April 22, 2008
|Has Russian Oil Production Peaked?||Peak Oil|
This is one of those stories that probably ought to be front page news all over the world. Oil production in Russia, the world's largest oil producer, declined in Q1 for the first time in a decade. WSJ, from last week:
Russian oil production, for years a vital source of new supplies for world markets, is showing signs of a slump, adding to uncertainties that have helped push oil prices to record highs.
Russian output fell for the first time in a decade in the first three months of this year, according to the International Energy Agency, which represents industrialized oil-consuming countries. It said Russian production averaged about 10 million barrels a day, a 1% drop from the first-quarter of 2007.
Declining production from the world's largest oil producer and one of its largest exporters puts further pressures on an already strained market and adds to the potential for higher prices for a global economy coping with a slowdown. Global production constraints -- along with surging demand, rising oil-field expenses and political instability in petroleum-rich regions -- already have sent oil to more than $110 a barrel from $30 in about four years. [...]
Industry watchers and Russian officials generally blame the country's production slowdown on a combination of weather and tight electricity supplies in some parts of the country. In a longer-term worry, they also point to aging Siberian fields that once fueled its production growth. [...]
The IEA predicts Russian oil production will resume growth this year. But it estimates an annual increase of only 0.8% over 2007, compared with an average 2.5% in the past three years and much faster growth before that.
Russia's energy ministry expects a rise of 1.8%. But earlier this month, Yuri Trutnev, the nation's natural-resources minister, said on Russian television that the country's full-year production may be lower than last year's.
Russia's stumbling production growth highlights a troubling reality: Despite soaring oil prices in the past five years, crude output from nations outside the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries has remained essentially flat since 2005, defying the normal link between high prices and increased production. [...]
The reasons for the non-OPEC plateau range from spiraling exploration costs to the increasingly remote climates where new oil pockets are being found. Also, many major sources are aging. Europe's North Sea, Alaska's Prudhoe Bay and Mexico's Cantarell field in the Gulf of Mexico have all seen declining output.
New oil pockets are being found in "increasingly remote climates" because that's all that's left. That's what peak oil looks like.
Various other news stories, like this one in the Financial Times, cite all sorts of temporary reasons why Russian output is slumping. But look at that graph. It looks like your basic Hubbert peak. Whether it is or not, time will tell.
As I write this, oil is at $118.35 a barrel.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Joke||Humor & Fun|
Do you have a concern that you could win the nomination at the convention and defeat John McCain in the general and, you know, go to your inauguration, and Hillary would still be running? — Jon Stewart, interviewing Barack Obama last night
April 10, 2008
|The Power Of An Image||Media|
A picture worth a thousand words, and then some:
By Margaret Bourke-White.
April 04, 2008
|Pre-Chemo Fasting May Protect Healthy Cells||Health Science/Technology|
One of the reasons it's hard to kill cancer is that it's hard to create treatments that distinguish between cancer cells and normal cells, so it's hard to kill cancer without also killing the patient. Most chemotherapy agents broadly target all cells that are dividing, on the theory that cancer cells divide more often than most normal cells so you'll kill more cancer cells on average. But lots of normal cells become collateral damage in the process, leading to the well-known toxic side-effects of chemo. Hair follicle cells and cells lining the intestinal tract divide especially rapidly, which is why hair loss and nausea are common.
Ideally, the body's own immune system would kick in and selectively kill cancer cells, but there's a problem. The immune system is very good at detecting foreign invaders, but cancer cells are the body's own cells — good cells gone bad — so their external markers are largely indistinguishable from those of normal cells. A lot of research has gone into finding ways to differentiate between normal cells and cancer cells in the hopes of creating "targeted" therapies — chemotherapy agents that attack only cancer cells — but success, so far, has been very limited.
Some researchers have taken an entirely different tack: instead of trying to detect which cells are which and attack only cancer cells, find instead a way to protect healthy cells against chemotherapy. And it turns out there may be a very simple, drug-free way to pull this off. USN&WR:
Fasting for two days before chemotherapy might protect cancer patients against the toxic side effects of these powerful drugs by shielding healthy cells while dooming malignant cells to destruction, new research suggests. [...]
Although not yet replicated among patients, the preliminary animal research is encouraging: As little as 48 hours of starvation afforded mice injected with brain cancer cells the ability to endure and benefit from extremely high doses of chemotherapy that non-starved mice could not survive.
The finding was published in the March 31 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Longo noted that the idea first came from a different field of research: anti-aging science.
