Drumbeat: September 21, 2012

Fewer Americans commuting solo

The dismal economy and skyrocketing gas prices may have accomplished what years of advocacy failed to: getting more people to stop driving solo. The share of workers driving to work alone dropped slightly from 2010 to 2011 while commutes on public transportation rose nationally and in some of the largest metropolitan areas, according to Census data out today Thursday.

Group commuting -- riding buses, trains, subways or sharing cars or vans -- rose from 2005 to 2011 in more than a third of 342 metropolitan areas for which data exist, according to a USA TODAY analysis.

About two-thirds saw jumps in residents using public transit. The share driving to work alone dropped in about two-thirds or more than 200 metros.

The Gas Tax Is Running Low. But What Should Replace It?

For decades, the excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel has been the main source of funds for building and maintaining the nation's roadways. It has paid for most of the four million road miles currently in service.

But now there is agreement across the political spectrum that the gas tax is broken and needs to be replaced, or at least overhauled. The problem is twofold: First, the tax has failed to keep up with the rising cost of highway construction and repair. And second, improved fuel economy and the rise of hybrid and electric vehicles means that more driving won't be matched by higher gasoline sales, and that how much people pay for the roads won't necessarily reflect how much they use them.

Individuals to be taxed for oil consumption

China is expected to change its oil consumption tax coverage to individuals from companies, and to tax consumers at the gas station after a consumption tax reform, said a tax official at the 5th General Assembly of Chinese Corporations' Tax Management and Innovation on Thursday.

The country will also adjust the scope of taxation, to increase the taxes for high energy consuming, highly polluting and resource-based products, said Cong Ming, an official from the State Administration of Taxation.

Oil Trims Biggest Drop Since June as Losses Considered Excessive

Oil advanced in New York as optimism that central bank stimulus will revive the global economy fanned speculation that crude’s biggest weekly decline in more than three months was excessive.

November futures rose as much as 1.2 percent after front- month prices slid 7.2 percent in the four days through yesterday, when the October contract expired. The Financial Times reported that Spanish and European Union officials were working on plans to trigger bond purchases by the European Central Bank. Global equities are trading less than 1 percent below this year’s peak, reached on Sept. 14 after the Federal Reserve announced another round of quantitative easing.

Commodities Boom May Have Peaked as Fed Stimulus Fades

The biggest advances in commodities this year may be over because of mounting concern that policy makers aren’t doing enough to bolster economic growth at a time when producers are expanding supply.

Hollande Faces Defeat on Energy Price Caps as Gas Suppliers Sue

French President Francois Hollande has made capping energy prices a centrepiece policy to help households pressed by stagnant economic growth. It’s a campaign he’s likely to lose.

The government capped the latest rise in natural gas at 2 percent, far below the 7 percent former monopoly GDF Suez SA deemed necessary to cover supply costs. The move is a necessary part of “protecting consumer purchasing power,” Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici and Environment Minister Delphine Batho said this week.

Public Power Wins Court Appeal to Overturn Lignite Order

Public Power Corp SA won a European Union court ruling that allows it to maintain preferential access to cheap fuel for power generation, potentially helping the Greek government in talks with creditors on an economic overhaul needed to qualify for more emergency loans.

UAE: Oil prices underpin growing vehicle market

New car sales in the United Arab Emirates have grown around 20% in the first eight months of this year and growth is expected to continue due to a resilient economy underpinned by high oil prices.

Duke Chief Answers Critics After Coup at Biggest Utility

Jim Rogers is sitting in his sleek, modern office on the 48th floor of the Duke Energy Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, explaining how, after a merger capped off by an 11th-hour management coup, he remains chief executive officer of the largest electric utility in the U.S. He wonders aloud whether to enliven the account with a metaphor about soured romance.

The Venezuelan Election Deserves Our Attention

The head of Venezuela’s oil workers union, the United Federation of Oil Workers, said just yesterday that his members are not even entertaining the idea of a Chavez defeat. “It is impossible for Capriles to win this year…We the working class will not allow it.”

But while some in the state run oil industry look to Chavez as a savior of their industry, he has been involved in a number of dangerous and unsavory pursuits over the years that bring a black cloud over his administration and its business. Chavez has been linked to major narcoterrorists, including Walid Makled who was designated a major drug kingpin by the Obama administration in 2009 and is a financial stalwart of Chavez’s administration. In fact, dozens of top-level figures in the Chavez government including ministers, judges and generals were on Makled’s payroll.

Government Consents Next Hurdle for Cnooc in Nexen Bid

Nexen Inc. shareholders’ approval of Cnooc Ltd.’s $15.1 billion bid for the Canadian energy producer leaves the fate of the biggest Chinese takeover in the hands of three foreign governments as opposition mounts.

Kurdistan looks to awaken giant

DUBAI and LONDON // Through war and peace, northern Iraq's Kirkuk oilfield - endowed with 10 billion barrels of reserves, equal to half of America's total - has effectively lain fallow.

Proposals have been floated to revive today's anaemic production of 280,000 barrels per day (bpd) but progress has been blocked by a disagreement over whether the federal government or the Kurdistan regional government has rights to the land.

"Years passed and still we are in limbo," says Ali Salhi, the chairman of the oil and economic development council of the Kirkuk governorate. Today, his hopes are buoyed by the success of Kurdistan, which has partnered the world's biggest oil companies in the face of opposition from Baghdad.

China resumes oil imports from Sudan after 4 months' halt: customs

BEIJING (Reuters) - China in August made its first crude oil purchase from Sudan since April, importing about 140,000 tonnes, customs data showed, and traders said purchases may increase once Sudan and rival South Sudan finalise a border deal.

China did not import any crude from South Sudan in August, the data showed, as oil output there remained shut.

Japan Airlines cuts flights to China amid squabble

HONG KONG (CNNMoney) -- Shares of Japan Airlines tumbled Friday after the airline announced it was cutting flights to China amid a dispute over islands in the East China Sea.

Obama's surge in Afghanistan ends

Very quietly, the surge of troops into Afghanistan that President Obama announced to such fanfare in late 2009 is now over.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today that 33,000 troops have been withdrawn, calling the Afghan surge "a very important milestone" in a war the Obama administration is winding down; there are sill 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Libya Premier Says Pursuing Suspects in U.S. Mission Attack

Libya is pursuing suspects in the fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi who have fled abroad and the government is focusing efforts on improving security, Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur said.

Abushagur, who was named premier this month, said that eight Libyan nationals had been arrested in connection with the assault and that Ansar al-Shariah, an Islamist militia, was one of the groups thought to be involved. Several suspects are currently being sought after crossing the border into Egypt, Abushagur said in an interview today in his office in Tripoli, the capital, vowing that “these crimes will not go unpunished.”

Pakistan protest against anti-Muslim film turns violent

(CNN) -- A peaceful protest in Lebanon and a violent one in Pakistan highlighted Friday demonstrations against a film and series of cartoons recently published in France mocking the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.

The United States and Germany closed some diplomatic facilities in expectation that protests could intensify after weekly prayer services Friday.

Actress in anti-Islamic film files lawsuit against filmmaker and YouTube

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- One of the actresses in "Innocence of Muslims" -- the anti-Islam film that ignited a firestorm in the Muslim world -- is suing the producer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, claiming she is a victim of fraud, invasion of privacy and misappropriation of her likeness.

In a 17-page complaint filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, the lawsuit from Cindy Lee Garcia also names YouTube LLC, the video-sharing website on which the video is posted, and its parent company, Google Inc., as causing irreparable harm to Ms. Garcia for refusing to remove the content from their site.

Fire-ravaged mosque in US midwest receives flood of support

"Donations have been very much equal between Muslims and non-Muslims and they are coming from everywhere. The first people to respond were the local churches. We have close ties with the churches and synagogues in the area and people from many different congregations wanted to know how to help.

"I guess they wanted to show that, while there were these horrific images of hate and violence in the news, that is not what America is about."

JPMorgan Power-Trading Business Faces Suspension, FERC Says

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has accused J.P. Morgan Ventures Energy Corp. of misleading regulators and said its authority to sell electricity might be suspended.

New York State Plans Health Review as It Weighs Gas Drilling

After four years of study by the state, the Cuomo administration now says its decision on whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York will have to wait until it conducts a review of the potential public health effects of the controversial natural gas drilling process.

Pennsylvania Grandmothers Star in Global Fracking Debate

Two grandmothers in tiny Franklin Forks, Pennsylvania, have become unlikely celebrities in the international debate over the safety of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Shelly DePue, who has four gas wells on her farm west of town, says fracking is safe and an economic boon. Tammy Manning, who lives across fields and forested hills a mile away, blames nearby gas drilling including DePue’s wells for threatening the health of her family.

Mexico Blast A Blow To Pemex's Safety Record

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- An enormous blast that killed 30 workers at a pipeline facility in northern Mexico was a big setback for the state-owned oil company, which up to this year had been reporting strides in its safety record at once accident-prone plants.

MPs demand moratorium on Arctic oil drilling

British MPs are calling on Shell and others to halt "reckless" oil and gas drilling in the Arctic until stronger safety measures are put in place.

Politicians also want to impose "unlimited" financial liability on operators and the creation of a "no-drill zone" in a new environmental sanctuary.

Shell sues Greenpeace to stop Arctic protests

AMSTERDAM (AP) -- Royal Dutch Shell PLC is suing Greenpeace International in an attempt to have the environmental organization banned from holding any protest within 500 meters of any Shell property, or face a €1 million ($1.3 million) fine.

The suit being argued at Amsterdam's District Court Friday shows Shell aggressively taking the offensive to protect its $4.5 billion investment in drilling for oil in the icy Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska. A verdict is not expected for two weeks.

Pump triggers Three Mile Island reactor shutdown, NRC says

(CNN) -- The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant shut down unexpectedly Thursday when a reactor coolant pump failed, federal regulators said.

"This appears to be a fairly straightforward shutdown," said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "Every indication we're getting is the reactor safety systems are performing the way they are designed."

Nuclear energy: a shift in Japan's balance of power

So is the nuclear shutdown an overreaction? "From a completely external perspective it does seem a bit like that," says Mr Rea. "But for people on the ground in Japan it has been a very big deal."

The tsunami and the nuclear near-disaster "marked a big schism in the national consciousness … they have probably found it hard to separate the two issues".

