Category Archives: Fracking

Two California Senate bills: Oil and Gas Well Stimulation Bill (anti-fracking/acidizing), and Oil Spill Prevention Response

Exclusive to The Benicia Independent
[Editor: Thanks to Benician Judi Sullivan for her monitoring of California Senate hearings and for this report.   – RS]

Report on Anti-Fracking Bill in California Senate

By Judi Sullivan  |  May 19, 2014

SB 1132, The Oil and Gas Well Stimulation Bill (Anti fracking/acidizing), was put before it’s third committee today, the Appropriations Committee, and placed in the Suspense File.  This is where all bills may be held if they are considered to have an annual cost of more than $150,000. Because of this stipulation, there was no official vote on the Bill.  It is now under fiscal analysis to be reconsidered on Friday during the Suspense File Hearing, during which time no testimony is presented by the bill’s author nor by witnesses. A vote will then be taken and if the bill passes, it will go in front of the entire Senate.

The committee room, which was much larger than previous ones used for the first two hearings, was once again a packed house with supporters of the bill from all over the state.  One woman who spoke said she took a nine hour Amtrak Train from L.A. just to be there to  testify against fracking.  ALL of the public testimonies given were in support of the bill. The Western States Petroleum Association, (WSPA), which is the biggest, wealthiest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, was the official testifying opponent.

In the course of conversation at the hearing,  it was revealed that Conservative Republican Senator Ted Gaines, who appears to be against SB 1132,  may become a new supporter of “No Crude by Rail.”  He lives in Roseville, and has recently become seriously concerned about the  transportation risks of that commodity.  Roseville is a major hub of Crude by Rail’s route.

Senator Pavley, (supported by Senators Wolk and Lara) presented SB 1319, promoting “Oil Spill Prevention Response,” seeking regulations for Marine, Pipeline and Crude by Rail Transports to be under one regulation which would include having local governments informed of  what is being transported through their areas at any given time.

According to her findings, Governor Brown is forming a new staff of 38 people to deal with the concerns of this Bill.

After the hearing sessions, some of the anti-fracking supporters rallied with posters and chanting in front of The California History Museum on “O” St. where Governor Brown was speaking at a Conference concerning Climate Change.

——  Later ——

Just got a request suggesting calling  these Senators to try and gain their support, asking them to vote yes on SB 1132:

Senator Kevin De Leon (916) 651-4022
Senator Ricardo Lara (916) 651-4033
Senator Ed Hernandez (916) 651-4024
Senator Cathleen Galliano (916) 651-4005
Senator Ben Hueso (916) 651-4040
Senator Lou Correa (916) 651-4034
Senator Carol Liu (916) 651-4025
Senator Richard Roth (916) 651-4031
Senator Norma Torres (916-652-4032

If SB 1132 passes the Senate vote,  the four committee hearing process will start all over again in the Assembly.  If it passes there,  then Governor Brown will have his vote.  I  have talked with Senator  Mitchell’s and Senator Leno’s staff, the main co-sponsors of this bill, and both recommend calling Governor Brown’s office right now to demonstrate public support  on this crucial issue. Writing to him is also an option.

Brown has the power to pass or veto the bill.  I feel it would be wise to call him.  His phone number is (916) 445-2841.  As we know, he has received substantial donations from Big Oil.

More Trains equal More Train Crashes with cars and trucks; trend reversal

Repost from The Milwaukee Wisconsin Sentinel Journal
[Editor: Note that references here to Wisconsin’s “frac sand mining” are NOT describing tar-sands mining of bitumen.  Rather, there is a boom in Wisconsin for “SILICA SAND, which is mined and exported to states like North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas where it is used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The tough, crystallized sand, unique to the Wisconsin-Minnesota area, is hard enough to break through rock and release natural gas.”  Source: The Cap Times.  – RS]

More trains lead to more crashes with vehicles in Wisconsin

Recent booms in sand mining in Wisconsin and crude oil from shale in North Dakota.

By Lydia Mulvany of the Journal Sentinel  |  April 26, 2014 3:49 p.m.

Laurel Norlander grew up down the road from train tracks that trace the edge of Lake Wissota outside Chippewa Falls.

