fracking

Olivia Alperstein: Trump to roll back limits on methane

The fracking process.

The fracking process.

Via OtherWords.org

September 11 is already an annual day of mourning. But while the nation grieved over victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan future generations may well grieve as a tragedy in its own right.

While Americans attended memorial services, the EPA announced plans to roll back regulations on methane — a powerful greenhouse gas that damages the world’s climate and threatens human health.

Methane carries up to 36 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide.

More methane emissions mean more lethal heat waves, extreme storms, rising sea levels, drought, and floods. They mean worsening air quality, water quality, and crop damage. They mean certain crops will lose nutritional value, and pest- and waterborne diseases will spread.

Specifically, the White House wants to kill the Obama administration’s 2016 New Source Performance Standards, which require oil and gas drillers to limit emissions of methane during fracking and flaring (the process of burning off gas that won’t be captured and transported).

It’s yet another big present to the oil and gas industry. Meanwhile, ordinary working families will pay the price, and so will their health. Children, the poor, the elderly, and those with a weak or impaired immune system are especially vulnerable.

The EPA itself agrees: Its own analysis concludes that the new proposed rules could send hundreds of thousands more tons of methane into the atmosphere. The EPA acknowledges further this would hurt thousands of people and rack up a huge cost in health care and agricultural damage.

There are short-term threats, too. Both fracking and flaring pose serious risks to nearby communities, including possible methane leaks.

Methane leaks are frequently accompanied by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known to be toxic and/or carcinogenic to humans.

VOCs carry a boatload of negative health impacts. For example, when combined with particulate matter in the presence of sunlight and heat, VOCs form ground-level ozone, a pollutant that aggravates chronic lung diseases, pre-existing heart problems, and asthma.

Put simply, they’re terrible for the air you breathe and the water you drink and the ground you walk on.

Fracking itself poses a danger. This past March, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York released a report showing that fracking increases the risk of serious medical conditions such as asthma, birth defects, and cancer.

A study by the Environmental Defense Fund found that the U.S. oil and gas industry emits 13 million metric tons of methane from its operations each year — nearly 60 percent more than currently estimated by the EPA.

This attempt by the EPA to roll back the methane rule undermines the health and safety of families and communities. It flies in the face of scientific and medical evidence that methane poses serious hazards to our climate and health.

We need more regulation of methane, not less.

The EPA is directly tasked with creating policies that protect human health and the environment. It’s reckless and irresponsible to weaken a rule that directly fulfills that mission.

Olivia Alperstein is the Media Relations Manager for Physicians for Social Responsibility

Alison Stine: Where the fracking industry dumps its waste

View of Athens, Ohio.

View of Athens, Ohio.

Via OtherWords.org

At Athens, my southeastern Ohio town in the Appalachian foothills, is a small, rural place where the demolition derby is a hot ticket, Walmart is the biggest store, and people in the surrounding villages must often drive for 30 minutes to grocery shop.

We hold the unfortunate distinction of being the poorest county in the state: an area that is both stunning — with rolling hills, rocky cliffs, pastures, and ravines — and inaccessible, far from industry.

It’s here, at the Hazel Ginsburg well, that fracking companies dump their waste. Trucks ship that sludge of toxic chemicals and undrinkable water across the country and inject it into my county’s forgotten ground.

My step-grandmother, the daughter of a Kentucky miner, used to tell me stories of washing her clothes in polluted red water, downstream from mines. Coal companies exploited employees like her father, paying him in company scrip and keeping him poor and exploiting the land.

That kind of abuse continues. It’s just changed shape. The Ginsburg well has a long history of violations, so many that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources ordered it shut.

It was not.

It’s a pit well, which looks like an old swimming pool, covered by a tarp. No sign indicates the presence of chemicals, just a “no trespassing” sign. Allegedly, a guard will snap your picture if you stop or turn your car around. The well is in a residential area, with houses — some with swing sets — just down the road.

