No one has to remind US Department of Transportation (DOT) officials of the department’s mission … “to develop and coordinate policies that will provide an efficient and economical national transportation system, with due regard for need, the environment, and the national defense.”

One must, however, evaluate the various actions of the department within the context of that mission. EVERY action.

The federal government’s description of the department underscores the importance of those actions. DOT … “is the PRIMARY agency in the federal government with the responsibility for shaping and administering policies and programs to protect and enhance the safety, adequacy, and efficiency of the transportation system and services.”

PRIMARY: When it comes to regulating interstate transportation, then, the DOT is the go-to. Simple enough.

CNA Corporation’s report, National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change may serve as a sort of locus for an examination of “due regard for national defense DOT” that must be undertaken by DOT.

The report, prepared under the direction of 11 retired generals and admirals as CNA’s Military Advisory Board, “asserts that developments in scientific climate projections, observed climate changes, impacts of extreme weather events and changes in the global security environment have accelerated the national security implications of climate change.”

However, the lack of action by both the US and the international community to tackle climate change remains a pressing concern. Follow this link for more information.

Now let us take a look at tar sands oil (bitumen) specifically regarding climate change. If we simply consider the conclusion of professor James Hansen and others (follow this link): we see that exploitation of tar sands oil will push us over the edge, making the Earth uninhabitable. We are ALREADY in trouble.

“Canada’s tar sands are the third biggest oil reserve in the world, but separating the oil from the rock is energy intensive and causes three to four times more carbon emissions per barrel than conventional oil.” Hansen argues that it would be “game over” for the climate if tar sands were fully exploited, given that existing conventional oil and gas is certain to be burned.” (from the above referenced article in The Guardian.

Part of our problem is getting people to simply understand that whatever we put into the environment does not simply float off into infinite space – and I assure you, that gravity-defying idea persists in many people on some level. It involves a sort of cognitive dissonance between the expanding universe of Carl Sagan et al and the fact that gravity keeps in whatever we as humans put out, greenhouse gasses included.

Our task here is much simpler than re-forming human consciousness, though. All we have got to do is ensure that the US DOT fulfills its mission – part of that mission is security.

Security and national defense are, are one level, environmental issues, as our retired generals and admirals have pointed out.

Furthermore, it is part of the DOT’s role as the PRIMARY agency given this responsibility with regard to transportation of tar sands crude and other substances.

This is not information in dispute, in spite of the lobbying efforts of the petroleum interests. This is science. Furthermore there is NO TIME TO DELAY.

The visible and destruction climate change associated with high temperatures, rising sea level, drought, etc. happening at present certainly command attention. These issues are part of the security concerns addressed in the CNA report. Science indicates that we must not delay in addressing climate change and that means slowing the production and distribution of tar sands oil.

From the standpoint of security, stopping flow of the tar sands oil represents the least we can do to forestall disaster. If that’s too much … and in this case too much might not be enough … then simply creating and enforcing reasonable safety standards would be better than doing nothing at all.

If we don’t act at all we are looking to “tipping points” with abrupt impacts on everything from sea ice to ecosystems.” That’s from a report from a committee chaired by James White, professor of geological sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, released by the National Research Council in December 2013.

The report was sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. intelligence community and the National Academies.

See (Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change” Anticipating Surprises)

One might expect that, given the immediate dangers associated with the transport of fuels alone (explosion and loss of life, collision, leakage and groundwater contamination, etc.) that an environment of OVERREGULATION would be predominant. However that is not the case. It has been demonstrated that transporting fuel in unsuitable tank cars lacking basic safety equipment is the rule, rather than the exception; furthermore, the fossil fuel industries are lobbying to delay action on improving equipment.

Simply looking at the mission statement of the US Department of Transportation alone shows that this agency has more to be concerned with than simply the immediate dangers but does, in fact, have a key security role in protecting this country through its regulatory powers – if DOT fails to do so, we might as well not have such an agency. And since it is a primary agency of the government, we might also simply abolish the government entirely – an idea that the fossil fuel lobby might find quite palatable.

oil train

To: Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx
Regarding: Crude oil rail shipments in upstate New York

Dear Secretary Foxx:

The initial purpose of this letter had been to urge you to (1) ban, with an emergency order, the use of DOT-111 cars for transporting crude oil; (2) implement NTSB safety recommendations on crude oil transport, and (3) immediately open a public process for developing new rules and regulations governing oil transportation.

Please pardon me. Transporting crude oil long distances has never made much sense to me. Now it is obvious to me that what I fear most are my own thoughts.

I must carefully consider those thoughts.

For one, I am afraid of the thought that the DOT-111 railcars transporting tens of millions of gallons of Bakken crude oil through upstate New York every week are substandard, lacking basic safety features listed by the National Transportation Safety Board, U.S. and Canadian safety agencies, Congressional researchers, etc.

Of course it is merely my thought that I am afraid of. I’m not afraid a train will wreck at or near the Port of Albany, sparking a catastrophic fire and the chaos of a forced emergency evacuation. I’m afraid of the thought of it.

(This is a good illustration of those kind of thoughts: What a spill might look like.

Neither am I afraid of some kind of spill scenario that results in contamination of New York waterways. Especially one that might, in the near future, involve heavy crude that will sink, rendering cleanup impractical or even impossible. I’m not afraid of such an event – only of the thought of such an event.

I realize now that I can change my thoughts.

Look it’s just obvious to me that we’re just going to go on feeding our national addiction – and this is George W. Bush’s term, not my own – to OIL– until the various it causes, or the resultant global heating and the destruction of food and water resources kills us all. I mean if we haven’t started to get off it BY NOW what with all the breakthroughs in renewable energy making it basically as inexpensive to use solar energy as it is to use fossil fuels.

Man, that word, OIL, just looks good in bold type, doesn’t it? I mean, if there were one word meant to be in bold type, it’s OIL.


