Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

CFR experts examine the science and foreign policy surrounding climate change, energy, and nuclear security.

Should the United States Export Natural Gas?

by Michael Levi Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The boom in shale gas production has changed the conversation in Washington from one of how to manage dependence on imported natural gas to a debate over whether (and to what extent) to export the fuel. I’m unsure of exactly where I come down on the matter. But I want to lay out a series of questions that I think ought to be addressed before policymakers make a decision one way or the other. Read more »

Is Shale Gas a Ponzi Scheme?

by Michael Levi Monday, June 27, 2011

[Dear new readers: This post is part of a blog on energy and climate issues. Click here for the full blog.]

The New York Times’ war on shale gas continues with two more big stories by Ian Urbina. The front page of the Sunday paper featured “‘Enron Moment’: Insiders Sound Alarm amid a Natural Gas Rush”, complete with pullquote “Word in world of independents is that shale plays are just giant Ponzi schemes.” That was followed today by “Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas”. Both articles are based primarily on piles of emails, the first from industry sources and the second from EIA staff. I hate to say it, but on the whole, both pieces are of pretty poor quality. That’s a shame, because both – particularly the first one – had the potential to raise some important issues for debate.

I can’t say that I’ve read through all of the hundreds of pages of documents that the Times has posted on its site. But I’ve gone through a good enough slice of them (including all the emails that the Times references in its articles) to get a feel for how Urbina went about using them in his stories. There’s a pattern: Urbina was clearly looking for negative views of shale gas, and had no problem finding them. Given the massize size of the industry, and the number of financial bets being placed upon the sector, that shouldn’t be a surprise. What is a surprise is that Urbina hasn’t done much to put them in context.

I’m going to focus on the Sunday story here, because it’s much more interesting, and because some of its sources raise some genuinely important issues, which I’ll get to in a few paragraphs. In contrast, today’s story is mostly a mix of some frustrated EIA analysts’ complaints and some healthy internal EIA debate taken wildly out of context.

Three Problems Read more »

Debating the Links Between Climate Change and National Defense

by Michael Levi Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I’m a big fan of Bruno Tertrais, a French scholar (and a friend) whose work on nuclear security I’ve long respected. In the new issue of The Washington Quarterly, Bruno stretches his horizons to pronounce judgment on widespread claims that climate change will drive armed conflict in the coming century. His essay, “The Climate Wars Myth” (PDF), contains some important cautions to those who too glibly assert that climate change is a big security problem, and is well worth reading. It goes too far, though, in dismissing some of the real concerns that people have. Read more »

CFR Is Hiring An Energy Fellow

by Michael Levi Thursday, June 16, 2011

CFR is looking to hire a new fellow who will focus on the intersection of energy and national security. This is a great opportunity for someone who is interested both in doing serious policy scholarship and in helping build a broad effort to improve the state of knowledge in this increasingly important area. The fellow will be expected to have a PhD in a related field; he or she will also ideally have some postdoctoral experience. Read more »

Analysts and Former Policymakers Ask Congress to Restore EIA Funding

by Michael Levi Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I wrote a few weeks back about the ill-advised cuts to the EIA budget that were part of the budget deal. Yesterday, I joined thirty policy analysts and former policymakers from across the political spectrum in a letter to members of Congress, explaining how important EIA products are to analysts and policymakers, and urging them to reconsider the cuts. Read more »

A Crude Predicament: The Era of Volatile Oil Prices

by Michael Levi Monday, June 13, 2011

There has been no shortage of reporting over the last week on the fight within OPEC over whether to expand oil production. Bob McNally and I have an essay in the forthcoming (July/August) issue of Foreign Affairs in which we argue that OPEC has largely lost the ability to moderate oil price swings. The result is the far more volatile oil market that we’ve been seeing over the past five or so years. This is a fundamentally different world from the one that Americans became used to in the 1980s and 1990s, and will require different responses from policymakers. Read more »

Is Climate Policy Endangering Efforts to Address Energy Poverty?

by Michael Levi Thursday, June 9, 2011

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending a day with people from around the world who are deeply involved in trying to deliver electricity to the nearly two billion people who lack it. I learned a lot, but I was struck by one pattern: a large fraction of the people and countries working to expand energy access seem to be shaping their initiatives so that they can tap into the hundred billion dollars a year of climate-related funding that developed countries have promised they’ll try to mobilize by 2020. In practice, this means that many appear to be tilting their energy access efforts strongly toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels, and toward dependence on a yet-to-be-created Green Climate Fund. These are dangerous trends. Read more »