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Chevron reports record profits — and will spend some of them undermining California pollution standards

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Another day, another oil company reporting massive quarterly and annual profits. Today: Chevron.

From the Associated Press:

Chevron Corp. posted a 41 percent gain in net income for the fourth quarter as the company produced more oil and gas, improved the performance of its refinery business and realized a gain from swapping assets in an Australian natural gas field.

Chevron Corp. posted net income of $7.2 billion for the quarter on revenue of $60.6 billion. That's up from $5.1 billion on revenue of $60 billion a year ago.

It was the biggest fourth quarter profit in the company's history.

Emphasis added, so that you can marvel.

And what will Chevron do with its gobs and gobs of money? One million dollars of it will go to pay a fine levied by the state of California. And some will go to undermining that state's carbon-reduction rules.


Energy Secretary Steven Chu to resign

Image (1) steven-chu-flickr-center-for-american-progress-action-fund.jpg for post 47006
Center for American Progress Action Fund

In a letter posted at the Department of Energy website, Secretary Steven Chu announces plans to resign his post.

I’ve always been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, who articulated his Dream of an America where people are judged not by skin color but “by the content of their character.” In the scientific world, people are judged by the content of their ideas. Advances are made with new insights, but the final arbitrator of any point of view are experiments that seek the unbiased truth, not information cherry picked to support a particular point of view. The power of our work is derived from this foundation. …

I came with dreams, and am leaving with a set of accomplishments that we should all be proud of. Those accomplishments are because of all your dedication and hard work. …

While I will always remain dedicated to the missions of the Department, I informed the President of my decision a few days after the election that Jean and I were eager to return to California. I would like to return to an academic life of teaching and research, but will still work to advance the missions that we have been working on together for the last four years.

In the short term, I plan to stay on as Secretary past the ARPA-E Summit at the end of February. I may stay beyond that time so that I can leave the Department in the hands of the new Secretary.


Toppled U.K. wind turbines likely an act of sabotage

Yesterday we had a spot of fun, a larf, talking about a wind turbine that fell over in the U.K. (Hence, "spot of fun," "larf." Real Americans don't talk like that.) We noted that it was weird it fell over, because we are professional journalists™ and we notice when things are weird.

Turns out, it was weird. From the Telegraph:

An investigation into the collapse of the first turbine in Bradworthy, Devon, during a 50mph gale last weekend has revealed that bolts are missing from its base.

The turbine was initially thought to have been brought down by the wind, despite being designed to withstand winds of up to 116mph, but the new evidence could suggest a case of foul play, councillors said.

It came as a second, 60ft turbine was spotted "lying crumpled on the ground" just 18 miles away in Cornwall, on a farm owned by the family of a Lib Dem councillor.

"Lib Dem councillor" is British for "farmer," I think.

A turbine in Devon, looking a bit nervous
A turbine in Devon, looking a bit nervous.


CO2 emissions from energy production drop to 1994 levels in the U.S.

The headline at The Guardian says almost everything you need to know: U.S. carbon emissions fall to lowest levels since 1994.

Carbon dioxide emissions fell by 13% in the past five years, because of new energy-saving technologies and a doubling in the take-up of renewable energy, the report compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) [PDF] said.

The reduction in climate pollution -- even as Congress failed to act on climate change -- brings America more than halfway towards Barack Obama's target of cutting emissions by 17% from 2005 levels over the next decade, the Bloomberg analysts said.

By the end of last year, America's emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions had fallen 10.7% from the 2005 baselines.

The caveat:  The carbon emissions discussed are those related to energy production. Energy production isn't all CO2 emission, but it's a lot of it.

So here's what that reduction looks like. Since 1974, levels of energy-related carbon emissions have seen two peaks. As indicated above, we're on a downward trend, something David Roberts explained last year.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.


Explosion at headquarters of Mexico’s state-owned oil company kills 32 [UPDATED]

It's not clear why the lower floors at the headquarters of Pemex, Mexico's state-owned oil company, exploded. Things that have been blamed so far: a gas leak, a malfunctioning boiler, the electricity supply. Mexico's Interior Minister, Miguel Angel Osorio, outlined the known facts for the press last night (translated via Google):

[Yesterday], around 15:40 pm in the North Annex B-2 Pemex Administrative Center, there was an explosion which seriously affected the ground floor, basement and mezzanine of the building and caused severe damage to three floors. …

The death of 25 people, 17 women, eight men, same SEMEFO have been transferred to the Attorney General of the Republic, 101 wounded, of whom 46 remain in care and the rest were discharged.

What is clear is that Pemex has a track record of mistakes and accidents -- and that the explosion comes at a tricky political moment for the company.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


California levies record $1 million fine against Chevron for refinery fire

Nearly six months after a Chevron refinery erupted in flames in Richmond, Cailf., there's a tiny bit of charred justice for residents of the San Francisco East Bay area.


