Black holes’ effects on nearby stars eyed

GREENBELT, Md., Feb. 28 (UPI) — U.S. astronomers say they have identified a curious correlation between the mass of a galaxy’s central black hole and the velocity of stars around it.

A team led by Francesco Tombesi at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said a type of outflow driven by the black hole appears to be both powerful enough and common enough to explain this link between a black hole’s mass and the movement of stars in a vast, roughly spherical structure known as a bulge surrounding it and beyond the boundary where matter is consumed by it.

Most large galaxies contain a central black hole, but galaxies hosting more massive black holes also possess those bulges that contain, on average, faster-moving stars.

This suggested some sort of feedback mechanism between a galaxy’s black hole and its star-formation processes, astronomers said, but they could not explain how a monster black hole’s activity, while strongly consuming surrounding matter in a region several times larger than our solar system, could influence a galaxy’s bulge, which encompasses regions roughly a million times larger.

“This was a real conundrum. Everything was pointing to super-massive black holes as somehow driving this connection, but only now are we beginning to understand how they do it,” Tombesi said.

The researchers examined 42 nearby active galaxies using the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite and found so-called “ultra-fast outflows” of gas and energetic particles, flows the astronomers have dubbed UFOs.

“Although slower than particle jets, UFOs possess much faster speeds than other types of galactic outflows, which makes them much more powerful,” Tombesi said.

“They have the potential to play a major role in transmitting feedback effects from a black hole into the galaxy at large.”

Keystone XL lacks wetland review

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) — There hasn’t been a study on the effects that part of the Keystone XL oil pipeline would have on southern wetland ecosystems, an advocacy group said.

Canadian pipeline company TransCanada has announced an intention to build a section of its Keystone XL from Cushing, Okla., to the southern Texas coast.

Noah Greenwald, a program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said there’s been no analysis on how that section would affect wetland ecosystems.

“The Obama administration should be willing to take a hard look at this project and make sure it follows laws that protect clean water, wetlands and endangered species,” he said in a statement.

U.S. President Barack Obama in January rejected TransCanada’s initial proposal, saying an “arbitrary” deadline imposed by Republican leaders didn’t give his administration enough time to study the project. The U.S. State Department, however, had issued a report in August 2011 that the project created “no significant impacts provided environmental protections measures were implemented.

TransCanada said it would reapply for a permit for the entire project and supplement its request with an alternative route in Nebraska as soon as that route is selected.

Nebraskans said initial plans would run through a key aquifer.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, expressed frustration that only a portion of the project was planned.

“I am pleased to see TransCanada is moving forward but remain deeply disappointed that construction of the full pipeline has not been approved after more than three years of stringent environmental review,” he said in a statement.

TransCanada needs U.S. federal approval because the pipeline could cross the U.S.-Canadian border.

London passes more cash to wind sector

LONDON, Feb. 28 (UPI) — The British government awarded a local engineering company with a $1.9 million grant to develop certain components needed for wind turbines.

David Brown Gear Systems won the grant to develop a wind turbine gearbox slated for Samsung wind turbines. It’s the first company to receive a grant from the British Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Offshore Wind Components Technologies Innovation scheme.

“This cash shows we are really shifting gear when it comes to supporting innovation and offshore wind,” Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said.

“Making wind turbines more efficient is common sense and will help bring down the costs making them more attractive to build and helping us increase the amount of electricity we get from clean, green sources.”

The United Kingdom is leading the world in offshore wind development. A report in The Guardian newspaper in London, however, suggests the appetite for wind energy is diminishing because of concerns over costs and subsidies.

British Energy Secretary Ed Davey, in a response to the newspaper, said wind technology was one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy and subsidies would be cut to reflect lower costs.

“A responsible energy policy for this country is one that rules in all of the key low-carbon technologies to help us keep the lights on and emissions down,” he said. “Ruling any of them out would be folly.”

Officials worried by Google privacy policy

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Attorneys general in 36 states say they’re concerned over the implications of Google’s new privacy policy, especially for users of Android-powered smartphones.

They’ve sent a strongly worded letter to Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page questioning the company’s commitment to consumer privacy, saying the changes in Google’s policy would force Internet users to share personal data without a method to opt out, Computerworld reported Friday.

Google’s new policy, set to go into effect March 1, will bring together user data from services like YouTube, Gmail and Google search into a single merged profile for each user of those services.

Google said the changes will allow it to deliver better and more targeted services for users of its products. The company said users who do not like the new policy can simply stop using its services.