She’d been crossing those tracks her whole life, but that didn’t help the night of Jan. 3, 2013. The 60-year-old was returning to town after a visit to her parents’ home. She stopped at the stop sign before the tracks, but didn’t see or hear an oncoming Canadian National train. The train conductor told investigators he blew the whistle, but Norlander says she’s sure the train never did. They collided, leaving her with a totaled car and a bruised leg.

“It was very bizarre, and I’m grateful to be alive,” she said. “But at an uncontrolled intersection, it would sure be nice if they would blow the horn.”

Norlander’s crash was the first of 60 crashes between trains and highway users in 2013, the highest number Wisconsin has seen in five years. Injuries are at a six-year high, at 21. In addition, there were three deaths.

One possible factor in the rise is increased train traffic in the state, a result of recent booms in sand mining in Wisconsin and crude oil from shale in North Dakota.

Products of the state’s sand mining operations, which have grown from a handful in 2010 to well over 100, are used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process for extracting oil and natural gas. Crude oil, some of which passes by rail through Wisconsin, has similarly exploded. According to the American Association of Railroads, railroads nationwide transported 9,500 carloads of crude in 2008. In 2012, that number jumped to 234,000, and the most recent estimates for 2013 are around 400,000.

Trains on the tracks where Norlander was struck used to be few and far between, Norlander said, but a new sand plant in town has changed that.

“There’s been quite an increase in train traffic,” she said.

Jeff Plale, the state’s commissioner of railroads, said it seemed as if trains and cars were crashing every time he turns around.

“We have more trains going through the state, they’re heavier, they’re longer. Stop playing with the trains,” he said. “I’m just tired of it, because these (accidents) are so preventable.”

Plale said that besides increased train traffic, some railroads that weren’t in use have been revived, so people aren’t accustomed to seeing the trains.

“All of a sudden you’ve gone from having no trains or very few, and now you have a whole bunch of them. It’s a matter of being cognizant and safe,” he said.

Much of the sand mining activity in Wisconsin has occurred in the region governed by the Western Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, which includes Chippewa County. Train-highway incidents there are at their highest in more than a decade.

According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis, there were 11 crashes with trains at highway crossings in Barron, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire and St. Croix counties. It hasn’t been that high since 2001, a year when the state saw more than 100 rail-highway incidents.

Rail accidents at road crossings have been steadily declining since a peak in the late 1970s, when the annual totals for Wisconsin were 450 and higher. In contrast, there were just 33 crashes in 2010.

Federal Rail Administration spokesman Michael England said reasons for the decline are stepped-up enforcement, advances in technology and a large increase in crossings with lights and gates.

There are more than 4,000 rail-highway crossings in Wisconsin. Of these, about 800 have both flashing lights and gates, a thousand have flashing lights, and 2,200 have only crossbucks. The average cost of installing gates is around $200,000, and the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads spends $4.4 million a year upgrading crossings.

Whatever the signage, crossings can be deadly. In many of the 2013 accidents, drivers went around gates or failed to stop. But cars also got stuck on the rails, in snow, or slid on ice into a train’s path.

Clarence Drewa, 87, a Palmyra resident, was driving Nov. 7 on Benson Ave. in Vernon when his tire got stuck in the railroad tracks. When he saw a train coming, he exited the car, his daughter, Sandra Stefanski, said. But the train struck the car and sent it hurling toward him. Among other injuries, his ribs were marred by fractures, and he died a week and a half later, she said.

The most tragic part was when two of his grandchildren, ages 5 and 6, were looking for their grandpa to come home.

“He was in all of our lives daily, and he was a very healthy man,” his daughter said.

Heinberg – Our Fossil Fuel Economy – times they are a’changin’

Repost from Pacific Standard, PS Magazine
[Editor: this is a serious primer on our fossil-fuel-driven economy and the global climate crisis by Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute.  It’s well worth your time to study, and a keeper for reference.  Significant quote: “While America’s current gross oil production numbers appear rosy, from an energy accounting perspective the figures are frightening: Energy profit margins are declining fast.”  – RS]

The Gross Society: We’re Entering an Age of Energy Impoverishment

By Richard Heinberg   •    April 18, 2014

Tar sands development in Northern Alberta, Canada. (Photo: Christopher Kolaczan/Shutterstock)
It’s hard to overstate just how serious a threat our energy crisis is to every aspect of our current way of life. But the problem is hidden from view by oil and natural gas production numbers that look and feel just fine.

