Archive for Peak Oil


What the Frack is Going On?

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Via WaterWired


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Who Needs A Transit Master Plan?

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This is the second post in a series about Asheville’s Transit Master Plan. To readers who are familiar with how local public policy works this post’s subject might seem a bit basic.

“Of course you start with a Master Plan before you overhaul infrastructure!” those readers are probably thinking to themselves, “You can’t expect decision makers to approve systemic changes without hard data and stakeholder input first!”

But this series isn’t for the choir. It’s for those trying to understand how the coming changes to public transit were made and how these changes will effect them.

So let’s start at the beginning: Why the heck did we need a TMP in the first place? The City of Asheville shelled out about $100,000 to Nebraska-based HDR Consultants for this. What did taxpayers get?

For starters, for the first time Asheville now has a science-based, objective set of data that redefines the Asheville Transit System (ATS) to work as effective transportation infrastructure.

When City Council commissioned this plan in 2008 their were a number of objections about the TMP that are worth addressing now:
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The Spill

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Frontline, the PBS in-depth news documentary series, recently did a one hour program about the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf. Frontline has a knack for uncovering backgrounds of stories usually lost between the headline narratives. They have won numerous awards including Pulitzer, Peabody, and Emmy. The BP Oil Spill should have been the type of rich story where they could do some eye opening journalism. Alas, they didn’t.

Greg Palast explains why:

“Despite press release hoo-hahs that this Frontline investigation would break news from a deep-digging inquiry, what we got was ‘Investigation by Google,’ old stuff from old papers that PBS forgot to report the first time around.
What us viewers were handed was a tale that could have been written by the PR department at BP’s competitor Chevron. The entire hour told us again and again and again, the problem was one company, BP, and its ‘management culture.’ (They used the phrase management ‘culture’ seven times – I counted.)
PBS sponsor Chevron is desperate to resume drilling in the Gulf. Shell is drooling over its delayed offshore project in Alaska’s Arctic seas. If they can isolate BP, the horror show can go on.”

Having watched it myself, I found the program lacking. It spent considerable time developing BP’s recent appalling safety record and board room drama, but comparatively little time on the Gulf spill itself. Having made the argument that BP’s cost cutting culture led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it could not really connect the dots beyond the obvious fact that Deepwater Horizon happened after the other accidents. And it didn’t spend any time on what happened in the days and weeks after the well blew.

Important questions about regulatory capture, the world’s increasing appetite for oil in the face of dwindling supply, and the total lack of disaster response preparedness were laregely ignored. You wouldn’t even know Halliburton and Transocean were partners on the rig, having barely been mentioned. If this was Frontline’s big investigation of the biggest environmental disaster in US history, they failed by sticking too close to an already familiar thesis: BP is not interested in safety. D’ya think?

It might be tempting for everyone involved, including John Q. Public to let this disaster fall down the memory hole. Frontline’s puff piece only aids in the process. Joe Barton could become chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee. The other BP apologist, Rand Paul, won his Senate bid in Kentucky. Those of us concerned about Peak Oil and Climate Change or any of the number of other issues raised by this event need to keep workin’ it.

Read more about the current activities of the Oil Spill Commission here and here.

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Toy Trains

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Last month Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cancelled what was the largest public works project in America. Dubbed Access to the Region’s Core (or ARC), the project was to build a new tunnel under the Hudson River which would expand commuter rail service from the overcrowded trains in service now which use a 100 year old tunnel.

The project had been put on the drawing board about twenty years ago. In the last several years, cost estimates had been developed which had an unfortunate habit of increasing. The first estimate done in 2005, which was described as “ball-park” was $5 billion. The project started last year with an estimate of $7 billion which was increased by $1 billion for contingencies. The latest round of cost estimates conceded the possibility of the project going over that by another $4 billion. Still, the burden for funding the project was split between New Jersey, the New York Port Authority, and the Federal Government.

New Jersey is broke. Well, kinda. They are up to their ears in red ink, having accumulated $50 billion of debt in the two last decades. Christie is a Republican who is not entertaining any possibility of tax increases, instead he is using spending cuts to close a $10 billion deficit just last year. As soon as there was a hint that the ARC project might have cost overruns, he immediately sought to kill the project.

