Sierra Report

On a semi-regular basis I share some of the information that comes in the monthly Sierra Magazine. They have a page they call “Up To Speed: Two Months, One Page.” I summarize some of the information on that page here:

The Bad News:

• March 2016 was the warmest month one record. It was the 11th straight month to set the record, which was also unprecedented.*

• Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide rose by the greatest margin on record.*

• For the second year in a row the Arctic Sea ice has shrunk to a record low.*

• Mitsubishi admitted that it has been exaggerating the fuel economy of its cars sold in Japan for 25 years.

• The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that local governments, such as those in Longmont and Fort Colins, cannot ban fracking in their jurisdictions.

[*And yet we have a presidential candidate who insists that Global Warming is a hoax while, at the same time, he petitions the Scottish government for permission to build a sea wall to protect his golf course in Scotland from rising sea waters. (This would also come under the heading of “bad news,” except that it deserves its own category — perhaps: More Insanity?? )]

The Good News:

• Oregon announced that it will stop buying coal entirely by 2030.

• Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company declared bankruptcy.

• ConAgra Foods, General Mills, and Kellogg said they will voluntarily label foods containing GMOs.

• President Obama withdrew his earlier proposal to open the southeastern Atlantic seaboard to oil and gas drilling.

• Within a month of the Tesla Model 3’s unveiling, nearly 400,000 people had paid $1000 apiece to reserve the all-electric car.

* Seaworld announced that it will stop the captive breeding of orcas.

 

 

 

 

While Rome Burns

We all know that Nero fiddled while Rome was burning, though we aren’t told with whom he was fiddling . . .(sorry). In any event, we now find ourselves pretty much in his shoes, fiddling while our water dries up. I’m not speaking about the horrible event in Flint, Michigan where thousands of citizens were allowed to drink water contaminated with lead. Nor am I referring to our mindless waste of water as we flush the toilet with a cup of pee in it, take long showers, run the dishwasher for six plates and a dirty frying pan, leave the water running while we brush our teeth, or water our lawns (or golf courses). What I am referring to is the unconscionable act of “fracking.”

A recent story tells us about the steps that the European Union are taking to stop fracking, a procedure to get gas and oil out of the earth while contaminating between 1.2 and 3.5 million gallons of water per well each day in the process:

Studies by the European Commission, released last Friday, find the risks associated with large-scale shale gas development and fracking to be high and in some cases very high. The studies draw special attention to the cumulative environmental impacts of multiple shale gas wells. Eight key pieces of the European Union (EU) environmental acquis (acquis communautaire = agreed upon laws and regulations in the EU) are identified as being ill-equipped to deal with the water, waste, liability, air quality and other issues of large-scale use of hydraulic fracturing.

As a result, four countries in Europe have outlawed fracking. A growing list of others have placed a moratorium on the act. However, with the exception of a few states in this country, we continue to engage in an activity that is known to cause earthquakes in addition to drawing millions of gallons of water from the aquifers daily and rendering the water unusable. We ignore the fact that our water is becoming increasingly precious. Many think it will be the new gold. But actually it is more precious than gold, because we cannot live without it.

Some would chalk up our frenzy to draw oil and gas out of the earth to free enterprise. I would chalk it up to raw, unmitigated greed. As noted, growing numbers of countries around the globe see this as a very dangerous practice indeed, as are so many of the practices in this country we engage in daily — while we fiddle. We can continue to ignore the assault we have initiated against the earth, but we cannot do so much longer. And while I realize that this claim will be dismissed as mere nay-saying, chicken-little pessimism, glass half-empty exaggeration of our present situation, we need to consider that those who reject the dire prediction of scientists have a hidden agenda. The scientists do not. They simply tell it like it is. We need to start to listen to them. The money isn’t going to do even the wealthiest among us any good if they have no water to mix with their bourbon.

In my bleak moments I sometimes imagine that the very wealthy who pursue this deadly path have a jet plane ready to whisk them away from our dried up country to some place safe, one of those countries that has outlawed fracking and now relies on renewable energy — you know, the ones that will manage to hang on a bit longer. It’s not unlike the villain in a James Bond movie with his boat ready to whisk him away to safety before the British Secret Service can put him away. But this is real life, not a fiction: there are no jet planes that can take anyone far enough away.

At other times, in my more dreamlike moments, I imagine that the story in the Old Testament about the Garden of Eden is not a tale about what happened in the past. Rather, it is a prediction about the earth we all share, which is indeed a Garden of Eden. The serpent of avarice has offered us the apple of greed and we have eaten of it and we are now, slowly, being evicted from the Garden as a result of our own stupidity.

DUHHHHH!

You have probable seen this story which simply states the obvious. When will we learn? Or, will we learn?

The onslaught of seismic activity in Oklahoma in recent years has captured the attention of the nation.

State scientists say they have uncovered the root cause of the majority of the state’s earthquakes: the oil and gas industry’s disposal of billions of barrels of water underground. [Italics added]

Now, as the public absorbs this information, Oklahoma’s regulatory bodies are keeping a watchful eye on these disposal wells and planning their next moves.

Link between earthquakes and industry

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) issued its most strongly worded statement yet linking the oil and gas industry to the state’s earthquakes.

State geologist Richard D. Andrews and state seismologist Austin Holland say the spike in earthquakes — particularly in central and north-central areas of the state — is “very unlikely to represent a naturally occurring process.”

“The primary suspected source of triggered seismicity is not from hydraulic fracturing but from the injection/disposal of water associated with oil and gas production,” the report from the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) reads.

The seismicity rate in Oklahoma is about 600 times greater than it was before 2008, around the time dewatering started in the state.

Dreaming Aloud

When I am elected to be Philosopher King, I shall wave my magic wand to clean up some of the mess we are leaving for our children and their children, with special emphasis on the following:

1. Immediate cessation of fracking.

2. Promote the development of alternative energy with tax subsidies (commensurable with the ones currently enjoyed by Big Oil), including solar, wind,    and the tides.

3. Eliminate tax subsidies for oil exploration and development (shift them to #2).

4. Fund research into desalination methods to convert sea water into potable water for human and animal consumption and use in agriculture.

5. Tax the wealthy proportionally and reduce “defense” spending by half  to raise the money for the above.

6. Raise the minimum wage to $15.00 to help restore the middle class.

7. Mandate federal tax penalties on all families for any children beyond two to encourage “zero population growth.” Tax breaks for childless couples or those with only one child.

8. Restore, on a permanent basis, international family planning programs that have twice been eliminated by Republican administrations.

9. Eliminate teachers colleges and all certification requirements for teachers. Require all teachers to take a solid core of liberal arts courses and a legitimate academic major with a fifth year as an intern working with an experienced teacher.

10. Raise starting teacher’s salaries by at least 50% to attract the best and the brightest.

11. Disallow all electronic toys in schools, except computers, and require writing, reading, and memorization of such things as poetry and the multiplication tables.

12. Predicate all wages and salaries in all lines of work on years of schooling to encourage students to remain in school and pay attention.

13.Eliminate all donations above $100.00 in political elections and eradicate all lobbying by special interests at the state and federal levels.

14. Implement term limits in all public offices at the state and federal levels.

Well, I can dream, can’t I??

Greed, Thy Heart Is Black

A recent story about the production of oil in North Dakota caught my eye. It begins:

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Dr. Lyle Best traveled nearly 200 miles from the heart of North Dakota’s oil patch Tuesday to tell state regulators one thing: “Slow down.”

The North Dakota Industrial Commission is considering a proposal that would cut back on the state’s booming oil production as a means of controlling the amount of natural gas that’s being burned off at well sites and wasted as a byproduct of the more valuable substance, oil.

But oil companies are fighting the idea of slowing production, and want regulators to consider self-imposed steps to curb natural gas flaring, such as submitting plans for natural gas gathering before applying for a drilling permit.

