About Air and Water

Sunday, July 27, 2008

This Time, It's Different - Global Pressures Have Converged to Forge a New Oil Reality

By Steven Mufson - Washington Post Staff Writer - Sunday, July 27, 2008
The two events, half a world apart, went largely unheralded.

Early this month, Valero Energy in Texas got the unwelcome news that Mexico would be cutting supplies to one of the company's Gulf Coast refineries by up to 15 percent. Mexico's state-owned oil enterprise is one of Valero's main sources of crude, but oil output from Mexican fields, including the giant Cantarell field, is drying up. Mexican sales of crude oil to the United States have plunged to their lowest level in more than a dozen years.

The same week, India's Tata Motors announced it was expanding its plans to begin producing a new $2,500 "people's car" called the Nano in the fall. The company hopes that by making automobiles affordable for people in India and elsewhere, it could eventually sell 1 million of them a year.

Although neither development made headlines, together they were emblematic of the larger forces of supply and demand that have sent world oil prices bursting through one record level after another. And while the cost of crude has surged before, this oil shock is different. There is little prospect that drivers will ever again see gas prices retreat to the levels they enjoyed for much of the last generation.

Unlike the two short, sharp oil jolts of the 1970s, the latest run-up has been accelerating over several years as ample supplies of crude oil have proven elusive and the thirst for petroleum products has grown. The average price of a barrel of oil produced by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries doubled from 2001 to 2005, doubled again by March this year and jumped as much as 40 percent more after that.

For American motorists, a full tank of gas costs nearly twice what it did at the start of last year, racing past the $4-a-gallon mark, and has begun cutting into other household spending.

"What can you do? You need gas," said Barry Modeste, a construction worker who stopped his van at a Shell station in Takoma Park one recent morning to add $15 worth. It was enough, he said, to get him to a cheaper station in Rockville. "If you don't have gas, you can't get to work. And if you can't get to work, you don't get paid. And if you don't get paid, you can't buy food. We're at their mercy."

Last month, 51 percent of the respondents in a Washington Post poll said rising gas prices were causing a serious financial hardship for them or others in their household. It was the first time a majority had said that since the poll began posing that question eight years ago.

The rising prices are also adding to inflation, aggravating the U.S. trade deficit -- oil now accounts for about half of it -- and taking a toll on businesses already struggling with the economic slowdown caused by the housing and financial crises.

"I'm a very small businessman. If I get any smaller, I'll be out of business," said independent trucker Lee Klass, who was driving through the Texas Panhandle this month with a 33,000-pound load of plastic containers bound for Colorado. Klass had just paid $636 for fuel, enough for the trip but no more. Filling the tank would cost nearly twice that much.

Abroad, riots shook India after the government trimmed fuel subsidies. Truckers in Britain, France, Spain and South Korea have clogged the roads to protest rising fuel prices. In the Philippines, soaring prices for oil and petroleum-based fertilizer have derailed the economy and ignited calls for a cut in the tax on oil imports. With her popularity at a record low, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is expected to confront the issue in a nationally televised speech scheduled for tomorrow.

Even after oil prices have tumbled more than $24 in the past two weeks, largely as the result of easing tensions in the Middle East and slowing U.S. economic activity, crude is still trading near historic highs.

In a series of articles starting today, The Washington Post examines the economic forces that have unhinged oil prices from their longtime cyclical patterns, propelling fuel costs to once unimaginable levels that are now both fraying the lifestyles of our recent past and speeding the search for an energy source of the future.

Read the entire article and other parts of the series in the Washington Post.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cheney's Staff Cut Testimony On Warming

Health Threats at Issue, Ex-EPA Official Says
By Juliet Eilperin - Washington Post Staff Writer - Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Members of Vice President Cheney's staff censored congressional testimony by a top federal official about health threats posed by global warming, a former Environmental Protection Agency official said yesterday.

In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason K. Burnett said an official from Cheney's office ordered last October that six pages be edited out of the testimony of Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gerberding had planned to say that the "CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern."

Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the administration sought the changes for fear that Gerberding's testimony could trigger new controls under the Clean Air Act that would regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. The White House has opposed mandatory limits and has insisted that voluntary measures and increased research are the best ways to address the issue.

"The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Office of the Vice President (OVP) were seeking deletions to the CDC testimony," Burnett, 31, a Stanford-trained economist and a Democrat, wrote in response to an inquiry from Boxer's committee. "CEQ requested that I work with CDC to remove from the testimony any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change."

Several media outlets, including The Washington Post, reported at the time of Gerberding's testimony that the administration had revised her proposed remarks. White House officials justified the changes by citing doubts about the scientific basis of her testimony.

Burnett -- a grandson of high-tech entrepreneur David Packard and a member of the Packard Foundation's board of trustees -- has given more than $129,000 to Democratic campaigns in recent years, including $3,600 to presidential candidate Barack Obama (Ill.). He did not identify who in the vice president's office had called him.

