Tuesday, September 18, 2012

US East Coast Winter Storms: Are They Becoming More Extreme?

Discussing: Bernhardt, J.E. and DeGaetano, A.T. 2012. "Meteorological factors affecting the speed of movement and related impacts of extratropical cyclones along the U.S. east coast". Natural Hazards 61: 1463-1472.

In the words of Bernhardt and DeGaetano (2012), "East Coast Winter Storms (ECWS), commonly known as nor'easters, are among the most severe weather phenomena to impact the Northeastern United States," noting that "these storms may bring heavy precipitation (Frankoski and DeGaetano, 2011), strong winds, and flooding to coastal and interior areas of the eastern seaboard (Davis et al., 1993)."

And with respect to their degree of "extremeness," they say that stronger storms generally move faster than weaker storms. However, they also write that "slow-moving storms can be especially problematic, as their extreme impacts may last longer, particularly in terms of storm surge and coastal flooding occurring over multiple tidal cycles."

Therefore, it could validly be argued that either an increase or a decrease in the rate of a nor'easter's movement could be a sign of their becoming more extreme, which makes them the ideal type of storm for climate alarmists to use as an example of storms becoming more extreme in response to global warming; for the only way their claim could be refuted would be for the mean rate of movement of each year's set of nor'easters to be maintained - in the mean - over the long term.

In an earlier study, as Bernhardt and DeGaetano describe it, "Hirsch et al. (2001) defined an ECWS as an area of low pressure with a closed circulation, moving in a general south-southwest to north-northeast direction and containing winds greater than 10.3 m/sec during at least one 6-hour period," which wind criterion was selected because "it represented a threshold for wave damage given by Thurman (1983)."

In addition, they state that the system had to be located along the East Coast, in a box bounded at 30°N by 75 and 85°W and at 45°N by 65 and 70°W. And based on this definition, Bernhardt and DeGaetano calculated the speeds of all ECWS over the 55-year period 1951-2006. And what did their calculations show?

The two US researchers report that "the speed of ECWS during their passage over or near the east coast of the United states varied substantially from storm to storm, month to month, and season to season." However, as can be seen from the figure below, over the entire time period of their study, Bernhardt and DeGaetano rightly declare "there was no clear trend in ECWS speed."

Average seasonal nor'easter storm speed. Adapted from Bernhardt and DeGaetano (2012)

Against all odds, as one could rightly claim in this particular instance, the global warming that occurred between 1951 and 2006 did not lead to an increasing trend in the extremeness of East Coast Winter Storms.

SOURCE (See the original for references)

German Public Television Airing “Der Super-Frost” – Asks If Warming Will Cause An Ice Age

Climate science is hopelessly confused. A few years ago we were told to expect more hurricanes, but have since gotten almost none. We were told we would get winters without snow, instead we’re now getting hit by bitter cold, snowy winters. We were told to expect an Arctic melt down, and now they are telling us to expext a new ice age.

Is it any wonder that nobody believes climate scientists anymore?

This week German NTV public television is broadcasting a show titled “Der Super Frost” – scheduled to air Wednesday evening at 11 p.m. CET. Hat-tip to Die kalte Sonne website. “Der Super Frost” just happens to be the Mega Freeze episode of the US Mega Disasters series from 2006 (see trailer below).

In the trailer, they ask if global warming will lead to a tipping to global freezing, in which case we would have to call it global cooling – which in reality climate scientists say is now global warming.

This show isn’t just some outdated theory from 2006. Once again today the notion that warming will lead to an ice age is coming back. For example last week German daily Bild here (and a host of other German media outlets) carried the story from scientist Jennifer Francis of Rutgers-University. Bild opened with:
In the Arctic it is getting warmer and warmer, the ice sheet covering the sea has reached a record minimum. Scientists fear that the winter in North America and Europe will therefore become extremely icy! Meaning: The Arctic sea is releasing more and more heat into the air – and this delivers frigid cold!

Wow! warming produces extreme cold. It really does, the scientists say. So should we be preparing for a bitter cold winter? Well, not really. You see Bild reports that these Francis added an opt-out provision to cover her tush:
However, many factors play a role, like snow cover in Siberia or also tropical influences. Thus despite less sea ice coverage, sometimes also mild and wet winters may remain – like last year. Climate scientist Francis: ‘I can only say that it will probably be a very interesting winter.’“

If that’s all you can say, then why did you tell us the rest? Is it because now, no matter what happens, you and the rest of the charlatans will be able to say your models predicted it?