In 2012, Madeline ffitch (whose last name is spelled lowercase and with the double ff) was arrested there. Her arrest was part of an action by a local anti-fracking group, Appalachia Resist. The then 31-year-old’s arms were locked into cement-filled plastic drums just before the gates, blocking the entrance.

Two years later, Christine Hughes, co-founder of the local Village Bakery, was arrested protesting against another well site, as were seven others. My town called them “the Athens 8” and they were hailed as heroes.

Ffitch and her young family continue to protest wells, despite the attempts of the fracking industry to, according to her, “paint anyone who is organizing resistance around this stuff as outsiders or extremists.” Her husband, Peter Gibbons-Ballew, was arrested in a peaceful protest in 2016, while ffitch watched, their baby strapped to her chest.

Our local economy now depends on tourism and farming. The long, humid growing season makes this part of Appalachia ideal for wild specialties such as pawpaws, black walnuts, and mushrooms. And many hunters stay here to be near our famous bucks.

By contaminating the environment, fracking wastewater wells threaten all these businesses. In 2015, tank trucks injected 4 million barrels of waste into my small county alone.

It’s hard to get answers about what it’s in that waste. But Jason Tremby, an engineering professor at Ohio University, is leading a local team to “clean” fracking wastewater using ultraviolet light, water softening techniques, and a high-pressure reactor.

It makes sense to me that a solution to the wells might come not from outside, but from people like ffitch, Hughes, and Trembly, working and living in Appalachia. People are used to doing things for themselves here — and used to the community helping the community.

I keep hoping more will be done to protect this place. “You want to forget it,” begins the Appalachian-born Ruth Stone’s poem “Garbage.” But the fracking waste in the injection wells of Appalachia can’t be forgotten forever.

It’ll bubble up, one way or another, before long.

Alison Stine is a novelist. Her most recent book is a novella, The Protectors. A longer version of this piece was produced by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. 

 

Offshore windpower: They'll come to love it

Excerpted from the Sept. 1 "Digital Diary'' column in GoLocal24.

It’s too bad that it has taken so long, but the completion of Deepwater Wind’s five-turbine wind farm off Block Island, R.I., is very good news for New England.

The facility, expected to start producing electricity inNovember, will mean that a little more of New England’s electricity will come from the region’s own sources andthat we might be able to use a little less natural gas from fracking.  That process, contrary to the corporate publicity and wishful thinking, does not slow global warming because the process releases so much methane from the fracking sites.  And the Block Island project will help reduce air pollution:  The island’s electricity has been produced by unavoidably dirty diesel fuel.

Further, success in getting this project up will boost, by example, much bigger offshore windpower projects planned for  nearby waters,  most notably between the eastern tip of Long Island and Martha’s Vineyard. Eventually, this should dramatically improve the reliability of our electricity and in the long run cut its cost as windpower technology improves.

As usual with such projects in places like Block Island, Deepwater Wind had to fend off some affluent summer people who were offended that they’d have to look at wind turbines (which many folks think are beautiful) on their horizon.  Most famously, a group of very few rich people in Osterville, Mass., led by Bill Koch (of the Koch Brothers) have managed to block the big Cape Wind project, which was to go up in middle of Nantucket Sound,  although the project has been supported by a large majority of theMassachusetts public. Yet again,  a few privileged NIMBYs have sabotaged the public interest. (I co-wrote (with Wendy Williams) a bookabout that controversy, called Cape Wind, later made into a movie called Cape Spin.)

The Obama administration and some states, including Rhode Island and Massachusetts have, to their credit, enacted laws and regulations to encourage offshore wind. This is especially attractive in the Northeast, with its reliable breezes and shallow water extending a lot further offshore than you see off the West Coast.

The Europeans have long embraced offshore windpower, for environmental reasons and to reduce reliance on fossil-fuel imports, especially from an increasingly aggressive Russia.

I predict that many current offshore-windpower foes will come to tolerate and even like the turbines’  curious beauty. And the fishermen will  come to love them because fish congregate in the supports of such structures.

