Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Fossil Fuels


Big mystery: U.S. oil production hits 14-year high, gas prices not at 14-year low

Great news, America! The amount of crude oil produced within our borders is at the highest levels we've seen since 1998.

This is mostly because of the drilling booms in North Dakota and Texas.

This is basically the scenario that fossil fuel companies argue for. Let's drill more, they say, and then gas prices will go down. It makes intuitive sense, right? The more oil to make gas with, the more gas; the more gas, the lower the price. Good old supply and demand.

But -- and I don't want to freak you out or imply that fossil fuel companies are being disingenuous -- gas prices are not at the lowest point since 1998. In fact, they may be starting to go back up.


Protests temporarily delay opening Alabama forests to drilling

If you enjoyed the reasoned debate over opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to fossil fuel extraction, you'll likely be happy to learn that a similar debate may be coming to your own neighborhood.

For years Forest Service land in the East was considered irrelevant when it came to oil and gas leasing. But in the last year and a half, the federal government has leased or scheduled for auction more than 384,000 acres at the request of private bidders, more than 10 times as much land as it had leased in the previous two years.

The agency responsible for such auctions, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), had intended to auction another 90,000 acres in four southern states next week, but protests in Alabama prompted that state's auctions to be postponed.


Conspiracy of the day: American nonprofits oppose Canadian tar sands

Photo by tarsandsaction.

Here's a multiple choice question for you. Please circle the correct answer on your screen with a permanent marker, using a Sharpie™-brand pen in blue or black, for our system to read it properly.

The question: Why would American organizations contribute money to Canadian environmental nonprofits that are fighting, among other things, against the expansion of Alberta's oil sands and pipelines?

Read more: Fossil Fuels, Oil, Politics


North Dakota’s fossil fuel boom: Messy

Via Lindsey GeePhoto by Lindsey Gee.

The fossil fuels boom has brought jobs to North Dakota. And several other things!

Like much higher rents.

[School superintendent Kelly] Koppinger said every new teacher he's tried to recruit asks about housing. Most can't afford it. There's a new apartment building across from the high school, but it's too expensive.

"Right now for a two-bedroom, one-bath you're looking at $1,800-a-month rent," he said. "A teacher's take home pay is right around that $2,000 mark and for them to spend $1,800 a month on just rent, we couldn't recruit or retain some of the staff we did have, so we needed to get it to where housing was somewhat affordable."

To remedy that, the school district is building several apartment units and will charge $500 a month for rent.

And crime.

Within the last few months, a Watford City pharmacy was robbed of $16,000 in narcotics, four people were stabbed at a local strip club in Williston, a semi truck crashed into an RV full of people sleeping and the first prostitution ring in decades was busted.

Last year, the number of criminal incidents reported to the Williston Police Department nearly tripled to 16,495. But that's only a fraction of the lawlessness the police have seen this year.

And, this, just released today:

According to data obtained by ProPublica, oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids in 2011, about as many as in the previous two years combined. Many more illicit releases went unreported, state regulators acknowledge, when companies dumped truckloads of toxic fluid along the road or drained waste pits illegally.


The dirt on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s environmental record

Scott Walker "Obey" SignPhoto by ky_olsen.

Wisconsin is a proud state, with a unique political legacy. Its track record of progressive independence and long-standing commitment to political comity make today's recall election an aberration, a rare example of a Wisconsin turned against itself -- and a rare national example of political turmoil.

The last recall election of a governor in the United States was California's in 2003, a campaign I worked on. A friend from those days, Clark Williams, is today in his home state of Wisconsin working to turn out voters to recall Walker. I asked him how the two elections compared. "Night and day," he responded, noting the "venom" that has polluted any rational conversation about the election. It's a common refrain: A recent poll found that one in three Wisconsinites had stopped talking about politics with someone because of their disagreement. There are reports of physical altercations between supporters of either side. This is not exactly the ebullient, cheese-loving Wisconsin we picture.

Neither are the decisions being made by the governor the ones many state residents expected. The fuse for the recall was lit with Gov. Walker's move to cut collective bargaining rights for the state's public sector unions, but that's not the only gripe state residents have with the governor.

The environmental community has its own (good) reasons for complaint. The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is very engaged in the recall, with lawn signs opposing Walker throughout the state and a robust collection of "Failure Files" online outlining Walker's anti-environment policies. And I mean robust. They're worth a perusal.

For those pressed for time, or on the way to the polling booth, here's an overview we assembled: Scott Walker's Murky, Polluted Environmental Record.


