Somalia’s oil prospects add new dangers

MOGADISHU, Somalia, March 1 (UPI) — After two decades of incessant clan warfare, lawless, divided and poverty-stricken Somalia appears to be on the cusp of becoming an oil state, a transition that many fear could plunge the world’s most failed state into new paroxysms of violence.

Britain is leading the charge to stake its claim on the energy riches oilmen say lies beneath the sands of the Horn of Africa country.

Some analysts warn that exploiting oil in the autonomous northwestern enclave of Puntland, and believed to extend across the ravaged country, will intensify the conflict rather than act as a catalyst for peace.

Somalia has been without a central government since clan warlords overthrew dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991.

In the chaos that ensued, the country was split between constantly changing clan rivalries. A seemingly endless war and a series of famines killed hundreds of thousands of people.

After a disastrous U.N. intervention in the early 1990s, the world largely ignored the savagery tearing resource-poor Somalia.

But in the last few years, major oil and natural gas discoveries have been made across the entire East Africa region, from the Horn of Africa in the northeast, down to Tanzania and Mozambique in the south, and inland in Uganda and the Democratic republic of Congo around Lake Albert.

Estimates of Somalia’s reserves, onshore and offshore, go as high as 110 billion barrels of oil.

There’s also likely to be vast natural gas reserves in Somali waters in the Indian Ocean. Fields containing an estimated 100 trillion cubic feet of gas have been found off Mozambique and Tanzania.

British Prime Minister David Cameron convened an international conference on Somalia in London last week as all this unfolded. That came soon after a surprise visit to the country by Foreign Secretary William Hague, the first British official of that rank to do so since 1992.

Hague talked of “the beginning of an opportunity” to rebuild the war-shattered country.

While in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, he named a new British ambassador to Somalia, who’ll be based in Kenyan until the Somali security situation improves.

The London conference pledged greater economic and financial aid for Somalia and intensified efforts to restore security, primarily by crushing al-Shabaab, an Islamist movement battling the Federal Transitional Government, an inept, corruption-plagued administration backed by the West.

The Western effort followed an announcement by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahari that al-Shabaab had formally joined the global jihadist network.

That came as al-Shabaab, recently driven out of Mogadishu by an African Union force funded by the United States, was being increasingly squeezed on all sides by the 10,000-strong AU peacekeeping force and invading Kenyan and Ethiopian forces, discreetly supported by the Americans, who sought to aid the TFG.

This renewed commitment to restoring stability in Somalia hasn’t officially been linked to the discovery of oil there.

But London’s Observer newspaper reported Sunday, “Britain is involved in a secret high-stakes dash for oil in Somalia, with the government offering humanitarian aid and security assistance in the hope of a stake in the beleaguered country’s future energy industry …

“Talks are going on between British officials and Somali counterparts over exploiting oil reserves in the northeastern region.”

Puntland Minister for International Cooperation Abdulkadir Abdi Hashi said his government had approached BP as a partner.

Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said Puntland had little choice but to lure Western oil companies by offering them access to the country’s natural resources, which also include uranium.

But analysts fear the London conference is on dangerous ground.

“By raising expectations and setting a timetable and target for political reform, security assistance and regional collaboration that are unlikely to be met, Britain and its partners risk making a bad situation worse,” observed British international affairs expert Simon Tisdall.

“Without determined follow-through, these good intentions could open the way to greater human suffering, increased foreign military intervention and, ultimately, partition — presaging the definitive disintegration of Somalia as a sovereign state.”

In January, the Canadian wildcatter Africa Oil began the first drilling in Somalia in 21 years and made strikes in Puntland.

It estimates there could be reserves of up to 4 billion barrels, worth about $500 billion at today’s prices, in its two drilling blocks alone.

People won’t wait for ‘slow’ Web pages

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., March 1 (UPI) — Internet users waiting for a Web page to load find a delay of even just milliseconds too long, engineers at U.S. search giant Google say.

A delay of 400 milliseconds, about the blink of an eye, causes people to search less, they said.

“Subconsciously, you don’t like to wait,” Arvind Jain, Google’s resident speed guru, told The New York Times. “Every millisecond matters.”

Internet users will visit a commercial or news Web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds, experts said.

And the quest for speed is becoming more important as data-hungry smartphones and tablets create digital traffic jams as people download maps, videos, news updates and other content, analysts said.

“Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,” Harry Shum, a computer scientist and speed specialist at Microsoft, said.

Fires more frequent but not more severe

REDDING, Calif., March 1 (UPI) — Wildfires in California have grown in size over time but haven’t necessarily grown in severity or in negative impacts on the ecosystem, scientists say.

Researchers from the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California, Davis, assessed the size, severity and frequency of wildfires in four national forests — Klamath, Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers — in northwestern California from 1910 to 2008 and their effects on the ecosystem.

Fire severity is measured by its impact on resources such as watersheds, wildlife habitat, soils, vegetation and forest products, they said.

“High” severity patches within fires are areas where greater than 95 percent of the forest canopy has been killed.

The study found despite an increase in total acres burned there was no corresponding trend in the proportion of fires burning at high severity, a USFS release said Thursday.

The findings suggest fires burning at less than high severity could be useful in attaining ecological and management goals, researchers said.

“This study has some very important implications for fire and forest management policies,” USFS geographer Carl Skinner said. “Our results support the idea that wildfires could be managed for ecological benefit in this bioregion.”

Floor of world’s oldest forest uncovered

BINGHAMTON, N.Y., March 1 (UPI) — The floor of the world’s oldest forest, dating from 385 million years ago, has been discovered in a New York county, researchers say.

The finding in Schoharie County could shed new light on the role of modern-day forests and their impact on climate change, they said.

“It was like discovering the botanical equivalent of dinosaur footprints,” researcher William Stein, professor of biological sciences at Binghamton University, said.

“But the most exciting part was finding out just how many different types of footprints there were. The newly uncovered area was preserved in such a way that we were literally able to walk among the trees, noting what kind they were, where they had stood and how big they had grown.”

The prehistoric trees resembled modern-day cycads or tree ferns, but questions had remained about what the surrounding area looked like, whether other plant life co-existed with these trees and how, the researchers wrote in the journal Nature.

In 2010, researchers found a large, substantially intact portion of the ancient forest horizon, complete with root systems, which suggested the area probably enjoyed a wetland environment in a tropical climate.

“The complexity of the … site can teach us a lot about the original assembly of our modern day ecosystems,” Stein said.

“As we continue to understand the role of forests in modern global systems, and face potential climate change and deforestation on a global scale, these clues from the past may offer valuable lessons for managing our planet’s future.”

Road networks said urbanization driver

LONDON, March 1 (UPI) — A study of 200 years of evolution of road networks in Italy has begun to unlock the factors driving the growing phenomenon of urbanization, researchers say.

An international team of mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists and urbanists, including researchers from Queen Mary, University of London, used quantitative tools of network theory to examine the evolution of road networks, a long lasting element of urban forms considered a fundamental driver in urban development.

“Urbanization is a complex phenomenon that affects our society and shapes the environment where we live,” researcher Vito Latora from Queen Mary’s School of Mathematical Sciences said in a university release Thursday.

“However, a quantitative assessment of urbanization processes has been lacking.”

The researchers’ study of road networks around an area north of Milan called Groane suggests the evolution of such networks is driven by two key elements: exploration, when new roads trigger spatial evolution beyond the outskirts of a town, and densification, or the increase in local road density around existing urban centers.

“Exploration is more common during earlier historical periods, whereas densification predominates in later years,” Latora said.

“Our study of Groane shows that over time, cells of land demarcated by roads have become more evenly distributed and square shaped.

“We found a general trend towards a greater number of four-way road junctions, compared with the earlier structure where dead ends and three-way junctions were more common,” he said.

The most central streets in the network in 2007 tend to coincide with the oldest ones, showing the importance of central roads as a robust spatial backbone that remains stable over time and drives urbanization, he said.

Study identifies threats to marine turtles

SOLOMONS, Md., March 1 (UPI) — A study of leatherback turtles has found potential danger zones in the Pacific Ocean where fishing activities could threaten the animals, U.S. researchers say.

The largest sea turtle in the world, leatherbacks can grow to more than 6 feet in length, but they are also one of the most threatened turtle species, researchers said.

The new study identifying high-use areas in the Pacific could help inform decisions about fishing practices to help reduce the threat to the species, they said.

“The study shows that leatherbacks can be found throughout the Pacific Ocean and identifies high-use areas that are of particular importance to their survival,” said lead author Helen Bailey of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

“This information on their movements is essential for identifying hot spots and assessing where limiting fishing at particular times of year may be effective for protecting leatherbacks.”

