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Published: Mon, 23 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

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Climate Lawsuits Against Big Oil Are Likely a Useless Distraction

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 14:00:00 -0500

New York City has joined seven California jurisdictions in filing public nuisance lawsuits against five major oil companies. The suit says BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell are responsible for 11 percent of the greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere. The plaintiffs want to "shift the costs of protecting the City from climate change impacts back onto the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat." New York specifically cites the costs of protecting its citizens against future sea level rise that will result chiefly from melting glaciers draining into the oceans and storms worsened by rising temperatures. "To deal with what the future will inevitably bring, the City must build sea walls, levees, dunes, and other coastal armament, and elevate and harden a vast array of City-owned structures, properties, and parks along its coastline," the suit says. "The costs of these largely unfunded projects run to many billions of dollars and far exceed the City's resources." Turning the tables on its municipal antagonists, ExxonMobil has filed a countersuit in a Texas court that aims to call out the hypocrisy of the California jurisdictions for issuing bonds without themselves mentioning any risks from climate change or sea level rise. "Notwithstanding their claims of imminent, allegedly near-certain harm," the lawsuit argues, none of the municipalities disclosed to investors such risks in their respective bond offerings, which collectively netted over $8 billion for these local governments over the last 27 years. To the contrary, some of the disclosures affirmatively denied any ability to measure those risks; the others virtually ignored them. At least two municipal governments reassured investors that they were "unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur, when they may occur, and if any such events occur, whether they will have a material adverse effect...." The stark and irreconcilable conflict between what these municipal governments alleged in their respective complaints and what they disclosed to investors in their bond offerings indicates that the allegations in the complaints are not honestly held and were not made in good faith. It is reasonable to infer that the municipalities brought these lawsuits not because of a bona fide belief in any tortious conduct by the defendants or actual damage to their jurisdictions, but instead to coerce ExxonMobil and others operating in the Texas energy sector to adopt policies aligned with those favored by local politicians in California. ExxonMobil seeks to depose various officials from the California cities and counties suing the company, to "investigate potential claims of abuse of process, civil conspiracy, and constitutional violations." Naturally, the cities are outraged that the honesty and integrity of their civil servants are being questioned. The San Francisco Chronicle reports: "It is repugnant that oil companies might sue public servants personally in an attempt to intimidate them from protecting their communities and environment," said John Beiers, county counsel for San Mateo County. "We will not be intimidated." Assuming that the emissions from the products sold by the oil companies are contributing significantly to the costs of adapting to climate change, are public nuisance lawsuits an effective remedy to the problem? Not really, suggests Case Western University law professor Jonathan Adler in his 2011 analysis of American Electric Power vs. Connecticut. In that case, several states and environmental groups sued five major power companies for the damages allegedly caused by their emissions of greenhouse gases from the generation of electricity. The dispute reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which narrowly decided that the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency was promulgating carbon dioxide regulations precluded the lawsuit. Adler observes: Libertarians and others have argued that using the common law to a[...]

Trump Seeks to Open Up Most U.S. Coastal Waters to Oil Drilling

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 08:30:00 -0500

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced Thursday it is beginning the process of opening up Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific, Alaskan and Arctic coastal waters to oil and gas exploration and production. Opening up the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to more oil and gas production is aimed at the Trump administration's goal of American energy dominance. The agency proposes to make over 90 percent of the total acreage of the OCS and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development, according to its official announcement. In contrast, the Obama administration had earlier put 94 percent of the OCS off limits. How much oil and gas might be found offshore? The DOI's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) estimates that perhaps 90 billion barrels of oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of natural gas might be technically recoverable offshore. Specifically, the agency estimates reserves of 48.5, 26.6, 10.2 and 4.6 billion barrels of oil in the Gulf, Alaskan, Pacific, and Atlantic coastal waters, respectively. A recent analysis finds that deepwater drilling in the Gulf breaks even at around $50 per barrel. The current price of crude in the U.S. is just shy of $62 per barrel. Drilling in other coastal water is likely to be significantly higher. For example, the breakeven point for drilling in the Arctic is estimated at about $100 per barrel. Consequently, when the price of oil averaged just over $40 per barrel in 2015, Shell Oil decided to abandon Arctic leases for which it had paid $2.1 billion. A group of 64 environmental organizations immediately denounced Trump's "radical five-year offshore plan" as "a shameful give-away that would sacrifice coastal communities, its economies, and our publicly-owned ocean waters." Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, declared, "Based on media reports, it is likely that the Department of the Interior will consider Florida as a potential state for offshore oil drilling – which is something I oppose in Florida. I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration." The environmental opponents argue that the costs of offshore drilling outweigh the benefits. One obvious concern is the damage that could be caused by oil spills. A 2017 Congressional Research Service report on oil spills reports - with the notable exception of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blow out – a steady decline in the number and amount of oil spills since the 1970s. Nevertheless, oil companies that might bid for oil and gas leases in the newly opened coastal waters are almost certainly aware that BP ultimately paid nearly $62 billion in fines and cleanup costs for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Signatories including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, the Wilderness Society, and many state league of conservation voter groups argue "the nation can meet its energy needs and grow jobs by investing in clean, renewable domestic sources like wind and solar that never run out," rather than "offshore drilling that puts America and marine life last and the bottom lines of private oil companies first."[...]