This isn’t about the automobile, by the way. I personally love the automobile and, in particular, the American automobile. Why just today I cast my eyes on this humdinger of a 1967 Ford Mustang and I swear my heart just about broke because it was for sale. It was this sort of metallic sea green color, a custom job, and all the chrome had either been restored or replaced and it was only about eight grand. See it reminded me a little bit of Steve McQueen in Bullitt but it was a little bit older and … yeah, better. Snazzier. It had the “stang” that goes into Mustang, you know?

Actually the “baddest” car I ever had occasion to call my own was this handed-down, early 1970s four-door LeMans. Poor thing had been driven around a retirement community in Florida. I don’t have to tell you how wrong it was to put four doors on a LeMans fastback. And then it had the two-tone thing going on, a white roof with a lime green – no a sickly lime green – body.

I digress. Perhaps it is the P.J. O’Rourke I’ve been reading, Driving Like Crazy: Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-Bending, Celebrating America the Way It’s Supposed To Be – With an Oil Well in Every Backyard, a … of the Federal Reserve Mowing Our Lawn.

My point is that we have gone about this global warming/pollution/cancer thing all wrong. We can’t fight an addiction to oil via repression. We need to embrace it. Oh, yes, I may have personally switched to a bicycle, etc. I’m not talking about personal decisions, however, but policy.

The “bomb” trains they’re talking about – the ones carrying life-threatening crude through our beloved urban environments and threaten our irreplaceable waterways — present a rare opportunity to live a little, to create excitement, yay, to laugh in the face of all the “fun-suckers,” as O’Rourke calls them.

Why, the risk of a single spill undoing decades of cleanup of the Hudson, including PCB dredging, should be enough to excite even the most zombified victims of fun-sucking.

Rather than leave it to chance, the stakes in this oil game have been raised significantly due to the increased volume of crude being transported on the Hudson River — now that 2.8 billion gallons are permitted to move through the state annually with as much as seven billion gallons a possibility. That’s what I’m hearing, anyway.

The stakes would be raised again with the transportation of heavy crude which will sink to the bottom of – let’s just say the Hudson River, for laughs — when spilled. That would make cleanup … well nothing is impossible, of course. So let’s just say – whatever is closest to impossible while still leaving open the most remote possibility that somehow, some day, removal of contaminants without creating even more damage might become more than a fantasy.

Of course even with light crude only a small percentage is recovered after a spill, noted National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration scientific support coordinator Ed Levine.

Again, though, this is just a thought. I was alarmed by this dark thought. Just as I was alarmed by the thought that Business Week has reported that CSX Transportation said it hauls an average of 20 to 35 trains a week, each carrying at least a million gallons of crude, across 17 upstate New York counties from the west to Albany and then south along the Hudson.

ALREADY hauls that much – with as many as 44 such trains a week rolling through the state.

Then I realized what I had somehow, in all my wittering, twittering, petty worrying, failed to grasp:

Bomb trains bring back the thrill!

It’s that element of risk that O’Rourke refers to in his paean to the American automobile.

Embrace – and celebrate — the addiction to OIL.

I would suggest two things:

One, designing a BOMB TRAIN THEME PARK to combine nostalgia for the simple thrills of the old-time amusements with the potential devastation of the crude oil-carrying rail tankers. Consider that a fire – “the fire in the sky,” it was called – ended (in the mid 1970s) the useful life of the structure called the “Last Railroad Bridge,” the 1870s span over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie, and you’ll begin to understand the kind of thrills we’re talking about.

Design a roller-coaster for oil train tankers and watch folks line up to ride. (I apologize. I did not mean to use the word, “folks.” For those playing the drinking game that involves downing a shot every time someone uses the word, “folks,” consider — at least consider — taking a pass on drinking by ignoring the supercilious use of the word, “folks” here.

Bomb trains bring back the thrill of the old-time amusement park — not to mention the thrill of a 1940s school air raid drill and the very real threat of attack. So, go on, build it – and they will … duck?

Second, launching an inaugural, BOMB TRAIN DAYS festival to commemorate a huge expansion in oil rail traffic through upstate New York, Albany and along the Hudson River. No longer does the United States have to rely on Third-World countries to supply us with oil – why, it’s almost as if we have become a Third-World country.

Oh, sure, we’ll persist with our boring solar, dreary passive wind power, and other renewables. But for years – perhaps decades – we might still experience the old-time excitement of petroleum combined with new technologies in scraping the barrel, so to speak, for that hard-to-get fuel.

With oil, we get the satisfaction of knowing that marine creatures will perish, that cancer rates will increase, and that global warming will advance beyond the tipping point toward elimination of life on Earth … why It’s the edge of death that makes us feel alive! Ain’t it the truth?

Or … you could, I guess, oppose the bomb trains to ensure immediate safety, long-term health, the sustainability of life itself on Earth, and, of course, a transition to less exciting (I guess) energy sources. I’m seeing opportunity here … and it just turns me on.

I would understand, though, if you’re not willing to risk the continued existence of the human species and advanced life forms on Earth for greater ease and speed to process fossil fuels for consumption.

If you decided to (1) ban, with an emergency order, the use of DOT-111 cars for transporting crude oil; (2) implement NTSB safety recommendations on crude oil transport, and (3) immediately open a public process for developing new rules and regulations governing oil transportation … I won’t get depressed. In fact I’ll probably still find reason to celebrate. That’s just the kind of folks I am.

Fracking-mapIn my mind, Florida has always been the jewel of the continental United States. It’s abundantly clear, however, that climate change is presenting some rather difficult challenges, and will present more and greater challenges.

(Have you been distracted by the industry of climate change denial? Please take a look at this article. It includes a pie chart with only a few crumbs).

Hydraulic fracturing will exacerbate those challenges by 1) adding carcinogenic pollutants to Florida’s water; 2) polluting the air with deadly chemicals; 3) contributing to dangerous climate change; and 4) forestall investment in clean energy alternatives from which Florida is uniquely positioned to benefit.

