Category Archives: energy production

Coal Is Still Dead

I’ve read enough articles about cheap natural gas supplanting coal to conclude that these folks right here are morons:

WAYNESBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – When Mike Sylvester entered a career training center earlier this year in southwestern Pennsylvania, he found more than one hundred federally funded courses covering everything from computer programming to nursing.

He settled instead on something familiar: a coal mining course.

”I think there is a coal comeback,” said the 33-year-old son of a miner.

Despite broad consensus about coal’s bleak future, a years-long effort to diversify the economy of this hard-hit region away from mining is stumbling, with Obama-era jobs retraining classes undersubscribed and future programs at risk under President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget.

Trump has promised to revive coal by rolling back environmental regulations and moved to repeal Obama-era curbs on carbon emissions from power plants.

“I have a lot of faith in President Trump,” Sylvester said.

You, sir, are an idiot and I am tired of being asked to feel sorry for you.

Coal is not coming back. Certainly not in any significant way. Definitely not in any long-term, community-building way. It’s that free-hand-of-the-market thing you guys are always yammering on about. Technology has made other energy sources cheaper. It’s not environmentalists and tree huggers doing this (last I checked, those folks were pretty staunchly against fracking), it’s just good ol’ fashioned economics.

So. Read the writing on the wall:

“production levels remain near lows hit in 1978”

… and take advantage of the help being sent your way. Or, don’t:

“…120 people have signed up for jobs retraining outside the mines, far short of the target of 700…”

and

“I can’t even get them to show up for free food I set up in the office,” said Dave Serock, an ex-miner who recruits in Fayette County for Southwest Training Services.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with people? Is this nostalgia for days gone by? Republicans are going to cut funding for all of these job training programs. Now is the time to take advantage of the help being offered because it will be gone next year. The turd in the White House does not give a shit about “coal country” or workers beyond using their plight to stoke further divisions in the country. Wake the hell up.

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Filed under clean coal, energy policy, energy production

Prison, Bitches

One year doesn’t seem like nearly enough time but it’s,

… the maximum allowed by law …

and is also,

… the first time such a high-ranking executive had been convicted of a workplace safety violation.

The conviction of Don Blankenship is actually quite a coup for workers:

But after the explosion at Upper Big Branch on April 5, 2010, the authorities turned to a novel approach to prosecute Mr. Blankenship, who possessed deep knowledge of his mines, recorded many telephone conversations with subordinates and received production reports every 30 minutes.

Throughout a lengthy, complex trial, government officials portrayed Mr. Blankenship as, in effect, the kingpin of a criminal enterprise, and one with a stubborn focus on Massey’s financial standing. His demands, prosecutors argued, contributed to an unspoken conspiracy that employees were to ignore safety standards and practices if they threatened profits.

“He knew that following the safety laws costs money,” Steven R. Ruby, an assistant United States attorney, said at Wednesday’s hearing. “What could be more serious than a crime that risks human life?”

Mr. Ruby, who urged Judge Berger to order a one-year sentence, argued that a lighter penalty “would signal that committing mine safety crimes might be a good gamble for a C.E.O.”

Indeed, that is how business tends to get done in America, and sending a CEO to prison for a year signals that those heady days of paying a fine as “the cost of doing business” are over.

BTW, back in 2011, it was reported that Blankenship had resurfaced as president of McCoy Coal Group. I would hope Don Blankenship would be seen as a liability to any energy company.

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Filed under clean coal, corporations, energy production

Oil Is Over

From the wire services:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – Royal Dutch Shell will cease exploration in Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast following disappointing results from an exploratory well backed by billions in investment and years of work.

The announcement was a huge blow to Shell, which was counting on offshore drilling in Alaska to help it drive future revenue. Environmentalists, however, had tried repeatedly to block the project and welcomed the news.

Shell has spent upward of $7 billion on Arctic offshore exploration, including $2.1 billion in 2008 for leases in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast, where an exploratory well about 80 miles off shore drilled to 6,800 feet but yielded disappointing results. Backed by a 28-vessel flotilla, drillers found indications of oil and gas but not in sufficient quantities to warrant more exploration at the site.

Activists in Seattle had been protesting Shell for months after the oil company announced plans to use the Port of Seattle as its base for the Arctic drilling operation. The protests severely hurt Shell’s attempts to craft a public image of an “environmentally friendly” oil company.