Leatherbacks, the widest-ranging marine turtle species known to migrate across entire ocean basins, are at risk of passing through high-use fishing areas on these long journeys and becoming entangled in fishing gear, researchers said.

“Leatherback turtles are long-lived animals that take a long time to reach maturity, so when they are killed in fishing gear it has a huge impact on the population,” study coordinator James Spotila of Drexel University said. “Their numbers are declining so rapidly it is critical that measures are taken quickly to ensure these animals don’t go extinct.”

‘Earthshine’ technique may find alien life

GARCHING, Germany, March 1 (UPI) — Signs of life on Earth revealed by sunlight reflected onto the moon by our planet could be a way to spot alien life in the universe, European scientists say.

Astronomers have analyzed this reflected light to look for signs of life, or biosignatures, including specific combinations of gases in Earth’s atmosphere that could only exist in tandem with some form of organic life, SPACE.com reported Wednesday.

“With earthshine observations, what we do is use the moon as a giant mirror,” Michael Sterzik at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile said. “The sun illuminates the Earth, and that light is reflected onto the moon — but the side of the moon that we usually see as the dark portion.”

Astronomers can study the properties of this reflected “earthshine” to study the Earth as if it were an exoplanet and look for signs of life, a release from ESO headquarters in Germany said Wednesday.

And the technique could be a valuable tool in the search for life on worlds outside our solar system, the researchers said.

“It’s currently being applied to giant exoplanets, not because we expect to find life, but just to inspect the atmospheres,” Sterzik said.

“With giant telescopes and more dedicated instrumentation, the technique may be a pathway toward finding primitive biosignatures on other planets in the future.”

Arctic losing ice cover at faster rate

GREENBELT, Md., March 1 (UPI) — The oldest and thickest arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than younger and thinner ice at the edges of the Arctic Ocean’s floating ice cap, NASA says.

Normally the thicker ice, known as multiyear ice, survives through the summer melt season while young ice that has formed over winter quickly melts again.

The rapid disappearance of older ice is making arctic sea ice even more vulnerable to further decline in the summer, researcher Joey Comiso at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said.

The NASA study published in Journal of Climate examined how multiyear ice — ice that has survived through at least two summers — has diminished with each passing winter over the last three decades.

Multiyear ice “extent” is diminishing at a rate of 15.1 percent per decade, the researchers found.

“The average thickness of the arctic sea ice cover is declining because it is rapidly losing its thick component, the multiyear ice,” Comiso said. “At the same time, the surface temperature in the arctic is going up, which results in a shorter ice-forming season.

“It would take a persistent cold spell for most multiyear sea ice and other ice types to grow thick enough in the winter to survive the summer melt season and reverse the trend.”

New camera can re-focus blurry pictures

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., March 1 (UPI) — A digital camera that looks like no other will allow users to focus or refocus pictures on a computer after they are taken, its California manufacturer says.

Silicon Valley startup company Lytro has begun shipping a camera it says will take “living pictures” that can be manipulated after the fact in a number of ways, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Users will be able to bring everything in the image into focus at once, regardless of depth, or change the perspective from which the picture is seen, or switch a photo back and forth between 2-D and 3-D, Lytro said.

The $399 Lytro camera is a so-called light-field camera, using different technology than traditional digital cameras that allows it to capture and process more, and different, information about the light hitting its lens than other cameras do.

The resulting digital picture file can be manipulated with software both in the camera and on a computer in different ways, Lytro said.

However, its images can’t be imported into standard photo software, only to its own accompanying software that is only available for Mac computers, although a Windows version is in the works, the company said.

China disputes Philippine’s oil blocks

MANILA, Philippines, March 1 (UPI) — The Philippines’ invitation to foreign investors to explore 15 petroleum blocks in the disputed South China Sea has sparked anger from China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday that “it is illegal for any country, government or company, without the Chinese government’s permission, to develop oil and natural gas in waters under Chinese jurisdiction,” China Daily reports.

But the Philippines maintains that all of the 15 areas are within Philippine territory.

Philippines Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday dismissed China’s denouncement, saying: “Now, if they get angry, we cannot control their emotions. But then, we still stick to the fact that these [areas] are within our territory. It is ours. Like our president said, ‘What is ours is ours.’ That’s very definite,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

Gazmin said that foreign oil companies that accept the Philippines’ invitation to invest in the oil blocks could be assured their operations would be secure, stressing that “investors would not come here if they weren’t assured of their safety. We are doing all that we can in order to protect what’s ours.”

So far, 38 companies have signed up as possible bidders for the oil and gas sites, including Shell Philippines Exploration B.V., Total E&P Activities Petrolieres, Esso Exploration International Ltd. and Spain’s Repsol Exploracion S.A.

An editorial published Thursday in China Daily newspaper said the Philippines has chosen “to be a troublemaker.”

By inviting major foreign oil companies to invest in exploration of 15 offshore oil and gas areas in the South China Sea, the editorial stated, “the Philippines should assume direct responsibility for the fresh flare-up of the South China Sea issue.”

“The Philippines should bear in mind that a number of the 15 areas are under Chinese maritime jurisdiction and it does not have the right to invite foreign enterprises to bid for service contracts there,” the editorial said.

China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and adjacent waters and it is unlawful for any country or company to explore oil and gas in areas under Chinese jurisdiction without the permission of the Chinese government,” it continued.

Two of the 15 areas — designated as areas 3 and 4 — are near the offshore area called Reed Bank, a point of contention last year when two Chinese ships were reported as intimidating a survey vessel.

The South China Sea has proven oil reserves of around 7.7 billion barrels, with estimates reaching to 28 billion barrels.

Stop speculating, Markey tells oil traders

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — Speculators are turning the global market into a “crude oil casino” and U.S. taxpayers are paying for it at the pump, a top congressional Democrat said.

Oil prices are near 9-month highs in part because of concerns in the Middle East. Iran has threatened to close key oil shipping lanes through the Strait of Hormuz and last month halted crude oil deliveries to Great Britain and France.

The move was largely symbolic as London stopped buying Iranian crude last year, though market jitters helped drive oil prices higher.

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, accused Republicans of trying to block rules that would limit speculation in the commodities market.

Markey, in a statement, said there’s a “wild West” mentality on Wall Street. Traders, he said, are exploiting global events to make a profit and U.S. consumers are paying the price.

“Wall Street speculators have turned the oil market into a crude oil casino where the American driver is now on the losing side of the bet,” he said.

Markey had called on U.S. President Barack Obama to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to lower gasoline prices in the United States. The Obama administration, however, said there’s no “magic bullet” that would influence prices.

Group claims win over ‘dirty coal’

CHICAGO, March 1 (UPI) — Closing two coal-fired power plants in Chicago is a sign the “dirty coal industry” is on its last leg, an environmental advocacy group said.

Utility company Midwest Generation announced it would retire its Fisk and Crawford coal-fired plants following pressure from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The company said it would retire the Fisk station by the end of the year and close the Crawford facility by the end of 2014.

Rainforest Action Network, in a statement, hailed the announcement as a victory in its fight against coal.

“The shuttering of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants pounds two more nails into the coffin of the dirty coal industry and provides even more evidence of why coal is a bad investment,” the advocacy group said in a statement.

Emanuel, in a statement, said the company made the “appropriate decision.”

Environmental groups say pollutants from coal-fired plants are a danger to human health. The U.S. government in December called on utility companies to lower the amount of pollutants the plants release.

Republican leaders have opposed legislation that would place restrictions on the coal industry. U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio., sponsored a bill that passed through the House Natural Resources Committee that would prevent U.S. President Barack Obama from enacting “unnecessary” regulation regarding coal mining.

“We are now one step closer to stopping President Obama’s war on the coal industry and the jobs that go with it,” Johnson said in a statement. “There is no question that coal is vital to providing reliable, low-cost electricity to America.”

U.S. ready for trial in BP case

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — The U.S. government is ready to go to trial over the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers.

An explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April 2010, killing 11 rig workers and leading to one of the worst disasters in industry history.

British energy company BP announced in February that the U.S. District Court in New Orleans postponed a trial investigating its role in the accident until next week to allow for talks on a possible settlement.

Holder testified before the House Appropriations Committee that the government was ready to go to trial if the settlement talks fall through.

“We are prepared to go to trial,” he told the committee Tuesday. “We were ready to go to trial yesterday.”

The government, he added, has a “strong case” regarding potential violations of the Clean Water Act. BP denies the allegations though it’s set aside $3.5 billion to settle the alleged violations. Holder didn’t discuss the potential settlement specifically.

EIA: Canada No. 1 crude exporter to U.S.

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — Canada is the No. 1 exporter of crude oil to the United States, passing Saudi Arabia and Mexico, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reports.

December data from the EIA indicate the United States imported around 2.4 million barrels of Canadian crude oil per day, eclipsing Saudi Arabia and Mexico with a combined 2.1 million bpd.

Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama say his energy policies fall short of what’s needed to shield the country from overseas crises. Tensions with Iran are part of the reason for higher energy prices in recent weeks.

The Obama administration counters that oil production in the United States is reaching high levels, though others say that’s because of policies enacted by the previous administration.

Canadian officials said they were looking to deliver more crude oil to Asian markets because of delays in a presidential permit for the planned Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta.

The EIA said global petroleum consumption increased 36 percent to 23 million barrels per day from 1980-2010. During that period, consumption in North America increased 16 percent though Asian demand for petroleum increased 146 percent to nearly 15 million barrels per day.

Clinton warns Islamabad on Iranian gas

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — Pakistan is reminded there will be consequences if it moves forward with a natural gas pipeline from Iran, the U.S. secretary of state said.

Pakistan is coping with a natural gas shortage by pursuing two pipeline options. The United States supports an option from Turkmenistan that would travel through Afghanistan, while Iran has pressed for its version since its inception in the 1990s.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee there would be consequences if Pakistan went ahead with the Iranian option.

“We have been very clear in pointing out the consequences of building this pipeline,” she said at the hearing.

Pakistan has moved closer to the Iranian project despite U.S. objections. Pakistani authorities suggested land surveys were under way for their part of the pipeline.

The Turkmenistan pipeline has the support of the Asian Development Bank though security and pricing issues continue to overshadow developments.

U.S. State Department officials had said the Iranian natural gas pipeline was “a bad idea.”

A budget request from the State Department included funds to help Pakistan cope with its energy crisis.

Analysts: Saudi oil capacity strained

NEW YORK, March 1 (UPI) — The ability of Saudi Arabia to keep major economies supplied with oil amid Iranian concerns will be put to the test, energy analysts said.

Saudi Arabia last year increased crude oil production to offset market disruptions from the conflict in oil-rich Libya. The Financial Times said activity at some Saudi Arabian oil terminals suggests the country is ramping up production to address a market crisis sparked by tensions with Iran.

“Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are already close to their maximum production level, so it will all be up to Saudi Arabia,” Paul Tossetti, an analyst at PFC Energy, told the newspaper.

The Financial Times notes energy traders are divided over the effects of an increase in Saudi oil production. Some said more Saudi crude would lower prices while others said it would cut into spare capacity.

The International Energy Agency in January said Saudi Arabia was pumping more crude oil than it has in more than 30 years and domestic demand is expected to drag on spare capacity during the summer.

Mike Wittner, head of oil research at Societe Generale, told the Financial Times it remains to be seen how well Riyadh can handle the latest crisis.

“Maybe they can do it, maybe they can’t,” he said. “I guess we’re going to find out.”

Divisions over gas price link to Keystone

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — With TransCanada moving ahead with a U.S. leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, analysts were divided over the impact on retail gasoline prices in the United States.

TransCanada announced in February it was moving ahead with its so-called Gulf Coast Project to handle growing supplies of U.S. crude oil.

The larger Keystone XL pipeline could move as much as 830,000 barrels of oil per day from tar sands projects in Alberta to southern U.S. refineries. The Canadian government said in 2010 it would eventually result in a higher price for Canadian crude.

“The Canadian plan was to use their market power to raise prices in the United States and get more money from consumers,” Philip Verleger, founder of energy consulting firm PK Verleger LLC, told Bloomberg News. This could lead to a 20 cent increase in the price of gasoline in some U.S. markets, he said.

TransCanada, however, told the news service the Gulf Coast Project would result in cheaper gasoline. Ray Perryman, a consultant working for the Canadian pipeline company, said Keystone XL would lower the price of gasoline in the United States by around 4 cents per gallon.

Tensions with Iran are one of the factors behind higher oil prices, which are a main component in prices at the pump.

