Thursday, November 22, 2012

EPA Testing Dangerous Pollutants on Human Beings

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In the aftermath of US presidential elections and corporate fears of looming environmental regulations that could affect their bottom line, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is under attack for conducting dangerous experiments on human beings.

Over the past decade, the EPA has apparently been paying hundreds of people $12 an hour for the privilege of exposing them to high levels of air pollutants like diesel exhaust and PM2.5 particulate matter in an operation run at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine.

A lawsuit has been filed in the federal court, charging the EPA with conducting illegal and potentially lethal experiments of hundreds of financially vulnerable people.  

According to an EPA testimony before Congress in 2011, particulate matter—a key component of diesel exhaust fumes--causes premature death. “It doesn’t make you sick. It’s directly causal to dying sooner than you should.”

In addition: “If we could reduce particulate matter to levels that are healthy we would have an identical impact to finding a cure for cancer.”

Apparently, however, test subjects were not apprised of the exact risk involved. While the EPA has dramatized the dangers of PM2.5 exposure before Congress, with its test subjects, the message has been toned down to warn of the potential of airway irritation, coughing or shortness of breath. The courts will have to determine whether test subjects were sufficiently briefed on the risks.

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This is how the EPA gathers the research it needs to support the implementation of strict regulations. Two major new regulations that have actually been rejected by the D.C. District Circuit Appeals court are the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury Air Toxics Standard—both based on the dangers of PM2.5.

The EPA is now reportedly evaluating its research on human subjects, in accordance with a Congressional request. 

In early October, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), a ranking member of the Environmental Public Works Committee, called for a hearing to investigate the experiments.

The obvious question is: If the EPA has been doing this for a decade, why is it only now becoming an issue? That, of course, can only be answered by politics, which tends to value human life in a selectively opportunistic manner.

The story only reluctantly maneuvered itself into the mainstream media when “alternative” writer Seven Milloy of dug it up and added a lawsuit to the mix after obtaining details of the experiments through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Milloy is a dubiously interesting figure. A biostatistician and securities lawyer by trade, he picks his battles—and they aren’t necessarily “human interest”, so to speak. In fact, he spent his earlier days consulting for big tobacco and working to debunk science that shows how dangerous smoking is.  

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Agenda aside (it’s always good to know agendas), Milloy makes an important point. The EPA insists that its experiments are independently evaluated for safety and ethics, those independent evaluations are conducted by the University of North Carolina (UNC), which has been paid over $33 million by the EPA since 2004. The point: independence here is questionable.

Milloy is also a fellow at the American Tradition Institute (ATI), which has filed its own lawsuit against the EPA for illegal and unethical practices, comparing the experiments to Nazi undertaking and the Tuskegee experiments. This latter actually convinced Congress to pass the National Research Act of 1974 aimed at protecting human test subjects in scientific experimentation.

The ATI has filed its lawsuit on behalf of one of the experiment’s test subjects, Landon Huffman, who claims he was led to believe that the experiment would help people suffering from asthma, like him. He claims he was never informed that the experiment would potentially cause asthma attacks, among other things.

Of course, the EPA’s Clean Air Act of 1997 and subsequent moves to tighten air quality standards are quite irksome to the corporate world, which has to fork out billions of dollars to keep pace.

That the EPA is conducting creepy experiments on human beings in order to make its case for stricter regulations is not news—it’s been going on, at least in this case, since 2004 and has never been a secret. It’s being pulled out now as a trump card with the intention of derailing new regulations.

Regardless of the politics, though, no one wants to hear that an environmental “protection” agency is so Machiavellian as to use human beings as guinea pigs to determine exactly how dangerous our pollutants are—especially if they’re not being told what the real potential risk is.

By. Jen Alic of

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Germany's Renewable Energy Problems Serve as a Warning to the UK

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On the 14th of September 2012 the 3,500 wind turbines that exist around the UK managed to produce just over four gigawatts of power to the national grid; a record. The same day Germany also set its own production record, although its 23,000 turbines and millions of solar panels managed to create 31GW.

It is interesting to note that the two records were received very differently. Maria McCaffery, the CEO of RenewableUK, said that “the record high shows that wind energy is providing a reliable, secure supply of electricity to an ever-growing number of British homes and businesses;” whereas the Germans dismayed at their surge in electricity production.

