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Philip Bump's Posts


Outgoing energy secretary denies lurid allegations from prominent news outlet

Earlier today, The Onion newspaper dropped a bombshell:

Sources have reported that following a long night of carousing at a series of D.C. watering holes, Energy Secretary Steven Chu awoke Thursday morning to find himself sleeping next to a giant solar panel he had met the previous evening. “Oh, Christ, what the hell did I do last night?” Chu is said to have muttered to himself while clutching his aching head and grimacing at the partially blanketed 18-square-foot photovoltaic solar module whose manufacturer he was reportedly unable to recall.

The newspaper, which hails itself as "America's Finest News Source," somehow acquired this image of the dalliance.

The Onion


Oil companies aren’t happy that the government is making them fix defective offshore rig parts

Image (1) offshore-oil-drilling-rig.jpg for post 42062

The U.S. government has asked Chevron, Shell, and our old friends at Transocean to halt drilling on wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Why? Because the systems connecting the rigs to the ocean floor contain defective parts.

From Bloomberg:

[The companies] have been directed by U.S. regulators to suspend work aboard rigs that employ General Electric Co. devices connecting drilling tubes to safety gear and the seafloor. The equipment must be retrieved so defective bolts can be replaced, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in an alert issued on Jan. 29. ...

The defect was discovered last month after a leak of drilling fluid was linked to bolts that failed because of stress corrosion, according to the Jan. 29 alert. The regulator didn’t identify the owner of the rig or which oil company was leasing it. GE declined to identify the manufacturer of the bolts.

Thanks for your help, GE.


Another climate poll demonstrates that climate polls are stupid

This is a test, not a poll, and the poll was by phone, not on paper, and this is about real estate, not the climate, but whatever.
This is a test, not a poll, and the poll was by phone, not on paper, and this is about real estate, not the climate, but whatever.

Hey, there's another poll about climate change. (You should know beforehand that it is from Duke University, which everyone hates because of its basketball team. Don't let this influence you.) Let's look at it together. (Or, if you want, go look at it by yourself, who cares [PDF].)

The poll starts with this question: "Is the earth's climate changing?" This is a dumb question for reasons articulated here. The answer? 50 percent of people are "convinced." A third say "probably" but would "like more evidence," so maybe they should try "Google." 8 percent say probably not, but more evidence could convince them. These are the worst 8 percent. They are lying and could easily find all of the evidence they need, but they don't want to do that because they don't accept climate change and there is nothing you could do to convince them, but they like to pretend they're being objective. Just the worst.

The next question: "Is climate change primarily because of human activity or natural causes?" Gahhhhh. We are two questions in and we're already in a cart that's missing a wheel flying down a rocky hillside toward disaster. 64 percent of people say it's our fault. Everyone else says it's natural. So I would assume that all of the respondents here have at least 10 years of experience studying the climate; each must have published at least two works on the subject of climate change. Because why else would you ask people how they feel about demonstrable fact? If you asked people what made a car go, 60 percent would say "an internal combustion engine," 22 percent would say "steam," and the rest would be a combination of "Jesus" and "magic."


Let’s name all of the ocean water that will someday flood us after Reagan

Once again, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has proposed naming the United States' offshore "exclusive economic zone" after Ronald Reagan. (He tried this last year, too.) The EEZ, as it's known, is the expanse of ocean between three and 200 miles off U.S. coastlines in areas we control. It's our ocean, which we can do with what we want. Maybe we want to build statues to former presidents there. We can; it's our water.

So why does Issa want to name it after the Gipper? Two reasons. First, because he can't suggest we go big and name a state after Reagan since there aren't any more states. Except maybe someday Puerto Rico, and I suspect Issa wouldn't consider that an appropriate tribute. And, second, because naming things after Reagan is how Republicans tithe.

From The Hill:

Issa on Wednesday reintroduced his bill to rename the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which generally extends from three miles to 200 miles offshore, as the Ronald Wilson Reagan Exclusive Economic Zone.