--  Robert Whitcomb

Llewellyn King: DOE seduces and abandons innovative companies

I am not a government-basher per se. As a reporter, I have covered it too long to say that the bureaucracy is always incompetent and lazy. But I have also seen how the government wastes money, veers from one project to another, and is indifferent to any damage done by its autocratic ways.

The government, for better or worse, is the great risk-taker on new technologies. As such, it has added immeasurably to the wealth of the nation, from the creation of the technologies that led to the fracking boom and the Internet to the creative advances one now sees in airliners.

After the Pentagon, the Department of Energy (DOE) is the worst offender of the love-it-then-leave-it school of support for technology innovation.

The country is littered with the carcasses of abandoned projects, such as the Yucca Mountain nuclear spent-fuel repository, which was canceled by the Obama administration to please its political ally, Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.). Price tag: more than $15 billion.

This cancellation has had two other damaging effects: the first is there is still no permanent place to store nuclear spent fuel, which is piling up in America; and the second is the demoralizing of talented engineers and scientists by the government’s vacillation. These effects may be as huge as the price tag.

Gifted people throw themselves into government projects and move their families across the country to the work sites. Then the government says, “Thanks for your work on the project, but we are canceling it. Now, shove off!” These contractor employees do not have government protections; they are subject to government caprice.

In South Carolina, for example, a huge project to build a plant to blend weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel for civilian reactors is 70-percent completed and hanging by a thread. That is because after spending $5 billion, the DOE wants to do something else equally expensive, according to one consultant.

Or take Gen4 Energy, a small, Denver-based company that has been strung along by the DOE and now is preparing pink slips. Its plan is to build a small (25-MWe), advanced nuclear-power plant for use at mining sites, military bases and remote places that need electricity, such as Alaskan villages and those in less-developed countries. These reactors would work for 10 years and then would be swapped out and replaced with a new, factory-built module.

Robert Prince, Gen4 Energy’s CEO, who came out of retirement to lead the advanced reactor project, says it is a unique, safe design using tested materials and concepts. The Gen4 advanced reactor design was in the running for development funding from the DOE.

The DOE uses a device called a “funding opportunity announcement”(FOA), to encourage technology developers. In 2013, it issued an FOA and handed out grants of $1 million each to four advanced reactor designers, including General Electric, General Atomics, Westinghouse and Gen4 Energy.

The DOE’s next step was to issue another FOA. This time, the department planned to split $80 million over 10 years for just two designs, provided the grantees came up with their own $10 million. Gen4 and the others prepared detailed proposals and waited.

In January, the DOE picked two rector designs: one from a consortium that includes Bill Gates and the Southern Company, and the other from technology entrepreneur Kam Ghaffarian. Neither were in the first round.

The DOE decision hit Gen4 Energy particularly hard, as it was the smallest contender and probably the one most in need of DOE help as it labored on its design, which had originated in the Los Alamos National Laboratory and was due for feasibility testing at the University of South Carolina, according to Prince. “We really thought we had a shot,” he said.

Not so. Love from the DOE is a sometime thing. Just ask Prince, who now must tell investors and staff that the $10 million or so they have already spent is gone and the business must pack up, technology abandoned, lives shattered, hope sunk.

Gen4 Energy is not alone in its disappointment. Other companies with exciting designs for reactors are also disappointed. Careers, brilliant ideas, and untold dollars are lost in the way the DOE seduces and abandons people and technologies.

Llewellyn King is a longtime publisher, columnist and international business consultant (and friend of the overseer of this site). The piece originated at InsideSources.

Gregory N. Hicks: U.S. must stay at the trade table

  The Boston Tea Party remains one of the seminal events in American history, and it continues to resonate among political elites, because most Americans believe that the “Tea Party” was a protest about taxation without representation.

It really wasn’t. It was actually about the setting of rules for international commerce without representation. John Hancock, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, merchant, ship owner and one of wealthiest men in the colonies, along with the Sons of Liberty, instigated the Boston Tea Party because the British government had given the British East India Company a monopoly to transport tea to the colonies and sell it there, effectively excluding American merchants from competing in a trade in which they had been profitably engaged. From the very beginnings of our republic, Americans have demanded the opportunity to compete internationally on a level playing field.

