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Philip Bump's Posts


Former Interior Secretary Babbitt calls for one acre of conservation for every acre of oil exploration

Bruce Babbitt looks like this.
Bruce Babbitt looks like this.

Since all anyone is talking about today is the secretary of the interior, let's check in on Bruce Babbitt, who served in that position under President Clinton. What does he think about the state of the world, etc.? Any thoughts on the use of public land for oil exploration versus conserving it for the future, and perhaps any suggestions on how those uses should be balanced, ratio-wise?

From online internet website

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt pressed President Barack Obama on Tuesday to set aside an acre of public land for conservation for every acre that is leased for oil and gas development. …

Over the past four years, he said, industry has leased more than 6 million acres compared with the 2.6 million acres that have been permanently protected. “In the Obama era, land conservation is again falling behind,” he said. “This lopsided public-land administration in favor of the oil and gas industry shouldn’t continue.”

Alright. Sounds like a plan. A brand new plan, for Obama to look at.

Babbitt made a similar plea to Obama when he spoke at the press club in June 2011 on the 105th anniversary of the [Antiquities Act]. During that speech, he mocked “munchkins” at the White House for backing down from what he dubbed an assault from Republicans over the issue.

Oh. Not new. But at least he dropped the weird Wizard of Oz analogy this time.


Don’t worry about BP; it’s going to be fine

BP's logo is of an offshore rig exploding with money.
BP's logo is of an offshore rig exploding with money.

"BP" used to stand for "British Petroleum," presumably until Britain got embarrassed. Well, not really -- although British people weren't very happy about people calling the company British Petroleum after its Gulf rig exploded and leaked and killed mammals of various types.

Anyway, here's News About BP and Money and the Government, our new feature about BP and money and the government, part one in a series of one.

BP made a lot of money last year.

Big surprise. Annual profits for the company were $11.6 billion, only six or seven times what the average U.S. household makes (over the course of 33,000 years).

And of course we'll bring back our favorite tool to make this figure hit home:

But not as much as states think it should pay for the Gulf spill.

BP doesn't want to be rude or disrespectful, of course, but it thinks that the amount of money sought by state and local governments over the Deepwater Horizon disaster is a tad steep. From Reuters:


Let the speculation begin: Obama to talk climate at State of the Union

A line from a New York magazine article from three years ago has stuck with me: "We spend more time talking about what we think we’ll think than what we thought." Or: Speculation prior to an event is nearly limitless; reflection afterward, brief.

And so, with six days until the president's State of the Union address, speculation has begun. What will he say? What should he say? How strong or weak will what he says be? What’s the over/under on number of times Obama says “climate,” and how many times would he have to say it to fix the warming globe?

Obama delivers the 2010 State of the Union
Obama delivers the 2010 State of the Union.

The Wall Street Journal thinks it will come up.

President Barack Obama in next week's State of the Union speech will lay out a renewed effort to combat climate change that is expected to include using his authority to curb emissions from existing power plants, people who have talked to the administration about its plans said. …


Obama taps Sally Jewell, CEO of REI, for Interior post

Jewell, at an event in 2011
Jewell, at an event in 2011.

Meet your likely new secretary of the interior, Sally Jewell. Those of you who have been reading Grist since 2007 have met her already.

Jewell is the CEO of REI, which is a company that I will bet $2.6 million you are familiar with. But more relevantly, Jewell is also a recognized environmentalist. From The New York Times:

Ms. Jewell, a native of the Seattle area and a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in mechanical engineering, has been a lifelong outdoors enthusiast. As a child she sailed in Puget Sound and camped throughout the Pacific Northwest, according to a 2005 profile in the Seattle Times. ...

She received the 2009 Rachel Carson Award for environmental conservation from the Audubon Society; the 2008 Nonprofit Director of the Year award from the National Association of Corporate Directors, and The Green Globe-Environmental Catalyst Award from King County, Wash., among others.

She is expected to face vigorous questioning during confirmation hearings about her approach to resource development on public lands.

