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Should you make the Earth move … January 1, 2012

Posted by WillardWhyte in Energy, Environment, Justice, Politics.
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… you should need to explain to the rest of US why this is a good thing, what it might mean in all regards and how you plan to compensate US should your actions do real harm.

That’s all I’m saying when it comes to the 4.0 earthquake yesterday near Youngtown, Ohio, with clear circumstantial evidence that the tumbler was triggered by deep underground pressure applied near a fault line by fracking fluids injected by a company seeking oil. You can read about it here.

Nothing proven yet, and the company has paused injections to allow for an investigation. All good, rational community-minded responses.

The thing is, this is not an isolated phenomenon. It’s a coincidence that has cropped up many times down in the Oklahoma-Texas-Arkansas region where fracking is commonplace.  It’s also logical, since the concept of fracking is designed to pressure deep shale to “crack” and release natural gases to be recovered. It follows that such pressure applied in a poor location could cause other pressure “adjustments” — like shifts along fault lines, known and not known.

This is NOT an argument for banning fracking as a gas extraction method. Given the current economy and need for this fuel, such a conclusion would be knee-jerk and unsound.

But it does underscore in a huge way the stakes all of US have in what happens to that rock tens of thousands of feet below our feet. In addition to the petrochemicals and gas trapped there are things like water supplies — and the underpinnings of our communities. There is no inherent “right” to the riches down there, although our laws allow for the leasing of the privilege to gather it up. Along  with that comes the inherent responsibility to do that responsibly — meaning, with responsibility for all the results of that activity.

A simple rule applies: If you break it, you’ve bought it. No blanket waivers of liabilities to the rest of US.

That’s what the discussion of “fracking” needs to concentrate on: Holding people doing that fracking to full responsibility to the rest of US for any and all damage done in the process — to drinking water, to surface waters with any waste fluids and to anything on top should you cause things like earthquakes.

And not with some years-later claim on some multi-layered corporate shell long stripped of any resources to draw on for damages. Up front, with bonds or clear assets set in reserve to compensate. That will add to the cost, of course. But that is a legitimate cost of doing such business, just as it is in many other endeavors. This industry should not be sheltered from that cost — meaning: subsidized because the risk is offloaded to US.

This is another case where we should simply say no to profits being 100% privatized, while the risks and fallout costs are shifted to US — the public, be we just 100 people who rely on aquifers for water, or tens of thousands who rely on the Earth’s crust for our lives.

I don’t know where all the lines are. Reasonable people can draw them. But they will only be counted as “reasonable” if they  acknowledge their responsibility — to the community.

That’s not “the government” talking. It’s the nation.



Yes, let’s put Goldman back in charge December 4, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Economy, Environment, Justice, Politics, U.S. Budget, Wall Street.
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I’ve been listening very very closely to all the reform talk down in the Swamp, emerging only with confusion.

One group – the bright Red one – rails against an end to what always was limited tax relief for the top 1 percent or 2 percent of earners, now casting any act to not extend this relief as a move that would sap the slow 3 percent recovery we are in the midst of. Can’t take that $80-$100 billion a year out of circulation in what they continue to say is a “recession,” even though the economy stopped receding and started proceeding four quarters ago.

They know that. But they lie because it’s convenient for the narrative.

This group, then, does a wonderful spin with full gainer, and demands an end to extended unemployment benefits and an immediate return to 2008 spending levels, reigning in such stimulus-intended measures as broadened Medicaid coverage, boosted university research grants, various individual tax credits designed to spur household spending on energy efficiency upgrades. This, if put into effect, would take at least $100 billion in spending by individuals out of the economy – spending on doctors, medicines, researcher salaries and equipment purchases and all those things all those people scraping by need to buy. You know, rent, milk, bread, gasoline, spaghetti sauce, mostly from small businesses, if that matters (actually, the Wal-Marts are counting on taking that “market share” pretty soon, so it doesn’t long term).

Somehow, the Red team doesn’t think this will in any way slow down the economic expansion, though study after study show without dispute that the poor and unemployed and even the middle class university research assistant have a much higher propensity to spend than does the individual or couple making $250,000 and up. So if you are going to pull $100 billion out of the economy – and either way you are doing that – and your true intention is to not hurt the recovery, you draw from the top, not the bottom, of the take-home ladder, because the subtraction of spending multiplied down the line is less.


Take the oil/coal barons off welfare first August 7, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Economy, Energy, Environment, Politics.
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Another myth that the deceivers continue to spout targets government subsidies or tax preferences enacted in recent years to boost investment in, and adoption of, renewable and “clean” energy such as solar, wind, wave or hamster power.

The critics say alternative energy should be required to “stand on its own” and compete with fossil fuels without “taxpayer” props. But this critique is built upon a fallacy — the assumption that fossil fuels “compete” in a pure, “free” market unaided by governments. Not true. Those fuel sources long have benefitted from massive subsidies, as Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports here, based on figures compiled from 2008 global expenditures by  the International Energy Agency. I wouldn’t qualify either source as communist. Here’s the nut:

Global subsidies for fossil fuels dwarf support given to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power and biofuels, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said.

Governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy through tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits, the London-based research group said today in a statement. That compares with the $557 billion that the International Energy Agency last month said was spent to subsidize fossil fuels in 2008.

“One of the reasons the clean energy sector is starved of funding is because mainstream investors worry that renewable energy only works with direct government support,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of New Energy Finance. “This analysis shows that the global direct subsidy for fossil fuels is around ten times the subsidy for renewables.”

There are scores of such subsidies layered into the U.S. tax code providing aid and succor to those who draw oil from underground reservoirs, transport it from one place to another, refine it and then either sell it or burn it to generate electricity.

Even more indirect “subsidy” is provided to this industry by extremely lax enforcement of clean air, clean water and safe workplace laws — measures that allow refineries to consistently exceed rules allegedly governing emissions of proven poisons into the air, suffering only hand-slap fines instead of requirements to invest in aged equipment to comply with LAWS;  measures requiring similar investment in underground coal mines to make them safe; or measures requiring remediation investment for mountaintop coal mining that fouls rivers and forests.

And that does not begin to tally the hidden subsidies within eminent domain powers granted to pipeline operators. 

I pass no judgment here on whether these privileges granted by government — hence by us — were sound policy or remain sound policy. They all do act to artificially reduce the cost of fossil fuels in the global economy, which may very well keep some fringe industry competitive, help shaky families afford winter heating, or keep some people on some payrolls.

I would weigh in with a judgment that aiding the fossil fuel producers with lax enforcement of long-existing clean air/water and workplace safety laws is wrong.

But my point is that current measly subsidies to aid alternative energy production are not tipping a previously even “playing field” in their direction. They are un-tipping in a very mild manner a playing field already heavily pitched by government subsidies in the favor of fossil fuels.

Part of the reason for doing that is to motivate investment in production of fuels and electricity from sources that will be around for as long as the Earth is around, unlike fossil fuels that are finite and will be increasingly costly as they become progressively more difficult to extract.

Part of the motivation also is to do that NOW, at a point in time when the numbers don’t add up in a way that naturally moves money toward this. The idea is to jump-start an industry that will be essential in 10-15-20 years, just as countless nations are doing in the hopes of one day being the leader in producing the science, the equipment and the juice.

We can do nothing as a nation in this regard and wake up in 10 years and find that China, or Germany, or Spain is the global leader in this realm — the Saudi Arabia of solar, wind and wave energy production.  Just as we allowed our electric battery science and production to leak to China, Korea and Japan  in the last decade because the margins were too small.

Does that seem wise? I think not.

So much of the opposition to alternative energy seems to me to stem from a knee-jerk, emotional, Red-Blue blindness rooted in whether people “believe” in global warming or not, or value environmental issues at all. Hard-core rejecters of warming trend science see anything to do with wind, sun, wave or geothermal as simply “lefty” politics based in a myth that will sap the economy, kill jobs and wimp everything up. Moonbat stuff.

And some of the fringe ideas go there — or come from there.

But if you are going to require “alternative energy” to stand solely on its own legs, you’d better apply the same reasoning to fossil fuels — zero out the subsidies, as disruptive as that would be.

At least argue against alternative subdsdies without the myth.



This one’s wafer-thin, but still may not fly July 28, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Economy, Energy, Environment, Greed, Politics.
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Having abandoned a controversial cap-and-trade attack on the causes of global warming, the Democratic leadership in Congress is now pushing a pretty vanilla bill on energy, oil spills and a dash of help for a struggling economic recovery.

Already, the Armies of Idiocy are gathering up their arms to mount another “Did not!” “Did too!” debate I’m sure CNN will cycle all day.


A reasoned look — so far July 24, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Economy, Energy, Environment.
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Going to go back to my business today while other avenues percolate a bit, and some of the chemicals in my bloodstream try to wrestle back to equilibrium. I really want to talk more about the highway, but I haven’t quite steadied that up yet.

So instead I’m going to meander and start with this one, a tale of something that needs to happen — extracting vast stores of natural gas from a giant shale formation beneath Appalachia — and rightful concerns — about the use of a mix of water, sand and undisclosed chemicals to “fracture” the formation and force the gas into recovery equipment.

