Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Fossil Fuels



Keystone XL is basically your douchey ex-boyfriend

What would Keystone XL look like as a human being? Probably pretty much how he's portrayed in this video from the Post-Carbon Institute: a spectacularly douchey dudebro who can't take no for an answer.

Read more: Fossil Fuels, Oil


Another reason to bug out: Drought puts electrical production at risk

In 2005, Americans used 410 billion gallons of water a day. In the spirit of the soon-to-commence-we've-heard London Olympics, that's enough to fill 620,808 Olympic-sized swimming pools. In the spirit of the 2000 Sydney Games, it's three times the amount of water in Sydney Harbor. (How much we use now is probably similar, but the U.S. Geological Survey's research on 2010 won't be ready until 2014.)

Half of the water we use goes to power generation. Michael Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas, finds that worrisome, given our recent water-access difficulties. (Yes, we're talking about the drought again. Get used to it.) He wrote an editorial for The New York Times titled, "Will Drought Cause the Next Blackout?"

During the 2008 drought in the Southeast, power plants were within days or weeks of shutting down because of limited water supplies. In Texas today, some cities are forbidding the use of municipal water for hydraulic fracturing. The multiyear drought in the West has lowered the snowpack and water levels behind dams, reducing their power output. The United States Energy Information Administration recently issued an alert that the drought was likely to exacerbate challenges to California’s electric power market this summer, with higher risks of reliability problems and scarcity-driven price increases.

Read more: Fossil Fuels, Wind Power


Best example of bad government investment? Land use.

A sand mine near Chippewa Falls. (Photo by Jim Tittle/The Price of Sand.)

Conservatives are trying to make Solyndra the poster child for bad government investment. They'd have an easier argument -- if many unhappy benefactors -- if they targeted public land use.

We've talked about this before: how the government auctions off mineral resources at low, low prices allowing private sector companies to make massive profits.

That's only part of it. There's also the shortsightedness that goes into turning over pristine land, even protected areas, for extraction and development. This week, the Center for American Progress and the Sierra Club launched a video series profiling three areas -- the Grand Canyon watershed, Bryce Canyon, and Wyoming's Noble Basin -- that might soon be impacted by private sector extraction.

The House is trying to make this alarmingly easy process even easier. Earlier today, the House of Representatives held votes on a bill -- H.R. 4402, introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R–Nev.) -- that would greatly facilitate the permit process for mining.


U.S. Navy on its green initiatives: Damn the torpedoes!

Logo on a Navy FA-18. (Photo courtesy of the USDA.)

Rep. Mike Conaway (R–Texas) hates the Navy's biofuel program. "It's not about proving the technology," he told Reuters. "It's [Navy Secretary Ray] Mabus wanting to waste money ... on a publicity stunt for his green fleet." Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.) hates it too. "I don't believe it's the job of the Navy to be involved in building ... new technologies. I don't believe we can afford it."

How does the Navy respond? Cool story, bro.

The Navy has been at the forefront of energy innovation for over a hundred years, Mabus says, transitioning from sail, to coal, to oil and then to nuclear from the 1850s to the 1950s.

"Every single time there were naysayers," he said recently. "And every single time, every single time, those naysayers have been wrong, and they're going to be wrong again this time."

Earlier this month, the Navy announced a $62 million investment in biofuel technology. David Roberts has been covering this issue for a long time, noting that such investments in biofuels make an enormous amount of sense over the long term. As Mabus points out, the Navy uses 2 percent of all of the fossil fuels consumed in the United States. In 2011, the Daily Energy Report posted the breakdown of military energy consumption from 2009, below. That year, the military used 731 trillion British thermal units of oil.


How the oil boom in Montana has turned railroads into a pipeline

There was an interesting sentence buried in a Washington Post article that we referenced in a post earlier this week. The Post article assessed political support in Montana for an extension of the Keystone pipeline, noting:

In Montana, the majority of voters back it because TransCanada has included an “on-ramp” that will transport Bakken oil to the Gulf Coast. The oil is currently moved on rail cars, trucks and smaller pipelines.

"Bakken oil" is oil from the massive Bakken formation.

Image courtesy of

The region stretches down from Canada over the borders of Montana and North Dakota. Estimates of its reserves have fluctuated over time. But most likely it contains over 100 mllion barrels of shale oil. The scale of the deposit has created a boom in both states over the past two years, with one estimate suggesting that there are over 6,000 wells now active.


