Sunday, August 01, 2021

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Huge carbon capture pipeline network proposed: Industry's 'delay-and-fail strategy' rises again

An astute journalist I know once described carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a "delay-and-fail strategy" devised by the fossil fuel industry. The industry's ploy was utterly obvious to him: Promise to perfect and deploy CCS at some vague point in the future. By the time people catch on that CCS won't work, the fossil fuel industry will have successfully extended the time it has operated without onerous regulation for another couple of decades.

And because huge financial resources (mostly government resources) will have gone to CCS projects instead of low-carbon energy production, society will continue to be wildly dependent on carbon-based fuels (giving the industry further running room).

The trouble is that the cynical CCS strategy has already been under way and failing for more than two decades already. And yet, it is seeking a renewed lease on life with a proposal for a vast network of carbon dioxide pipelines "twice the size of the current U.S. oil pipeline network by volume." The public face of the effort is a former Obama administration secretary of energy with a perennially bad haircut, Ernest Moniz.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Has OPEC finally won the war against shale oil?

I have maintained for the past six years that a key goal of OPEC has been to so demoralize investors in shale oil that they stop sending money to the companies that drill for it. As I've written previously, I believe that OPEC's contest with the shale oil industry is "part of a broader strategy meant to maximize Saudi revenues as production in the kingdom hovers at an all-time high over the next decade before beginning a decline." It now appears that OPEC may have finally won its war against shale.

Investment in shale oil companies has finally collapsed—even as oil prices levitate. It has been a long time coming. The industry would like you to believe that it is now showing "restraint" in its capital spending. But, to use a dieting analogy, there is a big difference between watching what you eat and having your jaw wired shut—involuntarily in this case. The industry has experienced the equivalent of the latter in the capital markets.

What has amazed all of us who watched this battle play out is that OPEC didn't win sooner. The relentless tolerance for losses among investors was beyond belief. And, when those investors returned in force after a brief vacation during the oil price bust in 2015, we skeptics grew concerned that rational thought had been eliminated from the universe.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Climate change consequences: Too hot, too wet and out of time

The last few weeks have demonstrated that we have arrived at the climate change catastrophe long prophesied by climate scientists—a catastrophe that many thought we still had decades to avert.

In the Pacific Northwest high temperatures broke records day after day. In my former home of Portland, Oregon the temperature reached 116 degrees F (47 degrees C). If you look at the average high temperatures in Portland in summer, you'll see why air-conditioning is not a feature of the average Portland home or apartment. I lived comfortably without it during the four years I was there. Last week Portland seemed as if it had moved to the desert Southwest.

North and south of Portland, the extreme drought in the West continues as wildfires swirl toward another terrible season. Wildfires now dot British Columbia as well as Western Canada suffers from extreme heat. And, drought exacerbated by climate change is occurring on other continents including in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest and in Thailand.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Modern architecture: Ugliness is Beauty

There's a joke about contemporary architecture schools (which I've related before) that goes something like this: The purpose of architecture schools these days is to graduate tortured geniuses who design one-of-a-kind buildings which have no relationship to their surroundings. But I think the joke is on us. Board after board, commission after commission, and company after company have approved the most hideous buildings, believing they were being forward-thinking, open-minded and on the leading edge.

John Ruskin, the great Victorian art critic, observed that art both reflects and instructs the society in which it is embedded. The cartoonish buildings which now deface the American skyline and those in many cities around the world reflect a fundamental disturbance in the mind of the architectural community. But they also reflect the minds of those who approved these buildings, minds which appear untethered to any sense of historical continuity or human connection.

That is the curse of an age which believes it has now freed itself from the past. We have lost all perspective and anchoring. And, instead of being free, we have become bewitched characters in an Orwellian fantasy in which ugliness is beauty and love of beauty is some kind of pathologically naive attachment to bourgeois values—values which have no sympathy for the rising democratic spirit of the age.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Shale oil and gas fraud: A sign of a peak in oil supplies?

Those of us who watched incredulously as investors shovelled more and more money into what we were sure were money-losing shale oil and gas drillers do not find the current spate of fraud lawsuits against these drillers surprising.

The gargantuan claims about shale hydrocarbon reserves—which were compared more than once to those in Saudi Arabia—were clearly designed to woo investors into bidding up the stock price and/or hoovering up the constant stream of junk bonds emitted by the shale oil and gas drillers. The hype succeeded for a long time, even during the crash in oil prices in 2015 and beyond when investors convinced themselves that they were picking up "bargains."

It wasn't until the pandemic-induced plunge in oil prices that the reality of those outlandish claims was revealed, and many companies disappeared.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Who pays for the care of "orphaned" oil and gas wells? You do

When oil and gas wells end their useful life, one of two things happens: 1) They are plugged and capped to prevent further flows or 2) they are simply abandoned.

When they fall into the second category, they are called "orphaned" wells and they become the responsibility of the government to secure. But that's if the government actually knows about them. Records of well placements are not always so carefully maintained and can get lost during bankruptcies and changes in ownership or due to sheer carelessness. As a result, there appear to be far more abandoned wells than the orphaned ones that governments know about.

Since I last wrote about this problem in 2012, there has been a huge wave of drilling in Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico and Colorado as the so-called shale revolution unleashed billions of barrels of previously inaccessible oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas on the world. Now that drillers in the shale fields have fallen on hard times, many wells are idle and at risk of being abandoned.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Debate over origin of COVID highlights catastrophic systemic risks

I do not claim to know where the COVID-19 virus originated. And, I don't think we will ever know for sure. But claims and counterclaims about its origin highlight a systemic problem that goes far beyond the details of this debate. In this case, those positing a possible laboratory origin believe that scientists manipulating coronaviruses for research purposes may have carelessly let one of their altered viruses infect them. The scientists then unknowingly carried the virus out of the lab and into the streets of China.

What's important about this scenario—and again, we have no definitive evidence it happened—is that it could occur in any of the special laboratories worldwide which study dangerous infectious diseases. A recent report highlighting the problem listed 59 biosafety level 4 labs (the highest level), a tally that includes those planned and under construction. Some 42 are believed to be currently operating. These labs "are designed and built to work safely and securely with the most dangerous bacteria and viruses that can cause serious diseases and for which no treatment or vaccines exist." (For a very brief primer on biosafety levels, read this.)

So, how closely are these labs monitored? The report continues, "There is, however, currently no requirement to report these facilities internationally, and no international entity is mandated to collect such information and provide oversight at a global level. Moreover, there are no binding international standards for safe, secure, and responsible work on pathogens in maximum containment labs."