Which reminds me. I should also mention what Jewell did before working at REI. She was a banker. And before that? Take it away, Politico.


Find out which facilities near you are doing the most damage to the climate!


In 2011, American industry produced the equivalent of 3.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions -- 10.5 tons for every resident of these United States. Two-thirds of those emissions were from power plants, by which we of course mean fossil fuel power plants.

That's the topline summary of the EPA's new report on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions -- the second time the agency has completed such a survey. The good news is that the GHG emission number from power plants is going down. From The Hill:

In all, 8,000 facilities across nine industry sectors put 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions into the air in 2011. Power plants accounted for about 2.2 billion of those tons.

EPA said that was a 4.6 percent decrease from power plants compared with 2010, which it attributed to growing reliance on natural gas and renewable energy for electricity generation.

Those emissions could drop even more in the future, as low natural gas prices, expanded renewable electricity generation and an abnormally warm winter last year curbed coal-fired generation. …

EPA released its first report from the program last year, when it considered 2010 emissions from 29 sources. Emissions from those sources fell 3 percent in 2011.

Petroleum and natural gas systems were the second greatest emitters, clocking in at 225 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. Refineries ranked third, at 182 million tons.

What's really cool is the EPA's interactive map, which lets you zoom in to regions and see what polluters are in any given neighborhood. You can also see where certain types of polluters are more common. Here is pollution from refineries, by state:


A new proposal for shipping tar-sands oil: Use the thawed Arctic!

Oil companies in Alberta have learned a key lesson about the tar-sands business. Namely: Extracting tar-sands oil is one thing. Getting it refined and sold is another.

Tar-sands oil prices continue to fall as companies struggle to figure out how to get it to customers. There are three routes to do so, shown above. The route headed west (in blue) represents the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline -- a project that is on the brink of being cancelled. Heading south into the United States (in red), Keystone XL, the tribulations of which are legendary. Headed east (yellow), a possible pipeline to the St. Lawrence Seaway which, as far as I know, exists only in theory.

But there's another possibility, one previously unmentioned -- and previously impossible: Build a pipeline due north, to the formerly frozen Arctic Ocean. From Bloomberg:

Alberta’s landlocked oil producers facing pipeline bottlenecks to the south, west and east are welcome to ship their product north, according to Northwest Territories leader Bob McLeod.

McLeod, 60, said the territorial government would consider proposals to ship crude from Alberta oil sands producers, which include Suncor (SU) Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources, to the Arctic. The territory would consider piggybacking on any new infrastructure to ship its own oil and gas, he said. ...

“The reality is, it’s doable,” McLeod said. “With climate change, the Arctic ice pack has melted significantly.” Asked if Alberta’s difficulties getting oil to market presents an opportunity for his region, McLeod said: “We think so.”


New York governor wants to return Sandy-damaged neighborhoods to nature

Whoever is tallying the bill for Hurricane Sandy (Paul Ryan, maybe? Chris Christie?) needs to add another $400 million in the "expenses" column. That's how much New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) plans to spend to buy storm-damaged houses, raze them, and leave the land vacant.

From The New York Times:

The purchase program, which still requires approval from federal officials, would be among the most ambitious ever undertaken, not only in scale but also in how Mr. Cuomo would be using the money to begin reshaping coastal land use. Residents living in flood plains with homes that were significantly damaged would be offered the pre-storm value of their houses to relocate; those in even more vulnerable areas would be offered a bonus to sell; and in a small number of highly flood-prone areas, the state would double the bonus if an entire block of homeowners agreed to leave.

The land would never be built on again. Some properties could be turned into dunes, wetlands or other natural buffers that would help protect coastal communities from ferocious storms; other parcels could be combined and turned into public parkland.

Jenna Pope


Alaska senator offers a fresh, new energy policy calling for more drilling in Alaska

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today unveiled a new energy plan, a document that she'd been hyping for weeks. In January, she called it "very comprehensive," which is, I guess, an improvement over other people's moderately comprehensive proposals.

Murkowski is the one who doesn't appear to be only a head floating in space
Murkowski is the one who doesn't appear to be only a head floating in space.