Two thousand years ago, Roman Senator Marcus Tullius Cicero said “the sinews of power are money, money, and more money.” This observation is as true for the 21st Century as it was in the First Century BCE. National power comes from national prosperity.

Fifteen years into the 21st Century, it is clear that the international economy has entered a transition period similar to the change that occurred a century ago, when the United States emerged as the world’s leading economic power. When that occurred, the United States did not use its economic power to influence global events, instead adopting a foreign policy of isolationism and international disarmament.

“The business of America is business,”  said President Coolidge, and America’s insistence on repayment of World War I debts contributed to economic instability in Europe. Isolationism led to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, the Great Depression and World War II.

Fully cognizant of this history as well as the necessity of rebuilding the world’s economy after World War II, the U.S. government  leveraged America’s overwhelming post-war economic superiority to establish the dollar as the dominant currency of international finance and trade and to found the multilateral institutions that are the girders of today’s rules-based international economic system. The relatively level playing field for international commerce that was created has led to 70  years of economic growth and prosperity that has lifted millions from poverty.

Economies rose from the ashes of World War II by adopting key aspects of the American economic model, but in 1990, the United States was still the world’s largest economy. Our nearest competitor, Japan, had a GDP only 40 percent the size of America’s; China’s GDP was less than one-sixth the size of ours.

Today, the United States is no longer the world’s largest economy; that status belongs to the European Union. Most economists project that China will soon overtake the United States as the world’s largest national economy, although some argue that milestone has already been passed. Meanwhile, India’s economy is not too far behind.

Despite the emergence of multiple global economic competitors, the United States remains the acknowledged leader and fulcrum of the international economy. Five major trends in the global economy – the internet impact on international commerce, the emergence of global value chains, the oil exploration technology revolution, the rebound in U.S. manufacturing, and the resilience of the dollar after the 2008 financial crisis – illustrate the centrality of the United States to both the international economy and international relations.

We’re all familiar with the Internet’s impact on our daily lives, and at work, we experience the internet’s effects on productivity, but on a larger scale, it is also transforming international trade opportunities. For instance, E-bay and Amazon are fostering an Internet-based international retail revolution. The first company makes it possible for any individual to engage in an international commercial transaction. Any American who offers a good on E-bay could find that it has been purchased by someone from Ghana or Fiji; and the reverse transaction is equally possible. For its part, Amazon, based on its global warehouse network and relationships with modern logistical companies, has built a virtual mall in which customers can buy almost anything and have it delivered to their doorstep within a few days.

Internet communication has also made cross-border vertical integration of production, or global value chains, possible. Pioneered by Nike and improved by Apple, the process is perhaps epitomized today by Gilead, a San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company that is saving thousands of lives by developing and lowering consumer drug prices through innovative production arrangements with pharmaceutical producers in a number of developing countries.

Global value chains are inducing a reconsideration of the statistical analysis of international trade, which is changing perspectives on international economic policy. Analysts are grasping the importance of trade in intermediate goods, i.e., components or partially finished goods that are moving across borders through vertically integrated production processes. For the United States, one-third of exports and three-fifths of imports are intra-firm trade in intermediate goods.

A recent International Monetary Fund study looked at the major economic powers from the standpoint of domestic value-added (DVA) and foreign value-added (FVA) in their national output. The study found that China’s economy is the most dependent on foreign value-added content of any of the major economies, while the United States is the least dependent. The study also suggested that if China let its currency, the Yuan, appreciate, it would both move up the value chain and reduce the dependence of its economy on foreign inputs. Perhaps tellingly, China’s leaders have been allowing the Yuan to appreciate steadily over the past decade.

“Fracking,” that uniquely American technological innovation, is also changing the international policy landscape, and if the U.S. resumes exporting oil and natural gas, could have an even greater impact. The current policies of Arab oil-producing states clearly reflect their unease with growing American energy independence, while Europe, through employing fracking to develop its own energy resources or importing American oil and gas, has the potential to reduce its energy dependence on Russia by substantial amounts.