Will Opening Up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Spark Another Alaska Oil Boom?

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 14:30:00 -0500

"Please God, give me one more oil boom. This time I promise not to piss it away." I heard that phrase several times when I was on a lecture tour in Alaska in the early 1990s. In 1979, just two years after crude had begun flowing down the Alaska pipeline from the North Slope, the real price of oil was nearly $100 per barrel. By the time of my visit, the price had fallen to under $25 per barrel. Back then about 1.5 million barrels per day were arriving at the marine shipping terminal in Valdez. Today the total is under 500,000 barrels per day. The just-passed Tax Cut and Jobs Act authorizes the sale of oil and gas leases in a small section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), so Alaskans may get a shot at that extra oil boom. The region may contain as much as 10 billion barrels of technically recoverable petroleum. The Prudhoe Bay field next door was originally estimated to contain 25 billion barrels, of which nearly 13 billion have been produced. Naturally, environmentalist are upset. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), for example, declared: "As if this tax bill were not terrible enough, it goes after one of the most beautiful places on Earth. This is the biological heart of the refuge and will drive a stake right through it." Let's consider what's actually on the table. In 1980, Congress specifically set aside part of the ANWR coastal plain for future oil and natural gas exploration and production. The tax bill authorizes lease bids on just 2,000 more acres—about one-tenth of one percent of the 19 million acre refuge. While some may consider the mosquito-infested boggy coastal plain "beautiful," the fact is that the remote ANWR (including the more scenic mountain regions) receives between 1,200 and 1,500 visitors annually. Environmentalists claim that hydrocarbon exploration and production will disrupt the caribou herds that roam the refuge. This same argument was made when the original production from Prudhoe Bay began. But as drilling, construction, and production ramped up around the Prudhoe Bay region in the 1970s, the Central Arctic Herd actually expanded from 3,000 animals in 1972 to nearly 70,000 caribou by 2010. Since then the herd size has fallen to 22,000. Researchers don't blame the herd's decline on oil and gas production—which, after all, has not been increasing. Instead they cite increased mortality due to the late arrival of spring in 2013 and 2014. In addition, some animals from Central Arctic Herd migrated to join the larger Porcupine Herd. The Porcupine Herd, which roams areas of the ANWR where no oil or gas production or exploration has taken place, also experienced significant population ups and downs. In the 1970s, the herd contained an estimated 100,000 animals. That number rose to about 175,000 by 1990, then fell back to 125,000 or so by 2000. By 2013, the herd size had grown to 197,000. A report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game notes that number of caribou in Alaskan Arctic herds reached 700,000 in the first decade of the 21st century. This might have resulted in overgrazing, which is now contributing to the decline of some of the herds. In any case, it seems unlikely that oil and gas leasing in ANWR will drive a stake through its biological heart. Even if oil companies are interested in oil production in the ANWR, it will likely take at least a decade before crude begins flowing from the refuge, due partly to the technical complications of working in the Arctic and partly, of course, to the inevitable lawsuits coming from environmental activist groups. Disclosure: As part of my lecture fee, I extracted from my University of Alaska–Anchorage sponsors a visit to the Prudhoe Bay production facilities on the North Slope in February. It was around -50 degrees Fahrenheit (with a wind chill). The caribou were sensibly hiding out in the mountains far to the south.[...]

Fossil Fuel Divestment Is Not Going to Go the Way Bill McKibben Thinks

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 12:15:00 -0500

Calls for financial institutions to divest from fossil fuel producers have become a staple of climate activism. Bill McKibben, founder of the climate activist group, reprises the idea in a New York Times op-ed called "Cashing Out of the Climate Casino." On "a planet with a melted Arctic and a burning California," he writes, investing in or lending to a fossil fuel company is "the single most dangerous and reckless way to deploy money." McKibbens' group argues that world is experiencing a "carbon bubble." Fossil fuel businesses "are overvalued," argues, "because if and when the world ever gets serious about dealing with the climate crisis, the fossil fuel companies won't be able to burn their carbon reserves, from which they derive their value." McKibben's op-ed argues not merely that fossil fuel divestment would be wise, but that it's starting to happen. The Axa insurance company, he notes, has said it will divest from Canadian oil sands production. ExxonMobil, he adds, has agreed to do assessments of how climate change can affect its businesses. And the World Bank has declared that it will end all financial support for oil and natural gas projects by 2019. "Finance, not politics, may turn out to be the soft underbelly of the climate monster," McKibben concludes. But divestment will have an effect only if demand for fossil fuels falls signficantly in the future. As long as companies and consumers want to buy oil, gas, and coal, some institutions will want to invest in their production. So what does future demand look like? In 2015, fossil fuels accounted for 83 percent of all energy consumed. Oil made up 33 percent of that total, natural gas 23 percent, and coal 27 percent. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that fossil fuels will still account for 77 percent of global primary energy consumption in 2040. By then the agency expects humanity to consume 28 percent more energy than we do today. As a result, the EIA projects that global oil consumption will increase by 15 percent and natural gas by 41 percent, while coal consumption will essentially remain flat. The EIA's forecasters think global energy consumption from nuclear and renewable power will rise from 17 percent today to 23 percent by 2040. But it sure sounds like somebody will be financing and profiting from new fossil fuel wells and mines over the next couple of decades. Of course, these projections assume no truly disruptive technological developments with regard to energy production and consumption. The prices of solar panels continue to fall steeply, as do battery prices. And who knows? Perhaps regulators will finally get out of the way and allow tech entrepreneurs to develop and deploy novel nuclear power technologies like thorium and traveling wave reactors. Disclosure: Bill McKibben very generously blurbed my book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution.[...]

