Oil-eating bacteria could clean up the next spill The latest discovery is on a much smaller scale: bacteria. Scientists at INRS, a research university in Quebec, have identified a specific bacteria that feeds on hydrocarbons called Alcanivorax borkumensis. The bacterium's enzymes give it the special ability to use hydrocarbons as a source of energy.
This Is How Big Oil Will Die Seth Miller, Scientist, inventor, entrepreneur. Mostly just trying to understand the world. See my full blog at perspicacity.xyz. May 24, 2017
It’s 2025, and 800,000 tons of used high strength steel is coming up for auction.
The steel made up the Keystone XL pipeline, finally completed in 2019, two years after the project launched with great fanfare after approval by the Trump administration. The pipeline was built at a cost of about $7 billion, bringing oil from the Canadian tar sands to the US, with a pit stop in the town of Baker, Montana, to pick up US crude from the Bakken formation. At its peak, it carried over 500,000 barrels a day for processing at refineries in Texas and Louisiana.
The Keystone XL will go down as the world’s last great fossil fuels infrastructure project. TransCanada, the pipeline’s operator, charged about $10 per barrel for the transportation services, which means the pipeline extension earned about $5 million per day, or $1.8 billion per year. But after shutting down less than four years into its expected 40 year operational life, it never paid back its costs.
The Keystone XL closed thanks to a confluence of technologies that came together faster than anyone in the oil and gas industry had ever seen. It’s hard to blame them?—?the transformation of the transportation sector over the last several years has been the biggest, fastest change in the history of human civilization, causing the bankruptcy of blue chip companies like Exxon Mobil and General Motors, and directly impacting over $10 trillion in economic output.
And blame for it can be traced to a beguilingly simple, yet fatal problem: the internal combustion engine has too many moving parts.
Let’s bring this back to today: Big Oil is perhaps the most feared and respected industry in history. Oil is warming the planet?—?cars and trucks contribute about 15% of global fossil fuels emissions?—?yet this fact barely dents its use. Oil fuels the most politically volatile regions in the world, yet we’ve decided to send military aid to unstable and untrustworthy dictators, because their oil is critical to our own security. For the last century, oil has dominated our economics and our politics. Oil is power.
Yet I argue here that technology is about to undo a century of political and economic dominance by oil. Big Oil will be cut down in the next decade by a combination of smartphone apps, long-life batteries, and simpler gearing. And as is always the case with new technology, the undoing will occur far faster than anyone thought possible.
To understand why Big Oil is in far weaker a position than anyone realizes, let’s take a closer look at the lynchpin of oil’s grip on our lives: the internal combustion engine, and the modern vehicle drivetrain.
Cars are complicated.
Behind the hum of a running engine lies a carefully balanced dance between sheathed steel pistons, intermeshed gears, and spinning rods?—?a choreography that lasts for millions of revolutions. But millions is not enough, and as we all have experienced, these parts eventually wear, and fail. Oil caps leak. Belts fray. Transmissions seize.
To get a sense of what problems may occur, here is a list of the most common vehicle repairs from 2015:
And this list raises an interesting observation: None of these failures exist in an electric vehicle.
The point has been most often driven home by Tony Seba, a Stanford professor and guru of “disruption”, who revels in pointing out that an internal combustion engine drivetrain contains about 2,000 parts, while an electric vehicle drivetrain contains about 20. All other things being equal, a system with fewer moving parts will be more reliable than a system with more moving parts.
And that rule of thumb appears to hold for cars. In 2006, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimated that the average vehicle, built solely on internal combustion engines, lasted 150,000 miles.
Current estimates for the lifetime today’s electric vehicles are over 500,000 miles.
The ramifications of this are huge, and bear repeating. Ten years ago, when I bought my Prius, it was common for friends to ask how long the battery would last?—?a battery replacement at 100,000 miles would easily negate the value of improved fuel efficiency. But today there are anecdotal stories of Prius’s logging over 600,000 miles on a single battery.
The story for Teslas is unfolding similarly. Tesloop, a Tesla-centric ride-hailing company has already driven its first Model S for more 200,000 miles, and seen only an 6% loss in battery life. A battery lifetime of 1,000,000 miles may even be in reach.
This increased lifetime translates directly to a lower cost of ownership: extending an EVs life by 3–4 X means an EVs capital cost, per mile, is 1/3 or 1/4 that of a gasoline-powered vehicle. Better still, the cost of switching from gasoline to electricity delivers another savings of about 1/3 to 1/4 per mile. And electric vehicles do not need oil changes, air filters, or timing belt replacements; the 200,000 mile Tesloop never even had its brakes replaced. The most significant repair cost on an electric vehicle is from worn tires.
For emphasis: The total cost of owning an electric vehicle is, over its entire life, roughly 1/4 to 1/3 the cost of a gasoline-powered vehicle.
Of course, with a 500,000 mile life a car will last 40–50 years. And it seems absurd to expect a single person to own just one car in her life.
But of course a person won’t own just one car. The most likely scenario is that, thanks to software, a person won’t own any.
Here is the problem with electric vehicle economics: A dollar today, invested into the stock market at a 7% average annual rate of return, will be worth $15 in 40 years. Another way of saying this is the value, today, of that 40th year of vehicle use is approximately 1/15th that of the first.
The consumer simply has little incentive to care whether or not a vehicle lasts 40 years. By that point the car will have outmoded technology, inefficient operation, and probably a layer of rust. No one wants their car to outlive their marriage.
And here is what is disruptive for Big Oil: Self-driving vehicles get to combine the capital savings from the improved lifetime of EVs, with the savings from eliminating the driver.
The costs of electric self-driving cars will be so low, it will be cheaper to hail a ride than to drive the car you already own.
Today we view automobiles not merely as transportation, but as potent symbols of money, sex, and power. Yet cars are also fundamentally a technology. And history has told us that technologies can be disrupted in the blink of an eye.
Big Oil believes it is different. I am less optimistic for them.
An autonomous vehicle will cost about $0.13 per mile to operate, and even less as battery life improves. By comparison, your 20 miles per gallon automobile costs $0.10 per mile to refuel if gasoline is $2/gallon, and that is before paying for insurance, repairs, or parking. Add those, and the price of operating a vehicle you have already paid off shoots to $0.20 per mile, or more.
And this is what will kill oil: It will cost less to hail an autonomous electric vehicle than to drive the car that you already own.
If you think this reasoning is too coarse, consider the recent analysis from the consulting company RethinkX (run by the aforementioned Tony Seba), which built a much more detailed, sophisticated model to explicitly analyze the future costs of autonomous vehicles. Here is a sampling of what they predict:
Self-driving cars will launch around 2021
The driver behind all this is simple: Given a choice, people will select the cheaper option. Your initial reaction may be to believe that cars are somehow different?—?they are built into the fabric of our culture. But consider how people have proven more than happy to sell seemingly unyielding parts of their culture for far less money. Think about how long a beloved mom and pop store lasts after Walmart moves into town, or how hard we try to “Buy American” when a cheaper option from China emerges.
And autonomous vehicles will not only be cheaper, but more convenient as well?—?there is no need to focus on driving, there will be fewer accidents, and no need to circle the lot for parking. And your garage suddenly becomes a sunroom.
For the moment, let’s make the assumption that the RethinkX team has their analysis right (and I broadly agree): Self-driving EVs will be approved worldwide starting around 2021, and adoption will occur in less than a decade.
How screwed is Big Oil?
CG comment: Considering all the damage they have done, I say good riddance!
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Natural GasThe Environmental Scandal That’s Happening Right Beneath Your Feet Uprising: Winner of the 2013 AAAS Kavli award for online science journalism.
Few people understand the streets of America’s cities the way Ackley does. He’s spent almost three decades documenting leaky gas pipelines and alerting utility companies to potential danger. Now he can read the street like a hunter reads animal tracks; some academics call him the “urban naturalist”.
He watched the weather, knowing storms bring low-pressure systems that draw gas up from underground. Small holes drilled into the pavement; long narrow patches of asphalt; dead grass on the side of a street: these are all good indicators of past?—?and perhaps ongoing?—?leaks.
Over the past few years, Ackley, a community-college dropout with no formal scientific training, has been amassing data that could answer a key question in energy policy. Since the early 1980s, western governments have been moving away from coal and embracing natural gas, a supposedly more environmentally friendly fuel. It’s a big bet, with huge consequences for global warming.
But as Ackley crisscrosses urban America, he is discovering that the country’s cities are peppered with gas leaks. So many, in fact, that some scientists now believe that natural gas may be accelerating climate change in a way that few had suspected.