The manufacturing sector provides the tools of national power, and a newly released Congressional Research Service study suggests that all the talk of the demise of U.S. manufacturing is premature. While China became the world’s top manufacturing country in 2010, the United States remains second by a wide margin. In addition, U.S. manufacturing output grew between 2005 and 2013 by 5 percent, despite the Great Recession. Much of this growth was powered by inward foreign direct investment, 39 percent of which has been landing in the manufacturing sector.

Despite setbacks to the dollar’s reputation arising from the international financial crisis, the dollar continues to symbolize American economic strength and prowess. The dollar’s central role in international finance and trade provides unique avenues for the United States to use economic power in lieu of military intervention or other forms of pressure to resolve international problems. Yet that unique role is under competitive pressure as China, the European Union, Japan, Russia, India and Brazil all seek to put their currencies on an equal footing with the dollar.

International economic policy offers the U.S. government a range of tools to advance U.S. foreign policy and commercial interests in an increasingly competitive, multipolar environment. Among those tools, preferential trade and investment agreements positively affect more aspects of economies than any other. Not only do trade agreements lock-in existing trading and investment patterns, they create new links by eliminating trade barriers through reducing taxes and writing new trade and investment rules that go beyond those found in the 1994 World Trade Organization agreement.

In  national power, trade agreements not only generate economic growth, jobs, and tax revenue, but they also create economic interdependence among agreement parties. The voluntary acceptance of that interdependence is an unambiguous symbolic foreign-policy statement. In a multipolar world, such agreements are essential to economic competitiveness and peaceful coexistence.

Our competitors understand these characteristics very well, including the axiom, illustrated by the 1773 Tea Act that sparked the Boston Tea Party: “He who writes the rules, wins.” They are aggressively negotiating trade pacts around the world, changing the terms and rules of trade in their favor. Currently, the European Union, formed itself by a trade agreement, has 32 preferential trade agreements in place with 88 countries, and it is currently negotiating 12 agreements covering an additional 36 countries. India’s existing preferential trade network includes 26 countries via 14 agreements, and it is negotiating four new agreements covering 37 additional nations. Japan has implemented 14 agreements with 16 countries, and is negotiating three trade agreements covering 35 nations. China has 12 preferential trade pacts in force with 21 countries, and is negotiating three more agreements that would cover 14 additional states.

Completing both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations would expand the U.S. preferential trade network consisting of 14 agreements covering 20 countries to an additional 33 nations. TPP and TTIP involve three of the world’s top four economies and cover a majority of the world’s existing trade.

Moreover, they seek to write new trade rules that facilitate the growth of 21st Century international trading patterns such as e-commerce, global value chains, and foreign investment, among others. As importantly, they revitalize longstanding strategic relationships with our Asian and European allies, an important signal to both China and Russia that the United States intends to remain a competitive actor in Asia and Europe. Conversely, failure to complete these agreements would be an act of unilateral economic-policy disarmament with long term consequences for U.S. economic growth and national power.

In a 21st Century world that is more multipolar, more complex, more integrated and more competitive than the United States has ever experienced in its history, U.S. competitors and strategic allies alike – Brazil, China, the European Union, Japan, India, and Russia – are seeking to amass economic power and to deploy it as a leading element of their foreign policies. In many cases, they seek  strategic advantages through these efforts, often at the expense of U.S. interests.

International economic-policy tools such as trade negotiations provide an effective, peaceful means to compete with these challenges.   If we do not participate in making the rules for international trade, others will write our companies out of the competition, many jobs will be lost and many more never created, and our national prosperity and national power will decline. If they were alive today, John Hancock and the Sons of Liberty would support the negotiation of TPP and TTIP. We should too.