Murkowski very savvily linked the release to the Super Bowl power outage, noting that the darkened Superdome "helps to perhaps kick-start the debate" over exactly how much offshore drilling we should do. Oh, that was a spoiler: Murkowski thinks we should do a lot of offshore drilling. And if we had, the Superdome wouldn't have gone dark last night, because the game could have been played by the light of burning barrels of crude.

So. The plan. Here's how the Anchorage Daily News describes it. (We've gone ahead and removed the filler.)


How the shale boom came to North Dakota — and how it’s spreading west

It really is an apt image: a series of briefcases, presumably in a range of colors from dusty brown to black, sitting in the freezing air on the steps of a North Dakota courthouse sometime before dawn. The briefcases served as proxies for the oil and gas company representatives jostling to buy mineral rights in the empty flatness of western North Dakota, representatives not eager enough to close the deals that they would stand in subzero temperatures.

Williston, North Dakota, in 2008
Williston, North Dakota, in 2008.

This scene leads the New York Times Magazine's overview of the state's newest-but-not-only oil boom, the cacophonous hustle to split apart the Bakken shale with hydraulic fracturing. The Times has been on a North Dakota bender of late, covering gender issues and infrastructural strains caused by the boom. But this most recent piece provides the most insight on how the boom came to be and how long it might last.

They have been through this before, the people of North Dakota, first in the ’60s, a decade after oil was discovered in the state. And then again in the late ’70s, when the boom was driven by rising oil prices. Monthly oil production, which peaked in 1984 at 4.6 million barrels, fell to half and then went sideways for nearly a quarter-century. By February 1999, there wasn’t a single rig drilling new wells in the state, and oil development looked to be yet another cautionary tale in the familiar boom-and-bust history of the region ...

And then around seven years ago -- driven by technological refinements that have made North Dakota a premier laboratory for coaxing oil from stingy rocks -- the state’s Bakken boom began in Mountrail County. … The first areas of the Bakken to be hydraulically fractured were on the Montana side of the Williston Basin in the Elm Coulee Field, where oil was discovered in 2000. Early treatments there were called “Hail Mary fracks” because geologists and engineers would just drill a well, pump in frack fluid and pray for a robust result. The technique is more exact now. Certain grades of sand or sometimes proppant made of ceramic beads are matched to certain kinds of rock, and the wells are fracked in stages, as many as 40 stages per well.

Just how much oil is in the Bakken is still unknown. Estimates have been continuously revised upward since a 1974 figure of 10 billion barrels. Leigh Price, a United States Geological Survey geochemist, was initially greeted with skepticism when, about 13 years ago, he came to the conclusion that the Bakken might hold as much as 503 billion barrels of oil. Now people don’t think that number is as crazy as it seemed. …

[A]s the volume of oil in the Bakken shale is still a moving target, and recovery techniques are increasingly sophisticated, some estimates put the life of the Bakken play, and the attendant upheaval it is causing in North Dakota, at upward of a hundred years.


China’s pollution reaches Japan. Next stop: California

Smog in China
Smog in China.

My wife and I used to have an annoying neighbor. There were various ways in which he was annoying -- he would holler every Sunday during the Saints games and would stand outside talking on his cell phone at all hours of the night. But most annoying was the smoking. He'd stand under our bedroom windows and smoke, the smell drifting into our apartment. Of all of his infuriating tendencies, this was the worst.

But at least what wafted into our clothes and lungs while we slept wasn't toxic smog. That's the problem Japan is having with its neighbor to the west. From Agence France-Presse:

The suffocating smog that blanketed swathes of China is now hitting parts of Japan, sparking warnings Monday of health fears for the young and the sick.

The environment ministry's website has been overloaded as worried users log on to try to find out what is coming their way. ...

Air pollution over the west of Japan has exceeded government limits over the last few days, with tiny particulate matter a problem, said Atsushi Shimizu of the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES).

Prevailing winds from the west bring airborne particles from the Asian mainland, he said.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy