Skip to content Skip to site navigation
Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Exxon’s predictions for 2040: More oil use, more electricity use, more, more, more

The first thing you should know about Exxon's 2013 "Outlook For Energy" report, the latest in an annual series that makes predictions about energy use to 2040, is that climate change is mentioned twice. In both cases, the expression is followed by the word "policies."

So, with that big grain of salt, an oil tanker-sized grain of salt, what does Exxon portend for energy use on our little, warming planet? The toplines:

  • "Efficiency will continue to play a key role in solving our energy challenges." Energy use by developed nations will stay flat.
  • "Energy demand in developing nations [those not in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD] will rise 65 percent by 2040 compared to 2010, reflecting growing prosperity and expanding economies." This increase will mean a 35 percent rise in energy demand globally.
  • "With this growth comes a greater demand for electricity." This increased demand for electricity will account for half of the overall increase in demand for energy.
  • "Growth in transportation sector demand will be led by expanding commercial activity as our economies grow." Exxon will keep making money off cars and shipping ...
  • "Technology is enabling the safe development of once hard-to-produce energy resources, significantly expanding available supplies to meet the world’s changing energy needs." … and fracking.
  • "Evolving demand and supply patterns will open the door for increased global trade opportunities." North America will start exporting oil.

I mean, that's pretty grim, if predictable. As living standards increase, so does energy use. And even if the largest energy users -- read, greenhouse gas emitters -- level off (which is questionable), growth elsewhere in the world more than makes up for it. So by 2040, the world, warmer thanks to what we've already emitted, will keep adding to greenhouse gas pollution as it adapts to shifts in climate -- and 2 billion more people.

The problem is summarized in these graphs:


Gas line break creates massive fireball in W. Va.

Video stillWOWKTV

A natural-gas transmission line in West Virginia ruptured this afternoon. From WOWKTV:

[An] explosion rocked Sissonville shortly before 1 p.m. today, setting several homes on fire and forcing officials to issue a shelter in place for local residents.

The explosion caused huge flames to race throughout the area, lapping both sides on Interstate 77, which has been closed to all northbound and southbound traffic.

Sgt. Michael Bayless with the West Virginia State Police said the investigation into the cause of the explosion is still ongoing and very preliminary. He said crews with Columbia Gas are working to shut off the pipeline to control the fire. However he said that process is very delicate because they don't want to reignite the explosion.


Gotta wear shades: Solar installations hit new annual record

Year-over-year solar installations in the U.S. are up! Again! Up up up!

Click to embiggen.
Greentech Media
Click to embiggen.

From Greentech Media:

[T]he U.S. solar photovoltaics (PV) market installed 684 megawatts in the third quarter (Q3) of 2012, representing 44-percent growth over the same period last year. This quarter marked the third largest on record for the U.S. PV industry and raised the total installed capacity through the first three quarters of the year to 1,992 megawatts -- already surpassing 2011’s annual total of 1,885 megawatts.

Cumulatively, there are now 5.9 gigawatts of PV (which converts sunlight directly into electricity) operating in the U.S. from more than 271,000 installations. Combined with concentrating solar power facilities (CSP), which convert the sun’s heat to electricity, there are more than 6.4 gigawatts of solar electric capacity installed in the U.S., enough to power more than one million average American households.


Milk sales have declined sharply, perhaps because we aren’t all babies

No one drinks milk anymore! The Wall Street Journal:

Per-capita U.S. milk consumption, which peaked around World War II, has fallen almost 30% since 1975, even as sales of yogurt, cheese and other dairy products have risen, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. The reasons include the rise in popularity of bottled waters and the concern of some consumers that milk is high in calories.

Ugh, so gross
Chelsea Phillips

Here are other reasons, probably:

  • Milk is kind of gross. When you hear something described as "milky," do you think: Hey, yum, that sounds good? No, you think: Gross. That sounds gross.
  • Milk is what cows feed their babies, in theory. If you're anything like me, it's been years since you've suckled on your mother's breast. And even when you used to do that, if you did, I bet you never found yourself faced with the dilemma of whether you would rather drink milk from your mother or from a cow. Even if you grew up on a farm, even if you were breast-feeding in the barn, and even if you were old enough to make rational decisions (which I hope you weren't), I doubt you thought, maybe that nipple dragging around in that hay is better! When you drink milk, you are basically wrapping your lips around a cow body part that is like two feet from its anus, but with some intermediary sanitation.
Read more: Food, Living


Judge orders two-week halt to Keystone XL pipeline construction

We've reported before about the Keystone XL blockade activists, but the East Texans who own the land on which the pipeline is being constructed have been some of the project's most vocal, if less-often-pepper-sprayed, detractors. And today they actually kind of won for a change.

A Texas judge has ordered TransCanada to halt work for two weeks on the pipeline, following a lawsuit from landowner Michael Bishop claiming that TransCanada lied about transporting crude oil when it's really hauling tar-sands oil.

TransCanada's all, "Oil is oil, what's the big deal?" But the judge didn't see it that way. From the Associated Press:

Tar sands oil — or diluted bitumen — does not meet the definition as outlined in Texas and federal statutory codes which define crude oil as “liquid hydrocarbons extracted from the earth at atmospheric temperatures,” Bishop said. When tar sands are extracted in Alberta, Canada, the material is almost a solid and “has to be heated and diluted in order to even be transmitted,” he told The Associated Press exclusively.

“They lied to the American people,” Bishop said.