Boucher told him to look up instead: “You look for dead trees, dead grass and dead shrubs.” It seemed too crude, but a moment later Boucher swerved to the curb. A Norway maple stood in a patch of dead grass by the side of the road. The tree was also dying, its top branches barren twigs. The air held the foul odour of rotten eggs —mercaptan, a chemical added to natural gas to make it easier to detect leaks. Boucher poked around the roots with a steel bar and pushed the snout of a gas meter into the earth around the tree. The needle jumped: well over 20 per cent of the air in the soil was natural gas. The figure should have been less than one per cent.
As time went on, however, something about his work bothered him. He couldn’t help noticing that gas from some leaks would continue seeping into the soil for years after he reported them. Some were what the safety guidelines called grade three leaks?—?minor problems that could safely be ignored. But many were grade two, meaning the leak was spreading closer to a home and needed fixing. One spring morning in the late 1990s, in the town of Winchester, Massachusetts, Ackley found a row of giant oak trees that were slowly dying from grade two leaks. He was pretty sure he’d reported the problem several years ago.
Ackley remembers the conversation turning frosty when he mentioned the Winchester leaks. Downing said they were grade three; Ackley replied that he’d listed them as grade two. He described the trees: withering, gnarled old oaks with trunks nearly a metre thick, standing in soil that was full of natural gas. “That’s not grade three,” Ackley said. Downing stood up, signalling that the meeting was at an end.
Friends and neighbours told Ackley that he should take action against the gas companies for the damage that leaks were doing to trees. But he was less sure. After all, whenever he found a leak that was genuinely dangerous, the utilities fixed it. And he had an easy job that paid well?—?the last thing he wanted was to make waves. “I knew it was wrong,” Ackley said recently, looking back, “but what was I gonna do?”
AS FOSSIL FUELS GO, NATURAL gas has a pretty good reputation. When burned, it emits roughly half as much carbon dioxide as coal, and it is cheap and plentiful, partly because new techniques?—?such as hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking”?—?have opened up access to vast new deposits. For environmentalists, low-carbon sources such as solar are still preferable, but, while we wait for those technologies to mature, gas is seen as a way to wean ourselves off coal.
Among those who have championed gas is Ernest Moniz, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was appointed as Barack Obama’s next energy secretary in 2013; Moniz has called gas “a bridge to a low-carbon future”.
This thinking has changed energy policies across the world. Many governments now see a switch from coal-fired power plants to gas as a way to reconcile energy demands and climate change. In his 2012 state of the union address, Barack Obama noted that America’s natural gas supplies can last a century and promised to take “every possible action” to safely exploit them. Using gas proved, he added, that “we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy”.
Obama’s ambitions are symbolic of what the International Energy Agency calls the “golden age of natural gas”. China expects to triple its use of natural gas by 2035 to help meet its energy demands while simultaneously reducing pollution. The British government approved fracking in December 2012, calling it a stepping stone to a low-carbon economy. To these countries, natural gas is the least dirty of a dirty bunch; a palatable stopgap while we wait for a greener future to arrive.
But not everyone agrees.
In 2011, a landmark paper was published in the journal Climatic Change. The study concluded that burning natural gas?—?and in particular gas obtained through fracking?—?was worse for the climate than burning coal. The study drew a lot of attention, both positive and negative. Time magazine described the paper as one of the most controversial scientific studies of the year, and named its authors, Cornell University researchers Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea, among the world’s most influential people.?
The Cornell study focused on a poorly understood problem with methane, the main constituent of natural gas. METHANE’S GREEN CREDENTIALS ONLY APPLY WHEN THE GAS IS BURNED. IF IT ESCAPES INTO THE ATMOSPHERE INSTEAD, METHANE ACTS AS A POTENT GREENHOUSE GAS?—?IN FACT, IT IS OVER 20 TIMES MORE EFFECTIVE AT TRAPPING HEAT THAN CARBON DIOXIDE. The issue was well known but little studied: methane does not hang around in the atmosphere for long, so scientists had assumed that the odd leak would not undermine its use as a bridge fuel.
Howarth and Ingraffea punctured that assumption. AS MUCH AS SIX PER CENT OF THE NATURAL GAS PRODUCED FOR OUR ENERGY NEEDS, THEY SAID, LEAKED INTO THE ATMOSPHERE SOMEWHERE BETWEEN EXTRACTION AND USE. The figure included gas that escaped from wells during extraction, losses at processing facilities and leaks from the systems used to transport and store the fuel. For gas obtained through fracking, the upper limit was even higher?—?almost eight per cent?—?due to increased emissions from the rock-fracturing technique.
These numbers were shockingly high, more than double the official estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency. And they changed the impact of natural gas on the climate. At six per cent, natural gas comes out the same as coal when considering emissions over a 100-year period, but worse over 20 years.
At eight per cent, natural gas is worse than coal, regardless of the time period. Howarth and Ingraffea weren’t suggesting that consumers should revert to coal-fired hearths. But that big bet on gas? Suddenly it was being called into question.
The gulf between the official numbers and the Cornell estimates wasn’t a surprise to some. John Bosch oversaw emissions estimates for the EPA for more than 30 years before retiring in 2009. Emissions estimates were based on voluntary participation from industry, and only companies with good leak management programs volunteered. “My experience is that when regulators start looking at actual emissions the figure can easily double,” says Bosch. In fact, when real measurements are taken, the difference sometimes turns out to be even greater than that. In 1988, one oil refinery in Sweden recorded gas emissions that were 20 times higher than official estimates for the same facility. More recent data from natural gas processing plants in Canada put emissions at between four and eight times official levels.
In his time at the EPA, Bosch played a key role in developing and implementing the organisation’s emissions estimates for a wide range of industries, including gas. He now says that if he could do it all over again, he would never use those estimates. When the models were tested against real data, for instance, gas companies were sometimes allowed to recommend which of their facilities were tested, or to provide only a small data sample. “It made it too easy for industry to lowball the figures,” says Bosch.
“If they are too high, what the industry does is bitch like hell until they get more data and get them lowered.”
Among those now questioning the virtues of natural gas is Nathan Phillips, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University. The son of a Pennsylvania coal-mining family and a refugee from what is now North Korea, Phillips is 46, tall and athletic, with a smattering of white in his black hair. He began his career studying the physiology of trees, but in recent years has broadened his focus to the urban environment: chimneys, exhaust pipes, buildings, pipelines, pavements. He’s a leader in the emerging field of urban ecology and an expert on carbon footprints, the metric used to gauge the volume of greenhouse gases that a person or community emits during the course of their everyday activities.
Phillips obsesses about his work, and tries to reduce his own carbon footprint in every way he can. Every morning he cycles nearly 15km to his office, sometimes hauling unused food from his son’s school to a local food charity. When he arrives at his building on campus, he walks the four stories up to his office. Inside sits a bike connected to an electric generator; his slow and steady pedaling produces enough energy to light the room and power his laptop. Next to his desk is a handcrank generator, which he sometimes uses to charge his mobile phone.
Like many other scientists, Phillips also noticed weaknesses in the Cornell paper. Critics of the study focused on its estimates of emissions at fracking wells, which were very high and based on limited data. But the data on gas leaks was extremely sparse, too. It was one of the shortcomings that had led the natural gas industry to attack the study as “activist research” that made “inaccurate and extreme choices far outside established science at virtually every turn”. The paper itself acknowledges plenty of uncertainty, not least because it pegs the lower limit for leaks at a shade below two per cent, which, if correct, would leave methane’s green reputation intact.
Phillips decided to investigate for himself.
When he looked at public data on leaks, what he found astounded him. The US government’s Energy Information Agency logs “lost and unaccounted for” gas, which it defines as the difference between the amount of gas that utilities buy from wholesalers and that which they sell to users. In Massachusetts alone, over 140 million cubic metres of gas was lost every year.
Nationwide, the figure was over 8 billion cubic metres —equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from more than 30 coal plants. The American Gas Association, which represents gas utilities, claimed the primary cause of the losses was “meter uncertainty”. In other words, that the lost gas was actually just a blip in measurement. Phillips wanted to know more: that would have been some blip.
What puzzled Phillips, at first, was why the gas industry did nothing about it. In purely financial terms, the amount of gas lost nationwide had a value of more than three billion dollars. Why would they let so much money leak out of their pipes? The answer, he discovered, was that state regulators allowed the companies to pass on the cost of lost gas to ratepayers. Utilities had little incentive to fix small leaks.
Phillips knew that if he could figure out how much gas was actually leaking from the ageing pipes buried under a large US city, he could plug a major gap in Howarth and Ingraffea’s findings. Perhaps he could provide a definitive answer on the gas versus coal debate. Even if he couldn’t, better numbers might help pressure the gas companies into plugging the leaks. But to do it, he would need some help.
