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.

Report on Fukushima fallout released

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Fallout from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan was detected in minimal amounts in precipitation in the United States, a study released Wednesday said.

The study by the U.S. Geological Survey found levels similar to those measured made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the days and weeks immediately following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, and determined to be well below any level of public health concern, a USGS release said.

The study was conducted as part of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program, with many NADP sites located away from major urban areas so that they are more representative of the U.S. landscape as a whole, the USGS said.

“Japan’s unfortunate nuclear nightmare provides a rare opportunity for U.S. scientists to test an infrequently needed national capability for detecting and monitoring nuclear fallout over a wide network,” USGS Director Marcia McNutt said. “Had this been a national incident, NADP would have revealed the spatial and temporal patterns of radioactive contamination in order to help protect people and the environment.”

Precipitation was collected at monitoring sites within the extensive NADP network and USGS scientists detected Iodine-131, Cesium-134 and Cesium-137, the primary radioactive products released during an incident such as the Fukushima incident, but at levels far below any threat to human health, officials said.

This is the second time samples from the NADP network have been used to measure radioactive fallout, the USGS said. The first time was after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

30,000-year-old seeds yield flowers

MOSCOW, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Russian researchers say they have successfully resurrected a plant from 30,000-year-old seeds discovered in the country’s Far Eastern permafrost region.

The plant, Silene Stenophylla, the oldest to be regenerated, is fertile and is producing white flowers and viable seeds, the scientists said in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We consider it essential to continue permafrost studies in search of an ancient genetic pool, that of pre-existing life, which hypothetically has long since vanished from the earth’s surface,” the researchers wrote.

The experiment, carried out with seeds found 125 feet deep in permafrost on the bank of the River Kolyma in the Far Eastern Magadan Region, proves permafrost serves as a natural depository for ancient life forms, the researchers said.

The shape and color of the ancient plant were similar to today’s distant relatives of the same flower but there are subtle differences in the shape of the petals and the sex of the flowers, the researchers said.

Seeds of plants between 40,000 and 25,000 years old have been previously discovered in the region but scientists have not been able to resurrect them, RIA Novosti reported.

Vulnerability still in pcAnywhere program

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 22 (UPI) — As many as 200,000 PCs running Symantec’s pcAnywhere software are vulnerable to hijacking, as users aren’t patching the program, a U.S. researcher says.

PCs connected to the Internet, including as many as 5,000 running point-of-sale programs that collect consumer credit card data, could be hijacked by hackers exploiting bugs in the troubled program, Computerworld.com reported Wednesday.

H.D. Moore, chief security officer at Rapid7, said an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 PCs are running an as-yet-unpatched copy of the Symantec software.

Symantec took the unprecedented step four weeks ago of telling pcAnywhere users to disable or uninstall the program because attackers had obtained the remote access software’s source code.

While Symantec said it had patched all the known vulnerabilities in pcAnywhere, it declined to declare that the product was safe to use, Computerworld.com said.

Moore said the ongoing vulnerabilities are a serious problem.

“There are a lot [of PCs] that haven’t been updated,” Moore said. “It seems the recent patches have been very much ignored.”

Study: Habitat ‘clusters’ could save birds

ITHACA, N.Y., Feb. 22 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say providing a close network of suitable habitats can improve the long-term survival of an endangered Florida bird species.

Scientists at Cornell University in New York state say “clustered habitat networks” separated by no more than 2 or 3 miles are needed to maintain the genetic diversity of Florida Scrub-Jays, a species at risk of extinction with roughly 5,000 birds left in the world.

The study has found a direct connection between genetic variation of Florida Scrub-Jay groups and the geographic distances separating patches of their favored scrub-oak habitat, Cornell researchers said in a release Wednesday.

When habitat patches are separated by more than 2 to 3 miles, the distance is too far to permit free interbreeding. That results in more inbreeding within isolated groups that reduces genetic fitness, increasing the change an isolated population will die out.

“We now know how to configure the stepping stones of scrub-oak habitat so they can link together Florida Scrub-Jay populations and maintain sufficient genetic diversity to promote long-term survival of the species,” John Fitzpatrick, executive director of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said.

The findings suggest a precise prescription for sustaining fragmented populations of an endangered species and could be a model for other examples around the country, researchers said.

The Florida Scrub-Jay, the only bird found exclusively in Florida, is under threat because the high, dry, sandy scrub-oak patches where the bird lives and breeds exclusively have been prime real estate for Florida developers and for citrus farms, the study found.

Today, only about 5 percent of the original scrub-oak habitat remains, researchers said.

