Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Simon & Finn on environmental restoration

March 25, 2014

sf-oilsands1small

Whether it is hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, surface mining for coal or processing tar sands for oil bitumen, it is never going to be possible to put the petals back on the flower (figuratively speaking).

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-cohen/the-political-power-of-en_b_859287.html?view=print&comm_ref=false

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/03/20/1286250/-Guess-who-s-the-major-stakeholder-in-Canada-s-oil-sands-Of-course-it-s-the-nbsp-Kochs

Click on simonandfinn for more cartoons.

Digging up our coal, oil and gas for export

March 22, 2014

Kos-Fracked

I don’t think many Americans are aware of how much of our coal, oil and natural gas production is for export.  In particular, I don’t think Americans are as aware as we should be that the pipeline to carry bitumen from tar sands fields in Alberta to oil refineries in Texas is for the benefit of Canadian exporters, not (except very indirectly) American consumers.  The tar sands production is being piped south to Texas because other Canadian provinces are unwilling to take the environmental risk of having it piped east or west.

In and of itself, anything that reduces the U.S. trade deficit is a good thing, not a bad thing.  We need to import things from abroad, and we need to pay for them with exports.  Now we pay a price for this, which we did not have to pay for oil exports from Texas in the 1950s.

The easy-to-get coal, oil and natural gas has been pretty much used up, and so we need hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, mountaintop removal to dig for coal, deep water drilling for oil and the Alberta tar sands to get at what fossil fuels are left.

All these methods involve risks to human health and the natural environment, but that’s a price that can’t be avoided until alternatives are found and energy consumption is reduced.

An advanced nation should not depend on exports of raw materials, and imports of high-tech manufacturing goods, but that is the U.S. situation today.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/13/business/energy-environment/an-oil-industry-awash-in-crude-argues-over-exporting.html?_r=0

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/24/coal-s-new-exporteconomyleavesacloudofdustoverlouisiana.html

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/03/140320-north-american-natural-gas-seeks-markets-overseas/

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/print/2009/03/canadian-oil-sands/kunzig-text

As the old saying goes, you can’t have your cake, and eat it too.

A nation can’t have reserves of fossil fuels, and burn them up or sell them all for export, too.

Hat tip to Bill Elwell for the cartoon.

The passing scene: Bedtime links 12/4/13

December 4, 2013

The Googlization of the Far Right: Why Is Google Funding Grover Norquist, Heritage Action and ALEC? by Nick Surgey of PR Watch.

1984 Was An Instruction Manual by Peter Van Buren for TomDispatch.  Google has the capability of making Orwell’s “memory hole” a reality.

ALEC calls for penalties on ‘freerider’ homeowners in assault on clean energy by Suzanne Goldenberg and Ed Pilkington for The Guardian.  Anti-green American Legislative Exchange Council wants utilities to penalize homeowners who install solar panels.

Radioactive Fukushima water to be dumped into the ocean by Washington’s Blog.

World fears Fukushima-contaminated food

December 4, 2013
fukushimafoodimportban

Double click to enlarge.

The world’s governments are worried about contamination of fish and farm produce from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.   The graphic above, taken from the Korea JoonAng Daily, shows the world’s reaction.  The graphic below shows the specific bans on food imports by South Korea.

koreafoodimportsban

Click to enlarge.

Is the danger exaggerated?  Maybe it is.  There’s no way to be sure except to let people eat contaminated fish and farm produce and see what happens.  I wouldn’t want to try the experiment.

Is this an argument for getting rid of nuclear power?  Maybe it is.  South Korea gets more than a third of its electricity from nuclear generating plants.  Are they in a position to give that up?

If (1) we don’t want to burn oil from deep water drilling or tar sands processing, natural gas from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) or coal produced by mountaintop removal, (2) we’re worried about global warming from burning fossil fuels and (3) we’re not ready to give up the blessings of industrial civilization, we’d better be sure we have something in reserve.

At the very least, the world’s people need to make sure that nuclear power plants are operated by managers who don’t have financial incentives to cut corners on safety.  We need to be sure they are located on geologically stable sites, run by top-notch experts according to stringent standards and decommissioned on their due dates.

Click on Korea and world fear Fukushima’s radiation for the full article in the Korea JoonAng Daily.  Hat tip to naked capitalism.

The energy scene: Notes & links 11/7/13

November 7, 2013

Mr. Buffett’s Coal Train by Rick Bass for the Washington Spectator.

The Tongue River Railroad, which is partly owned by financier Warren Buffett, wants to lay track to carry sub-bituminous coal from Otter Creek in southwest Montana to existing railroads and then to ports in the Pacific Northwest for shipment to China.   The company would be allowed to take the property of ranchers in the area by eminent domain.   This coal is so dirty that burning it is illegal in the United States, but people in communities along the rail lines would have to breath the black dust from open coal cars.