Pakistan to get crude from Iran on credit

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 1 (UPI) — A Pakistani official said Iran offered to sell the energy-starved country crude oil under a three-month deferred payment option.

U.S. sanctions on Iran’s financial entities cut off some crude oil deliveries to Pakistani. Asim Hussain, special Pakistani government assistance on energy issues, was quoted by the Platts news service as saying Tehran offered to sell crude oil on credit to get around the sanctions.

“Pakistan will soon finalize deals with Iran on the supply of crude oil on deferred payment,” he said.

The news service notes Pakistan could get as much as 80,000 barrels of crude oil from Iran under the terms of the deal.

India last month announced that it booked additional crude oil cargoes from Iran despite sanctions pressure on the financial mechanisms needed to process payments for Iranian crude.

New Delhi will pay 45 percent of its debt using rupees through an Indian bank account opened by Iran. India had paid about $1 billion per month through Turkish channels for Iranian crude in a move meant to get around tightening sanctions.

The Pakistani official didn’t say how Islamabad would settle its eventual financial obligations to Tehran.

Gazprom eyes Israeli natural gas

JERUSALEM, March 1 (UPI) — A delegation from Russian energy company Gazprom planned meetings with Israeli officials to discuss the Leviathan natural gas field, local media reports.

The Israeli economic news service Calcalist reports more than a dozen representatives from Gazprom arrived in the country this week to discuss the potential for work in the Leviathan natural gas field.

U.S. energy company Noble Energy said it believed it uncovered around 17 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the offshore field.

Calcalist said it would cost as much as $8 billion to develop the field. New partners are needed to hasten development.

Calcalist said Gazprom discussed a variety of options for Leviathan, including partnerships with other energy companies and sales agreements for regional markets. Gazprom, the new service said, is seeking to establish a stronger presence in the Middle East market.

Israel gets some of its electricity from the natural gas supplied through sabotage-vulnerable Egyptian pipelines, though authorities have said the country must find ways to become self-sufficient in energy.

Iraq keen to play role in Nabucco

BAKU, Azerbaijan, March 1 (UPI) — Iraq is very interested in shipping its natural gas reserves through the planned Nabucco pipeline for Europe, the country’s oil minister said.

Iraqi officials have expressed support for the Nabucco natural gas pipeline planned as an alternative to Russian energy resources.

Iraqi Oil Minister Asim Jihad told the Trend news service from Baku that his country is keen to play a role in the much-lauded pipeline project.

“Iraq’s officials have repeatedly stated that the country is interested in participation in this project,” he was quoted as saying.

Nabucco authorities have said they’d look to feeder lines, notably from Iraq, to provide additional capacity to the planned pipeline.

The International Energy Agency said political turmoil in Iraq could get in the way of broader energy developments, though Jihad brushed off the critique by saying all parties in Iraq were ready to discuss Nabucco.

The Nabucco pipeline company said construction on the pipeline is scheduled for late 2013. First gas is expected by 2017.

Nabucco is up against competing projects in the so-called Southern Corridor. In February, the consortium controlling Shah Deniz II natural gas field off the coast of Azerbaijan chose the Trans Adriatic pipeline, a Southern Corridor project, as a possible route to European natural gas consumers.

Google exec calls for digital ‘equality’

BARCELONA, Spain, Feb. 29 (UPI) — Google’s Eric Schmidt says “worrying legislative efforts” to censor the Web concern him but said technology will ultimately prevent a “digital caste system.”

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Schmidt said the Internet is “like water” — it will find a way to break through — but “we need to act now to avoid the rise of this new digital caste system.”

The Google executive chairman was referring to censorship efforts throughout the Middle East in the last year, from Egypt to Syria and Iran, where access to secure Web sites — including Google services — was cut off this month, PC Magazine reported Wednesday.

But technology, he said, will eventually create a “global community of equals.”

Schmidt warned against burdensome legislation in the United States.

“There’s a tendency of regulators to regulate now as opposed to what will be,” he said. “If you have to regulate, try to regulate the outcome, not the technology.

“If there’s an outcome you don’t like, don’t specify in law a specific technology because the technology moves forward.”

Bringing the Internet to underserved portions of the world was another major theme of his remarks.

“There will still be elites,” he said, but “technology is the leveler [because] everyone is blessed with creativity,” Schmidt said. “I believe this profoundly — in every person there is a company waiting to get out.”