In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama touted “more oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world—the first time that’s happened in nearly 20 years.” It’s true: U.S. crude oil production has increased from about five million barrels per day to nearly 7.75 mb/d over the past five years (we still import over 7.5 mb/d).  And American natural gas production is at an all-time high.

But there’s a problem. We’re focusing too much on gross numbers. (The definition of gross I have in mind is “exclusive of deductions,” as in gross profits versus net profits., though other definitions apply here, too.) While these gross numbers appear splendid, when you look at net, things go pear-shaped, as the British say.

Our economy is 100 percent dependent on energy: With more and cheaper energy, the economy booms; With less and costlier energy, the economy wilts. When the electricity grid goes down or the gasoline pumps run dry, the economy simply stops in its tracks.

But the situation is actually a bit more complicated, because it takes energy to get energy. It takes diesel fuel to drill oil wells; It takes electricity to build solar panels. The energy that’s left over—once we’ve fueled the production of energy—makes possible all the things people want and need to do. It’s net energy, not gross energy, that does society’s work.

Before the advent of fossil fuels, agriculture was our main energy source, and the average net gain from the work of energy production was minimal. Farmers grew food for people—who did a lot of manual work in those days—and also for horses and oxen, whose muscles provided motive power for farm machinery and for land transport via carts and carriages. Because margins were small, most people had to toil in the fields in order to produce enough surplus to enable a small minority to live in towns and specialize in arts and crafts (including statecraft and soldiery).

In contrast, the early years of the fossil fuel era saw astounding energy profits. Wildcat oil drillers could invest a few thousand dollars in equipment and drilling leases and, if they struck black gold, become millionaires almost overnight. (For a taste of what that was like, watch the classic 1940 film Boom Town, with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.)

Huge energy returns on both energy and financial investments in drilling made the fossil fuel revolution the biggest event in economic history. Suddenly society was awash with surplus energy. Cheap energy plus a little invention yielded mechanization. Farming became an increasingly mechanized (i.e., fossil-fueled) occupation, which meant fewer field laborers were needed. People left farms and moved to cities, where they got jobs on powered assembly lines manufacturing an explosively expanding array of consumer goods, including labor-saving (i.e., energy-consuming) home machinery like electric vacuum cleaners and clothes washers. Household machines helped free women to participate in the work force. The middle class mushroomed. Little Henry and Henrietta, whose grandparents spent their lives plowing, harvesting, cooking, and cleaning, could now contemplate careers as biologists, sculptors, heart specialists, bankers, concert violinists, professors of medieval French literature—whatever! Human ambition and aspiration appeared to know no bounds.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems with fossil fuels: They are finite in quantity and of variable quality. We have extracted them using the low-hanging fruit principle, going after the highest quality, cheapest-to-produce oil, coal, and natural gas first, and leaving the lower quality, more expensive, and harder-to-extract fuels for later. Now, it’s later.


It’s helpful to visualize this best-first principle by way of a diagram of what geologists call the resource pyramid. Extractive industries typically start at the top of the pyramid and work their way down. This was the case historically when coal miners at the beginning of the industrial revolution exploited only the very best coal seams, and it’s also true today as tight oil drillers in places like North Dakota concentrate their efforts in core areas where per-well production rates are highest.

We’ll never run out of any fossil fuel, in the sense of extracting every last molecule of coal, oil, or gas. Long before we get to that point, we will confront the dreaded double line in the diagram, labeled “energy in equals energy out.” At that stage, it will cost as much energy to find, pump, transport, and process a barrel of oil as the oil’s refined products will yield when burned in even the most perfectly efficient engine.