In an announcement Wednesday, California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) said it would be fining Chevron $963,200 for the fire -- the biggest fine ever levied by the agency, and the biggest fine Cal/OSHA was even legally able to levy.

Cal/OSHA enforces workplace-safety law, and this judgment stemmed directly from 25 violations the agency said Chevron had committed. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The state said 11 of the violations were willful and that Chevron had disregarded known and obvious hazards, a category that carries a fine of $70,000 per instance. Twelve other violations were deemed serious, with fines ranging from $6,000 to $25,000 apiece. The other two violations were minor.

Cal/OSHA found that Chevron officials ignored their own reliability department's urging in 2002 that they replace the pipe that ultimately failed. Company inspectors told managers that the line was vulnerable to corrosion.

The line had lost more than 80 percent of its thickness to corrosion when it finally ruptured, a separate federal investigation has found. ...


Cyclists are the happiest of us all


Despite getting run over, doored, harassed, and generally being treated as second-class citizens of the road, bicyclists are the happiest of all commuters. Go figure!

The finding comes via an Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium study released this month. Those who walk to work, the study found, are nearly as happy as cyclists, who are about three times happier than solo car-drivers.

Of course, your commute happiness is improved if you're on your way to a good job that makes you a lot of money, but income gap aside, even rich workaholic bikers still had safety concerns that chipped away at their smile scores.

New York Daily News columnist Denis Hamill sees your safety concerns, cyclists, and he raises you a head injury, because that's the only explanation I have for Hamil's ragey column on New York's bike lanes that, he says, have "disfigured the city in a logistical and aesthetic way."

Read more: Cities


Water use for electricity production set to double globally by 2035

You can't make electricity without water. I mean, you can, but you have to use things like "solar panels" or "wind turbines," and who's going to do that? (Lots of people, I guess, but that doesn't help my point.) A 2009 study suggested that half of the freshwater we use goes to energy production, boiled to create steam to turn turbines, or used to cool off reactors. When we run low on water -- or when the water gets too warm -- the ability to generate electricity declines or halts. (Except from wind turbines and solar panels; I'll just keep pointing that out.)

According to the International Energy Agency, the amount of water we use for energy is about to go up. A lot. From National Geographic:

The amount of fresh water consumed for world energy production is on track to double within the next 25 years, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects. …

If today's policies remain in place, the IEA calculates that water consumed for energy production would increase from 66 billion cubic meters (bcm) today to 135 bcm annually by 2035.

That's an amount equal to the residential water use of every person in the United States over three years, or 90 days' discharge of the Mississippi River. It would be four times the volume of the largest U.S. reservoir, Hoover Dam's Lake Mead.

National Geographic


U.S. ends record streak of days without tornado fatalities

Climate Central reports that a weather-related record ended yesterday morning: the longest the U.S. has gone without a tornado-related death, 220 days.

[A] large and powerful tornado struck Adairsville, Ga., killing at least one person in a mobile home park. That tornado, which may rank as an EF-4 -- the second most powerful on the Enhanced Fujita Scale -- overturned cars on I-75 and damaged numerous buildings in downtown Adairsville, which is about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta.

A local news broadcast included a helicopter flight over the area damaged by the twister.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Monsanto CEO acknowledges climate change, open to GMO labels, thinks veggies suck

Image (1) monsanto_withered_c.gif for post 40274The Wall Street Journal sat down with Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant in what were probably some very nice chairs for this comfy little edited Q&A. The global agriculture giant is "battered, bruised, and still growing," according to the WSJ, whose cup runneth over with pathos for poor Hugh. The interview kicks off with: "What's the harm in disclosing genetically modified ingredients to consumers?" Yes, Hugh, please tell us about the harm.

Grant says California's Proposition 37 -- which would have required GMO foods to be labeled, and which Monsanto spent millions to defeat (weird, WSJ, y'all left that bit out!) -- "befuddled the issue." But Grant says he's personally "up for the dialogue around labeling." Why? Because he thinks GMOs are so great of course! (Come on, you knew that answer.)

They're the most-tested food product that the world has ever seen. Europe set up its own Food Standards Agency, which has now spent €300 million ($403.7 million), and has concluded that these technologies are safe. [Recently] France determined there's no safety issue on a corn line we submitted there. So there's always a great deal of political noise and turmoil. If you strip that back and you get to the science, the science is very strong around these technologies.

GMO haters gonna GMO hate! And Grant would rather be in the future than in the past. "I think some of the criticism comes with being first in a lot of these spaces. I'd rather be there than at the back of the pack." On the whole, Monsanto has "mended a lot of fences" and "turned things around" recently with the general public, according to Grant, in part because of "consistent messaging." I will give him that!

One of Grant's and Monsanto's messages, apparently: Vegetables taste crappy. This should definitely help the company with the 18-and-under crowd, at least.