The late Reagan, a Californian like Issa, established the EEZ with a 1983 presidential proclamation that declared the nation’s sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting and conserving offshore resources, including energy. …

Under the proposal, references to the EEZ in U.S. laws, regulations, maps and other documents would carry Reagan’s name.

Reagan Reagan Reagan Reagan! Reagan Reagan, Reagan Reagan Reagan Reagan Reagan Reagan Reagan!

The new map of Exclusive Economic Zones
The new map of Exclusive Economic Zones. Click to embiggen and/or print out to use as a poster in your home


We answer your questions about the coming East Coast blizzard

A New York City bus, stuck during a 2010 blizzard
A New York City bus, stuck during a 2010 blizzard

It's going to snow on the East Coast tomorrow, lasting overnight until Saturday. That much is known and agreed upon.

The following points are up for debate.

How much snow will there be?

Boston's mayor, Thomas Menino, held a press conference this morning, canceling school and suggesting that people not be on the roads after noon. At that time, the city will be in a state of snow emergency. Why? Because of this:

snow forecast boston nemo

That blizzard could dump two feet of snow on the city -- perhaps as much as 30 inches. Or, according to one report: over four feet.

New York, meanwhile, could see an equal amount. Or it could see three inches. Gawker explains the discrepancy:

Right now, American (GFS) computer models are predicting a few inches of snow for much of the tri-state: a little over two inches for New York City; under an inch for much of New Jersey. Some of it might be rain. The sky-water is expected to start falling Thursday night through Friday morning, but the the brunt of the storm probably won't hit until late Friday night. …

The European model, like a European model, is much more intimidating (and mean). According to the ECMWF (European Center for Medium range Weather Forecasting — boring name; brainstorm improvements while trapped in your home this weekend), the amount of snow in New York could reach over a foot by Saturday evening (about 15 inches). The European model is generally considered by meteorologists to be the most accurate (it was the first to accurately predict the track of Hurricane Sandy).

So the answer to the question above is: We'll see.

Does the storm have a name?

If you work in the marketing department at the Weather Channel, your answer to this will be an emphatic "yes." The network has declared the storm to be "Nemo," after the terrifying submarine captain in that old book, or maybe the terrifying clownfish in that newer movie.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Marco Rubio keeps digging deeper on climate denial

Let's talk about Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Capitol Hill's "it" guy in the same sense that Hollywood has marginally talented people whom it seizes upon and promotes until the next guy comes along. So here's Rubio's moment, maybe three years earlier than he would have hoped.

Earlier this week, Rubio sat down with BuzzFeed's Ben Smith for a conversation about a range of topics. (The event was called "BuzzFeed Brews," intending to be an informal two-guys-have-a-beer sort of thing. Rubio didn't drink his beer.) At one point, Smith asked about climate change. Here's the clip:

Rubio's response?

Even if -- anything that we would do on that would have a real impact on the economy and probably -- if it's only us doing it, a very negligible impact on the environment. Ultimately, if you look at the developing countries -- which are not developing countries anymore; China, India, and others -- they're now the largest polluters in the world by far. So to the extent that that's what you're trying to get at, the United States is a country, not a planet.

On the other hand, if we unilaterally impose these things on our economy, you're going to have a devastating impact on economics, depending on which measure it is we're talking about. And I think that's what, more than anything else, is standing in the way of doing anything on this. There has to be a cost-benefit analysis to every one of these principles that people are pushing on. And the benefit is difficult to justify when it's just us doing it.


TransCanada is getting everyone it knows to hustle Obama on Keystone

TransCanada and its allies have reached the "begging" stage of their lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline. (The preceding stage was "obfuscation"; the final stage is "giving up and moving to space.")

This morning, the CEO of the company met with a key State Department official. From The Hill:

CEO Russ Girling is scheduled to meet in the afternoon with Kerri-Ann Jones, who is the department's assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. …

Secretary of State John Kerry, at his recent Senate confirmation hearing, kept his cards close to the vest when asked about his views on the pipeline.