As we approach the energy break-even point, we can expect the requirement for ever-higher levels of investment in exploration and production on the part of the petroleum industry; We can therefore anticipate higher prices for finished fuels. Incidentally, we can also expect more environmental risk and damage from the process of fuel “production” (i.e., extraction and processing), because we will be drilling deeper and going to the ends of the Earth to find the last remaining deposits, and we will be burning ever-dirtier fuels.

That’s exactly what is happening right now.

WHILE AMERICA’S CURRENT GROSS oil production numbers appear rosy, from an energy accounting perspective the figures are frightening: Energy profit margins are declining fast.

Each year, a greater percentage of U.S. oil production comes from unconventional sources—primarily tight oil and deepwater oil.Compared to conventional oil from most onshore, vertical wells, these sources demand much higher capital investment per barrel produced. Tight oil wells typically require directional drilling and fracking, which take lots of money and energy (not to mention water); Initial production rates per well are modest, and production from each tends to decline quickly. Therefore, more wells have to be drilled just to maintain a constant rate of flow. This has been called the “Red Queen” syndrome, after a passage in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.

In Carroll’s story, the fictional Red Queen runs at top speed but never gets anywhere. “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place,” she explains to Alice. Similarly, it will soon take all the drilling the industry can do just to keep production in the fracking fields steady. But the plateau won’t last; As the best drilling areas become saturated with wells and companies are forced toward the periphery of fuel-bearing geological formations, costs will rise and production will fall. When, exactly, will the decline begin? Probably before the end of this decade.

Deepwater production is expensive, too. It involves operating in miles of ocean water on giant drilling and production rigs. Deepwater drilling is also both environmentally and financially risky, as BP—and the rest of us—discovered in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

America is turning increasingly to unconventional oil because conventional sources of petroleum are drying up—fast. The United States is where the oil business started and, in the past century-and-a-half, more oil wells have been drilled here than in the rest of the world’s countries put together. In terms of our resource pyramid diagram, the U.S. has drilled through the top “conventional resources” triangle and down to the thick dotted line labeled “price/technology limit.” At this point, new technology is required to extract more oil, and this comes at a higher financial cost not just to the industry, but ultimately to society as a whole. Yet society cannot afford oil that’s arbitrarily expensive: The “price/technology limit” is moveable up to a point, but we may be reaching the frontiers of affordability.

gross-society-2Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. (Photo: Alberto Loyo/Shutterstock)

Lower energy profits from unconventional oil inevitably show up in the financials of oil companies. Between 1998 and 2005, the industry invested $1.5 trillion in exploration and production, and this investment yielded 8.6 million barrels per day in additional world oil production. But between 2005 and 2013, the industry spent $4 trillion on exploration and production, yet this more-than-doubled investment produced only 4 mb/d in added production.

It gets worse: All net new production during the 2005-13 period came from unconventional sources; of the $4 trillion spent, it took $350 billion to achieve a bump in production. Subtracting unconventionals from the total, world oil production actually fell by about a million barrels a day during these years. That means the oil industry spent over $3.5 trillion to achieve a decline in overall conventional production.

Last year was one of the worst ever for new discoveries, and companies are cutting exploration budgets. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to find new oil and gas, and in particular new oil,” Tim Dodson, the exploration chief of Statoil, the world’s top conventional explorer, recently told Reuters. “The discoveries tend to be somewhat smaller, more complex, more remote, so it is very difficult to see a reversal of that trend…. The industry at large will probably struggle going forward with reserve replacement.”

The costs of oil exploration and production are currently rising at about 10.9 percent per year, according to Steve Kopits of the energy analytics firm Douglas-Westwood. This is squeezing the industry’s profit margins, since it’s getting ever harder to pass these costs on to consumers.

In 2010, The Economist magazine discussed rising costs of energy production, musing that “the direction of change seems clear. If the world were a giant company, its return on capital would be falling.”

Tim Morgan, formerly of the London-based brokerage Tullett Prebon (whose customers consist primarily of investment banks), explored the average Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROEI) of global energy sources in one of his company’s Strategy Insights reports, noting: “For 2020, our projected EROEI (of 11.5:1) [would] mean that the share of GDP absorbed by energy costs would have escalated to about 9.6 percent from around 6.7 percent today. Our projections further suggest that energy costs could absorb almost 15 percent of GDP (at an EROEI of 7.7:1) by 2030…. [T]he critical relationship between energy production and the energy cost of extraction is now deteriorating so rapidly that the economy as we have known it for more than two centuries is beginning to unravel.”