The worst onshore oil spill in American history didn’t have to happen

A turtle rescued from the Kalamazoo River is cleaned. Click to embiggen. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

Just under two years ago, on July 25 at 6 p.m., a pipeline carrying tar-sands oil split open in southern Michigan. Over the course of the next 17 hours, diluted bitumen -- a particularly dense form of petroleum -- spilled into the Kalamazoo River and a tributary. Estimates of the amount that spilled started at 819,000 gallons and went up, eventually topping 1,000,000. The spill made nearby residents sick: headaches, nausea, breathing difficulties. Many birds fared far worse.

It was the worst onshore spill in American history. And the entire thing was completely preventable.

Today, the National Transportation Safety Board released the results of its investigation into the spill. The San Francisco Chronicle summarizes:

Enbridge Inc. knew in 2005 that its pipeline near Marshall, a city 95 miles west of Detroit, was cracked and corroded, but it didn't perform excavations that ultimately might have prevented the rupture, NTSB investigators told the five-member board at a meeting in Washington.

Investigators also faulted Enbridge control center personnel for twice pumping more oil into the line after the spill began and failing to discover what had happened for more than 17 hours, when an employee of a natural gas company notified them.

Read more: Fossil Fuels, Oil


Duke Energy CEO Bill Johnson resigns after one day, gets $44 million in severance

The headquarters of Duke Energy, where Bill Johnson worked for a bit. (Photo by K. Koukopoulus.)

When Duke Energy announced its merger with Progress Energy last year, the two companies agreed that Progress CEO Bill Johnson would assume the same position at the combined company. So he did: On June 27, Johnson signed a three-year contract to helm Duke. When the merger went into effect on July 2, he assumed the position of CEO.

And then, on July 3 at midnight, Johnson resigned. The Wall Street Journal:

Outsiders considered the turn of events highly unusual. New chief executives almost never quit days after accepting an employment contract, three executive-compensation consultants said.

It "is very odd" for a CEO to exit days after taking command, said David Schmidt, a consultant at James F. Reda & Associates, a compensation consulting firm in New York that wasn't involved with either company. "I have never seen that before.''

But let us not weep for our once and not-future king. Bill Johnson's golden parachute was not affected by his short flight.

Despite his short-lived tenure, Mr. Johnson will receive exit payments worth as much as $44.4 million, according to Duke. That includes $7.4 million in severance, a nearly $1.4 million cash bonus, a special lump-sum payment worth up to $1.5 million and accelerated vesting of his stock awards, according to a Duke regulatory filing Tuesday night. Mr. Johnson gets the lump-sum payment as long as he cooperates with Duke and doesn't disparage his former employer, the filing said.

Under his exit package, Mr. Johnson also will receive approximately $30,000 to reimburse him for relocation expenses.


The new fossil-fuel glut: Less glutty than you think

Michael Leibreich.

The discussion around clean energy has long been clouded by ideology, so it's been nice to see the growing size and influence of the independent market-research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which takes the dynamics of cleantech markets seriously and produces credible data and analysis on them.

The firm was started in 2004 by entrepreneur and venture capitalist Michael Liebreich, who sold it to Bloomberg in 2009 and remains its chief executive. Liebreich is an energy polymath, a frequent speaker, commentator, and participant on more boards, panels, advisory groups, and foundations than I care to list. (Check out his official bio.) I don't know of anyone who has a broader and more sensible view of the energy landscape. So I thought I'd chat with him! Our discussion was long, info-rich, and -- I'm not gonna lie -- a little technical, so I'm breaking it up into four digestible parts.

We kick it off today with a few questions about the much-ballyhooed recent oil and gas glut.

Read more: Fossil Fuels


Mickey Mouse pushes fossil fuels in this 1985 comic book

Matt Novak of Paleofuture has been posting photos of a 1985 Disney comic touting the benefits of oil pipelines and coal. What's really striking is how much it genuinely sounds like Republican talking points. I guess Goofy is the American public, Mickey is the GOP, and whoever does Mickey's voice is the Koch brothers.

Read more: Fossil Fuels, Oil


Oh, great: OPEC considers cutting production to boost oil prices

The Washington Post reports:

With the global economy at a tipping point, a deeply divided Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting in Vienna wrangled over whether to cut production and prop up crude oil prices.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and the cartel member with the greatest latitude for tightening or opening its taps, arrived vowing to maintain its output and hold the line on quotas for the group. Other OPEC members, led by Iran and Venezuela, have wanted to trim output quotas to boost the price of oil.

Analysts said they expect no change in the end. ...