That did not sit well with the attorneys general.

“Google’s new privacy policy goes against a respect for privacy that Google has carefully cultivated as a way to attract consumers,” their letter to Google said.

“It rings hollow to call [the ability of users] to exit the Google products ecosystem a ‘choice’ in an Internet economy where the clear majority of all Internet users use — and frequently rely on — at least one Google product on a regular basis.”

The letter highlighted the potential problems the new privacy policy will have on Android-powered smartphone users, saying many of them will find it “virtually impossible” to escape the policy without ditching their phones.

“No doubt, many of these consumers bought an Android-powered phone in reliance on Google’s existing privacy policy,” which contains the ability of users to give their informed consent to privacy changes, the letter said.

Wind farm on hold over bald eagle concerns

RED WING, Minn., Feb. 24 (UPI) — Minnesota regulators say they’ve delayed a proposed wind farm since the developer failed to produce an adequate plan to protect bald eagles and other creatures.

The Public Utilities Commission voted Thursday to deny the plan, demanding that AWA Goodhue Wind, owned by Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, provide better research on how many eagles and bats fly through or near the site located in prime hunting and nesting territory.

“I don’t think that the American people are ready to watch Minnesota’s nesting bald eagles be destroyed on behalf of a Texas millionaire,” said Mary Hartman, one of a number of local residents of Red Wing who have been fighting the 48-turbine farm for years.

The commission’s decision highlights an emerging conflict between a demand for clean energy and growing evidence wind farms can kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats a year.

The Red Wing wind farm has drawn national attention from conservation groups concerned about the impact of such installations.

“This is one of the hottest fights in the nation,” said Kelly Fuller, wind campaign coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy.

“The public cares deeply about bald eagles,” Fuller said. “I’ve never met anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to kill bald eagles. They are special birds.”

Commissioners said they want AWA Goodhue Wind to do survey research on bats and birds and coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Then, they said, the company could re-apply in about a year.

Analysts: Android apps cost too much

PALO ALTO, Calif., Feb. 24 (UPI) — Software apps in Google’s Android Market are overpriced and that’s a concern for both U.S. users and developers, a Web tech site reports analysts as saying.

Experts at Canalys said top paid-for apps from the Android Market cost more than their equivalents on the Apple store, reported Friday.

Canalys conducted its study in the United States and found purchasing the top 100 paid-for apps in the Android store would cost $374.37 while doing the same on the Apple App Store would cost only $147.

The high price facing users could mean developers might also suffer as Android smartphone owners could be less likely to buy apps, Canalys said.

“That developers can apparently charge more for their apps on Android and make it into the top paid list is clearly a positive,” said Rachel Lashford, Canalys managing director for mobile.

“But the reality is that with fewer people willing to purchase apps on Android than on iOS today, there is more of a necessity to do so,” she said.

Developers should pursue “more aggressive price competition” and try to tempt users that have resisted paid-for apps in favor of free alternatives, she said.

“Selling more apps at higher prices is the Holy Grail for developers, but achieving big volumes of paid apps on Android is no small challenge.”

Apple acquires app search company Chomp

CUPERTINO, Calif., Feb. 24 (UPI) — Apple Inc. said it has acquired app-search engine Chomp, absorbing its specialists and technology intended to make it easier to locate apps.

Apple is believed to have made the move to help consumers find and buy apps as the company’s app store has grown to more than 550,000 titles, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Analysts say Apple’s existing app-store search capability is fairly basic and developers sometimes complain of the difficulty in getting their apps discovered without being featured by Apple.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment on the acquisition beyond confirming the company occasionally buys technology companies and “generally doesn’t discuss its purpose or plans,” the Journal reported.

Chomp operates its search service for apps built for Google Inc.’s Android operating system but it was unclear if that would continue after its acquisition by Apple, analysts said.

Drought may have ended Maya civilization

MEXICO CITY, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Relatively mild drought may have caused the collapse of the classic Maya civilization in what is now southern Mexico and Guatemala, researchers say.

It had long been believed that prolonged severe drought caused the collapse of the civilization in around 950 A.D, but Mexican and British researchers now think seasonal water supplies in the region could have been exhausted by a small but sustained drop in rainfall.

Researchers from Britain’s University of Southampton collaborated in the research with the Yucatan Center for Scientific Research in southern Mexico.

