No Electricity, No Russians, No Story

San Francisco, noon, April 21, 2017. Traffic not moving, buildings dark. Similar things happening in New York and Los Angeles. Was it the Russians? No? Then forget about it.

Last Friday, the lights went out in New York. And San Francisco. And Los Angeles. Not all the lights, and not all day, but still. It’s only April, three months before the summer heat challenges the electric grid to within an inch of its life, as the summer does every year. Three serious outages in three major cities seems like grist for the cable news mill, wouldn’t you think, with talking heads wall to wall saying things like, “Well, I know nothing about it, and none of us will for days, but it could have been a Russian cyber attack.”

That happened, of course, but only on a handful of conspiracy-loving, fake-news-peddling, objectivity-challenged publications. Like the Washington Post and the New York Times. (Just kidding. They didn’t pay much attention to the story at all.) Let us look at what happened, as exactly as we can, and then consider how it was handled. Continue reading

The Fakest News of All: The Fracking Revolution

Experienced con artists — the people who write clickbait ads, manage political campaigns and shake down old people for what’s left of their life’s savings —  will tell you that people who get conned, want to be conned. Many, many people go through their lives straining to hear the magic words; “You deserve to be rich,” or “Someone has to win the lottery, why not you?” or “cure cancer with one simple trick.” And when they hear those words, they experience the irrational exuberance of long-denied, at-last-confirmed faith, and are likely to do anything they are asked to do by those who have fulfilled the prophecy.

That’s the way it has gone with one of the longest and most successful cons in American history — the New American Oil Revolution, aka the Fracking Revolution. “You deserve all the cheap oil you can use,” the frackers began to croon about a decade ago, “America deserves energy independence.” People who had always wanted those things, and thought they deserved those things, sat up and took notice as the con artists set the hook: “we can have it forever with one simple trick of technology.” Continue reading

The Oil Industry’s Alternate Facts

The two articles appeared within 48 hours of each other. One was produced by Bloomberg News, one of the most respected names in traditional journalism. The other appeared in Oilprice.com, a veteran and well respected source of objective news about the oil industry. No one has ever credibly accused either of these organizations of producing “fake news.” Yet when each of them decided to publish an assessment of the state of the American shale oil industry in the first week of March, 2017, the two articles were diametrically opposed in all their conclusions. Continue reading

Distributed Energy Soars at Last

Finally, after 130 years or so, we’re thinking about a better way to handle electricity than with strings strung on sticks. (Wikimedia Photo)

For those of us who have been arguing into the wind for years about the urgent need to abandon our total reliance on the electric grid in favor of distributed energy — making it where you use it — it’s a sight for sore eyes. An enormous government program is building tens of thousands of direct-current microgrids to power homes and businesses and towns all over the country, providing people with electricity that is far less expensive and more reliable than is provided by the grid.

The program began field testing its microgrids just three years ago. For a single household it consisted of a solar array, a basic battery, and a 12-volt wiring harness. By staying in 12 volt, the microgrid avoids the expense and inefficiencies of inverting the power to 120-volt, and makes use of the increasing availability of 12-volt lights, motors, computers, TVs and appliances.  By the end of of this year, 100,000 microgrids will be up and running, with no slowdown in sight.

Another triumph of American ingenuity? Hardly. You can have America’s grid when you pry it from our cold, dead hands. This is a triumph of Indian innovation. Continue reading

That Which Kills Me Also Costs Me Money: Study

Blackout 1965: Think of it — all those people trapped in all those apartments, needing to know: how much is this going to cost?

According to a new study, if a solar storm blew out most of America’s electric grid, it would cost us $41.5 billion dollars. The worst scenario calculated in the study would affect 66 per cent of the population, as well as the nation’s manufacturing, government and finance sectors. Other countries would be affected as well, but we don’t care about that, the study simply created a seven-billion-dollar chump-change jar for the foreigners. After putting a price tag on every imaginable aspect of Apocalypse Now, one of the study’s authors said somberly, “We felt it was important.” He found it “surprising” that prior studies — yes, there are prior studies making the same calculations — lacked “transparency” and missed entirely some direct and indirect costs.

Encyclopedic as it may be, and transparent as well — you can see right through it — the study raises at least as many questions as it answers [Please disengage your fake-news sensor and engage your irony alert]: Continue reading

Hillary Hallucinates Energy Independence

we-can-do-it

Wait, we don’t have to do it! Just roll up our sleeves and imagine it’s already done!