Greens and other opponents of nuclear power took heart this summer from the fact that Japan's power supplies seemed to cope well through the peak air-conditioning months.

But, says Mr Rea, "to extrapolate … to say the country is ready to go nuclear-free is wrong".

Tortoises Manhandled for Solar Splits Environmentalists

It’s a 106-degree Fahrenheit day in the Mojave Desert. Heat devils dance off chocolate-hued Clark Mountain on the horizon. Air-conditioned cars zip along Interstate 15 toward Las Vegas. And inside a chain-link pen covered to keep out predators are scores of rare, threatened, sand-colored desert tortoises.

Their captivity helps show how complicated it is to combat climate change without collateral damage. The foot-long (30- centimeter) creatures are being removed from their burrows for a project to harvest solar energy in the California desert. Trucks groan down sunbaked roads, cranes pivot with 750-pound (340- kilogram) mirrors and mechanical post-pounders drive steel pylons into the packed desert floor, destroying their habitat.

Tax Credit in Doubt, Wind Power Industry Is Withering

At its peak in 2008 and 2009, the industry employed about 85,000 people, according to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry’s principal trade group.

About 10,000 of those jobs have disappeared since, according to the association, as wind companies have been buffeted by weak demand for electricity, stiff competition from cheap natural gas and cheaper options from Asian competitors. Chinese manufacturers, who can often underprice goods because of generous state subsidies, have moved into the American market and have become an issue in the larger trade tensions between the countries. In July, the United States Commerce Department imposed tariffs on steel turbine towers from China after finding that manufacturers had been selling them for less than the cost of production.

And now, on top of the business challenges, the industry is facing a big political problem in Washington: the Dec. 31 expiration of a federal tax credit that makes wind power more competitive with other sources of electricity.

China’s Wen Urges EU to Avoid Tariffs Amid Solar Probe

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pressed the European Union to avoid erecting trade barriers amid an EU threat to impose tariffs on solar panels from China.

“We must uphold trade liberalization and facilitation, oppose trade protectionism,” Wen told a Brussels business conference yesterday in comments interpreted into English. He urged Europe to “exercise restraint in resorting to trade- remedy measures.”

Householders unlikely to recover solar heating installation costs for 30 years

The amount of money householders can expect to be paid for fitting "green heating" was published for the first time on Thursday, revealing most homeowners installing solar hot water systems are unlikely to recoup their initial outlay for more than 30 years.

New fuel cell system generates power on campus

UC Santa Barbara is now host to a unique new energy system that is providing electricity as part of the university's commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability. The new 200-kilowatt Bloom Energy Server is directly connected to Southern California Edison's electric distribution system.

Container ships become more energy-efficient

Technology and Software from Siemens are making the world's largest container ships more energy-efficient. The Korean shipbuilding company Daewoo is building 20 container ships for the Danish shipping company Maersk, each with a total carrying capacity of 18,000 standard containers. For this project Siemens is supplying the controls for a system that generates electric power from the waste heat of the ship's engine. Siemens also supplies shaft-driven generator motors that are used either to generate electric power or to assist the marine engines. These two technologies together reduce CO2 emissions by 12 percent. Since the efficiency of a ship depends on many different factors, Siemens has also developed a decision support tool to optimize energy consumption.

World Carfree Day (WCD)

Every September 22, people from around the world get together in the streets, intersections, and neighbourhood blocks to remind the world that we don't have to accept our car-dominated society.

But we do not want just one day of celebration and then a return to "normal" life. When people get out of their cars, they should stay out of their cars. It is up to us, it is up to our cities, and our governments to help create permanent change to benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and other people who do not drive cars.

Let World Carfree Day be a showcase for just how our cities might look like, feel like, and sound like without cars…365 days a year.

U.S. Electricity Generation Wastes Huge Amounts of Scarce Water, Other Hidden Costs Also Imposed

Examples of the water-related findings in the report include the following:

-Nuclear power has critical cooling requirements that require huge amounts of water. Roughly 62 percent of U.S. nuclear plants have closed-loop cooling systems. Reactors with closed-loop systems withdraw between 700-1,100 gallons of water per megawatt hour (MWh) and lose most of that water to evaporation. Water withdrawals are even higher at open-loop cooled nuclear plants, which need between 25,000-60,000 gallons per MWh. Most of the water is returned, but at a higher temperature and lower quality.

-In addition to fouling streams and drinking water through mining and coal-ash dump sites, coal-fired power relies heavily on closed-loop cooling systems which withdraw between 500 and 600 gallons of water per MWh and lose most of this via evaporation. Withdrawals for open-looped cooled coal-fired power plants are between 20,000-50,000 gallons per MWh. Most of the water is returned, but at a higher temperature and lower quality.

Midwest drought belt: A changed world emerges

The drought of 2012 isn't just a rural tragedy. Barges plying the Ohio and Mississippi rivers carry less cargo to avoid running aground in low water.

Homeowners far from farmland are paying for expensive repairs to basements and foundations separated from the shrinking soil around them. Businesses that depend on water — a canoe rental company, a campground that counts on its well-stocked fishing pond to attract visitors — feel the economic pain, too.

Bill Clinton: The Case For Optimism

...It's hard to top the economic success stories concerning clean energy, and it's tragic that these achievements aren't more widely known. Germany, where the sun shines on average as much as it does in London, reportedly set the world record for electricity generated from the sun in a single day: 22 gigawatts, or roughly the output of 20 nuclear power plants.

Long mislabeled as expensive and unwieldy, the clean-energy sector in the U.S. was actually growing by 8.3% before the economic slowdown, more than twice the rate of the overall economy. In fact, those European countries meeting their Kyoto Protocol commitments have been among the least hard hit by the economic crisis, including Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

If sustainable energy were bad economics, Costa Rica wouldn't be one of the richest countries in the region, with what is arguably the greenest economy in the world. Costa Rica certainly has one of the world's highest percentages of electricity generated from renewable resources as well as an enormous conservation ethic: 26% of its landmass is in national parks, 51% in forest cover.

Special Report: How Romney energy czar fuels business with politics

The environmentalists fighting Keystone XL have had allies, and for a time, one of the most effective was the man who's now Romney's chief energy adviser: Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm.

In 2009, the 66-year-old founder and chief executive of Continental Resources formed a lobbying group of fellow Oklahoma oilmen and reached out to state governors, landowners and environmentalists along the proposed route. Hamm feared Keystone XL would flood his firm's backyard with cheap Canadian oil.

"We basically stopped Keystone at the border," Hamm said in an interview with Reuters, explaining how the alliance was able to stymie permits for the line. "We didn't want all that oil dumped in Oklahoma."

America’s Greenest Presidents

What do Theodore Roosevelt, Richard M. Nixon and Jimmy Carter have in common? They are viewed as environmentally progressive presidents — at least by the 12 groups that ranked them in a survey released this week. Still, the challenges faced by presidents who stand up for the environment have shifted greatly over time, some of those organizations point out, making it hard to compare one leader’s achievements with another’s.

John Kerry on why we need fossil fuels (for now) and climate action (for real!)

Q. To enviros, Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy seems like a cop-out. Should the party be moving more aggressively away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy?

A. You have to be all of the above. Look, I’m the most ardent advocate up here for doing something about climate change, but you’re nevertheless gonna have to use fossil fuels. The question is, can you use them in clean and manageable ways? The answer is, Yes, you can, if you make the right sort of requirements.

Expansion of Islamabad termed ‘environmentally unsustainable’

The Federal Ministry of Climate Change observed that the expansion of the federal capital is ‘environmentally unsustainable’ and showed serious concerns over the development that is making the green city climatically inflexible.

Federal Minister for Climate Change Rana Muhammad Farooq Saeed Khan, while chairing the 2nd Progress Review Meeting on ‘Implementation of Climate Change Policy,’ said that the haphazard growth of the city would only expose its infrastructure and dwellers to the climate change-induced natural disasters. “We seriously need to check this trend of the federal capital’s growth and make it more climate-resilient so as to avoid future dangers due to climate change,” he said.

Has Plant Life Reached Its Limits?

In 1972, a junior at Oregon State University bought a small paperback for $2.75 titled “The Limits to Growth.” Citing the rate at which the population was expanding and the spread of industrialization, it projected a dismal future for the planet.

The book, by a group of M.I.T. researchers, made a deep impression on the student, Steven Running, a botany major.

Forty years later, the prediction is being borne out, said Dr. Running, who is now a forest ecologist at the University of Montana and directs the university’s Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group. Humans are approaching the limits of the globe’s finite plant life, he argues in an article published online on Thursday in the journal Science.

Sea-level rise threatens endangered rabbit far more than development, research finds

(Phys.org)—When University of Florida researcher Robert McCleery and a graduate student began looking at why an endangered marsh rabbit's habitat was disappearing in the Florida Keys, they fully expected the blame would fall on development.

Instead, they were stunned to find that nearly half of the rabbit's habitat loss was due to rising sea levels.

Antarctica's Speedy Ice Streams May Trigger Major Melting

Antarctica's ice streams flow like giant frozen rivers on the edges of the icy continent. These narrow glaciers already move more quickly than the ice surrounding them, but their flow will speed up even more in response to warming oceans, new research finds.

And this rapid movement could trigger major thinning in the interior of the Antarctic ice sheet, contributing to global sea-level rise, the study warns.

East Timor could become home to Kiribati’s climate refugees

East Timor has offered a home to climate change refugees if rising sea levels make life on some Pacific Islands impossible.

Coal Era Beckons for Europe as Carbon Giveaway Finishes

European utilities are poised to add more coal-fired power capacity than natural gas in the next four years, boosting emissions just as the era of free carbon permits ends.

Power producers from EON AG to RWE AG will open six times more coal-burning plants than gas-fed units by 2015, UBS AG said in a Sept. 5 research note. Profits at coal-fired power stations may more than double by then, according to a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. report published on Sept. 13.

4 countries discuss climate change in Brazil

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Representatives of Brazil, South Africa, India and China are meeting to define a common position ahead of November's United Nations' climate change conference in Doha.

The four countries form the bloc known as BASIC that acts jointly in international climate change meetings.

Top emitter China agrees to work with EU to cut carbon

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - China, the world's biggest carbon dioxide emitter, has struck a deal to work with the European Union to cut greenhouse gases through projects including the development of Chinese emissions trading schemes, the European Commission said on Thursday.