The following year an explosion in Allentown, Pennsylvania killed five; regulators called the safety record of UGI Utilities, the company that owned the pipeline, “downright alarming” and fined the corporation $500,000.
Back in 2004, when Ackley was surveying for gas companies, an explosion in nearby Natick, Massachusetts, hit particularly close to home. Eighteen-year-old Eric Brack was with his father when a manhole cover weighing over 80 kilograms shot into the air and crashed through the front window of their car. The cast iron disk hit Brack in the chest and head, leaving him permanently disabled.
The local gas utility, NSTAR, described the incident as an extremely rare reaction to an electrical failure, and said that a build-up of methane in the manhole might have contributed to the explosion. Brack’s family settled out of court, so the exact cause of the blast was never made public. Ackley remembers mapping leaks on the street repeatedly in the 1980s and early 1990s. “Any leak has the potential to be hazardous,” he said recently. “But nobody cares until somebody gets hurt.” (NSTAR did not respond to a request for an interview about the incident).
Ackley had moved from company to company, but found a similar attitude towards leaks wherever he went. By 2006, his conscience was starting to get the better of him. His kids were grown up, Mandy was bringing in additional income as a gymnastics instructor and he’d made some good investments in stocks and real estate; he figured he had enough money stashed away to last him three to five years. So, while working in Connecticut one morning, he picked a fight with his boss and walked off the job. It brought an end to a nearly 30-year career as a gas company contractor.
His idea was to blow the whistle.
Over the next few months, Ackley prepared a presentation?—?including internal gas company documents and photos of trees suffocating from natural gas?—?and began cold-calling environmental law firms in Boston. He was turned away each time, so he tried contacting Jan Schlichtmann, a hotshot lawyer he had read about in a local newspaper. Schlichtmann was famous for winning $8 million from chemical company W.R. Grace & Co., which had contaminated wells in the nearby town of Woburn, giving children leukemia. The high-profile case had turned Schlictmann into a local celebrity and formed the basis for A Civil Action, a movie in which John Travolta played the lawyer.
Ackley called Schlichtmann’s office and managed to get a lunch date; the lawyer suggested Cygnet, an appallingly fancy restaurant just north of Boston. Ackley remembers feeling distinctly out of place among the upper-class clientele. Schlichtmann’s manner didn’t help. Tall and wiry, with a bushy moustache and grey hair, he looked like a professor but had the patience of a schoolboy. The lawyer grabbed Ackley’s laptop and began scrolling through his presentation. “So gas kills trees?” he said, sipping from his bottled water?—?the only kind of water he had drunk since the Woburn case.
Schlichtmann has a reputation for taking on cases that no one else would touch and marshaling the tremendous resources required to take on large corporations. Ackley’s case appealed to him, and it helped that a natural gas leak was suspected in another case he was working on. It might be good to have a guy like Ackley around, he thought. Schlichtmann said he’d look into it.
Ackley left feeling ecstatic. For nearly six months he’d been hitting dead ends with lawyers; now a high-flying attorney was interested. He carried on his usual Friday routine, playing sports at his local club and drinking with the guys. That night he stuck around longer than usual, and didn’t get home until 1am. When the phone rang at 7am the next day, Ackley was in the shower, still groggy from his revels. “Where have you been?” Schlichtmann said, impatiently. “I’ve been up all night researching this.”
The two met the next day at Schlichtmann’s house, where the lawyer described his plan to enlist nearby cities as plaintiffs against local utility companies. The case was risky, he explained to Ackley, and it would take a couple of years. Ackley wasn’t just blowing the whistle: he would be an expert witness who, along with a team of arborists and a plant pathologist, would compile data to support the cities’ case. And if the case failed, Ackley wouldn’t get paid.
He decided to take the leap, and started mapping leaks in nearly a dozen towns around Massachusetts. His sons pitched in during breaks from college and, after three years of surveying, things were looking good. By the end of 2010, five towns had filed suit against National Grid, the international gas and electricity corporation that owns Boston Gas Company, seeking $2 million for damage to trees. If Schlichtmann could convince a jury that the company had knowingly violated safety standards, the case could recoup two or three times as much in punitive damages.
To help make the case, Ackley mapped and monitored around 1,500 leaks in five Boston suburbs. The lawyer, meanwhile, dug up forgotten court cases in which gas companies had been successfully sued for damage to trees, some dating back to the 1920s. He also gathered internal documents from local utility companies that the New England Gas Workers Association had obtained through a public records request. The documents listed more than 20,000 gas leaks in Massachusetts; the oldest had been leaking since 1985.
But National Grid pushed back. The company questioned the evidence linking leaks and tree damage, and stressed that safety was its priority. Its lawyers fought hard. At one point they argued that a town, unlike a corporation, is not a person in the eyes of the law and so cannot sue. Even if the towns were to be considered people, added the lawyers, National Grid was not engaged in trade or commerce with them and so could not be liable for any damages.
Every time the case stalled, life got harder for Ackley. His savings, scraped together over the course of his working life, started to run out. In spring 2010, he took a job at a pawn shop to make ends meet. Working at Lowell Jewelry and Loan paid the bills, but it was a depressing place. Ackley spent each day in a booth lined with bulletproof glass. There was a gun by his right hand and a spare ammunition clip next to his left. In between was a police call button.
It wasn’t just fears over his personal security that ground Ackley down. He’d left his career as a gas company consultant to do the right thing; now, to keep himself afloat, he was profiting from the misfortune of people who had been forced to sell their possessions.
When he wasn’t working in the pawn shop, he carried on surveying the streets of Massachusetts for the case. He was out there one chilly Saturday morning in late 2010, checking trees in Newton, a wealthy suburb west of Boston that Schlichtmann hoped would join the lawsuit. As Ackley extracted the end of a gas meter from a tangle of tree roots, an Asian-American man approached with a young boy in tow and asked him what he was doing.
“I remember an article about you in the local newspaper,” the man said. “You’re the guy I read about.” He handed Ackley his business card. “We should talk about this more some time.”
The man was Nathan Phillips.
With his bicycle-powered computer and hand-cranked phone, Phillips was the biggest environmental nutbag Ackley had ever met. It seemed like they had little in common: Ackley had been to Tea Party rallies; Phillips advised a group of eco-activists who called themselves the Boston Tree Party.
Ackley didn’t have much time for global warming: the whole panic smelled of fancy people trying to take away fun from guys like him who loved big cars and powerboats. Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth had really ticked him off. Where did Gore, who lived in a 900-square-metre? mansion, get off telling ordinary people to turn down their air conditioning?
He didn’t doubt that the planet was warming?—?New England’s ponds no longer froze in the winter like they used to?—?but he wasn’t convinced that humans were to blame. He’d heard arguments for natural climate cycles and volcanic activity, and they seemed equally plausible.
But in Ackley, Phillips saw a self-taught urban naturalist. Not long after they met, he invited Ackley to his office. When he came downstairs, Phillips found his visitor peering at a gas detector that he had inserted into the soil around the stump of a tree. Philips told him high winds had blown the tree over in a storm.
Ackley showed him the reading on his meter; natural gas was seeping into the soil. “It wasn’t the storm that killed your tree,” he said.
Ackley returned soon after to give an informal presentation to Phillips’ graduate students. It was a something new for Ackley: most of what he knew about Boston University students came from cruising the BU Beach, a strip of grass along the Charles River where undergrads sunbathed on warm afternoons. Now a dozen students hung on his words.
When Phillips read the Howarth paper, he sought Ackley’s advice on the controversial figures on leaks from distribution systems?—?the data the gas industry had attacked. The figures for leaks from urban pipes were far too low, Ackley told him. Phillips thought that a study of gas leaks under a major city could help resolve the issue. Why not Boston? Ackley wasn’t so interested in passing judgment on global warming, but the data would help bolster Schlichtmann’s lawsuit. And Phillips had a grant from a local environmental organisation, which would pay enough to let Ackley leave his job at the pawn shop. He signed on.
One Sunday morning in September 2011, I joined them on a surveying trip. They made for an odd couple. Phillips was driving Ackley’s car, a small Pontiac that the former Impala driver had grudgingly purchased to save gas. The professor was earnest and eager to learn; Ackley was his brassy self, constantly pulling gags. He had a fake pile of dog excrement on the floor of the car for unsuspecting passengers to step in, and he regularly expressed mock horror at Phillips’ driving, pencilling a running total of the academic’s errors straight on to the dashboard.