I’ve said all along that the economics of offshore oil drilling just aren’t there at this point — maybe not ever again. The easy oil is gone; the stuff that’s left is extraordinarily difficult (and expensive) to get at. With oil prices plummeting, it just doesn’t make economic sense.

Meanwhile, Shell is in the hole to the tune of $4.1 billion thanks to this bad business decision — and not only that, it’s been a public relations disaster, too:

Shell is expected to take a hit of around $4.1bn as a result of the decision.

The company has come under increasing pressure from shareholders worried about the plunging share price and the costs of what has so far been a futile search in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell has also privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.

Ben van Beurden, the chief executive, is also said to be worried that the Arctic is undermining his attempts to influence the debate around climate change.

His attempts to argue that a Shell strategy of building up gas as a “transitional” fuel to pave the way to a lower carbon future has met with scepticism, partly because of the Arctic operations.

A variety of consultants have also argued that Arctic oil is too expensive to find and develop in either a low oil price environment or in a future world with a higher price on carbon emissions.

Oil is over. It’s yesterday, it’s finished. Give it up.

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Filed under energy production, environment, oil industry

Should We Nationalize The Grid?

This happened in Nashville yesterday:

bilde

A flotilla of kayakers paddled through downtown Nashville on the Cumberland River on Saturday, holding a banner reading: “Let’s move TVA beyond coal.”

It was a message from the Sierra Club, highlighting what it sees as a need for stronger federal standards to limit toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants. Ultimately, the group is calling for the shuttering of Tennessee Valley Authority coal plants.

TVA’s coal plants have brought us tragedies like the Kingston coal ash spill, which as I observed at the time was merely an extreme example of a widespread problem. Tennessee is uniquely suited to solar and TVA could easily expand its popular Generation Partners program. Through this program, people like us who have solar panels on our residential rooftops sell our extra production to TVA at a slight premium. It’s small compared to other states — 12-cents a kWh, plus the retail rate (which fluctuates but right now is 9 cents a kWh) — but it helps to offset the enormous cost of installing these systems.

Instead of expanding its renewables, TVA has engaged in a bit of foot-dragging. This is not surprising to anyone with a brain; unless there’s some kind of cap-and-trade or carbon tax program put into play, utilities — even quasi-public ones like TVA — really don’t have an incentive to play nice with people like us, other than for the obvious PR value.

Sure, groups like the Sierra Club can remind everyone of the enormous costs of coal, and how alternatives like nuclear are not really economically viable, either. Last I checked, the Kingston mess cost TVA (and us ratepayers) $1 billion.

But while rooftop solar makes a lot of sense economically, it’s also the power industry’s biggest threat. There’s simply no reason why a power company would want to hand over power production to the people. We’re technically putting them out of business, one rooftop at a time. Instead of us buying power from them, we’re selling it to them. That kinda turns the power provider/customer relationship on its head.

And increasingly, the utilities are not happy about it.

Alarmed by what they say has become an existential threat to their business, utility companies are moving to roll back government incentives aimed at promoting solar energy and other renewable sources of power. At stake, the companies say, is nothing less than the future of the American electricity industry.

According to the Energy Information Administration, rooftop solar electricity — the economics of which often depend on government incentives and mandates — accounts for less than a quarter of 1 percent of the nation’s power generation.

And yet, to hear executives tell it, such power sources could ultimately threaten traditional utilities’ ability to maintain the nation’s grid.

This is the age-old conundrum that goes back to the ’70s when President Carter put solar panels on the White House roof. If individual households can generate their own power, then what do we need big utilities for? It’s the “hard path”/”soft path” debate we’ve always had. Big solar farms or individual rooftops? Right now it’s a mixture of both but off on the sidelines, behemoth utilities are trying to push out the little guys: yes, we can have a few mom and pop rooftop operations, for the photo op, but not too many. Too many and suddenly nobody needs Duke Energy anymore.

And of course the issue has become even more pressing as our transportation gets electrified, and as technological advances make storage less of an issue. If TVA wants to dick around with us solar folks, screw ’em. We’ll go off the grid.

Ah, the grid. So, the utilities say, we maintain this grid, and you use it when you leave your solar-powered home, so suck it up. They may have a point, but the solution is simple: nationalize the grid.