The oil and gas industry has presented a picture of safety that simply does not exist. Well casings fail. Pieces don’t fit or they break. Spills occur. Carcinogenic racking chemicals and chemicals associated with methane, etc. do get into groundwater where hydraulic fracturing is taking place.

Hydraulic fracturing will contribute toward heating of the planet. That, in turn, will tend to increase risk of disasters such as accidental release of contaminants via storms and flooding.

Beyond the destruction of southeast Florida’s Atlantic beaches through erosion, southeast Florida seems increasingly likely to be battered by violent storms as global temperatures rise. The high volumes of water associated with hydraulic fracturing are likely to present direct environmental and human health threats as they contaminate Florida’s water, air and land.

Breaking up bedrock allows fluids to move beyond target gas harvest areas. The instability of porous limestone is apparent in the destruction of property via sink holes. Pressurizing areas underground seems, at the least, to be inviting disaster in Florida’s case. By the way, here’s an interesting note: Yep, creatures live in underground pools of water associated with limestone. Like in Florida.

Even without the danger of spills, the destruction and destabilization of bedrock, etc., there is substantial evidence that, in practice, hydraulic fracturing releases high levels of methane into the air.

This in itself is murderous. The World Health Organization has determined that millions of people die every year from air pollution.
Some people would argue that “going along” with the program — is patriotic. After all, part of an “all of the above” energy production program being administered by the Obama administration.

It could have been “patriotic” – if the fuels (natural gas, liquid petroleum, coal) the United States is producing were actually owned by the people of the United States of America … if there were state-owned oil and gas companies. The fuels, however, are being extracted, refined, and sold by private companies, in some cases, multinational companies. Shareholders, and the people who benefit from the buying and selling of shares, etc., are the beneficiaries.

In fact … the idea of “U.S. energy self sufficiency” is a canard. Fuels are bought and sold on a GLOBAL market. Indeed, the push to EXPORT American fuels from the new shale oil/gas bounty has been well noted cnn, etc.).

Most significantly, the United States Energy Information Administration has illustrated a very significant foreign investment (China in particular) in U.S. shale gas ventures

And here’s some specifics from the same agency information as reported by the Motley Fool investment research folks.

Without sounding unduly crass, let me put it to you this way: Do you think investors in China cares whether Florida’s death rate due to cancer rises slightly because of hydraulic fracturing, a spill, etc., especially when such a connection cannot be easily be traced? Do you think they care whether another species that is part of a food chain in a specific locale, like the fairy shrimp, disappears? Or that fewer egrets gather in estuaries overwhelmed with toxic chemicals? Do you think they care whether rising sea levels claim a particular stretch of Beach somewhere on Florida’s Atlantic Coast? That the Florida panther goes extinct?

Now … is the gas and oil “American” simply because it was extracted in the U.S.A.? Or is it Chinese, or at least part Chinese? You see … it doesn’t really matter where the gas/oil was extracted because it was probably done so by a multinational company and is going into a global market, quite possibly to be exported.

What matters is that we don’t destroy the state of Florida – the fourth most populous state in the Union – and hasten the demise of the United States and the world in order to line the pockets of international gas & oil investors.

Again, not to sound crass, but drilling for gas and oil at least SEEMED to make more sense in the desert than it would in the vulnerable Everglades, with all of its biodiversity, etc.

Florida has enough problems with rising sea level, with hurricanes, with porous limestone giving way in sinkhole formation, without injecting carcinogenic chemicals into the ground, destroying bedrock, creating very voluminous pools of toxic waste, accelerating adverse climate change and spewing deadly chemicals into the air. It’s clear that Florida must reject hydraulic fracturing and embrace renewable energy.

The opposite of progress

Posted: March 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

The following was submitted to the U.S. Department of State in public comment on the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline Project.

Mr. Kerry:

Thank you for providing this opportunity to comment on Keystone XL pipeline construction.

A Russian stock market news commentator talked about his country’s economy … hopefully … progressing from being a mere commodity resources supplier to a diverse economic engine.

From all appearances the United States is moving in reverse. We moved from an agricultural economy to industrial, post industrial into tech economy and whatever we call what it is today.

We have, however, lost our way … the American way. The way of ingenuity and opportunity.

Ingenuity and opportunity right here in the United States of America. Of course it’s a global economy. That’s exactly why we can’t afford to regress to being an oil and gas exporter. We can’t afford it from an environmental standpoint and we can’t afford it from an economic standpoint.

Economically there is a tremendous risk of our currency being bid up, making our non-petroleum industries noncompetitive. (See Microsoft News).

A short-term boom associated with petroleum production, transport and export will stimulate certain things: Some of these things will be burdensome to society.

To get an idea of what an oil and gas exporting nation looks like, however, all one needs to do is look at photographs of Russia’s Komi Republic region, where tundra has been transformed into wasteland.

There have been many warning signs. Consider Lake Conway in Arkansas. Multiply Lake Conway by many times to reflect the risks associated with pipeline construction for transporting bitumen through key aquifers.

There were the petcoke clouds over Detroit and Chicago.

With Keystone XL operating, “the Texas and Louisiana refineries that would process Keystone crude can produce a petcoke pile the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza every year, which, when burned, would produce more than 18 million tons of carbon pollution” (Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone magazine).

The math is quite simple: Only about 20 percent of known fossil fuel reserves can be burnt if global warming is to be kept within a reasonable range. Unburnable Carbon Report. Anything that would speed the fossil fuel process from the ground to global warming is … suicidal.

Listen … people are dropping dead already from cancers associated with benzene. It’s not like we don’t know that fossil fuel production is dangerous. The Canadian tar sands bitumen is particularly toxic and there is growing evidence that it is very directly making people sick.

When we talk about increasing production of fossil fuels for export … well then we start talking about global warming that will end human existence. It’s very difficult to get our minds around that. We’re so used to cars and gas stations and, heh, you get used to things.

So we have lost our way … there’s no mistaking.

How to get out of this mess?