Analyzing estimates of rainfall and evaporation rates between 800 and 950 A.D., when the Maya civilization went into sharp decline, they found a relatively modest decline in rainfall was enough to deplete freshwater storage systems in the Yucatan lowlands, where there are no rivers, the BBC reported Friday.

“These reductions amount to only 25 to 40 percent in annual rainfall, but they were large enough for evaporation to become dominant over rainfall, and open water was rapidly reduced,” Professor Eelco Rohling of Southampton University said.

“Societal disruptions and abandonment of cities are likely consequences of critical water shortages, especially because there seems to have been a rapid repetition of multi-year droughts,” he said.

Archaeologists have long argued over the collapse of the classic Maya civilization, with other studies blaming social unrest, disease and deforestation for its demise.

Moth infesting Italian vineyards

ROME, Feb. 24 (UPI) — A moth infesting vineyards across northern Italy is a previously unknown species of an insect known as a leafminer, scientists say.

First discovered by Italian researchers in 2006, the pest was not identified until examination of the insect’s genetic code showed it to be a new species.

The Italian scientists had turned to insect expert Erik van Nieukerken from the Netherlands Center for Biodiversity in Leiden for help.

“We first turned to the [scientific] literature to find out what was already known, which was appallingly little for this group [of moths],” van Nieukerken told the BBC.

A method known as DNA bar coding was employed to look at a section of the pest’s genetic code.

“I figured out that this one, despite being quite common in North America, had no name,” van Nieukerken said.

The new species, dubbed Antispila oinophylla, had previously been confused with a similar North American species that feeds on Virginia creeper.

However, the genetic studies revealed it to be a different species with a taste for grapevines. In its native range across eastern North America, researchers said, it feeds on several species of wild grapes.

Van Nieukerken said it would have been easy for the insect’s cocoons containing larvae to be accidentally transported to Europe with plant material.

“They’re very small and exactly the same color as the leaves,” he told BBC Nature. “So if you were carrying plants, you would probably not notice them.”

New measures to battle invasive Asian carp

CHICAGO, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The Obama administration says the battle against invasive Asian carp, which have overwhelmed native U.S. fish populations, will get more aggressive this year.

“The 2012 framework will strengthen our defenses against Asian carp, moving even more innovative carp control projects from research into implementation,” said John Goss, Asian carp director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

New measures could include female fish urine intended to lure male carp to traps, fish toxin distributed inside specially tailored nano-matrices and a large underwater gun meant to deter intrepid carp headed toward the Great Lakes from the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, the Chicago Tribune reported Thursday.

Administration officials said $51.5 million will be allocated to monitor and control the invasive species that has been making a 30-year trek through U.S. rivers toward Lake Michigan.

Sonar will be installed on electric barriers in Chicago canals that connect rivers to the lake for better monitoring of carp, they said, and a gun that shoots a high-energy pulse of water to deter fish was successfully tested last year.

Officials said they expect to field test nano-sized fish toxins to see if specially designed capsules holding the toxin will allow them to selectively kill Asian carp.

Rhino horn smuggling ring cracked

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 24 (UPI) — U.S. authorities say they’ve cracked an international smuggling ring dealing in rhinoceros horns, sold at high prices in Asia for supposed cancer-curing powers.

Federal agents and local enforcement officers raided homes and businesses and made several arrests in a dozen states, officials said.

“By taking out this ring of rhino horn traffickers, we have shut down a major source of black market horn and dealt a serious blow to rhino horn smuggling both in the United States and globally,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe told the Los Angeles Times.

A global run on the rare horns from black and white rhinos, which fetch huge prices of more than $20,000 a pound when sold in places like Vietnam and China, has led to an increase in poaching in Africa.

In the United States, authorities said, traders are obtaining and illegally transporting horns from auction houses, antique shops and hunters’ trophy walls.

A misconception they can cure cancer makes them “worth more than crack, heroin or gold, pound for pound,” said Crawford Allan, North American director of TRAFFIC, which monitors wildlife trade.

Obama defends energy policy

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama defended his energy policies this week, saying “there are no short-term silver bullets” to the issue of gasoline prices.

Speaking Thursday at the University of Miami in Florida, Obama took aim at increasing attacks by Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates on his administration over increasing gasoline prices.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to make phony election-year promises about lower gas prices. What’s harder is to make a serious, sustained commitment to tackle a problem that may not be solved in one year or one term or even one decade,” Obama said.

He characterized Republicans’ energy strategy as, “Step one is drill, step two is drill and step three is keep drilling.”