Ending Its Summer Melt, Arctic Sea Ice Sets a New Low That Leads to Warnings

Scientists said Wednesday that the Arctic has become a prime example of the built-in conservatism of their climate forecasts. As dire as their warnings about the long-term consequences of heat-trapping emissions have been, many of them fear they may still be underestimating the speed and severity of the impending changes.

Regarding "Fewer Americans commuting solo" up top, pure speculation on my part, but might not a lot more commuters take advantage of mass transit options if:
a) it was available
b) it was "reasonably" convenient

In my case, I'd love to use mass transit. Problem is, only bus I can get picks me up at 6:10 am and gets me to the ofice at 7. Then leaves at 3:45pm to go home. Doesn't work at all as our employer has no flexibility with hours. Therefore, I remain a reluctant solo commuter. A lot of unmet mass transit need out there, IMHO.

A lot of unmet mass transit need out there, IMHO.

Since the beginning of last year I and my wife have car-pooled.

But this has nothing to do with saving fuel or reducing emissions. We started car-pooling after she had surgery which made driving uncomfortable for her. As for saving fuel, it is doubtful if we save much, if any. When we drove solo in separate cars, we each drove about eight miles each way. Now, in a single car I drive to her office, drop her off, and drive to my office. This is a total distance of about thirteen miles. But we drive in her car, which uses about 50% more fuel than my car, and about half of the drive between the two offices is in heavier traffic than the drive from home to either office. Why do we drive in her car rather than mine? Because her arthritis makes it much harder for her to get out of my car.

As for using mass transit, it really is not practical. There are bus services which more or less give access from our home to our offices. But to my wife's office it would involve about a half mile walk, followed by two bus trips of 30 minutes or so each, then a mile walk. Total time would be about two hours. For me, I would have the choice of something similar, or walking about three miles, a single 30 minute bus trip, then a one mile walk. To drive the combined trip takes about 30 minutes.

Even if we did take transit (Houston Metro bus) it is very doubtful whether it would save fuel. The operating cost to Metro for the two of us making the two bus trips each would be $18.40. Of course, we would only pay around $1 each, and the taxpayer would pick up the balance. I'm using 2009 costs, which are the most recent I can find: they have probably increased. But our actual operating costs for driving are probably no more than $0.50 per mile, or $6.50 for 13 miles (gas costs are only about $0.19 per mile, total $2.47). I strongly suspect the fuel content of the Metro operating cost is similar to the fuel content of our operating cost (or around $7 for fuel), so we actually save fuel by car pooling rather than riding Metro, as well as saving time and a lot of walking in the hot sun. We do pay about $4.50 to save an hour and a half of time each, and it's money well spent.

I am in the same boat (bus ?) with you helios.

I try to take a bus to my office park once or twice a week and it is a major endeavour that ultimately turns an 8-10 hr day into 12+ hrs...

In my opinion this is where there needs to be a bit of "meet me halfway" compromise. The bus companies etc. work out some better scheduling and the employers show a bit more flexibility as far as work hours (get in a bit later and / or leave a bit earlier...).

I play the card of "oh really - are we a 'sustainable' / 'green' company ? seems then that having people try to use mass transit would be a priority..." with my supervisor. He tends to humor me and generally is quite flexible with my work hours - something that I'm very appreciative of... But I can see how it is nearly impossible for others who don't have this kind of flexibility.


On the "At least there's sunshine somewhere" side of the picture, the Calgary light rail system opened two new stations on its North East line recently, and reportedly the trains there were packed starting from Day 1. The new West line (the fourth to be built) is ahead of schedule and should open in December. Commuters in the North and the South East are clamoring to have the next line, and the big debate is which one should be built first, not whether one should built at all. Once all six lines are done, the city will be fully covered by LRT.

OTOH, the Calgary freeway system (such as it is) is grinding to a crawl and is starting to look like Toronto or Los Angeles. But I knew that would happen, which is one reason I left the city for the mountains. That and peace and quiet. The city is growing like Topsy.

The last time I saw an estimate, the operating cost per passenger-trip on the LRT was 27 cents. It is economies of scale in action, and the Calgary system carries more passengers than any other LRT in North America. Buses were about 5-10 times more expensive, mainly due to labor and fuel costs. The LRT requires only 1 driver per 4-car train (max 800 passengers) and runs on wind-generated electricity instead of diesel fuel.

I lived in Calgary from 71 to 87. Now, every time I return, I rejoice that I left. However, Red Deer, at 1/10 the size is poised to turn into an equally sprawled city. My wife and I both work for Red Deer County, which prides itself -- as does every other organization on the planet -- on being green. However, due to crazy working hours (she works 7 hours per day and I work 8), we can't even car pool. So the word "green" looks great on a poster, but unless it's actually on the radar, it becomes a joke.

The responses to this post are quite telling. Even among a population as extraordinarily tuned into peak oil and convservation as TODers, mass transit is not always a viable solution. Perhaps our collective time and energy is better spent in finding way to make *personal transport* more fuel efficient and less dependent on FFs vs. promoting mass transit and train-based New Urbanism as a solution for everyone. In other words, promoting a swich to HEVs, EVs, smaller ICE vehicles, bikes, etc. might be a better idea than trying to tear up the freeways and suburbs, mothballing our cars, and cramming everyone back into densely populated urban centers, a-la Kunstler.

Unlike France and Denmark, we are not even trying - at a minimal level - to create oil free transportation.

Where it has been tried - it works.


We could do the same with some of the $101 billion/year that we use to keep gasoline too cheap.


Best Hopes for Those that Try,


I agree that walkable communities where you can use mass transit to commute to work and to reach shopping centers are possible, and there are many very real examples in different parts of the world. Unfortunately, the U.S. government and corporate overlords decided after WWII that we were going to be car-centric and car-dependent society, and basically everything built since then has effectively locked us into this development pattern.

We're literally talking tens of $Trillions over 7 decades sunk into existing housing, businesses, shopping malls, interstate highway, schools, etc. that would basically have to be torn down and rebuilt in order to get U.S. cities to look anything like France or Denmark. And all of this would have to be done in the age of post-Peak decline. And then consider the extreme political resitance to even the most *modest* infrastructure programs --such as putting unemployed Americans to work rebuilding bridges that are quite literally falling down. And then, as you pointed out, you'd have to get enough popular consensus and politicians on board to remove the $hundreds of billions in oil & gas subsidies and "redistribute" it (there's that dirty socialist word again!) to New Urbanist/Transit Oriented Development mega projects.

Nice idea, but... Not. Gonna. Happen. Not in the U.S. anyway.

It can happen - a sea change perhaps - but it can happen.

As the quote in the corner says "Americans can be relied upon doing the right thing - after exhausting every alternative".

My plans for DC


Best Hopes :-)


I'm rooting for rail, Alan. There isn't a choice anyway.

I agree and the point is that once something is built, it's difficult to destroy. It can be done, but this also takes energy.

Even massive air raids over Germany in WW2 did not completely destroy the infrastructure or towns of that country.

In America, the sprawl is basically sunk cost. It can't be undone, the most we can do is adapt. This is going to mean carpooling to Walmart, waiting in line for a few hours, then going home, and that's about it. You won't be able to afford anything else. There isn't going to be any small town/city walkable environment urban renewal, because those places don't exist anymore. Good luck trying to find them, you'll end up in a ghetto. And street life isn't all that it's made out to be...why else would there be so much demand for suburbia.

Also, by definition if you walk more and spend less, this means economic decline for the auto/housing sectors which means GDP goes down which means the powers that be think "danger, deflation ahead!" which means money printing which means more poverty through inflation of basic commodities.

The vicious circle can't be undone at this point. This is realism, not pessimism.

Yes, exactly.

Which makes more sense from a post-peak scarce energy perspective?:
(a) Tearing down then completely rebuilding ~90% of our infrastructure around TOD/New Urbanism.
(b) Promoting conservation and gradually phasing in EVs/HEVs and other economical modes of personal transport that can work with what already exists.

Not saying rail/TOD redevelopment cannot or should not be done in some U.S. cities (Portland OR is often cited as a model city), but it's economically (and energetically) impossible to do it everywhere on a time scale of less than several decades if not centuries.

but it's economically (and energetically) impossible to do it everywhere on a time scale of less than several decades if not centuries.

Simply wrong.

Take France.

Doubling Paris Metro (adding 200 km of Metro), 2 million additional daily riders, 2013 to 2025. 21 billion euros.

1,500 km of new tram lines by 2020 in France, in almost every town of 100,000 or more. 22 billion euros (it looks like the cost will be a bit higher). Several detailed examples on my main blog.


Multiply by 5.74 to get US equivalent numbers.

The USA took $101 billion from other taxes and borrowing to support cheap gas in 2010. Take just half of that and duplicate French efforts x 5.74 for twenty years.

Build the T part of TOD and let the market do the OD.

Most of Suburbia was poorly built - and will need replacement regardless. Just let market demand (30% of Americans want TOD today, 50+% in 2035) do the rest.

New single family homes were just over 1,000 ft2 in 1950, and almost 2,500 ft2 in 2008. TOD homes may be closer to 1950 sizes - which is certainly not a tragedy (especially considering smaller family sizes today) and may have {gasp} shared walls (see energy savings in construction & operation).

The energy saved by living in TOD (1/4th the carbon footprint of Suburbia) will soon cover the construction energy costs.

And trees will continue to grow regardless of our housing choices - the source of our primary home building material.

Can Americans work with the speed, efficiency and determination of French bureaucrats ?



While I applaud your optimism, if it took 70 years of frantic building and suburban diaspora to get the U.S. to where it is today (with cheap abundant energy no less), it's only logical to assume it will take at least as long to go back to dense, rail-based cities.

Can Americans work with the speed, efficiency and determination of French bureaucrats ?

As an American who grew up during the "can do" American hegemony of the 70s-80s, I'm afraid to say, "no, we can't". The French have a few key advantages over us in this respect:

1. Much higher population density which makes France cities much better suited to rail infrastructure than U.S. cities, and also makes it easier to interconnect them.

2. They did not completely dismantle/destroy their existing rail infrastructure and disperse as widely into the suburbs, unlike the U.S.

