Review: Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

Autobiography of RedAutobiography of Red by Anne Carson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is an unbelievably beautiful read. It’s delicate, and honest, and unflinchingly unique. Anne Carson pushes straight past cliches and overly poetic trappings and forges something completely new and unabashedly tender. I plan on re-reading it many times, because there are so many layers of allusion and symbolism and just plain lovely writing in this book.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Off The Beaten Path: A Road Trip Through Iceland

When I arrived, I wasn’t totally sure what I was going to do with my 2 weeks in  Iceland. I had heard that the country was among the most costly in the world, and that all of the biggest attractions were far from Reykjavik (the capital and home of the country’s only international airport), and not too easy to get to for a penniless backpacker like myself.

Amazing Landscape of Iceland- 2 Weeks in Iceland

I considered the options: a tour was out of the question, for reasons of price and my own distaste for set itineraries. Buses were similarly unaffordable and were limited in terms of destinations, and hitchhiking was just too hit-or-miss in September, as tourist season was waning. After asking around at various hostels, I finally landed on the answer. Together with a group of backpackers, we found an agency that rented well-used cars at a fraction of the price of a normal car rental. Our beat-up Subaru wasn’t much to look at, but she was the answer to all our dreams. We loaded up the hatchback and hit the road.

Enjoying the heat from the Blue Lagoon- 2 Weeks in Iceland

Before leaving Reykjavik, we hit the essential highlights.  We started with the famous “golden circle” of attractions right outside of Reykjavik: the thundering Gulfoss waterfall, Geysir, the gusher that gave all geysers their name, and the stunningly pristine Thingvellir National Park. Next we paid a visit to the world-famous Blue Lagoon. While the entry was a bit pricier than I would have liked, the experience in the ethereally aquamarine geothermal waters was a once-in-a-lifetime luxury.

The Untouched Crashed Plane- 2 Weeks in Iceland

Having seen the essentials of Iceland’s southwest corner, we hit the road. We made our first stop at hveragerði, where we hiked an hour and a half through lushly rolling hills to a river that naturally runs steaming hot. The sensation of the thermal waters was unbelievable, it was a heavenly feeling that I’ve never experienced before or since. In the same day, we made it to Seljallandfoss, a waterfall that you can walk behind for amazing views through the falling water and a black sand beach that’s home to a crashed plane that has never been cleaned up. Leaving a surprising, and unsettling monument on the sand.

Amazing views at Skaftafell National Park- 2 Weeks in Iceland

Over the next few days we crossed Southern Iceland, encountering more natural wonders, each more incredible than the last. We camped next to the breathtaking Skogafoss waterfall, hiked through the Skaftafell National Park to see the incredible waterfall with its geometric basalt columns, and passed by the noble tongues of the Vatnajökull glacier on the way to the final destination of our trip: the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.

Feeling cool at Jökulsárgljúfur National Park- 2 Weeks in Iceland

It’s nearly impossible to explain the beauty of Jökulsárlón. The stoic lake, littered with giant hunks of marbled ice from the nearby glacier, carries a singular sense of peace. The blue water, the blue sky, the floating icebergs, and the reticent glacier behind combine to create a truly breathtaking plateau. The beauty, so unearthly and exaggerated, is the perfect summary of what makes Iceland so special and so hard to capture.

Watching the tide roll in at Black Sand Beach- 2 Weeks in Iceland

Our last stop before heading back towards Reykjavik, was the black sand beach just south of Jökulsárlón. This is where the glacier fragments make their last stand, before washing out to sea. Walking on the sand amongst the sparkling sculptures, I had one of those moments that every traveler aims for. I felt at once far from home but far from homesick, with a sense of interconnectedness with nature. I forgot every external worry, every bit of daily stress, and was, for a brief and precious time, completely lost in the moment.

Orignally written for the Happy Nomad

The Caribbean Is Poised To Become The Next Major Oil Region

In the future, we may be hearing about the Caribbean a whole lot more when talking about oil and gas. Previously, the area was virtually off the map for the fossil fuels industry, despite its proximity to the vast oil reserves of Venezuela. Now, the Caribbean has suddenly become a point of interest since ExxonMobil discovered major reservoirs in nearby Guyana in 2015.