The project might have had a $4 billion overrun. But that might have happened over a ten year project timeline. New Jersey will have something on the order of $300 to $330 billion in tax revenue and $4.5 trillion GDP during that time. New Jersey’s Household Income is the second best in the nation. See? Kinda broke. This tunnel would have dramatically expanded rail service to the largest city in the country, had a positive impact on jobs and property values, while decreasing road congestion and gasoline consumption. But because the state “doesn’t have the money,” New Jerseyans will just have to suffer with congested trains and congested roads. Read More→

Change is hard. You see that most when people who can change and should change don’t change. We voted for change in 2008. There was no mistaking that. President Obama campaigned vigorously on this theme and seemed to personify it by his very being. So you can imagine how hard change is when people who are all about change don’t want to change.

Bill McKibben recenty visited the White House to be told: there will be no change to the roof of the White House, no solar panels will be installed there. Conservatives, I’m sure, will shower lavish praise on President Barack Hussein Obama for continuing this tradition first established by Ronald Reagan. Progressives on the other hand, well here’s McKibben…

And a confession. We’d walked past Obama’s official portrait on the way out, and despite the meeting we’d just had, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that he was president. I could remember my own enthusiasm from two years ago that had me knocking on doors across New Hampshire. I admired his character and his smarts, and if I admire them a little less now, the residue’s still there.

And so I couldn’t help thinking — part of me at least — like this: The White House political team has decided that if they put solar panels on the roof, Fox News will use that as one more line of attack. Jimmy Carter comparisons aren’t what the administration is after.

If that’s their thinking, I doubt they’re on the mark. As far as I can tell, the right has a far better understanding of the power of symbols. Witness the furor they’ve kicked up over “the mosque at ground zero.” My feeling is that we should use the symbols we’ve got, and few are better than a solar panel.

To be fair, if I were in the West Wing, THERE IS NO WAY I would accept Jimmy Carter’s solar panels, other than to donate to the Smithsonian. Instead, I would put up the latest and greatest photovoltaics money could buy. As McKibben says, a few solar panels are symbolic, but we need symbols in order to get the rest of the country to think about changing its habits. And we need capitols around the world to do the same thing.

The right wing and the main stream media parrot chamber might want to obsess over White House solar panels like they did the Ground Zero Mosque, or any of the other concocted scandals pointed out by Tom. These are just opportunities (now missing) for the administration to segue into all the positive things they are doing about clean energy. There is no reason to worry about linking solar panels to Jimmy Carter anymore. It is far better to link them to the BP disaster. It’s about clean energy versus dirty energy. Carter’s dilemma was about energy austerity versus prosperity. This administration’s dilemma is be about choosing the right kind of energy. [Note how austerity is bad energy policy but great fiscal policy!]

Change is hard when you let your fears run wild and imagine only negative outcomes. But change can be easier when you grasp the positive outcomes the change will bring, and have the confidence to forge ahead and make the arguments to convince fellow citizens. The West Wing lackeys are playing from an outdated political playbook. 2008 happened. It is time for the White House to be the change it wants to see.


Is Conservation the Cure?

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toyota_prius008It seems so obvious. If everyone uses less oil, via sexy hybrid cars, or on the dole public transport, we’ll actually burn less gas, drill fewer seabeds, spill less lube and spew less carbon into the atmosphere. But if you said that, you’ve never met a man named Jevons. For he would tell you one thing: efficiency improvemnts only create more demand for the very fuel you’re trying to conserve.

If conservation is not the answer, what about generating new sources of fuel from crops? The 2005 Renewable Fuel Standard mandates greater biofuel usage over time and provides tax credits for biofuel producers. That ain’t no unfunded mandate. Problem solved. Just one thing. For biodiesel, the Renewable Fuel Standard never gets biodiesel beyond 5% of diesel fuel supply. So now all the sexy new diesels coming on the market (which are about 25% more efficient than their gasoline siblings) won’t accommodate anything more than B5 (5% biodiesel, 95% regular diesel). Never mind that my 1976 diesel Mercedes runs B100 without a problem (though 35 year old cars do encounter problems.) In that sense diesel engine technology has gone backwards, with Congressional approval.
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President Peeking at Peak Oil

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53900178Yesterday, President Obama gave a press conference at the White House on the BP Oil disaster in the Gulf. After weeks of building criticism over the administration’s handling of the crisis, the President was able to give a more robust explanation the administration’s efforts, capabilities, and vision for the future. I will leave the debate about the handling of this crisis to you, the readers, should you wish to engage in it. Please feel free to make your thoughts known in the comments. What struck me was this little gem:

“Now, let me make one broader point, though, about energy. The fact that oil companies now have to go a mile underwater and then drill another three miles below that in order to hit oil tells us something about the direction of the oil industry. Extraction is more expensive and it is going to be inherently more risky.