Gregory N. Hicks is State Department Visiting Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington; an economist and a veteran U.S. diplomat. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.  This piece stems from Mr. Hicks's remarks at the June 9 meeting of the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations (thepcfr.org)

 

 

Robert Whitcomb: Another trap in the energy cycles

A few years ago I co-wrote a book, with Wendy Williams, about a controversy centered on Nantucket Sound. The quasi-social comedy, called Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Energy, Class, Politics and the Battle for Our Energy Future, told of how, since 2001, a company led by entrepreneur James Gordon has struggled to put up a wind farm in the sound in the face of opposition from the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound — a long name for fossil-fuel billionaire Bill Koch, a member of the famous right-wing Republican family.  An amusing movie, Cape Spin,  directed by John Kirby and produced by Libby Handros, came out of this saga, too. Mr. Koch's houses include a summer mansion in Osterville, Mass., from which he doesn’t want to see wind turbines on his southern horizon on clear days.

Mr. Koch may now have won the battle, as very rich people usually do. Two big utilities, National Grid and Northeast Utilities, are trying to bail out of a politicized plan, which they never liked, forcing them to buy Cape Wind electricity. They cite the fact that the company missed the Dec. 31, 2014, deadline in contracts signed in 2012 to obtain financing and start construction. Cape Wind said it doesn’t “regard these terminations as valid” since, it asserts, the contracts let the utilities’ contracts be extended because of the alliance’s “unprecedented and relentless litigation.” Bill Koch has virtually unlimited funds to pay lawyers to litigate unto the Second Coming, aided by imaginative rhetoric supplied by his  very smart and well paid pit-bull  anti-Cape Wind spokeswoman, Audra Parker,  even though the project has won all regulatory approvals.

It's no secret that it has gotten harder and harder to do big projects in the United States because of endless litigation and ever more layers of regulation. Thus our physical infrastructure --- electrical grid, transportation and so on -- continues to fall behind our friendly competitors, say in the European Union and Japan, and our not-so-friendly competitors, especially in China. Read my friend Philip K. Howard's latest book, The Rule of Nobody, on this.

With the death of Cape Wind, New Englanders would lose what could have helped diversify the region’s energy mix — and smooth out price and supply swings — with home-grown, renewable electricity. Cape Wind is far from a panacea for the region’s dependence on natural gas, oil and nuclear, but it would add a tad more security.

Some of Cape Wind’s foes will say that the natural gas from fracking will take care of everything. But New England lacks adequate natural-gas pipeline capacity, to no small extent because affluent people along the routes hold up their construction. And NIMBYs (not in my backyard) have also blocked efforts to bring in more Canadian hydro-electric power. So our electricity rates are soaring, even as many of those who complain about the rates also fight any attempt to put new energy infrastructure near them. As for nuclear, it seems too politically incorrect for it to be expanded again in New England.

Meanwhile, the drawbacks to fracking, including water pollution and earthquakes in fracked countryside, are becoming more obvious. And the gas reserves may well be exaggerated. I support fracking anyway, since it means less use of oil and coal and because much of the gas is nearby, in Pennsylvania. (New York, however, recently banned fracking.)

Get ready for brownouts and higher electricity bills. As for oil prices, they are low now, but I have seen many, many energy price cycles over the last 45 years of watching the sector. And they often come with little warning. But meanwhile, many Americans, with ever-worsening amnesia, flock to buy SUV's again.

Robert Whitcomb oversees New England Diary.

Llewellyn King: Happy days for U.S. energy consumers

There is something extraordinary happening on Main Street, in the suburban strips, and at country stores: Workers are lowering the prices on the signs for gasoline. Veterans of the energy crisis that began in 1973 and has continued, with perturbations, ever since, are trying to get their heads around this enormous reversal of fortune: there is no energy crisis for any fuel in the United States as winter approaches.  

That was the message delivered loud and clear at the annual Energy Supply Forum of the United States Energy Association (USEA). Indeed the main problem, if there is one, is that oversupply is driving down some fuel prices, like for oil and natural gas, which could result in higher prices later as producers curb production.

 

"Who would have believed it?" asked Barry Worthington, president of USEA. This year the forum, which has been known to be filled with alarm and foreboding predictions, was full of robust confidence that the nation will breeze through the coming winter, and that consumers will pay less to stay cozy than they have for several winters — but especially the last one.