Nonetheless, for Phillips, it was an eye-opening experience. As they drove together, the professor learned how cryptic street markings could reveal the type of pipe that lay beneath the surface, or the size of a gas main. Ackley decoded other clues: narrow stretches of asphalt were signs of recent pipeline repairs; patches of dead grass might indicate gas, or merely the salt used to melt snow in the winter. Ganoderma, a fungal growth at the base of trees, and epicormic budding, small branches poking out of the trunk of a tree, were signs of gas damage. Gooey black soil, too, was a good bet for a gas leak.
To map what they found, Phillips and Ackley had acquired a piece of equipment called a Picarro Analyzer, a laser spectrometer that can detect gas leaks and plot methane levels on a Google map using GPS. Ackley wasn’t convinced by the technology. Instead, he stuck with his trusty low-tech tools: a paper map, a pink highlighter and his nose.
Ackley’s problems weren’t over that day. Schlichtmann’s court case continued to drag, and Ackley was battling his bank over rising interest rates on the two lines of credit that were keeping him afloat. Mandy was working six, sometimes seven days a week. But Phillips would later arrange a paid position at Boston University for Ackley as a practitioner in residence (“Are you fucking kidding me?” Ackley replied when asked if he wanted the job). And the surveying work in Boston would lead to better-paid leak studies in other cities. After so many hours in conversation with Phillips, Ackley was even beginning to change his mind about global warming.
By the time they had finished surveying Boston, Phillips and Ackley had tallied 3,356 leaks. Their results appeared in the February 2013 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Pollution; Ackley’s name appears after Phillips’ on the paper, second in a list of nine authors. A satellite image of the Massachusetts State House and surrounding streets illustrates the study: a dozen gas leaks are represented as neon yellow spikes, many stretching taller than the gold-plated dome.
The images are dramatic, but it’s the numbers that really provide cause for concern. The baseline for atmospheric methane used in the study is just under two parts per million?—?a figure accepted by most experts as well within the range of naturally occurring gas levels. Large parts of Boston remain at this baseline, but Phillips and Ackley recorded elevated concentrations in many other areas. In some places they registered methane readings as high as 28 ppm, 15 times higher than normal.
National Grid responded to the study by pointing out that it is working with an old infrastructure and is replacing the state’s decrepit gas pipelines at a rate of 150 miles each year. And none of these levels, says the company, are high enough to cause an explosion. That is true: an explosion requires a much higher concentration of methane, although spot checks of several manholes by Ackley and Phillips did reveal concentrations above the explosive threshold.
IN THE TWO YEARS SINCE Howarth and Ingraffea’s paper appeared, scientists have refined their attempts to compare natural gas with coal. Their progress has done little to ease concerns about methane. Last April, a team led by the Environmental Defense Fund, a widely-respected environmental organisation, concluded that gas is more damaging to the climate if just a shade more than three per cent of it escapes. That’s lower than the six per cent threshold identified by Howarth and Ingraffea. It’s also dangerously close to government leak figures?—?figures that the EDF said are uncertain.
There is also the issue of tipping points. Scientists often look a century ahead when thinking about the impact of greenhouse gases. But in recent years, many have come to fear that parts of our planet could already be undergoing irreversible change. When Arctic sea ice melts, for instance, it exposes a dark ocean surface that absorbs more sunlight than the ice, warming the region’s frigid waters and accelerating the melting. At some point, the positive feedback between melting and warming may become so great that the loss of the Arctic’s vast ice sheets will be inevitable.
It’s a fate that could be determined by the immediate warming impact of the gases we release to the atmosphere, and it is in the immediate future that methane is most dangerous.
These fears cannot be confirmed without knowing how much methane spills into the atmosphere. In the months they spent driving round Boston, Phillips and Ackley focused on counting leaks rather than measuring the volume of methane rising up from the city’s streets. Yet the sheer number of leaks they found is concerning. And the numbers are probably typical of America’s older cities.
“I think Philadelphia, New York, Washington DC and many other cities that have been plumbing natural gas for 100 years or more are likely as leaky,” says Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University who helped Ackley and Phillips analyse the Boston data.
It is true that America’s east coast has an ailing infrastructure based largely on ageing and leaky cast iron pipes. One story that still circulates among gas workers maintains that until recently, parts of the pipeline relied on hollowed-out tree trunks that were put in place as a stopgap over a century ago. Over the years, the story goes, the trunks decomposed?—?leaving the gas to funnel through nothing more than the shadow left behind in the earth as the pipe rotted away.
Yet leaks are certainly not the exclusive problem of the first US cities. I have seen leak data collected by Ackley and others in cities across America, as well as in far older urban centres, such as London, Paris, Amsterdam and Istanbul. Without volume measurements, it is impossible to quantify the impact on climate change. But it is clear that gas leaks plague these cities. “This is absolutely not a Boston phenomenon,” says Mike Woelk, who heads up Picarro, the company that makes the testing technology that Phillips and Ackley use. “This is a global phenomenon. We find the same leak rates that you saw in Boston in cities worldwide.”
Thanks in large part to a whistle-blowing libertarian with an off-colour sense of humour, the true scale of the problem will soon be nailed down. Ackley himself has surveyed Manhattan, Washington, D.C. and the fracking fields of Pennsylvania in recent months. An EDF study will soon reveal the volume of methane that flows from Boston’s gas leaks. It is just one of roughly a dozen studies on methane emissions across the country that the organisation hopes to publish in the coming year. Industry is also involved: the American Gas Association told me that it is working with the EDF and others to develop more accurate means for measuring leaks.
Joe von Fischer, a scientist at Colorado State University who is working on one of the EDF studies, says that two people helped get this movement off the ground: Robert Howarth and Bob Ackley. “I didn’t really realise how widespread natural gas leaks are,” he added. “The ball is rolling, and its Bob’s ball.”
THIS JANUARY, TWO DAYS AFTER Barack Obama’s second inauguration, I joined Ackley as he drove through Anacostia, a neighbourhood of Washington, D.C. that is one of the poorest and most crime-ridden areas in America. He had spent the previous 18 days passing by D.C.’s most famous landmarks, from the National Mall, which turned out to have few leaks, to Embassy Row, which he described as “a total sieve”. As clean-up crews picked up the last of the debris from the throngs that had descended for the inauguration, we headed to a part of town where few outsiders venture.
Ackley was physically and mentally exhausted. He’d been staying in a cheap hotel and logging between 10 and 12 hours a day behind the wheel. The highlighter pens and worn-out atlases he had once relied on had been replaced by a computer mouse that he rolled up and down his right thigh. A new baseball cap, emblazoned with the Picarro logo, had replaced the one that had urged “Eat, Sleep, Fish”.
The search for leaks took us past rows of boarded-up apartment buildings. As we approached a corner that was home to a Pentecostal church and a pair of liquor stores, the methane concentrations rose to four parts per million, more than twice background levels. There were similar pockets all across the city. “I’ve never seen so many gas leaks in my life,” Ackley said.
Ackley told me that he had recently heard from Schlichtmann. After all the delays, National Grid, which continues to reject the allegations against it, had finally started deposing witnesses for the lawsuit. Yet Ackley’s focus seemed to be elsewhere. The outcome of the lawsuit?—?the thing that he’d once pinned so many hopes on?—?didn’t seem so crucial any more. He was bringing gas leaks to the attention of the world’s climate scientists, and carving out an unconventional place among them. He took a bite out of his sandwich, and smiled. “I’ve already won,” he said.
Auto IndustryPedestrian deaths up 46 percent since 2009, mostly due to bad design of roads and vehicles
FrackingAfter resistance from a charter school, fracking company moves new well next to a poorer public one
SlaverySlavehood 2017 By Peter Koenig [an economist and geopolitical analyst. He is also a former World Bank staff and worked extensively around the world in the fields of environment and water resources. He lectures at universities in the US, Europe and South America.] May 04, 2017 "Information Clearing House"
When in the 18th and 19th Century African slaves did not ‘behave’, they were cruelly beaten sometimes to death as a deterrent for others. They were deprived of food for their families. Their women were raped. They were traded to even harsher white masters. Their lives were worth only what their labor could produce. They were treated as subjects, devoid of human warmth.
Today we have become all slaves; slaves to the powers of mafia bankster of finance; slaves to the western lie-propaganda; to the lobbies and their giant all dominating corporations – to the war-industry, because we happily believe what we are told about ever-increasing terrorism that needs to be fought with eternal wars; slaves to the environment-destructive hydrocarbon industry; to the pharma-industry; to the Monsanto-ized agroindustry; to senseless consumerism – and foremost – and summing it all up: to greed, endless greed that drives endless growth, nurturing endless competition fomenting adversity, destroying solidarity, instead of amical cooperation for a harmonious human cohabitation.
