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Sierra Daily: January 2014


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7 posts from January 2014

Jan 31, 2014

Sweet Crude Man Camp

Sweet Crude Man Camp on Vimeo

This morning on NPR's "Morning Edition" Kirk Siegler had a great story about a guy who lives in Western Montana and commutes 580 miles to work in the oil boom town of Williston, North Dakota ("Commuting to Distant Oil Fields: Good Money, At a Price").

Last summer, Richardson easily found work in northwestern North Dakota as a cement operator, putting casings on new oil wells. He has a bed in a "man camp" on the outskirts of Williston, but with so much drilling going on, he rarely goes there, even at night.

He usually works 18 to 24 hours straight, sleeping when he can in the back of a giant rig that he drives from one drill site to the next.

"It's pretty tough, trying to adjust to living in a truck, working on the job site on location, 24 hours a day, for three, four days at a time before you make it back to camp," Richardson says.

Richardson sounds exactly like one of the characters in Isaac Gale's wonderful short (10:35) film, Sweet Crude Man Camp, which also takes place in Williston: A guy living in his truck because he doesn't want to spend $4,000 a month to rent a dormlike room in a "man camp." As usual in resource booms, from the Gold Rush on, the real money is made not by the boomers but by those selling them the shovels. I could tell you all about it, or you could just watch it below. 

  

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

 

Jan 28, 2014

KeystoneXL--Blowing Stuff Up

Clipboard01Exploding pipelines, exploding trains, now exploding cows--the petrochemical industry has a definite image problem these days. On Sunday, a natural-gas pipeline in Manitoba owned by TransCanada--the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline--exploded, shooting flames nearly a thousand feet in the air. (Horrifying video here.) Then just the other day progressive burrito-chain Chipotle released the trailer for its upcoming 4-part series on Hulu, "Farmed and Dangerous" (see below), a very-promising satirical story about the "Animoil" corporation, which feeds cattle "petro pellets" and hopes to link its farms directly to the Keystone pipeline. An unfortunate glitch is that sometimes the cows, well, explode: 

 

Speaking of Keystone and explosions, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says that 

Republicans are considering attaching a Keystone decision to a new law to raise the debt ceiling, which may be needed by the end of February for the U.S. to avoid another financial crisis.

So if President Obama doesn't OK Keystone, the GOP is prepared to blow up the world economy. KABLOOEY! 

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

Jan 23, 2014

Good News--Wind Turbine Collapses!

Nordtank  Vestas  wind system fail and crashes.   YouTubeLast week a 1.5 MW wind turbine collapsed at NextEra Energy Resources' Mill Run wind farm in Pennsylvania. (The screenshot at right is NOT it, but the dramatic 2008 collapse of a turbine at Hornslet, Denmark. See below for amazing video.) No one was injured. 

“Turbine failure is extremely rare but something we obviously take very seriously,” says [Nextra spokesperson Steven] Stengel. “We've engaged our experts that are currently at the site investigating the cause. The other nine turbines are currently not operating.”

So why is this good news? Let's pitch that big ol' softball to John Hanger

A collapse of a wind turbine is as bad as it gets at a wind farm. But wind at its worst does not cause 300,000 customers to lose water service. It does not cause a fireball that levels homes and kills 47 people sleeping in their homes, as happened with an oil train explosion in Canada.  Wind at its worst does not cover vast portions of the Gulf of Mexico with oil.

And solar spills? Worst that could happen is you get a sunburn. 

 

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

 

Jan 22, 2014

Dude, Where’s My EV?

2014 Cadillac ELRThe annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit wraps up this week, leaving electric vehicle fans underwhelmed with no unveilings of hybrid, plug-in electric, or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles ready for the public. In fact, in the fuel-saving arena the big attraction was a big truck: the top-selling, garage-swamping 2015 Ford F150, which Ford hopes will achieve “close to” 30 mpg on the highway. (Audi did show off a “concept car” that it claims will travel 31 miles on electricity before its gasoline engine kicks in; as for availability, according to an Audi spokesman the so-called Allroad Shooting Brake offers “very concrete glimpses of the near future.”)

For that matter, the plug-in auto market has hit some sort of plateau: the only truly new models ready for the public are Cadillac’s sleek $76,000 ELR (which arrived in dealerships in December) and BMW’s otherworldly $41,350 i3, which has been available in Europe since November and hits the U.S. in May. The ELR, like the Chevrolet Volt upon which it is based, has a “range extending” gas-powered generator; the BMW is available with a range extender for an additional $3850.

Market research firm Gartner unflatteringly calls this technology lull the “trough of disillusionment” that naturally follows a “peak of inflated expectations.” (The Frankfurt Auto Show -- the world's largest -- was wall-to-wall green vehicles in 2009.) Fortunately for electric-vehicle supporters, Gartner's so called "Hype Cycle" anticipates a “slope of enlightenment” and “plateau of productivity” after the aforementioned trough. For the curious, John German, who focuses on technology innovation and U.S. policy development for the International Council on Clean Transportation, puts electric vehicles in compelling long-term perspective.