 

Stocks of gas and oil are plentiful. It is not just that heating oil will be cheaper, nature will also play a part: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a mild winter. No one is expecting a repeat of last winter's "Polar Vortex," which brought some big utilities close to being unable to meet customer demand in the extreme cold.

 

Mark McCullough, executive vice president for generating at American Electric Power (AEP), which serves customers in 11 states, described how the giant utility came close to the edge. This winter, McCullough thinks, things will be fine. But he is less sanguine about the future of AEP and its ability to deliver electricity in 2016 and beyond, if the Environmental Protection Agency holds firm on its proposed rule to curb carbon emissions from coal-fired plants.

 

AEP, which straddles the Midwest, has the largest coal-fired fleet in the country. McCullough said that his company had just come off extensive efforts with the so-called mercury rule and now was plunged into a very difficult situation. McCullough was joined by oil producers and refiners in worrying about another proposed rule from the EPA on ozone. Neither the utilities nor the oil producers and refiners feel that the EPA's proposed ozone regulation can be met.

 

In short, in a buoyant energy world, there are clouds forming. But unlike the last 41 years, these clouds are regulatory rather than resource-generated; public policy in their origin, rather than in the scheming of foreign oil cartels. Indeed, Robert Strout of BP confidently predicted that in a little more than 20 years, the United States could be energy self-sufficient.

 

The other problem going forward, in the new time of bounty, is energy infrastructure. The industry needs more pipelines to facilitate the shift from coal to gas; better infrastructure to get the new oil to the right refiners. (Refiners actually favor moving oil by train as well as by pipeline.)

 

USEA's Worthington, a veteran of energy crises of the past, said ruefully the other thing that might happen is that excessive domestic production and falling prices will lead to a period when producers will stall new production and prices will rise. "Markets do work," he said, commenting on the cycles of the hydrocarbon market.

For now, with international economic activity waning, and hydraulic fracking unlocking oil and gas at an astounding rate, this is a bonus time for the American consumer. For people like myself, who have spent more than 40 years commenting and reporting on the bleak energy future, this is indeed a time of astonishment. We had heard predictions of doom if China industrialized, expectations of steadily declining U.S. production, and more and more of our wealth being exported to buy energy.

Now, if Congress acts, we will be a serious exporter. This winter of our discontent is made glorious summer by fracking, as Richard III did not quite say. Astonishing!

Llewellyn King (lking@kingpublishing.com) is host and executive producer of "White House Chronicle'' on PBS and a longtime publisher, editor, writer and international business consultant.

Todd Larsen: Ditch Md. LNG unit and build wind farm

  WASHINGTON

Shortly before Congress left for its long summer vacation, Sen.  Barbara Mikulski tried to block a 150-megawatt wind farm.

The Maryland Democrat’s move would delay Pioneer Green Energy’s construction of the project in her own state until an independent study from  the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concerning the effects of wind turbines on naval radar testing at the Patuxent River Naval Base is completed.

While it’s understandable that Mikulski wouldn’t want anything to interfere with a major military installation, what makes her move inexplicable is that Pioneer Green Energy is already working with the base to ensure that its wind farm won’t disrupt the base’s radar, as required by law.

Technically, she’s seeking a delay via language inserted in a Department of Defense appropriations bill. But the postponement would potentially push the project’s timeline out past the qualifying deadline for tax credits. That could effectively end the project, no matter what the MIT study finds.

This is just one of many attempts to kill wind farms. Opponents have lodged about 50 lawsuits in this country and around the world against wind projects because they allegedly cause “wind turbine syndrome,” a discredited condition first described by a pediatrician in 2009. The alleged symptoms of the syndrome range from headaches to sleeplessness to forgetfulness. These symptoms haven’t held up in court: 48 of the 49 suits have been dismissed.

Wind power foes also object to clusters of turbines for aesthetic reasons and their potential to reduce property values. This concern doesn’t pass the sniff test either. An extensive Energy Department study found no “consistent, measurable, and significant effect on the selling prices of nearby homes.”