 Germany has a very advanced renewable energy sector, having invested billions over several years to try and encourage as many renewable energy installations as possible. It is a path that the UK government wants to take, and therefore they must quickly heed the warnings and note the problems that Germany is already experiencing.

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The problems generally stem from the fact that solar and wind is not a steady source of energy. This means that it is very difficult to maintain a steady supply to the grid, and as a result traditional fossil fuel plants must be kept on standby, ready to produce energy whenever the wind dies too much.

Keeping a fossil fuel plant on standby in such a way is actually very inefficient, and leads to far more emissions than if the plant were just running normally all the time.

The more Germany installs renewable energy sources, the more problems it encounters. The whole plan to generate 32% of renewables by 2020 is turning out to be a disaster, and the UK really should take note so that they can try to avoid making the same mistakes as best they could.

By. Charles Kennedy of

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Homeless In New Jersey

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Up here you get to a time in late November when you want winter to start. You know it’s coming. It’s dark and barren outside. The ground is frozen. Let it start. Let the snow come. Something down inside you wants to feel the sting of cold air on your face so you know that winter’s here.  The sooner it starts, the sooner it’s over. But it’s not here, yet.

It’s like the old joke about the Sadist and the Masochist.

The Masochist cries out to the Sadist . .

“Beat me . . . please beat me.”

The Sadist replies . . .


In Alberta and on the Prairies, winter started early this year. It has already made its mark with snow and cold. But here in the east, we are getting tropical storms instead.  Around here, record high temperatures followed the hurricane.

You can prepare for winter. Change the tires, buy a new coat, make sure the utility bills are paid up.  You do the normal things to prepare for the cold. But hurricanes on the eastern seaboard in November aren’t normal.  People in New Jersey could not have expected what they got, and prepared for that.

The new normal is storm surges in Manhattan that will turn everything south of Times Square into an aquarium. The new normal is barrier islands that took thousands of years to build up being ripped apart in one day.

There is no way to prove that Hurricane Sandy was the direct result of global warming caused by greenhouse gases. There are only statistics. The sea level around New York is now a foot higher than it was 50 years ago. If the rate of ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica increases, sea levels will rise further and coastal cities around the world will face the possibility of becoming Venice. And Venice could become Atlantis.

It’s easy to dismiss global warming, if it doesn’t affect you directly.  But a couple of days prior to the election, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City took some time away from hurricane repair duties to endorse Barak Obama for President. It appeared that his decision to endorse was precipitated by Sandy and Irene. In his estimation it was a bit too much of a coincidence to have two late autumn hurricanes in the Northeast in consecutive years. Bloomberg stated that to deny that climate change was a serious problem was to be “on the wrong side of history.”

He felt that Mitt Romney was missing the boat on climate change.

Mayor Bloomberg isn’t the only one who sees climate change as a personal threat. Farmers watching their crops wither in the draught this past summer are worried about it. Another year or two of screwed up weather and farmers around the US and Canada will be demanding that something be done.  It doesn’t matter what their politics are.

The families of firefighters who were killed fighting the record number of forest fires last summer are no doubt still grieving. They understand too well that extreme heat is dangerous.

And now they are hurting in New Jersey. The fury of Mother Nature brings everyone back to basics. The dispossessed need food and shelter. Everything else is secondary. All other problems pale in comparison.

Later there will be the clean-up and the rebuilding. The cost of Sandy will be enormous in money and in grief. The storm affected millions of people. At some point the insurance companies will begin to demand that something be done.

Winter will get here soon enough. We’ll have too cold weather, too much snow and ice and whiteouts. We’ll make jokes about global warming when it’s freaking cold outside. We know how to prepare for that kind of bad weather. We’re used to it.

But what’s happening these days in the atmosphere isn’t the old normal.  And we are just one or two more freak-out weather events away from many more people in North America, no matter what their politics are, coming to the same conclusion.

When the majority fully realize that the cost of not doing anything to curtail global warming will be so much more expensive than the cost of wholehearted adoption of renewable energy– then something will get done.

Follow the money.

By. Dave Zgodzinski

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How Big a Role Will Shale Gas Play in America’s Energy Future?

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Some people herald it as the start of a new dawn, and others condemn it as a potential environmental disaster.

