Caracas defends Syrian oil shipment

CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez defended an oil sale to Syria by saying his is a free country that can trade with whichever country it wishes.

A Venezuelan ship carrying oil arrived in Syria last week, one day before the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution censuring Damascus for its crackdown on dissidents.

The shipment was confirmed for The New York Times by Commodity Flow, a company using satellite data to track shipping traffic.

Chavez defended the shipment by saying nobody’s questioned sales to the United States, one of his country’s greatest adversaries. Venezuela is among the largest exporters of oil to the United States.

“We are a free country,” he was quoted as saying.

The Times states the shipment runs in opposition to efforts to isolate Syria, though U.S. State Department officials said sanctions on Damascus don’t prohibit oil shipments to Syria.

Venezuela has some of the largest oil reserves in the world and the newspaper reported that Chavez is able to make political gains by using petroleum revenue to finance social programs.

Chavez, who has been diagnosed with cancer, is up for re-election this year.

U.K. investing in landfill gas for power

LONDON, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Investments in technology needed to turn landfill waste into energy suggest there’s a good business opportunity in green energy, a British official said.

British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s is among investors, which also include Prince Charles, spending around $100 million in start-up Tamar Energy that will produce energy from organic waste in the country.

Tamar aims to develop a regional network of more than 40 plants that would use microbes to convert organic waste into gas that would produce around 100 megawatts of electricity within five years.

Caroline Spelman, U.K. secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, said investments like these show green energy is starting to make good business sense.

“This investment shows there are great business opportunities in this technology, creating heat and power to run homes and businesses and reducing the amount of organic waste that would otherwise lie rotting in landfill,” she was quoted by The Daily Telegraph as saying.

British Energy Minister Charles Hendry said the country aims to get 15 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2020. To do this, London needs to attract investors to the green energy sector.

“There is good reason to believe we can achieve the kind of investment we need, provided that we get policy right as we go forward,” he said in a statement.

Greenpeace critical of arctic oil plans

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Environmental group Greenpeace claims Shell has spent billions of dollars on arctic exploration plans but not much on oil-spill response.

The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced this week it approved Shell’s oil spill response plan for the Chukchi Sea.

The U.S. government said its approval requires Shell to stop drilling 38 days before ice would cover the drilling site. The company was required to draft plans for a worst-case scenario. Its plans include a capping and capture system and the ability to kill the well in the event of a spill.

Greenpeace said Shell’s oil-spill response plan is full of “self-styled solutions” that have never been tested. The advocacy group claims most of Shell’s draft looks “look like they’ve been drawn by a child.”

“Shell has already spent over $4 billion on its Arctic oil program,” Greenpeace said. “Judging by Shell’s spill plan, it’s clear they haven’t spent much of that money on working out how to stop the Arctic being ruined by leaking oil.”

There’s an estimated production potential of around 700,000 barrels of oil in the region where Shell said it wants to drill up to six wells.

USGS finds low radiation threat from Japan

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) — The U.S. Geological Survey said it found low levels of radioactive particles from Japan’s nuclear disaster in about 20 percent of its nationwide surveys.

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant was crippled by a magnitude-9 earthquake and ensuing tsunami in March. The disaster sparked fears that radioactivity would become a threat in the United States.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had said it found trace amounts of radioactive iodine, cesium and tellurium from the Japanese nuclear accident at air monitors on the U.S. West Coast.

The USGS said it found radioactive particles in about 20 percent of the 167 sites it sampled in the United States. Most of that was found in samples along the West Coast.

The agency said that while it didn’t assess human health risk, its monitoring confirmed that radiation levels were “far below” what’s considered a threat to human health.

The EPA had said Americans receive radiation doses 100,000 times higher than levels coming from Japan during a typical round-trip international airplane flight.

The USGS said it estimated that it took about two weeks for radioactive particles from the failed nuclear plant to circle the globe.

Nigeria upbeat about oil prospects

ABUJA, Nigeria, Feb. 23 (UPI) — With a draft petroleum law expected by March, a Nigerian official said Abuja expected to invest heavily in the oil sector with its major corporate partners.

More than $100 billion in investments are planned during the next five years for oil and natural gas exploration off the coast of Nigeria through joint ventures with major energy companies like Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell.

“That’s our investment profile both in the production sharing contracts and joint ventures from now to 2016 and beyond,” Austen Oniwon, group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., told Bloomberg News.

“Joint venture funds will come from both the government and the international oil companies, while the production sharing contracts will be from the contractor.”

The country’s petroleum minister said a draft petroleum law would be sent to lawmakers within six weeks. Oil exploration has declined in Nigeria because producers are wary of investments without the law, Bloomberg said.

Shell told Bloomberg development of Nigerian deep-water oil fields was well below expectations in part because of the lack of investment.

Nigeria has at least 37 billion barrels of crude oil reserves and is the fifth-largest exporter to U.S. markets.

BP starts new wind farm in Texas

FORT STOCKTON, Texas, Feb. 23 (UPI) — British energy company BP announced that it began full-scale commercial operations at a 60-turbine wind farm in west Texas.

BP Wind Energy joined state and local officials in a ceremony to start commercial operations at the Sherbino 2 wind farm.

