The Oil Crash is Under Way [UPDATED 12/13]

When big trees come down, they start slow and end with a crunch. (Photo by geograph.org.uk)

When big trees come down, they start slow and end with a crunch. (Photo by geograph.org.uk)

When you are felling a really big tree, the first signs that it is coming down are subtle; a crack here and there, a twitching of the crown. By the time these clues register on you, the tree is on its way down. The cracks and twitches from the U.S. oil industry are coming almost hourly now, and although it is a really big tree, and won’t actually hit the ground until next year, its fate is pretty well sealed. Here are this week’s signs and portents: Continue reading

Rage Against the Dying of the Lights

The lights went out in Hoboken in 2012. They’re going out more often, for longer, in more places. Are you ready? (Photo by Alec Perkins/Flickr)

The lights went out in Hoboken in 2012. They’re going out more often, for longer, in more places. Are you ready? (Photo by Alec Perkins/Flickr)

Much of Detroit went “gentle into that good night” this week, its entire municipal power grid succumbing to age, infirmity and neglect.  It was no big surprise, Detroit’s public buildings (schools, fire and police stations, courts, a hospital, etc.) and traffic signals went dark in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Nor would it have surprised the readers of a recent study [“The Technology and Sociology of Power (Failure)”] whose authors concluded that “Blackouts are dress rehearsals for the future in which they will appear with greater frequency and severity, and as urban areas become more compact, with greater consequences.”

The world, they said, should “prepare for the prospect of coping without electricity as instances of complete power failure become increasingly common.”
Continue reading

Troubled Oil is Under Water [UPDATED]

A Russian oil rig in the North Sea. New oil wells are deeper, more expensive, more complicated -- and play out faster -- than ever.

A Russian oil rig in the North Sea. Used to be only part of the oil business was in deep water. Now it pretty much all is.

The whole global edifice erected with oil profits is trembling and cracking while the people responsible for its imminent implosion refuse to even get under their desks, insisting that there is no problem. This crash that is already under way is not the ultimate one that will bring down the Industrial Age, not quite yet, but it is going to drop us from the rubble-strewn “new normal” of the post-2008 Great Recession to the cratered moonscape of the newer normal that will follow the Crash of 2015. The problem in 2008 was subprime home loans. The problem now is subprime oil wells. Continue reading

War Criminal Charged in War on Coal

Farmington-Mine-Disaster-smoke

A battlefield in the real War on Coal (the 1968 Farmington Mine disaster in West Virginia). The aggressor is not who you think it is, nor are the victims. (Wikipedia Photo)

A long, long list of lies have been perpetrated by industrialists to confuse ordinary people about how, and by whom, the world is being destroyed. Proceedings in a Federal courthouse in West Virginia are about to bring some clarity to the issue. The quality of the lies has been uniformly low — none of them stands up to a moment’s rational examination. Their success rate, on the other hand, has been high; a dismaying proportion of Americans believes that the people who are exploiting them the most are their best friends, and the people who are trying to save them are their enemies. There is no worse example than the bogus “War on Coal,” imagineered by coal-mine operators as a unifying theory of everything bad that happens: Obama did it, as part of his “War on Coal.”

As propaganda, the War on Coal was a brilliant stroke. How else could an industry whose air pollution is destabilizing the entire planet, whose operations are obliterating mountain ranges, poisoning groundwater, and routinely killing and sickening its employees, instantly make itself seem a blameless victim of outside aggression? Its audacity was exceeded only by the gullibility of a grateful nation, which never paused to remark on the oddity of Coal declaring a war on itself, on behalf of an enemy that did not seem to be aware of it. Continue reading

International Energy Agency Says: Brace for Impact

What America will look like of the frackers have their way -- and what Huntington Beach, California looked like in 1926. But according to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, we shouldn’t be too concerned about what the frackers are going to be able to do.  (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)

What America will look like of the frackers have their way — and what Huntington Beach, California looked like in 1926. But according to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, we shouldn’t be too concerned about what the frackers are going to be able to do. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)

The customarily cheery International Energy Agency (IEA), created to advise the member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has taken a more somber tone in its latest annual World Energy Outlook released today. The agency dismisses the wildly hyped shale-oil and -gas “boom” in the United States as a band-aid on a malignant tumor, a temporary mask distracting the world from the pervasive illness afflicting its oil supply. Continue reading

Epidemic: Countries Falling Ill from Oil Anemia

Oil: we can afford to buy it now, but they really can't afford to sell it to us.

