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Setback Initiative Puts Colorado Fracking Fight in the Hands of Voters

Advocates for keeping fossil fuels in the ground have gathered enough signatures to provide a ballot choice for voters to increase setbacks for oil derricks and fracking pads from 500 feet to 2,500 feet. This would likely result in a curtailment of Colorado oil and gas production. A major political battle is likely to ensue. The success of this initiative provides a window into the larger choices we face as human caused climate change impacts start to ramp up.

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The Carbon Bubble is Bursting

I admit it. I felt sorry for those poor, duped oil, gas and coal company investors back during the early part of 2015. Many of these guys, fed a constant stream of bad information from the financial news sources, at the time were still enraptured by the notion that fossil fuel stocks were then cheap and that the situation was nothing more than some kind of golden buying opportunity.

Now, six months later, 41 US oil and gas companies have gone bankrupt, powerful major oil companies like Exxon and BP are in the range of 20-40 percent losses in stock price year-on-year, most gas companies have seen even more severe losses, and most coal companies have been reduced to junk stock status (see Arch Coal declares bankruptcy). TransCanada, the parent company of the canceled Keystone XL Pipeline, is challenging United States sovereignty with its 15 billion dollar lawsuit. But it’s questionable if the company will even exist long enough to see the results of its NAFTA-based legal challenge.

Arch Coal stock price

(Arch Coal, one of the largest coal companies in the US, filed for bankruptcy today. The company’s stock price has plunged from 300 dollars per share in 2011 to 58 cents per share today. A total loss to investors of 99.88 percent. The dirtiest burning fossil fuel — coal energy faces headwinds from increasing competition by renewable energy, stronger national policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions, as well as a strong push for fossil fuel divestment by environmentalists and those who have increasing concerns about the impact of human-forced climate change. Image source: CNN Money.)

It’s as if All of Fossil Fuels Were Solyndra

It’s like the curse of Solyndra has been revisited on the entire fossil fuel industry. But while the renewable energy industry is undergoing its biggest boom ever, the fossil fuel industry’s own bad investments, bad performance, bad decisions, and overall bad impacts on pretty much everything from the increasingly wrecked global climate, to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, to Oklahoma fracking earthquakes, to the debacle that is the Porter Ranch gas leak, are sinking it even faster than its carbon emissions are melting the Arctic sea ice.

Back during 2013 and 2014 we warned that continued investment in oil, gas and coal companies was a really bad idea — one that probably represented the worst malinvestment in the history of finance. A carbon bubble that was worse even than the bad real estate investments that led up to the financial collapse of 2008. Trillions-upon-trillions of dollars encouraged by more than 500 billion dollars worth of subsidy support globally from the world’s governments each year. And to what end? Producing fuels which, contrary to wind and solar, increase in price the more you use them even as they wreck the very natural wealth that is the basis for healthy economic systems the world over.

And now the markets are being driven to the brink by just such a terrible malinvestment. Now major fossil fuel supporters are crying crocodile tears to their friends in Congress — asking them to shore up these big, polluting, malinvesting fossil fuel special interests. In other other words — the fossil fuel industry has now gone panhandling to the US government for a bailout after a risky and speculative oil and gas production binge. The fruits of drill-baby-drill thinking resulting in both economic and environmental collapse.

The Cheap Energy Age and Saudi Arabia’s Use of the Cheap Oil Lever

How did this all happen? Well, much talk-talk has appropriately centered around the topic of Saudia Arabia. But, as with many issues covered in the news today, the current conversation over Saudi’s move to turn on the oil taps lacks the full and appropriate context. It’s probably true that Saudi Arabia opened up the spigots in an effort to tamp down competition from US fracking interests and from other high-price but high volume competitors overseas. An issue that short-sighted conservatives and Wall Street vs Main-Street blow-hards like Trump have used to drum up much misplaced rage.

BLOG-Trump-Probably-Hates-This-News-About-Wind-Energy-0722-2015

(Fossil fuel cheerleaders like Donald Trump seem both outraged and perplexed by the fall in fossil fuel fortunes even as wind, solar and electric vehicles make new gains. Image source: Donald Trump Probably Hates This Wind Energy News.)