U.S. Rep. Francisco Canseco, R-Texas, said renewable energy projects would reduce the dependency on fossil fuels in a cost-effective way.

“We can create a lot of energy right here in Texas and projects like the Sherbino 2 wind farm will ensure that we don’t miss opportunities to make America more energy independent,” he said in a statement.

BP estimates the 60-turbine wind farm, on a 20,000-acre site in Pecos County, can generate enough electricity to meet the demands of 45,000 homes.

John Graham, president and chief executive officer at BP Wind Energy, said there were significant economic benefits in the domestic wind energy sector.

“Texas is a leader in promoting renewable power generation and this aligns well with BP’s commitment to produce essential sources of energy and provide cost-competitive power to our customers,” he said.

Oil door still open for Europe, Iran says

TEHRAN, Feb. 23 (UPI) — European countries can secure crude oil deliveries from Iran provided they sign 2- to 5-year contracts, an Iranian oil executive said.

Iranian officials this week said they were halting crude oil deliveries to Great Britain and France, a largely symbolic move that pushed oil prices to 9-month highs nonetheless.

Ahmad Qalebani, managing director of the National Iranian Oil Co., announced that others in Europe were welcome to sign contracts for Iranian crude oil deliveries.

“Only European companies with a 2- to 5-year contract with Iran can purchase the country’s crude, otherwise (Tehran’s) relations with those companies will be reconsidered,” he was quoted by Iran’s state-funded broadcaster Press TV as saying.

He said Iran was waiting for the European to start negotiating oil contacts. Without those commitments, he said, Iran will stop selling oil to them.

Press TV clarified that Iran announced Feb. 15 it was cutting oil to the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Portugal.

“If companies outside France and the U.K. want to buy crude from Iran, they must sign a 2- to 5-year contract with us, guarantee they will not sell Iranian crude to these two countries, no conditions must be set in the contract and no reference must be made to European sanctions (imposed against Iran),” Qalebani said.

Western sanctions on Iran’s financial sector make it difficult to process crude oil payments.

Huge gas find declared off Romania’s coast

VIENNA, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Preliminary results from the first deep-water exploration well off the coast of Romania reveal significant natural gas potential, companies said.

Exxon Mobil and its joint venture with Austrian energy company OMV announced results from the Domino-1 exploration well off the coast of Romania.

The well, in the so-called Neptune block, is about 100 miles off the Romanian coast in about 3,000 feet of water, making it the country’s first deep-water exploration well.

The companies said early tests indicate there’s an estimated 1.5 trillion-3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the area, making it one of the biggest finds in OMV’s history.

“It is too early in the data evaluation and exploration process to determine whether the Neptune block will ultimately prove to be commercially developable or not,” a statement read.

The companies said if it does prove to be a commercial development, exploration and development investments could reach “several billion” U.S. dollars. First production would be expected by the end of the decade “at the earliest,” the companies said.

Gazprom: South Stream vital for EU markets

MOSCOW, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Building the South Stream natural gas pipeline for Europe will give Gazprom the flexibility it needs to adapt to changing market conditions, an official said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke with Gazprom’s top executive Alexei Miller about the expected benefits of the South Stream pipeline for Europe.

“It is a very timely project. Besides the evident growth in gas transit reliability, it will considerably enhance our capabilities to flexibly adapt to changes of demand for energy carriers in Europe,” Miller said in a statement. “It is an important factor of Russian gas competitiveness in European markets.”

Construction on South Stream is scheduled for December. The pipeline would split with arteries headed to southern Europe after passing through Turkish waters of the Black Sea.

Gazprom added that it finished a consolidated feasibility study for South Stream, which means all the studies for the offshore sections in the respective host nations are integrated.

Gazprom struggled to keep up with rising demand during a deadly cold snap that gripped much of Europe earlier this year.

Gazprom meets about one-quarter of Europe’s natural gas needs, though 80 percent of that runs through Soviet-era transit networks in Ukraine.

Internet a pipeline for counterfeit drugs

HOBOKEN, N.J., Feb. 22 (UPI) — Criminals are increasingly using the Internet to sell counterfeit medicines with some turning up in legitimate outlets such as pharmacies, a U.S. study found.

A review study led by the International Journal of Clinical Practice published in its March edition estimates global sales of counterfeit medicines are worth more than $75 billion, having doubled in just five years between 2005 and 2010.

Studies have identified large numbers of Web sites supplying prescription-only drugs without a prescription and people buying Internet drugs despite being aware of the dangers, the journal reported.

“Counterfeit medicines pose an every-increasing threat to public health, including death and inadequate healthcare as a result of self medication,” Dr. Graham Jackson, the journal’s editor and review leader, said.

“Particularly worrying examples include counterfeit cancer and heart drugs and fake vaccines sold during the bird and swine flu scares.”

Counterfeit drugs are being found in legitimate supply chains, the review found.

For example, Britain has had nine product recalls in the last three years after counterfeit medicines reached pharmacy and patient levels, it said.

“It is vital that healthcare professionals play a proactive role in fighting the rise in counterfeit medicines by reporting all suspected cases to the relevant health authorities,” Jackson said.