“Well the American people aren’t stupid. You know that’s not a plan — especially since we’re already drilling. It’s a bumper sticker. It’s not a strategy to solve our energy challenge. It’s a strategy to get politicians through an election,” Obama said.

The president cited instability in the Middle East as the biggest factor causing the price of oil to rise.

“When uncertainty increases, speculative trading on Wall Street can drive up prices even more. So there are short-term factors at work here,” he said.

Saying that “we absolutely need safe, responsible oil production here in America,” Obama maintained that “under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years.”

But in a statement following the president’s speech, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized the Obama administration’s track record on energy.

“Facing an election, the president would like everyone to forget that gas prices have doubled over the past three years while he consistently blocked and slowed the production of American-made energy,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.

“From his drilling moratorium to his denial of the Keystone pipeline, the president has time and again sided with his liberal base over American families.”

In his speech, Obama didn’t directly mention the Keystone XL project — a pipeline that would transit oil from tar sands projects in Canada to refineries along the southern U.S. coast — but he said that his administration “has approved dozens of new pipelines, including from Canada.”

Obama said he has instructed his administration “to look for every single area where we can make an impact and help consumers in the months ahead, from permitting to delivery bottlenecks to what’s going on in the oil markets.”

“And we will keep taking as many steps as we can in the coming weeks,” he added.

Most back, though few know of, Keystone XL

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — In general, most U.S. voters interviewed by the Pew Research Center said they approved of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, poll data indicate.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in a telephone interview received a positive response from 66 percent of adults asked about the Keystone XL pipeline.

Canadian pipeline company TransCanada wants to build the pipeline to carry oil from tar sands projects in Canada to refiners along the southern U.S. coast.

More than 80 percent of the people who identified themselves as Republicans expressed support for the project compared to 49 percent of the people who said they were Democrats. More than 60 percent of those who said they were independents said they backed the project.

Backers of the pipeline say it’s a “shovel-ready” project that would boost employment and enhance U.S. energy security. Critics question the job numbers given as evidence to back the pipeline and note tar sands oil is the dirtiest type of crude oil.

Of the 1,501 adults surveyed in the mid-February poll, 37 percent of the respondents said they’ve never heard of Keystone XL compared to 24 percent who said they heard a lot about the issue. The rest said they knew a little bit about Keystone XL.

Overall, the poll reported a sampling error of 3 percentage points.

London gives mixed report on energy sector

LONDON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The conventional energy sector in the United Kingdom suffered setbacks though renewables made significant gains, the British government said.

The British Department of Energy and Climate Change published statistics about the British energy sector for 2011.

The DECC found natural gas accounted for 54 percent of the inputs into the country’s transit system but imports exceeded regional natural gas production for the first time. The country depended on imports for 48 percent of its demand, with significant volumes coming from Qatar and Norway.

“However, despite lower U.K. production, gas exports were at record levels, higher even than when U.K. gas production peaked in 2000,” the DECC said in a four-page outline.

The DECC said there were “sharp falls” in the output from oil fields on the regional continental shelf in part because of maintenance activity and slowdowns. Petroleum production was down 17 percent in 2011 compared with the previous year.

For renewable and alternative energy resources, the DECC said nuclear power output was up 11 percent, wind output was up 59 percent and hydropower was up 70 percent in 2011 compared with the previous year.

British energy officials had said they were looking to develop whatever mix of low-carbon technology is the cheapest overall.

API accuses Obama of lying about energy

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The White House is lying to the American public when it says its policies are responsible for increased oil production, the American Petroleum Institute said.

Higher gasoline prices in the United States are putting renewed impetus behind debates over domestic oil and natural gas production in the United States.

Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama’s domestic energy policy accuse him of blocking oil and natural gas production in the United States. Obama, in a speech from Miami, said there’s no way to “drill our way to lower gas prices,” however.

But API President Jack Gerard said Obama is taking credit for policies enacted under the previous administration.

“The administration suggests that its policies are, in fact, already increasing oil production,” he said. “This couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

Gerard claims Obama’s policies are pushing energy investments out of the U.S. market, a trend which is to blame for everything from high unemployment to an increased trade deficit.

Obama said the United States relied less on foreign oil in 2011 than at any time during the least 16 years, however.

Energy analysts blame turmoil in the Middle East, specifically disputes with Iran, for higher energy prices.

London backing CCS with cash commitments

LONDON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The United Kingdom could be leading the world in carbon capture and storage projects with a $1.56 billion commitment, the British energy secretary said.

