Enviromentalists vs. the Environment

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A brilliant piece by Robert Bryce highlights one of the more incredible recent developments in the Green Gaia world — the rising opposition of the soi disant “environmentalists” to a proven weapon against the dreaded Anthropogenic Global Warming that threatens destruction to Mother Earth. That weapon is natural gas — which, to put the point in a scatological way, is an afflatus of said Mother Earth.

Specifically, in the last year, the two major energy bureaucracies — oh, pardon me, “agencies” — have reported what one would naively suppose is very good news: America is dramatically cutting its CO2 emissions, thus sparing Earth further defilement! On May 24, the International Energy Agency (the IEA) in Paris and the US Energy Information Administration both reported that America’s CO2 emissions dropped by nearly 8% (430 million tons) since 2006, the greatest reduction recorded by any country in any region.

Yahoo! We’re number one! (Let’s all chant together: U-S-A, U-S-A!)

The reasons the IEA gives for that drop are that the US is using less oil, especially during this extended recession. But the biggest reason seems to be the flourishing of natural gas production brought by the use of fracking.

The drop in natural gas prices has led to a dramatic switch from coal to natural gas in generating electric power. Last year alone saw an increase in gas-powered electricity production by 34%, and a drop in coal-powered electricity by 21% — a decrease that lowered carbon emissions (not to mention air pollutants) dramatically.

Lawrence Cathles, professor of earth and atmospheric studies at Cornell, recently published a report arguing that moving our economy to natural gas would be a much quicker and cheaper way to replace coal than by moving to “renewables” (solar and wind energy) or even nuclear power — and it would lower carbon emissions by up to 40%.

But the major environmentalist groups, as well as the government regulatory agencies they control (such as the EPA), are still fighting fracking and pushing “green” energy.

What a joke.




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It’s a Gas

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The massive growth in the production of natural gas, the result of using unconventional sources and methods (mainly the fracking of shale deposits) continues to demonstrate how free markets can transform the world, even in the face of statist oppression.

Two recent Wall Street Journal pieces illustrate this anew. The first reports that another industry is now converting its vehicles from diesel to natural gas — an industry you might not think of offhand. Ferryboat fleets, both here and in Canada, are making the switch because of the continuing (shale-)rock-bottom prices of natural gas.

From Staten Island to Washington State and British Columbia, ferry fleets are following the lead of Norway, which a decade ago started fueling ferries with liquefied natural gas (LNG).

One attraction of natural gas is, again, its pricing. Natural gas at the Henry Hub distribution center (a standard benchmark for natural gas pricing) hit a low of $1.95 per million BTUs this year, the lowest price in 13 years. This, while diesel skyrocketed by 140% from 2004 to 2011.

A second attraction is that, if spilled, LNG doesn’t form a toxic slick that requires costly cleanup, even as it should be so unfortunate as to kill off wildlife, or tourists, or both.

Third, LNG is actually less likely to be unfortunate, because it is less inflammable than diesel.

Of course, the switch will take time and upfront investment — as for instance, to build plants to chill and compress the gas, and new holding tanks for the ships. But the cost savings make the decision obvious, even if the timing isn’t.

The second WSJ piece is of more — shall I say — global importance. It reports that more and more US utility plants are switching from dirty coal to clean natural gas, not because of EPA coercion, but because of the coercion of free-market pricing.

Coal consumption by American power companies dropped by 18.8% in the fourth quarter of last year, compared to the previous quarter, and 9.4% compared to the fourth quarter of the year before. Again, the switch was driven by the drop in natural gas prices.

Peabody Energy, one of the biggest coal producers in the world, now estimates that American coal demand will drop by 10% this year, or 100 million tons.

The free market is helping to reduce air pollution. Obama, are you paying attention?




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Abundant Resources

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Free market advocates have long argued that there is no shortage of fossil fuel (oil and natural gas) in the US, for as long as that is going to be the dominant energy source in this country — in other words, for the foreseeable future. We have argued that the US ought to use its own abundant supplies.

We argue this on national security as well as economic grounds. Building regulatory walls against exploiting our abundant fuel reserves deprives the nation of jobs and wealth, so it is economically stupid. This is obvious. But it should also be obvious that those walls channel money to regimes that wish us all manner of ills, even extermination — so the restrictions are strategically stupid. We send ever more troops to ever more dangerous places, so we can keep importing that which we have utterly no need to import.