Seriously, why the hell not? The power grid is a mess, a hodgepodge cobbled together with spit and a prayer. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the power grid in recent weeks and I’m definitely not an expert but it sure seems like we desperately need to make a big change, soon. And it seems like the country’s electrical grid, like things like highways and the armed forces, is something you want to be uniform and reliable and stable, without the fluctuations that come when you let “market forces” do the picking.

So far the only thing I’ve seen about nationalizing the power grid are on far-right tinfoil hat conspiracy websites. They seem to find the idea verrry scaaaary. But no one has told me why nationalizing the power grid is a bad idea, aside from a reflexive allergic reaction to the word “nationalize.” (For people who profess to love the nation so much, I don’t get that … but whatever!)

The energy sector is changing faster than anyone anticipated. I can foresee a day in, say, 15 years when individual homes and businesses are powered by rooftop solar, we all drive around on electric cars, and vehicle-to-building technology is as ordinary as apple pie. I know it’s hard for some folks to imagine that the authoritarian Big Daddy utility may be going the way of the dinosaur, but if their best argument against technological advancement is, “it will put us out of business,” well, my answer is: so what. Adapt or die.

It’s kinda like our health insurance industry. What purpose do they serve any more? They aren’t pooling risk to lower cost, which was their reason for existence in the first place. All they do is skim profit off the top to buy an insurance company CEO a gigantic house. Sorry, but that’s kind of a sign that your business model is now rrelevant. If that’s the best case you can make, well, sorry, Charlie.

We aren’t there yet for power companies, not even close … but it appears the mere threat of such a thing has utilities shitting their pants. To which I say: adapt or die. Why should we keep you around just for nostaligia’s sake? Good lord, if the Tea Party and Americans For Prosperity had been around 100 years ago, they’d have been fearmongering about automobiles and telling us how great the horse and wagon is.

I dunno. We need to start getting shit done in this country. Has everyone forgotten about the time the Northeastern power grid failed? That 10th anniversary is right around the corner. That might be a good time for us to start talking about this stuff.

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Filed under energy future, energy production, solar energy, TVA

TVA, Killing Us Softly

We need to have a little chat about the Tennessee Valley Authority, aka, TVA (and by the way, on a “you didn’t build that” note? If you live in the seven-state Tennessee Valley region — almost all Red States, let me add — you are enjoying cheap power made possible by every taxpayer in the US of A. If you’ve got a factory or a business? You didn’t build that. Think VW or Nissan would open a factory here if we didn’t have a ready and reliable supply of cheap power? Yeah, seems the free market fairies didn’t have any incentive to wave their magic wands over this part of the country and bring flood control and electricity to the hicks and hayseeds here. It took that Commie Franklin D. Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress to do that. So suck on that one, why don’t you. But I digress).

First of all, TVA is ending its Generation Partners Program at the end of September and replacing it with something less attractive. They’re touting a 20-year contract, but they’re only buying energy at a premium (retail rate plus x-cents per KwH) for 10 years, and that amount is less than what those of us currently in the program receive. So they’re locking you in for a longer contract and paying you less. I’m still unclear as to what happens after 10 years, if they’ll just pay the base rate or if they expect you to give them the energy you generate for free. Surely … not?

With that in mind, let’s look at some other facts.

1- TVA really, really needs to improve its alternative energy investment. Like, really. On my latest “Green Power Switch” newsletter (that’s where customers voluntarily buy blocks of renewable energy at a cost of $4 per unit each month. It helps pay for stuff like the Generation Partners program), it broke down by actual percent which renewables comprise that program. Solar is a paltry 8%, which considering the investment in solar in this state — and the potential in the entire TVA region — is ridiculous. The bulk, actually, is biomass biogas. I don’t even consider that a renewable, frankly.

[UPDATE:]

It’s actually worse than that. I finally found a link to the 2011 & 2012 “product content”. It’s 8% solar, 44% wind, and 48% biogas for 2012; in 2011, it was 14% solar, 32% biomass (not biogas, don’t know the difference) and 54% wind. That’s a huge shift.

I called TVA’s Renewable Energy Information Call Center and didn’t get a satisfactory answer to my question regarding the difference between biomass and biogas (both seem to be from agricultural waste?), let alone any information as to why TVA’s is purchasing less wind and solar this year versus last. I had to be transferred to TVA (that’s not who I was calling?) to get my very logcial questions answered. After getting transferred to TVA, waiting on hold, confusing another poor sop in the customer service department, waiting on hold again, and getting transferred to another person I got … voicemail.