If their idiotic hypothesis that a warm Arctic produces a cold northern hemisphere were true, then the opposite would have to be true. That is, when there’s lots of sea ice, as was the case 35 years ago, then North American and European winters would have to be very mild. That was not the case.


Climate and National Security: Exploring the Connection

In "Climate and National Security: Exploring the Connection", Marshall Institute President Jeff Kueter considers the evidence for the assertion that changing environmental conditions brought on by human emissions of greenhouse gases will negatively impact U.S. national security.

"In my view, an objective review of the evidence shows little support for this argument," Kueter concludes. "Studies of the sources of conflict show plainly that environmental factors rarely incite conflict between states or within states. In fact, experience shows the more probable outcome is cooperation."

In summary, efforts to link climate change to the deterioration of U.S. national security rely on improbable scenarios, imprecise and speculative methods, and scant empirical support. Accepting the connection can lead to the dangerous expansion of U.S. security concerns, inappropriately applied resources, and diversion of attention from more effective responses to known environmental challenges. The danger of this approach is that it offers a sense of urgency which may not be warranted, given the gaps in the current state of knowledge about climate, the known flaws in the methods used to construct the scenarios on which these security scenarios are based, and confusion over the underlying causes of those security concerns.


British Greens routed as shale gas wins new enthusiasts

Last week saw a truly momentous defeat for the green lobby groups which, in the past decade, have exercised almost complete control over Britain’s future energy policy. The fact that this took the form of a mighty slapdown for Lord Deben (formerly John Gummer), newly confirmed chairman of the Climate Change Committee, makes it all the more telling.

As his first act on being appointed to head this committee, set up to advise the Government under the 2008 Climate Change Act, Lord Deben wrote an extraordinary open letter to Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. This expressed his committee’s “great concern” over a statement by Mr Davey in July that indicated that Britain must continue to rely heavily on gas to produce electricity. Although Mr Davey is still proposing to build 30,000 inefficient and unreliable wind turbines, he was implicitly recognising that these could only help to keep Britain’s lights on if they are supplemented by a massive new “dash for gas”.

As I wrote at the time, this drives a coach and horses through Britain’s legal commitment under the Climate Change Act to reduce CO2 emissions by four fifths in less than 40 years. Lord Deben’s letter made exactly the same point. In the letter, signed by seven members of his committee, all unquestioning believers in the need for renewables to combat global warming, he and his colleagues went even further. Astoundingly, they called on Mr Davey to issue a statutory instrument banning the use of fossil fuels to provide electricity. Of course, they did not put it like that. They urged him to impose a maximum emissions limit on power generation of 50 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour (kWh). But since only nuclear and renewables are below that threshold, while gas emits 400 grams per kWh and coal 700, what in effect they were calling for was an end to any further use of the fuels that currently supply some 75 per cent of our electricity.

Furthermore, they were pressing for this act of economic suicide not just to meet our legal “low carbon” requirements but also because any “dash for gas” would divert investment away from the “renewables” industry they so passionately favour. As we know, Lord Deben himself has long been heavily involved in various “green” companies that stand to benefit from the subsidised renewables bonanza. Before he could be confirmed in his new post, he had hurriedly to resign as chairman of a firm planning the world’s largest offshore wind farm and as director of another planning a Severn tidal barrage. Only thus could his nomination by David Cameron be approved by the Commons committee on energy and climate change, chaired by Tim Yeo, who is himself heavily involved with various green energy firms, which last year paid him £200,000 on top of his parliamentary salary of £80,000. As Lord Deben’s letter to Mr Davey pointed out, Yeo’s committee has also backed the demand for a ban on electricity from fossil fuels.

What they could not have expected was Mr Davey’s response. He trenchantly dismissed their calls, restating his view that we urgently need a massive new investment in gas generation. Only after 2030 would this require the “carbon capture and storage” that, as Mr Davey has already admitted, is still an “unproven technology” (and is likely to remain so). So the first message of last week was that the once hugely influential Climate Change Committee in effect has been kicked into touch. In the name of keeping Britain’s economy running, the Government seems now determined to break its own law.

What makes all this even more significant, however, is that it is taking place against the background of a truly astonishing worldwide energy revolution. As can be seen from the website of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, country after country is now rushing to exploit the shale gas that, in the past four years, has more than halved gas prices in the US. China, Germany, France, Russia, South Africa and others all have immense reserves that promise to provide the world with cheap energy for centuries to come. And, here in Britain, determined moves are at last being made to reverse the Government’s grudging negativity towards our own vast shale gas reserves, led by our new Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who seems to be winning surprising support for his enthusiasm for shale gas from key officials in his own department and the Environment Agency, which has regulatory responsibility for this new industry.

