Spills, midnight dumping, illegal workers, lot’s of out of state plates and some very dirty people and money. Add it up and there is a fortune to be made. If we could just get Government off the backs of business, the things we could do.
Six key factors, combined with the impacts of a prolonged economic slowdown, have led U.S. CO2 emissions to fall to 1996 levels, making significant progress toward the long-abandoned Kyoto Protocol 1990 target. Is it conceivable that U.S. CO2 emissions may actually have peaked?
U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have fallen nearly 12 percent over the past five years, and are currently down to 1996 levels. While some reduction is attributable to the economic downturn between 2008 and 2010, the continuing decline up to present suggests that additional and more persistent factors are at work.
A close examination of energy use in different sectors suggests that the transition from coal to natural gas for electricity generation has probably been the single largest contributor to the decline, but a combination of many other factors accounts for the majority of reductions. These include people driving less and flying less, using less electricity (particularly for industrial activities), driving more fuel-efficient cars, and a large increase in the use of wind power for electricity. Some of those factors also stem from the economic slowdown, but all combined, these factors have produced a dramatic and largely unexpected decline in U.S. CO2 emissions.
The huge reservoirs of natural gas discovered off the coast of Israel now flowing toward shore have the potential to transform the once energy-strapped country into a lean, green manufacturing machine — capable of supplying cheap, clean energy to its citizens, factories and vehicles for a generation.
Until now bereft of the petroleum bonanza that created the modern Middle East, Israel suddenly finds itself a major player in the Mediterranean, and perhaps even the European, natural gas market.
The deepwater fields, first discovered in 2009 and 2010, will soon turn Israel into an energy exporter, putting the Jewish state in the enviable — but very tricky — position of trying to sell billions of dollars in surplus gas to neighbors who range from cool to downright hostile.
The questions are: To whom? And how?
Some Israeli leaders have suggested a “gas for peace” strategy whereby Israel, through the energy companies, provides gas at competitive rates to neighbors who want to buy.
But they also acknowledge that some Arab countries might refuse gas — at any price — coming from Israel. For years, many oil-rich Arab nations have declined to directly supply Israel with oil.
“There is an interesting cocktail of possibilities,” said Pinhas Avivi, political director of multilateral, global and strategic affairs at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “The trick is to use the gas to solve problems, not create new problems.”
The plan, first adopted in 2006, empowers “incident commanders” from the fire or police departments to make the evacuation call during routine emergencies, including “minor threats from explosions.”
Private workers aren’t mentioned. But the protocol instructs incident commanders to consider a “worst probable scenario” when making the decision.
Such a scenario struck Tuesday.
Answering to 911 calls of a strong natural gas odor, first-responding Kansas City firefighters followed the lead of a Missouri Gas Energy worker and did not initiate an evacuation of JJ’s restaurant or nearby homes and businesses.
An hour after those calls, the Country Club Plaza restaurant exploded, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen others.
Accounts by the city and the utility indicate MGE did ask people to leave in the moments before the explosion — but well after the odor of natural gas filled the tiny eating spot and wine bar.
The last five years have seen a revolution in terms of the amount of inexpensive U.S. natural gas made available for consumption in power plants, road fuels, and as a feedstock for new and expanded petrochemical plants. We are now even debating the advisability of large volume natural gas exports in the form of liquid natural gas (LNG).
This bonanza has created euphoria in the fossil energy and industrial communities, but has also created something of a “Janus effect” within the Environmental community. To the Romans, Janus (the two faced god) provided a cohesive view of the present as well as an uncertain view of the future. In Rome, the temple to Janus was opened only when Rome was at war. During peace time, presumably because the future was more certain, the doors of the temple remained closed. They were last opened in AD 531 immediately prior to an invasion by the Goths. We all know how well that turned out.
Environmentalists are reacting to the natural gas bonanza in three ways. The first group, which we may define as “pragmatists”, see a hopeful face based on solid evidence that natural gas helps with achieving multiple environmental goals by reducing particulate emissions, sulfur emissions, NOX levels and CO2 emissions. They acknowledge natural gas fueled generators emit approximately 40% less CO2 per kilowatt hour than the older coal-fired units they are largely replacing. Although the aftermath of the recession has reduced the use of most other fuels, natural gas now rivals coal as the major fuel source for power generation in the US.
A second group, the “environmental fatalists” are less impressed with the displacement effects on coal but appreciate that natural gas plants provide crucial support when mandated, for intermittent renewable power options, such as solar and wind. Once renewables represent approximately 10% of aggregate capacity, negative side effects of these “intermittent” sources become problematic; too much dependence on them can cause grid “instability” or, in a worse case, cascading power failures and massive blackouts.
Then there’s the third group, we’ll call the “ideologues.”
As I’ve been writing about with some frequency, the U.S. coal industry is on the decline. The reasons are familiar by now: the low price of natural gas, new EPA regulations, the relentless grassroots anti-coal movement, the rising costs of production, flat or falling electricity demand, the recession, and, this past year, an unseasonably warm winter.
The result is unfolding before us: U.S. coal production is down 9 percent from 2011, according to preliminary numbers from the EIA. And coal folks are not particularly optimistic about next year either:
“I think 2013′s going to be a difficult year,” [Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association] said. “Until the economy recovers and we start to see some growth, any increased (electricity) demand is probably going to be met with natural gas.”