Plans for a carbon capture and storage project in Scotland fell apart following pricing concerns during talks last year between the government and developers. British Energy Secretary Ed Davey, however, said London is ready to put $1.56 billion behind the technology.

Davey told delegates from the CCS industry that London wanted to work with the private sector to help meet efforts to lower carbon emissions.

“The U.K. has the chance to lead the world in CCS and the government is backing its commitment with $1.56 billion,” he was quoted by the Platts news service as saying.

The International Energy Agency said CCS technology could cut carbon dioxide emissions from the industrial sector by as much as 4 gigatons by the middle of the century.

In a report with the U.N. Industrial Development Organization, the IEA said more than 1,800 large-scale CCS projects are needed in the next 40 years, however.

CCS technology inaugurated in West Yorkshire last year could remove up to 100 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per day from an area coal-fired power station.

TAP pipeline starts Albanian surveys

ZUG, Switzerland, Feb. 24 (UPI) — A soil survey for the route for the planned Trans-Adriatic natural gas pipeline near the coast of Albania is under way, the project company announced.

The project consortium said it deployed two barges to collect soil samples from the seabed about 3 miles off the southeastern Albanian coast.

Albert Haak, the country manager for TAP, said stressed the survey meets international standards on environment and safety.

“The comprehensive analysis of the seabed is necessary for TAP in order to decide on the exact offshore routing of the pipeline and also for further pipeline engineering work,” he said in a statement.

Early this week, the consortium controlling Shah Deniz II natural gas field off the coast of Azerbaijan chose TAP as a possible route to European natural gas consumers.

TAP would transport as much as 700 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year to European markets through Greece and Albania and then through the Adriatic Sea to Italy.

The project is up against the planned Nabucco pipeline for Europe and a project that envisions an expansion of existing transit networks through Turkey. TAP is the shortest of the projects outlined in the so-called Southern Corridor of transit networks.

IEA to assess renewables for first time

BERLIN, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The International Energy Agency said from Berlin it was including an assessment of the renewable energy sector in a mid-term report for the first time.

“A portfolio of renewable energy technologies is becoming competitive in an increasing range of circumstances and countries,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in a statement.

The IEA said the renewable energy sector was the fastest growing sector in the energy mix. Renewables account for roughly 20 percent of the electricity produced worldwide. This, the IEA said, means renewables should take a place beside oil and natural gas in the annual mid-term report.

European countries have set ambitious targets for renewable energy though other major economies are falling behind.

The report is to take an in-depth look at the renewable energy sector at the national level to examine only what’s driving the sector and what can be considered a barrier.

Van der Hoeven warned that “significant policy effort, combined with continued economic incentives, is still needed to push a large portfolio of these technologies toward full competitiveness.”

The mid-term report will be published in July.

Ireland to sell Bord Gais energy business

DUBLIN, Ireland, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The energy business of Irish state company Bord Gais is among government-held assets to be sold in a move to raise $4 billion, officials said.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin announced Wednesday in Dublin that Bord Gais Energy — the trading, assets and retail division of Bord Gais — will be sold.

It has been valued at $1.3 billion-$1.9 billion.

The move is in keeping with Dublin’s agreement with the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank “troika” managing the $90 billion bailout of country’s economy to sell off state-owned assets.

The Bord Gais distribution and transmission systems, however, will remain in public hands as a way to protect Ireland’s energy supply security, Howlin said.

He added negotiations with the troika have resulted in an agreement allowing some sale proceeds to go to job creation, the Irish business new Web site reported.

“When we came into government, the position was that no money from the disposal of assets could be spent on anything except reducing our debts,” he said. “This is a substantial change to the troika’s previous position and will help promote recovery in the economy.”

The breakup of Bord Gais is meant to increase competition in the energy market and bring down prices for consumers, he added.

Also to be privatized over the next two years are “non-strategic” power generation capacity held by the state-owned ESB electric utility and the government’s remaining 25 percent interest in Aer Lingus, but only if its share price rises.

Opposition party critics assailed the moves as a “fire sale” of precious public property meant to benefit the political standing of the ruling Fine Gael-Labor Party coalition government.

Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin accused Enda Kenny, Ireland’s taoiseach, of “misleading” people about the asset sale, while Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams blasted it as short-term thinking, Irish broadcaster RTE reported.

A warning on the sale was issued by the business group IBEC, which told The Irish Times the government should instead continue talks with the troika to “maximize” the percentage of the sale proceeds that can be reinvested in job creation.