As people of western nations, we are enslaved to an all-engulfing neoliberal fascism – to a predatory economy. Corporate lie propaganda drip-feeds our brains. We haven’t even noticed it. We are enslaved to so-called 'leaders,' put in office by obscure foreign masters of deceit – the ever-stronger corporate controlled propaganda machine – the six all controlling Zion-Anglo media, whom we believe whatever lie they vomit – because it is more comfortable to believe a lie than to confront the truth – that’s self-imposed slavehood.
That’s how far we have gone. Because we are clearly on an almost irreversible downward track – sliding and running towards our own demise – into darkness – the darkness of chaos and bloody wars, endless wars against self-invented terrorism; wars that keeps our western economy running – and our armchair politics alive. Wars that kill and slaughter millions and millions – but all in ‘far-away’ lands. We are told we are protected. Our police and military watch over us. The new gods – money and military.
Although ‘pride’ was never an appropriate term to integrate our soul and minds, as we the western powers – have for centuries enslaved, raped, exploited and slaughtered the indigenous people, those who have for millennia, for history of mankind survived and passed on our human genes from one murderous civilization to another, always in the hope that the new one would see the light.
We can only hope that the patience of these native people, the survivors, our saviors – will prevail, that before we disappear in darkness, in the void of a manmade blackhole, we will awake, open our eyes and seek the light – become finally human, the term we have fraudulently applied to ourselves – the western civilization.
Independent thinking has become a crime, as it impedes the advancement of slavehood. Education is designed to kill individual thinking and the wide range of inventiveness – because it’s dangerous – for those who enslave and control us. ‘New-speak’ education has to make us thinking what the system wants us to think. That’s what western education has become in the last 50 years – a farce to keep us as non-thinking idiots.
Idiots are easily enslaved and exploited and sent to wars – to steal foreign resources to satisfy the greed of a few. We love to be cannon fodder, as we were told – enslaved – to believe that good patriots love to die for their country. We are blinded and avoid seeing that we are dying fighting to satisfy puppet leaders’ greed for power and money – whose power is nothing more than that allowed them by the Masters who control the world and who pull the strings on their marionettes.
"Citgo... provides heating oil to poor and working-class Americans at a 40 percent discount... This winter, Citizens Energy and Citgo expect to deliver more than 100 million gallons of oil to more than 400,000 households in sixteen states, more than doubling the scope of last year's petro-philanthropy. Beneficiaries also include 163 American Indian tribes, most of them in Alaska...
"By showing that the richest nation on earth requires foreign "assistance" to meet its citizens' basic needs, Venezuela reveals our most profound failure as a system" (Liza Featherstone. "Chavez's Citizen Diplomacy." The Nation, Jan. 1, 2007: 22-24).
Pick your Poison Grading the oil companies, pro and con
Quotes"I ''t know if the battles we are fighting are primarily motivated by the quest for oil, for land, for religion or for high moral ground. But oil is surely implicated to some degree, and our dependence on it ought not to remain a driving force behind our social policy, our morality, our wars. Releasing ourselves from this dependence is worth the effort, even if it will require a massive re-ordering of the way we conduct our lives; even if it will require a massive infusion of resources into the technologies of renewable energy; even if it will require a generation of enhanced public education and science training. This won't be easy, but it is certainly more attainable and less flammable a proposition, less corrosive of our global standing and global order, than setting a match to the Middle East, Africa, and broad swaths of Asia in the pursuit of more pipelines" (Patricia J. Williams. "All Creatures Great and Small." The Nation, Oct. 4, 2004: 9).
"Shortly after the 1973 Arab oil embargo sent oil prices soaring, Richard Nixon declared his plan for American "Energy independence." Nixon told the American people, "Let this be our national goal: At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, and to keep our transportation moving."
"When Nixon made that pronouncement, the U.S. imported about six million barrels of oil per day. Today, the U.S. is importing nearly twice that much oil. Imports from the Persian Gulf have nearly tripled. Overall oil consumption in America has jumped by 25 percent since 1973...
"The Saudies provide nearly 70 percent of the oil being imported by the U.S. from the Persian Gulf. Nearly 22 percent of all the 20 million barrels of crude oil consumed in America now comes from the Persian Gulf...
"The unfortunate truths about America's energy addiction are these: America's energy policy and its foreign policy have merged; and neither the U.S. nor any other country that consumes large amounts of energy will be independent of Arabian crude anytime over the next 50 years or so...
"...to reduce the amount of oil it imports from Arab countries that support terrorism... here's the key -- that effort will take decades of work and hundreds of billions of dollars in new investment. Unless or until those investments are made, the U.S. will continue to depend on the Saudis to maintain stability in the world oil market...
"...by depending on Arab states -- many of whom fund terrorism -- to fill our gas tanks, America dooms itself to fail in the war on terrorism" (Robert Bryce. "Kerry's Low-Watt Energy Policy." Texas Observer, 9/24/04: 12, 28).
"On February 24, the New York Times reported that top US energy analysts now believe that Saudi Arabia--the world's number-one producer--is facing the wholesale depletion of its major oilfields and may not be able to sustain its current output of 10 million barrels per day (mbd) much beyond the current decade. Were Saudi production to fall below 10 mbd for any length of time, the global energy system would simply collapse, as no other country can make up the difference on a sustained basis. But even if the Saudis do maintain this level, but fail to rise above it, the global economy will still suffer, since there is no way to satisfy rapidly growing world demand without a substantial increase in Saudi output... the entire world will face an acute energy crisis...
"...directed fresh attention to claims that the world is approaching the moment of maximum or "peak" oil output, beyond which no amount of drilling or investment will result in higher levels of production...
"...experts believe that global peak production--sometimes called "Hubbert's Peak"--will occur sometime during this decade. The intensive development of deep-offshore oil, polar supplies and "unconventional" sources (such as tar sands and shale oil) may extend the peak for another decade... but world oil production will eventually slacken and then turn relentlessly downward... (see Peak Oil)...
"Unless affordable substitutes are developed, a decline in global oil output will produce rising transportation costs, diminished economic activity, high inflation and the onset of a deep and prolonged world-wide depression. Furthermore, because modern, mechanized agriculture is wholly dependent on cheap oil--for herbicides, and pesticides, as well as truck and tractor fuel--a contraction of petroleum supplies will result in reduced food production and in all likelihood, mass human starvation...
"...we are in for extreme trauma and difficulty. While it is conceivable that hydrogen will prove the fuel of choice... it is unlikely that the required infrastructure... will be in place by 2015 or 2020, when global oil production may begin its irreversible descent. In that eventuality, we will have to undergo several decades of punishing scarcity until a new energy regime has been put in place. Worldwide economic activity will contract during this period, billions of people will starve or suffer, and the major industrial powers will engage in ceaseless "resource wars" over any remaining pools of petroleum...
"...five recent books on the future of petroleum: David Goodstein's Out of Gas, Richard Heinberg's The Party's Over, Paul Roberts's The End of Oil, Sonia Shah's Crude: The Story of Oil, and Matthew Yeomans's Oil: Anatomy of an Industry. These compelling and provocative books address disparate aspects of the larger problem, but all arrive at the same chilling conclusions:
--"Peak oil is already here, or will arrive soon...
--"The production of deep-sea and Siberian oil and the development of unconventional sources of supply will prove too costly, too risky...
--"Hydrogen and renewables... their development is proceeding far too slowly to substitute for disappearing oil during the next few decades...
--"Continued reliance on petroleum and other fossil fuels (coal, natural gas) for the majority of our energy supply--90 percent, in the case of the United States--will intensify the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, thus hastening the onset of relentless droughts, heat waves, sea-level surges and other cataclysmic climate changes...
--"America's political leaders, like those of most other countries, are far too committed to the industrial status quo...
--"...If we start now on the transition to hydrogen and other substitutes, we have a fighting chance of averting total economic collapse when oil begins to disappear...
"...a critical lesson: "The crisis will come not when we pump the last drop of oil but rather when the rate at which oil can be pumped out of the ground starts to diminish." And that critical point, he warns, is much closer than we previously imagined.
"...other sources of energy, including coal, natural gas, hydrogen, solar, wind, and nuclear... none, at current levels of development, are capable of sustaining the energy-intensive life we have become accustomed to...
"...deep-seated pathologies of the global oil industry. Rather than exercise enlightened stewardship over a precious and finite resource, the oil companies have sought to maximize its exploitation for short-term profit--often trampling upon indigenous communities, fragile ecological areas and democratic systems in the process...