How about living with a little more dignity?

The current state of our economy – which is, of course, concentrating well into a very few hands – is driven by consumerism. It is a growth economy that leaves large numbers of people jobless and homeless when growth is stalled.

How about an economic system that is not dependent of growth? Please consider “Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources”

True world leadership is not simply a matter of writing laws and applying laws to foster the needs of certain individuals or interest groups. That is mere administration. It’s not even management.

World leaders recognize that humanity is on the brink and that we need real solutions and not simply new sources of revenue which come at great cost. Leaders realize that solutions must be global … it will require the efforts of all nations to pull us back from the brink.

Global warming and pollution will render the human race and other high-level species extinct in short order if the world does not come together to solve our energy problems. The good news is that solar, wind, hydro, etc. are coming of age, offering practical solutions to our energy needs even as fools race to profit from dirty fuel.

There many problems and models that may be difficult for human beings to process. We are creatures of habit, to be sure. We must understand, however, that carbon stays here, around and upon this Earth. It does not drift away into infinite space.

There is a drastic need for change away from fossil fuels. Keystone XL and the increased production and export of fossil fuels, in general, represents the opposite of progress.

Even as the southern leg (Oklahoma-Texas) of the Keystone Pipeline opened Wesnesday, Technician columnist Ishan Raval argued to block the northern Keystone XL leg that would double capacity.

“The production of oil from the tar sands (in Alberta) and subsequent refinement (in Texas) emit three to four times as much carbon dioxide than conventional oil production does. Enough tar sands rest in Alberta to increase atmospheric CO2 from the current 400 parts-per-million (already above the upper safety limit of planetary CO2 of 350 ppm) by 200 ppm, an apocalyptic possibility that will happen if the Keystone XL is given the green light by President Barack Obama,” he argued.

NASA State of Flux: Images of Change” app shows at a click how Earth has changed over the last few decades.

NASA State of Flux: Images of Change” app shows at a click how Earth has changed over the last few decades.

I was thinking about a short story I read long ago called, “The Boy Who Could Predict Earthquakes.” I couldn’t tell you which of the pulp mags published it or who wrote it.

In this little story, a down-on-his luck, old-school newspaperman grouses as he is handed a pile of letters to the editor and charged with sorting and editing them for publication. Of course he resents this duty as he believes he is overqualified for such a mundane task. Still he soldiers on.

One of the letters is a child’s warning of an earthquake yet to happen with an epicenter near an island in the vicinity of southeastern China.

He chuckles to himself puts the letter in the discard pile. At the bar after work one night later in the week (it’s the 1960s and we did say, “old school”), lo and behold, Walter Cronkite is reporting on the TV news on a devastating earthquake that has struck right in the place the letter described.

Some weeks later the newspaperman gets another earthquake forecast written in the same childish scrawl. He doesn’t quite know what to do with the letter – but a couple of drinks later he sees an opportunity to make a little money.

The newspaperman does a little research into the writer of the letters and sells the story – a series of stories, actually – to the Weekly Global Inquisitor, a tabloid of bizarre news.

The boy who can predict earthquakes begins to attract very real attention.

One might expect that his special “gift” is a benefit to humankind. There are, however, those who find it most inconvenient. There are still others who want to exploit this gift in various ways. The net result – well I don’t want to play the spoiler.

I think about this story, though, as pertinent to the Alberta tar sands/Keystone XL pipeline situation. There’s something really strange and sinister going on that enables the mining to continue without regard to the damage and the push to accelerate the development with the building of a pipeline. Something almost beyond human understanding, as tar sands development is so destructive to the biosphere that sustains us.

It’s erroneous to think that Keystone XL won’t worsen climate change “because the oil sands could be developed in its absence; bitumen could be moved to market by other means.”

That is akin to stepping into a riot mob with a bullhorn and saying, “Go ahead and loot the shops and homes; if you don’t do it, somebody else will.”

Facilitating the increased development of Alberta, Canada’s tar sands by building the Keystone XL pipeline would constitute an act of mass destruction and of self-destruction. As energy policy, it compares favorably to the activities of lemmings.

Brigette DePape writes:
“Today the greatest threat facing humanity is climate change … Future extreme weather events and the lives and homes lost because of them can be averted by the actions of human beings. This includes drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning away from fossil fuel projects to renewables.”

DePape cites a letter signed by South African bishop Desmond Tutu and South African activists and African environmental groups:

“Canada, you were once considered a leader on global issues like human rights and environmental protection. Today, you’re home to polluting tar sands oil, speeding the dangerous effects of climate change.”

Let me just put where we stand with regard to survival as a species in terms of a football game. It comes down to where the home team is in field goal range but loses the ball on the next play. The opponent takes the ball to a position where a field goal is in easy range and thus scores.

So it’s a six-point swing against the home team. Instead of a three-point gain, it loses three points to the opposition.

That is basically what we have done with greenhouse gas emissions. And the information’s right there in Scientific American (Jan. 23, 2013) .

You don’t have to be a researcher; you don’t have to be a scientist to get this information. It only requires average literacy. Scientific American is written for everyone.

“The world needs to begin reducing emissions by roughly 2.5 percent per year in order to hit the trillion metric ton target by 2050. Instead emissions hit a new record in 2012, increasing 3 percent to 34.7 billion metric tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.”

We can probably estimate at least a 3 percent increase for 2013 as well. The US Environmental Protection Agency cited a domestic surge to a slight increase in coal consumption.

So we’re 12 points down now and we’re not going in the right direction. Unfortunately this is not just a game. This is life and death for a great many people on this planet. This is species extinction, the elimination of habit for plants, animals and human beings, the loss of our ability to grow the food we eat.

It’s big trouble, in other words.

Why are government officials blithely ignoring science at this crucial moment? The emergence of this desperate fuel source – and I do mean desperate – comes at a time when a majority of scientists concur that mass extinction is underway (American Museum of Natural History—New York) and, furthermore, when most scientists agree that human activity influences destruction global climate change and that immediate action is necessary to even have a chance at mitigating global catastrophe (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, etc.).