After their initial huge discovery of the Liza oil field 2 years ago, Exxonmobil also announced last month that they’ve discovered more oil in the Payara reservoir off the coast of Guyana, increasing the total discovery to approximately 500 million barrels. This is huge news for both Exxonmobil and for Guyana, which ranks among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

ExxonMobil (partnered with Hess Corp. and Statoil) has also recently purchased a new deepwater block for exploration off the coast of neighboring Suriname, another potentially oil-filled nation. Some in the industry are already referring to the Guyana-Suriname Basin as the next big oil region.

Now, those good fortunes could be spreading to the Caribbean as well. Trinidad and Tobago has long been the Caribbean’s largest oil and gas producer. The nation has depended economically on their petroleum reserves since the 1990s, with the energy sector currently comprising 34.9 percent of the country’s GDP. However, more recently the small island-nation’s production has been in decline as production from mature fields has waned and exploration for new fields has been slow in starting. Now, Trinidad and Tobago is hoping that the discoveries in nearby Guyana will bring more interest and investment to the Caribbean.

It’s looking like Trinidad and Tobago will get their wish. Just this month BP Trinidad and Tobago announced two major discoveries totaling approximately two trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas, which the company’s president called “the start of a rejuvenated exploration program on the Trinidad shelf”.

Similarly encouraged by the massive discoveries in Guyana over the last few years and the foreign interest it has garnered, several other Caribbean nations are beginning to assert themselves as potentially oil-rich countries and attempting to woo foreign companies to start investing in exploration around their islands. One of the biggest examples of this is Jamaica, who have recently caught the attention of UK-based Tullow Oil.

Last week Tullow announced plans to return to offshore locations off the southern coast of Jamaica to explore a field of “live oil” that was brought to their attention by local fisherman earlier this year. The firm will ramp up their 3D seismic surveys this year in hopes that the floating oil will lead them to vast oil fields the likes of their neighbors to the south and the nearby Gulf of Mexico.

The Bahamas has also recently publicized their plans to invite international companies to drill in deep waters off the coast, pointing not only to Guyana and the Gulf, but also to neighboring Cuba’s oil reserves as an indication of what treasures may be laying under the surface of the sparkling Caribbean Sea.

Exploration of oil reserves in the Caribbean may also soon be ramped up and revolutionized by major technological advancements from Ursa Space Systems. The high-tech company has announced a planned expansion to take a global oil inventory, with the Caribbean as one of its first major surveyed regions. Ursa will use satellite imagery to provide reliable and independent weekly inventories of oil stocks down to the tank level for easy calculations and better insight on oil supply and demand, especially in areas of the world where there has previously not been readily-available data.

Originally written for Oilprice.com

Brazilian Corruption Charges Could Impact Mexico’s Oil Boom

Last year, Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht and affiliated petrochemical company Braskem pleaded guilty to bribing officials in 12 countries to secure high-paying contracts. The firm agreed to a payment of at least $3.5 billion, the largest penalty in history for a foreign bribery case. Now, months later, the scandal continues to escalate as new allegations pop up.

The latest addition to the scandal is Mexican state oil company Pemex, which has now been swept up in the widespread accusations of corruption. While Pemex officials have already been called for testimony in Odebrecht-related investigations back in April, this week the plot thickened. On Saturday accusations surfaced that Emilio Lozoya, the former chief executive of Pemex, accepted $10 million in bribes from Odebrecht in exchange for sending the company lucrative contracts.

The bribes allegedly started rolling in in March 2012, when Lozoya began his reign at Pemex, until he left the post in 2016. As of right now the allegations have not been proven and Lozoya has categorically denied all charges, but documentation from Brazil providing solid evidence of the payouts is due to arrive in the hands of Mexican investigators in the coming days.

Even more concerning, in 2012 Lozoya was also head of the international affairs office for current Mexican president, then-candidate Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidential campaign. As Peña Nieto is no stranger to corruption allegations himself, his closeness to the scandal has caused a stir in Mexico and many accuse the president of being fully aware of Lozoya’s nefarious dealings with Odebrecht.