From an energy accounting perspective, the situation is in one respect actually worst in North America—which is deeply ironic: It’s here that production has grown most in the past five years, and it’s here that the industry is most boastful of its achievements. Yet the average energy profit ratio for U.S. oil production has fallen from 100:1 to 10:1, and the downward trend is accelerating as more and more oil comes from unconventional sources.

These profit ratios might be spectacular in the financial world, but in energy terms this is alarming. Everything we do in industrial societies—education, health care, research, manufacturing, transportation—requires energy. Unless our investment of energy in producing more energy yields an average profit ratio of roughly 10:1 or more, it may not be possible to maintain an industrial (as opposed to an agrarian) mode of societal organization over the long run.

gross-society-3A barrier stops oil coming ashore on June 5, 2010, in Grand Isle, Louisiana, after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Photo: Katherine Welles/Shutterstock)

NONE OF THE UNCONVENTIONAL sources that the petroleum industry is turning toward (tight oil, tar sands, deepwater) would have been developed absent the context of high oil prices, which deliver more revenue to oil companies; it’s those revenues that fund ever-bigger investments in technology. But older industrial economies like the U.S. and European Union tend to stall out if oil costs too much, and that reduces energy demand; This “demand destruction” safety valve has (so far) set a limit on global petroleum prices. Yet for the major oil companies, prices are currently not high enough to pay for the development of new projects in the Arctic or in ultra-deepwater; this is another reason the majors are cutting back on exploration investments.

For everyone else, though, oil prices are plenty high. Soaring fuel prices wallop airlines, the tourism industry, and farmers. Even real estate prices can be impacted: As gasoline gets more expensive, the lure of distant suburbs for prospective homebuyers wanes. It’s more than mere coincidence that the U.S. housing bubble burst in 2008 just as oil prices hit their all-time high.

Rising gasoline prices (since 2005) have led to a reduction in the average number of miles traveled by U.S. vehicles annually, a trend toward less driving by young people, and efforts on the part of the auto industry to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles.Altogether, American oil consumption is today roughly 20 percent below what it would have been if growth trends in the previous decades had continued.

To people concerned about climate change, much of this sounds like good news. Oil companies’ spending is up but profits are down. Gasoline is more expensive and consumption has declined.

There’s just one catch: None of this is happening as a result of long-range, comprehensive planning. And it will take a lot of effort to minimize the human impact of a societal shift from relative energy abundance to relative energy scarcity. In fact, there is virtually no discussion occurring among officials about the larger economic implications of declining energy returns on investment. Indeed, rather than soberly assessing the situation and its imminent economic challenges, our policymakers are stuck in a state of public relations-induced euphoria, high on temporarily spiking gross U.S. oil and gas production numbers.

The obvious solution to declining fossil fuel returns on investment is to transition to alternative energy sources as quickly as possible. We’ll have to do this anyway to address the climate crisis. But from an energy accounting point of view, this may not offer much help. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind have characteristics very different from those of fossil fuels: The former are intermittent, while the latter are available on demand. Solar and wind can’t affordably power airliners or 18-wheel trucks. Moreover, many renewable energy sources have a relatively low energy profit ratio.

One of the indicators of low or declining energy returns on energy investment is a greater requirement for human labor in the production process. In an economy suffering from high unemployment, this may seem like a boon. Indeed, here is an article that touts solar energy as a job creator, employing more people than the coal and oil industries put together (even though it produces far less energy for society).

Yes, jobs are good. But what would happen if we went all the way back to the average energy returns-on-investment of agrarian times? There would certainly be plenty of work to be done. But we would be living in a society very different from the one we are accustomed to, one in which most people are full-time energy producers and society is able to support relatively few specialists in other activities. Granted, that’s probably an exaggeration of our real prospects: At least some renewable energy sources can give us higher returns than were common in the last agrarian era. However, they won’t power a rerun of Dallas. This will be a simpler, slower, and poorer economy.

gross-society-4Transporting crude by rail. (Photo: Steven Frame/Shutterstock)

IF OUR ECONOMY RUNS on energy, and our energy prospects are gloomy, how is it that the economy is recovering?