We need that gas — to power factories, heat homes, generate electricity and, maybe, if Boone Pickens has a clue, to fuel a portion of the cars of the future. It burns, to be sure, so there are emissions to deal with. But we can do that too. Better than coal, better than oil and — here, not there.

But the drillers really need to stand on their heads to get at it and bring it home, as the Times story about an EPA fact-finding hearing in Pennsylvania the other night describes pretty well. There are some significant concerns about what impact all that injection of fluids is having — and will have — on underground water supplies that bubble up into streams, shallow water tables used for drinking water and crop irrigation and so forth.

It appears that, right now, we really don’t know. From this story and others, there is enough smoke to suggest that the impact isn’t entirely innocent. And the lessons we are painfully learning from the Gulfy Gusher come quickly to mind: If we are going to tap into something like this, and there is even an outside chance that doing so will heavily impact millions of lives, thousands of unrelated businesses and livelihoods and do damage to a shared future, there is a compelling public interest in stationing a reasonable cop on the beat.

Not to go all hysterical. To check it out, study it expertly and neutrally with all parties at the table and plenty of “peer review” applied to any and all “studies” and see what needs to be in place to minimize the risk of the “worst-case scenario,” anticipate reaction to a bad result and generally come up with some “dos and don’ts.” Some of the latter surely need to have teeth.

At the moment, the discussion seems to be moving on a solid track. One of the companies up in Pennsylvania — Range Resources — recently pledged to provide the EPA with a list of all chamicals it uses in its injection cocktail and to post it for public review on its website. Right now, what’s in those stews is known only to the companies jamming the stuff deep into the rock formations. This attitude is spot-on:

“We should have done this a long time ago,” said Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Range Resources, a Texas-based natural gas producer. “There are probably no health risks with the concentrations that we’re utilizing. But if someone has that concern, then it’s real and you have to address it.”

But people are people and, you know, I’d like to just roll my Harley downtown and leave the keys jangling in the ignition and not have to lug them around while I shop. But it’s not a good idea because I know that a lot of people will just walk on by and respect me, but some won’t. So I take the keys.

So we can’t depend on the cowboys with the white hats, though you surely want a lot of Pitzarellas at the table. And to have a thorough discussion in the public’s behalf, you probably want this guy too:

“There is extraordinary economic potential associated with the development of Marcellus Shale resources,” said Rep. Joe Sestak, Democrat of Pennsylvania, in a statement Friday announcing $1 million for a federal study of water use impacts in the Delaware Water Basin. However, “there is also great risk.” He said, “One way to ensure proper development is to understand the potential impacts.”

And there also needs to be a place for this guy:

“I can take you right now to my neighbors who have lost their water supplies,” said Dencil Backus, a resident of nearby Mt. Pleasant Township, at Thursday night’s hearing to the handful of E.P.A. regulators on hand. “I can take you also to places where spills have killed fish and other aquatic life. Corporations have no conscience. The E.P.A. must give them that conscience.”

Yeah, someone like him needs to be at the table, even though he might not follow all the science, or the economic modeling — or the politics (no offense Dencil). He needs to be there to be looking into the eyes of all the others.

Because he’s right: As I’ve said, corporations are not people; they are legal entities set up to conduct a business and make money for the owners. They are not going to see the big picture, the “we the people” perspective. That’s one reason why we need cops.

Again as I’ve said before, if we all don’t have a reasonable, legitimate and considered plan, we’re going to get BP’s.

Another hat tip today … June 19, 2010

Posted by WillardWhyte in Economy, Environment, Justice, Politics.
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… goes to Gail Collins over at The New York Times for this column this morning.

You could call it Ruby Slippers governance because it depends on a kind of silly denial of reality that only works with Dusty Springfield singing “Wishin’ and Hopin'” in the background.

It’s like the repeat drunken driver who still thinks he can slip into the bar at quitting time to have just “a taste” before hitting the road. The law of averages assures he will be caught, maybe at a roadblock, maybe in a ditch, maybe in the emergency room when he comes to as the only survivor in a wreck that maybe wiped out a family.

But no judge, there is no need for an ignition interlock. It won’t happen again. No need for you to do anything to come as close as you can to making sure it can’t happen again.

Here’s a word of advice to all in Congress wishin’ and hopin’ — most of us out here expected that you already had done everything in your power to make sure it didn’t happen in the first place.

We were wrong — you and the people who work for you (and us) either figured wrong or just didn’t do their jobs. It happened — and it is still happening.

We are a forgiving bunch, all said and done. The odds were pretty long that this would not go down.

But it did. Now you know it can — and will again unless you figure out how the barn door got open, how to close it and how to make sure it doesn’t swing open again.

We can put a bunch of monkeys in there to jabber and bicker and scratch and whine — and do nothing.

Not an option.