Thursday, 22 October 2009

Iraq’s oil pipelines

Iraq’s health care remains severely affected by war with ill-equipped doctors, filthy hospitals and lack of basic medicines even in Baghdad’s best hospitals. In contrast, gigantic infrastructure projects for exploitation of the country’s oil and gas reserves are fast-tracked fuel. The interests in these developments, and the pipelines, map the realpolitik of the invasion and ‘reconstruction’ of Iraq, behind the political posturing, but pass with little comment in the mainstream media outside dry reports in the business pages.

As a result of the first contract to emerge from Iraq’s oilfield auction in June, the country’s oil ministry has signed an agreement with British Petroleum and CNPC, China’s largest oil and gas producer and supplier, to develop the ‘super-giant’ Rumalia oil field. The foreign firms have the lion’s share of the development, which aims to boost output to 2.85 million barrels per day. BP has a 38 per cent stake, CNPC 37 per cent and Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organisation the remaining 25 per cent. UK firm Foster Wheeler is to build the country’s biggest ever oil refinery to process over 300,000 barrels of oil per day, complete with an export pipeline.

Back in June 2008, UAE based Dana Gas and Crescent Petroleum’s LPG plants, complete with a 180km natural gas pipeline to fuel new power stations, was on fast track, and at $650 million the largest single private sector investment in Iraq since 2003. Now, Dana Gas and Crescent Oil intend to build a $60 billion Gas City in the province of Anbar, which has suffered some of the heaviest fighting since the US led invasion. Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki has identified gas from the Akkas field for possible export of 15 billion cubic metres via the planned Nabucco pipeline from Turkey to Western Europe, which aims to reduce dependence on Russian gas supplies, (see this article by Peter C Glover on the ‘international intrigue’ surrounding the Nabucco pipeline) or to Syria for power and fertiliser plants. The Province Governor, Quassim Al-Fahdawi is arguing that the first priority for use of the gas should be the local economy in Anbar, rather than export.

As pipelines are built for exporting fossil fuels, the Iraqi government is supporting a crackpot scheme aiming to produce biofuel from dates. It is estimated that Iraq’s production of dates could rise from about 350,000 tonnes per year to 900,000. So much for claims that new generations of biofuels will not compete with food supplies. Hunger is a pertinent issue for Iraq with the World Food Programme estimates that 930,000 Iraqis face food insecurity and an additional 6.4 million would be food insecure without the Public Distribution System.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Plastic food for your child's lunchbox

The UK has a problem of declining take up of school meals, in Scotland the proportion of pupils eating schools meals was down to 39 per cent earlier this year. One reason is the drive for healthier meals and snacks at school, the changing menus with the unfamiliar food means lots of pupils just go off and buy burgers and chips etc. In addition to competition from takeaway outlets which often sell greasy and overprocessed food, school meals have to contend with competition from heavily marketed products with the targeting parents for putting in their children’s school lunch boxes.

I bought this product for a child’s lunch box 4 years ago in October 2005. It is from the Dairylea Lunchables range. The packaging is all about the chance to win an adventure weekend and activity toys, and has a cartoon character, a dancing cow that looks like its got BSE. Inside the actual ‘food’, encased in multiple layers of plastic, is less colourful. There is some ‘meat’ and some sort of pitta type bread, inside which lurks some processed cheese encased in its own layer of plastic, the type of cheese that doubles up as a toy as it can be torn into strips. It came with a concession to real food, a small carton of 100% orange juice, and some strawberry flavoured yoghurt. The rules on labelling mean that the use of the term ‘strawberry flavoured’, as opposed to ‘strawberry flavour’, means that it should contain at least a little bit of real strawberry and not entirely artificial flavourings.

I am keeping the product to see what will eventually happen to it. Three years later it looked much the same, I took this photo in 2008, now in October 2009 there is little discernible difference. I wonder if it will start leaking noxious gas if the plastic biodegrades before the food-like substance contents. I might open it after keeping it for 10 years, but suspect it will look much the same in 2015.

The Lunchables products have had their marketing claims challenged. In 2002, the ‘Harvest Ham’ product in the Dairylea Lunchables range won the dubious honour of the Food Commission’s Parents’ Jury Not In My Lunchbox award for the worst food product marketed for children’s lunch boxes, listing the product’s ingredients much more prominently than the small print on the packaging. One mother’s comment summed up the product as ‘Absolutely vile, overprocessed rubbish’. The manufacturer, Kraft Foods, was hauled up by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for the Lunchables range in 2007, upholding complaints that the advert breached clauses on ‘truthfulness’ and ‘substantiation’ in its claims that the product was ‘packed with good stuff’ and banned the advertisement from being used in future campaigns.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

US continues airport stimulus funds

In August, US television network CBS reported that, out of a total of $1.1 billion in federal grant money from the Obama administration, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) had awarded $100 million to 50 airport projects that did not meet with grant criteria. Stimulus money had been spent on tiny airports serving recreational flyers and corporate jets, and small remote communities, including $15 million for Ouzinkie, with a population of just 167, to replace its runway. In addition, the FAA approved funds for four airports with a track record of mismanagement of federal funds

Yet, in September, the US Senate was considering legislation to allow an increase in the most obvious form of aviation subsidy, to raise the maximum airport passenger fees from $4.50 to £7 per passenger. According to the FAA this would raise about $1.3 billion for airport development. This is particularly eagerly awaited by Chicago O’Hare Airport, to enable expansion to 8 runways and a new terminal, a controversial development as documented by the blog The Reckless Expansion of O’Hare Airport. Many US airports are still receiving considerable stimulus funds for baggage handling and security including $14.4 for San Antonio Airport and $15.6 million for Dayton.

In addition to federal stimulus funds, some states are still proving generous. For example since 2003, Pennsylvania has spent more than $87 million in state funds to improve the state’s airports and in June Governor of Pennsylvania Edward G Rendell announced expenditure of nearly US$3 million for 16 airports to improve safety and facility maintenance.

Port Columbus Airport in Ohio, USA, has requested $1.5 million from President Obama’s economic stimulus package to replace its leaking roof with a ‘green’ roof. Green roofs already garnish the most visible buildings in several airports including Chicago’ O’Hare and Midway, with landscape planting on water-resistant membranes deflecting heat, absorbing noise and reducing water runoff. The airport is also hoping for $650,000 for five low-emission, fuel-efficient shuttle buses. Great measures for improving the airport’s environmental performance and image, but none of this tinkering with the airport site will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the core business of the flights.

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