The simplest answer is that it’s not—except as measured by a few misleading gross statistics. Every month the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases figures for new jobs created, and the numbers look relatively good at first glance (113,000 net new jobs for January 2014). But most of these new jobs pay less than those that were lost in recent years. And unemployment statistics don’t include people who’ve given up looking for work. Labor force participation rates are at their lowest level in 35 years.

All told, according to a recent Gallup poll, more Americans say they are worse off today than they were a year ago (as opposed to those who say their situation has improved).

Claims of economic recovery fixate primarily on one number: Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. That number is going up—albeit at an anemic pace in comparison with rates common in the 20thcentury; hence, the economy is said to be growing. But what does this really mean? When GDP rises, that indicates more money is flowing through the economy. Typically, a higher GDP equates to greater consumption of goods and services, and therefore more jobs. What’s not to like about that?

First, there are ways of making GDP grow that don’t actually improve lives. Economist Herman Daly calls this “uneconomic growth.” For example, if we spend money on rebuilding after a natural disaster, or on prisons or armaments or cancer treatment, GDP rises. But who wants more natural disasters, crime, wars, or cancer? Historically, the burning of ever more fossil fuels was closely tied to GDP expansion, but now we face the prospect of devastating climate change if we continue increasing our burn rate. To the extent GDP growth is based on fossilfuel consumption, when GDP goes up we’re actually worse off because of it. Altogether, Gross Domestic Product does a really bad job of capturing how our economy is doing on a net basis.

Second, a growing money supply (which is implied by GDP growth) depends upon the expansion of credit. Another way to say this is: A rising GDP (in any country with a floating exchange rate) entails increasing levels of outstanding debt. Historical statistics bear this out. But is any society able to expand its debt endlessly?

If there were indeed limits to a country’s ability to perpetually grow GDP by increasing its total debt (government plus private), a warning sign would likely come in the form of a trend toward diminishing GDP returns on each new unit of credit created. That’s exactly what we’ve been seeing in the U.S. in recent years. Back in the 1960s, each dollar of increase in total U.S. debt was reflected in nearly a dollar of rise in GDP. By 2000, each new dollar of debt corresponded with GDP growth of only $0.20. The trend line will reach zero in about 2016.

Meanwhile, it seems that Americans have taken on about as much household debt as they can manage, as rates of consumer borrowing have been stuck in neutral since the start of the Great Recession. To keep debt growing (and the economy expanding, if only statistically), the Federal Reserve has artificially kept interest rates low by creating up to $85 billion per month through a mere adjustment of its ledgers (yes, it can do that); it uses the money to buy Treasury bills (U.S. government debt) from Wall Street banks. When interest rates are low, people find it easier to buy houses and cars (hence the recent rise in house prices and the auto industry’s rebound); it also makes it cheaper for the government to borrow—and, in case you haven’t noticed, the federal government has borrowed a lot lately.

The Fed’s Quantitative Easing (QE) program props up the banks, the auto companies, the housing market, and the Treasury. But, with overall consumer spending still anemic, the trillions of dollars the Fed has created have generally not been loaned out to households and small businesses; they’ve simply pooled up in the big banks.Fed policy has thus generated a stock market bubble, as well as a bubble of investments in emerging markets, and these can only continue to inflate for as long as QE persists.

gross-society-5Oil drilling derrick. (Photo: James Jones Jr/Shutterstock)

The obvious way to keep these bubbles from growing and eventually bursting (with attendant financial toxicity spilling over into the rest of the economy) is to stop QE. But doing that will undermine the “recovery,” such as it is, and might even send the economy careening into depression. The Fed’s solution to this “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” quandary is to taper QE, reducing it gradually over time. This doesn’t really solve anything; it’s just a way to delay and pretend.

With money as with energy, we are doing extremely well at keeping up appearances by characterizing our situation with a few cherry-picked numbers. But behind the jolly statistics lurks a menacing reality.  Collectively, we’re like a dietician who has adopted the attitude of the more you weigh, the healthier you are! How gross would that be?