"...Richard Heinberg... argues that the rapid development and exploitation of petroleum has created a bubble economy that is sure to burst once the moment of peak production has passed... "Industrial societies have been flourishing for roughly 150 years now, using fossil energy resources to build far-flung trade empires, to fuel the invention of spectacular new technologies, and to fund a way of life that is opulent and fast-paced...
"Unlike Roberts, Heinberg has little faith that the development of hydrogen, natural gas and other "bridging" technologies can spare us from a painful economic contraction. All these approaches, he suggests, depend on the perpetuation of a high-cost, energy-intensive industrial leviathan that will not survive the disappearance of cheap oil. What is needed, he insists, is not so much technological innovation as profound life-style adjustments... This will not be an ongoing "party" of the sort that most Americans now enjoy, but it will provide some attractions of its own--particularly in terms of greater community sharing and participation" (Michael T. Klare. "Crude Awakening." The Nation, Nov. 8, 2004: 35-41).
"By design or circumstance, the Pentagon's "war on terrorism" seems to follow the investments of major U.S. oil companies around the globe. Iraq dominates the headlines now; two years ago it was Afghanistan. But the same pattern also reaches from South American to Africa's Sahel, from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the high deserts of Central Asia. U.S. military operations have escalated dramatically in all these regions since the 9/11 attacks. And while the intended targets may be "terrorist networks" linked to al-Qaeda, indigenous people resisting the industrial pillagge of their lands more often bear the brunt of the militarization.
"The ongoing war in Colombia--recognized by the United Nations as the world's greatest humanitarian disaster after congo and Darfur--has largely been pushed from the headlines by the crisis in Iraq. But Congress and the Pentagon are paying close attention to this oil-rich South American nation.
"At the close of October, Congress approved doubleing the Pentagon's troop presence in Colombia to 800 and raised the cap on the number of U.S. civilian contract agents--pilots, intelligence analysts, security personnel--from 400 to 600. The little-noticed measure came as part of the 2005 Department of Defense authorization act and was a defeat for human rights groups, which had been pushing for a lower cap. The new 800/600 cap is exactly what the White House asked for.
"The vote was closely followed by a national wave of protest throughout the war-torn South American nation, as some 1.4 million public-sector workers walked off their jobs and took to the streets for a one-day strike. Organized by major trade unions as well as civil organizations, the October 12 strike demanded an end both to President Alvaro Uribe's push to join George W. Bush's Free Trade Area of the Americas and to the rights abuses and atrocities associated with the government's counter-guerrilla war--which the United States has funded to the tune of $3.3 billion since Plan Colombia was passed in 2000.
"The Bush administration has expanded the "Plan Colombia" program... also includes military aid packages for Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia...
"Oxy is also building a new pipeline over the Andes to get oil from Ecuador's Amazon rainforest to Pacific ports. Charging land grabs and pollution, local Indians, peasants and ecologists have repeatedly blockaded construction on the pipeline route with their bodies. Their protests have been violently broken up by security forces. In June 2002, the entire region was immobilized by a general strike protesting the pipeline. The U.S. military is currently expanding the airfield at Manta, Ecuador, near where the pipeline is slated to meet the sea, ostensibly as a staging ground for surveillance operations in the Colombia war.
"In Peru, Hunt Oil and Halliburton... have launched a massive natural gas project at Camisea in the Amazon rainforest. The gas is to be piped over the Andes to the Pacific and exported to energy-hungry California. Last year, local peasants blocked roads leading to the Camisea site for weeks, in protest of the project's ecological impacts. In October 2003, the blockades were violently broken by Peruvian National Police troops using helicopters and tear gas.
"Bolivia was rocked by a wave of unrest now known as "Black October" or "the Gas War." At issue was President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada's approval of a plan by a consortium led by Sempra Energy of California and including Shell Oil to build a pipeline linking Bolivia's natural gas fields to a terminal on the Chilean coast for export to California. The security forces responded to peasant roadblocks with violence, leaving at least 80 dead--and international fears of a coup d'etat--before Sanchez de Lozada fled to Miami on October 17. His vice president, Carlos Mesa, assumed power and pledged to hold a popular referendum on the pipeline project. Sanchez de Lozada now faces charges in Bolivia of murder, human rights violations and genocide.
"...peasants and Indians have continued to protest and periodically block roads and gas installations with their bodies to press the issue... Bolivia's internal gas pipeline network has been partially privatized to none other than Enron, the failed Texas energy giant...
"...few have noticed that the Pentagon has established a presence just across the border in Chad--not to respond to the genocide but to chase "terrorist networks." Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 10th Special Forces Group are also training troops in Mali, Mauritania, and Niger under the program, aimed at halting infiltration...
"The new U.S. military presence comes just as ExxonMobil has targeted Chad for a major new thrust of oil development. New oilfields have opened in Chad's Doha Basin, and a World Bank-funded 600-mile pipeline was completed in 2003, linking Chad to the Atlantic and Western oil markets.
"U.S. troops have already been involved in fighting with Islamic guerrillas in the Philippines. Now Bush is seeking to re-establish military aid to In'esia, suspended due to human rights violations in 1999.
"Exxon faces litigation in U.S. courts for grave human rights violations carried out in the conflicted In'esian province of Aceh by In'esian military forces in the company's direct pay for "protection" of its oil facilities. The White House now warns that al-Qaeda is seeking links to Aceh's separatist guerrillas. But the Aceh separatists--who say they have actually resisted al-Qaeda's designs in the region--want their independence precisely because Jakarta allows the breakneck corporate exploitation of their land...
"Unocal has also announced interest in developing new offshore gas finds in the Philippines--where U.S. military involvement is rapidly escalating. Unocal's interest is off Mindoro Island, while U.S. forces have already been in combat with the (supposedly al-Qaeda-linked) guerrillas of Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao, the major Muslim-majority island just 200 miles south.
"After Afghanistan, the largest U.S. troop presence in Central Asia is Uzbekistan... then Azerbaijan and Turkey" (Bill Weinberg. "Forgotten Oil Wars of the "War on Terrorism."" Nonviolent Activist, Winter 2005: 6-8).
"Herold is the first Wall Street firm to predict when specific energy companies will hit their peaks...
"Herold expects 2008 to be critical, with Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., BP, Royal Dutch/Shell Group and the Italian producer, Eni S.p.A., all hitting their peaks. In 2009, Herold expects ChevronTexaco Corp. to peak. In Herold's view, each of the world's seven largest publicly traded oil companies will begin seeing production declines within the next 48 months or so" (Robert Bryce. "Running On Empty." Progressive Populist, April 15, 2005: 1).
"... the EU also enjoys a greater share of global trade... if Europe's two key oil producers, Norway and the UK, wer to adopt the euro--which is likely--this might create a momentum to shift the oil pricing system to euros. If that were to happen, oil-importing nations aroung the world would no longer need dollar reserves to purchase oil, and the demand for dollars could decline significantly" (Jeremy Rifkin. The European Dream p. 64)...
"...rather than having been a boon, oil has been a curse for Nigeria, just as it has for many developing nations. The hundreds of billions of dollars that should have gushed from the ground into the government's accounts have been diverted or wasted. Nigeria, with Africa's largest population of more than 130 million citizens, remains one of its poorest. Despite its oil windfall, it has managed to amass more than $34bn in overseas debt. And it is ineligible for debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries programme --thanks again to its oil...
Nigeria is "the most corrupt country in the world" ("Curing Oil's Curse." Guardian Weekly, May 12, 2005: 3).
"Expert warns that price may soar to $100 a barrel and spark economic collapse...
"One of the world's leading energy analysts called this week for an independent assessment of global oil reserves because he believes that Middle Easter countries may have far less than officially stated and that oil prices could double to more than $100 a barrel within three years, triggering economic collapse...
""There is a big chance that Saudi Arabia actually peaked production in 1981. We have no reliable data. Our data collection system for oil is rubbish. I suspect that if we had, we would find that we are over-producing in most of our major fields...
"Mr. Simmons told the meeting that it was inevitable that the price of oil would soar above $100 as supplies failed to meet demand...
"...other oil analysts argued strongly that a major financial crisis could occur as soon as 2008" (John Vidal. "Coming Oil Crisis Feared." Guardian Weekly, April 29, 2005: 1).
"...the second great depression may be around the corner...
"..."Oil and gas dominate our lives, and their decline will change the world in radical and unpredictable ways," he says...
"...the overall oil peak arrives next year...
"If he is correct, then global oil production can be expected to decline steadily at about 2-3% a year, the cost of everything from travel, heating, agriculture, trade, and anything made of plastic rises. And the scramble to control oil resources intensifies. As one US analyst said recently: "Just kiss your lifestyle goodbye"...