Energy companies, seeing a greener future, are losing their faith in coal

The stuff fortunes were made of.

Tallying the predictions of energy industry executives is an interesting exercise. Like any dominant business sector, the energy industry's predictive powers are limited by one key damper: a blindness to change that might undermine their dominance.

But we have an opportunity to look through their tinted shades. Each year, the consulting firm Black & Veatch asks utility executives for their predictions on how the field will evolve. Highlights from the survey:


The top five things voters need to know about conservatives and climate change

Five! (Photo by woodleywonderworks)I've seen a recent surge of stories about conservatives and climate change. None of them, oddly, tell voters what they most need to know on the subject. In fact, one of them does the opposite. (Grrrr ...)

I respond in accordance with internet tradition: a listicle!

5. Conservatives have a long history of advancing environmental progress. In a column directed to Mitt Romney, Thomas Friedman reels off (one suspects from memory) "the G.O.P.'s long tradition of environmental stewardship that some Republicans are still proud of: Teddy Roosevelt bequeathed us national parks, Richard Nixon the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, Ronald Reagan the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer and George H. W. Bush cap-and-trade that reduced acid rain." This familiar litany is slightly misleading, attributing to presidents what is mostly the work of Congresses, but the basic point is valid enough: In the 20th century, Republicans have frequently played a constructive role on the environment.


Before Rio Earth Summit, let’s put pressure on world leaders to end fossil fuel subsidies

Bill McKibben at's recent Rally to End Fossil Fuel Subsidies. (Photo by

In just a few weeks, world leaders are converging on Rio for a landmark “Earth Summit” to talk about sustainability issues -- but it’s time for them to stop talking and start doing. And we know where they can begin.

This year our governments will hand nearly hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies to the coal, gas, and oil industries. Instead, they should cut them off.

Cutting fossil fuel subsidies could actually take a giant step towards solving the climate crisis: Phasing out these subsidies would prevent gigatonnes of carbon emissions and help make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels.

And here’s the thing: This demand is completely reasonable -- so reasonable that the leaders of the big countries have already agreed to it. The G20 promised in 2009 that fossil fuel subsidies would be phased out in the “medium term.” But the political power of the corporate polluters scares them, and so no nation has yet followed through.

If we want real action to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, we need to give world leaders a people-powered push as the Rio Summit approaches -- and that push starts now with this global call to action.


The promise and peril of a military shift to biofuels

soldier filling tankFill 'er up -- with biofuels? (Photo by U.S. Army Africa)

The U.S. military's "going green" is not a singular phenomenon. There are several different things going on under that rubric, with different rationales and different effects. Some of them make such obvious strategic, economic, and environmental sense that no one really can, or does, oppose them. But one in particular -- the biofuels initiative -- is much less clear-cut. Before discussing that, though, let's try to pick apart and categorize the green initiatives underway at the Department of Defense.

First off, there are attempts to reduce fossil-fuel use in the theater of war, mainly Iraq and Afghanistan, through more efficiency (insulated tents, LED lights) and the use of distributed renewables. These efforts directly enhance battlefield effectiveness. They make fighting units lighter and faster. They reduce the need for fuel convoys, saving lives and money. They are unimpeachable -- even Republicans in Congress will hesitate to second-guess the military's tactical logistics decisions.

Second, there are attempts to make U.S. military bases more independent of civilian power grids, which are vulnerable to accidents, blackouts, or attacks. In part this is being done by generating power on-site. Solar power for bases has become far more affordable, thanks to plummeting solar-panel prices, but there are also experiments underway with wind, geothermal, and biomass. Bases are also increasing energy and waste efficiency and experimenting with smart microgrids. These efforts seem somewhat more vulnerable to political attack, but I've not yet heard of any.

Third, there are efforts to find new liquid fuels for the military's vast land, air, and water fleets. This one is the biggie, from the standpoint of sheer quantities of energy and money. It's the most difficult. And it's also the most controversial, in terms of Republican opposition and environmental risk.


This coal-plant snow globe could be yours for only $3,100

The world inside a snow globe is usually pretty idyllic -- just pure white snow falling lightly on famous landmarks. Not really an accurate reflection of the environmental toll of mass-produced tourist kitsch. So the artists of the Dorothy collective have produced a limited run of two coal power plant globes, complete with ash-flake "snow." One has already been sold -- but the other can be yours for £2,000, or a little over $3,100.