After years when our energy policy was being dictated by green wishful thinking, by the likes of Lord Deben and by state-subsidised pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth (which first invented, then helped to draft, the Climate Change Act), reality is at long last breaking in. The green make-believe that has cast such a malign spell over our country for far too long is finally on the run. Truly, last week was history being made.


China is no example of Green wisdom

On Aug. 3, the owner of Chengxing Solar Company leapt from the sixth floor of his office building in Jinhua, China. Li Fei killed himself after his company was unable to repay a $3 million bank loan it had guaranteed for another Chinese solar company that defaulted. One local financial newspaper called Li’s suicide “a sign of the imminent collapse facing the Chinese photovoltaic industry” due to overcapacity and mounting debts.

President Barack Obama has held up China’s investments in green energy and high-speed rail as examples of the kind of state-led industrial policy that America should be emulating. The real lesson is precisely the opposite. State subsidies have spawned dozens of Chinese Solyndras that are now on the verge of collapse.

Unveiled in 2010, Beijing’s 12th Five-Year Plan identified solar and wind power and electric automobiles as “strategic emerging industries” that would receive substantial state support. Investors piled into the favored sectors, confident the government’s backing would guarantee success. Barely two years later, all three industries are in dire straits.

This summer, the NYSE-listed LDK Solar, the world’s second largest polysilicon solar wafer producer, defaulted on $95 million owed to over 20 suppliers. The company lost $589 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 and another $185 million in the first quarter of 2012, and has shed nearly 10,000 jobs. The government in LDK’s home province of Jiangxi scrambled to pledge $315 million in public bailout funds, terrified that any further defaults could pull down hundreds of local companies.

Meanwhile another NYSE-listed Chinese solar company, Suntech, revealed on July 30 that the German government bonds an affiliate pledged as security for a $689 million bank loan it guaranteed never existed. Suntech, the world’s largest producer of solar panels, claims it was the victim of fraud. Considering Suntech already owed $3.6 billion (for a debt-asset ratio of 82%), and lost $149 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 and $133 million in the first quarter of 2012, many analysts believe the company could go bankrupt without a sizable government bailout.

Chinese solar companies blame many of their woes on the antidumping tariffs recently imposed by the U.S. and Europe. The real problem, however, is rampant overinvestment driven largely by subsidies. Since 2010, the price of polysilicon wafers used to make solar cells has dropped 73%, according to Maxim Group, while the price of solar cells has fallen 68% and the price of solar modules 57%. At these prices, even low-cost Chinese producers are finding it impossible to break even.

Wind power is seeing similar overcapacity. China’s top wind turbine manufacturers, Goldwind and Sinovel, saw their earnings plummet by 83% and 96% respectively in the first half of 2012, year-on-year. Domestic wind farm operators Huaneng and Datang saw profits plunge 63% and 76%, respectively, due to low capacity utilization. China’s national electricity regulator, SERC, reported that 53% of the wind power generated in Inner Mongolia province in the first half of this year was wasted. One analyst told China Securities Journal that “40-50% of wind power projects are left idle,” with many not even connected to the grid.

A few years ago, Shenzhen-based BYD (short for “Build Your Dreams”) was a media darling that brought in Warren Buffett as an investor. It was going to make China the dominant player in electric automobiles. Despite gorging on green energy subsidies, BYD sold barely 8,000 hybrids and 400 fully electric cars last year, while hemorrhaging cash on an ill-fated solar venture. Company profits for the first half of 2012 plunged 94% year-on-year.

China’s high-speed rail ambitions put the Ministry of Railways so deeply in debt that by the end of last year it was forced to halt all construction and ask Beijing for a $126 billion bailout. Central authorities agreed to give it $31.5 billion to pay its state-owned suppliers and avoid an outright default, and had to issue a blanket guarantee on its bonds to help it raise more. While a handful of high-traffic lines, such as the Shanghai-Beijing route, have some prospect of breaking even, Prof. Zhao Jian of Beijing Jiaotong University compared the rest of the network to “a 160-story luxury hotel where only 11 stories are used and the occupancy rate of those floors is below 50%.”

China’s Railway Ministry racked up $1.4 billion in losses for the first six months of this year, and an internal audit has uncovered dangerous defects due to lax construction on 12 new lines, which will have to be repaired at the cost of billions more. Minister Liu Zhijun, the architect of China’s high-speed rail system, was fired in February 2011 and will soon be prosecuted on corruption charges that reportedly include embezzling some $120 million. One of his lieutenants, the deputy chief engineer, is alleged to have funneled $2.8 billion into an offshore bank account.