But the story often not told is the one where wind energy, solar energy, and efficiencies have now become an increasingly competitive player in the energy sector. If one considers jobs growth alone, a single US renewable energy sector — solar — added 35,000 jobs during 2015 growing to more than 208,000. By comparison, the entire US oil and gas extraction industry composed just 199,000 jobs at the start of 2015 and by its end had contracted by 14,000 to 185,000. This point is worth reconsidering for a few moments — just one renewable energy industry now supports more US jobs than the entirety of all the oil and gas extraction interests combined.

What’s going on in the US is part of a growing global trend. In many regions now, wind and solar are competitive with natural gas and coal as well as with diesel electric generation. In total, more than 106 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity from wind and solar alone was likely installed globally over the course of 2015 (see wind capacity forecast here and solar capacity forecast here). Since over 3 million barrels of oil go to diesel electricity generation around the world, this new generation directly competes with that source. In addition, natural gas, which is fungible with oil in many markets, is also being increasingly crowded out by cheap renewables. With coal also under price pressure, the world was flooded with a glut — not only of oil, but of cheap energy sources of all kinds.

Perhaps even more of a threat to the fossil fuel industry was a growing shift within the auto industry toward renewable and high fuel efficiency vehicles. This shift was driven in large part by major countries and influential regions like the US, EU, and China providing ever-higher fuel efficiency standards for their vehicle fleets. The tip of the spear to this effort, of course, is in the growing expansion of electrical vehicle access. And despite ever-lower oil prices around the world, electric vehicle sales continue along at a rather substantial rate of growth — jumping from 320,000 total global EV sales during 2014 to 447,000 total EV sales during 2015. Marking the first time a major oil glut has not dramatically reduced the rate of electric vehicle sales growth.

In this global context of both fossil fuel glut and ramping renewable energy adoption, it was impossible for Saudi Arabia to defend the price of oil without losing much of its market share. And with so many new energy systems coming to the fore, it was all-too-likely that the kingdom would eventually see that market share whittled away entirely. Saudi’s only recourse to defend its markets was to open the pumps and flood the world with cheap crude. But as it did, the move shifted the burden of fossil fuel market erosion back to the highest price, and often dirtiest, producers. In other words — fracking, tar sands and the various marginal mines and fields around the world.

Deepwater Horizon

(Major disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Porter Ranch gas leak have aided in the fall of fossil fuel industry fortunes. But the pervasive and growing concern over human-forced climate change is likely to have an even broader impact. Image source: NOAA.)

So who’s really to blame? In all honesty, those currently seeking the bailout by Congress deserve at least as much of it as the Saudis. They were the ones who over-invested in oil, gas and coal and who failed to see a world in which even heavily subsidized fossil fuels couldn’t compete on the margins with emerging renewable energy and efficiencies. And they were the same fools who also denied climate change. A generation-spanning crisis that is now about to make the 2015 blow to the fossil fuel industry look like the proverbial tempest in a tea-pot.

COP 21’s Ongoing Influence

To this point, we should also be very clear that human-forced climate change is starting to have a serious impact on global policy-making. The storms, floods, droughts, sea level rise, glacial decline, ocean health decline, and mass displacements of human beings and wildlife related to climate change just keep getting worse and worse. So pressure on policy-makers from all corners for comprehensive actions to reduce the harm caused by human forced climate change is growing quite intense.

It is due to this increasingly urgent call to action that the recent stated COP 21 goals were the strongest yet coming from any climate conference. And though they are not yet enough to provide much hope for avoiding a very dangerous and deadly 2 C warming this Century, the goals, if applied, do shift the world solidly away from the ridiculously catastrophic business as usual fossil fuel burning path.

In total, the conference committed to a 40 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030. Further emissions reductions commitments continue on through 2050 at 75 percent. The conference also aimed to increase the renewable energy share of the global energy market to 32 percent by 2030 even as it aimed to reduce total energy consumption by 50 percent by 2050. Adding in even a mild carbon pricing or carbon tax regime and what this means is that the fossil fuel industry is looking at decades of recession and retraction. And since most scientists are now saying that COP21 isn’t enough, that more stringent policy measures will be needed to rapidly reduce carbon emissions, it appears that the harmful practice of burning fossil fuels is being set on a path toward ending this Century.