Girling told Bloomberg Wednesday that he expects the project will be approved “very soon” and that he suspects "we’re looking at anything from a few weeks to a couple of months.”

The mention of Kerry there is important. It's a reminder that Jones isn't the decision-maker. And that Kerry's not either. Ultimately, approval comes down to the president, who I suspect won't spend a lot of time reviewing Jones' notes from this meeting. And what's Girling going to say in this confab anyway? "Hey, come on. Pleeeeeease? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease?" It's not a great argument, but at this point it's probably the best he's got.

The president talks pipes.
The president talks pipes.


International plan for a spill in the Arctic: If anything happens, pick up the phone

One of the primary concerns about expanded oil drilling in the Arctic is that the Arctic is far away from everything. Until very, very recently, no one lived anywhere near the Arctic; even today, it's pretty sparsely populated. As we've noted before, an oil spill a few hundred miles from New Orleans in 2010 took months to stop. How long will it take to cap a broken well in icy water thousands of miles from any resources?

To that end, governments interested in exploring resource extraction in the Arctic came together to develop a plan for just such a contingency. And as Greenpeace notes, the plan sucks. From the BBC:

In 2011 The Arctic Council members [Ed. - Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, U.S.] signed the Nuuk Declaration that committed them to develop an international agreement on how to respond to oil pollution in the northern seas. …

The plan says that "each party shall maintain a national system for responding promptly and effectively to oil pollution incidents" without requiring any clear details on the number of ships or personnel that would be needed to cope with a spillage.


Seriously. Greenpeace has a copy of the full draft document [PDF]. It can be summed up in three bullet points:

  1. Here are the countries making this agreement and here is what "oil" means.
  2. If anything happens, we agree to deal with it.
  3. Here is everyone's emergency contact information.

Think I'm oversimplifying? Go look. This took them two years.


Alaska ignores climate change, so Iditarod dogs will just need to evolve thinner coats

I'll start with the weirdest part of this story: Alaska has a global warming task force that was started by none other than Sarah Palin. You probably remember Sarah Palin; her environmental streak is probably not what you remember best.

It doesn't matter anyway, because the task force doesn't meet anymore. From the Guardian:

The taskforce was established by Sarah Palin during her time as governor, in an effort to protect a state that is acutely vulnerable to climate change.

Alaska, like other Arctic regions, is warming at a much faster rate than the global average. Last summer saw record loss of Arctic sea ice.

However, the rapid-response team has not met since March 2011 and its supervisory body, the Sub-Cabinet on Climate Change, has gone even longer without meeting. …

The state government, in a letter from 1 February, said the sub-cabinet had produced three strategy documents since that February 2010 meeting, but declined to release them.

This requires snow.
This requires snow.


New York hires seismologist with fracking industry ties to do fracking research


New York state's tortuous, interminable process of deciding whether or not to approve fracking continues; it slowly lifts one foot out of molasses, considers it for an hour or two, and then places it down again with a squelch one centimeter in front of the other foot. The last microstep we reported on was actually a step backward, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) moved to restart the state's analysis of fracking's health effects.

But now a real step: New York has hired a geologist to conduct a study of the seismological repercussions of fracking. As you may recall, drilling into shale and breaking it apart with high-pressure water has been linked to earthquakes. So the state is looking into that, since the very last thing New York wants is to be any more like California. The man hired for the job, to ensure that New York doesn't crumble into the sea if it allows fracking? A guy who used to work for fracking companies.

From Bloomberg:

Robert Jacobi was picked by the Department of Environmental Conservation for a seismology study as part of its environmental review of the drilling process known as fracking, Lisa King, an agency spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. Jacobi is a University at Buffalo professor and has advised drillers for two decades. …

Jacobi, who has taught at the state university for more than 30 years, has advised various gas drillers since 1994, according to a resume released by the university. He has been a senior geology adviser for Pittsburgh-based EQT Corp., a natural gas drilling company, since last year.