Blood for Oil

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 06:00:00 -0400

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann, Doubleday, 352 pages, $28.95 For more than a decade, members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma were quietly, systematically slaughtered for their oil money. In Killers of the Flower Moon, journalist David Grann describes how Congress made the Osage dependent on whites who could gain from their deaths and how leading Oklahomans conspired to perpetrate and cover up mass murder. He shows how a federal agent struck a blow against the killers, but he also reveals that the murders took place over a longer period of time, and claimed far more victims, than the government investigation suggested. It is, as Grann told one interviewer, a story of how "a system rooted in racism, done under the pretense of enlightenment," produced a "criminal enterprise that had been sanctioned by the U.S. government." As Grann's narrative begins, the Osage people—who twice had been forced to relocate, once from their traditional land in present-day Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, and once from the Kansas territory the U.S. government had promised would be their permanent home—were reaping their reward for settling in a portion of north-central Oklahoma that no one else wanted. They had secured the rights not just to the soil but to the minerals beneath it. That poor, rocky land sat on top of oil. By the 1920s, the oil boom was making the Osage people immensely wealthy. The year 1923 alone brought in over $30 million in royalties (more than $400 million* today). As one magazine writer put it at the time, "Every time a new well is drilled the Indians are that much richer.…The Osage Indians are becoming so rich that something will have to be done about it." Something was done about it. Under the guise of protecting the Osage from their money for their own good—white man's burden, don't you know—Congress in 1921 passed a law requiring Osage individuals to be appointed white male guardians until they could prove that they were competent. In practice, the greater the percentage of Osage blood one had, the more difficult it was to prove competence. And the whites who controlled the purse strings had a strong incentive to collude to rob and defraud their dependents. They also had an incentive to murder. An Osage individual's headright claim to oil revenues passed on to his or her legal heir, regardless of blood quantum or tribal affiliation. The first section of Grann's book is aptly titled "The Marked Woman." Mollie Burkhart was literally the last woman standing in her Osage family after her mother was poisoned, one sister was shot, and another sister was killed in an explosion. With each death, the headrights and the wealth they represented accumulated. Mollie herself would be attacked—white doctors in on the conspiracy professed to give the diabetic woman insulin while actually injecting her with poison—but ultimately was saved. The experience she had of mysterious death after mysterious death in her family, and her justified sense that she herself was being hunted, offer a taste of the terror endured by the Osage. Grann quotes the historian Louis F. Burns: "I don't know of a single Osage family which didn't lose at least one family member because of the head rights." Mollie's story also underscores the insidiously personal long-term betrayal represented by the killings. She would eventually learn that the white man she believed to be her loving husband and the caring father of her children was, in fact, acting on a scheme concocted by his powerful cattleman uncle, William "King of the Osage Hills" Hale, to infiltrate her family, murder its members, and inherit their oil revenues. The murderers didn't limit themselves to killing the Osage. Knowing they couldn't trust local law enforcement, some tribal members asked a white friend, oilman Barney McBride, to go to Washington, D.C., on their behalf and request a federal investigation into the death[...]

What Caused Venezuela’s Tragic Collapse? Socialism.

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 15:30:00 -0400

The collapse of Venezuela's economy is both horrifying and predictable, and the world needs to understand why.

Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves, and it was once Latin America's richest country. Today, most grocery store shelves are empty, and Venezuelans are so hungry that they're killing zoo animals for sustenance. Toilet paper, diapers, and toothpaste are luxury goods. Venezuelan hospitals have disintegrated, children are dying because they can't get antibiotics, and the infant mortality rate is higher than Syria. The capital city of Caracas is the murder capital of the world, and just 12 percent of citizens feel safe walking alone at night, which is the lowest figure reported in the world.