Many in Washington have developed a serious case of China-envy, seeing it as an exemplar of how to run an economy. In fact, Beijing’s mandarins are no better at picking winners, and just as prone to blow money on boondoggles, as their Beltway counterparts.

In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama declared, “I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China . . . because we refuse to make the same commitment here.” Given what’s really happening in China, he may want to think again.


Rage and Ruin in the Reign of the EPA

The riots, rage, and ruin that have spread throughout the Middle East over the past few days emphasize the urgency of opening up and bringing online America’s vast resources—yet, as Congressman Pete Olson (R-TX) states: “The EPA is the biggest obstacle to energy independence.”

Olson’s comment specifically addressed the Hydraulic Fracturing Study requested by Congress as a part of the FY 2010 appropriations bill, which states:

“The conferees urge the Agency to carry out a study on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water, using a credible approach that relies on the best available science, as well as independent sources of information. The conferees expect the study to be conducted through a transparent, peer-reviewed process that will ensure the validity and accuracy of the data. The Agency shall consult with other Federal agencies as well as appropriate State and interstate regulatory agencies in carrying out the study, which should be prepared in accordance with the Agency's quality assurance principles.”

A study “on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water” sounds like a great idea. No one wants their drinking water filled with toxic elements, and, if the EPA followed the mandate, a work of global importance could result. American private enterprise and initiative has lead the world in developing and implementing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques that are safe and are uniquely responsible for totally transforming the energy landscape—making previously unrecoverable resources, recoverable. Therefore, the final study from the EPA has worldwide implications for oil and natural gas supplies. It must be done right.

Instead of moving forward with a “Hydraulic Fracturing Study” as requested by Congress, the EPA has done what is characteristic of this administration; they’ve blown it out of proportion—making it something bigger, requiring additional personnel, and creating more management, at greater expense. Final results are not due until 2014—four years after Congress requested a simple study. Lisa Jackson’s EPA has expanded the study’s scope to encompass numerous peripheral elements related to oil and gas exploration and production activities; a full lifecycle analysis of everything remotely associated with unconventional recovery.

Congress requested a report based on “best available science,” not opinion, yet the EPA has included items such as “environmental justice”—which has nothing to do with science, and “discharges to publicly owned water treatment plants”—which are no longer a part of the hydraulic fracturing process.

The additional elements exponentially exacerbate the study’s potential complications.

Meanwhile, America could be undergoing a robust development of our resources. Instead, as Congressman Mike Conaway (R-TX) explained, “Industry is holding back because it is not sure what the regulatory future holds.” He called the study’s evolution beyond the scope of what was requested: “mission creep.” Until a definitive answer on “the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water” is produced, a constant cloud of legal threat hangs over possible development, and potential jobs, such as in New York’s Marcellus Shale, are deferred.

These concerns, plus many others, prompted industry to independently engage, at their own expense, Battelle Memorial Institute to conduct a collaborative, side-by-side study with the EPA. Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, says that Battelle is “a highly respected independent science and technology organization.” (It is important to note that Battelle’s business is heavily dependent on government contracts, so accepting the responsibility of doing a collaborative study held risks for the company—coming out with a different result from that of the EPA could mean the loss of future contracts. Additionally, they do a lot of work with the EPA, so their opinions should be trusted by the EPA.) Despite the EPA’s rejection of industry’s offer, Battelle moved forward with a scientific review of the EPA’s study plan to ensure that the EPA is taking a rigorous and adequate approach, as quality cannot be built into the back end of a science-based project.

Battelle’s report is complete. On Thursday, Battelle’s team provided a briefing on Capitol Hill that was attended by more than 30 Representatives and/or staffers from the Natural Gas and Marcellus Shale Caucuses. Numerous concerns were presented. The EPA’s study plan reflects a deadly combination of arrogance and incompetence.


Hydraulic Fracturing is a highly technical process that has evolved since its initial use more than 60 years ago—continuously undergoing improvements. Hundreds of thousands of wells have been drilled. The expertise and experience lies within the industry, yet the EPA has specially rejected industry’s attempts to collaborate—despite the fact that the original mandate requires: “a transparent, peer-reviewed process that will ensure the validity and accuracy of the data.” In a letter to the EPA, Marty Durbin, Executive Vice President, American Petroleum Institute (API), says: “We have repeatedly offered the expertise of our members to both the agency and the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) peer review process and, unfortunately, have been disappointed by the lack of follow through and acceptance.” Battelle’s report states: “Industry collaboration is not envisioned.”