"...the much more optimistic official figures... that peak production will not come for about 30 years" ("The Beginning of the End." Guardian Weekly, April 29, 2005: 15-16).
"A $4bn pipeline that will deliver a million barrels of crude oil a day to the Mediterranean Sea and is set to become a vital gateway for central Asian energy resources to the West, opened last week.
"The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline will run for 1,750km from the Axerbaijani capital, through Georgia to the Turkish port, and through two of the most politically turbulent countries in the region.
"Washington, uncomfortable at its reliance on oil from the Middle East, has long sought the BTC as a bridge for the massive energy resources of Kazakhstan, a country the size of western Europe.
"The pipeline has stoked controversy on several fronts.
"Apart from the environmental hazards (it passes close to a national park in Georgia and traverses highly seismic landscape throughout its route), the pipeline has brought western powers into partnership with governments with suspect human rights records" (Nick Paton Walsh. "Caspian pipeline opens oil route to West." Guardian Weekly, June 3, 2005: 12).
"Brazil imports 3% of its energy needs. The United States imports more than 40%. About 40% of Brazil's energy is supplied by ethanol. About 3% of the US energy needs are filled by ethanol. It's an interesting juxtaposition. Another interesting fact: No Brazilian soldier has died in Kuwait or Iraq or any other conflict-plagued oil state. Brazil does not suck up to Saudi Arabian royal despots...
"During the oil crisis of the 1970s (which never really ended, obviously) Brazil decided it would not be held hostage to Middle Eastern terrorists and oil cartels. So it decided to wean itself, and has succeeded.
"The Los Angeles Times published a tremendous story on the topic June 15. Almost all the cars in Brazil are flex-fuel; that is, they all can run on 85% ethanol. The result: E85 is sold everywhere. It is sold for about half the price of regular unleaded gasoline.
"Why not the US?...
"Of course, increased ethanol production would be a short-term boon to Iowa, the national leader in ethanol. But corn isn't the only stuff from which ethanol can be made. Brazil uses sugar cane. Technology is emerging in producing energy from cellulose such as corn stover or switchgrass. Ethanol can be made anywhere in the US.
"The critics say that ethanol receives inordinate government subsidy. Harkin points out that the true cost of gasoline, including direct subsidies and the cost of defending the Persian Gulf, is about $7 per gallon...
"Eventually the private sector will embrace renewable fuels if government primes the pump. The LA Times reports about Brazil: "Private investors are channeling billions of dollars into sugar and ethanol production, creating much-needed jobs in the countryside. Environmentalists support the expansion of this clean, renewable fuel that has helped improve air quality in Brazil's cities. Consumers are tickled to have a choice at the filling station."...
"Ethanol is not about helping corn growers or saving the environment. Ethanol is about getting off the oil jones and getting our foreign policy free of Middle East entanglements. So long as we depend on sheiks for the fuel that drives the United States, we will watch soldiers die for the politics of Big Oil" (Art Cullen. "Brazil has it figured out." Progressive Populist, July 15, 2005: 17).
"The practical failure is to see nuclear power as a magic bullet. Where it exists, nuclear has only been possible through enormous sublic subsidies...
"Peak oil is likely to be the point of diminishing returns for the entire big-economy, growth-at-all-costs, free-trade, globalised model of capitalism. Factor in the 75% drop in oil production and the current strategies for production, distribution, transport and town planning ''t look so clever.
"As energy prices soar, it will seem ludicrous to cart goods halfway round the world. Countries that do not have their own local supplies will have to pay through the nose. Protectionism will cease to be a dirty word and localization will be all the rage" (Larry Elliott. "Oil has the world over a barrel." Guardian Weekly, July 1, 2005: 27).
"The energy bill just passed by the House... [contains] nothing that needs to be 'e about energy. The bill give $8.1 billion in new tax breaks to the oil companies, which are already swimming in cash.
"ExxonMobil's profits are up 44%, Royal Dutch/Shell up 42%, etc. According to the business pages, the biggest problem oil executives face is what to do with all their cash. So why give more tax breaks to the oil companies?" (Molly Ivins. "Energy policy so stupid, it's painful." Progressive Populist, June 1, 2005: 22).
"Next year, the administration will phase out the $2,000 tax credit for buying a hybrid vehicle, which gets over 50 miles per gallon, but will leave in place the $25,000 tax write-off for a Hummer, which gets 8 mpg. That's truly crazy, and that's truly what the whole Cheney energy policy is...
"Meanwhile, what we are sticking with is soaring oil prices (ExxonMobil just reported the highest quarterly profit ever, $8.42 billion, by an American company)...
"Nor are the major oil companies spending their mammoth profits on exploration or field development--they're doing mega-mergers and stock buybacks... The Chinese and the Indians are now buying cars like mad, and the result is going to be an enormous supply crunch, sooner rather than later...
"Conservation is simply the cheapest and most effective way of addressing this problem. If you put a tax on carbon, it would move industry to wind or solar power. Wind power here in Texas is at the tipping point now--comparably priced. Our health, our environment, our economy and the globe itself would all benefit from a transition to renewable energy sources.
"And as Tom Friedman recently pointed out, it would do a lot for world peace, too: "By doing nothing to lower US oil consumption, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism and strengthening the worst governments in the world. That is, we are financing the US military with our tax dollars and we are financing the jihadists--and the Saudi, Sudanese and Iranian mosques and charities that support them--through our gasoline purchases"" (Molly Ivins. "Dumb, Dumber, and Dumbest." Texas Observer, April 15, 2005: 14).
"Over the course of about twenty years, Texaco dumped some 18 billion gallons of oil and toxic waste into Ecuador's lakes and streams, contaminating groundwater, rivers and fisheries and causing hundreds of Ecuadorians to die of strange cancers, according to the plaintiffs. Their lawyers and scientific experts insist it's the worst oil-related contamination in the world today--thirty times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill" (Daphne Eviatar. "The high cost of oil." The Nation, Aug. 8, 2005: 28).
"Gas companies, wallowing in record profits, took the occasion to gouge Americans at the pump. The companies' rapacity and the country's vulnerability are direct results of Bush's Big Oil energy policy" ("The Disaster President." The Nation, Sep. 26, 2005: 3-4).
"A Washington Post investigative report recently analyzed the increase in gasoline prices, which went from $1.87 a gallon last September to $3.07 this year. Who grabbed this $1.20-a-gallon increase? The report found that gasoline taxes actually fell by two cents, and our local distributors and gas stations got less than a penny from the increase. However, the crude oil producers--including Exxon, BP, Shell, et al.-- took an additional 46 cents from our pockets.
"But the big winners were the gasoline refiners--which also happen to be Exxon, BP, Shell, et al. Their increase was 70 cents--a 255% increase for them in one year!" (Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer, eds. "The Hightower Lowdown." Nov. 2005.).
"Chavez has sold the discounted oil in two US markets, New York and Massachusetts... bought 12m gallons at a steep discount after US oil companies ignored its plea for help. Similar oil deals are in the works elsewhere.
"On the second scow day in the Bronx, it did not escape the notice of tenants that a foreign government stepped in after Congress did not...
"Last week Citgo bought full-pagge ads in the Washington Post and the New York Times, lauding Venezuela's role in heating the homes of the nation's poor" (Michelle Garcia. "Bronx warmly receives Venezuelan oil." Guardian Weekly, Dec. 16, 2005: 7).
"The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, said that he would resist an "imperialist attack" after Washington announced it would pursue an "inoculation strategy" against his government by creating a united front against its policies.
"The rhetoric reflected a rapid deterioration in relations between the two countries after Venezuelan spying allegations against the US and tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats.
"The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, used her harshest language to date in testimony to Congress last week in which she called Venezuela and Cuba "sidekicks" of Iran, and launched a campaign to rally international opposition to the Chavez government...
"Larry Birns, dirctor of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, said the "inoculation strategy" was too late to stop the rise of leftwing and anti-American politics in Latin America" (Julian Borger. "Chavez pledges to resist US 'inoculation strategy.'" Guardian Weekly, Feb 24, 2006: 7).
Chavez Interview"...in my interview with the president of Venezuela on March 28, he made Bush the following astonishing offer: Chavez would drop the price of oil to $50 a barrel, "not too high, a fair price," he said--a third less than the $75 a barrel for oil recently posted on the spot market. That would bring down the price at the pump by about a buck, from $3 to $2 a gallon.
But our President has basically told Chavez to tak his cheaper oil and stick it up his pipeline...