There is other good news: Today more than a dozen plug-in vehicles (gas/electric hybrid and all-electric) are available to the buying public, from the $23,845 Mitsubishi i to the $95,000-plus, 265-miles-per-charge Tesla S sedan. (Those figures don’t include the $7,500 federal tax credit or any state incentives.) For a look at what’s available, head over to the Sierra Club’s Electric Vehicle Guide.

Image of 2014 plug-in hybrid Cadillac ELR courtesy of GM.

Blog photo   HS_ReedMcManus (1)Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

Jan 17, 2014

How Dry Is It In California?

Calif-snow-2013-vs-2014This dry. Image at left is what California looked like from space at this time last year, at right this year. So dry that this morning California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency... 

...as the state struggled with the lowest-levels of rainfall in its 153-year history, reservoirs were at low levels and firefighters remained on high alert.

"We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation," Brown said.

The governor asked Californians to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent. 

Shasta_oli_2014004It's so dry that Mt. Shasta, the source of the Upper Sacramento River and usually covered in 100 inches of snow at this time of year (it got 189 inches in a single storm in 1959, a world record), now looks like this. Slopes at the mountain's ski area are mostly closed, with only one or two inches of snow on the ground. And Shasta Lake, the huge reservoir that holds much of its runoff for delivery to the fields of the Central Valley, is at a mere 37% capacity. Many towns are already seeing their drinking water supplies run perilously low; Willits, for example, has less than a 100 day supply. And there is already a serious wildfire in Southern California's San Gabriel mountains. 

As ever, California's scary drought cannot be conclusively linked to climate change--although climate models do predict that that is what we can expect under global warming. If not climate change, it's something that looks exactly like it. 

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

Jan 15, 2014

Greener Than Thou

49 (1)I live in densely populated Berkeley, California, while my sister lives on a farm near bucolic Bowie, Maryland. Which one of us is greener? Thanks to a team of researchers from the University of California at Berkeley (score one for the hometown team already!), we can now find out. For a paper in Environmental Science and Technology, Christopher Jones and Daniel Kammen combined census data, transportation figures, and 35 other variables to come up with an interactive carbon footprint map for 31,000 zip codes in 50 states. It shows the average annual household carbon footprint in Berkeley to be 35.1 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent; Bowie--sorry, sis!--clocks in at 68.9.

The biggest portion of Bowie’s bigfoot, I can see, is transportation--nearly a third of the total. The same goes for Berkeley, but apparently our public transportation options are better, or at least better used. In fact, I can see that the average Berkeleyite in my zip code travels 1,292 vehicle miles per month (at a cost of $173). For their part, Bowieites travel 2,715 vehicle miles per month, for $225.

That points us at the study’s key finding: Even though less than half of the U.S. population lives in the suburbs, suburbs account for half of all U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions.  “Unfortunately,” says Jones, “while the most populous metropolitan areas tend to have the lowest carbon footprint centers, they also tend to have the most extensive high-carbon footprint suburbs.”

Play around with the site and see how your community measures up. Demographics, of course, isn’t destiny: You can improve your score in the future by searching out clean energy solutions

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

Jan 10, 2014

Saudi America

 

Bp-exxon-warming-2035In the last issue of Sierra, I wrote about how we are becoming the Carbon States of America. Our energy-related greenhouse gas emissions are falling, but we’re stepping up our exports of coal and natural gas. Oil, I noted, is another matter:

U.S. law currently forbids the export of domestically produced crude oil, a ban the industry is lobbying to overturn.

With the United States now experiencing an oil glut, that lobbying is becoming increasingly intense. Earlier this week, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (R), urged her Senate Energy Committee to review the crude oil ban. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the oil industry predictably chimed in in favor.

"We should not be bound by past practices," said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, in a speech at the Newseum in Washington. "It's a new day, it's a new time, it's a new America as it relates to oil and natural gas."

The United States, Gerard said, "should be working to 'figure out how to become the energy superpower in the world.'"

Environmentalists naturally oppose increasing exports of dirty energy from the United States. They have an unlikely ally in the refining industry, which is currently making a bundle by exporting gasoline and diesel that they make from cheap domestic crude.

The effort could bring in new lobbying firms to battle on the refiners' behalf and ultimately could expand to a broader coalition of crude export foes, including consumer advocates and national-security groups worried about squandering America's current energy advantage.

 So get ready for a bruising battle over gas prices, national security, and maybe even the environmental effects of using every last drop of fossil fuel before turning to renewables. In that interest, Barry Saxifrage at the Vancouver Observer has worked out--using data from ExxonMobil's global energy report The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040--the climate implications if the world uses all the oil and natural gas that fracking is making available.

ExxonMobil includes a colourful chart showing the surge in climate pollution that will result from burning all that extra oil and gas. They even provide the numerical data in a table at the end of the report.

What they don't talk about, however, is what all the climate pollution means for your future. They never mention how hot the planet will get or what changes that is expected to bring.

Saxifrage's graph of the result is above, showing the world on a path to a future that is 4 degrees Centigrade--more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit, an increase the World Bank calls "devastating." 

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise, he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

 


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