“There will be no shortage of interest in investment opportunities in Irish assets,” said IBEC Director General Danny McCoy. “The government must ensure that valuable assets are not sold too cheaply to raise cash quickly.”

But Kenny insisted that’s not the case.

“The objective and the target of the government is to have a limit here of reaching ($4 billion) of disposal of state assets at the appropriate time, at the best opportune price,” he said.

Dublin is still deciding which of ESB’s five hydropower and seven thermal power stations will be sold. The decisions will be revealed in a report to be delivered next month. reported the utility is negotiating with the government to determine which of the plants are “non-strategic.”

ESB’s biggest generators are Poolbeg in Dublin, Moneypoint in County Clare and Aghada in County Cork, the Web site said.

Statoil secures more rigs for NCS oil

STAVANGER, Norway, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Norwegian energy company Statoil said more rig capacity would help it get more resources extracted from the Norwegian continental shelf.

Drilling contractor Songa Offshore won contracts worth an estimated $1.3 billion to build two rigs for Statoil. The Norwegian company said it needed the new rig capacity to revitalize the Norwegian continental shelf.

Oystein Michelsen, executive vice president for production at Statoil, described his company’s portfolio in the NCS as “world-class.”

“We are convinced that new efforts are needed to secure a rig fleet that can handle the demanding tasks ahead,” he said in a statement.

The company said it is making new oil discoveries near existing fields and securing more rig capacity means drilling and completion of production wells will be cheaper.

Statoil trumpeted its success at the NCS in January. The company said it expected to maintain a production capacity from the NCS of around 600,000 barrels of oil per day for the rest of the decade.

Statoil last year announced one of the largest oil finds on the Norwegian continental shelf at its Sverdrup field. The company estimated there were 900 million-1.5 billion barrels of recoverable oil equivalent there, twice the previous estimate.

Iran looks east for oil customers

TEHRAN, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Iran announced it was making progress in developing its oil consumer base through developing deals with India and new deals with Tajikistan.

Iran’s decision this week to halt crude oil exports to the United Kingdom and France sent oil prices to nine-month highs. The European Union had set a July 1 deadline for an Iranian crude oil embargo, though Iranian lawmakers voted to pre-empt the EU move.

Ali Hatamov, the Tajik envoy to Tehran, said Tajikistan was ready to secure more oil supplies from Iran even though it has most of its demand met by Russia, Iran’s state-funded broadcaster Press TV reports.

The envoy said, however, that a new pipeline was needed between the countries to facilitate oil deliveries.

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

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

Nigerian oil outlook promising

ABUJA, Nigeria, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Licenses for major energy companies like Shell and Chevron for work in Nigeria will be renewed by the end of next month, an energy executive said.

Exxon Mobil reported that its license was renewed for 20 years for blocks in Nigeria that could collectively produce as much as 550,000 barrels of oil per day.

Austen Oniwon, managing director at state-owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corp., was quoted by Bloomberg News as saying more signings were on the way for companies like Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell “before the end of March.”

Oil exploration declined in Nigeria because producers are wary of investments without laws governing the energy sector. Legislation has been stalled in Parliament since 2009, though Abuja had said a draft petroleum law would be sent to lawmakers within six weeks.

Most of the company’s contracts with oil companies have been in various stages of negotiation for more than two years, though Shell officials had said they were “optimistic” things were turning the corner, Bloomberg reports.

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

Kiev fine without Gazprom, minister says

KIEV, Ukraine, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Ukraine won’t have any problems if Russian natural gas company Gazprom decides to use outside transit networks, the Ukrainian prime minister said.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said this week that Ukraine would have “zero role” in Russian natural gas exports to Europe once alternative pipelines are operational.

Russia sends about 80 percent of its natural gas to Europe through the Soviet-era transit network in Ukraine. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said Gazprom was welcome to use the network, though the country would get by without it, Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti reports.

“Ukraine will find a way out of this situation,” said Azarov. “Don’t worry about that.”

The first line of Russia’s dual Nord Stream natural gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea went into service last year. Gazprom said construction on its counterpart, South Stream, would begin in December. Both options are part of an effort to send Russian gas to European countries without using the Ukrainian gas transit system.

Analysis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concludes that while Russia is securing alternative routes, it might be running low on natural gas supplies. Gazprom had struggled to keep pace with European demand this winter. Ukraine, meanwhile, has only focused on short-term solutions to its own address its own energy issues, the analysis said.