3. A relatively cohesive pro-transit public that is supportive of spending on social infrastructure programs ("socialism!") and more tolerant of the taxation necessary to achieve it.

4. Not having to pay to garrison millions of soldiers, adjuncts and contractors in 150 countries, maintain the world's largest navy, and keep a global economic empire afloat.

I also think you widly overestimate the net energy benefits of TOD over suburban living (4:1 - sources?). Most older suburban homes --as you pointed out-- were built a lot smaller than recent ones, and can be insulated and green-retrofitted more cheaply than tearing them down and replacing with net-new TOD.

1) The population density of Montana and Alaska have no impact what-so-ever on how you get to work or to shop.

The French sprawled quite a bit - although not as long & hard as the USA did. Many of the new French trams can see vineyards and cattle grazing through the windows somewhere along the line. These are not uber dense French towns of 118,000.

2) The French did destroy their urban rail networks (except Paris & Marseille) by 1980. They started from the same place and same time as we did. They are putting rail down into what were city streets.

3) We are supporting a MASSIVE socialist network of roads & highways - paid for from general funds, etc.

4) The French Foreign Legion ? The "force de frappe" (nuclear triad) ? They do have bases in Djibouti, French Guiana-Kourou, United Arab Emirates and Mayotte in the Comorian island and have "intervened" quite a few times (see Foreign Legion) in their foreign colonies.

Multiply by x5.74 and the French are not so very peaceful and devoted solely to domestic infrastructure.

The source of the 4 to 1 (which seems about right - I would have guessed 3 to 1) was the Chair of the Congress for New Urbanism giving a speech about adapting Suburbia, with some real world examples. Quite a few were adapted shopping malls.


New World In The Morning
Written and sung by Roger Whittaker

I met a man who had a dream he had since he was twenty.
I met that man when he was eighty-one.
He said too many people just stand and wait up til the mornin',
Don't they know tomorrow never comes.

And he would feel a new tomorrow coming on.
And when he'd smile his eyes would twinkle up in thought.
Everybody talks about a new world in the morning.
New world in the morning takes so long.

The thing is, reconsolidation of the Suburbs doesn't need to mean 'moving back into historic city centers'.. many areas of current Suburbia will naturally be reconsolidating into denser towns as people find ways to cheapen their commutes or start businesses in reach of possible customers.

The constant rebuilding is happening regardless, and this is just opening the choice of how to rebuild with a focus on accessibility and affordable movement that is otherwise being gradually lost as driving costs grow and income withers.

There is always the option of densifying the suburbs by allowing people to subdivide individual lots and build houses on the available space. Where I lived in Calgary was an old Canadian Pacific Railway subdivision, built around the turn of the last century, and the CPR surveyed it all out into 25-foot lots. Since land was cheap, most people bought 2 or 3 lots to build their houses on. Since the lots were pre-subdivided, this made densifying it quite easy.

Fast forward to the late 20th century, it turned into Yuppie Heaven, so older people who didn't need the land would sell off their 1 or 2 spare lots, and Yuppies would build 2 1/2 story neo-Victorians with underground parking on the 25-foot lots next to the old folks in their tiny old cottages. It worked well for everyone, the little old people could stay where they had always lived until they died (at which point their little cottage would be bulldozed and a 2 1/2 story neo-Victorian built), and the lawyers and executives were able to live close to the gleaming office towers they worked in.

It is going to be somewhat more difficult for the newer US suburbs though because it would require major changes to the zoning and other bylaws, and they are not nearly as pedestrian and transit-friendly as the old CPR subdivisions. The existence of the CPR tracks running past the community made it quite easy to drop a set of LRT tracks into the CPR ROW and provide light rail service to the area - one of the main reasons the area became popular with executives and professionals who worked downtown.

One of the other main reasons it became popular is that we got the City to block off about 3/4 of the access roads and turned the community into a real rat maze that outside commuters couldn't figure out. As far as they knew, all the roads were dead ends or one-way leading out. However if people were walking or bicycling they just went around the obstacles and continued straight through. It took people like me to get this to happen, but the resident lawyers really helped in negotiating with City Hall. They kind of overpowered them on the legal front.

"Affordable movement"

Before fossil fuels most people worked in agriculture. Villages every 10km or so housed the other occupations that were supported by the surplus crops, and the economy was mostly local. Broader trading would take place in a larger town perhaps once a month, but many did not travel from their village during their entire life.

If food production becomes local again it is not likely that anyone would need to travel far in order to shop.
And as energy becomes more expensive I am hard-pressed to imagine many distant jobs that would support the cost of commuting. The remaining uses for travel would seem to be recreational or medical, personal decisions that do not necessarily justify special high speed public transport. Combined passenger/freight trains could do the job at a fraction of the cost for everyone.

Even massive air raids over Germany in WW2 did not completely destroy the infrastructure or towns of that country.

The interesting thing is that the Germans found it much easier to put the rail systems back in service than the roads, and that is why they did not switch to dependence on freeways and automobiles like the US did after WWII. It took them a long time and a lot of money to rebuild the roads, highway bridges, and oil refineries, but the streetcars, subways, and railways were much quicker and easier to put back in service.

I used to live next door to an old Austrian who was in Germany during the air raids. He said, "The Allied bombers destroyed the railway tracks every night, and the trains were on time every morning." They got very good at repairing railway lines.

When the first American occupation troops landed in Hiroshima, a month after the atomic bomb, they found an operating tram (streetcar) amidst the rubble, carrying passengers.


Oh, yes, I've seen a picture of that streetcar trundling through the ruins of Hiroshima. There is nothing left standing higher than a fire hydrant - it was an atomic bomb after all, not conventional ones which would leave at least a few walls standing - and running through the middle of all this ruin are two tracks with a streetcar moving along them.

Rubble probably makes pretty good ballast for the tracks, though.

I don't think it's just the government and corporate overlords. I think the suburbs are actually what people want (or think they want). They want a yard for the kids and the dog, the big house, isolation from neighbors.

I'm reading a book now that's sort of a theory of home. It claims that people often look to recreate the home of their childhood...even people who can afford anything tend to recreate what they grew up with. In the case of the suburban home, what it's really recreating is the rural life of our forebears, in miniature. With a backyard instead of a back 40.

As gas prices rise, we may well be forced to return to something resembling the patterns of the past, but I don't expect people to vote for it before it's painfully necessary. Sure, they say they want transit-oriented development, but that doesn't mean they would really move there, let alone pay for it. Like prayer in school - everyone's for it, but very few actually vote on that issue.

The very high market premium for TOD shows that supply is far short of demand - and people are willing to pay those premiums today.

30% is not yet a majority, but it is enough to tilt the balance.

When I consider how many people would rationally chose avocado colored appliances with orange shag carpeting in their homes - and the fact that that combination (with harvest gold etc.) dominated the market for a couple of years - I conclude that housing choices are a herd mentality for many.

Get 20% of the herd coming your way and all but a few will follow.


The very high market premium for TOD shows that supply is far short of demand - and people are willing to pay those premiums today.

Sure, but that's because it's built where there's already some demand for mass transit.

It's also not working out quite like they expected. It doesn't necessarily reduce car use. People from other areas drive to the area, drawn by the cafes, shops, etc. meant for the residents. In cities that already have good mass transit, there's really no need for transit-oriented development. (Bloomberg's "green" plans for TOD in NYC would actually require more parking spaces in some neighborhoods than currently exist.)

The areas with mixed TOD & Suburbia show pronounced declines in gas consumption. My mentor on these issues points out that gas use in the Washington DC area was tracking other American non-transit cities before Metro was built. And gas consumption dropped to transit cities (Chicago, Philly, Boston) levels once Metro was built.

Net savings around 200,000 b/day.

Specifically, Arlington County dropped to 288 gallons/capita/yr, Fairfax County 388 gallons/capita/yr and the rest of Virginia 645 gallons/capita/yr.

There is a "sea change" from a "Drive Everywhere to Everything" lifestyle.

Best Hopes for More,


Building mass transit is not the same thing as transit-oriented development.

IMO, transit-oriented development, which was born in California, is best suited to places like California. You know, sprawling.

TOD was not born in California. I live near some that was built in 1834. Still quite walkable (and bikable - a newer technology that adapted to early TOD) and very pleasant in many ways.

California does not even have any particularly noteworthy TOD examples that I can think of "off the top of my head". Just average ones. I am unsure where you got the idea that TOD originated there.

Best Hopes for TOD,


Transit-oriented development was invented by Peter Calthorpe. Who was, at the time, a California planner and architect.

Interestingly NHK ran a story on UltraSmallVehicles. They showed a single person electric, with a top speed of 55kph. That sort of solution, in additional to TOD, seems to me to be a way forward.

The Renault-Nissan Twizy (2 people (passenger behind & above the driver) + LIMITED storage) at 80 kph is small enough for me.

From memory, 2.5x the "fuel economy" of the Leaf.


Good for neighborhood trips.


Google Translate:

Renault Twizy is a vehicle with a strong personality which boasts modern: an open body with curved lines, original side doors elytra (optional), a windshield and a pavilion forming a large glass area and fires with original light signature.

I hope the fires burn renewable wood, not fossil coal or gas.

They showed a single person electric, with a top speed of 55kph.

That sounds a lot like an electric scooter, of which there are a variety of models already available. They seem to be popular in and around Vancouver, Vancouver Island, and the associated islands in between.

You would think the lack of a top would be a drawback, since it is always raining in winter there, but the residents seem to think that as long as the rains maintain a steady drizzle level, it's actually a dry day and perfect for a ride. It's all relative, I guess.

B^3 Transport

Bus, Bike, Boot


Oh, and train as well ;)

I'd toss out 'Boxcar' if it didn't have a rather negative connotation.

'boose, is the only other thing that occurs. Surely there's a better train associated b-word.

B^4 transport has an ironic retro-doomer ring to it as well.

But then there's Boat...

The Sail Transport Network

B^5 transport?