Lozoya will head to court next week for questioning about the scandal and his alleged involvement, which he has already denounced as “false” and “malicious”. Peña Nieto’s PR team has offered similar denials.

According to numbers published in the the U.S. court ruling against Odebrecht last November, the Brazilian company paid around $788 million in bribes dealing with 100 projects in 12 different countries including Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela between 2001 and 2016. During this period, Pemex had a contract with Braskem for ethane supply and three more contracts with Odebrecht, two for a $2.1 billion construction project at the Tula refinery in the Mexican state of Hidalgo, and the last for the development of a waste management project at the Salamanca refinery in central Mexico.

This money trail and the brazen accusations of corruption reflect quite badly on Pemex and on President Peña Nieto. Some critics are saying that it could go so far as to impact Mexico’s political and economic allies, including the critical North American Free Trade Agreement.

If so, this could come as a huge blow to Pemex, which is currently undergoing incredible financial gains and developing a slew of new projects. Many were predicting that Mexico’s current oil boom, largely prompted by the new allowance of private explorations and drilling in Mexican waters, would begin a new era of trust and cooperation with the U.S. Now, that could all be in jeopardy.

Originally written for Oilprice.com: http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/Brazilian-Corruption-Charges-Could-Impact-Mexicos-Oil-Boom.html

Alaska’s Conflicted Oil Future

Alaska, the final frontier, may be the next oil industry goldmine thanks to aggressive drilling, changing environmental policies, and a bullish administration. Not all Alaskans, however, are on board with the transition, and the issue is now more divisive than ever.

Take for example, the polemic Hilcorp, the fast-growing and assertive Houston-based company that while keeping a low public profile, has made a name for itself within the energy industry as a money-making powerhouse. Though the company is less than 30 years old,  Hilcorp founder Jeffery Hildebrand has swiftly become a billionaire. His employees are some of the best-paid in the business, famously receiving six-figure bonuses for meeting output goals.

Their extreme success, however, comes at a dear cost to the same oil-rich terrain that’s making them rich. Hilcorp is not just famous among energy moguls – it’s also infamous in environmentalist circles. The corporation has adopted an acquire and exploit strategy that has racked up a sizable number of environmental violations in Alaska and elsewhere.

Less than three years after Hilcorp began its operations in Alaska, the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had already documented 25 violations of their regulations, culminating in the chair of the commission writing in a strongly worded letter that “Hilcorp’s conduct is inexcusable.”

In the past Alaska has encouraged small companies to explore for oil within their state with incentives like a cashable oil tax credit program, instated under Sarah Palin in 2007. However, just last month the state  legislature voted to end the program, some voters citing that the program was by any other name a tax hike, and some stating that the incentive and its subsequent draw of prospectors in Alaska had gone too far.

In fact, in the last few years after the bottoming out of oil prices, the state has made very minimal payments on outstanding tax credits and owes almost $1 billion to oil companies, a staggering sum that comprises nearly a quarter of the entire state budget. Already this summer two different oil companies announced that they’re freezing projects in Alaska because the state has failed to pay them for promised reimbursals.

While Alaska has damaged its reputation as a worthy business partner in the oil industry, it’s likely that drilling won’t be going down too much. In fact, it will probably continue to boom. In May Donald Trump announced that opening the vast Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling is among his top priorities, and was featured prominently in his 2018 budget proposal.

Ultimately, it’s up to congress whether this change in protected status will come to pass, but it is indicative of a larger political zeitgeist that this regime change has brought with it. Whether or not the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is subject to drilling, it is clear that this administration favors oil and is not too worried about environmental regulations – positions that are quite attractive to the oil industry and likely to make companies a bit bullish in their plans for the next four years.