"We had found that healthy cells have a 'shield mode' -- a kind of protective strategy that allows the organism to be resistant to not just one but dozens of threats and stresses, including starvation," he said. "So we thought this characteristic might be a way to distinguish between normal cells and cancer cells when applying chemotherapy. And it turns out that it works for yeast, for human cells in test tubes, and here, in mice."
Following genetic manipulation of yeast to show that mimicking starvation could confer a life-prolonging protection against stress, the researchers induced glucose deprivation among a series of rat and human cell lines, some cancerous, some healthy.
This protected the healthy cells against exposure to toxic compounds, while leaving cancer cells unprotected.
In turn, the researchers then tested mice injected with brain cancer cells to see how they faired upon exposure to a high dose of the chemo drug etoposide. Noting that just one-third of this amount is considered to be the maximum for what is allowable for human treatment, Longo and his team compared results among mice starved for 48 hours and 60 hours pre-treatment with mice that were not starved.
While 43 percent of the non-starved mice died within 10 days of treatment, only one of the 48-hour starved mice died in that time. As well, while starved mice had lost 20 percent of their weight before treatment, most regained it back within four days of chemo exposure while the non-starved mice actually lost 20 percent of their weight post-treatment.
Non-starved mice also suffered toxic side effects, such as impaired movement, ruffled hair and poor posture. The 48-hour starved mice displayed no such problems.
Mice starved for 60 hours were exposed to even higher chemo doses. At that level, all non-starved mice died by the fifth day, at which point all the starved mice continued to survive. Again, almost all starvation weight loss was regained post treatment, and no signs of toxicity were evident.
Longo and his colleagues concluded that short-term starvation does appear to guard healthy cells and allow cancer treatment to attack only diseased cells. They said they are now organizing a human trial.
"We hope this works with patients, and we have reason to think it will," he said. "I think I'm more enthusiastic about this than anything else I've done. And you can see the potential for this being turned into something very, very useful. But we won't know until we do it."
Dwayne Stupack, an assistant professor of pathology with the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, described the current effort as a "reasonable" approach toward mitigating the undesirable effects of chemotherapy.
"We all know that people can go for a few days without eating, and it's not going to kill them, because the cells in our body are able to adjust and make do," he noted. "It's an intrinsic evolutionary stress response that is designed to keep those cells alive. And it turns out that this response also works to keep those healthy cells alive during chemotherapy."
"So, I think what they've done is very interesting and exciting, in the sense that the tumor they looked at is very aggressive, very lethal, and they were able to use what I would call relatively high chemotherapy without causing toxicity -- because the cells have already been conditioned to sort of shut down," Stupack said.
Stupack cautioned, however, that the starvation technique might not work for everyone. "There are certain tumors that may already be altering metabolism to normal tissue, and certain populations of cancer patients among whom an intrinsic stress response to the cancer is already under way," he noted. "In these cases, this approach might not achieve anything further. Those are the kinds of limitations that should be considered."
Very interesting, obviously. And it's free, non-toxic, and largely harmless. It will be interesting to hear what my oncologist has to say about it. One possible issue: getting chemo is an unpleasant process as it is. How much worse will it feel when one is ravenously hungry? Still, if it works...
|Friday Fun||Humor & Fun|
|81% Say Country On Wrong Track||Politics|
You are not alone. NYT:
Americans are more dissatisfied with the country's direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s, according to the latest poll.
In the poll, 81 percent of respondents said they believed "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track," up from 69 percent a year ago and 35 percent in early 2002.
Although the public mood has been darkening since the early days of the war in Iraq, it has taken a new turn for the worse in the last few months, as the economy has seemed to slip into recession. There is now nearly a national consensus that the country faces significant problems.
A majority of nearly every demographic and political group — Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school — say the United States is headed in the wrong direction. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was better off.
The dissatisfaction is especially striking because public opinion usually hits its low point only in the months and years after an economic downturn, not at the beginning of one. Today, however, Americans report being deeply worried about the country even though many say their own personal finances are still in fairly good shape.
Only 21 percent of respondents said the overall economy was in good condition, the lowest such number since late 1992, when the recession that began in the summer of 1990 had already been over for more than a year. In the latest poll, two in three people said they believed the economy was in recession today.
Check the graph. Pretty much correlates with Bush's term in office. Let's hope people catch on to the fact that McCain is essentially running for Bush's third term.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Joke||Humor & Fun|
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaking before Congress warned we may be headed towards a recession. Thank you, Captain Obvious. Let me guess, the real estate market not looking too good either. — Jay Leno