2011-10-28

#OccupyDWS - My Afternoon Outside the Dublin Web Summit

So I was free in Dublin today, and decided to go on down to the Dublin Web Summit - having watched some talks last night and interested in getting more of the personal experience today. I got there, but was told that all the tickets had sold out weeks before, and that none were available. So I strolled outside, waited at the bus stop for a stretch, and then realised that I could hack myself my own little Web Summit, with all the experience of the attendees. So was the Occupy Dublin Web Summit movement born. (#OccupyDWS)

The #OccupyDWS Rallying Sign (v1.5)

At first a little timid, and absorbed by the mighty #dws tweet-feed, I sat to one side of the RDS Anglesea Road entrance, and tweeted an initial declaration that I was outside the #dws and would fancy someone to chat with about whatever was going on inside. After a few minutes in which my huge crowd of potential Occupiers failed to appear, I decided that I needed to identify myself a little better - and so I created a sign out of an envelope I happened to be carrying in my bag.

After a good few people passed by, I realised that the sign wasn’t obvious enough, so I relocated to directly in front of the pedestrian entrance. That’s how most people saw me - tweeting away or watching the talks “live”, sitting cross-legged in the sun. I was having a great time; many people would glance down and ignore me, but the grand majority coming out of the event had a smile or a laugh for my solitary “protest”. Most of them would stop and chat about the Web Summit, the people they’d met, the interesting start-ups or the best talk. Most people seemed to agree that the night before had been better than this morning; more famous speakers, or maybe just more attendees.

I explained that I wasn’t able to get in because I didn’t have a ticket, which led more than one person to offer me some money. A little shocked by this, I changed my sign from “No ticket :( ” to “No tickets for Sale :( ”. I got offered more than one wrist-band as people departed, but I explained that I was having so much fun, that I’d given up on going inside and that I didn’t actually want to sneak in that I declined. One man ignored all that, and gave me his wrist-band anyway. Thanks, but I didn’t use it.

Free Access! All I’d have to do is abandon my principles.

Like every protester, I started off just sitting outside the Web Summit with a pretty simple point, but I found that as I explained it to more and more people, that I was becoming more and more involved in the issue. I found myself saying things like:

“No room? They don’t even know how many people are in the building!”
“Sounds like the kind of thing we use computers to sort out!”
and
“People keep leaving, there’s gotta be room for me!”
but later got a little more fervent -
“The internet is all about instant access!”

Whoops - was my ironic “protest” actually starting to take itself seriously? Turns out, that as I talked to people about it, my thoughts turned to how to solve the problem of limited space in a venue, but having a number of people in the venue well below that limit and people outside that you have to turn away. After my phone battery failed, I refined these ideas on the bus home – but more of that in another post.

As I sat there, a steady stream of people went by, and I was rarely without someone to talk to about the days events. I was briefly interviewed by Silicon Republic, and had my photo taken a few times. One person commiserated that I didn't have my laptop with me, so that I could be doing some web dev. I explained that all I have is a behemoth of a Dell, and that I don't carry it around much. I got handed quite a few business cards, and one person in particular seemed to believe that my surname was another kind of elaborate joke when I mimed the two words (the protest though, was deadly serious).

I got a pretty good impression of the Dublin Web Summit - many people seemed excited, and about all manner of different things. The Journalism / News talk had evoked a lot of strong emotion, the Payments talk was equally interesting. Most people seemed pretty amused that I was sitting outside the event, but was still able to talk to them about something that had just happened. One guy was just happy he’d gotten to see Moot. I’m pretty disappointed that I missed that – maybe if I bring a Guy Fawkes mask, he’ll visit me next year. :P

I’ve actually got nothing to do with Anon, but it might get his attention.

One of the RDS security guards decided that he wanted me to move on, but once I agreed to leave if the organisers had a problem with me being there, that worked out all right. It really helped that when he came along, I was deep into a technical discussion with someone with a badge, who leapt to my defence with:

“The organisers won’t care - This is exactly the right spirit for this kind of thing.”
He was right - most of the attendees I talked to got a bit of a kick from seeing me there. If you’re reading this, I didn’t catch your name, but thanks.

So the guard wandered off to find an organiser irate enough to justify removing me (from the public footpath, but I digress). Actually, he went to ask the very person that I’d tried to buy a ticket from, and had gotten along pretty well with! That exchange had gone something like:

Me: “I don’t have a ticket, I haven’t booked or anything, I’d just like to give you some cash and go inside”
Him: “I’d love to take your money, but we’re just not allowed”

He came out, I explained that it wasn’t a serious protest (which he had already understood by reading my sign), and he told the security guy to leave me alone. The guard then spent the next hour watching me from afar, and (probably) telling anyone who would listen about me - judging from the pointing and the looks in my direction. I gave him a thumbs-up whenever I noticed. He probably got #OccupyDWS way more PR than I could have managed otherwise. :)

Once the lunch crowd died down, my battery had drained so I couldn’t watch any more talks and I was starting to feel a little cold, so I headed home. I had a great time at the Dublin Web Summit, and might even book in advance for next year!

Here’s my parting tweet:

“Battery low means I can’t watch video streams, so #OccupyDWS is shutting down. Met loads of friendly, smart people. #dws was fun!”

2011-10-17

Irish Oil Exploration Licences 2011 - Worth It?

This is an attempt to analyse the benefits to the Irish Exchequer from the licensing of areas of the Atlantic Margin for exploration for Oil and Gas, in order to promote informed debate.

Any numbers here are my own interpretation of the publicly available documents, and may be incorrect. Comments, suggestions and amendments are welcome, but please cite your sources. Please note, that any figures I give will use an SI postfix system1, as there seems to be significant public confusion between the relative significance of 'millions' versus 'billions' of Euro.

Applications

15 applications were filed, 13 accepted[1]. Against the cost of assessing the applications, we have the application fee of €1520 - so
€1520 × 15 = €22.8k
in total[4].

As the Dept. is supposed to assess the "quality of the work programme proposed", "the level of technical competence and offshore experience of the team" and "evidence of the financial capacity"[4], any one of which would cost more than €1520 per applicant, the State is already at a loss. Perhaps the Department could comment on the total amount spent assessing these applications, including Civil Service time, as well as any outside consultancy they undertook?

As far as I can understand, the purpose of these Exploration Licences is for the State to obtain a seismic survey of the Atlantic Margin and determine whether there is exploitable oil or gas in sufficient quantity to justify exploitation. There is no guarantee of a license to exploit anything discovered. The licenses allow "geological groundtruthing techniques such as seabed coring and shallow drilling", but full well-drilling is not allowed without a subsequent Frontier Exploration Licence, which basically seems to require a similar application/vetting process, and which may not be filed for a year from the granting of a Licencing Option. This "for consideration by the Minister" and with no "automatically entitle(ment)" to the exploitation license. It seems to me that Joe Higgins TD is premature in criticising this process, although he is absolutely correct in stating that the survey results should be available to the State and to the people prior to the granting of any subsequent licence.

I feel that Minister Rabbitte is absolutely correct to say that exploratory surveys are vastly too expensive and risky for the State to undertake; if we take the figures he gives in the interview, at €80M per exploratory drilling, with less than Norway's 1:4 success ratio. If we take TD Higgins' figures, there have been 4 successful finds, with 14 ongoing explorations and 118 failures. In context, if we estimate that the Government would have to invest €150M to perform an exploration of a single 'Block', the prior probability of success would be 4/118 = 3.4% (excluding incomplete surveys).

By contrast, by licensing out these surveys, the State is not involved in the financial risk (nor do we have the ready cash to invest in such a venture!). For reference, the figure 'one in five' or 'one in four' given by Minister Rabbitte equates to a prior-probability of between 20% and 25%; so a significantly less risky investment, at least in the past.

I think that the idea of attempting to set up a State agency or semi-State company to perform these explorations would entail vast expenditure on personnel, material, with no guarantees of return. With our Budget in such imbalance, this proposal sounds risky and impractical.

It occurs to me that these licenses are vastly cheaper than the Licence fees imposed on the Telecommunications for use of Spectrum; which is subject to auction. I do not understand why prices should be fixed if there is significant interest in performing these explorations -- I would also be interested in details of the two failed applications; why were they rejected? If they represented competition for the same area, then why not expose these applicants to a market-like approach, with the end-benefit being the people of the State? (This is supposition, it is possible that they failed due to their work programme, technical competence or financial backing).

Sea Rental (Who knew?)

The rate imposed by the Government on companies taking out these Licensing Options is €29 per km2. The April Acreage Update states that the 996 Full Blocks and 58 Part Blocks available have a total area of 252,500 km2, giving a total possible rent of:
€29/km2 × 252,500km2 = €7.3 M
if all of the Atlantic Margin were licensed. That seems like a completely insignificant figure, compared to the possible benefits from an oil find.

According to the Notice[4], this is linked to the Consumer Price Index, but I really wonder how they are performing that calculation -- for example, a quick Daft search for commercial property, and Property.ie for Agricultural land gives me2:

  • €29 / km2 - One Year of Sea for Oil Prospecting
  • €228 / km2 - One Year of Grazing ground in Galway
  • €108,000,000 / km2 - One Year of Industrial floorspace in Clonee

Although, there's very little chance of prospecting for gold or other mine-ables in either location, I thought that it would be nice to compare to market rates, so I'm not being entirely facetious. The rate for exclusive(?) use of this sea-space is orders-of-magnitude lower than either of these -- is Ireland a good location for those considering Sea Steading with rates like this?

The ocean-area under discussion is broken into Major-Blocks of approximately 80km × 120km, each broken into 30 Blocks of 16km × 20 km each.
Each Block thus has an area of approximately:
16km × 20 km = 320 km2
and carries a rent at €29 / km2 leaving
€29 / km2 × 320 km2 = €9.2k

53 full Blocks and 11 Partial-Blocks have just been licensed for exploration, giving a total rented area of approximately3 17,131km2 × €29 / km2 = €496,000.

Surely we could have done a little better than that.

