said they planned to vote No, with 47 per cent to vote Yes. The day is forecast to remain dry across most of Scotland, although light drizzle was expected in some areas
In his final speech on Wednesday night, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister urged the public to defy the might of the “London establishment” and vote to leave the UK.
“This is our opportunity of a lifetime and we must seize it with both hands,” he said.
His speech followed an impassioned plea by Gordon Brown, the former prime minister, earlier on Wednesday to reject independence.
In an apparent boost to the Yes campaign, Andy Murray, the Scottish-born tennis player, seemed to endorse the independence campaign when he took to Twitter in the early hours of Thursday morning.
“Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this!”, he wrote. Murray is not resident in Scotland so does not have a vote.
Some voters were underwhelmed by the atmosphere at the polling stations. First-time voter Jonathan Gibson, who is about to head to Oxford university to read history, said after voting in Jordanhill that the experience had been “a bit of an anticlimax”.
The student, who is also celebrating his 18th birthday today, said: “I expected more people outside. It should have felt like a bigger thing.”
His friend Adam Macnaughton, preparing to study natural sciences at Cambridge, said a lot of his Yes-voting peer group had failed to take the vote seriously. “Some people are thinking ‘screw it, it’s a bit of a laugh’.”
He was planning to vote No in Bearsden later in the afternoon. He was looking forward to no longer being inundated with referendum messages on social media. “It can get quite confrontational,” he said.
In anticipation of a close result, the head of the Church of Scotland called on both sides to join forces and restore harmony, amid fears the country will be left a divided nation.
“Get ready to accept the will of the Scottish people and that will be best done by setting passions aside,” said the Rt Rev John Chalmers. “If we do that we’ll be ready for the next step in the process, which will be to harness the energy of both sides. Whatever the outcome we will need to be ready to work together.”
Scotland has set up 5,579 polling stations, which means typically there should be no more than 800 voters allocated to each, in an effort to avoid large queues. The polls opened at 7am and will close at 10pm, with anybody queueing at that time still eligible to cast their vote.
Meanwhile, a group of economists from across Britain’s universities has written to the Financial Times warning Scotland that independence would be a “gamble with very poor odds”.