U.S. lays out strict limits on coal funding abroad by Reuters.

Historically the mining and burning of coal is a greater hazard to human life and health than any other known energy source. It would be a good idea to find substitutes even if it were not a contributor to global warming. The United States government has announced that it will not contribute to World Bank funding of coal plants except in extremely poor nations that have no alternative energy sources, or for plants that use coal capture and sequestration to limit pollution, a technology that is not commercially viable. But evidently this concern is not shared by Warren Buffett or by Chinese electric power utilities.

Prominent Climate Scientists Go Nuclear by Desi Doyen for the Brad Blog.

James Hansen and three other prominent climate scientists say that threat of global warming due to burning of fossil fuels is so great and so imminent that nuclear generation of electricity is preferable.  In spite of the Fukushima disaster, I would be in favor of building a new generation of nuclear power plants, using up-to-date technology (maybe the French could supply them).  What I’m not in favor of is continuing to operate existing U.S. nuclear power plants past their scheduled decommissioning dates.

Urbee 2: The 3D-Printed Car That Will Drive Across the County by Popular Mechanics.  Hat tip to Don Montana.

Google cars vs. public transit: the U.S. problem with public goods by Ethan Zuckerman.  Hat tip to Tobias Buckell.

American inventors are coming up with the kind of stuff I read about in science fiction stories 50 years ago.  Why, then, do we Americans have such a hard time accomplishing mundane things, such as clean, efficient, convenient and reliable bus and train service?

The world scene: Notes & links 10/30/13

October 30, 2013

The World’s Billionaires List in Forbes

Billionaires: Decline of the West, Rise of the Rest by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh for Triple Crisis.

Forbes magazine’s annual list of the world’s billionaires indicates there are still more billionaires in the United States than in any other country, but the rest of the world is catching up.  China has the second largest number of billionaires and Russia has the third, followed by Germany, India, Brazil and Turkey.

The new list reflects the growth of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China)  relative to the United States, western Europe and Japan.   Broad and Cavanagh wrote that it also reflects growing inequality throughout the world.  The world’s richest man, Carlos Slim of Mexico, has a net worth of $73 billion, equal to 6.2 percent of Mexico’s GDP.  The third richest is Amacio Ortega, the Spanish retail king, who accumulated a fortune of $57 billion in a country where a fourth of the work force are unemployed.  If you’re wondering, the world’s second richest billionaire is Bill Gates and the fourth richest is Warren Buffett.

The Most Important Labor Strike in the World Is Happening Right Now by David Callahan for Common Dreams.

Millions of workers across Indonesia are on strike, demanding a higher minimum wage (it is now about $200 a month) and a universal health plan.  This is important for U.S. workers because Indonesia, the fourth most populous nation in the world after China, India and the United States, is a giant sweatshop which helps depress wages worldwide.

The sooner Indonesia follows the path of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, and develops a sizable middle class, the better not only for Indonesia, but for the United States, because Indonesia will become more of a potential market for U.S.-made goods and less of a magnet for how-wage employers.   Labor unions historically have helped bring wage-earners into the middle class.

Will the House of Saud pivot to China? by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times

Turkey’s Choice: Chinese Missile Defense or NATO? by Semih Idiz for Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse.

The Turkish government is negotiating to obtain a missile defense system from the Chinese Precision Machinery Import and Export Company, which also supplies military technology to Syria, Iran and North Korea.  The Turks said the Chinese bid is lower and offers technology transfer withheld by Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and other western bidders.  This is another example of the fact that China is now a global power, and not a regional east Asian power.

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The dawn of practical solar energy?

October 5, 2013

solar-costs-dropping

Over time and all other things being equal, the cost of fossil fuels goes up and the cost of technology goes down.  Meanwhile the Fukushima disaster reminds us of the dangers of keeping aging nuclear power plants in operation. Over time, solar electricity will look better and better.   It is necessary to keep in mind, though, that there are other costs in generating solar electricity besides the photovoltaic cells, and their price is not falling as fast.

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A call for a UN takeover of Fukushima

October 4, 2013

Mike Connelly reminded me the ongoing disaster and danger from the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan.  This article by Harvey Wasserman for Common Dreams summarizes the situation very well.

For decades the atomic industry claimed vehemently that a commercial reactor could not explode. When Chernobyl blew, it blamed “inferior” Soviet technology.

But Fukushima’s designs are from General Electric (some two dozen similar reactors are licensed in the US).  At least four explosions have rocked the site.  One might have involved nuclear fission.  Three cores have melted into the ground.  Massive quantities of water have been poured where the owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), and the Japanese government think they might be, but nobody knows for sure.

As the Free Press has reported, steam emissions indicate one or more may still be hot.  Contaminated water is leaking from hastily-constructed tanks. Room for more is running out. The inevitable next earthquake could rupture them all and send untold quantities of poisons pouring into the ocean.