"But the ascendance of Venezuela within OPEC necessarily means the decline of the power of the House of Saud. And the Bush family wouldn't like that one bit. It comes down to "petro-dollars." When George W. ferried than-Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah of Saudi Arabia around the Crawford Ranch in a Gold cart it wasn't because America needs Arabian oil. The Saudis will always sell us their petroleum. What Bush needs is Saudi petro-dollars. Saudi Arabia has, over the past three decades, kindly recycled the cash sucked from the wallets of American SUV owners and sent much of the loot right back to New York to buy US Treasury bills and other US assets.
The Gulf potentates understand that in return for lending the US Treasury the cash to fund George Bush's $2 trillion rise in the nation's debt, they receive protection in return. They lend us petro-dollars, we lend them the 82nd Airborne.
"Chavez would put an end to all that. He'll sell us oil relatively cheaply--but intends to keep the petro-dollars in Latin America. Recently, Chavez withdrew $20 billion from the US Federal Reserve and, at the same time, lent or committed a like sum to Argentina, Ecuador, and other Latin American nations.
"Chavez, notes The Wall Street Journal, has become a "tropical IMF." And indeed, as the Venezuelan president told me, he wants to abolish the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, with its brutal free-market diktats, and replace it with an "International Humanitarian Fund"...
"Politically, Venezuella is torn in two. Chavez's "Blivarian Revolution," a close replica of Frankin Roosevelt's New Deal--a progressive income tax, public works, social security, cheap electricity--makes him wildly popular with the poor. And most Venezuelans are poor. His critics, a four-centuries' old white elite, unused to sharing oil wealth, portray him as a Castro-hugging anti-Christ...
Q: How do you respond to Bush's charge that you are destabilizing the region and interfering in the elections of other Latin American countries?
Chavez: "Mr. Bush is an illegitimate President. In Florida, his brother Jeb deleted many black voters from the electoral registers. So this President is the result of a fraud. Not only that, he is also currently applying a dictatorship in the US. People can be put in jail without being charged. They tap phones without court orders. They check what book people take out of public libraries. They arrested Cindy Sheehan because of a T-shirt she was wearing demanding the return of the troops from Iraq. They abuse blacks and latinos. And if we are going to talk about meddling in other countries, the the US is the champion of meddling in other people's affairs. They invaded Guatemala, they overthrew Salvador Allende, invaded Panama, and the Dominican Republic. They were involved in the coup d'etat in Argentina thirty years ago" (Greg Palast. "Hugo Chavez." Progressive, July 2006: 35-39).
"Also on the energy agenda should be laws and antitrust actions against Big Oil's economic tyranny at home. A decade of merger-mania has restructured the industry into a few giant cartels that can manipulate supply and demand (for example, by cutting domestic refining capacity to create gasoline shortages). These companies are so powerful, they dictate energy policy to their man in the White House and buy off lawmakers with lavish 'ations ($33 million in 2005, according to politcalmoneyline.com). We need public shaming of the oil companies before Congressional committees for their excess profits, fat CEO pay scales and bloated returns on capital. The Justice Department should launch an anti-trust inquiry into the oil giants' pricing policies" ("For a sane energy policy." The Nation, May 29, 2006: 4-5).
Abiogenic Oil OriginAbiogenic petroleum origin Abiogenic petroleum origin is a term used to describe a number of different hypotheses which propose that petroleum and natural gas are formed by inorganic means rather than by the decomposition of organisms. The two principal abiogenic petroleum hypotheses, the deep gas hypothesis of Thomas Gold and the deep abiotic petroleum hypothesis, have been scientifically reviewed without confirmation.
Scientific opinion on the origin of oil and gas is that all natural oil and gas deposits on Earth are fossil fuels and are, therefore, biogenic. Abiogenesis of small quantities of oil and gas remains a minor area of ongoing research.
Some abiogenic hypotheses have proposed that oil and gas did not originate from fossil deposits, but have instead originated from deep carbon deposits, present since the formation of the Earth. Additionally, it has been suggested that hydrocarbons may have arrived on Earth from solid bodies such as comets and asteroids from the late formation of the Solar System, carrying hydrocarbons with them.
Some abiogenic hypotheses gained limited popularity among geologists over the past several centuries. Scientists in the former Soviet Union widely held that significant petroleum deposits could be attributed to abiogenic origin, though this view fell out of favor toward the end of the 20th century because they did not make useful predictions for the discovery of oil deposits. Previous to today, it was generally accepted that abiogenic formation of petroleum has insufficient scientific support and that oil and gas fuels on Earth are formed almost exclusively from organic material.
The abiogenic hypothesis regained support in 2009 when researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm reported they believed they had proven that fossils from animals and plants are not necessary for crude oil and natural gas to be generated.
Abiotic oil The abiotic oil hypothesis is an attempt to explain the source and formation of petroleum. As the name suggests, the hypothesis proposes that oil originates from non-biological origins. The hypothesis is mostly Soviet, mostly archaic, and mostly debunked. In the Anglophone world, abiotic oil proponents tend to cite the work of the late astrophysicist (read: not geologist) Thomas Gold.
The theory's adherents believe that oil originated as carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas rising through the deep layers of the Earth's crust. The really cranky types will claim that the Earth's rotation propels these substances toward the surface of the crust. If this mixture was lucky enough to find zirconium-containing minerals, it could react and produce petroleum hydrocarbons. Some of these would move close enough to the surface to be exploitable by humanity.
This idea seems plausible because:
Carbon monoxide and hydrogen result from volcanic activity.
Richard Heinberg on Abiotic Oil Richard Heinberg (born 1950) is an American journalist and educator who has written extensively on energy, economic, and ecological issues, including oil depletion. He is the author of thirteen books, and presently serves as the senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.
Classic Theory of Oil Origiin
The debate over oil’s origin has been going on since the 19th century. From the start, there were those who contended that oil is primordial – that it dates back to Earth’s origin – or that it is made through an inorganic process, while others argued that it was produced from the decay of living organisms (primarily oceanic plankton) that proliferated millions of years ago during relatively brief periods of global warming and were buried under ocean sediment in fortuitous circumstances.
During the latter half of the 20th century, with advances in geophysics and geochemistry, the vast majority of scientists lined up on the side of the biotic theory. A small group of mostly Russian scientists – but including a tiny handful Western scientists, among them the late Cornell University physicist Thomas Gold – have held out for an abiotic (also called abiogenic or inorganic) theory.
Gold argued that hydrocarbons existed at the time of the solar system’s formation, and are known to be abundant on other planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and some of their moons) where no life is presumed to have flourished in the past.
Meanwhile, however, the oil companies have used the biotic theory as the practical basis for their successful exploration efforts over the past few decades. If there are in fact vast untapped deep pools of hydrocarbons refilling the reservoirs that oil producers drill into, it appears to make little difference to actual production, as tens of thousands of oil and gas fields around the world are observed to deplete, and refilling (which is indeed very rarely observed) is not occurring at a commercially significant scale or rate except in one minor and controversial instance
The abiotic theorists also hold that conventional drillers, constrained by an incorrect theory, ignore many sites where deep, primordial pools of oil accumulate; if only they would drill in the right places, they would discover much more oil than they are finding now. However, the tests of this claim are so far inconclusive: the best-documented “abiotic” test well was a commercial failure.
Fossils From Animals And Plants Are Not Necessary For Crude Oil And Natural Gas, Swedish Researchers Find What would happen if it were proven that "fossil fuels" weren't the result of decaying plant and animal matter, were actually created within the Earth due to simple chemistry and you could not be scared into believing that we were "running out" of oil and natural gas?
Proponents of so-called "abiotic oil" claim that the proof is found in the fact that many capped wells, which were formerly dry of oil, are found to be plentiful again after many years, They claim that the replenished oil is manufactured by natural forces in the Earth's mantle.
Reported in ScienceDaily, researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm have managed to prove that fossils from animals and plants are not necessary for crude oil and natural gas to be generated. The findings are revolutionary since this means, on the one hand, that it will be much easier to find these sources of energy and, on the other hand, that they can be found all over the globe.
The abiotic oil formation theory suggests that crude oil is the result of naturally occurring and possibly ongoing geological processes. This theory was developed in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, as the Union needed to be self sufficient in terms of producing its own energy. The science behind the theory is sound and is based on experimental evidence in both the laboratory and in the field. This theory has helped to identify and therefore develop large numbers of gas and oil deposits. Examples of such fields are the South Khylchuyu field and the controversial Sakhalin II field.
In its simplest form, the theory is that carbon present in the magma beneath the crust reacts with hydrogen to form methane as well as a raft of other mainly alkane hydrocarbons. The reactions are more complicated than this, with several intermediate stages. Particular mineral rocks such as granite and other silicon based rocks act as catalysts, which speed up the reaction without actually becoming involved or consumed in the process.
Colby Glass, MLIS