I am talking of course about shale gas and shale oil, produced by hydraulic fracturing — known by its shorthand as “fracking.” With every new technology there are winners and losers, benefits and costs.

But hydrocarbons from shale deposits are shaping up to cause as big a stir in the energy markets as nuclear power did back in the seventies. Maybe more so, as oil and gas are consumed across a wider range of applications than just the electricity produced by nuclear.

This isn’t the place to delve into the environmental implications — there are dozens of sources that lay out their stall in rightly protecting the environment — but it should be said that the biggest threat to the future of shale resources will be environmental.

If widespread contamination of ground water, for example, began to be linked to fracking, the industry could yet be stopped in its tracks. So far (although there have undoubtedly been instances), cases of contamination have been sufficiently isolated that the industry still has full government approval, fueled by excitement of what the future could hold.

As the NY Times writes, an International Energy Agency (IEA) report this week leads with the headline grabber, “The United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer by about 2017 and will become a net oil exporter by 2030.”

Even this may be too pessimistic a prediction — the Telegraph newspaper states that total US liquid production is set to hit 11.4 million barrels per day (bpd) next year, close to Saudi Arabia’s current 11.6 million. Saudi production is itself running at a record level to depress world prices in an Iran-sensitive market; if not for that, Saudi production would be barely more than 10 million bpd.

Shale gas may have been eclipsed by shale oil in the affections of the exploration companies, but already US natural gas resources are put at over 1,300 trillion cubic feet — the bulk of which is shale gas — edging ahead of Russia’s near-1,200 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The arrival of US shale oil (and, it must be said, Canadian supplies of unconventional oil), have depressed US oil prices relative to the rest of the world, pushing the West Texas Intermediate benchmark to a discount of a fifth to Brent, the international benchmark. As a result, big chunks of the US are getting oil on the cheap, improving US competitiveness relative to the rest of the world.

Low natural gas and oil prices will be a boost for US industry and the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that electricity prices will be about 50 percent cheaper in the United States than in Europe, largely because of a rise in the number of power plants fueled by cheap natural gas.

The IEA estimates the point at which the US will become self-sufficient in oil production to be 2030, when it could become a net oil exporter. However, long before that, exports could become the norm from some parts of the continent, while imports remain in others — the effect there will be to limit the downside to US oil prices relative to the rest of the world.

But what about the wider geopolitical ramifications?

There will be winners and losers all around as shale oil and gas supply increases. As the US becomes less dependent on the Middle East, will it continue to take such a close strategic interest in developments there?

The IEA predicted that global energy demand would grow between 35 and 46 percent from 2010 to 2035. Most of that growth will come from China, India and the Middle East, where the consuming classes are growing rapidly.

Oil cargoes currently flowing to the US will instead go to Asia, making the region’s political developments increasingly crucial to China and the rest. Subject to securing the massive investment needed, Iraq has the ability to become the second-largest exporter of oil after Russia, but will that be Western investment or Asian?

Nor will shale gas be the savior of greenhouse gas emissions, supporters of gas-fired power generation claim. As we have seen, US coal — if not consumed in the US — is exported to India and China and simply consumed there.

Meanwhile, production in some parts of the world, once seemingly secure and solid, are beginning to look less so.

An FT article details how Russia’s Gazprom has just commissioned the massive Bovanenkovo gas field far above the Arctic Circle. The field is said to contain enough gas to supply Europe’s needs for decades to come, yet questions are already being asked about its viability as the spot gas price falls.

Mikhail Korchemkin, an independent commentator on the gas industry, is quoted as saying in this FT article Gazprom needs to export gas at a price of about $14 per 1 million Btu (MMBtu) by 2020 to afford the investments in its pipelines.

But the current average spot price in Europe is already about $10 per MMBtu, while sales in the US are even cheaper at $3.50 per MMBtu.

“They would reach a point of no return,” Korchemkin says. “Gazprom could reach a time when it’s permanently in the red,” potentially leading to a break-up of the firm. Unthinkable a couple of years ago, but now openly discussed as a result of the impact of shale gas.

What about closer to home? Will shale oil and gas result in a bonanza for US manufacturing and free up consumers to spend more on the back of cheap energy prices?

For a time, yes. The infrastructure to export shale gas as liquefied natural gas (LNG) is almost non-existent at the moment, but several projects are in the pipeline, and as exports rise the domestic price will become closer to the world price. In addition, as more gas-fired power stations are built, demand will rise and with it domestic shale gas prices.