Nice, B^4 for me then Bus, Bike, Boot, Boat - no rail here and totally unlikely due to terrain and land availability. Mind you, I passed a railway line near Tepic and I see adverts for a very interesting line with scenic views.


promoting a swich to HEVs, EVs, smaller ICE vehicles, bikes, etc. might be a better idea than trying to tear up the freeways and suburbs, mothballing our cars, and cramming everyone back into densely populated urban centers

The problem is that electric vehicles are probably going to be a non-starter for commuting in from the 'burbs because they don't have the range nor will they be affordable. The freeways won't need to be torn up because they will disintegrate and become undrivable on their own, not having being built to last in the first place. The cars will not be mothballed because they will grind to a halt and be junked and salvaged for metal. Not everyone will go back to the urban center because they won't be able to afford it, but the rich and upwardly mobile yuppies will because they need to be able to get to work without driving. The poor will be trapped in suburban poverty.

This is possibly not most people's view of the future, but this is the way I see it. It would be better to plan for walkable, transit-friendly communities, but if people don't, see the above.

The problem is that electric vehicles are probably going to be a non-starter for commuting in from the 'burbs because they don't have the range nor will they be affordable.

I'm no cornucopian techno-optimist, but even so, I don't think we can say for certain this is true. One of the main reasons why EVs and HEVs still command a big premium over comparable ICE vehicles is because they are still only a tiny % of the overall market. Manufacturers have to try to recoup their sunk development costs by spreading it among fewer units sold. If a Prius or Volt sold as well as a regular Camry or Corvette, you would start seeing prices trending down quite rapidly. Additionally, Lithion-polymer-ion batteries are improving rapidly and showing a significant weight-to-power advantage over the traditional NiCad batteries used in HEVs/EVs.

I would give much better odds to seeing competitively priced longer range EVs on the road a decade from now than seeing the entire suburban landscape plowed under and the country's infrastructure rebuilt around Transit Oriented Development. The former would require only incremental improvements and could be gradually phased in over time, while the latter would require expending vast quantities of cheap energy and resources that we no longer have.

Batteries were the stumbling block for Henry Ford when he attempted to build an electric car in the early 1900's, and they are still the stumbling block for electric cars today. People are just not going to be able to afford to commute to work from the far flung suburbs in electric cars like they do in gasoline cars today. They just won't be as affordable or have the same range and speed.

The result is that the city is going to contract and people are going to move into the inner city area. The outer suburbs will be abandoned. (This process is already ongoing.) It doesn't matter that there are huge sunk costs in freeways and suburban infrastructure because people will not be able to live in the outer suburbs regardless and the investment will be lost.

The freeways and other suburban infrastructure were not particularly well built, and they will crumble into ruins fairly quickly - particularly if people continue to resist tax increases to maintain them. It would have been better if they had planned for transit-friendly, walkable communities from the start, but as it is, poorer people will just have to live in transit-unfriendly, unwalkable communities, and try to make them work without cars. The richer people will be able to afford to live in communities with good transit and good walking paths, and maybe they will be able to afford electric cars.

Hi Rocky,

We had a meeting of our electric vehicle association where a guy had converted his Geo Metro to all electric. He reported on one drive where he went over 120 miles on a charge and ended his ride with charge to spare. He did not know the amount of that spare charge. If he can get 120 miles on a charge and a 1,000 charges from his pack ala the Leaf and Volt, that works out to be over 100K miles on a pack.

He bought his pack as a collection of LiFePO4 cells along with the recommended Battery Management System for $11K total. The cost of the batteries was $8K with a total pack size of around 30 khr. The rest of the cost was for the car, motor, controller, and charger etc. which cost him $8K. So for $19K, he has a vehicle that can get him around our area. He's comfortable with that. For long range, he said he can take the bus, train, or plane.

So he theoretically has greater range than that of a LEAF for $12 to 15K less. This begs the question of why does someone not build a "Volkswagen" - no frills EV??

Recently, there was a "don't hold your breath" piece in the MSM where Korean scientists had achieved 10 times the energy density of a "typical" Lithium Ion battery using a Lithium Air combination where the electrolyte did not oxidize. They achieved a few cycles with it and were doing further testing of it in their lab. I remember reading where the amount of energy in Lithium based batteries was between 1,500 and 3,000 wh/kg. This would put that battery up in that range.

So our converter friend's next car could have a pack that could be 10 times smaller with the same range or roughly the same physical sized pack with 10 times the range depending upon the size of the Lithium - Air interface. That could be vehicles with 1,200 miles on a charge ranges.

When that pack actually arrives in the market place is anybody's guess but it does point to people making progress on non fossil fuel based solutions. It could even be another century before something like that is achieved.

Peter Eckhoff, Past President 2005-2012
Triangle Electric Auto Association

I am curious, I wonder how much a brand new InFernal Combustion Engine and all the associated parts could be sold for to offset the cost of a conversion.



than seeing the entire suburban landscape plowed under and the country's infrastructure rebuilt around Transit Oriented Development. The former would require only incremental improvements and could be gradually phased in over time, while the latter would require expending vast quantities of cheap energy and resources that we no longer have.

Why is building rail and TOD "ALL or nothing" and a few EV's in traffic is OK ?

The vehicle fleet takes 17 to 20+ years to "turn over" and statistically, we have not even begun to build EVs. Renault-Nissan is the most optimistic auto maker about EVs and they see just 10% of global vehicle sales being EVs by 2020 (and the USA will be significantly below the global average).

So, best case, 5% of US new car sales are EVs in 2020 (perhaps 15% in France) and almost 1% of the US VMT will be electric by then.

Quite frankly, even the US can build urban rail faster than that.

Rarely does a city or town build more than two urban rail lines at a time. Urban rail and TOD are incremental.

30% of the US population living in TOD by 2035 (with another 20+% wanting to move there) is an aggressive but quite doable goal. And that 30% will likely be driving a majority of the US EVs.

The energy and resources required for the transition will be less than that required to just maintain and operate Suburbia (remember 4x the carbon footprint).


Hi, Alan,

I personally don't buy into false dichotomies (all or nothing) and I don't imply that rail/TOD is incompatible with a transition to more efficient EVs and personal transport. We can and should do both. Nonethless, given the extraodinary suburban/exurban buildout of the last 70 years + over half the population living there, I find it extremely unlikely there will be a costly mass migration back to dense urban cores (where rail can service a large % of the population efficiently and/or exclusively) anytime soon.

Abandoning suburbia of a massive scale would leave tems of millions (more) Americans destitute and homeless, as their abandoned properties represent most of the average American's "wealth". Short of sudden widespread catastrophe, I just doubt that's likely. More likely, most suburban dwellers will remain in place and cope as best as they can. Some by converting their existing ICE vehicles to hybrids, others buying new EVs/HEVs, others switching to bike/feet or whatever mass transit exists in the burbs. Think of a close relative who owns a house in the burbs and imagine trying to sell them on the benefits of abandoning their property (and equity) and moving near the center of an expensive city (where travelling exclusively by transit/rail is feasible), and... you get the picture.

Yes, much of suburbia may eventually "crumble into ruin", but there's little reason to think this will happen everywhere or even quickly.

If we would just build the urban rail, we would see a slightly speeded up version of 1950 to 1970 - in reverse.

And it would not be costly - given the high operating costs of Suburbia vs. low operating costs of TOD, the initial capital investment will be paid back quickly.

And besides, people simply do not want to be trapped in Suburbia anymore. Those with mortgages may be stuck, and will die in place. But their replacements will not be buying their homes - or shopping malls (we are building zero new malls and closing quite a few old ones).

Once a suburb has 15% to 20% of the homes boarded up - the appeal is lost.

Converted/rebuilt older malls are actually a potential source of TOD.

The US population is over twice what it was in 1950, so the inner suburbs will likely be rebuilt. See the success of Arlington Virginia - heavy development for a third of a mile around Metro stations, and viable old suburbs around that.

Even the outer suburbs (see commuter rail @ Boston) can be viable as small walkable towns clustered around the rail station.

One reason to do the detailed plans for the Greater Washington DC area was to show just what rail saturation meant.

More to do (Maryland Light rail, DC streetcars) but enough to get a flavor of what I am talking about.

Spend a bit of time reading it and looking at the maps to see what I am talking about.

Best Hopes,


What about incorporating schools into the TOD mix?

Young couples are very concerned about living near decent schools. If you could put the transport hub near the schools, and locate homes at walking distances from the schools, a natural circulation would see the adult walking the child to school, public transport to work, and reverse in the evening.

Good idea, but most Suburbs will be left with an excess of schools vs. kids, and schools are typically built much better.


My City Councilor Dave Marshall is still working hard to initiate a new Streetcar system for Portland, Maine.

Trains, streetcars regain momentum as travel options

"I know that all the trends that we're seeing as far as the downsizing of the number of cars for each famliy, the decrease in the number of cars that people own in the city of Portland, that are registered ... Portland is in a good position to really look at public transit," Marshall said.
"Streetcars is one of the ways that we could really make our city a magnet for urban development," he added.
"We're at a point where we need to make a game-changing investment in public infrastructure and specifically in public transit," Marshall said.

Just seeing a streetcar will energize the city. See the massive development @ the McKinney Avenue streetcar in Dallas.


Alan - I agree with your assessment that infrastructure can/will be re-purposed, e.g. malls.

I have retrofitted two standard (lower end) American stick-built homes to consume much less energy. In the first instance, we reduced FF/grid use by 85% (independent analysis), though I must note that included fuel switching from electric to wood heat. But a passive solar retrofit provided at least a 3rd of the heat, so there was an overall reduction. Still working on the 2nd one, but solar provides about 50% of our heat vs perhaps 15% before (poorly designed 'sun' porch), and I hope to get it up over 75% with further changes.

I can easily see some of those abandoned malls being re-purposed to multi-use office/retail/education space, and boy is there some solar potential on those huge flat roofs and vast parking areas...

Even a doomer can see some bright spots...

Yes, much of suburbia may eventually "crumble into ruin", but there's little reason to think this will happen everywhere or even quickly.

You've probably never seen a house disintegrate after it has been abandoned. It is a very fast process. If a house is not occupied, the utilities are shut off, and nobody does maintenance on it, it starts to deteriorate. The older brick buildings used to deteriorate more slowly, but the modern suburban "stick built" house deteriorates much faster. If it is in area which has freezing winters, and the heat is shut off, the frost will burst the plumbing, crack the foundation, let water into the house, basement, and/or crawlspace, and that will be very, very difficult to repair. If homeless people, teenagers, drug addicts, and/or drunkards get into it, they will probably vandalize the interior and possibly set it on fire. You may as well bulldoze the thing.

