Tuesday, April 26, 2011

EPA Shuts Down Drilling in Alaska

Shell announced today, for now, it must end a project to drill for oil off the coast of Northern Alaska, because of a decision made by an EPA appeals board to deny permits to acknowledge that Shell will meet air quality requirements. This is not part of ANWR.

Companies that drill for oil must go through extensive permitting processes and invest billions of dollars as payments for leasing the land, exploring for possible oil fields, equipment, etc. This is all done with the understanding that assuming they follow the letter of the law, there is a chance that this investment won’t be flushed down the toilet at the end of the tunnel. It appears that in this case Shell has followed procedure and that emissions will be below any standards required by the EPA:

The EPA’s appeals board ruled that Shell had not taken into consideration emissions from an ice-breaking vessel when calculating overall greenhouse gas emissions from the project. Environmental groups were thrilled by the ruling.

“What the modeling showed was in communities like Kaktovik, Shell’s drilling would increase air pollution levels close to air quality standards,” said Eric Grafe, Earthjustice’s lead attorney on the case. Earthjustice was joined by Center for Biological Diversity and the Alaska Wilderness League in challenging the air permits.

Talk about moving the goalposts. They must have been really desperate to cancel this project given that this was the best straight-faced excuse they could muster. Not only do you have to be below the legally required emission limits but you must also not even be “close” to the limits, as defined by unelected officials, one of whom is a former attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Events like this are a prime example of why many in Congress want to strip authority from the EPA. Shell had reportedly invested over $4 billion in this project. When companies make investment decisions, consideration is given to whether or not bureaucrats can make arbitrary decisions to shut the project down halfway through a multi-year process. There are many other countries with natural resource reserves who do not subject economic activity to such unpredictable insanity, and in the eye of a corporation, after an event like this these locations begin to look preferable to dealing with the United States.


Birds versus windmills again: Birds win one

Long live the whooping crane and the piping plover!

A couple of major players in wind energy are tangling over the cancellation of a big project in North Dakota. Xcel Energy is pulling out of the wind farm, a step its partner, enXco said it will challenge.

The $400 million, 150-megawatt Merricourt Wind Project is supposed to be built this year in southeast North Dakota, but construction is in doubt now, after Xcel Energy announced that it's rescinded its agreement to be part of the project.

Xcel's only comments have been a prepared statement and a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In the SEC filing, it said a major factor in the decision to pullout was the "adverse impact this project could have on endangered or threatened species." Jeff Towner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said there are two species in question -- "[t]he endangered whooping crane and the threatened piping plover."

Towner recommended in the summer of 2009 that the wind farm address the threat posed to the two bird species. Towner says he told the onsite developer, enXco, to request a federal permit for the project. If the permit were granted, it would allow a certain level of bird kill or injury of the rare species at the Merricourt Wind Project. "I was hopeful that they would follow through," said Towner.

The federal regulatory process can take months, sometimes more than a year. But Towner didn't see anything until last week. That's when enXco filed a draft plan on how the company would lessen the threat to birds at the wind farm. Towner says the company has indicated it is also working on the permit request, but so far nothing has been filed.

enXco said in a news release that it is still working on the bird questions, but refused MPR's request for an interview.

For its part, Xcel Energy hinted that it's not happy with its partner's handling of the federal bird issue. In the SEC filing, the company says there exists "uncertainty in the cost and timing in mitigating" the wind farm's impact on the two rare species. That impact could be expensive.

Towner said the owners of the wind farm could face up to a year in jail or a $200,000 fine if either the whooping crane or plover were injured or killed at the wind farm without federal approvals in place. "Any company needs to be diligent that that does not occur as part of their project construction or operations," said Towner.

The troubled project has provoked a lot of reaction. The American Bird Conservancy praised Xcel Energy's pullout. The group cited government estimates that almost half a million birds die each year through collisions with wind towers.

In North Dakota, though, wind energy supporters are unhappy. A member of the North Dakota Public Service Commission says he's going to ask enXco and Xcel Energy to explain what's going on.


What happens when the great fantasies, like wind power or European Union, collide with reality?

It might seem strange to link global warming and the futility of wind farms with the ongoing collapse of the euro. But in several directions at the moment we can see the unfolding of one of the hidden patterns shaping human affairs, which years ago I called “the fantasy cycle”. It is a pattern that recurs in personal lives, in politics, in history – and in storytelling.

