The Keystone XL pipeline is probably here to stay; the fracking industry bubble looks like it might burst; Texas’s water problems worsen; a meth-head burns down one of the oldest living things on earth; and more!
- Jeff Goodell, of Rolling Stone, wrote an incredibly important piece on the fracking industry. In addition to fracking’s nasty side effects, Goodell exposed the shady business practices of some of the biggest firms involved in fracking.
According to Arthur Berman, a respected energy consultant in Texas who has spent years studying the industry, Chesapeake and its lesser competitors resemble a Ponzi scheme, overhyping the promise of shale gas in an effort to recoup their huge investments in leases and drilling. When the wells don’t pay off, the firms wind up scrambling to mask their financial troubles with convoluted off-book accounting methods. “This is an industry that is caught in the grip of magical thinking,” Berman says. “In fact, when you look at the level of debt some of these companies are carrying, and the questionable value of their gas reserves, there is a lot in common with the subprime mortgage market just before it melted down.”
Read the rest here. It's well worth it.
- Water experts Laura Huffman (of the Nature Conservancy), Andrew Sansom (of Texas State University), and Tom Mason (former head of the LCRA) spoke in Austin Wednesday at the monthly meeting of the Central Texas Democratic Forum about the current water crisis facing Texas. They all agreed that the state needs to get serious about planning for the future. Sansom said, “even without the drought we would be facing the gravest natural resource shortage in history,” adding, “we have already given permission for more water to be withdrawn from our rivers than is actually in them.” Huffman focused on opportunities for massive increases in water conservation, but urged “we must make sure public funding targets the smartest programs first. We will not solve the state’s water problems with lo-flow toilets.” According to Huffman, agriculture accounts for 60% of water use in Texas, 30% of which is wasted. Programs which encourage Texas growers to reclaim, re-use, or just not waste that water could have a huge impact. Mason offered some thoughts on the recent Day Case, “it means groundwater districts will be much less inclined to regulate resources. It is a broad brush opinion that establishes no guidelines. It will derail water management for a long time.”
As if to underscore their talk, the LCRA was forced to cut off water to rice farmers along the gulf coast today as lake levels in Lakes Travis and Buchanan were too low to allow the release of 147,000 acre-feet of water. The water would have accounted for about a third of all the water farmers in Colorado, Wharton, and Matagorda counties would use in 2012
With natural gas prices falling sharply as a result of the fracking “boom,” it’s no surprise that Texas drillers are switching back to good old oil. Oil well drilling is skyrocketing with 765 wells completed this January compared to 368 last year.
President Obama campaigned today in New Hampshire, pledging to end tax payer funded subsidies to the oil and gas industry he called “outrageous and inexcusable.”
Coal fired energy is not hot these days. Chicago is the latest major city to announce the closure of its coal-fired plants. In Texas, coal fired energy production plummeted 30% from last year. Visit BeyondCoal for more information.
The Texas Observer has a fascinating interview with peak oil expert Tad Patzek. He discusses the dearth of conventional petroleum, the problems with unconventional sources of oil and bio-fuels, and the need to start realistic planning for the future. Here’s a nice tid bit:
I'm just trying to be realistic, you see, the thing again – since we have a very loose relationship to the truth and reality [in this country], we are unwilling to face reality, instead we are telling lies to one another, right? We call it optimistic and positive attitude, when somebody's trying to tell you the truth you call them pessimistic and a dark picture. Well how about something else: we live within our means, we spend what we have and then if we have an excess of it we devote it to something else. Now how is that for a novel way of living?
Sadly, it appears as if the portion of Keystone XL pipeline which runs from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas will be built after all, though there will be some significant challenges to the proposed route. Landowners, environmentalists, and city governments along the future pipeline are gearing up to fight Transcanada in court over the massive abuse of eminent domain seizures that will result from the construction. Here’s some background on the pipeline debate.
Finally, in astoundingly stupid and depressing news, a 26 year old Floridian was arrested for burning down The Senator, a 3,500 year old Pond Cypress, while smoking meth. It was the fifth oldest tree on earth, and the tallest tree east of the Mississippi River.