Scientific American points out what mechanical engineer John Abraham of the University of Saint Thomas in Minnesota, NASA climatologist James Hansen and other scientists have been alerting the world about: The Alberta tar sands development will add enough greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere to trigger global warming catastrophe.

“Even if just the oil sands recoverable with today’s technology get burned, 22 billion metric tons of carbon would reach the sky,” SA reported. “And reserves usually expand over time as technology develops, otherwise the world would have run out of recoverable oil long ago.

“If all the bitumen in those sands could be burned, another 240 billion metric tons of carbon would be added to the atmosphere.”

This is NOT one of those situations where progress is being made in reducing pollution through technology. Instead, a greenhouse gas-intensive melting-in-place technology is increasing emissions per barrel for tar sands extraction.

“Emissions have doubled since 1990 and will double again by 2020,” says Jennifer Grant, director of oil sands research at environmental group Pembina Institute in Canada.

It’s not simply a matter of choosing between foreign oil — and tar sands bitumen: This is comparing apples and oranges.
Tar sands bitumen is not the same as crude – it requires more energy to extract, more energy to refine and is more toxic. High carbon/low yield. It is junk energy.

Significantly, “producing and processing tar sands oil results in roughly 14 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the average oil used in the US,” SA reported.

That is just the tip of the iceberg, however:

“Either near oil sands mines in the mini-refineries known as upgraders or farther south after the bitumen has reached Midwestern or Gulf Coast refineries, its long, tarry hydrocarbon chains are cracked into the shorter, lighter hydrocarbons used as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. The residue of this process is a nearly pure black carbon known as petroleum (pet) coke … Canadian tar sands upgraders produce roughly 10 million metric tons of the stuff annually, whereas U.S. refineries pump out more than 61 million metric tons per year.

“Pet coke is possibly the dirtiest fossil fuel available, emitting at least 30 percent more CO2 per ton than an equivalent amount of the lowest quality mined coals.”

It’s inconvenient to list all the problems associated with tar sands development. Let’s talk in these terms, however: Those of us who survive the period of tar sands development may see a solar energy future. Fossil fuel use is already killing many people. They are developing and dying from cancer in their youth. The development of the tar sands will kill many more people. Why speed it up?

It could be like a lot of things human beings do that can’t be easily explained — “hidden persuaders,” etc. If I tried to figure it all out I’d still be wondering why Nixon handed the U.S. economy to China … I have to say I just don’t know.

What I do know is that I do know that in the United States we must, at the very least, insist that our aquifers are protected. Transportation of bitumen via any means is a high-risk activity. We have already seen a local health disaster in the form of bitumen spill into Lake Conway in Arkansas — although the mainstream media has not really covered that story. TransCanada’s 1,700-mile pipeline to Texas Gulf Coast refineries, which would process the tar sands crude for shipment to China, would cross the largest freshwater aquifer in North America.

Unfortunately, we Americans are not so good at protecting our drinking water. Take a look at this pertinent article on permitting for a BP tar sands refinery in Indiana.

Lest you be inclined to think of this tar sands issue as a short-term problem that will be overcome as we transition smoothly to renewable energy sources, consider the US Department of Energy’s International Energy Outlook Report which, as Michael T. Klare points out, describes a world continuing to be fossil-fueled, for the most part, into 2040 and beyond. This is a tragic and unsustainable situation as global warming and environmental toxins claim lives.

Consider a short, succinct (click here) list of reasons to kill the Keystone XL pipeline.

Business Week has reported that the US State Department will seek public comment on a yet-to-be-released environmental impact study on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Stronger regs needed for LNG

Posted: November 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

This morning I witnessed a dramatic seasonal phenomenon. It was the kind of experience that made words written long ago come to life, connecting one with the kind of writer no long prominent or commercially viable but occasionally popping up in Yankee magazine or the like.

What it was, you see, was that the fallen logs I generally use to cross above a stream about 14 feet across were being flooded over, creating a waterfall of about four feet in height.

However inconvenient, for the log bridge could not be used with any reasonable guarantee of safety (let alone of dry footwear), the new waterfall was certainly pleasing to the eye and to the ear.

What had happened, you see, was that autumn leaves had fallen into the stream to stuff the gaps in the logs and branches spanning the stream.

The water had nowhere to go but up; it rose to the highest point in the span (which had effectively become a dam) and spilled over.

The gas and oil industry has been busily stuffing falling leaves into a sort of haphazard formation spanning a gentle stream, creating demand ahead of supply in the natural gas industry in an insidious drive to addiction.

Part of that strategy involves liquefied natural gas (LNG).

There is some concern that natgas could become the “big-box store” of the energy sector, as a big price difference between natural gas and diesel fuel drives conversion of trucking fleets, perhaps even a significant number of passenger automobiles à la “Pickens Plan,” with price increases to wallop users later.

Note that the Albany Times-Union reported that, “one of the single largest concentrations of (natural gas) vehicles in New York belongs to the state Transportation Department, which has 623; of those 398 are Honda Civics, which is almost as many as are held by private owners. The balance are a mix of pick-up trucks and vans.” Note that these are compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles as opposed to liquid natural gas (LNG) vehicles.

Liquid natural gas is seen as more convenient to transport and store although a methanol heat-exchanger method must be used to lower the temperature and thus liquify methane.

Way back in 2001, NYDOT bought 60 natgas Honda Civics, increasing its total Civic GX fleet to 110 sedans.

Note also that companies such as Waste Management have converted fleets to natural gas. This isn’t like the fad biodiesel conversion fad we witnessed about a decade ago. This is much bigger and more systemic.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least cite the report of Charles K. Ebinger of the Brookings Institution on projected price increases due to exportation of liquefied natural gas:

“Under the most reasonable assumptions (in this case assuming 6 bcf/day of exports), most reports forecast that natural gas prices will be between 2 and 11 percent higher in 2035 than if the U.S. did not export LNG.”