When we embark on a course of action which is unconsciously driven by wishful thinking, all may seem to go well for a time, in what may be called the “dream stage”. But because this make-believe can never be reconciled with reality, it leads to a “frustration stage” as things start to go wrong, prompting a more determined effort to keep the fantasy in being. As reality presses in, it leads to a “nightmare stage” as everything goes wrong, culminating in an “explosion into reality”, when the fantasy finally falls apart.

Recent events show us two huge examples of this cycle moving to its final stages. One is the belief, which took hold 20 years ago, that the world was in the grip of runaway global warming, caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases. The planet could only be saved by abandoning fossil fuels and drawing our energy from wind and sun. For a while (the dream stage), all seemed to go according to the theory. As CO2 levels rose and the Earth continued to warm, our politicians started to propose every kind of drastic measure to reduce our emissions, such as building thousands of wind turbines. But in all sorts of ways, in the past few years, this dream and the theory behind it have begun colliding with reality.

Carbon dioxide levels continued to rise, but global temperatures failed to follow. Three times in the past 13 years – in 1998, 2006 and 2010 – they spiked upwards, thanks to periodic shifts in a major Pacific ocean current – the phenomenon known as “El Niño” – which brings warm water to the surface and boosts temperatures across the world. Each time it was trumpeted as “the hottest year ever”. But each time, as the ocean current reversed into “La Niña”, the spike was followed by an equally sharp cooling.

In 2007, temperatures fell by 0.75C, more than the entire net rise recorded through the whole of the 20th century. After they rose again to a new El Niño peak in 2010, we were told, only three months ago, by the compilers of the two chief surface-temperature records – the UK Met Office, in association with Phil Jones of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, and James Hansen of NASA – that 2010 was the “equal warmest” or “second warmest” year ever.

Last week, however, with a new La Niña, it was reported that global temperatures, as measured by satellites, had fallen by 0.65C since March 2010, making the world cooler now than its mean over the past 30 years. Yet again the computer models, predicting that, thanks to rising CO2, the world should have warmed in the past decade by 0.3C, have proved hopelessly wrong.

If it hasn’t looked too hot for the theory on which our politicians base their plans to change the world, then last week it looked equally dodgy for what has been one of the most grandiose of their responses to this supposed crisis. Two sets of figures exposed more than ever the degree of delusion which surrounds the wish of our governments, in Brussels and in Westminster, that the centrepiece of our energy policy must now be to build even more windmills.

The report that drew most media attention was that from a Scottish environmental charity which focused on the fact that last year, despite our building yet more turbines, the lack of wind meant that they operated, on average, at only 21 per cent of their capacity – the lowest percentage ever. Several times, when demand was at record levels, the contribution of wind to our electricity supply was virtually zero.

Less attention was given, however, to figures put out by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, showing that the 3,168 turbines we have built, at a cost of billions of pounds, contributed on average, if very irregularly, only 1,141 megawatts to the national grid last year – less than the output of a single large coal-fired power station. From the DECC figures it is possible to work out that, for this derisory contribution, we paid through our electricity bills a subsidy of nearly £1.2 billion, on top of the price of the electricity itself.

Thus, in return for less than 3 per cent of our electricity, nearly 7 per cent of our billls were made up of hidden subsidies to the wind developers, a percentage due to treble and quadruple in coming years as the Government strives to meet EU “renewables” target by building up to 10,000 more turbines, at a cost of £100 billion. The dream of using the wind to keep our lights on is being shown by reality to be one of the most absurd fantasies of our time.


The sustainable development hoax

Sustainable Development” (SD) is basically a slogan without a specific meaning. Linked to Earth Day (April 22), it masquerades as a call for clean air, green energy, and suggests a pristine bucolic existence for us and our progeny—forever. But in reality, it has become immensely useful to many groups who use the slogan to advance their own special agenda, whatever they may be.

The term itself was invented by Gro Harlem Bruntlandt, a Norwegian socialist politician and former prime minister. After her term there, she landed in Paris and, together with Club of Rome veteran Alexander King, began publicizing SD. Indeed, the concept is a successor to the neo-Malthusian theme of the Club of Rome, which began to take hold around 1970 and led to the notorious book Limits to Growth. In turn, the “Limits to Growth” concept was developed a few years earlier by U.S. geologists like Preston Cloud and King Hubbert. In a report published by a panel of the National Academy, they promoted the view that the world was running out of resources: food, fuels, and minerals. According to their views, and those of the Club of Rome and Limits to Growth, most important metals should have become unavailable before the end of the 20th century.