So once again, as we warned before — the carbon bubble is bursting. The end of the age of fossil fuels is at hand. Fossil fuel investor — beware.

Links:

Arch Coal Declares Bankruptcy

TransCanada Sues US For 15 Billion Dollars

Go Fossil Fuel Free

41 US Oil and Gas Companies Have Gone Bankrupt

CNN Money

The Oklahoma Fracking Earthquakes

The Porter Ranch Gas Leak

Bankrupt Fossil Fuel Industry Seeks Bailout From Congress

59 Gigawatts of New Wind Energy Capacity for 2015

57 Gigawatts of New Solar Energy Capacity for 2015

Electric Vehicles See Major Sales Growth Through 2015

NOAA

COP 21 Success or Failure?

National Solar Jobs Census

Bureau of Labor Statistics — Oil and Gas Extraction Jobs

Hat tip to Greg

Deepwater Horizon On Land: Porter Ranch’s Neverending Gas Leak Prompts California State of Emergency

It’s the gas leak that just won’t end. One whose impacts have now become so wide-ranging that it has prompted California governor Brown to issue a declaration of emergency. But, even with vast state resources now in place to help deal with this disaster, the impacts are likely to be long-lasting and far-reaching. Serious impacts both to public health and to California’s contribution to global atmospheric, oceanic, and glacial warming.

A Dangerous Industry With Long-Lasting Impacts

(The Environmental Defense Fund issued this aerial infrared footage of a massive gas leak at Porter Ranch, California. In total, more than 180 million pounds of the gas has already leaked from the disaster site — increasing California’s methane emissions by 25 percent, sickening hundreds of local residents, and forcing the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes. Video Source: The Environmental Defense Fund.)

Poking holes in the Earth or blasting it apart with high-pressure flows of water to access fossil fuels has always been a dangerous proposition. Much of the stuff is volatile, poisonous, and often under high pressure requiring special equipment to regulate and contain its flow. Often, for decades or even centuries after a well has been exhausted for commercial use, it can still represent a danger to the public. Not to mention the fact that each pound of carbon extracted and burned contributes to pushing the globe toward a terrible hothouse mass extinction event.

It’s the kind of generational legacy hazard we often associate with nuclear energy. But when one considers the combined impacts of human-forced warming of the globe and the potential for toxic blowouts, the often invisible dangers of fossil fuel are revealed. Leaks, or related contamination of water and ground, the long lasting-impact of thousands of old coal mines or oil and gas wells along with the climate impact of the carbon already burned is something probably even worse than the nuclear hazard.

Just One Leak Increases California Emissions by 25 Percent, Sickens Residents

Back in October of 2015, an old gas well in the neighborhood of Porter Ranch, a suburb of Los Angeles, California, began spewing copious volumes of poisonous natural gas into the air. The well emitted 100,000 pounds of gas each hour. A rate that in one single event increased the methane emissions of the State of California by fully 25 percent.

But aside from massively and unexpectedly contributing to an already very dangerous global warming nightmare that is setting off increasingly extreme weather and geophysical changes across the Earth, the torrent of gas spewing from Porter Ranch instantly put residents and animals at risk. People in the region began experiencing wooziness almost immediately and the toxic impacts of long-term exposure to the gas leak can only be guessed at this time.

More specifically, people in the area complained of smells like propane or rotten eggs. Soon afterward, residents began experiencing an odd sense of disorientation. Nose bleeds, headaches, nausea, nagging coughs, sore throat problems, and fatigue followed. The victims included many of the residents of the Porter Ranch neighborhood as well as school children. In total, all of the schools in the region have now been evacuated along with the dwellers in more than 2,000 residences near the leak.