EU court to assess anti-piracy act

BRUSSELS, Feb. 22 (UPI) — The European Commission has asked Europe’s highest court to assess whether a controversial anti-piracy act infringes rights and freedoms afforded to Europeans.

The commission wants the court to determine if the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is incompatible with rights such as “freedom of expression and information or data protection and the right to property in case of intellectual property,” EU Commissioner Karel De Gucht said a statement Wednesday.

He stressed the agreement “will not censor Web sites or shut them down” and “will not hinder freedom of the Internet or freedom of speech. However, he said, a judicial review would provide some clarity on these issues, PC Magazine reported.

ACTA, first proposed in 2007, has been signed by the United States, Australia, Canada, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Morocco, Singapore and 22 of the 27 EU member states, but must still be ratified by the European Parliament.

ACTA prompted widespread protests in Europe similar to those that derailed the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the United States.

“Let me be very clear: I share people’s concern for these fundamental freedoms,” De Gucht said. “I welcome that people have voiced their concerns so actively — especially over the freedom of the Internet.

Because of the controversy surrounding the agreement, the judicial review “is a needed step,” he said.

Study: Y chromosome not going ‘extinct’

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 22 (UPI) — A study has contradicted the notion the male sex-determining Y chromosome is steadily shedding genes and is doomed to degenerate, U.S. researchers say.

In a 2002 article in Nature, two Australian researchers examined the rate at which the Y has withered and estimated it “will self-destruct in around 10 million years.”

However, Jennifer Hughes, a geneticist at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts and her colleague David Page say the version of the Y chromosome carried by every human male has lost just a single gene in the 25 million years since humans, chimpanzees and rhesus macaques shared a common ancestor.

They presented their finding in an article published online in Nature Wednesday.

To study its history, Hughes and her team decoded the Y chromosome of the rhesus macaque, which shares a common ancestor with humans and chimps that lived about 25 million years ago.

Macaques are promiscuous, and Hughes said she expected to see that the macaque Y had dropped some genes and duplicated others involved in making sperm.

“It couldn’t have been more different,” she said. The macaque Y contained just one gene that humans have lost, and human Y has grown much longer than the macaque’s but the genes were mostly the same.

“Those are the genes that give me confidence that in another 50 million years, the Y chromosome will still be there,” Scott Hawley, a geneticist at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo., said. “They’re not going away.”

He suggested the genes have stuck around because, without them, men would be infertile.

“I’m more worried about global warming than the Y chromosome disappearing,” Hawley said. “I’m hoping that this paper has settled this controversy.”

Counterfeiting becoming a local issue

EAST LANSING, Mich., Feb. 22 (UPI) — State and local police are increasingly on the front lines against product counterfeiting, U.S. criminologists say.

Michigan State University criminologists Justin Heinonen and Jeremy Wilson say local law enforcement personnel were involved in nearly half of the identified product counterfeiting cases related to Michigan, ranging from jewelry to car windshields to cholesterol drugs.

“Product counterfeiting may have links to terrorism and international organized crime, so the assumption is that only the federal authorities are handling it,” Heinonen said Wednesday in a release.

“But we found that local authorities are often involved in investigating these incidents as well. They can play an important role.”

MSU, in a project funded by the U.S. Justice Department, will develop counterfeiting awareness videos and conduct training sessions for state and local police in Michigan this summer, he said.

The university’s Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program estimates the global market for counterfeiting has risen from about $30 billion in the 1980s to as much as $600 billion today, the MSU release said.

California mulls more chemical controls

SACRAMENTO, Feb. 22 (UPI) — California officials say sweeping new regulations will force product manufacturers to use alternative, safer chemicals or risk their products being banned.

The California Environmental Protection Agency is drafting the Safer Consumer Products regulations as part of its Green Chemistry Initiative, Law & Industry Daily’s Web site legalnewsgroup.com reported Wednesday.

The regulations would establish a list of around 3,000 so-called “chemicals of concern” that includes carcinogens, mutagens, neurotoxins and compounds that disrupt hormones, officials said.

From the list, they said, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control will develop a list of “priority projects” that require alternatives assessment by the manufacturer.

DTSC may require special product labeling, mandate producer responsibility programs and require a search for safer alternatives to a chemical.

Critics of the Green Chemistry Initiative argue the sweeping program could be a hardship on chemical companies and the wider manufacturing sector.

The draft SCP regulations would “create an uncertain regulatory environment that makes investing, innovating and doing business in California substantially riskier,” the California Chamber of Commerce said in January.