The government blames slumping oil prices for the desperate situation. The real cause is the socialist economy. The government sets the price of staples such as rice, pasta, and flour, resulting in chronic shortages. Former President Hugo Chavez nationalized industries, confiscated property, and kicked out foreign companies. The government is trying to print its way out of the crisis, resulting in a 700 percent annual inflation rate. After a sham election, President Nicolas Maduro, the handpicked successor of Hugo Chavez, is rounding up his opponents and putting them in jail.

Despite this, Maduro and his predecessor still have their defenders, ranging from Sean Penn to Michael Moore to Naomi Klein, who once signed a petition saying "We would vote for Hugo Chavez" and praised the autocrat in 2007 for creating "a zone of relative economic calm and predictability." In 2013, journalist David Sirota praised Hugo Chavez' "economic miracle," writing that the socialist leader had a "record that a legacy-obsessed American president could only dream of achieving.

The real lesson of Venezuela's tragic collapse is that real socialism always leads to economic breakdown and political repression. Those of us in wealthier, freer countries need to keep Venezuela in mind as we confront calls for more regulation and government control of all aspects of our own lives.

Produced by Todd Krainin. Written by Nick Gillespie. Camera by Jim Epstein.

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Peak Oil: What Ever Happened to Hubbert's Peak?

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 10:55:00 -0400

Crude oil production in the U.S. will reach an average of 9.9 million barrels a day in 2018, the Energy Information Administration projects in its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook report. This would surpass the previous record of 9.6 million barrels per day, set in 1970. So much for Hubbert's Peak. In 1956, geologist M. King Hubbert famously predicted, in a presentation to the American Petroleum Institute, that oil production in the U.S. would peak no later than 1970. To make his estimates, Hubbert added up all the plausible extrapolations of domestic crude oil reserves. His more conservative calculation assumed the ultimate production of 150 billion barrels, in which case production would peak in 1965. But if ultimate production could rise to 200 billion barrels, the peak would be delayed until 1970. Many people thought Hubbert's predictions were vindicated when U.S. production began dropping from its 1970 peak. In fact, domestic production of crude reached a nadir of 5 million barrels per day in 2008. (Had Hubbert's calculations been right, the U.S. would have been producing only about 2.5 million barrels a day that year.) As global oil prices began rising toward their highest levels ever, peak oil doomsaying had its heyday. My 2006 article "Peak Oil Panic" detailed many of those predictions of an impending petroleum catastrophe. The Princeton geologist Ken Deffeyes suggested in 2001 that global oil production would peak on Thanksgiving Day, 2006. Petroleum geologist Colin Campbell warned in 2002 that dwindling oil supplies would soon lead to "war, starvation, economic recession, possibly even the extinction of homo sapiens." In his 2004 book Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil, the Caltech physicist David Goodstein asserted not just that peak production was imminent but that "we can, all too easily, envision a dying civilization, the landscape littered with the rusting hulks of SUVs." In 2007, the German Energy Watch Group declared that the world had reached peak oil, and that this could soon trigger the "meltdown of society." At the peak oil alarmist website The Oil Drum, one prominent analyst declared in 2009 that global oil production had peaked at 82 million barrels per day in 2008 and would thereafter begin declining at a rate of 2.2 million barrels per day. Had that estimate been correct, world oil production would have fallen by now to about 62 million barrels per day. Instead, the International Energy Agency reported this month that global production now averages around 97 million barrels per day. Keep in mind that this level of production is taking place despite the political and economic chaos afflicting such major oil-producing countries as Venezuela, Libya, and Iraq. Peak oilers greatly underestimated the power of markets and human ingenuity to solve problems. (Think fracking.) The Energy Information Administration reports that the U.S. has cumulatively produced more than 200 billion barrels of oil. (So much for Hubbert's "ultimate production" calculations.) During that time, proven domestic oil reserves have never fallen below 20 billion barrels; they are now estimated at 32 billion barrels. A decade ago, at the peak of peak oil hysteria, I wrote that "the peak oil doomsters are probably wrong that world oil production is about to decline forever. Most analysts believe that world petroleum supplies will meet projected demand at reasonable prices for at least another generation." That's still true.[...]

Remembering Peak Oil: Saudi Arabian Production Was Supposed to Peak in 2006

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 15:30:00 -0500

(image) The world was running out of oil and the global economy was about to collapse as a consequence ten years ago. Imminent peak oil doom was everywhere and one of its leading proponents was banker Matthew Simmons. Among other things, Simmons based his prognostications on the claim that oil production in Saudi Arabia was about to peak and fall steeply, presaging an era of permanent global oil shortages. Simmons further suggested that global oil production had peaked in 2005 and would fall at a rate of 5 percent year thereafter.

To be fair, Simmons like most peak oilists fuzzied up his numbers and timelines enabling him to be vague about just what level Saudi production would achieve before beginning its inevitable decline. For example, one of the analysts over at peakist The Oil Drum site declared in 2009 that Saudi production had peaked at 9.6 million barrels per day in 2005 and projected that it would fall to around 7 million barrels per day by now. Simmons was a bit more canny and suggested that if Saudis worked really hard to boost production, they might briefly get to 12.5 million barrels per day. Even so, Simmons' main assertion in his book Twilight in the Desert was: "My research has convinced me it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia could sustain any higher oil output than it now produces, and that even the current production rate may be too high."

Simmons was sufficiently confident of his predictions that he took New York Times columnist John Tierney up on a bet in 2005 for $5,000 that the global price of oil would exceed an average of $200 per barrel in 2010. He lost.

So what did happen to Saudi Arabian production? According to Bloomberg News, Saudi production reached 10.7 million barrels per day in November and, as part of an agreed Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) cut in production, dropped back to 10.5 millon barrels last month. World oil production in 2005 - when it supposedly peaked - averaged 85 million barrels per day. The global average stood at over 97.2 million barrels per day in 2016. Of course, the peak oilers also failed to see the shale oil and gas revolution made possible by fracking and horizontal drilling that boosted U.S. oil production from 5.2 million barrels per day in 2005 to nearly 9 million barrels per day today.

If the OPEC production cuts don't hold, some analysts see oil prices falling back toward $30 per barrel later this year.

Dakota Access Pipeline Easement Will Be Granted By Army

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 17:15:00 -0500

(image) Well that was fast. According to Reuters, the Army Corps of Engineers has filed court papers stating that the agency plans to grant an easement that will enable Energy Transfer Partners to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline by drilling under the Lake Oahe reservoir. This action appears to be pursuant to an executive order signed late last month by President Trump instructing the Corps to "review and approve in an expedited manner, to the extent permitted by law" such an easement.

Environmental activists believe that preventing the pipeline's completion will help forestall man-made global warming by keeping oil in the ground. In addition, the local Sioux opposed it due to fears that it could leak and contaminate their drinking and irrigation water supplies. Nevertheless, the Corps completed and issued an environmental assessment (EA) with a "Finding of No Significant Impact" with regard to the construction of the pipeline beneath Lake Oahe. This displeased folks in the Obama administration who pressured the Corps into finding a way to stall the project. In December, acting Assistant Director of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy obliged by issuing a memorandum that voided the Corps' assessment. In addition, Darcy ordered that full-blown environmental impact assessment be conducted, a process that could take as long as two years more to complete.

That was then; this is now. Consider the fact that the regulators' environmental assessment last July had concluded that the granting the easement under Lake Oahe was appropriate. Nevertheless, at the direction of Obama administration officials, the Corps was ordered to revisit and revise its decisions which it duly did. Now the Trump administration has ordered to Corps to reconsider its reconsideration and revise its conclusions again which it is evidently doing.

One way to look at what is happening is that a highly politicized regulatory decision by the Obama administration is being corrected by the Trump administration. Those of us concerned about the rule of law on which activists, oilmen, and all other citizens hope to rely, might see the situation differently: The pipeline was stalled at the whim of one president and is evidently being green-lighted now at the whim of another. Whimsical regulation is bad for everybody.

Brutal Police Actions, Tactics Reported from Dakota Pipeline Protest

Tue, 22 Nov 2016 23:42:00 -0500

As the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline stretch into their seventh month, reports of brutal police attacks from the scene continue. Most of the available video from the protests is shot and transmitted by people on the scene. But in the past week or so police behavior has been garnering major newspaper attention, and most of the information below are from such sources. But a collection of livestreams from Sunday night's violence can be found here. • 21-year-old protester Sophia Wilansky had her arm seriously injured Sunday by what her family and other protesters insist was a concussion grenade tossed at them by law officers. Disturbingly graphic photos of the damage to Wilansky's arm can be found here, not for faint of heart. Her father Wayne Wilansky told The Guardian that: "The best-case scenario is no pain and 10-20% functionality,"...He said...the arteries, median nerve, muscle and bone in her left arm had been "blown away". Sophia will require additional surgery in the next few days and her arm may still have to be amputated, he added. "She's devastated. She looks at her arm and she cries," he said. Law officers denied to the Los Angeles Times that they used tossed any such thing at protesters.The Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council, reports The Guardian: refuted law enforcement's claims in a statement, citing eye-witness accounts of seeing police throw concussion grenades, "the lack of charring of flesh at the wound site" and "grenade pieces that have been removed from her arm in surgery and will be saved for legal proceedings". USA Today's report on the injury to Wilansky. • Law enforcement use of hoses to spray water on protesters in sub-zero [in centigrade, but in fahrenheit merely "below freezing"] temperature caused, activists insisted, 200 cases of hypothermia. The Los Angeles Times reports law enforcement's side: Footage of the protest from the independent news outlet Unicorn Riot showed officials specifically targeting protesters with the water cannon, though the water pressure was not turned up high enough to knock anyone down... Water cannons have not often been used for crowd control in the U.S. in recent years. "It's a fairly nonstandard application," said Richard Odenthal, a former L.A. Sheriff's Department captain...Odenthal said the L.A. Sheriff's Department had once discussed whether to adopt a water cannon for crowd control, but decided against it, citing famous footage from the 1960s of Southern police officials turning high-powered fire hoses on black protesters. "We decided that wasn't an image we wanted to portray," Odenthal said. Herr, the Morton County sheriff's spokeswoman, said that a fire department had brought a water hose to help put out a brush fire and that officials at the scene decided to repurpose it against the protesters, citing "aggression from the agitators in the camp [who] continued to raise their level of resistance against law enforcement." • Details from The Intercept via reports from medic's on the scene: "What it was like was people walking through the dark of a winter North Dakota night, some of them so cold, and sprayed with water for so long, that their clothes were frozen to their body and crunching as they walked. So you could hear this crunching sound and this pop-pop-pop, and people yelling [to the police], 'We'll pray for you! We love you!'" [Linda] Black Elk [a member of the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council] said, describing the scene as police sprayed protesters with water and fired tear gas and rubber bullets during the more than six-hour standoff. "All of a sudden there were these bright, blinding spotlights, so you could see each other, but you couldn't see [the police]," she said. "Every once in awhile you could hear someone scream who had been hit by a rubber bullet." In the midst of the[...]

U.S. Oil Reserves Bigger Than Saudi Arabia's

Tue, 05 Jul 2016 12:31:00 -0400

The Rystad Energy consultancy has just released its new calculations of global oil reserves and estimates that the U.S. may harbor as much 264 billion barrels of oil compared to Saudi Arabia's 212 billion barrels. Overall, world oil reserves exceed 2 trillion barrels. At current production rates, this is enough oil to supply the world for 70 years. The Rystad analysts compare their estimates with those of the closely watched annual BP Statistical Review that conservatively calculates that the U.S. has 55 billion barrels of proved reserves and that world reserves stand at just under 1.7 trillion barrels. ExxonMobil's 2016 annual Outlook for Energy report observes: Technology is not just expanding our daily oil production; it also continues to increase the amount of oil and liquid fuels we can count on for the future. In 1981, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that remaining global recoverable crude and condensate resources were 1 trillion barrels; today, the IEA estimates that it is 4.5 trillion barrels – enough to meet global oil demand beyond the 21st century. By 2040, the amount of resources yet to be produced will still be far higher than total production prior to 2040, even with a 20 percent rise in global oil demand. However, the folks at Rystad do note that ... ...cumulatively produced oil up to 2015 amounts to 1300 billion barrels. Unconventional oil recovery accounts for 30% of the global recoverable oil reserves while offshore accounts for 33% of the total. The seven major oil companies hold less than 10% of the total. This data confirms that there is a relatively limited amount of recoverable oil left on the planet. With the global car-park possibly doubling from 1 billion to 2 billion cars over the next 30 years, it becomes very clear that oil alone cannot satisfy the growing need for individual transport. Well, maybe. As I explain in my book The End of Doom: The the advent of self-driving vehicles could provide a technological end run around such projections of a growing vehicle fleet. Instead of sitting idle for most of every day, as the vast majority of automobiles do now, cars could be rented on demand. Researchers at the University of Texas, devising a realistic simulation of vehicle use in cities that took into account issues like congestion and rush-hour usage, found that each shared autonomous vehicle could replace eleven conventional vehicles. Notionally then, it would take only about 800 million vehicles to supply all the transportation services for 9 billion people. That figure is 200 million vehicles fewer than the current world fleet of 1 billion automobiles. ... In addition, a shift to fleets of autonomous vehicles makes the clean electrification of transportation much more feasible, since such automobiles could drive themselves off for recharging and cleaning during periods of low demand. Back in 2000, former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Yamani famously declared, "The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil." Given technological trends that prediction still sounds right.[...]