Texas County Court at Law Judge Jack Sinz signed a temporary restraining order and injunction Friday, saying there was sufficient cause to halt work until a hearing Dec. 19. The two-week injunction went into effect Tuesday after Michael Bishop, the landowner, posted bond.

David Dodson, a spokesman for TransCanada, said courts have already ruled that tar sands are a form of crude oil. He said the injunction will not delay the project.


BP emails reveal the company underreported the 2010 Gulf spill

If you were around way back in 2010, you may remember that an oil platform owned by a certain company (it was called "BP") exploded, killing 11 people and initiating a massive, months-long spill.

You may also remember that the company (again, BP, or "British Petroleum") repeatedly seemed to underestimate how much oil was being spilled. See, for example, this article from May of that year, "BP’s estimate of spill rate is way low, engineer suggests."

The engineer was right, and BP knew it. From The Huffington Post:

Emails that attorneys representing a defendant in the BP oil spill case plan to introduce in February show for the first time that the oil company knew the massive scale of the 2010 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico weeks earlier than previously disclosed.

BP has long maintained that it provided full disclosure to the public and the federal government about its knowledge of the spill’s extent and did so promptly. The emails suggest otherwise.

BP has said in the past that it learned of the spill's full extent months after the April 2010 blowout. But the emails indicate that the company knew almost immediately after the drilling rig exploded, killing 11 workers and injuring 17, that the spill may be extraordinarily large. …

Just two days after the rig explosion, [BP engineer Kurt] Mix emailed a projection to a supervisor estimating the runaway well could be leaking from 62,000 barrels per day to 146,000 barrels per day. Two days later, BP executives told the Coast Guard their best estimate for the leak was 1,000 barrels per day. A federal scientific group concluded after the well was capped that the flow was 62,000 barrels per day at the beginning of the disaster.

The projection from the engineer in that May 2010 story I mentioned above? 70,000 barrels a day.


For the first time, cities see a drop in childhood obesity

Good, unexpected news on the childhood obesity front, at long last.

From The New York Times:

After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are reporting their first declines.

The trend has emerged in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Neb. The state of Mississippi has also registered a drop, but only among white students. ...

The drops are small, just 5 percent here in Philadelphia and 3 percent in Los Angeles. But experts say they are significant because they offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course.

Part of the decline is due to children no longer eating massive chunks of cheese
Part of the decline is likely due to children no longer eating massive chunks of cheese.

Before you start printing up flyers crediting your co-op and/or chicken coop, know this: It's not entirely clear why the drop is happening.

Read more: Cities, Food


Politico’s top secret megascoop on the link between energy and the economy

People steeped in Washington, D.C., culture like to think that what happens in D.C. is as complex as it is important. That everyone on the Hill and the lobbyists on K Street and the various NGOs scattered around downtown are engaged in tremendously wily, hyper-intelligent combat. Gentlemanly combat, mind you -- cocktail-sipping James-Bond-with-a-cocked-eyebrow scheming -- but combat nonetheless. This is because people like to feel exceptional and smart and important, yourself and myself included.

Happily, D.C. also has a news outlet that is eager to play the game, to lift up the city's generals and parse their feints and strikes. That news outlet is called "Politico," and it is the city's chronicler and enabler. Politico says D.C.'s obsessions are important and the city's obsessives think Politico is the paper of record. It's an elegant cycle.

Image (1) us_capitol_tree_flickr_via_Photo_Phiend.jpg for post 37621
Photo Phiend

This morning, Politico ran an article, written by Mike Allen and site co-founder Jim VandeHei, which offered us humble D.C. outsiders a look at what Savvy Washington Generals Say Will Get The Economy Going. "Most politicians in the most powerful positions in Washington agree in private that there are a half-dozen or so big things they could and should do that could put a rocket booster on the U.S. economy," the article began, then warning, "but they are too timid to say it in public."


USDA backpedals on healthy school-lunch rules

unhappy girl with school lunch trayWhiny kids and Republicans have a lot in common. For example, they both complained enough to weaken still relatively new USDA rules requiring school lunches to be more healthy. Some kids said they were still hungry after eating the new lunches, and Republican legislators (who often act like they’re cranky due to low blood sugar) said the government was meddling too much in local affairs, so now the USDA is lifting the cap on the amount of meats and grains permitted in school meals.

In a letter to Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) [PDF], USDA head Tom Vilsack said the meat and grain limits had been "the top operational challenge" for states and schools in implementing the new standards, in part because they had a hard time locating the "right-sized" meats, and apparently cutting the meats into the right sizes is just too much work.

From the Associated Press:

Read more: Food, Politics


America wants to unleash its gas on other countries

natural gas sign
Gregory Perry

Guys, thanks to fracking, we have so much natural gas. So much. Like, if you filled up party balloons with the natural gas America produces in a year, you'd have enough to fill your whole house, I assume.* Also: Do not smoke near that.

The glut of natural gas on the market has been a boon, of sorts, if only because it's driving down carbon dioxide emissions. But those low, low prices, the result of domestic oversupply, are bad news for producers. So they'd like to ship the stuff overseas.

Last week, the government released a report compiled by NERA Economic Consulting on the feasibility of natural gas exports. As the Council on Foreign Relations summarizes:

The study reaffirms that allowing exports would be good for U.S. economic growth. No matter how NERA sets up its model -- different assumptions about U.S. gas resources, domestic demand, or international markets -- the U.S. economy as a whole benefits from allowing exports. This shouldn't be a surprise: the fact that economies gain from allowing trade is pretty robust.