The worst immediate threat at Fukushima lies in the spent fuel pool at Unit Four.  That reactor had been shut for routine maintenance when the earthquake and tsunami hit. T he 400-ton core, with more than 1300 fuel rods, sat in its pool 100 feet in the air.

Spent fuel rods are the most lethal items our species has ever created. A human standing within a few feet of one would die in a matter of minutes. With more than 11,000 scattered around the Daichi site, radiation levels could rise high enough to force the evacuation of all workers and immobilize much vital electronic equipment.

Spent fuel rods must be kept cool at all times. If exposed to air, their zirconium alloy cladding will ignite, the rods will burn and huge quantities of radiation will be emitted. Should the rods touch each other, or should they crumble into a big enough pile, an explosion is possible. By some estimates there’s enough radioactivity embodied in the rods to create a fallout cloud 15,000 times greater than the one from the Hiroshima bombing.

The rods perched in the Unit 4 pool are in an extremely dangerous position. The building is tipping and sinking into the sodden ground. The fuel pool itself may have deteriorated. The rods are embrittled and prone to crumbling. Just 50 meters from the base is a common spent fuel pool containing some 6,000 fuel rods that could be seriously compromised should it lose coolant. Overall there are some 11,000 spent rods scattered around the Fukushima Daichi site.

Dangerous as the process might be, the rods in the Unit Four fuel pool must come down in an orderly fashion. Another earthquake could easily cause the building to crumble and collapse. Should those rods crash to the ground and be left uncooled, the consequences would be catastrophic.

Tepco has said it will begin trying to remove the rods from that pool in November. The petitions circulating through www.nukefree.org and www.moveon.org , as well as at rootsaction.org and avaaz.org, ask that the United Nations take over. They ask the world scientific and engineering communities to step in. The Rootsaction petition also asks that $8.3 billion slated in loan guarantees for a new US nuke be shifted instead to dealing with the Fukushima site.

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Saving future generations from ourselves

September 29, 2013

Bill Moyers interviewed Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace on his show Friday.  The interview is worth watching both as an informative discussion of an urgent problem and as a portrait of a remarkable and charismatic individual.   The following is Moyers and Company’s description of the show.

As of this moment Vladimir Putin’s government is holding in custody the Arctic Sunrise, the command ship of the environmental activist organization Greenpeace International. The ship was seized by armed members of the Russian Coast Guard on Sept. 19 after Greenpeace activists tried to board an offshore oil platform as a protest against drilling for fossil fuels in the fragile environment of the Arctic, where global warming has reduced the sea ice cover 40 percent since 1980.

Naidoo tells Bill, “If there’s injustice in the world, those of us that have the ability to witness it and to record it, document it and tell the world what is happening have a moral responsibility to do that. Then, of course, it’s left up to those that are receiving that knowledge to make the moral choice about whether they want to stand up against the injustice or observe it.”

From his teenage years in South Africa, Naidoo was a vocal and powerful opponent of apartheid, incarcerated and beaten so often he finally fled to Britain, where he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford.  When apartheid ended, Naidoo went back to South Africa and became a prominent human rights activist with a growing concern for the impact of climate change on impoverished people of color.  In 2009, he brought his negotiating and advocacy skills to the leadership of Greenpeace International, now a worldwide organization of three million members.

Click on BBC News for more about the oil drilling protest in the Russian Arctic.

Hat tip for the video link to Jack Clontz.

Black swans and nuclear disasters

September 16, 2013

When I was a business reporter for the Democrat and Chronicle here in Rochester, N.Y., I interviewed, and largely believed, supposed experts on risk about how members of the lay public exaggerated the dangers of nuclear power.

These risk specialists said people feared nuclear power because they were prone to irrational fear of dangers that potentially are great, but whose possibility of actually occurring are so small as to be virtually non-existent.

fukushima-factsThe U.S. nuclear power industry did, in fact, have a good safety record.  Even after the partial nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, in 1979, it was possible to say that no identifiable American had died as a result of nuclear power.

Then came the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 which made parts of Ukraine a toxic wasteland.  I attributed the tragedy to Communists not being able to manage a nuclear power plant competently.

Such a disaster would be highly improbable in a Western country, I thought.  And the last place I thought such a disaster could happen was Japan.  Not only were the Japanese known for being meticulous about good engineering practice, they were the only nation to have suffered nuclear bombing and would be especially nervous and careful about anything nuclear.

By the time of the Fukushima disaster of 2011, I had read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan, and realized that the human tendency is to forget that the improbable is not impossible.  How likely was it it that a nuclear plant site would be hit simultaneously with an earthquake and a tidal wave?  Yet it happened.

Fukushima is an ongoing disaster that is much, much worse than anyone thought it could be.  Click on The REAL Fukushima Danger for a comprehensive roundup on Washington’s Blog to understand just how bad it is.

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