Nevertheless US prices are likely to remain at a discount to world prices for many years to come. The US will win in another way; the country operates a current account deficit with the rest of the world in large part because of oil imports.

As oil imports have fallen this year, so has the deficit — imports up to August were the lowest since 1998, in part due to lower oil imports. On the flip side, a stronger current account means a stronger dollar, according to James Mackintosh on the FT’s Short View, which would not help US exporters of manufactured goods.

So on balance, shale oil and gas have much to offer the US.

It will probably usher in a prolonged period of energy supply independence — if not price independence.

It will reduce the demands made on the country’s military to police areas of the world it would probably rather not police.

It will provide, at least for a number of crucial years crawling out of the current crisis, access to cheaper energy relative to the rest of the world, which will benefit manufacturers and consumers.

And it will continue to provide a source of employment — so far estimated at 1.75 million — that is sorely needed in an economy that is not producing anywhere near enough new jobs for its rising population.

By. Stuart Burns

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How Will Oil Production Impact the Economy Over the Coming Decade

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A paper published recently by the IMF gives us some insight into how oil prices and availability might affect the global economy in the next decade. The paper, entitled Oil and the World Economy: Some Possible Futures, starts with the statistic that global oil production grew by 1.8 percent annually from 1981 to 2005, then stagnated with production remaining essentially flat thereafter. In the last seven years what is called global “growth” in “oil” production has come largely from substitutes for crude such as natural gas liquids, tar sands, and biofuels. While these substitutes do have important uses, they do not have the versatility of conventional oil and in the long run, falling supplies of normal crude can and probably are acting as a brake on economic growth.

There are other, non-liquid, substitutes for oil such as coal, natural gas and even nuclear power, but to implement these as a major source of transportation energy would be a long, expensive and in some cases an impossible task. Airplanes won’t run on coal very well without a lot of expensive preprocessing.

Global oil production has been on a plateau, at historically high prices, for so long now that it seems unlikely that it will ever resume sustained growth at the rates we saw in the decades prior to 2005. The only possible outcomes are prolonged stagnation, which some like to call the “bumpy plateau”, or decline of global production. The rate of decline, of course, will be critical to the future of the global economy and is the core of the IMF’s paper.

With the world producing and burning some 31 billion barrels of oil, or some combustible liquid we call “oil,” each year, and at a relatively cheap average price to boot, our stagnant plateau is unlikely to continue much longer. Most people who are willing to hazard informed guesses as to when global oil production will start down are saying that the decline will begin somewhere between 2015 and 2020.

There has been considerable discussion in the mainstream media recently about the growing supply of “shale” oil from North Dakota and Texas, more properly termed “tight oil,” which it is claimed will soon make America the world’s biggest oil producer – free from the tyranny of imported oil. Anyone digging into this issue will find that “tight” oil will turn out to be another bubble. Tight oil wells cost several times more to drill and frack in comparison with conventional land or shallow water wells and have an average annual depletion rate on the order of 40 percent a year in comparison with 4 or 5 percent for conventional wells.

In recent months, however, thanks to an all out drilling effort, the oil coming out of the fracked fields in North Dakota and Texas has been on the order of 950,000 b/d and has been increasing at the rate of about 350,000 barrels a day (b/d) each year. This has pushed up U.S. domestic oil production to the highest level in nearly 30 years – no wonder the press is bursting with optimism for America’s future.

The true story, however, is not as good as it seems. North Dakota currently has some 4,500 producing wells pumping out an average of only 144 barrels a day per well. A good conventional well will produce 3-5,000 b/d and those big deep water platforms are designed to produce 100-200,000 b/d from multiple well holes. To produce the 8 million additional b/d that the U.S. would need to obtain “energy independence” it would take 60,000 wells pumping out 144 b/d. These and the 6,000 or so fracked wells we already have would have to be redrilled every 3 or 4 years to maintain production. This is clearly impossible as the best prospects have already been drilled and from here on we are likely to see less productive tight (fracked) oil wells.

If the price of crude in the mid-west, currently about $85 a barrel, drops another $10 or so a barrel it will be selling for less that the marginal cost of production if it isn’t already in some cases. When the value of the produced oil gets too low, the sinking of new wells will decline rapidly as it has for shale gas drilling. A good estimate would be that the “shale oil bubble,” while adding to America’s current production, only has another year or two before it begins to fizzle.