* sigh *

Customer service FAIL.

Y’know, way, way back in another lifetime I actually worked for TVA. One thing I can tell you is that managers are forced to waste spend just ooodles amount of time going to training seminars, customer service seminars, this workshop thing, that off-site training doo-hickey. It’s amazing anyone can get anything done. And yet, you call to get two little perfectly logical questions answered and it’s like I asked them to explain the physics of a fucking nuke plant.

If I get any answers, y’all will be the first to know.

2- Right now we’re still dealing with the toxic aftermath of TVA’s December 2008 Kingston Coal Ash Spill, which dumped 1.1 billion gallons of coal slurry into the Tennessee, Clinch and Emory Rivers. That’s right, we’re still cleaning this mess up nearly four years later, and now it looks like we — oh and I do mean we, because that’s who’s paying for this, the ratepayers — will be out another $10 million for — get this — not to clean up the rest, oh no! But to “monitor” the ash and surrounding environment for 30 years. Yes because it’s just too fucking expensive to finish cleaning it up. I’m serious: they could spend up to $179 million cleaning up the “residual ash” (that’s on top of the $1.2 billion TVA estimated it would cost to clean up the bulk of the toxic mess). The rest, of course, got trucked to a landfill in the poor, predominantly African American Perry County, Alabama, where the people are so desperate for jobs they’ll happily pay the price of TVA’s dirty sins. Losses are always, always socialized by our poorest and most vulnerable. Shameful.

This is an untenable situation, not just for the people in Tennessee but for people far away who never used one kilowatt of the Kingston Fossil Plant’s energy. Seems like there could be a better way of generating electricity, one that doesn’t come with all of these social and financial costs. Oh, wait! There is! The program TVA is in the midst of killing.

TVA Invested In Clean Coal & All I Got Was A Billion Gallons Of Coal Sludge In My Living Room

And don’t think you can breathe a sigh of relief if you don’t live near Kingston. TVA operates 11 coal-fired plants and in 2009, storage problems were found at every one of them.

3- The NRDC has ranked Tennessee the 11th-worst state in the nation for coal-based air pollution. And we’re not even the worst in the TVA region! (click on the image to enlarge):

Hey Kentucky! You’re Number One!

The breakdown of where TVA states rank in this list is as follows:

1- Kentucky
8- North Carolina
9- Georgia
11- Tennessee
12- Virginia
14- Alabama
15- Mississippi

Yay, Mississippi! You’re finally last on a list that you want to be last on! Of course, you really don’t want to be on this list at all! (We keed, Mississippi. We keed because we lurve.)

So wrap your head around this one: every single TVA state is in the top of the “toxic 20” for electricity generation-related air pollution. TVA, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Really.

So let’s connect dots 1, 2 & 3 here: TVA’s anemic renewables program is getting less attractive to participants. But the way TVA currently generates electricity is toxic, costly and unsafe to both humans and the environment (and need I point out how redundant that is, because anything toxic to the environment is by default also toxic to humans. We cannot unhook ourselves from our planetary life support system).

Okay, anyone think this makes sense? No? Good.

The good news is that TVA is a quasi-public organization. The board is set by Congress. You can write your congress critters and tell them you want the board to reflect more sensitivity to renewables and environmental safety. Also, if you live in or near Knoxville, maybe you can sign up to speak at their August 16 board meeting. Maybe they need some Occupying to nudge them in the right direction.

Tell ’em Southern Beale sent ya.

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Filed under alternative energy, ash spill, energy future, energy production, environment, Tennessee, TVA

Technically True But Still Utter BS

Ah, our glorious mainstream media. Here’s wishing they’d actually provide information, not, ya know, troll for clicks with sensational headlines:

Wind Farms Cause Global Warming!

That was the headline of an article in Forbes Magazine from April 30, 2012. And how about this one: “Wind farms can cause climate change, finds new study” from the Telegraph. Or this one from Fox News where they remove the word ‘can:’ “New Research Shows that Wind Farms Cause Global Warming.”

All of these articles have glommed onto a study published in Nature Climate Change on April 29, 2012. The title of that article? “Impacts of wInd farms on land surface temperature.”