If you examine China’s thirst for gas, however, you might want to take a harder look at those projections.

(click here)

Of course when you look at China’s growth it’s almost like you’ve entered the world of quantum physics … the usual rules of the physical world don’t apply.

By the way, here’s a more qualitative look at near-term effects of conversion from Forbes magazine:

(click here)

But what of the price increases due to a surge in domestic demand?

The World Bank’s got the domestic price of natural gas doubling by 2020.

(click here)

The World Bank projects crude oil to be slightly lower in 2020 than it is now.

(click here)

So, based on an "expected" increase in demand, there is at least some leveling effect.

Enter the investment community.

Some investors are no doubt playing the "over-and-under" on natural gas — using that two to 11 percent range. There probably is a way to hedge their bets, shorting a heavily leveraged or otherwise encumbered natural gas company.

What could create a much larger increase in demand to create a boon (sorry Mr. Pickens) for those investors? Well, the very build-out that a lift of the New York State ban on new staging/storage facilities for liquefied natural gas could create! Especially if the regulations for new storage/transport facilities are flimsy and fail to shield the public from infrastructure, safety and remediation costs down the road.

Investment analysts, for one, have noted that the lack of refueling, staging and transportation facilities have limited the use of liquefied natural gas and depressed its price. Building new facilities would bring supply and demand closer together. So, in spite of what the New York Department of Conservation may said, B>there IS a connection between hydraulic fracturing (supply) and lifting a ban on new LNG storage/staging facilities with new regulations.

Ebinger notes there is a significant and not-so-hidden agenda behind LNG exports, and that is global political power:

"A large increase in U.S. LNG exports will have the potential to increase U.S. foreign policy interests in both the Atlantic and Pacific basins. Unlike oil, natural gas has traditionally been an infrastructure constrained business, giving geographical proximity and political relations between producers and consumers a high level of importance. Issues of “pipeline politics” have been most directly visible in Europe, which relies on Russia for around a third of its gas."

(click here)

Perhaps LNG exportation gives the United States a stronger voice on the world stage. There is a cost, however. The cost will be to the health of residents of the state of New York and the world. And that will WEAKEN the United States’ voice on the world stage as failure to address global warming has ALREADY WEAKENED the United States’ voice on the world stage.

It’s our failure to address our profligate consumption of energy and join the community of nations on global warming protocols.

From the Washington Post:“At the moment, cheap natural gas appears to be hindering the development of even lower-carbon energy sources. In addition to pushing aside dirty coal, the flood of cheap shale gas in the United States has also undermined the advance of lower-carbon sources such as wind, solar, and nuclear power. And some analysts fear that could prove counterproductive in the long run. One study from MIT suggested that cheap natural gas could actually lead to higher greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States by 2050 if it stunts the growth of renewable energy.”

The newspaper reminds us of what Bill McKibben has called the “new math” of global warming. The best climate science suggests that world can only emit about 500 more gigatons of carbon by mid-century if we want a shot at staying below that 2°C threshold.

“Shale gas is a great advantage to the U.S. in the short term, for the next few decades,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology study author Henry Jacoby said. “But it is so attractive that it threatens other energy sources we ultimately will need.”

Hydraulic fracturing — the source of our new oversupply of natural gas, which is the driving force for lifting a ban on LNG facilities — is spurring global warming through leaks in field extraction operations. It is steering investment away from solar, wind, hydropower and other technologies. Most significantly it is wasting water.

If (replacement of coal with natural gas) this was the only change made to our energy system, the IEA estimates that the world would still be on track to increase atmospheric carbon emissions to about 650 parts per million, “a trajectory consistent with a probable temperature rise of more than 3.5°C in the long term, well above the widely accepted 2°C target.” In other words, relying solely on natural gas to clean up emissions would put the world on pace for global warming that Tyndall Center director Kevin Anderson says is “likely to be beyond ‘adaptation.’ ”

“Under the most reasonable assumptions (in this case assuming 6 bcf/day of exports), most reports forecast that natural gas prices will be between 2 and 11 percent higher in 2035 than if the U.S. did not export LNG.”

(click here)

Here’s what the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change is suggesting: “Focusing on keeping world temperatures beneath 2°C is no longer an effective policy strategy … the United Nations needs to consider adapting climate policy to an amended goal of ‘Mitigate for 2 but adapt for 4’ as the 2°C limit — the point beyond which the effects of climate climate are likely to become catastrophic — starts to slip out of sight. (Click here)

What we are talking about is coastal cities underwater, a sharply diminished food supply, scarcity of water and interruptions in global supply chains.

Any regulations proposed for the storage and transportation of a carbon fuel source should take into account how extraction, processing and use of that fuel source. The regulations should provide for the collection of funds to, at the very least, deal with costs of disaster remediation pertinent to those processes.

Quite frankly, I do not see how this can easily be achieved. And I do not see us avoiding some of these disasters. I do believe that conservation on the part of consumers must somehow become a part of the process. Perhaps any new regulation should include provides for conservation and environmental education, even disaster preparedness education.

I see far too little of substance in the proposed regulations as they stand.

Obviously the natural gas industry is working to create demand … as illustrated here.

Here’s some more information on natural gas export facilities: (click here)

And on natural gas liquefaction: (click here)

In case you missed it, Charles K. Ebinger’s report: (click here)

Given a recording as intimate and exhilarating as Martha Johnson’s SOLO ONE, the last thing you’d expect as an entry point to a review of this truly fine new album (and compact disc) of songs in a variety of styles is the production.

Nevertheless, as Johnson’s first collection for grown-ups apart from Martha and the Muffins demonstrates, a great popular music collection – the kind that makes those “best” lists – can result when the performance, the strength of the songwriting and the production are all in balance.