"I'm not interested in pointing fingers at any individual," he said at a news conference with Boxer, adding that he is focused on how the government will address climate change in response to a Supreme Court decision last year requiring the EPA to deal with rising carbon dioxide emissions. "I'm interested in helping inform the next administration to help make those decisions, while recognizing Congress could act to pass a better law."

Boxer demanded that, in light of Burnett's allegations, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson turn over "every document related to the agency's finding that global warming poses a danger to the public" -- a determination the EPA reached late last year in a document that has never been made public. On that basis, the senator said, the agency must issue regulations to limit the emissions.

The White House declined to open the EPA e-mail containing that finding, which Burnett sent on Dec. 5, leaving the recommendation in limbo. Burnett was responsible for climate change issues at EPA.

"I'm calling on Mr. Johnson to act now, and if he doesn't have the courage or the strength or determination to act, he should resign," Boxer said.

EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said Johnson will not provide the documents, but added that Boxer and others will be able to read about the agency's findings in detail when it releases its proposed regulation of greenhouse gases, expected within days.

"The administrator is glad to see Senator Boxer agrees that we need a robust and complete advance notice of proposed rulemaking that will come out as soon as Friday," Shradar said, adding that "a lot of those documents" Boxer is seeking will be in the proposal. "I don't know if she's just now working on her summer reading list or what."

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said that any changes to Gerberding's planned testimony were made "during the normal editing process" and that she "spoke openly and fully without constraint" while testifying before the Senate.

Frank O'Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said the revelations confirmed that the vice president has been steering environmental policy during President Bush's tenure

"For years, we've suspected that Cheney was the puppeteer for administration policy on global warming," O'Donnell said. "This kiss-and-tell account appears to confirm the worst."


Read more in the Washington Post

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Chesapeake may walk away from Fort Worth site

By JIM FUQUAY - Fort Worth Star Telegram - July 2, 2008
Chesapeake Energy on Tuesday asked the city of Fort Worth to postpone a hearing set for next week on its request for a high-impact drilling permit off Eighth Avenue, near the Berkeley Place and Ryan Place neighborhoods, and indicated that it could back away from the site.

The delay means Chesapeake could lose its lease on the site, which expires Aug. 10, unless it can obtain an extension from the landowner, Fort Worth & Western Railroad. It had intended to use the location, at 2520 Eighth Ave., to drill at least two wells under the railroad’s right-of-way, a nearby church and an apartment complex, according to filings with the Texas Railroad Commission.

The move follows a meeting Monday of Chesapeake officials, neighborhood leaders and railroad representatives. It was the latest in a series of meetings to discuss neighborhood concerns about safety and environmental issues.

Julie Wilson, Chesapeake’s top executive in the Barnett Shale, said Tuesday that the company is prepared to walk away from the lease if it cannot reach a consensus with neighborhood leaders on an acceptable drilling and development plan.

"That doesn’t mean we ever expect to get 100 percent support," Wilson said. "But we did say that, yes, we want the leadership of the neighborhoods to support this."

At the same time, she said, "we don’t want battles in city hall" over the granting of a high-impact drilling permit, which Chesapeake is required to obtain because homes are within the 600-foot buffer required by the city’s drilling ordinance. Chesapeake has been unable to obtain waivers from all property owners within that buffer, making a waiver from the City Council its only option.

The company has not withdrawn its application for a drilling permit at the site.

Council member Joel Burns, who represents the neighborhoods, said that although the issue is not yet resolved, he’s pleased with Chesapeake’s action to postpone what promised to be a contentious hearing.

"They have reached out aggressively in the last month. Unfortunately, a month was not nearly enough time to resolve all these issues," he said.

Neighborhood leaders said they were encouraged by Chesapeake’s approach to the controversy.

"They have a totally new attitude in terms of working with the neighborhoods," said Bill Hall, who attended the meetings as an organizer of the Joint Neighborhood Committee, formed last year to deal with mineral-rights leasing concerns.

Dan Roberts, who attended the meeting as a representative of Ryan Place Improvement Association, said that although he’s not convinced that the company fully appreciates the depth of opposition to drilling at the site, "they’re miles from where they were."

Complicating the issue are comments by railroad representatives who said they will explore other, possibly more intensive, uses at the drill site if it is not used for a gas well. An attorney for the railroad declined to comment on possible plans. But people at the meetings said they include freight storage or rail-car loading.
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

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Summer Schedule (June 2-August 26):


shows at the UTA Planetarium.

Wed. through Saturdays at 11 a.m.
and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.

Cosmic CSI

shows at the UTA Planetarium 3-D Digital Dome.

Wed. through Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Rock Hall of Fame 1 (The Original)

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Read more (Warning their flat dull website doesn't give much of a glimmer of the multi-dimensional experience you'll have once you enter the dome of the UTA Planetarium!)

Admission: Adults: $5.00

Seniors, Students, Children: $4.00

UTA Faculty, Staff & Alumni (with ID): $3.00

UTA Studens (with ID): $2.00

Groups of 10 or more with reservation: $3.00

Call 817 272-1183 or e-mail planetarium@uta.edu