So, once the suburbs are abandoned and even the banks walk away from their mortgages, the houses won't last long. Without houses, what use are the streets and other infrastructure, particularly since no one will be paying taxes to maintain them?

Add to this the so called "jack-of-lantern" effect. Board up 15% to 20% of the homes, and no one will want to move into the neighborhood. Death spiral from there.

We did it before to "inner cities" and "downtowns", we can do it again.


Yes, but you guys are assuming that a sizable % of homes in suburbua in many regions will be abandoned. So what happens to the people that used to live in them? If young couples cannot afford the cost of buying and maintaining these homes (which can be very elastic btw), will they be able to afford the cost of moving into dense urban cores, expecially if millions of other couples are attempting to do the exact same thing at the same time (thus bidding up housing costs)? More likely than that, most of modest means will continue to live in these communities, house prices will gradually come down (as they have already been doing, no thanks to our government's efforts to keep them inflated), and many suburbs may densify in place --as others suggested.

I think there's a very good chance that we learn to live in smaller, more crowded homes.

Houses are ridiculously huge now, by both historical US standards and global standards. We even have laws to enforce this: restricting the number of unrelated people who can live in one home, setting minimum sizes for homes (usually just larger than the largest trailer home).

During the Great Depression, a lot of fancy mansions were turned into multifamily apartment buildings. I could see this happening again.

Or more informally, extended families living together as they used to. It's the "brother in law on the couch" version of the apocalypse, as Sharon Astyk put it.

Changes are not usually either/or.

'The problem is that electric vehicles are probably going to be a non-starter for commuting in from the 'burbs because they don't have the range nor will they be affordable. '

Assessing that via 'extreme commutes' of a few folk doing 100 mile each way journeys does not yield a realistic result.
Most people travel only about 30 miles a day, and electric cars can handle that fine.

So you could have some shrinkage of the further flung suburbs, but that is not the same as suburbia disappearing.

Some people may not be able to continue to afford cars, but at present price levels without considering future cost reductions plenty could trade in the luxury of an SUV for a practical PHEV for the same price, and do their commuting on electric.

To the extent that they can't and traffic reduces, that decreases the problem of road wear, although of course that is mainly due to running freight on roads, with damage increasing by the 4th power of axle weight, so shifting to rail etc would massively reduce that.

We are not going to 'run out' of asphalt, as the tar sands do fine for that, although the price may go up somewhat.

So there is a world of difference between some added difficulties and problems in some areas to the 'Death of Suburbia'

I generally agree - with one add-on.

The suburbs that do thrive post-Peak Oil will likely look quite different than they do today.


From "The Gas Tax Is Running Low. But What Should Replace It?", up top:

Another solution is to index the tax rate to some measure of inflation, such as the Consumer Price Index or an index of highway construction costs. The rate could be automatically adjusted quarterly or annually as prices rose.

The US Federal Gasoline Tax has not increased since 1993. There is no need to replace it. It merely needs to be increased to account for inflation since 1993 and then indexed to inflation. Problem solved.

I believe the Republicans signed some sort of pledge that prevents them from raising taxes. Especially on the rich.

They clicked their heels and all saluted, all red tied and all blue suited. All heil Grover Norquist – you’re our Fuhrer ...


And as we all know, once a politician makes a pledge, there ain't no goin' back, baby. And you can take that to the bank.

they can break the pledge. but the pledge reminds them they will be primaried from their right, and that primary challenger will be exceptionally well funded.

even with the pledges and silliness, when (if) we ever due truly "conserve" energy (or spending money or consumption) in significant numbers, we will tank the economy without significant interventionary policies.

when (if) we ever due truly "conserve" energy (or spending money or consumption) in significant numbers, we will tank the economy without significant interventionary policies

No. It could even grow the economy if done well. Switching to more efficient systems will involve investment and work. Lots of solar panels, LED lights, insulation, wind turbines, mass transit systems, smart meters, electric cars, etc. need to be build, sold, and installed.

Of course that may not be considered 'conservation' but instead 'increased efficiency'.

I do agree.

But I think that requires significant intervention.

By intervention I mean:

A) sweeping cultural desire to conserve smartly while fiscal resources still allow (intervention in behavior and thought)


B) sweeping government intervention in tax policy (consumption taxes, tax breaks for the right things and behaviours), environmental policy, energy policy, etc.


C) Both.

I still think that if 51% of the population decided (due to dire straights) that they would cut back significantly on consumption (of all things) the economy would tank.

In a political climate where the U.S. can't get any serious legislation passes in this arena, I see lots of hard landings.

(opinion, of course)

I see lines for the new IPhones. I'd like to see people lined up to demand the same in energy policy reform. :-)

"Read My Lips" ;-)

My WSJ comment

A conservative Principle - User Pays

This article missed the big story - TODAY fuel taxes & license fees pay only HALF the cost of roads and highways. In 2010, General Funds and other non-transportation taxes (plus borrowing against same) were raided for $101 Billion dollars (federal, state & local) to keep gas cheap.

That is $326.99 per capita for one year.

More today. President Obama signed a bi-partisan bill two months ago that took $11.8 billion from the Pension Guaranty Fund (!!), $2.8 billion from environmental clean-up taxes and $18.5 billion from the General Fund of the US Treasury instead of simply raising federal gas taxes.

User Pays !!

I think a combination of tolling every limited access highway when it is rebuilt (every 40 to 50 years) and higher gas taxes should pay for 100% of roads and highways with a few billion in excess to pay for schools and National Defense.

My essay "A conservative Principle - User Pays"

Best Hopes for Somebody reading it :-)


Why solve the problem when it can instead be used as a wedge to push for nifty new government intrusions such as a GPS logger on every car (supposedly to allow a per-mile tax)? /sarc

The US Federal Gasoline Tax has not increased since 1993. There is no need to replace it. It merely needs to be increased to account for inflation since 1993 and then indexed to inflation. Problem solved.

About 99% of damage to roads is caused by heavy trucks. The obvious solution is an axle-mile tax on anything with axle loadings over about 3,000 pounds. As most vehicles in this category already have paperless log systems installed, implementation should be easy. Stemming the tide of bribes campaign contributions from trucking companies and truck manufacturers would be the biggest problem, though we could probably count on countervailing bribes contributions from railroads.

I wonder how much (if any) do heavy trucks currently pay in road-maintenance taxes in the US?

If they want to do something other than a per-gallon fuel tax, how about per mile but adjusted for the road damage, which is proportional to the FOURTH POWER of the axle weight? E.g., a 6000 pound large SUV does 81 (3x3x3x3) times as much damage as a 2000 pound economy car, even while it only uses about 3x the fuel. Paying the same per-gallon tax is already subsidizing the SUVs. And even that pales in comparison with the large trucks: an 18,000 pound local delivery truck causes 81 times the damage as that SUV, and a 54,000 pound loaded 18-wheeler 81 times the road damage done by the local truck - or 531,441 times the damage done by the economy car.

So yes, a "user pays" (or rather, "damager pays") approach would basically mean: tax ONLY the heavy trucks. I can't wait to hear the debate on what to do about the truck tax given that freight is moving to rail. :-)

It depends on the state. Some states charge trucks enough taxes that they pay their own way.

It's true that heavier vehicles cause the most damage, but even roads with no trucks can have high maintenance costs. For example, the Taconic State Parkway in NY. Vehicle speed and traffic volume count, too.

I'm also not sure we should single out trucks. Why do trucks not pay their share of fuel taxes? Well, because they are fuel-efficient. If push comes to shove, trucks delivering goods is probably a better use for highways than individuals driving cars around.

I could see returning to the pattern of old: trucks delivering goods to a central location (a town, downtown, etc.) and people going there to pick up the stuff. A lot of the damage to roads is caused by the new patterns of the digital age. Wal-Mart using trucks as "rolling warehouses," goods (and the trucks that carry them) traveling door to door for eBay and Amazon sales, etc. Local roads aren't designed to carry a lot of trucks, but thanks to Amazon and eBay, many are.

Heavy vehicles tend to use more fuel per mile or km, so fuel tax would still seem a good way to go.

I think the fuel tax could be raised 5cents/yr until its tax revenue balanced road upkeep expenditures.

Its better than nothing. But wear goes up as a pretty high power of axle weight, whereas fuel consumption goes up much slower than that. So the heavyweights still do many times more harm than they pay for (moochers).

vtpeaknik, recently Rockman suggested raising the Federal Gasoline Tax by 60 cents over the course of 3 years. Politically it won't happen, but if it did it would really help motivate people to buy higher efficiency vehicles.

Kindhearted - Rockman suggested a $0.60/gallon increase if fuel tax??? Obvious I didn't send up a big enough sarcasm flare with the statement I made. Sorry about that. My point was that neither party made a push to raise fuel taxes just $.02/gallon even just once and even during low fuel price periods. How could anyone expect a significant change today?

Reading the other posts I always amazed how the more liberal leaning folks want to give the Dems a pass on such things at fuel tax increases. And yes: I know when the D's had control of the White House and the Congress for 2 years it wasn't a filibuster proof majority. But they did have that control as well as the bully pulpit which the president has never been shy about using. Remind me when was the last time the president used his position to urge the public to accept a fuel tax increase. How successful would he have been if he tried? I don't know. But even when he had less control he was able to push thru what many consider the most controversial policy seen in many decades: health care reform.

But forgive me...I forgot. He has recently been using his position to affect public opinion regarding oil use in the US: he's dangled the prospect of an SPR release that might lower fuel prices and thus allow Americans to burn more. Seems to be a clear message to me: the govt will use what tools it has to make motor fuels less expensive. Increasing fuel taxes would seem counter to that policy. With the same fuel tax that has been in place for so long. Understand I'm not posting this in support of the R's position on the matter. Just that I see virtually no difference between the two parties as far as actual outcomes. But lots of difference in rhetoric, of course.

Remind me when was the last time the president used his position to urge the public to accept a fuel tax increase.

Rockman, sorry for misrepresenting what you intended with the fuel tax increase.

As far as this President, I don't think he ever mentioned a fuel tax increase.

Re: Hollande Faces Defeat on Energy Price Caps as Gas Suppliers Sue

This seems like Bachman's $2.00/gal gas to me. You either have an open market economy or a state economy. You can encourage investments with incentives, or discourage with tariffs, but capping prices in an open market doesn't work, anywhere. It just causes problems, even in the countries that produce the stuff.