In other words, while the production shouldn’t overpower the strength of the performance and the songwriting, but neither should it leave a recording seeming dry, flat and listless.
While Johnson’s new release is, as we’ve said, intimate, there is a whole lot (pardon my informality) of production here. There are all kinds of tones and effects here and they are used with such precision as little touches and enhancements that glean like little stars across the breadth of this collection.

This may seem hard to grasp but effects and synthetic or enhanced tones here act very much like sophisticated, coordinated stage lighting – not necesarily an over-the-top lighting extravaganza but something more subtle and ingenious.

Now let me get this out of the way: Martha Johnson has always been associated with stellar production. Three of Martha & the Muffins eight LPs (the band formed in Toronto in 1977 and had a worldwide hit with “Echo Beach” in 1980) helped cement the reputation of young producer Daniel Lanois.

SOLO One is something is something special, however. In the liner notes, Johnson credits producer Ray Dillard for helping her record “the style, sentiment and flow of emotion” she hoped for when he agreed to become involved. Johnson clearly was thinking of the production integrally.

Johnson and Mark Gane also share some of the production credit and all three engineered and mixed the music.

There is simply no tiring of listening to this disc. The depth and texture of the music overall is part of the reason. So is the strength, quality and sincerity of Johnson’s vocals and the instrumentation.

Also, several styles are represented – great for “strum-along” listeners, by the way.

A trio of folk acoustic songs with Ron Sexsmith strumming and singing backing vocals highlight the collection. “See Saw Eyes” has a 70s country rock feel – I’m thinking Poco, America, etc. But there is more going on here. Nasal and throaty simultaneously, Sexsmith’s voice, and his “sons of the prairie dogs” strum (my words – try not to think about them) become a sort of velvet glove for Johnson’s supple, clear and shall I say slender vocal, by that meaning she’s singing powerfully without turning up the volume.

It’s a very poignant song … sometimes it’s the ones that are a little sad that make the biggest impression.

Did I mention effects? Mark Gane, whose guitar work offers more than the word “component” could ever describe – uses effects you might associate more with – well, America, as we’ve noted, but also Badfinger, etc. – than with folk music on this disc – is wonderful on this cut as on others … so interesting in the context.

You know — the percussion on this track is simply Dillard and tambourine and maracas. Astonishing. And the reverb is as thick as tapioca pudding. It works wonderfully.

“Show Me How” occupies a similar electro-acoustic environment with the addition of Don Bray on Hawaiian baritone slide top guitar and Fergus Marsh on electric upright bass. It’s lovely. A sophisticated love song, it occupies a sort of 60s niche I sort of want to call “Canyon” — which I seem to have managed to do.

Adding Max Dyer’s cello to the small combo of Johnson, Sexsmith and Dillard (on cajon) brings a rewarding lushness to this “Canyon” segment of the album in “I Wouldn’t Change a Day.” This song brings the sort of 1960s Mexican/Southwest found on Bob Dylan’s Desire album, among many, many others. It’s the conviction behind the singing, however, that shines through this group of tunes, however. A lesser performance might have left us only with the experience of something vaguely quaint. No such danger here.

We’re talking about production yet we’ve only mentioned the most accessible, least challenging and most nearly acoustic tracks – in other words, we’ve got CBC and NPR covered, but we have to move on to the disc’s crowning glory which is an adult-oriented rock sleeper in here: “Coming Through the Green.”

Come down a road lined in sugar
where the water and the sky are one
painted clouds with silver linings …

Now not everyone is going to immediately grasp what the “green” is and precisely what is coming through it. It’s best left like that. That’s part of the beauty of the skill of Johnson and certain other lyricists – their diction is very precise and only appears to be vague at times.

Still it seems this is somewhere I have always been
Coming through the green

There is what seems to be a vast array of tones on this track but we could probably break it down to a short description – some wah on Gane’s guitar as he pops little string-dampened riffs reminiscent of Mark Knopfler’s most familiar work, his glockenspiel playing at the end of the cut, the particular way the drum kit (Dillard) is recorded and the cymbal hits, the echo and perhaps some heavy filter effects on the kitchen chorus.

Echoes merge the end of this delicious tune into a true sound canvas that is the collection’s most challenging number, “No Man’s Land,” a tune which prompts the listener to consider certain questions about things which may seem, on the surface to be ambiguous. There’s some gravitas here, to be sure, and the painterly application of sound to represent emotion, discovery, identity, takes us places.

It’s funny how those “little” things like the way the drum rolls are recorded on “Remembrance Day” to sound more ominous, more imposing, as if to suggest martial drums on a battlefield, contribute so much to the success of this album. There is the almost sitar-like, brief guitar solo, a guitar made to rumble. And consider the lines of poetry:

It’s all so delicate, so delicate to me

Before the river turned to ice,
for just a moment we had it right

My faith escapes me still I pray

There is much more to this collection. Let listeners discover entry points of their own. For myself it’s a recording in which every sound – and there are quite a few of them — seems directed at certain emotional centers. I could almost call it a “sonic alphabet of emotions.”

There is an understanding of musical space – that voids, both tonally and rhythmically – carry emotional content. For example, there seems to be way more “room” in this music than, say, in a representative Beck album, although both artists explore with tones, effects, rhythms, etc. Comparisons are almost always awkward, of course. Artists have different concerns and different approaches and the finished products reflect them.

The listener would be well served to check out SOLO ONE and perhaps to further explore the work of Martha Johnson and her allies.

Website — Martha Johnson music

Darkwave Folk

Posted: June 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

Molly Durnin wows Caffé Lena audience

Some phrases seem to hang around in a person’s head just waiting for the one, succinct, real-world example that resonates.

So a line of a poem, or a song, such as, “they all die in the air like a soft minor chord,” (some of you will recognize it while others may look it up) sounds very poetic, and a person might have a vague idea of what the person who wrote that was talking about – at least the feeling that one understands.

The Churning of the Milky Ocean, Basohli.

The Churning of the Milky Ocean, Basohli.