It is with interest, therefore, that I note the complete lack of interest shown by the mainstream media in the congressional testimony of the federal government’s own Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding America’s fossil fuel reserves.

The GAO reports that the Green River Formation of shale (which lies under the area where Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming join) contains the world’s largest known oil shale deposit, holding an amount of recoverable oil equal to all the world’s proven oil reserves. In fact, Anu Mittal, director of natural resources for the GAO, testified that the formation contains about three trillion barrels of oil, about half recoverable with known technology. And remember — we can only guess at future technological improvements.

In fact, the GAO now estimates that the US has more by way of fossil fuel reserves than any other country on earth by far, with Russia in second place and Saudi Arabia a distant third. Bottom line: even while Obama is telling the public that we use 20% of the world’s oil and have only 2% of the known reserves, his own GAO reports that America has the largest reserves of fossil fuel on the planet.

But while Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other energy endowed countries are moving ahead to develop what they have, our government would rather block our own development. Go figure.




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Memo to Obama: Here’s How the Market Works

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President Obama is running a political campaign as predictable as it is despicable. It is based on attacking capitalism. “Markets never work, government always does” appears to be his meshuggeneh mantra. As it happens, two recent Wall Street Journal stories illustrate the free market (disparagingly called “capitalism” by its opponents) in action. Obama might want to reflect on them, though it is doubtful that he often reflects on anything — he seems to be the epitome of a reflexive instead of a reflective person.

The articles, appearing on the same day and the same page, report on the impact of the fracking revolution in natural gas production, a revolution that has dramatically decreased the price of natural gas — by nearly half in the last year alone.

The first article reports some good news about the rock-bottom prices for natural gas. The price is inducing companies with trucking fleets to switch from diesel to natural gas (NG) — either compressed (CNG) or liquefied (LNG).

For example, Waste Management is now buying NG trucks. It plans to make 80% of the new trucks it buys over the next 5 years NG trucks. The NG trucks cost about $30,000 more than ordinary diesel trucks, but save more than $27,000 a year in fuel expenses. Ryder Systems, a truck leasing company, is making the same move, with one of its vice presidents saying, “The economics favoring NG are overwhelming.”

Other corporations shifting their truck fleets to NG include such huge players as UPS and AT&T.

The article notes the standard problems facing fleets looking to convert to NG, such as the need for bigger tanks, and especially the lack of CNG or LNG fueling stations nationwide. But as the fracking gas revolution continues apace, it is likely that the price of natural gas will remain extremely low compared to diesel, so will tempt more and more gas stations to offer NG fueling pumps. And the article doesn’t note how much cleaner NG is than diesel, which means that as air pollution laws continue to tighten, the cost of diesel trucks will go up. Nor does the article note that as more fleets convert to NG, the price of NG trucks will start to fall as production of them cranks up.

On the bad news side, the companion piece reports that natural gas “giant” Chesapeake Energy has been beaten up by the low price of its product and is now investing heavily in unconventional drilling for shale oil. Specifically, Chesapeake is focusing on the huge Utica shale formation lying under the state of Ohio, betting billions to buy leases for drilling rights to about 5% of the state’s land.

This is either ballsy or balmy, depending on your tolerance for risk. The Utica field is estimated to contain between 1.3 and 5.5 billion barrels of oil, but the company has drilled only 59 wells, and of the nine about which it has released data, the information shows that oil is but a third of what is provided — the rest being mainly that damned cheap natural gas!

All this simply illustrates the view of pricing that Hayek and Kirzner enunciated: that pricing is an information transmission mechanism — more simply, a language. The price of a product tells both producers and consumers how to alter their behavior and plans for the future. When the price of natural gas went up not so long ago, it told producers to produce more, and they did — in spades! Now that it has plummeted while the price of oil has remained relatively high, it tells consumers to switch to it, and it tells producers of natural gas and oil to shift capital from producing the former to producing the latter.

All this would be illuminating to Obama, were he a man capable of illumination. But he isn’t, so it won’t.




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A Step in the Right Direction

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When there is good news, I will report it. In our mathematically “challenged” country, when people add 2 and 2 and — finally! — get 4, I will celebrate. I’m just that kind of guy.

To the idiocy of recent American energy policy — to the extent we have ever had one — I have devoted considerable attention in these pages. I’ve criticized it under Bush, and even more under Obama, because while Bush’s policy (which was to encourage both fossil fuel and “green energy”) was partly idiotic (the green part), Obama’s (which has been to end fossil fuels and substitute only green energy) has been completely, insanely idiotic.

But the free market, led by entrepreneurs (as opposed to academics, bureaucrats, or other parasites), working primarily on private property (as opposed to public lands, which this administration has locked away), and using private capital (as opposed to taxpayer money), has created a Renaissance of oil and natural gas production.

Even as solar, wind, and biofuel energy has generally proven economically unviable even with massive taxpayer subsidies, the new, unconventional, fossil fuel production — from sources such as shale formations and oil sands deposits, by hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling — has proven very viable, commercially. It has proven viable, please note, despite a firestorm of new regulations created by the Obama administration, which is eager to choke it off.

That's good news. Here's more.

The symbol of our idiotic energy policy is surely the Chevy Volt, produced by a socialized auto company but poorly received by almost all of society. It has been so poorly received that Government Motors has announced that it is suspending production of the “Sparky Lemon.” Even with massive federal and state subsidies, the whole EV concept has been a flop.

But a recent article in the WSJ reports some good news. A number of car makers are producing cars and trucks that can run on compressed natural gas (CNG), that now inexpensive and clean-burning fuel.

Start with Chrysler. It is announcing plans to build a line of bi-fuel (gas and CNG) powered Ram trucks. And GM is announcing that it will build bi-fuel Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Siena pickups in the fourth quarter of this year.

Honda Motor Company (not being government-run!) is nimbler. It has been selling CNG Civics since 1998 at 200 dealerships spread over 36 states. The starting price for these cars is about $26,600.

Ford, which already for several years has been offering CNG conversion kits for some of its cars, has announced that it will start offering some of its pickups with the option.

CNG-powered vehicles make great sense (as I have argued elsewhere). We can get all the natural gas we need from domestic sources, and it is relatively cheap. Indeed, you can buy conversion kits for any car, and gas compressors for your garage. But it makes most sense if the automakers make the cars powered by CNG right on the factory floor. First, that saves money — pure CNG cars don’t need catalytic converters, for example. And there are economies of scale.

Widespread conversion will take years, because people will move to CNG vehicles only when there is a widespread network of gas stations with CNG pumps. Still, it is a welcome development.

If Obama were sincere when he says, “My administration will take every possible action to develop this energy [natural gas],” he would merit some praise, and I would be happy to supply it. The problem is that in this matter (as in many others), he is lying through his teeth. He has bitterly fought fracking, using every tool in his administration — the Department of the Interior, the SEC, the Department of Energy, and even the Department of Agriculture — while locking away as much public land as he could.

Let’s hope a Republican administration (should we be lucky enough to see it replace the current, benighted one) would truly encourage the transition of vehicles to natural gas, and this country to energy independence. Most of the Republican candidates at least get energy, whatever else they don’t get.




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End the Green Nightmare

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There is currently a maelstrom of news about costly failures in the so-called green energy industry. Of course, solar power is prominently featured, and the Solyndra fiasco is only one of the scandals. Rapidly rising to public consciousness is another crony capitalist solar company, SunPower, which looks like it too will go bust and cost the American taxpayer a fortune. Also in this club of losers are solar companies such as First Solar and Abengoa, both again the recipients of taxpayer dollars, thanks to the current administration’s rigid environmentalist ideological mindset.

But not to be overlooked are disappointments in the other segments of the green energy industry. Corn-based ethanol has proven to be such a wasteful boondoggle that even Al Gore has rethought his support of it. And wind power has come in for a good deal of scrutiny. Why, even geothermal companies are proving questionable. A recent report of three on the biggest such companies — Nevada Geothermal Power, Raser Technologies, and U.S. Geothermal — shows that they are all in financial difficulty or are just not profitable. All are recipients all of taxpayer loans or loan guarantees.

This has left the proponents of green power trying desperately to explain away its dismal failure — both here and abroad — to prove itself commercially viable without massive governmental subsidization, and without the corruption that governmental subsidies typically bring. But while we are witnessing the bursting of the Great Green Energy Bubble, we are also witnessing a renaissance of fossil fuels — the very fuels that Malthusian prophets of doom have for decades claimed are “running out.”

This renaissance has been caused by a technological revolution that is transforming oil and gas drilling. Because of it, oil and gas are far more plentiful here and in countries outside the Middle East and other hostile neighborhoods, such as Russia and Venezuela. I am thinking especially of two technologies, fracking and horizontal drilling. The rebirth of fossil fuel production was unimaginable a few years ago. It is completely beyond the ken of the Greens who constitute the Obama Regime, people who never anticipate revolutions that are not run from above, by them, but instead originate in the distributed intelligence of regular (read: creative) people.

We are also witnessing a renaissance of fossil fuels — the very fuels that Malthusian prophets of doom have for decades claimed are “running out.”

Start with fracking. It has certainly made some energy companies rich. For, example, Noble Energy has just paid a whopping $3.4 billion for a half-interest in the Marcellus Shale holdings of Consol Energy. Together they plan to develop a huge chunk of Pennsylvania and West Virginia (663,000 acres). Even after selling off half its holdings, Consol still expects to extract a massive 350 billion cubic feet of gas.

What is fascinating is that Conrol Energy is a Pennsylvania-based coal company — you know, one of those, well, fossils of the fossil fuel industry. It is nicely positioning itself for the inevitable shutting down of coal-fired power plants under the relentless pressure of the EPA. Consol and Noble are just two of the flood of companies moving in to develop the Marcellus Shale formation.

Fracking is also rewarding key players in the industry. Marcus Rowland, the CEO of the small but important player, Frac Tech International, earned a tidy $24.4 million last year. His compensation made him the highest paid CEO of any publicly-traded energy company. He is paid more than the CEO of IBM.

Frac Tech is beating many other energy companies by providing hydraulic fracturing services for big energy companies such as Chesapeake Energy and ExxonMobil. It brought in nearly $1.3 billion in revenues. In the world of fracking, only Halliburton and Schlumberger are bigger.

There is a very recent report about the development of a shale field of truly stupefying proportions. The Utica Shale deposit is an enormous geological formation stretching from Quebec to Kentucky. It may be an even more fertile source for oil and gas than the Marcellus Shale field. Ohio state geologists — a neutral source, please note — estimate that Ohio’s share of this field holds upwards of 15 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 5.5 billion barrels of recoverable oil (or roughly a third of the production of America’s largest oil reserve, Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay).

Then there is brilliant article discussing one of the unsung creative geniuses of American industry, Harold Hamm. In a week dominated by paeans to the fallen Steve Jobs — who rightly deserved recognition for his amazing success in making Apple what it is — it was nice to see a piece on the remarkable Mr. Hamm.

Far from welcoming the renaissance of the American fossil fuel industry and the jobs it would provide, the Obama Regime has fought it tooth and nail.

Hamm is the founder and CEO of Continental Resources. He rose from humble origins — the thirteenth child of Oklahoma sharecroppers — to become thirty-third on the current Forbes list of wealthy Americans. Yes, Virginia, there is a Horatio Alger. Hamm is almost certainly going to rise to a much higher place on the list, given how much oil he owns.

He made his early success as a wildcatter with a keen sense of where oil could be found. But his greatest contribution was his early employment and improvement of a second innovative fossil fuel technology, a method called horizontal drilling. This is a technique whereby the drilling company drills downward (up to two miles deep), then drills outward, horizontally. This technology has — as dramatically as fracking — allowed energy companies to exploit petroleum and gas reserves hitherto not commercially viable.

Hamm is the discoverer of the famous Bakken oil field that extends from Montana to North Dakota. So fertile has this field proven that it has helped put America back in third place in the world in oil production. He estimates the reserves in Bakken alone at 24 billion barrels — which if true is double our currently proven national reserves. Continental has seen its proven reserves go from 118 million barrels in 2000 to 421 million barrels this year.

One might expect that the Obama Administration would be delighted at the prospects of America’s becoming energy independent — and potentially millions of American blue-collar workers getting high-paying jobs.

But one would be wrong.

Far from welcoming the renaissance of the American fossil fuel industry, the Obama Regime has fought it tooth and nail. It is attacking shale oil and gas with every tool at its disposal. Its Department of the Interior has undertaken a jihad against them. It has locked away from exploration and development vast new areas of the Midwest and has waged a war against conventional offshore drilling. It is now doing its best to stop the new technological drilling, even in lands that have been drilled conventionally before.

The Green Regime’s SEC has entered the fray, demanding that companies like Continental follow new Sarbanes-Oxley requirements about reporting royalty and production figures, meaning that CEOs like Hamm face jail time if some low-level operator misreports production from a field.

Ironically, the feds never apply Sarbanes-Oxley to themselves. If Obama or any of his administration misreports taxpayer liabilities, say, for solar industry loans, nobody faces any consequences.

In addition, the Regime is pushing de facto tax increases for the oil and gas industry, by ending various tax credits the oil industry has long enjoyed. This — coming from an administration lavish in its subsidies to minor and expensive energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and ethanol — is from the point of view of physical science simply bizarre.

Finally, the Green Dream Team has brought its Justice Department into the jihad. It recently brought charges against seven oil companies in North Dakota for killing 28 birds. Continental has been accused of killing — one bird! But this is not a minor matter: the executives face six months in jail if convicted. (Note: The same Justice Department has never even once pursued any American wind power company, even though American wind power facilities kill on the order of half a million birds a year.)

But even as the Regime wages its jihad against domestic fossil fuel industries, other countries are moving ahead with the new fossil fuel technologies. As I noted in an earlier piece, Israel has set about using fracking to free itself from reliance on foreign sources of oil, which would mean changing the balance of power in the Middle East. Israel is using fracking to exploit some major fields, the most recent being a field (named “Leviathan”) which holds 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or about a century’s worth of gas at Israel’s current usage. This field is only part of the massive Levant Basin shale field, which holds upwards of 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or about eight centuries’ worth.

More recently, a small energy player in the UK has announced that the Bowland Shale field, in northwest England, contains an estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This estimate (by Cuadrilla Resources) means that this one shale field contains enough natural gas for two-thirds of a century of the UK’s needs at present levels. And that is only one field.

The British boom is being echoed elsewhere in Europe, where other countries are also turning to fracked gas — except France, which has outlawed shale gas exploration altogether, one suspects to protect its nuclear industry from competition. But Poland, for instance, has an estimated 187 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. This is geopolitically game-changing, considering that Poland now has to import its natural gas from neighboring Russia, a country that historically has kept trying to incorporate Poland into its empire.

Note the extremism of Banks’ demand: don’t even explore, much less try to use, resources until they are proven, to her ilk, to be perfectly safe—something that will never happen.

This discovery in the UK comes just in time to stop its increasing dependence on natural gas from the Middle East and Norway. But — naturally — the British energy suppliers are facing the same kneejerk environmentalist opposition that Hamm and other American suppliers do. Soi-disant environmentalists in Britain are roused in furious opposition. Jenny Banks, the “energy policy officer” for the environmentalist group WWF (World Wildlife Fund) demands, “The government should at the very least halt shale gas exploration in Britain until more research can be undertaken on both the climate-change impacts and contamination risks associated with shale gas.” Note the extremism of her demand: don’t even explore, much less try to use, resources until they are proven, to her ilk, to be perfectly safe—something that will never happen.

What explains this visceral hostility to a product the human race desperately needs, and the pushing of forms of energy that have proven time and again to be commercial losers?

The answer is that much of the environmentalist movement consists of two groups: neo-socialists, and neo-Romantic pagans. The former profess a love of the ecosystem but are really animated by a hatred of capitalism. These are the people who never uttered a peep about environmental degradation when the Soviet Empire was cheerfully despoiling the ecosystem, but who now wax furious at the thought that a capitalist — a capitalist — should even explore for oil. Should Vladimir Putin or Hugo Chavez start using fracking, why, instantly, fracking would be fine.

The second group, even more bizarre, is populated by those I have characterized elsewhere as self-loathing hominids, i.e., people who are ideologically misanthropic. They view their own species as vile and disgusting, literally a blight upon the planet. The thing they fear most is precisely the discovery of inexhaustible, inexpensive energy. They fear it because such energy would allow the human race to flourish, and these self-loathing hominids do not want the human race to flourish. To them, rats and roaches are wonderful, but children are not.

You simply can’t please these worshipers of Thanatos.

But the rest of us should rejoice in the renaissance of fossil fuels. Unlike the green energy sources that have done so pathetically little to help humanity, it holds the promise of inexpensive energy on which our continued prosperity depends.




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