(King Hubbert, of course, is best known for the concept of “Peak Oil” which achieved wide-spread popularity in the past few years. Princeton geologist Kenneth Deffeyes gained fleeting fame for his book “Hubbert’s Peak,” which predicted that world oil production would peak in 2008. Of course, it must peak sometime, but the date will be set by economic and technological factors that are difficult to predict.)

In turn, these neo-Malthusian concerns were opposed by the so called “Cornucopians.” Their leading apostle was certainly the late Julian Simon, who went somewhat overboard in the other direction. Many will remember Julian Simon's famous bet with Paul Ehrlich, the noted Stanford University doomsday prophet, concerning the unavailability of minerals by 1990. Simon won the bet but he was certainly off-base in predicting that there would be no end to crude oil on this planet. Fossil fuels, of course, are essentially non-renewable. No matter how slowly they are used up, once used up, they are gone and not replenished over any reasonable time periods.

But in a certain sense this does not matter. Oil may become depleted—at least low-cost oil—but its essential function is to produce energy. And there we have a variety of ways to create energy for many millennia or even longer —based on nuclear fission.

The debate between neo-Malthusians and Cornucopians came to a head in a 1969 symposium of the AAAS, published as a book titled “Is there an optimal level of population?” Both sides recognized that population levels and growth rates are equally important in discussing the possible depletion of resources. Those proposing larger populations, like Julian Simon, seemed oblivious also to the environmental costs that would rise rapidly as the natural ability of the environment to absorb waste is exceeded.

But all this is history. SD lives on because it is useful in selling various policies. Some examples are:

1) Restrictions on the use of fossil fuels, under the guise of “saving the climate”

2) Transfers of resources to less developed nations—now justified for climate reasons (but of course, quite contrary to resource conservation)

3) Striving for world government and UN sovereignty—all for “sustainability”

4) Promoting a green energy future, using a solar and wind

5) Advocating negative population growth, etc.

Among the worst policies being pushed with the help of SD is a scheme called Contraction and Convergence (C & C). The idea is that every human is entitled to emit the same amount of CO2. This of course translates into every being on earth using the same amount of energy—and, by inference, having the same income. In other words, C & C is basically a policy for a giant global income redistribution.

Since the SD concept has been popularized, it has become a fashionable topic for research papers, especially in the social sciences. We may yet live to see the day when trendy universities establish programs to teach SD—and eventually even departments of SD and endowed academic chairs. Never underestimate the drive for expansion in the academic world.

For Earth Day 2011, the National Association of Scholars (NAS), composed mostly of conservative-leaning academics, released a Statement that critiques the campus sustainability movement. NAS president Peter Wood said:

“Sustainability sounds like a call for recycling and clean drinking water. But its proponents are much more ambitious. For them, a sustainable society is one that replaces the market economy with top-down regulation. They present students a frightening story in which the earth is on the brink of disaster and immediate action is needed. This is a tactic aimed at silencing critics, shutting down debate, and mobilizing students who never get the opportunity to hear opposing views.”

Here are some excerpts from the Statement itself:

“Sustainability” is one of the key words of our time. We are six years along in the United Nations’ “Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.” In the United States, 677 colleges and universities presidents have committed themselves to a sustainability-themed “Climate Commitment.” Sustainability is, by a large measure, the most popular social movement today in American higher education. It is, of course, not just a campus movement, but also a ubiquitous presence in the K-12 curriculum, and a staple of community groups, political platforms, appeals to consumers, and corporate policy.

The sustainability movement arrived on campuses mainly at the invitation of college presidents and administrative staff in areas such as student activities and residence life. That means that it largely escaped the scrutiny of faculty members and that it continues to enjoy a position of unearned authority. In many instances, the movement advances by administrative fiat, backed up by outside advocacy groups and students recruited for their zeal in promoting the cause.

Agenda-driven organizations-such as the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) —have taken advantage of academic sensibilities to turn sustainability into what is in many cases, a campus fetish. Sustainability also gets promoted by resort to pledges, games, competitions, and a whole variety of psychological gimmicks that bypass serious intellectual inquiry.

Some results are relatively trivial. For example, at certain institutions, cafeteria trays have been banned to save food, water, and energy, leaving students and staff to juggle dishes, cups, and utensils as they move between counters and tables. Many campuses have also banned the sale of disposable to reduce plastic waste. Yet however laughable, such petty annoyances have a sinister penumbra. They advertise a willingness to bully that creates a more generalized climate of intimidation, spilling over into other domains.

In practice, this means that sustainability is used as a means of promoting to students a view that capitalism and individualism are “unsustainable,” morally unworthy, and a present danger to the future of the planet.

Fascination with decline and ruin are nothing new in Western thought. The sustainability movement combines a bureaucratic and regulatory impulse with an updated version of the Romantics’ preoccupation with the end of civilization, and with hints of the Christian apocalyptic tradition.

These are the “end times” in the view of some sustainability advocates—or potentially so in the eyes of many others. The movement has its own versions of sin and redemption, and in many other respects has a quasi-religious character. For some of the adherents, the earth itself is treated as a sentient deity; others content themselves with the search for the transcendent in Nature.

As a creed among creeds, sustainability constitutes an upping of the ideological ante. Feminism, Afro-centrism, gay-liberation, and various other recent fads and doctrines, whatever else they were, were secular, speaking merely to politics and culture. The sustainability movement reaches beyond that, having nothing less than the preservation of life on earth at its heart.

The religious creeds of faculty members and students are their own business, but we have reason for concern when dogmatic beliefs are smuggled into the curriculum and made a basis for campus programs as though they were mere extensions of scientific facts.

The sustainability movement is, in a word, unsustainable. It runs too contrary to the abiding purposes of higher education; it is too rife with internal contradictions; and it is too contrary to the environmental, economic, and social facts to endure indefinitely.


Voodoo economics? How about voodoo climate science?

When will our greener friends at the UN learn that it's just not a good idea to make definite predictions about certain disasters?

This time they have been called out on their 2005 prediction that by now there would be 50 million "climate refugees" — people choosing to emigrate because of bad weather. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) even came up with a global map showing precisely where people would migrate from.

Pretty much every forecast about climate change or its effects should be viewed as a hypothesis rather than a fact. After all, as Firesign Theater once noted, "the future's not here yet". But the UN named a specific year (2010) which allows for an actual test of their prediction.

Census takers around the world have inadvertently adjudicated the UN's forecast. It was dead wrong. Pretty much every recent census reveals that populations are growing rapidly precisely where everyone was supposed to be migrating from. (And where is the story that global warming causes babies?).

Folks were supposed to be streaming away from low-lying tropical islands because of worse and more frequent hurricanes. The population of the Bahamas, which catches about as many tropical cyclones as any place on earth, is up 14% since 2000. The Solomons, up 20%. Sychelles: 9%.

Did I mention that global hurricane activity has recently sunk to its all time measured low, despite the UN's strident statements about more frequent and terrible storms? (Note that the hurricane data is only reliable for the last fifty years or so, hence the word "measured".)

Is this exaggeration of an affect of climate change by the UN an isolated incident? Hardly. Recent history reveals the UN to be a systematic engine of climate disinformation.

In 2007, the UN famously stated that, if warming continued at present rates (whatever that means — there hasn't been any since the mid-late 1990s), the massive Himalayan glaciers would disappear 23 years from now. While the source, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) proclaims itself the consensus of climate science, there's no credentialed climatologist on earth who believes that this ice cap, which is hundreds of feet thick, could possibly disappear so soon.

When the government of India, which knows something about the Himalayan glaciers that feed the great Ganges River, challenged the UN's forecast, the head of the IPCC, Rajenda Pachauri, labeled it "voodoo science".

It turns out that the UN was the voodoo practitioner. Dr. Murari Lal, who authored the statement, eventually admitted that it was in the UN climate report to spur the governments of India and China into reducing their carbon dioxide emissions, and that it was not based on anything in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

In the same report, the IPCC claimed that even a slight variation in tropical rainfall would cause a disastrous loss of the verdant rainforest — despite incoming satellite data that showed a remarkable resilience to an ongoing sharp drought.

Then it made the absurd claims that 55% of the Netherlands was below sea level, and that there has been no change in ice coverage in the southern hemisphere, where polar ice is indeed growing significantly.

The IPCC also stated that a mere nine years from now, tropical crop yields would be cut in half by a massive decline in annual rainfall. Even computer models that assume large scale drought reduce yields by about half of this.

Is all of this due to chance?

Scientists, as humans, make judgemental errors. But what is odd about the UN is that its gaffes are all in one direction. All are exaggeration of the effects of climate change. In each case, the IPCC was relying upon scientific literature that was not peer-reviewed in the traditional sense. No one has found analogous errors in the other direction (which would be an underestimation of climate change based upon the "grey" literature), and you can bet that people have been looking very hard in an effort to exonerate the UN.