Just when we were beginning to accept that the lesser evil in this batshit-crazy, un-presidential election was also the safer option, we get confirmation that Hillary Clinton is almost as delusional as Donald Trump. In last night’s debate, minutes after scornfully describing Trump as “living in an alternative [sic] universe,” Mrs. Clinton emailed a dispatch from her private planet, announcing for the first time anywhere that in the United States, “We are now, for the first time ever, energy independent.”

Now, among English speakers, the words “energy” and “independence,” used together, have a specific meaning. (I know, it’s quaint of me to suggest that words have meaning independently of who is using them, but you can have my dictionary when you pry it from my cold, dead hands…) A country is energy independent if, and only if, it produces all the energy it needs. Continue reading

Gag the Little Children — Forever

Coming soon to a yard near yours? A fracking well looms over a residence in the Eagle Ford shale region of Texas. (Photo by Earthworks Action/Flickr)

The Hallowich family will never forget what happened when the frackers moved in next door. But under court order, they must never speak of it.  (Photo, of a similar situation in North Dakota, by Earthworks Action/Flickr)

These two things happened in the summer of 2011:

  1. US EPA administrator Lisa Jackson told a Congressional committee, “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water,” echoing industry insistence that not a single water well had been affected by fracking [see “The Mother of All Fracking Lies,” The Daily Impact, 8/17/2011];
  2. A large fracking company, Range Resources Corp., agreed to pay a Pennsylvania family $750,000 to shut them up about how a fracking operation next to their 10-acre farm had polluted their water and air, seriously damaging their health.  

That frackers lie is not the headline. Here’s the headline: in approving the settlement agreement, the court imposed on the family’s two minor children, then 10 and seven years old, a lifetime ban on talking about fracking or the Marcellus Shale region. Continue reading

Blacking Out: Struggles of the California Power Grid

electrical-power-linesThe operators of the California electric grid, under a state of emergency since June, made it through the year’s first fierce heat wave, but face a near-perfect storm of setbacks as they struggle to keep the lights on until fall brings cooler weather. Be glad you don’t work there. Here is a brief list of what they’re facing:

  • The endless drought has so depleted the state’s reservoirs that only 20% of the normal supply of hydro power is available. Hydro is one of the largest sources of California’s power.  
  • The largest source of electricity in the southern half of the state, natural gas, is not available at all due to the shutdown of the massive storage facilities in Aliso Canyon after they leaked massive quantities of natural gas into the atmosphere — for four months.
  • The summer heat, and the electricity needed to deal with it, are both seeking new record highs this year.
  • With the system thus stretched to its utmost, natural disasters also threaten. Wildfires, which are breaking out earlier in the year, getting bigger, and lasting longer than ever, not only damage the grid directly, but their smoke ionizes the air and bleeds power from transmission lines and force operators to reduce line voltages.
  • And then there’s the really big gorilla in the room, the Big One, earthquake that is, that will destroy much of the California grid, and that’s not all.

Continue reading

Windfall: When Renewable Energy is not Sustainable

wind turbine down

After 19 years of facing the wind, this German turbine fell to it. It’s starting to happen a lot.

Industrial Masters of the Universe have long since learned what to do when the fickle public embraces a product or concept that was previously anathema; they embrace it like an Anaconda getting ready to eat a pig. Thus they learned to love “organic” stuff, and “natural” chemicals and even “renewable” energy. As soon as they learned that customers would line up to buy $3 million turbines, that the government would subsidize up to 70% of the cost, and that the public would love them for doing it, it was game on. Now, however, accumulating costs and negatives are beginning to indicate game over. Continue reading

What’s Next for Oil: Whiplash

roller coaster

This is the closest we could come to a chart showing what is next for ojl and gas prices, and how it’s going to feel. (Photo by Patrick McGarvey)

A savvy investor once told me that if you read something in the news, it is no longer true, if it ever was. I keep this in mind as I read over and over that the world is awash in 3 billion barrels of surplus oil. This glut — always and everywhere specified as 3 billion barrels — is present, the conventional wisdom (oxymoron alert) goes, because the crafty Saudis refused to cut production when the price of oil tanked (metaphor alert). They did this, it is said, to run the pesky American oil frackers out of business before they took over the world. This reminds me of the engraved plaque found in many Irish bars: “The Lord invented whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world.” An endearing sentiment, but probably not true. Continue reading