Global oil demand has been growing at the rate of circa 800,000 to a million barrels a day in recent years all though some foresee this rate of increase declining. This is the underlying reason why would oil prices are staying high.

The IMF’s first scenario has global oil production dropping by only 1 percent a year when the decline comes. Should this occur, the IMF’s model predicts that oil prices will jump by 60 percent. As supplies continue to decline each year at this rate, the real oil price would continue to climb until demand destruction caused by unaffordable oil brings supply and demand back into balance.

Another scenario considers what might happen if the decline in world oil production increases to 3.8 percent which is about the rate that existing oil fields are depleting. In this situation, the impact is roughly four times as bad as with a 1 percent annual decline. Annual growth rates in the industrial countries would decline by one full percentage point. Oil prices would have to rise by 200 percent to bring about the demand destruction required to rebalance the oil markets.

Many of us have always thought of Peak Oil as being the point in time when global oil production began its inexorable decline to lower levels, bringing on all sorts of economic turmoil. The lesson of the last five years, however, seems to be that we can have deep and perhaps insoluble economic problems merely by the inability to grow production at satisfactory rates. The next five years should prove whether this concept is correct.

By. Tom Whipple

Source: Post Carbon

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Is Iran Using an Insurance Scam to Cover its Oil Tankers?

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An interesting article has today been published by Forbes which investigates the possibility that Iran has set up a false insurance company, offering illegal insurance policies, in order to circumvent the EU sanctions and enable the Persian State to continue exporting its crude.

Very Large Crude Carriers are obliged by international maritime authorities to carry mandatory third-party liability insurance of a value up to $1 billion, known as Protection and Indemnity Coverage. This type of coverage is only offered by large insurance groups (P&I clubs), 90% of which are based in Europe. EU sanctions against Iran have prevented European insurers from dealing with Iranian tankers, and this has severely affected Iran’s export, as without cover, its tanker cannot deliver oil. It has lost all of its European customers, and other international customers have drastically reduced their purchases.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, an Iranian P&I club has emerged and started to offer full cover and protection to the entire National Iran Tanker Company’s (NITC) fleet of 44 ships.

The insurance group, Kish P&I, was established in 2011, and does not seem to have the financial means to provide the cover that it offers. According to the website, Kish P&I offers $500,000 coverage for accidents and says that the remaining $999.5 million would be provided by a consortium of Iranian Insurers.

That is where things start to seem a bit dodgy, and it only gets worse.

Related Article: Iran's Nuclear Plant Entering Final Stages?

According to Central Insurance of Iran, Kish P&I only holds 44 policies, exactly the number of tankers that NITC owns, and there is no information that suggests any other ship owners may be covered by one of these policies.

NITC claims to be a privately entity, but its shareholders are clearly state owned pension funds, which led the US to label the company as a government-owned entity. This leads to the possibility that the same pension funds that underwrite Kish’s policies, and will provide the missing $999.5 million, could well be the same funds who own NITC.

Kish could well be a mask of a company to prevent people from noticing that the owners of the tankers are, in fact, the insurers as well; which kind of defeats the object of insurance in the first place.

By. James Burgess of

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

VIDEO: Shell Let's Go TV ad - Global Energy Mix

The world's population has reached 7 billion and is forecast to reach around 9 billion by 2050. As the world's population grows its need for water, food and energy will increase. Meeting this challenge will be difficult and will place demands on all of us. At Shell we are determined to help meet the energy challenge, supplying a broad mix of lower emission energy sources. We're making our fuels and lubricants more advanced and more efficient than before. With our partner in Brazil, we're also producing ethanol, a biofuel made from renewable sugar cane. And we're delivering natural gas to more countries than any other energy company. When used to generate electricity, natural gas emits around half the CO2 of coal. Let's broaden the world's energy mix. Let's Go.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

New Study Shows that Global Warming Stopped 16 Years Ago

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Figures that have recently been released by Hadcrut 4, the collaboration between the Met Office’s Hadley Research Centre and the Climatic Research Unit, describing the changes in global temperature. The results are astounding, and sure to put a spanner in the wold climate debate as reported by The Daily Mail: Global warming stopped around 16 years ago.