In an unbiased world there should be an equal chance of either underestimating or overestimating the climate change and its effects, which allows us to test whether this string of errors is simply scientists behaving normally or being naughty.

What's the chance of throwing a coin six times and getting all heads (or tails)? It's .015. Most scientists consider the .050 level sufficient to warrant retention of a hypothesis, which in this case, is that the UN's climate science is biased.


Green Technology Needs Capitalism

Earth to Washington: The free market offers practical solutions for “going green.” Private entrepreneurs will literally fly to the moon to solve the U.S. technology crisis while government initiatives to support green technology fall flat.

The set of 17 rare elements known as “rare-earths” is integral to normal technology like iPads, fiber–optic cables and military equipment as well as “clean” technology like wind turbines, solar panels and electric batteries.

The U.S. used to lead the world in mining rare-earths through a California mine called Molycorp. However, environmental regulations sent this mine into extinction and the U.S. lost her competitive technology advantage. Today, years later, Molycorp is slowly re-building after meeting stricter U.S. environmental standards.

Since the U.S. stopped mining her own resources, China now calls the shots on rare-earths. The Chinese government and organized crime circles within China run pollution-hissing mines that churn out roughly 97 percent of the global rare-earth supply. High demand for rare-earths within the Chinese marketplace, environmental issues and political leverage are factors leading China to cut back on exports. Consequently, rare-earth prices are skyrocketing.

As hall of fame quarterback and former Minnesota Viking Fran Tarkenton told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Nov. 24, 2010, “In my life, when I tried to have a quick fix to something, it turned out worse than it was before.” Unfortunately, many U.S. politicians see government intervention in clean tech as the quick fix to energy independence, job creation, and a cleaner environment.

Government clean tech programs for solar panels, wind turbines and electric batteries ironically support China’s dirty rare-earth mining at unsustainable costs. A single “utility-scale” wind turbine requires 661 lb. of the element neodymium, GM’s Chevy Volt needs 7 lb. of magnets made from rare-earths and the price of the iPod-essential rare-earth called dysprosium has jumped from $6.50 to $130 per lb., according to TIME Magazine.

The New York Times reports that mining rare-earths is complicated by the fact that most elements are only produced as byproducts of mining something else, such as copper. Furthermore, extracting rare-earth elements releases significant amounts of low-level radioactive waste into the environment.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that wind and solar energy accounted for less than one percent of total U.S. energy consumption in 2009. Caithness Wind Farm Information Forum reports that wind turbines have killed wildlife, including protected species, and have been responsible for 35 fatalities in the U.S. from 1970 to 2010.

Despite these costs and risks, the Obama Administration wants to push clean tech to produce before its time by throwing out arbitrary and costly goals like “1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.” Minnesotans are being asked to be guinea pigs for a proposed tax on mileage. This tax would ask Americans who commute long distances in traditional cars to sacrifice twice by paying for elites to drive roller skates on rare-earth batteries.

With impeccable timing, a day before the one-year anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Administration announced that it had rushed through approval for the controversial and environmentally-intrusive Cape Wind Project. With 130 wind turbines in the project, I estimate it will take 85,930 lb. of the rare-earth neodymium to supply electricity to just 400,000 homes off Nantucket Sound.

Good thing China is only charging us an arm and a leg for this clean tech experiment that provides a sliver of the population with electricity while disrupting birds and the aquatic ecosystem.

I think we can solve the technology crisis and conserve the earth by implementing practical, free market ideas.

For example, the Empire State Building recently completed a $13 million dollar energy-saving retrofit that will reduce annual energy consumption by 38 percent. The retrofit implemented common sense techniques like recaulking limestone slabs and spraying foam insulation in walls. Project manager, Paul Rode, told TIME Magazine: “I can’t tell you how many people say, ‘Why not install solar cells or put a little windmill on the roof?’ Because it doesn’t make business sense. It makes much more sense to lower energy use.”

As I write this column, entrepreneurs at the private venture California company MoonEx are developing plans for robotic rovers to uncover a “gold mine” of rare elements and metals on the moon’s surface. My hope for the future is emboldened by free enterprise, not big government. The government got us into this mess by regulating California’s Molycorp mine out of business years ago. Free enterprise and innovation - not government-approved green programs - will dig us out.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


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