It’s amazing how the media can distort the truth when it wants to. The observational study looked at west-central Texas where four of the world’s largest wind farms are located. From 2003-2011, recorded measurements of the local surface temperatures in the vicinity increased by 0.72 degrees Celsius, particularly at night compared with nearby non-wind farm locations. As the authors point out, “These changes, if spatially large enough, may have noticeable impacts on local to regional weather and climate.”

The proposed mechanism is attributed to a changing distribution of air, swapping warmer air above with cooler air below as a result of the rotating motion of the turbines. There’s no net increase in heat, just a change in where it’s located. But this may have the possibility have affecting the regional weather patterns and even regional climate, if the effect is substantial enough

Back in my day this is what we’d call “media bias.” Apparently these days that’s reserved for networks that hire Rachel Maddow. Go figure.

Dibble notes that Forbes actually did provide the accurate information … eventually. But most readers probably didn’t read that far down the article — if they did more than scan the headline, that is. And this is what makes me nuts about most science reporting geared for us uneducated masses: it’s little more than click-bait. That might be fine on a story like “sugar makes you stupid!” — hey, we all know sugar is bad for you. But on an issue like climate change, where manufactured “controversy” has been foisted on the public to the detriment of the health of the entire planet so some rich oil Daddies can get even richer, well, it’s downright irresponsible. People need real reporting on climate change, not sensationalism and click-bait. It’s a complete abrogation of journalistic duty.

Pfft.

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Filed under climate change, energy production, Media, media fairness

Gas Prices Rise; EVERYBODY PANIC!

Here we go again.

According to the news media, gas prices are at record highs — for February! — and this somehow is cause for panic because even though gas prices have been higherin August 2008! — it means that they’re gonna be higher in May 2012 … just because!

I mean, good grief. If the news media is pressing the panic button, it must be because they’re tired of talking about vaginas and birth control pills. The funniest thing is watching Newt Gingrich remind everyone what the price of gas was when he was Speaker of the House, which was back in the last century. He then tells us what the price of gas was on Obama’s inauguration day, completely skipping over the roller coaster Bush years, including the record highs of 2008. Yeah, I know Republicans wish the Bush years never happened, join the club! But sorry dude, you can’t.

Nothing angers me more than the malfeasance that is our news media’s coverage of the gas price issue. Most of the time they’ll just shove a microphone in the face of some poor schlub trying to make it into work in the morning and record people complaining about something we’ve always complained about, since forever. Good grief, I remember people complaining about $1 a gallon gasoline, and I’m not that old.

It’s as if the news media has decided to not even bother and explain the issue. It’s just too hard, the poor dears know we idiot Americans can’t possibly comprehend gas prices rising due to things like Iran, China, Greece and increased demand from a stronger economy. So much easier to spread panic, I guess. Why don’t folks like Charlie Rose and Brian Williams actually inform the public? Instead, I watched Charlie Rose this morning let Newt blather on about stuff that has no effect on gas prices whatsoever without doing his fucking job and actually conducting an interview. You know, back in my day an interview involved two people, one asking questions and one answering them. This morning, Rose just basically turned on Newt’s mic, then went to the bathroom with his newspaper and cup of coffee.

As I wrote back in December, America is actually exporting more refined oil product than it’s importing these days. For the first time since 1949. How this makes President Obama anti-domestic energy, I have no idea.

These are the facts but you sure don’t hear the TV newsbots mentioning that. Gas prices are high right now because of global geopolitical conditions that U.S. consumers have very little control over and a strengthening economy which has increased demand. There is nothing magical about this being the month of February, nor is there any guarantee that these conditions will exist in May or June. There is no voodoo surrounding the time of year when gas prices have risen. I remember one Memorial Day weekend when they actually went down.

Here’s a nice little chart showing gas prices in the U.S.:

Every time the roller coaster edges up, the news media pushes the panic button. Frankly, I’m sick of it. It’s lazy, irresponsible, and does not inform the public. Instead, it fosters ignorance and partisanship, because it allows Republican talking points to take hold.

Instead of inciting panic, the news media should be spreading accurate information about why gas prices behave the way they do. That way an informed public could come together and actually agree on some kind of national energy policy enabling the country to weather these inevitable ups and downs over which we have little control.