Other opponents fear that turbines will kill tons of birds. In reality, wind farms aren’t nearly as deadly to our feathered friends as office buildings and cats, just to name two major avian killers. And when was the last time you heard about someone trying to ban buildings and cats to save birds?

Even when the opposition to wind power fails — which it often does — the resistance hurts wind farm developers. It also sends a chilling message to an industry that lacks the deep pockets of fossil-fuel companies and lobbyists. And those oil, gas, and coal special interests are funding many of the attacks on wind and renewable energy in the first place.

What makes these assaults on wind particularly troubling is that the United States is rapidly moving forward with several projects that will ramp up domestic oil and gas production.

In fact, the United States is now on track to be the world’s top oil and natural-gas producer, and is a net oil exporter for the first time since 1995.

Much of this increased oil and gas output is being extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” And the toll of this method is becoming increasingly clear. From contaminated drinking water, to polluted air, to ruined infrastructure from endless trucks carting water, fracking is leaving its devastating mark on towns across the country.

Fracking, and fossil-fuel extraction in general, also contributes to boom-and-bust economies that siphon most economic benefits out of local communities, which are then left to deal with the resulting devastation on their own.

Maryland faces the same energy choices as the nation overall. While Mikulski’s legislative maneuvers may kill a major wind farm, Dominion Energy is working to build a $3.8 billion liquefied-natural-gas-export terminal on Maryland’s Eastern Shore called Cove Point. That facility would endanger local communities, increase pollution, and ramp up fracking in nearby states — potentially leading to fracking in Maryland itself — while boosting natural-gas prices in the U.S. market.

A Maryland judge recently ruled that zoning laws and the Maryland Constitution were violated in permitting Cove Point, which will slow the project. That gives the state and Cove Point’s Wall Street backers time to heed the concerns expressed by opponents of this dangerous facility.

Ideally, investors could shift the $3.8 billion going to Cove Point to wind power. That move would increase East Coast wind production by 50 percent, and create over 7,500 jobs. It would also serve as a model for the country in how to invest in a clean energy future.

Todd Larsen directs Green America’s (GreenAmerica.org) responsibility division.  This was distributed via OtherWords.org.

Addendum from Robert Whitcomb: People rarely think of the massive number of birds killed by air, water and soil pollution from fossil fuel.

Wenonah Hauter: Field day for fracking

U.S. and European Union negotiators recently began a new round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement. Because the talks are happening behind closed doors, the public is left largely in the dark about the nature of the discussions over a deal also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

So what, exactly, do we know?

Officially, not much. But an E.U. negotiation position “on raw materials and energy” was leaked to the Huffington Post in May. The text amounts to a wish list of demands from Big Oil and Gas that would lock in any of their investments in fossil fuels in general, and shale gas and fracking in particular.

Article C of the document states that no restrictions should apply to the “exports of energy goods” between the transatlantic trade partners. Any request, for example, for an export license to ship natural gas from the United States to the E.U. would be approved “automatically.”

That means no questions asked, even if this arrangement could lead to environmental damage from widespread use of fracking, increased gas prices for U.S. consumers, increased import dependency, and other problems.

This trade deal would lock in our mutual dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels at the expense of our climate. While it would bode well for the quarterly profits that oil and gas companies earn, this arrangement wouldn’t serve the public interest.

Largely unregulated energy commerce between the United States and E.U. would also be a frontal assault on the possibility for governments to impose a “public service obligation.” It could bar mandates for utility companies to deliver natural gas at certain prices to consumers, for example.

Any such public service obligation should be “clearly defined and of limited duration” and no “more burdensome than necessary,” according to the leaked draft. With such vague wording, lawyers will have a field day attacking any price regulation in the energy sector.

This leak shows that civil-society groups on both sides of the Atlantic have been right all along to be suspicious about what’s being negotiated behind closed doors. The expression “No news is good news” clearly doesn’t apply to the transatlantic free trade deal. The more we learn about the ongoing negotiations, the less we like it. Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of Foodopoly: The Future of Food and Farming in America. Foodopoly.org This is distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org).