Until someone comes along and illustrates or embodies such a phrase, however, it is simply a fuzzy poetic notion: You say you know – but you don’t know.

Molly Durnin brought that phrase to life for me with her guitar about two-thirds of the way through her first of two sets at Caffé Lena, 47 Phila Street, Saratoga Springs, Saturday, June 1. I won’t be more specific – have your own little discoveries, right?

Caffé Lena regulars are probably very much attuned to these kind of moments, the kind that elicit little gasps of self-realization or whatever. One never actually EXPECTS them, however.

One more little truism which comes to mind: You cannot disappoint a truly wise person … unless, of course, you fail to disappoint them somehow, and even then … ah, but you’ll need a moment to digest that. Me too.

There is always risk, but there was never a hint of disappointment Saturday night. This was a remarkable event.

It might seem a little ironic for someone as earthy as Molly Durnin to launch her first set with a song like, “Extra Terrestrial,” but that’s just the thing about artists … you can only trust them to be … artists. That is to say don’t be surprised when they surprise you (as if that were possible).

The song provided an excellent point of departure and showcased some of Durnin’s themes and her techniques, however: Often she lays down a very solid, very punctuated, percussive, bass rhythm, delivering her lyric verses in a nimble, jazz poetess fashion … what’s the phrase for the sort of rhyme created in a half-line or phrase following a full line of verse?

I mean like this:

They send out all their drones/faces never shown

On her studio recording, the chorus is contrastingly ethereal and a just a hair back in the mix.

Notice that you’re already getting an idea of “persona.”

That’s one of Durnin’s stylings. I remind you, however, that this was the warm-up for herself and for the audience.

Now did I say she was earthy? Following a brief and somewhat ironic discussion of vocal chord issues, she gave us, “Down to the Devil,” next out:

His lips were hard to bear/stealin’ kisses from my air

I can only compare (rhyme unintentional) this tune to Florence & the Machine’s “No Light,” which is also a dark-side hard rocker.

This is such a … oh hearing it again on Run, the CD offered for sale at shows and online, makes me want to go off on such a tangent. I almost certainly will … later.

I’m not going to go through her Durnin’s sets in order … except in my head.

Let me just touch on this: Her guitar playing is intriguing enough with a few passing notes here and there. She’s mostly percussive with downstrokes on the bass strings and upstrokes on the treble but also plays some songs dominated by arpeggios, etc. Note that on the Run CD, her mother, Carolyn, lends her guitar work to the exquisite “Rain Falls.”

Some of the scat-singing things Molly Durnin does are breathy and some are more resonant. When she sings right out loud and high she is never shrill. She’s full of nuance and can really mix it up.

In a small way her voice reminds me of a huskier, nimbler version of a soprano recorder: There’s a lower range and then when you only half-cover a hole there’s another, higher set of notes.

Lyrically she makes simple observations … “whatever happened to an open mind” … and profound statements and she uses very creative allegory and metaphor: “Snowman” is probably a “key” tune here, foreboding as it is. A breakthrough song in my book. Just don’t ask me to explain it all to you.

Opening the second set, Durnin prefaced her best-known song, “Ocean,” by suggesting the audience pretend she was a mermaid. I confess: Before the show, she would have had a very hard time convincing me she was anything but a mermaid. Some of that is about where I’ve been in my head and some of it is the sheer strength of the song and some of it involves a very, very famous line of poetry.

There is the familiar deep bass rhythm. Very effective on the recorded version with djembe (Nathaniel Coyne) by the way. (Credit players Steve Candlen, James Kirk, Pat Kiernan and Frank Moscowitz with their sensible restraint on the wonderful recorded track. There is work from others on other tracks.) Mostly there is poetry. Actually this quote is apt:

A woman can say more in a sigh than a man can say in a sermon. (Arnold Haultain)

You can actually hear “Ocean” as a sort of extended sigh, really.

There’s another quote by a well-known early feminist that goes something like, “there’s nothing more terrifying than the mind of a young girl.” Of course … you know we can only “know” such a mind within the limits of our own … so can that statement still be true. Never mind.

Along with “Snowman,” and “Ocean,” Durnin’s “Shadowbox” gives you an illustration. Again hammering on strings for a percussive effect, capo up around the seventh fret. The thing is … if she sings, I’m gonna put you in a shadowbox … the thing is she lets you know her heart is there … if I felt it it would be too much to bear. Or consider this line: My footsteps tryin’ to follow me.

The speaker in these tunes does seem to be a little bit frightened by her own mind. Nothing to fear but fear itself, etc.

Now … given those scary places which, I think, most of us know exist … Durnin is dead set on getting us all out of there and she succeeds to a remarkable degree. It’s certainly there in “Foxes” in which she invokes that kind of rising spirit. I’ll let you find a reference point in musical history. I got mine at the beach.

Durnin had more material than I’ve listed — “Carousel”, “The Holly”, etc. Some of the songs took you down roads where there’s very little traffic and it’s easy to get lost.

To sum up, Durnin showed in her first weekend performance at the historic venue that she could be bright, amusing and endearing as well as challenging and rewarding to listeners. She has that special ability to take you “there” — and if you don’t know where you’re going, she can still take you there. Hah.

In short, equipped only with an acoustic guitar and her lovely voice … Durnin was able to whip up a rich and satisfying soul kitchen banquet that challenged, as well as simply pleased the palate, with complexity and mystery.

She gave the audience an encore with “Face It.” Like the door of a good recording studio, I guess, the kind that seals tight enough so you can hear a little “whoosh” of the air being displaced as it closes, the song was an appropriate closing number. You don’t wanna waste it.

Better Future Project (BFP) has measured a substantial gap between politicians and their alma mater universities’ science faculties on climate change.

Scientists surveyed were nearly unanimous in consensus that climate change is happening and people are responsible.

Only 55.5% of politicians, however, have publicly and unambiguously backed the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and people are responsible, BFP reported.

BFP is convening and staffing the Vigil to End Climate Science through noon, Tuesday, in Boston.