Here’s an idea from Time’s Bryan Walsh:

In fact, it’s not the price of gas the President should focus on — it’s the effect high gas prices can have on the economy. A more energy-efficient economy — from gas mileage on up — is naturally more resilient to high energy prices. That’s one area the President can help shape — and it’s an area President Obama has found quiet success. The White House has pushed through measures that will mandate significant increases in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules, which means in the future, American drivers will be better protected against the next big hike in gas prices. And that’s not something one hears often from the Republican presidential field.

We’ll never agree on that more energy-efficient economy, though, because all the new media does is spread the false information that increased drilling somehow leads to lower gas prices at home. It isn’t now, it hasn’t in the past, nor will it in the future.

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Filed under energy production, gas prices, Media

Privatize Gains, Socialize Losses

Today the EPA has officially (as in, scientifically) linked the chemicals used in hydraulic fracking with contaminated drinking water and explosive bathwater in Wyoming.

Residents began complaining of fouled water near Pavillion in the mid-1990s, and the problems appeared to get worse around 2004. Several residents complained that their well water turned brown shortly after gas wells were fracked nearby, and, for a time, gas companies operating in the area supplied replacement drinking water to residents.

Beginning in 2008, the EPA took water samples from resident’s drinking water wells, finding hydrocarbons and traces of contaminants that seemed like they could be related to fracking. In 2010, another round of sampling confirmed the contamination, and the EPA, along with federal health officials, cautioned residents not to drink their water and to ventilate their homes when they bathed because the methane in the water could cause an explosion.

To confirm their findings, EPA investigators drilled two water monitoring wells to 1,000 feet. The agency released data from these test wells in November that confirmed high levels of carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, and a chemical compound called 2 Butoxyethanol, which is known to be used in fracking.

Still, the EPA had not drawn conclusions based on the tests and took pains to separate its groundwater investigation in Wyoming from the national controversy around hydraulic fracturing. Agriculture, drilling, and old pollution from waste pits left by the oil and gas industry were all considered possible causes of the contamination.

In the report released today, the EPA said that pollution from 33 abandoned oil and gas waste pits – which are the subject of a separate cleanup program – are indeed responsible for some degree of shallow groundwater pollution in the area. Those pits may be the source of contamination affecting at least 42 private water wells in Pavillion. But the pits could not be blamed for contamination detected in the water monitoring wells 1,000 feet underground.

That contamination, the agency concluded, had to have been caused by fracking.

Of course, a spokesman for Pavillion wells owner EnCana claims “the science remains inconclusive…” Of course they do! Stop me if you’ve heard this one before! No one can definitively say that smoking causes lung cancer! That a diet drenched in high fructose corn syrup would lead to obesity! That human activity is responsible for climate change! Jury’s still out on all of this stuff! Sure, we can put men on the Moon and eradicate whole classes of diseases but when it comes to stuff that’s inconvenient for some folks, the science isn’t there yet!

So let’s just wait another 10 or 15 years (keep in mind, people started complaining about this stuff back in the ’90s), ignoring all of those earthquakes while discrediting the EPA study. Along the way be sure to buy off a few scientists, bully a few politicians, and when the cancers start appearing and the livestock starts dying, EnCana will be long gone, either out of business or purchased by some Vulture Capitalists who broke it into so many pieces, good luck finding a deep pocket to pay for cleanup and damages. Privatize the gains, socialize the losses: it’s the American way!

Oh, and be sure to remind everyone, ad nauseum, how cheap natural gas is! Thanks for playing, America!

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Filed under energy production, environment, EPA

Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay MORE?

Remember Newt Gingrich’s “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” campaign? Based on the false assumption that if we drill for oil in America, that oil will stay in America? And drive gas prices Americans pay down? Because, you know … supply and demand and all that simplistic Econ 101 crap from the 1920s that people believe still holds true in a global economy?

Yeah, well, it ain’t happening:

Oil boomlet sweeps U.S. as exports and production rise

Looking at your heating bills or gas prices, you may find it surprising that the United States is enjoying a mini oil boom. It’s producing more crude oil and, for the first time in decades, has become a net exporter of petroleum products such as jet fuel, heating oil and gasoline.

The U.S. exported more oil-based fuels than it imported in the first nine months of this year, making it likely that 2011 will be the first time since 1949 that the nation is a net exporter of such goods, primarily diesel.

That’s not all. The U.S. has reversed another decades-long trend. It began producing more crude oil in 2008 than the year before and accelerated that upswing 3% in the first nine months of this year compared with the same period in 2010. That production has helped reduce U.S. imports of crude oil by about 10% since 2006.