THE WORLD IS CHANGING. Cheap, high-EROEI energy and genuine economic growth are disappearing. Rather than recognizing that fact, we hide it from ourselves with misleading figures. All that this accomplishes is to make it harder to adapt to our new reality.

The irony is, if we recognized the trends and did a little planning, there could be an upside to all of this. We’ve become over-specialized anyway. We teach our kids to operate machines so sophisticated that almost no one can build one from scratch, but not how to cook, sew, repair broken tools, or grow food. We seem to grow increasingly less happy every year. We’re overcrowded, and continuing population growth is only making matters worse. Why not encourage family planning instead? Studies suggest we could dial back on consumption and be more satisfied with our lives.

What would the world look and feel like if we deliberately and intelligently nudged the brakes on material consumption, reduced our energy throughput, and relearned some general skills? Quite a few people have already done the relevant experiment.

Take a virtual tour of Dancing Rabbit ecovillage in northeast Missouri. or Lakabe in northern Spain. But you don’t have to move to an ecovillage to join in the fun; there are thousands of transition initiatives worldwide running essentially the same experiment in ordinary towns and cities, just not so intensively.

All of these efforts have a couple of things in common: First, they entail a lot of hard work and (according to what I hear) yield considerable satisfaction. Second, they are self-organized and self-directed, not funded or overseen by government.

The latter point is crucial—not because government is inherently wicked, but because it’s just not likely to be of much help in present circumstances. That’s because our political system is currently too broken to grasp the nature of the problems facing us.

Quite simply, we must learn to be successfully and happily poorer. For people in wealthy industrialized countries, this requires a major adjustment in thinking. When it comes to energy, we have deluded ourselves into believing that gross is the same as net. That’s because in the early days of fossil fuels, it very nearly was. But now we have to go back to thinking the way people did when energy profit margins were smaller. We must learn to operate within budgets and limits.

This means decentralization, simplification, and localization. Becoming less reliant on long-term debt, paying as we go. It means living closer to the ground, learning general skills, and keeping a hand in basic productive activities like growing food.

Think of our future as the Lean Society.

We can make this transition successfully, if not happily, if enough of us embrace Lean Society thinking and habits. But things likely won’t go well at all if we continue to hide reality from ourselves with gross numbers that delay our adaptation to accelerating, inevitable trends.

Richard Heinberg
Richard is a senior fellow of the Post Carbon Institute and is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost Peak Oil educators. He is the author of 11 books, including Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future and The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality.

National energy boom blurs political battle lines

Repost from The Associated Press, The Big Story

National energy boom blurs political battle lines

By NICHOLAS RICCARDI — Apr. 19, 2014
Energy Politics
FILE – This March 25, 2014 file photo shows perforating tools, used to create fractures in the rock, lowered into one of six wells during a roughly two-week hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Corp. well pad near Mead, Colo. The energy boom is scrambling national politics. Democrats are split between environmentalists and business and labor groups. Some deeply-conservative areas are allying with conservationists against fracking, the technique largely responsible for the surge.  (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

DENVER (AP) — The U.S. energy boom is blurring the traditional political battle lines across the country.

Democrats are split between environmentalists and business and labor groups, with the proposed Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline a major wedge.

Some deeply conservative areas are allying with conservationists against fracking, the drilling technique that’s largely responsible for the boom.

The divide is most visible among Democrats in the nation’s capital, where 11 Democratic senators wrote President Barack Obama this month urging him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which is opposed by many environmental groups and billionaire activist Tom Steyer. The State Department said Friday that it was extending indefinitely the amount of time that federal agencies have to review the project, likely delaying a pipeline decision until after the November elections.

Several senators from energy-producing such as Louisiana and Alaska have distanced themselves from the Obama administration, while environmental groups complain the president has been too permissive of fracking.

There is even more confusion among Democrats in the states as drilling rigs multiply and approach schools and parks.