It’s possible that economic growth will pick up in a significant way. But natural gas is going to stay cheap for the foreseeable future, EPA regs aren’t going away, production costs are only going to continue rising, and climate change is going to see to it that future winters are less cold.
News outlets are reporting that Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, will not return for the second term of the Obama administration.
Jackson will probably be remembered as the point person for the first US attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It wasn’t necessarily a position that she—or Obama—chose. But partisan gridlock ensured that there would be no legislation addressing emissions, and Jackson inherited a Supreme Court decision from the Bush administration that indicated the Clean Air Act required some sort of action. Within months of the inauguration, Jackson’s EPA used Bush-era research to issue an endangerment finding on greenhouse gasses. Three years later, that finding led to the first limits imposed on carbon dioxide emissions by large sources, limits that would severely curtail the construction of new coal plants.
By the time they were issued, however, a sharp fall in the price of natural gas was already doing more to limit the use of coal than any EPA regulation could. (Fracking, which led to the plunge in prices, was also the subject of some initial EPA oversight.)
According to the elite newspapers and journals of opinion, the future of foreign affairs mainly rests on ideas: the moral impetus for humanitarian intervention, the various theories governing exchange rates and debt rebalancing necessary to fix Europe, the rise of cosmopolitanism alongside the stubborn vibrancy of nationalism in East Asia and so on. In other words, the world of the future can be engineered and defined based on doctoral theses. And to a certain extent this may be true. As the 20th century showed us, ideologies — whether communism, fascism or humanism — matter and matter greatly.
But there is another truth: The reality of large, impersonal forces like geography and the environment that also help to determine the future of human events. Africa has historically been poor largely because of few good natural harbors and few navigable rivers from the interior to the coast. Russia is paranoid because its land mass is exposed to invasion with few natural barriers. The Persian Gulf sheikhdoms are fabulously wealthy not because of ideas but because of large energy deposits underground. You get the point. Intellectuals concentrate on what they can change, but we are helpless to change much of what happens.
Enter shale, a sedimentary rock within which natural gas can be trapped. Shale gas constitutes a new source of extractable energy for the post-industrial world. Countries that have considerable shale deposits will be better placed in the 21st century competition between states, and those without such deposits will be worse off. Ideas will matter little in this regard.
Stratfor, as it happens, has studied the issue in depth. Herein is my own analysis, influenced in part by Stratfor’s research.
So let’s look at who has shale and how that may change geopolitics. For the future will be heavily influenced by what lies underground.
Despite all the hopes of sun and wind enthusiasts, the real revolution in the energy world has been driven by old-style fossil fuels. Shale gas now dominates global energy policy.
Despite all the hopes of sun and wind enthusiasts, the real revolution in the energy world has been driven by old-style fossil fuels, not by renewables. Shale gas changed power relations in the fossil fuel world, and its impact is going to affect economies and geopolitics. Unlike traditional natural gas, shale gas is not trapped in large reservoirs but in smaller rock formations that have to be penetrated through hydraulic “fracking.” The drilling technology has been refined in the last twenty years and has allowed for extensive gas production in North America.
The price difference between (lower) American oil prices and (higher) European oil prices can be explained by the presence of shale gas in the US. The American WTI blend is some twenty dollars cheaper than the old continent’s Brent blend.
Gas is no direct substitute for oil: it takes time and money to switch energy sources. You might want to get a good run out of your old car before switching to a new (and possibly gas-powered) model with better mileage. Or you might wait before switching your heating system at home from oil to gas.
But the fact that US oil reserves can only cover some 45 more years of domestic need has already impacted the price of oil. The “Energy Information Administration” believes that the US may even become a natural gas exporter by 2021. For the past five or six years, shale gas has been the new mantra of “energy independence” supporters. This is no GOP propaganda either. President Obama clearly included energy independence as a goal when he began his (first?) term in office, although the boom of shale gas is due to policies that had been introduced years before.
The dream of shale gas - which environmental activists would describe as an ecological nightmare instead - has also attracted the interest of other countries. China is thought to have large shale gas reserves, but the problem is the availability of water for fracking and extraction. Estimates put global shale gas reserves around 6600 trillion cubic feet, most of it outside North America and much of it recoverable.
Ask someone like Jon Entine, a science writer for Ethical Corporation, to describe the sort of person who claims hydraulic fracturing presents a pollution nightmare in waiting, and you quickly find yourself pummeled with talk radio invective: “ideological blowhard,” “leftist loony,” and “upper-middle-class lefties.”
But none apply to Fred Mayer.
When a reporter arrives at his 200-year-old farmhouse on a cloudy June day, one of the first things Mayer asks is: “Do you know who Glenn Beck is? You should really listen to him. Now that man knows what he’s talking about.”
The 62-year-old Vietnam vet’s yard in Newark Valley, New York, is full of patriotic flags. His rotund body is covered in tattoos, with barbed wire wrapped around his thick arms and an Iron Cross on his left fist.
The first time he heard of fracking was in 2008. It’s a natural gas drilling process in which millions of gallons of water—mixed with sand and more than 596 toxic chemicals—are pumped into shale formations 8,000 feet belowground, the pressure fracturing them to release the natural gas they hold inside.
Decades ago, Shell Oil attempted to drill on Mayer’s property in hopes of retrieving the river of black crude that resides just under the rock formation. “They never were able to do it,” he says. “They couldn’t get through the rock, so they gave up.”