Oil: we can afford to buy it now, but they really can’t afford to sell it to us.

An epidemic of oil anemia is spreading around the world with the speed of an airborne virus, leaving scores of countries gasping for breath as their financial arteries shrivel for lack of cash. The price of oil has dropped to about $80 a barrel from $100 just a few weeks ago. And just as oil burning countries begin to shrivel when they have to pay more than $100, oil producing countries start to suffocate on anything less. The sickest examples: Continue reading

Bulls Running: Frackers Getting Trampled

It's bulls v. bears on Wall Street, and the collateral damage is substantial.

It’s bulls v. bears on Wall Street, and the collateral damage is substantial.

Overtaken by arithmetic and logic, the Wall Street bulls are trying to find a place to hide their money, and while they don’t agree on where to put it, they are beginning to agree that it definitely should not be in the fracking patch. The stock of fracking operators has been in bear country for weeks now as the strain of trying to pretend everything is all right gets worse by the hour.

A Ponzi scheme requires the operator to get new suckers in the door fast enough to use their money to pay off the old suckers, so they don’t blow the whistle on the  con. Continue reading

Twin Peaks: Stock-Market Fear, Oil Panic

This is where stock and gas prices are going. To see the panic index, turn your screen upside down.

This is where stock and gas prices are going. To see the panic index, read from right to left.

Gasoline is below three dollars a gallon and the stock market is at an all-time high. Well, yes, that was last week but still. What could be wrong with this picture? Like a face that has had way too many plastic surgeries, this one is stretched a little thin, with eyes bugged out and droplets of sweat all over it. The market, which all concerned promised would go up and up and never come down (Does anybody remember them saying the same thing about real estate? Anybody?) has lost 7% of its value in a week and, yesterday at least, could not pull out of the nose dive. A 10 percent drop is a correction. Twenty percent is a crash. And the low gas prices are being celebrated by everyone but the frackers who brought them to us. For them, low oil prices mean almost-immediate ruin. Continue reading

Letting Go of the Tar (Sands) Baby

A tar sands mine and plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. The recipe is simple: scrape the skin off the earth, boil what you find, wash the residue, dilute it with explosive fluids and send it 3,000 miles to where someone can make an inferior product with it. For some reason, the business model isn’t working. (Wikipedia Photo)

A tar sands mine and plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. The recipe is simple: scrape the skin off the earth, boil what you find, wash the residue, dilute it with explosive fluids and send it 3,000 miles to where someone can make an inferior product with it. For some reason, the business model isn’t working. (Wikipedia Photo)

Just as is the case in the American tight (shale) oil plays, things in the Canadian tar sands are breaking down fast, and for the same reason: wringing the last few barrels of oil out of the earth is proving to be far more expensive than hoped. Two weeks ago the Norwegian energy giant Statoil postponed for at least three years building a new tar sands project designed to pump 40,000 barrels a day; earlier this year Total SA of France, the fifth-largest oil company in the world, suspended operations at its $10 billion oil sands mine while it tries to figure out a way to make a profit; and Shell announced in February indefinite suspension of work on a prospective 200,000-barrel-a-day mine. (The same Shell that has been quietly folding its 13-billion-dollar hand in the US shale-oil bonanza and tiptoeing from the building? Yes, the very same.) Continue reading

Rats Start to Leave the Fracking Ship

What top oil people are starting to do about the fracking revolution. Abandoning ship.

What top oil people are starting to do about the fracking revolution. Abandoning ship.

The first sign of a doomed ship is said to be the urgent departure of its rats; the first sign of fire in a crowded theater is not the guy who shouts it out, but the several people with good noses who start to sidle quietly but purposefully toward the exits. In the world of America’s bogus oil and gas fracking revolution, the nostrils of the rats and the smoke-sensitive alike are beginning to twitch. Let us watch those noses.

Must we review the industry’s propaganda again here? How hydraulic fracking has changed everything, America now has abundant gas and oil, we’re surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia, we’re number one in the world again, we’re headed for energy independence? (No one has yet had the chutzpah to predict we’re going to get to energy independence, since it’s mathematically impossible, but it shouldn’t be long now, they’re getting desperate.) The latest iteration of the industry line is an essay that appeared in the New York Times  titled “America’s Oil Bonanza,” a song of oil without end, amen. Continue reading