What are these politicians thinking? I suppose France could try and re-colonize a country that produces the gas, but barring that maybe they should just be prepared to pay the going European rate.


This seems like Bachman's $2.00/gal gas to me.
What are these politicians thinking?

I shook my head in disbelief when Bachman presented her $2 gas plan.
I think the politians feel promising a lower price for gas is an easy way to get votes. It didn't work for Bachman though as she dropped out early in the race.

The situation is slightly more complicated than that even though trying to control the energy price is nearly impossible for an importing country. The natural gas price in France was officially linked/coupled to the price of oil because of long term contract. However, since a few years, natural gas is sold at discount comparatively to oil (per btu), at least in some markets. GDF-Suez now gets 25% of its long term contract for gas revised to follow the spot market (so cheaper than the previous contracts with price following oil price) but want to keep selling its gas in France at the highest price and thus keep asking for rate increase.

Just returned from a trip New York to Detroit to Minneapolis and return.
- The interstates are in good repair, probably due to all the "stimulus" spending recently.
- There were numerous single-lane sections of a couple miles to 15 miles length for shoulder work, bridge maintenance, and a couple of resurfacings.
- Traffic was light enough that cars and trucks merged to single file and slowed without any waiting or significant delay.
- The light vehicle to 18-wheel ratio on the inter-city sections seemed to be down quite a bit.
- Campers and RVs are mostly non-existant.
- Outdoor advertizing has fewer vacant or public service billboards, but a number of billboards may have been removed compared with 2 years ago.

Regarding Pakistan protests against anti-Muslim film turn violent, above, I have a strong sense that there's much more to these protests than outrage over an insult to Islam, et al. It seems as simple, and at the same time, complex, as a broader reaction to limits to growth. Over-population, resource constraints, climate weirding, economic instability, are all exacerbating an environment of intolerance, pent-up tension, and when any challenge to societal stabilizers (religion?) presents itself, release of rage against the machine (Empire in this case). I expect these 'Arab Spring' reactions to increase and escalate as limits to growth become more critical. It's not that some haven't seen it coming.

Pakistanis are rioting all the time. They have an archaic, entrenched, class system with very exploitative landowners who control practically everything, and a burgeoning and poorly educated population. Every day sees another crisis in power generation, and blackouts. Food becomes increasingly unaffordable for many people and unemployment is chronic.

The geopolitical atmosphere is on a very short fuse, with tensions on all the national borders.

I reckon the ruling landowning/militry elite quite likes to have a foreign distraction to redirect the rioting population in another direction.

Pakistan is practically a failed state, with nuclear armaments.

And not a small state either! (About a half of the population of the USA.) Likely the world's most dangerous powderkeg.

Whenever I see commuter traffic I always wonder how many are going to work to sit for eight hours in front of a computer terminal, which they could do from home.
Granted it would be a management problem but with Skype and keyboard monitoring who's to say productivity would not increase? Business tax incentives should at least be offered as an experiment.
The lost time on the road commuting is also the equivalent of weeks of additional vacation time every year if you think about it that way.

This is the 'The next economy'. Book written by Paul Hawken in the '80s after a few years of high oilprices. But how the road to it will be ?

Whenever I see commuter traffic I always wonder how many are going to work to sit for eight hours in front of a computer terminal, which they could do from home.

Among the chattering classes, which probably includes most of those reading these words, that's probably quite a few.

But for people doing real work -- those who get the food on our table, educate our children, heal us when we're sick, and so on -- not very many.

More and more of the jobs that COULD be done from home are done from Bangalore instead.

Exactly - if you can do your job from home, there's a manager who thinks somebody cheaper can do it from Asia.

Some of us already telecommute.

It is win/win for the worker and employer, in my opinion.

I gladly work extra hrs (I am salaried), as I do not have to lose time driving back and forth.

Work issues a laptop, cell phone, and VPN encryption software/key.

I use my DSL, done.

I wonder what fraction of the workforce would be able to telecommute.

"I wonder what fraction of the workforce would be able to telecommute."

A lot. I do need to be at work some times, and nearly always on Thursday. But I could easily swing staying home and VPNing in at one day a week, and often two.
Remember it's not either-or; mix and match is allowed, or should be. A 20 to 40% reduction in my commuting is a 15 to 35% reduction in my gasoline consumption.

Life expectancy for least educated whites decreases.


Seems like it is only a matter of time before peak life expectancy for humans.

23 nuclear power plants are in tsunami risk areas

In the study published in the 'Natural Hazards' journal, the researchers drew a map of the world's geographic zones that are more at risk of large tsunamis. Based on this data, 23 nuclear power plants with 74 reactors have been identified in high risk areas. One of them includes Fukushima I. Out of them, 13 plants with 29 reactors are active; another four, that now have 20 reactors, are being expanded to house nine more; and there are seven new plants under construction with 16 reactors.

Some 27 out of 64 nuclear reactors that are currently under construction in the world are found in China. This is an example of the massive nuclear investment of the Asian giant. "The most important fact is that 19 (two of which are in Taiwan) out of the 27 reactors are being built in areas identified as dangerous," state the authors of the study.

More information: "Civil nuclear power at risk of tsunamis" Natural Hazards 63 (2) : 1273-1278 Sept,2012.

Ageing China: Changes and challenges

... Today, there are 180 million Chinese aged over 60, just over 13% of the population. That will double to 360 million in fewer than 20 years, when China will have more retirees than the entire population of the US.

By the middle of the century, their ranks will soar again to 480 million.

China is ageing so fast that a process that took up to a century in the West will happen in the coming 30 years here. And as the ranks of the elderly swells, the working-age population is starting to shrink.

... Currently, China funds only meagre pensions, and there are six workers paying taxes for each retiree - in 20 years' time, there will be just two workers for every pensioner.

Currently, China funds only meagre pensions, and there are six workers paying taxes for each retiree - in 20 years' time, there will be just two workers for every pensioner.

This is a problem everywhere. And, it is a large part of the looming population decrease, made necessary by limits on food production as oil and gas supplies shrink.

We have so many converging crises... some financial (greying population, sovereign debt, inflation / deflation), some ecologic (AGW, polution, diminishing finite resources, limits of fresh water, etc., etc., etc.), and some political / sociological, represented by the severe dislocation of rich and poor, inability of political institutions to respond, inappropriate response to bribery contributions and PAC money.

The real question is still whether we have already waited too long to begin addressing any of these problems, and hence whether they have thus become predicaments incapable of resolve. Personally, it looks to me like we have multiple predicaments, together with a few problems that can still be solved, and need to be in order to have any chance at a pleasant future. It is a time to triage our resources, deciding what we can throw overboard and what we want to, or are able to, keep.

Best hopes for a pleasant future, riding on Trams and Trains, and bicycling through Versailles.



The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant shut down unexpectedly Thursday when a reactor coolant pump failed....“If there is any trace of radiation in the steam discharge, it is below detectable levels.”.... A Middletown woman living about four miles from Three Mile Island said the plant’s steam release Thursday afternoon sounded like a jet engine.

" the plant’s steam release Thursday afternoon sounded like a jet engine."

Woke up the chickens, did they? A high pressure gas moving through a relief valve is just a bit loud.

... below detectable levels.

If the detector is inoperative, then it would not detect anything.

"It is difficult to get a man to detect something, when his salary depends upon his not detecting it."

I'm leery of assurances like that. I was working in a building where the county had decided to pour a concrete floor in a basement that had a dirt floor. They first treated the soil for termites. I don't remember what they used, but the men applying the stuff were in full environment suits with air hoses going outside. The problem was that the air handlers for the A/C were in that basement. People were running out of the building because of the smell. Someone from county risk management met with us later and assured us that the concentration of (whatever it was) had never reached a level that would affect us. I wondered how he knew that, as I did't remember seeing anyone taking air samples at the time.

From the folks who brought us country AND western ...

Energy firms must acknowledge cybersecurity as more than an IT problem, Rice University’s paper claims

... Titled “Cybersecurity Issues and Policy Options for the U.S. Energy Industry,” the paper investigates how energy companies involved in the production and delivery of hydrocarbons, as well as companies that generate and transmit electricity, face new risks posed by malicious software (“malware”). These risks can affect the continuity of their operations, capacity to deliver products and services and ability to protect investments — particularly in research and development — from theft or unauthorized disclosure.

The paper details examples of major oil and gas companies that have suffered a significant data breach or disruption of IT service, the latest being Saudi Aramco. In August, Saudi Aramco saw as many as 30,000 computers on the company’s network compromised by a malicious piece of “malware,” possibly the one labeled “Shamoon” by the computer malware analysis community.

“The issues of cyberespionage and true cyberattacks — the ability to achieve kinetic outcomes by manipulation of computer systems — represent significant challenges for the energy industry, the United States government and the international community,” Bronk said.

also National Level Exercise 2012 Will Focus on Cyber Attacks Against Critical Infrastructure

Worst Flooding In Decades Across Parts of Africa

The death toll has been rising in all three nations. The latest numbers indicate at least 80 people have died in Niger, 40 in Cameroon and 15 in Nigeria.

In Nigeria, the rain has also led to a food shortage that combined with the flooding is affecting more than 500,000 people. A separate cholera outbreak has been blamed for nearly 100 deaths across the nation as thousands remain homeless.

Arctic Ice “Rotten” to the North Pole, scientist says

... This year the ice is “rotten” practically all the way to the North Pole, says Barber, a veteran Arctic researcher and director of the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba.

The multi-year ice, what’s left of it, is so heavily decayed that it’s really no longer a barrier to transportation,” he says, explaining how melt ponds have left much of the ice looking like Swiss cheese.

While the ice loss documented by the NSIDC is record-setting, Barber says the reality in the Arctic is ever worse.

The U.S. numbers are about “a 15-per-cent over-estimation of how much ice is actually there,” says Barber. That’s because satellites have trouble discerning ice conditions, he says, and will count heavily decayed ice as solid.

While the ice loss documented by the NSIDC is record-setting, Barber says the reality in the Arctic is ever worse.

...And then there's this, from the "ignore the problem at all costs" folks:


They also say things like, "Arctic sea ice is declining!" (But Antarctic sea ice is at record levels, Forbes magazine just reported.) "Glaciers are getting smaller!" (Except for the ones staying the same or growing.)