Additionally, the requirements, published in the Federal Register calling for nominations, for the SAB, are set so that they specifically exclude experts from industry. “Selection criteria” includes “absence of financial conflicts of interest.” The call for SAB nominations continues: “government officials” will “determine whether there is a statutory conflict between a person’s public responsibilities and private interests and activities, or the appearance of a lack of impartiality.” Presumably those from academia and NGO’s would be acceptable. However, as the API letter points out, the “EPA should recognize that most individuals nominating themselves for potential SAB membership have some financial stake in the business—academics seek grants, NGOs seek donations, regulators seek programmatic funding, consultants seek contracts from government, as well as industry.”

Industry representatives with direct history of working in the modern oil and gas industry have a long record of valuable, unbiased participation in many other SAB committees and panels, yet for this watershed study, they have been excluded.

Additionally, the Congressional study request calls for consultation “with other Federal agencies as well as appropriate State and interstate regulatory agencies.” To date, there is no evidence of working with Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado—or any other state with extensive hydraulic fracturing experience. Numerous studies have been done, but the EPA doesn’t appear to be incorporating their discoveries. For example, in August 2011, the Groundwater Protection Council published its own study of “state determinations regarding causes of groundwater contamination resulting from oil and gas industry E&P activities,” examining nearly 400 contamination incidents over 25 years in Ohio and Texas, and concluding that “[n]either state has documented a single occurrence of groundwater pollution during site preparation or well stimulation.”

Obviously, the arrogance of the EPA believes they know best and they don’t want input from anyone who might disagree with their preconceived bias.


According to Battelle’s report, the EPA has a rigorous Data Quality Assessment process established for internal studies, but is not using it when setting up this study—which can impact the data quality and scientific rigor. If strict standards are not met, the entire report can be brought into question, as was the case with the Pavillion, Wyoming, study released a year ago. The results must be defensible to achieve the study’s goals.

The sites selected for study show a bias with the potential to skew the data and therefore the study. Instead of using a representative sampling of well sites from the hundreds of thousands of wells that have been drilled, the EPA has chosen to focus on only seven sites—a statistically insignificant number. Of the seven, five have known contamination problems, but no baseline data. Therefore, there is no way to tell whether the complaints are in any way related to hydraulic fracturing or to any specific thing. There are known examples of naturally occurring drinking water contamination—as was found with the widely publicized Dimock, Pennsylvania, case. The five retrospective sites are the subject of complaints by individuals who may now be stakeholders in potentially lucrative litigation against operators. The concern is that the “it has problems, so let’s study it to see if it has problems” approach will limit the scientific validity and usefulness of case study findings. At Thursday’s briefing, the limited sampling was likened to using five traffic accidents in some parts of America to draw conclusions about how to construct and regulate traffic and road safety in all of the country to avoid future accidents.

Instead, the study should focus more heavily on prospective sites where baseline data is gathered before drilling and before the use of hydraulic fracturing. The Battelle report states: “Two prospective sites cannot deliver the range of data required for scientifically rigorous treatment of all the research questions asked.”

Focusing primarily on sites with known issues also ignores the current state of the technology. Chemicals used now are very different from what was used five years ago. Analysis from these sites will be virtually useless in making a meaningful recommendation regarding current or future hydraulic fracturing activities. Battelle’s report points out that “the site data collected from the companies are from 2006-2010, and the final report will be in 2014. The changes occurring at these sites in the intervening years will likely render the data obsolete for purposes of the study.”

All of this may seem of little relevance to the person struggling to fill up their tank at today’s high gasoline prices. However, it is of utmost importance.

All sides benefit from a study that can withstand intense scrutiny. If there are foundational problems and the overall study results prove that hydraulic fracturing is safe and doesn’t contaminate drinking water, as the industry believes they will, the environmentalists, who oppose hydraulic fracturing, will appeal it. If the reverse is proven, industry will seek an appeal. In either case, appeals will delay the much-needed robust development of American resources—not to mention the waste of time and taxpayer dollars spent on the study.

If the events that have erupted in the Middle East over the past few days show us anything, it is that the US dependence on Middle Eastern oil must come to an expeditious end. With America’s new-found oil and gas reserves, recovered through hydraulic fracturing, we now know that energy independence is possible, if, as Congressman Olson told me, “We rein in the EPA.”




The graphics problem: Graphics hotlinked to this site sometimes have only a short life and if I host graphics with blogspot, the graphics sometimes get shrunk down to illegibility. From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site. See here and here


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