Study: Tsunami debris not radioactive risk

CORVALLIS, Ore., Feb. 22 (UPI) — Debris from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan won’t present a radiation threat when it reaches U.S. shores this year, researchers say.

Nuclear radiation health experts from Oregon State University say the minor amounts of the radiation deposited on the debris field from the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will have long been dissipated, decayed or been washed away by months of pounding in ocean waves.

Any measurable radioactivity found on debris from Fukushima should be at very low levels and of no health concern, an OSU release said Wednesday.

However, that doesn’t mean debris expected to reach U.S. and Canadian coastlines later this year will be entirely harmless, OSU researchers said.

“The tsunami impacted several industrial areas and no doubt swept out to sea many things like bottled chemicals or other compounds that could be toxic,” said Kathryn Higley, head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at OSU.

“If you see something on the beach that looks like it may have come from this accident, you shouldn’t assume that it’s safe,” Higley said. “People should treat these debris with commonsense; there could be some things mixed in there that are dangerous. But it will have nothing to do with radioactive contamination.”

OSU researchers have been studying the Fukushima accident since it occurred.

“In the city and fields near Fukushima, there are still areas with substantial contamination, and it may be a few years before all of this is dealt with,” Higley said. “But researchers from all over the world are contributing information on innovative ways to help this area recover, including some lessons learned from the much more serious Chernobyl accident in 1986 in the Ukraine.”

Squid tracked in deep ocean dives

PALO ALTO, Calif., Feb. 22 (UPI) — U.S. researchers tracking Humboldt squid in the eastern Pacific say the animals are capable of diving to as deep as almost a mile in search of their prey.

Stanford University researchers fitted tags to the squid and tracked them as they dove through oxygen-poor waters off California during the day, returning to surface waters at night.

“We’ve seen them make really impressive dives up to a kilometer and a half (0.9 miles) deep, swimming straight through a zone where there’s really low oxygen,” researcher Julia Steward told the BBC.

“They’re able to spend several hours at this kilometer-and-a-half-deep, and then they go back up and continue their normal daily swimming behavior. It’s just a really impressive, really fast, deep dive through what is quite a harsh environment.”

Humboldt squid, though predominantly found in waters off Mexico and further south, have recently been extending their range into California waters, where a band of low-oxygen water exists at a depth of more than 1,600 feet, the researchers said.

“It’s amazing,” Stewart said. “This is an animal you’d think would require a lot of oxygen and we see it swimming at pretty comparable rates to what we see it swimming in the highly oxygenated water.

“It seems they’re somehow able to suppress their metabolism when they’re in low oxygen, but they’re by no means lethargic. They’re swimming around quite well.”

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom granted bail

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, Feb. 22 (UPI) — A New Zealand court has granted Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom bail, ruling he was not enough of a flight risk to keep him in custody.

North Shore District Judge Nevin Dawson released him Wednesday to his $4.3 million property adjacent to the larger mansion where he was arrested in January, TVNZ reported.

Dotcom and three others were arrested after police raided his rented mansion in Auckland,

Dotcom, a German national, faces extradition to the United States for his role in megaupload.com, which U.S. prosecutors allege has cost copyright holders more than $620 million in revenue

because of pirated material.

“A suspicion that because Mr. Dotcom is very wealthy means that he must have assets he has not revealed is not evidence of further assets and cannot now be used against him,” Dawson said.

“The factors against him being a flight risk include that he would live his life as a fugitive, he would be abandoning his expectant wife and three children and he would effectively lose all the

considerable assets and bank accounts in a number of countries that have been seized,” the judge said.

Dotcom faces charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and two substantive counts of copyright infringement.

As part of his bail conditions Dotcom will be fitted with an electronic bracelet and is not allowed to use the Internet or travel more than 50 miles from his property, Dawson ruled.

‘Dark Web’ searched for terrorism clues

TUCSON, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Mathematical tools and techniques can be used burrow deep into the Internet to uncover extremists discussing and plotting terrorist acts, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers involved in the “Dark Web Project,” a program started partly in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, say they have developed algorithms that, along with Web trawling techniques and human expertise, can track the spread of dangerous ideas through certain rogue and jihadi Web forums, ScienceNews.org reported.

The Dark Web Project, at the University of Arizona, collects information from blogs, forums and other Web sites from hidden realms of the Internet below what is known as the publicly indexable Web.

Analyses of the “Dark Web” forums suggest that the longer participants are involved in such forums, the more violent their messages become, researchers said.

Using a mathematical model used by epidemiologists to describe the transmission of disease, researchers said they’ve determined the “infection” rate for becoming a suicide bomber is 2 in 10,000.

