By Irina Slav Despite frequent oil field outages and now an open conflict between the UN-recognized government and the eastern-affiliated LNA, Libya’s oil production could double to 2 million bpd by 2023, IHS Markit analyst Fotios Katsoulas wrote in a recent report. At the moment, the North African country’s production is hovering around the 1-million-bpd mark, which is in itself an achievement given the difficult security situation and the constant risk of yet another field outage or pipeline blockade as we have seen in the past three years since the Libyan National Army took control of the Oil Crescent export infrastructure, driving out the Petroleum Facilities Guard. Since then, the two factions have clashed over the oil ports several times. In addition, there have been pipeline blockades by disgruntled locals and other military factions, which have too led to field outages, the longest of which lasted three months earlier this year and affected a third of production, pumped at Libya’s largest field, Sharara. Despite all this and continued concern about the security situation in the restive country, IHS Markit’s Katsoulas noted that exports from Libya have actually increased during the second quarter of the year, reaching an average of 960,000 bpd between April and mid-June. This is 40 percent higher than the average export rate for the first quarter of the year when Sharara was offline. This sounds surprising, to say the least, especially in light of the other main concern on oil markets: that demand is weakening and will continue to weaken through the rest of the year and beyond. Libya does not seem concerned about this. What it is concerned with, at least according to statements from the head of its National Oil Corporation, is the danger of a production outage. In May, PVM Oil Associates analyst Stephen Brennock said, “The security situation is deteriorating and with Libya lurching from one crisis to another, conditions are increasingly ripe for a supply shock.” Another analyst, from Standard Chartered, said investors were “clearly ignoring” the warnings of NOC’s Mustafa Sanalla, who said in late May, that “Protracted hostilities continue to hamper NOC operations and our ability to serve the Libyan people. Key infrastructure is being damaged and security eroded – allowing criminal elements to prosper.” More recently, NOC warned that there has been increased military presence—from the LNA—at one of the Oil Crescent’s terminals, Ras Lanuf, and this could increase the risk of the facility becoming a target of an attack. “The presence of forces inside the terminal represents an unacceptable risk to employees. This renders the terminal a potential military target, thereby risking the destruction of Libyan oil infrastructure – and the resulting economic crisis that would follow,” Sanalla said. Now, while none of this is conducive to increased investment in oil and gas, Libya, according to Katsoulas, is already in talks with foreign companies about such investments to the tune of no less than US$60 billion. Granted, cash will only start flowing when investors are at least reasonably certain the pattern of outages changes, but the fact there are negotiations being held is reassuring for the future of Libya’s oil industry despite the still considerable risks. This, in turn, means there is optimism in the industry about future demand despite the short-term pessimism and longer-term skepticism as environmentalists and politicians begin targeting Big Oil’s main future source of revenue: plastics. Crude Oil

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By Haley Zaremba

Attitudes about nuclear energy are changing, with pundits on both sides of the aisle touting its benefits for extremely efficient and relatively clean energy. Despite an ever more positive public opinion, the nuclear industry in the United States, the largest in the world, is currently experiencing a downturn, even going so far as to need government subsidies to keep afloat.

In fact, at present the fastest growing sector of the nuclear industry is profiting not off of growth, but off of the nuclear sector’s slow death in the United States. According to reporting by Bloomberg, “the fastest growing part of the nuclear industry in the U.S. involves a small but expanding group of companies that specialize in tearing reactors down faster and cheaper than ever before.” this statement begins the article appropriately entitled “Fastest-Growing Nuclear Business Is Tearing Down U.S. Plants“.

Tearing down old nuclear reactors is no easy feat, however. Not only is it historically extremely expensive, it’s also highly hazardous. Even in nuclear plants in good condition, it’s a job that requires the utmost level of care and a ton of specialized gear in order to protect workers from radioactive materials. “Those who do handle radioactive material must first don protective suits that are inherently cumbersome and are further encumbered by the air hoses needed to allow the wearer to breathe,” a report from the Economist details. “Even then their working hours are strictly limited, in order to avoid prolonged exposure to radiation and because operating in the suits is exhausting. Moreover, some sorts of waste are too hazardous for even the besuited to approach safely.”

And then there are reactors that have experienced a recent accident or meltdown–they need cleanup more than any other, but who should be the workers who have to risk their own health for the health of the masses? According to some forward-thinking scientists and other experts in the field, there is a clear and humanitarian answer to this question. Robots. Some may remember that this idea is not a totally new one, and a robot was sent into the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan shortly after an earthquake-related nuclear disaster took place there in 2011. Some remotely operated robots have already become a standard fixture in the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, but the machines widely in use are not yet sophisticated enough to easily and efficiently do the complex tasks necessary to clean up a nuclear reactor. One team at Lancaster University has been working on a new, semi-autonomous robot that would be able to perform the kind of actions that the current robots can’t, making nuclear cleanup an even easier and less dangerous job.

Some discerning readers may find the idea of leaving such a hazardous task in non-human hands disturbing. And as well they should. “It’s very unlikely that a truly autonomous robot will be trusted with nuclear decommissioning tasks any time soon,” reassures a report from ExtremeTech. “After all, AI is still far from perfect, and the stakes are as high as they get when you’re dealing with highly radioactive materials in large enough quantities to cause runaway nuclear reactions.” The semi-autonomous robot developed by the Lancaster University group “splits the difference” by giving the robot some AI capabilities but ultimately leaving a human operator in charge.

According to ExtremeTech, “the team created imaging software that lets the robot “see” the world around it and identify objects like pipes, handles, and other materials common inside nuclear decommissioning sites.” The robot is still in a development phase and has yet to be tested in a scenario with real radioactive materials, but it is likely a pioneer in what will become an industry-wide standard of operation.

With the nuclear power industry set for major growth in Asia, and studies showing that the United States has enough Uranium to stay powered for hundreds more years, nuclear waste cleanup will not only continue to be a growing sector, and an extremely costly one at that, but it will be more important than ever.

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