North Dakota drillers currently burn off, or flare, a record 36 percent of the gas because development of pipelines and processing facilities to capture it hasn’t kept pace with oil drilling. The U.S. Energy Department says less than 1 percent of natural gas is flared from oil fields nationwide, and less than 3 percent worldwide.

Best, a Watford City physician, was among more than two dozen people who testified on the new proposal. Best said he lives within 200 yards of two oil wells that emit flares at least 20 feet high and produce a sound “similar to a jetliner passing nearby.”

The biggest issues with burning the gas, he said, is wasting it and the potentially harmful emissions that may be released from flaring.

Indeed, those flares can be seen from outer space: the central and western parts of the state of North Dakota appear to be on fire. But, hey! It’s all about huge profits. The serious risks from widespread fracking are totally ignored, as is the waste and danger to the planet from those natural gas burn-offs. And then there are the hundreds of oil cars that the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad haul daily from North Dakota through such environmentally sensitive places as Glacier Park to the West Coast where the oil is shipped to the Pacific rim: a routine practice that ignores the possibility of catastrophic accidents, a likelihood that increases daily considering that a derailment occurs with alarming regularity. This is a dangerous game these oil barons are playing, but they have their blinders on and can only see, smell, and hear the profits mounting up in their off-shore bank accounts.

As it happens, I know a couple of people who work on the oil fields in North Dakota and am aware of the huge profits this activity yields to the workers themselves and the small businesses who cater to them on or near the oil fields. It’s a virtual gold rush. The state of North Dakota is one of the very few in this country that operates in the black (pardon the pun) and I get that. It’s nice to see that some of those who actually need money are getting some of the benefits of this gluttony. But the notion that is most disturbing, suggested in this story, is that those in charge can’t get the oil out fast enough and that they simply don’t care about the consequences of their actions. Our economy encourages folks to get as much as they can while the getting is good. I also get that. But it is an ugly feature of this economy that makes its successful practitioners ugly and one that costs us all a great deal in the long run — the future that those who call the shots are determined to  ignore.

One must ask in the final analysis if it is just possible that humans simply cannot resist the temptations of power and prestige that are promised by great wealth. I do wonder if in promising men wealth and power in this world through tearing from the earth its hidden treasures the genie was released from the bottle. It is just possible that the force of those temptations is too great for men to resist with wills weakened by habitual self-indulgence. The question is,  just how do we go about putting the genie back into the bottle?

Half-Truths About Fracking

I will quote a recent story from Yahoo News (culled from the AP) in its entirety:

AP Wirephoto  (Thanks to Yahoo News)

AP Wirephoto
(Thanks to Yahoo News)

RIFLE, Colo. (AP) — Three hours west of Denver, across the Continental Divide, the Rocky Mountains begin the long transition into high desert plateaus.

This sparsely-populated land is dotted with ranches and small towns that were once local hubs for mining the rich minerals found under the earth.

But over the past few years, this town and others have become increasingly a local center for the natural gas industry. Off the highway outside town in all directions, one can see evidence, large and small, of the latest local energy boom, from natural gas extraction all the way up the chain to refining.

Hydraulic fracturing — “fracking,” for short — pumps millions of gallons of water mixed with fine sand and chemicals deep into oil and gas wells.

The water splits open oil- and gas-bearing rock. Specially formulated fracking fluids help carry the sand into the newly formed fissures and keep the cracks propped open.

The rapid growth of the oil industry in the region has brought opposition from those who warn of environmental costs. In some places the practice has been blamed for air pollution and gas leaks that have ruined well water. But federal and many state regulators say the practice is safe when done properly.

To begin with, note the brevity of this article, given the immense complexity of the subject! Have we really become so stupid in the minds of the media that they think we can’t handle a lengthy article giving full details of a story that has major implications for all of us? In one brief sentence, almost in passing, the article notes the “opposition from those who warn of environmental costs” and assure us that “regulators say the practice is safe when done properly.” This is supposed to inform us about the millions of gallons of water that are used in this process that are rendered too contaminated for human or animal use thereafter — at a time when continued drought threatens the farming industry and farmers in Kansas are already importing water from Florida. Further, the snippet ignores the growing concern about the health of those who live in the region of the fracking operations who are beginning to experience a number of alarming symptoms — not to mention the carbon dioxide that is being expunged into the atmosphere, in North Dakota in particular, from fires triggered by the process. As we learn from Robert Krulwich, who reports for N.P.R., “When oil comes to the surface, it often brings natural gas with it, and according to North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources, 29 percent of the natural gas now extracted in North Dakota is flared off. Gas isn’t as profitable as oil, and the energy companies don’t always build the pipes or systems to carry it away. For a year (with extensions), North Dakota allows drillers to burn gas, just let it flare. There are now so many gas wells burning fires in the North Dakota night, the fracking fields can be seen from deep space.”

North Dakota Aflame From Space

North Dakota Aflame From Space

(As you can plainly see, it makes for quite a spectacle when viewed from outer space: much of North Dakota seemingly on fire!)

In a word, the photograph showing the hard-working oil man set against the snowy mountains says more than the article below it: it’s man against nature with no thought for the morrow. We destroy the land, water, and air in the name of creature comforts — ignoring the reasonable alternatives of conservation and clean energy. And we sum it all up in a few words with a photograph that will suggest to many (who will miss the metaphorical implications) the jobs the oil industry has promised in order to help our economy get back on its feet. I don’t buy it. A half-truth is worse than a blatant falsehood, and this story and photograph tell a half-truth. What they ignore, or what is merely implied, is of major importance and will go right over the heads of most readers — if they bother to read it at all.

Green Jobs

The current Sierra magazine has some interesting and encouraging information that should allow us to bury the myth about how pursuing clean energy will cost the country jobs and how we should continue to support dirty energy “where the jobs are.” Bollocks! Let me quote a part of the brief article directly. (If you want detailed information about the study referred to you can go to this link: rael.berkley.edu/greenjobs.)

“For years the dirty energy industry has warned of massive job losses if the nation switches to clean energy. It’s dead wrong. Max Wei, Shana Patadia, and Daniel Kammen of the University of California at Berkley reviewed 15 recent studies of the job-creation potential of various energy sources and found that renewables generate more jobs per unit of energy delivered than do fossil fuels.”

The article then gives a chart showing the comparisons between the clean energy industries and the dirty energy industries that is quite striking. It reveals that the clean energy industries create 62.74 jobs per megawatt of energy produced as contrasted with the dirty energy industry that only produce 25.7 jobs per megawatt. The contrast is remarkable; clean energy is led by the solar photovoltaic industry which produces 32.71 jobs per megawatt — more than the dirty energy industry taken all together. The jobs in both categories are in construction, manufacturing, installation, and maintenance.

The “clean” energy industries include not only solar photovoltaic but “concentrating solar,” wind, and geothermal. The “dirty” energy industries studied include nuclear, coal, and natural gas. It should be noted that the latter three industries are currently being touted by politicians and the industry itself as “cleaner” than ever because coal has become “clean,” which is not strictly true; nuclear is touted as clean because it doesn’t produce heat — while it produces toxic waste that cannot be disposed of safely and always poses the threat of a meltdown; and natural gas is regarded as clean despite the fact that it is now obtained by “fracking,” a process that uses thousands of gallons of precious water which becomes contaminated and cannot be purified and reused afterwards. So, despite the attempts to pull the wool over out eyes, the word “dirty” is indeed appropriate when applied to these industries.

The fact that the Republicans are nearly united in their opposition to clean energy can only be accounted for by the fact that Big Oil makes such huge profits they can afford to dole out the big bucks to curry political favors, whereas the clean energy industry does not. But I do think that despite the likes of the Koch brothers and their friends clean energy will become the main source of energy in the future in this country and one must wonder when the oil and gas companies will climb aboard. Surely they see the handwriting on the wall?

In any event, let us have a moment of silence in memory of another dead myth. After that moment has passed we can spend another moment wishing like hell that the Congress will get its act together sooner rather than later and throw its support behind a collection of industries that have this sort of job potential. Talk about helping the economy — and the earth at the same time!