“Violence in social media is infections of the mind,” Arizona researcher Hsinchun Chen told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Shell details theft losses of Nigerian Delta crude

ABUJA, Nigeria, Feb. 22 (UPI) — U.S. petroleum company Shell Oil says Nigeria loses an estimated 150,000 barrels of crude oil each day because of theft in the Niger Delta region.

Shell Sub-Saharan Africa Shell Exploration and Production Africa Limited Executive Vice President Ian Craig told the Nigerian Oil and Gas Conference the loss of oil is only one of the “major challenges” of working in the Niger Delta.

“The volume of oil which is stolen is difficult to estimate but is probably in the region of 150,000 barrels per day,” Craig said.

“(There is) chronic underfunding of the onshore joint ventures where the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. is the majority shareholder.”

The biggest issue isn’t with infrastructure or production.

“The greatest challenge, however, is the massive organized oil theft business and the criminality and corruption which it fosters,” Craig said. “This drives away talent … increases costs, reduces revenues both for investors and the government and results in major environmental impact.”

He said investigations have uncovered more than 50 illegal bunkering points along the line and “associated industrial scale illegal refining with major environmental impacts.”

“These are, of course, now being removed,” Craig said.

He said the hurdles, on top of the expected costs, can make any potential investor think twice.

“When you are lucky enough to have a commercial discovery, the development costs and timescales are daunting; perhaps $10 billion for a large deep-water development or $20 billion for a large integrated oil and gas project,” Craig said. “The execution of the project may take five years or so and many years beyond that before the initial outlay can be recouped.”

Nigeria produces roughly 2.5 million bpd, making it one of Africa’s largest oil exporters and the world’s 14th largest oil producer.

The Nigerian government in 2009 signed an agreement granting amnesty for members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. That caused the attacks to diminish sharply but illegal bunkering operations siphoning off Niger Delta crude remain a costly headache for Shell.

Nigerian Petroleum Minister Diezani Allison-Madueke said, while the country produces around 2.5 million bpd of combined crude oil and condensate, the government intends shortly to increase national oil output by an additional 180,000 bpd.

Corruption in Nigeria’s oil sector is a longstanding problem. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said of the roughly Nigeria $1 trillion the country’s energy sector has earned since independence in 1960 until 1999, some $400 billion was stolen.

Nigeria’s Parliament has begun looking into business practices at the NNPC as it currently receives all oil revenues into its foreign bank accounts, leaving the Federal Ministry of Finance unaware of the exact amount of revenue that the nation is earning from oil exports at any given time.

Taiwan invests in Australian coal

TAIPEI, Taiwan, Feb. 22 (UPI) — China Steel Corp., Taiwan’s biggest steel producer, plans to invest in a coal mine in Australia.

Under the terms of the deal, China Steel will pay Australian miner MCG Group $108 million for a 10 percent stake in the coal mine known as MDL162 in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, the company announced this week.

Of the $108 million, $53 million will go toward acquiring the 10 percent stake in MDL162, with the remaining $55 million to be used as working capital for future plant construction and further exploration of the mine.

China Steel will get up to 600,000 tons of metallurgical coal a year from the mine, which the company said it will ship to Taiwan for domestic consumption. Metallurgical, or coking, coal is used for steelmaking.

The mining site is expected to be operational in 2016, the International Business Times reports.

Separately, the Taiwanese steel company said it was raising domestic steel prices for April and May an average of 1.11 percent, citing a global recovery in steel prices along with a relaxed financial environment in China, one of Taiwan’s top export markets.

The global steel market “has shown signs of bottoming out,” China Steel said in a statement. “[Taiwan’s] downstream industries have resumed taking new orders from both local and overseas clients because of an improving international political/economic environment and rising global steel prices.”

China Steel’s price hike is the company’s first in five months. It was preceded by price cuts averaging 7.08 percent for domestic deliveries of steel this month and last month as rising uncertainty in the global economy slowed demand for steel and triggered price cuts worldwide.

In announcing the price cuts last November, the company said cheap steel imports “have disrupted the order in the domestic market and damaged the interests of all Taiwanese steelmakers.”

The Taiwan Steel and Iron Industries Association in December said it expects the steel sector to benefit from massive public work projects planned for the country, particularly beginning in the first quarter of this year.

China Steel has been exploring overseas acquisitions, as it aims to increase supply amid growing demand. Aside from Australia, it has strategic investments in Brazil and South Korea.

Currently the company imports 20 million metric tons of iron ore, also used for steelmaking, each year from Australia and Brazil.