Venezuela Spends Millions on Incredibly Dumb Things While Its Economy Collapses

Mon, 16 May 2016 14:38:00 -0400

Venezuela is on the verge of both economic and social collapse, and the Bolivarian socialist government headed by President Nicolás Maduro is lashing out at any everyone from "whingeing" factory owners (who lack the raw materials they need to produce anything of value) to the U.S. government, who he accused of formenting a coup when he extended the nation's state of emergency last Friday.  The style of socialism introduced to the oil-rich country by Maduro's predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, was credited by Salon's David Sirota with creating an economic miracle as recently as 2013. But the disaster currently unfolding is more than just a failure of socialism.  Venezuela has been spending a fortune on unnecessary and ridiculous expenditures for years. That is, when government officials haven't been (allegedly) stealing billions in oil profits and pocketing the cash outright. Despite sitting on the world's largest oil reserves and having nationalized oil production, Venezuela spends $45 million a year on Pastor Maldonado — an undistinguished Formula One race car driver with a predilection for crashing a lot — who essentially serves as a walking billboard for the country's oil company. Wasting taxpayer money on sponsoring a loser athlete is bad enough, but what could possibly be the justification for spending that kind of cash to advertise the national oil company, which by definition has no competition? The waste and graft surrounding sports doesn't end with Maldonado. Formula Freak reports that following Chavez's death in 2013, "Alejandra Benitez, the Venezuelan minister of sports, found that her falsified signature had moved over 65 million in sporting-fund dollars to places in which it did not belong." In 2007, as part of Chavez's ambition to "combat American cultural hegemony," he forked over nearly $18 million for "scripts, production costs, wardrobe, lighting, transport, makeup and the creation of the whole creative and administrative platform" of a prospective Danny Glover-helmed film project about a Haitian slave revolt. The film never went into production.  Pro-free market types enjoyed a good laugh when the country's largest beer company ceased production last month, as a direct result of a lack of access to foreign currency and a domestic currency now more useful as toilet paper than legal tender, but the situation in Venezuela grows more tragic by the day. Though supermarket shelves are pretty much empty these days, for the past two years the government has been fingerprinting shoppers to prevent "hoarding," which itself was also made illegal. As could be completely expected by such scarcity of basic items needed to live, much less live in any semblance of comfort, Bolivarian socialism has spawned a thriving black market.  "In a system that mirrors the rationing implemented across communist countries last century," Andrew Rosati writes in Bloomberg, "Venezuelans are allotted certain days of the week that they can purchase goods deemed most essential by the government." The hole in the marketplace is now filled by entrepreneurs known as bachaqueros, who in turn "have developed their own ecosystem, rules and regulations." Though Maduro would classify any unauthorized transaction as emblematic of the "economic war" he imagines himself fighting, the economic realities his movement has created have led to "Doctors and accountants moonlight[ing] as cooks at restaurants" and everyday survival the only matter of concern to the populace.  Electricity has been rationed and the workweek has been cut to two days. The government, never known for its tolerance for dissent dating back to Chavez's earliest d[...]

What Is Congress Hiding?

Wed, 09 Mar 2016 06:00:00 -0500

Every fiscal year, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires the House and Senate to enact 12 separate discretionary spending bills, one for each appropriations subcommittee (Agriculture, Defense, Homeland Security, and so on). They have failed to meet this minimum requirement since 1994. When Republicans re-took the Senate in November 2014, thus ensuring GOP control over both houses of Congress, they vowed to change all that. "One of my challenges is to try to convince some of my members that passing an appropriations bill is a good thing, not a bad thing," incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told The New York Times. "The Senate basically didn't do squat for years." Yet squat is still the order of the day. While the unified Congress did manage for the first time in six years to pass a budget resolution—the also-required, nonbinding baseline blueprint from which the appropriations bills are supposed to be carved—the appropriations process once again devolved into an ungainly, unreadable, last-minute mess of legislation called the omnibus. Clocking in at $1.1 trillion for Fiscal Year 2016, and stuffed with bills that even the relevant committee chairs had no idea were going in (see "The Last Honest Man in Congress," page 32), the best thing that can be said about the omnibus was that at least it wasn't another continuing resolution. Continuing resolutions (or C.R.s, as they are known in D.C.), keep the federal government funded for short stints while politicians continue arguing about the appropriations bills they refuse to pass. In practice, they increase the frequency of can't-miss deadlines—and, during periods when Congress is divided, round-the-clock headlines—after which money for all "nonessential" purposes runs out. That hypothetical was realized on October 1, 2013, when a cutoff to appropriate funds for the next fiscal year came and went without even the band-aid of a continuing resolution. House Republicans had passed a package that purposefully did not include money for the Affordable Care Act. President Barack Obama and the Democrat-led Senate refused to consider the bill. For 16 days the government went into power-saver mode, until a heavily criticized GOP gave in and passed a C.R. that funded Obamacare. Since that moment, Republicans—particularly their new House Speaker, Paul Ryan (R–Wis.)—have preferred that their white-knuckled deadlines come less frequently, and without the noisy arguments over a shutdown. In October, as Ryan was on the verge of taking the gavel from John Boehner (R–Ohio), the House passed a two-year budget deal to increase federal spending by $80 billion, remove the 2013 sequestration caps on military spending, and suspend the debt limit until March 2017. In one fell swoop, the comparative fiscal discipline imposed during the divided-Congress era of 2011–2014 was discarded. The main drama left was seeing how exactly lawmakers would divide up the spoils. Omnibus packages, which combine at least two and usually more individual spending bills, offer several advantages to members of Congress at the direct expense of their constituents. By combining so many disparate elements into one big legislative glop, representatives leave a much smaller paper trail against which they might be held accountable for their votes. By coming in a must-pass rush, the packages become ripe for gaudy earmarks and tailor-made rule-changes benefiting favored interests. In the eyes of the political press, the up-or-down vote becomes a referendum on legislative responsibility where the only wrong answer is no. The 2,009-page omnibus (along with an extra 233 pages of tax extenders) for Fiscal 2016 was introduced on December 16, passed by both chambers on December[...]