Serious Risk to Public Health Covered Up By Gas Industry

Natural gas in high concentrations impedes the flow of oxygen to the body which may result in a number of health problems, especially over extended periods of time. In very high concentrations, the gas causes asphyxiation which can rapidly result in death. But, also very concerning, is the fact that gas may be laced with dangerous concentrations of sulfur, hydrogen sulfide or other chemicals which can have serious and potentially long-lasting impacts to many major organ systems in the human body. The tell-tale rotten eggs smell residents of Porter Ranch reported is often a sign, not only of the odorant mercaptan, but also of the presence of these dangerous toxins.

Little is now known about the specific harm and danger to those exposed to this massive gas leak — which has been aptly described as a Deepwater Horizon on land. This is mainly due to the fact that SoCalGas, like so many fossil fuel based corporations in the current day, behaved in a reprehensible and irresponsible manner.

Porter Ranch Gas Leak Graphics

(Engineers still are unsure of the exact location of the Porter Ranch gas leak in the well shaft. Solutions include a time-consuming drilling of a relief well more than 8,000 feet deep. Engineers suspect that the leak may have developed where the cement well casing ends some 990 feet below the surface. SoCalGas issued the following graphic as a response to critics who stated the company wasn’t acting fast enough to stop the leak. Image source: Southern California Gas.)

The Porter Ranch gas well was just like many of the thousands-upon-thousands of wells being drilled across this country today. It produced gas until the company owning the well could no longer make a profit from selling it. At this time, the well was fitted with a blowout prevent or to prevent dangerous gas leaks of the kind Porter Ranch experienced over past months. But years later, and with no apparent explanation other than the cost-saving but risk-increasing practice of cannibalizing old well equipment, the blowout preventer was removed. Gas built up in or around the well. And by October of 2015, due to a fossil fuel company’s failure to provide for the safety of people living near the old well, the gas came erupting out.

Unfortunately, as has been the case with the related issue of climate change on a vast scale throughout the industry, and as has also been the case anytime one of these corporations’ hazardous ventures resulted in risk or harm, the first response was denial. SoCalGas couldn’t deny the fact that the gas leak had occurred. But it could deny the impacts. And so, making the false claim that scientists supported their communication, it did.

According to CNN, SoCalGas continuously issued the following statement during the first months of the gas leak:

“The well is located in an isolated, mountain area more than a mile away from and more than 1,200 feet higher than the closest home or public area… natural gas is not toxic and … its odorant is harmless at the minute levels at which it is added to natural gas.”

After residents and animals experienced health problems in the area, it’s become pretty clear that SoCalGas wasn’t telling the truth. It was instead attempting to cover-up both risks and ongoing harm in one of its industrial leak zones. A sadly and reprehensibly common practice.

One More Bad Act By Fossil Fuels

SoCalGas has since backed away from this initial statement and is now simply claiming it will do all it can to plug the well — a process which, like capping the Deepwater Horizon blowout, may take months. One that will take place after the health of Porter Ranch residents has been impacted and after tens of millions of pounds of greenhouse gas trapping methane have erupted into an already carbon over-burdened atmosphere.

To call such industrial activity irresponsible would be a vast understatement. And, given such actions by this destructive industry, one cannot help but wonder why the entirely appropriate campaign to urge individuals and institutions to take the moral high road and divest from all fossil fuels hadn’t started sooner. But now that such a just campaign is active, individuals, institutions, cities, states and nations now have the opportunity show their disapproval for continued risky activity, cover-ups by fossil fuel industry, and an ongoing effort to indefinitely dump heat-trapping carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere by entirely removing their monetary support of this harmful and amoral industry. It’s time to say goodbye to both the toxins and the lies and excuses that are also all-too-toxic to our public discourse.

Links:

Porter Ranch Gas Leak Triggers State of Emergency

Porter Ranch Gas Leak: California Declares State of Emergency

Porter Ranch Gas Leak Live Updates: The LA Times

Go Fossil Fuel Free

The Environmental Defense Fund

Southern California Gas Accused of ENRON-Linked Energy Market Manipulation During Late 1990s and Early 2000s

Rotten Eggs Smell Could Cost SoCalGas

Southern California Gas Official Company History

Sempra Energy — Parent Company to SoCalGas

Hat Tip to Caroline (for showing early, prescient, concern about this particular gas leak)

Hat Tip to DT Lange (for his amazingly thorough research on this subject)

 

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