Profits and Taxation

TD Higgins mentioned that future licensors of any 'gold-mine' oil find could expect to extract 10 G Barrels, of oil, pay tax (less exploration costs) and then sell it at 'market rates' to consumers. Looking at mean oil price on Bloomberg and OilPrice.net over the last 5 years, it seems somewhat reasonable to assume that the price of crude oil per barrel will continue to lie between $75-$100. Wiki on the Irish Corporate Taxation Rate gives a rate of 25% for "profits from so-called "exempted trades", including land-dealing, income from working minerals, and petroleum activities", which accounts for Minister Rabbitte's figure, which combined with the Profit Resource Rent Tax [11] may increase to 40% of profits for particularly profitable fields. Prior to this, I was unaware of the PRRT, but it seems like a fantastic idea. The Revenue page is strangely silent on the specifics of this scheme.

If a quarter of Joe Higgins' 10G barrels were to be extracted, and the State were to receive between 25% and 40% in tax from the profits therefrom, that would render somewhere between:
(2.5 × 1000000000) × $75 × 0.25 = $46.88 G
and
(2.5 × 1000000000) × $100 × 0.40 = $100 G
(and $100 Billion would put a sizeable dent in the National Debt).

Obviously this is a very simple analysis, and is probably significantly flawed.

Still, it remains to be noted that we should exploit our petroleum resources now before alternatives are ready, which may force the price down, and get ready to produce in quantity if another oil-crisis happens to reap the benefits of a price spike (in the next 20 years, who knows?)

Sources:

  1. RTE News 2011-10-17 - "13 licenses granted for oil & gas exploration"
  2. Morning Ireland 2011-10-17 - Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, announces licensing
  3. Morning Ireland 2011-10-17 - Joe Higgins, TD, decries licensing
  4. Dept Comms, Energy, NatRes: Petroleum Affairs Division - Atlantic Margin Licensing Page
  5. DCENR 2010-10-07 Notice of Licensing Round
  6. DCENR 2011-04-01 Acreage Update (Final monthly update prior to end of submissions)
  7. DCENR 2011-05-01 "Clarification Request" (Responses)
  8. DCENR 2011-10-17 Licenses Granted, with Map
  9. DCENR 2011-06-01 "Minister Rabbitte's speech at Energy Ireland Conference"
  10. DCENR - Types of Petroleum Licence
  11. DCENR - 2007-09-01 - Announcement of Profit Resource Rent Tax

Footnotes

1 SI-postfix

  • €1k = €1,000
  • €1M = €1000k = €1,000,000
  • €1G = €1,000M = €1,000,000k = €1,000,000,000
  • 10G Oil Barrels = 10,000,000,000 Barrels.

2 Remembering that 1 acre = 4,046.85 m2, and that 1 m2 = 0.000001 km2, land costs of €837,864 for 7,758 m2 to rent an Industrial Unit in Clonee and €600 for 6.5 acres for grazing outside Galway - giving €108 / m2 or €108M / km2 for industrial floor-space and €0.023 / m2 or €228 / km2 for grazing land in Galway.

3 Taking partial blocks as half the area of a full block: (53 × 320 km2) + (11 × 320 km2/2) = 17,131km2

2011-10-15

UFO - British TV from the '70s combines X-Com and Thunderbirds


First thoughts: Holy god, an X-Com TV series? Sign me right up!

Of course, my chronology is completely backwards, but that's certainly what this 1970's ITC TV show feels like. A covert international organisation set up to fight the unknown threat from space. The first episode even deals with the technological arms-race that is the background of the game. According to the X-Com wiki page, UFO was an inspiration for the X-Com games, and it shows. Still, I encountered X-Com (actually, TFTD) first, so that is my primary point of reference.
Some differences; interceptors are detected by an A.I. in orbit, interceptors are launched from a Moon-base and the SHADO main-base is located under a film studio in England. Still, the inspiration is obvious. Later: Other interceptors launch from the submarine. Oh yes.
Even more obvious are the elements of this show that mirror those of the earlier Thunderbirds. The show has the same aesthetic - very 1970s all around, with the same style of music (I don't even know how to describe it!). There is the same focus on the different classes of vehicles, a futuristic Concorde, a Submarine, the Sattelite and the Interceptors. I would have loved this show as a child. Perhaps it owes more to Captain Scarlet than Thunderbirds, the UFOs have the same inscrutable quality as the Mysterons (except without their characteristic announcements of their plans). A glance at the wiki tells me that the satellite-computer is voiced by the same guy who voiced the Mysterons.
"These clouds give more cover than the G-string on a Belly-Dancer" ... yeah, it's the '70s all right.
A fighter has just show down an UFO. The pilot is about to land and check it out. I literally can't wait.
Damn, it fell into the sea - but they're picking up a body. Again, this couldn't be more like the game.
Well, I won't continue with first-episode spoilers, but suffice it to say that I'm going to stick with this one for the remainder. I only wish that it had still been on TV years ago!
There are even occasional hints of The Prisoner!

Major thanks to Jason O'Mahony for pointing me in the direction of this show.