And so that’s part of the reason you never heard me say, ‘Drill, baby, drill’ — because we can’t drill our way out of the problem. It may be part of the mix as a bridge to a transition to new technologies and new energy sources, but we should be pretty modest in understanding that the easily accessible oil has already been sucked up out of the ground.

And as we are moving forward, the technology gets more complicated, the oil sources are more remote, and that means that there’s probably going to end up being more risk. And we as a society are going to have to make some very serious determinations in terms of what risks are we willing to accept. And that’s part of what the commission I think is going to have to look at.”

And the day before, the President at a Fremont, California facility that manufactures solar panels:

“And the spill in the Gulf, which is just heartbreaking, only underscores the necessity of seeking alternative fuel sources. We’re not going to transition out of oil next year or 10 years from now. But think about it, part of what’s happening in the Gulf is that oil companies are drilling a mile underwater before they hit ground, and then a mile below that before they hit oil.

With the increased risks, the increased costs, it gives you a sense of where we’re going. We’re not going to be able to sustain this kind of fossil fuel use. This planet can’t sustain it. Think about when China and India — where consumers there are starting to buy cars and use energy the way we are. So we’ve known that we’ve had to shift in a fundamental way, and that’s true for all of us.”

From these remarks, it is clear that the administration is starting to at least take a peek at Peak Oil. Over at the Energy Information Agency, which just put out their annual forecast a couple weeks ago, world supply of liquid fuels will increase through 2035. Though the report hints at Peak Oil through higher real price forecasts and a larger proportions of biofuels or adding other “unconventional sources” to the mix while keeping “conventional” liquids flat. The administration is not yet connecting the peak oil dots, publicly anyway.

And perhaps they shouldn’t. The most important thing to do is to change the mindset of the American people about energy. We have a long way to go on that. The last President to wear a sweater in the White House to conserve energy was the last President to wear a sweater in the White House to conserve energy. That was thirty years and five Presidents ago. The blackened Gulf should become a symbol far more powerful than a presidential sweater to be used in moving us off oil. If tarred beaches don’t get our attention then the next stop is drowned beaches — drowned by the rising sea level caused by anthropogenic global warming caused by indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels.

Full Press Conference transcript.

Full transcript of Solar Plant speech.

Full 2010 Energy Information Agency Annual Energy Outlook Report.

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Strive Not to Drive – Day Five

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Rained out.

I asked a dear friend how she goes about multi-modaling on days like today. She told me she wears a rain jacket, rain pants, and sandals. Further, she told me that she works at a job where it’s o.k. to look gross. As I don’t have that sort of gear and need to look semi-presentable at various locations today, I hopped in my truck today to do my thing.

It was a wonderful week. I walked, biked, and took transit Monday through Thursday. I’m excited to continue these choices and to schedule my time with multi-modal transportation in mind.

I’ll also need to purchase some more gear!

Thanks, Asheville, for a week to remember.


Strive Not To Drive

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SNtD week runs from Monday, May 17 – Friday, May 21. Lots more information to come. Sign up here.

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Sustainable Las Vegas

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citycenter_2I was recently on the floor of the Luxor walking in between craps and blackjack tables when I seemed to have gotten the most absurd idea in my head: Sustainable Las Vegas.  I thought about whether there might be an organization advocating for a more sustainable way of doing things in the Sin City.  But the mere juxtaposition of the word sustainable with Las Vegas made me burst into seemingly uncontrollable laughter.  Since I was by myself and there were at least a hundred people around me, I tried to regain my composure.  As I did I thought, “Well, if the idea doesn’t pass the laugh test, that means my gut is telling me that this whole place is going the way of The Sands1, and probably sooner than later.”  Is that the case?

I think of Las Vegas as living off of three major resources.  These are oil, water, and illusion.  While the last is virtually inexhaustible, the first two are finite and currently buckling under increasing pressure to supply a growing and resource intensive population worldwide.  So let me first deal with illusion.

An illusion will appears after the jump… Read More→

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