California Gov. Jerry Brown was shouted down at a recent state convention by party activists angry about his support for fracking. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has kept fracking in his state in limbo for three years while his administration studies health and safety issues. In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper has drawn environmentalists’ ire for defending the energy industry, and a ballot battle to regulate fracking is putting U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in a tough situation.

But the issue cuts across party lines.

Even in deeply Republican Texas, some communities have restricted fracking. In December, Dallas voted to effectively ban fracking within city limits.

“You’re looking at a similar boom as we had in tech in 1996,” said Joe Brettell, a GOP strategist in Washington who works with energy companies. “The technology has caught up with the aspirations, and that changes the political dynamics fundamentally.”

Those technological advances have made it possible for energy companies to tap deep and once-untouchable deposits of natural gas and oil. They include refinements in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is the injection of chemicals into the ground to coax buried fossil fuels to the surface.

The U.S. is now the world’s largest natural gas producer and is expected to surpass Saudi Arabia soon as the world’s greatest oil producer, becoming a net exporter of energy by 2025.

The boom has brought drilling rigs into long-settled neighborhoods, raising fears of water contamination, unsafe traffic and air pollution, and outraging residents.

Pollster Steven Greenberg said Cuomo provides little notice before his public appearances because anti-fracking protesters will crash his events. Republicans blame the governor for stymieing growth. New York voters split evenly on fracking, with Democrats only modestly more likely to oppose it than Republicans.

“No matter what he decides, he’s going to have half the people upset with him,” Greenberg said. “From a purely political point of view, it’s hard to argue with his strategy — punt.”

In California, Brown has a long record of backing environmental causes, but he’s drawn the wrath of some environmentalists for supporting fracking. One group cited the $2 million that oil and gas companies have given the governor’s causes and campaigns since 2006. Democrats in the Legislature have proposed a freeze on fracking but are not optimistic Brown will support it.

The Democratic split is sharpest in Colorado.

Hickenlooper, a former oil geologist, has been a staunch supporter of fracking; at one point he said he drank fracking fluid, albeit a version without most of the hazardous chemicals. His administration has fought suburban cities that have banned fracking, insisting that only the state can regulate energy exploration.

In response, activists are pushing 10 separate ballot measures to curb fracking. One measure would let cities and counties ban it. The effort has the support of Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, a wealthy Democrat. At the state party’s recent convention, he gave a rousing speech nominating Hickenlooper for a second term but acknowledged “none of us … are going to agree on every single issue.”

Some Colorado Democrats worry that the ballot push is bringing energy groups who generally support Republicans into the state. One pro-fracking group has spent $1 million in TV ads.

Jon Haubert, a spokesman for the group, said leaders in both parties think the measures are economically dangerous. “We look at that and say this seems to be an extreme opinion,” he said, referring to the initiatives.

The ballot measures will force Democratic candidates to choose among environmentalists, labor groups and Colorado’s business community, whose political and financial support is vital to Democrats in the swing state.

Udall embodies this dilemma. He’s an environmentalist in a tight re-election campaign with Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who represents an oil-and-gas rich, mostly rural congressional district.

In an interview, Udall declined to say if cities should have the right to ban fracking. “I’m not a lawyer,” he said.

Hickenlooper has put in place several landmark regulations — requiring that drilling occur a set distance from homes and schools and limiting methane emissions from energy exploration. But that has not assuaged activists such as Laura Fronckwiecz, a former financial worker who got involved in an effort to ban fracking in her moderate suburb of Broomfield after a drilling well was planned near her children’s elementary school.

A Democrat, she’s aghast at her party’s reluctance to embrace the cause. “Ten years ago, I’d say it was a progressive cause they’d get behind,” Fronckwiecz, 41, said, “but much has changed, and the politics of oil and gas are not what you’d expect.”

Fronckwiecz says she has Republicans and Libertarians in her coalition, as do activists pushing to limit fracking in energy-friendly Texas. While the GOP-dominated Legislature in Texas has rejected efforts to limit drilling, activists have earned small victories in towns and cities that have limited drilling, and one big win, the Dallas vote.

Sharon Wilson, Texas organizer for the environmental group Earthworks, says she gets a warm reception from conservatives and Libertarians. “When they come into your community and start fracking,” she said, “it does not matter what your political affiliation is.”