Sanders and Clinton Both Against Fracking: Flint Democratic Debate

Mon, 07 Mar 2016 09:05:00 -0500

During the Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders both weighed in against hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling to produce oil and natural gas. Never mind that the fracking revolution has essentially doubled U.S. daily oil production from a recent low of 5 million barrels in 2008 to nearly 10 million barrels now. The same technology has also greatly increased daily domestic natural gas production from 44 billion cubic feet in 2005 to 76 billion cubic feet now. Rising U.S. oil and gas production has been partially responsible for the recent steep fall in the prices for both. In fact, production of both has increased so much that the U.S. is actually exporting crude oil and natural gas. When asked about fracking Secretary Clinton answered: I don't support it when any locality or any state is against it, number one. I don't support it when the release of methane or contamination of water is present. I don't support it -- number three -- unless we can require that anybody who fracks has to tell us exactly what chemicals they are using. So by the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place. And I think that's the best approach, because right now, there places where fracking is going on that are not sufficiently regulated. So first, we've got to regulate everything that is currently underway, and we have to have a system in place that prevents further fracking unless conditions like the ones that I just mentioned are met. Sanders responded: My answer is a lot shorter. No, I do not support fracking. ... And I talk to scientists who tell me that fracking is doing terrible things to water systems all over this country. First, contrary to assertions by both Clinton and Sanders, a preliminary report from the Environmental Protection Agency last year noted that the agency's scientists "did not find evidence" that fracking has "led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States." Second, most states already require that drilling companies reveal what chemicals they are using to frack wells and list them on the FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry. Third, the ongoing switch from coal to natural gas (methane) to generate electricity is largely responsible, according to the EPA, for the recent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 7.4 billion tons in 2005 to 6.9 billion tons in 2014. (On the other hand, some recent research suggests that U.S. methane emissions into the atmosphere have also increased, but burning natural gas has offset the global warming effects of any such increase.) Clinton and Sanders either (A) don't know the actual results of research on fracking or (B) they are simply pandering to the environmentalist wing of their party. I pick (B).[...]

Did ExxonMobil Lie About What It Knew About Climate Change?

Fri, 06 Nov 2015 13:05:00 -0500

New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued subpoenas on Wednesday to oil giant ExxonMobil demanding that it turn over internal communications regarding what the company knew about the risks of climate change. Shades of Watergate: What did the company know, and when did it know it? The investigation by the grandstanding attorney general follows in the wake of a long-standing claim by some environmental activists that oil companies have sought to confuse the debate over climate change in the service of their profits. On top of this, activists have been more recently pushing the notion of a "carbon bubble" stemming from the argument that in order to protect the climate most hydrocarbon assets will have to remained buried. As a consequence, companies that own those assets will become bankrupt. Maybe. But in its 2014 World Energy Outlook report, the International Energy Agency projects that global oil production will rise from 90 million barrels to 104 million barrels per day by 2040 and that fossil fuel use will increase overall by 37 percent. In any case, Schneiderman is specifically seeking evidence that ExxonMobil knew, but failed to warn its shareholders, about climate risks to its assets. In recent months, activists claimed to have uncovered "smoking gun" documents from ExxonMobil showing that the company did in fact know that emitting carbon dioxide by burning oil and natural gas was causing climate change. The activists cite a 1977 memo by Exxon scientist J.F. Black which summarizes: What is considered the best presently available climate model for treating the Greenhouse Effect predicts that a doubling of the C02 concentration in the atmosphere would produce a mean temperature increase of about 2°C to 3°C over most of the earth. The model also predicts that the temperature increase near the poles may be two to three times this value. Interestingly, this is about the temperature range for a doubling of atmospheric CO2 in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is 1.5°C to 4.5°C. The 1977 memo also notes the many uncertainties about the sources of CO2, the primitive state of climate models, and so forth. ExxonMobil has made the early climate change memos cited in the recent reporting available to the public. The executives in the company were clearly aware that future climate change caused by burning fossil fuels could become a significant problem in the coming century. On the other hand, the internal reports do take into account important uncertainties about climate prognostication. In a recent article, the Los Angeles Times makes much of the fact that in the early 1990s, ExxonMobil researchers and engineers were evaluating how global warming might effect the company's arctic operations. As the LA Times however reports one the lead engineers ultimately ... ...did not recommend making investment decisions based on those scenarios, because he believed the science was still uncertain. However, he advised the company to consider and incorporate potential “negative outcomes,” including a rise in the sea level, which could threaten onshore infrastructure; bigger waves, which could damage offshore drilling structures; and thawing permafrost, which could make the earth buckle and slide under buildings and pipelines. Smoking gun? Not really. It would be surprising for executives and engineers not to evaluate all kinds of scenarios as they consider long term capital investments. And ExxonMobil researchers and executives were not alone in their uncertainty about the future trajectory of climate change. In 1992, the National Academy of Sciences issued a big report, Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming[...]