Funny because I thought Socialist Obama was a puppet of Greenpeace and the Sierra Club! Oh, and the tree huggers and Dirty Fucking Hippies have blocked all the new refineries! And bargle bargle blargh! And Al Gore is fat!

Hmm. So we’re producing more crude oil domestically, reducing our imports, headed toward energy independence … yet we’re still paying over $3.50 a gallon for gasoline! What happened to the “pay less” part of Newt’s slogan?

What gives? Two things:

American consumers benefit little from the U.S. oil boomlet, because their fuel prices depend heavily on a global oil market that remains tight and has probably already peaked in production, says Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy and the World.

Ah yes that global market thing. Oil is not like oranges or laundry detergent. And then there’s the fact that this “boomlet” comes from new sources of oil (like tar sands and shale and ultra-deep offshore wells) that had been prohibitively expensive to tap before. The price of oil has to reach a certain high price before tapping these sources makes economic sense.

You see, high gas prices are built into the system. So no matter how much we drill and refine here in the U.S., we won’t be seeing cheap gasoline. And as for the rest of it — the poisoned well water and earthquakes from fracking, the crazy, wild weather from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide — we all pay those costs so the oil companies can enjoy higher profits. Privatize the gains, socialize the losses: it’s the way we do things these days.

Of course, those of us who drive electric cars don’t pay too much attention to gas prices.

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Filed under climate change, energy production, gas prices

Ex-Massey CEO Is Baaaaack

Remember Don Blankenship, the Simon LeGree of coal mining? The man Rolling Stone called “the dark lord of coal country”? The guy who called the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 mine workers “an act of God” and blamed mine safety regulations for the disaster?

That disaster led to a record $200 million settlement, the sale of the company, and calls for ex-CEO Blankenship to be sent to jail for gross negligence.

Is Don Blankenship in jail? Of course not! He’s in Kentucky … or maybe Tennessee:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Don Blankenship, the former Massey Energy executive whom many hold accountable for the explosion that killed 29 West Virginia coal miners, virtually vanished from public view a year ago this week. But he’s kept a toe in the mining business and may be angling to raise his profile.

Public records show that Blankenship has incorporated a new venture in Kentucky. Paperwork for McCoy Coal Group Inc. of Belfry, Ky., has been on file since January, though, and it has yet to seek a single mining permit, says Kentucky Energy and Environment spokesman Dick Brown.

Blankenship was pressured into retiring last December amid the fallout from the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, the worst U.S. mining disaster in four decades.

He is listed as McCoy’s president and may be living in Tennessee. A person who answered a call for Blankenship on Thursday said he could not come to the phone.

Well isn’t that special. Blankenship got a $12 million golden parachute and a two-year non-compete agreement when he exited Massey; McCoy Coal Group isn’t operating yet, but keep your eyes open, because when those two years are up we might be seeing more miners sent to do the Dark Lord’s bidding. The investors behind McCoy Coal might want to be careful, though: with Blankenship at the helm, Massey subsidiaries had to spend millions on criminal fines and penalties because of its flagrant disregard for worker safety. Blankenship is a serial offender, it appears.

Then again, there’s still a chance that Blankenship will be sporting an orange jumpsuit in the coming months:

Both Goodwin and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made it clear they intend to pursue possible criminal charges against individual executives, officers or employees of either Massey or Performance Coal. Holder emphasized the agency will continue “to investigate individuals associated with this tragedy.”

The MSHA report on its investigation of the tragedy focused on the wealth of evidence that Massey covered up safety conditions at Upper Big Branch mine by keeping hazards out of official records, warning workers underground of impending safety inspections and even intimidating miners to keep them from reporting safety violations.

Millions of dollars spent in criminal fines, civil penalties, lawsuits, and restitution to victims. Scratch that, make that hundreds of millions of dollars. Not to mention environmental damage, health damages, climate change, and things like TVA’s own coal slurry spill in Kingston, TN. Yeah, just keep telling yourself that coal is the cheapest form of energy we have (sure, it is cheap! When you socialize the losses!) and that there’s such a thing as “Clean Coal.” Then click your heels and transport yourself to the magical land of Free Market Fantasies, where the problem is regulation, not greedy assholes like Don Blankenship. That Kool-Aid sure must taste good.

(h/t to commenter Randy for the heads-up!)

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