It’s hard to say what Alaska’s oil future will be. Their economy is completely tied up in the oil industry, but that’s not as safe of a bet as it once was. In 1977 Alaska was responsible for almost a fourth of US oil. Today, they produce between 6 and 7 percent. From 2007-2014, the state was flush with cash as oil hovered around $100 a barrel. Today oil is half that and the state is wallowing in billions of dollars of debt and boasts the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

For many this is the time to double down on oil and bring back the jobs that the industry provided during the state’s oil production heyday. This dream isn’t an impossible one, with oil prices slowly recovering and the recent discovery on major oil on the North Slope by three different companies. The question is, is this the future that Alaska wants, forever at the whim of the pump? Or will they prefer to turn their back on corporate interests and forage a new future in the wilderness of the final frontier?

Originally written for Oilprice.com: http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/Alaskas-Conflicted-Oil-Future.html

Brazil’s Pre-Salt Extraction Costs Fall To $8 Per Barrel

Not too long ago Brazilian state oil company Petrobras was the most indebted oil & gas company in the world. The long-suffering company has faced dire mismanagement while being weighed down by allegations of involvement in Brazil’s widespread corruption. But that’s all changing.

Despite being a subject of the massive Lava Jato investigation, in which executives are accused of accepting bribes in exchange for contracting construction firms at inflated rates, things are turning around for Petrobras. Now, thanks to new management and their recently-discovered pre-salt wells, Brazil is the comeback story of the year.

Discovered only 10 years ago, Brazil’s pre-salt area has rapidly become the biggest oil-producing area in the country. Just this week Petrobras discovered commercial oil in a whole new pre-salt area known as the Marlim Sul Field in the Campos Basin, located about 71 miles off the shore of Rio de Janeiro.

Because pre-salt layers are so deep underground (they are the geological layers that were laid before a layer of salt was created by the Gondwana breakup about 600 to 530 million years ago) they are quite costly and difficult to drill in, but hold massive potential for production.

Brazil just announced a fantastic first half, with pre-tax profits reaching $4.4 billion in 2017, a staggering increase from $395 million a year ago. This is thanks in huge part to falling production and exploration costs, which dropped by 68 percent.

In June Brazilian oil output rose nearly a full percent from May to a daily average of 2.675 million barrels. Production in the pre-salt areas alone skyrocketed to an average of 1.353 million bpd, a growth of 6.4 percent from May. In July, for the first-time output from the pre-salt wells surpassed the rest of the country’s fields combined.

Now, according to Petroleo Brasileiro SA Chief Executive Officer Pedro Parente, oil is being extracted from the pre-salt offshore wells at the jaw-dropping cost of just $8 per barrel. This is an investment opportunity that has not gone unnoticed, attracting domestic as well as foreign interests to invest heavily in exploration in the previously stagnant market.

The country’s largest pre-salt producing field, known as Lula, is operated entirely by Petrobras, but the Brazilian company only own a 65 percent stake as part of a consortium including U.S.-based Shell (25 percent) and Portugal-based Galp (10 percent). While not a big player at Lula, after Petrobras and Shell, the third biggest oil producer in Brazil is the UK’s Repsol currently producing an average of 81,000 barrels per day.

Despite the strong production rates and accelerated foreign investments in the Brazilian marketplace, there is also concern that depending too much on oil could set Brazil on track to follow in Venezuela’s footsteps. Thanks to political instability, growing polarization, and rapid de-industrialization, Brazil is not yet out of the danger zone.

Despite the incredible good fortune of the pre-salt discovery, Brazil’s economy is still volatile. Rio de Janeiro, home of Petrobras, is on the brink of bankruptcy with a myriad of social problems such as skyrocketing rates of drug use, crime, and HIV – not to mention, the state’s former governor is in prison.

While they’ve just reached the incredible production benchmark of $8 per barrel, parts of the Brazilian oil industry are still languishing. Sete Brasil, a company specifically set up to build floating rigs for Petrobras and others drilling deepwater has gone bankrupt. Petrobras itself is still under investigation for corruption. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was president when Petrobras struck gold in the pre-salt area off the coast, was recently indicted on criminal charges by a federal court.

Brazil is on the verge of breaking out of third-world labels and into the limelight. They could be well on their way to being an economic superpower – but only if the government can keep a lid on scandal and learn from the mistakes of Venezuela instead of emulating them.

Originally written for Oilprice.com: http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/Brazils-Pre-Salt-Extraction-Costs-Fall-To-8-Per-Barrel.html