You see? It all balances out, so everything is just fine 8^)

Tiny homes hit the big city

(CNN) -- Hari and Karl Berzins decided to build a tiny home for their family in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains to free themselves of the financial burden of owning a large home.

They knew that moving two children, a dog and a cat into a 168-square foot space would be a challenge, though it would also eliminate the need for a mortgage and cut their utility costs.

But they didn't expect it to completely change their lives, Hari Berzins said.

I'd love a tiny house. Maybe something like this.

Householders unlikely to recover solar heating installation costs for 30 years

I have two issues with this article. First, while I fully understand life-cycle cost and payback, etc., whenever this issue is raised wrt renewables, it is ignored wrt the 'conventional' technology it replaces. Simply put, no one expects their gas or electric water heater to 'pay for itself' over its lifetime. They expect it to make hot water, for which they will continue to pay long after the purchase cost is forgotten. Solar hot water, OTH, will make hot water for you AND pay for itself over time.

2nd - It does not need to cost 3-5k pounds ($5-8k) for solar hot water. The main challenge in solar hot water is freeze protection. Closed loop anti-freeze or evacuated tubes are typically used to address this, but they cost. If you are in a mildly freezing climate, they are not needed. I have had the batch heater ProgressivTube (I'm not a rep, so won't provide the link, you can find it) on two homes, and installed it for two others. All of these in NC/VA, where they have been exposed to temps of 0-5F. No freezing. They are warranteed down to 10F, but have proven themselves better than that. I've custom insulated the supply-return pipes on all to incorporate them into the thermal mass of the collector, and it works. These cost $2,500 to perhaps $4k installed, or 1500-2500 pounds. I've also lived in the UK. Sure it freezes, but doesn't get as cold as it does here in the mid-Atlantic, except maybe rarely in Scotland. So these systems could work for most of the UK.

Just sayin', in case any Brits are listening...

Not only that, but it appears to me, they are only talking about the subsidy as far a recouping costs in their math. At minimum, you ought to be adjusting for the gas you aren't buying when you change over, but hey, 7 years isn't much of a headline vs. 30. (and yes, I think the 7 yr number is from sunny USA, not the UK, but we only get a one-time credit here anyway)...


My solar hot water system cost about $3K (installed it myself).

Since it replaces electric resistance water heating, I figure it has paid for itself already, in about 6 years.

Thank you.

I know many people have had 10 and under paybacks for thermal, and as Clifman reminds us, this is in comparison to the fact that you don't even BOTHER to ask about payback for equipment that you have to feed for its whole life.. all you ask then is whether it's efficient, and how long that life will be before total replacement .. while with Solar Thermal, you'll have components to replace, but much of it can last decades, and the input energy is free.

Addendum.. The significant other allayed veto power today, and agreed to invest in a Hot Water Heat Pump and the Finishing Funds to install my Solar Preheater (Pump, PEX and Glycol).. so that among other things, I can recapture waste heat from the Tenants' Dryer and the Furnace all winter, pouring it all back into the DHW at a COP of about 2.3, while keeping the Basement moisture under control.

(THIS Heat pump.. >> The Nyle - Geyser https://vimeo.com/7293519 )

With many recycled parts, I'll be bringing in the '$1000 Solar Hot Water System' part at about $800.
(But as Closed-loop, NOT drainback)

How the world’s oceans could be running out of fish

Already, more than half of the fish we eat comes from farms – in China, it’s as high as 80% – but doing this on an industrial scale has its problems. Farms are stocked with wild fish, which must then be fed – larger fish like salmon and tuna eat as much as 20 times their weight in smaller fish like anchovies and herring. This has led to overfishing of these smaller fish...

Fish farms are also highly polluting. They produce a slurry of toxic run-off – manure – which fertilises algae in the oceans, reducing the oxygen available to other species and creates dead zones. Scotland's salmon-farming industry, for example, produces the same amount of nitrogen waste as the untreated sewage of 3.2 million people – over half the country's population. As a result, there are campaigns to ban aquaculture from coastal areas.

Farmed fish are also breeding grounds for infection and parasites that kill off large proportions of fish – escapees then frequently infect wild populations. Farmers try to control infestations with antibiotics, but usually only succeed in creating a bigger problem of antibiotic resistance.

Great example of the collapse dynamic. We take actions that seem perfectly reasonable, even necessary in response to the urgent problem of depleted wild fish stocks, in this case farmed fish. Unfortunately, those actions only end up greatly contributing to the problems, such as depletion of bait fish stocks, pollution, parasites, and antibiotic resistance.

Meanwhile, the painfully obvious solutions to the root causes of the problem get not one single mention in the entire article. Reduce the human population? Never! Reduce industrial over-consumption? Don't even think about it! Far better to offer weak platitudes at the end about a river or two being restored, so surely we can turn around the global extinction of marine life. Can't we?


Meanwhile, the painfully obvious solutions to the root causes of the problem get not one single mention in the entire article. Reduce the human population? Never!

To borrow a phrase from Upton Sinclair, "It is difficult to get a journalist to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it".

Related, as seen via Peak Oil News:

Why We Cannot Save the World

And this is why we cannot save the world. The challenges we face are overwhelming, and they’ve been accelerating in size and complexity for millennia. The more we learn about them, and their interrelatedness, the more daunting they become.

"Our entire much-praised technological progress, and civilization generally, could be compared to an axe in the hand of a pathological criminal."

-- Albert Einstein


I just read that earlier. I no case can I think of is it more true than with oceans. Fishing with bottom trawlers should be illegal everywhere, and it really doesn't take many people with current factory trawlers to destroy everything. Plus we have ocean acidification and global warming to add to the mix. I am confident that plenty will survive and one day come back to abundance, as it has after other planetary disasters, but only after the human population crashes or humans go extinct.

Our technology is exactly what has allowed us to rape the oceans, and we have used it in the most harmful and counterproductive manner possible, despite knowing for a very long time the damage it was doing (other fishermen sued to stop trawling in England when it was still a new technology, saying that it destoyed the habitat of the fish - this was hundreds of years ago). Trawling is an abomination, and we are monsters for continuing to allow it anywhere. (edit: I should say that trawling is only one of the worst of many fishing methods, many of which are also very destructive and indiscriminate, and even spearfishing, the most selective fishing method, can destroy and ecosystem when carried on indiscriminately.)

But as the article says, we can't save the world. The effort required to save the oceans is too high and the urgency is not there. Ergo, they will be fished out and left a shadow of the shadow that is their current, exploited state.

Great essay - thanks!

Exxon spends $1.6B on Bakken oil field

Exxon said Thursday it will buy all of the Bakken shale assets held by Denbury Resources Inc. for $1.6 billion in cash. Denbury will also receive Exxon's interest in two fields in Wyoming and Texas.

Exxon will acquire 196,000 acres, boosting its holdings in the region to almost 600,000 acres. The acreage acquired is expected to produce 15,000 barrels of oil and other hydrocarbons per day in the second half of this year. Exxon can increase production with new drilling in the future.

S - There's a rough metric we use when viewing such acquisitions. It's the price paid per bbl/day. IOW $1.6 billion / 15,000 bopd = $107 k per bbl produced per day. Lately proved producing oil reserves have been selling for $80k to $100k per bbl/day. This indicates to me that neither XOM nor Denbury put a great deal of value to the undeveloped Bakken acreage. One of the problems with the valuation of undeveloped leases is that they automatically expire at some point in time if they aren't drilled. I have no idea what the remaining time line is for Denbury's acreage but most leases typically expire in 5 years or less. I imagine XOM will do some drilling. But will they drill the bulk of the acreage before it expires? I doubt it. But one option would be to sublease those rights to other companies. XOM would retain some smaller revenue share of what production they establish. We call this a "farm out" in the oil patch. Not an uncommon move.

Musk: Tesla to Open 100 Supercharger Stations

Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Elon Musk, Tesla Motors chairman and CEO, talks with Bloomberg's Betty Liu about providing 100 "supercharger" stations to allow Tesla drivers to travel long distances across the United States. He speaks on Bloomberg Television's "In The Loop."

A year after their arrival, Ottawa static on electric vehicle uptake

Early adopters said a lack of leadership and coherent planning is keeping the idea of electric cars unpopular. As the fanfare heralding the electric vehicle as the greenhouse-gas-free option of the future has quieted, the novelty is far from becoming the norm.
“It’s embarrassing to see the national capital so far behind other municipalities across the country,” said Ricardo Borba, the owner of the first Nissan Leaf released in Canada. Borba cruises past gas stations on his daily commute to and from his Kanata home where he plugs in at night.
The consumer uptake in Ottawa has been slow, Borba said, estimating there are just 100 owners of electric vehicles, including customized and converted cars, owners of the Chevrolet Volt and other Leaf owners. But there lies the Catch-22: customers are unlikely to buy with a near non-existent charging infrastructure, and those who would install charging stations are hesitant to make a commitment without seeing many electric vehicles on the road.

US drops 5 to 1,859 rigs exploring for oil, gas

HOUSTON (AP) — The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. dropped this week by five to 1,859.

Texas-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. reported Friday that 1,402 rigs were exploring for oil and 454 were searching for gas. Three were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago, Baker Hughes listed 1,991 rigs.

The rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981 and bottomed at 488 in 1999

The rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981 and bottomed at 488 in 1999

What??? Don't those oil prospectors know that drilling more dry holes is essential to OUR WAY OF LIFE?! It must be those d**ned environmentalists obstructing energy independence again. Get Sarah Palin on the line --they're hating our freedom!

Study outlines supply chain challenges for lithium future

... "A combination of high fuel costs, concerns about petroleum availability and air quality issues related to fossil fuel-based vehicles are driving interest in electric vehicles," says Egbue. "However, there are issues associated with the present supply chain of raw materials for battery production, particularly the security and supply of lithium."

"More than 90 percent of lithium reserves - what is economically feasible to extract - are in just four countries," Egbue says. "The geopolitical dynamics of this distribution of lithium supplies has largely been ignored."

Due to political instability, there is a question of U.S. access to materials produced in Bolivia, which holds the world's largest lithium resource and has new production projects in the pipeline, she says. "The diplomatic relationships between the U.S. and Bolivia had deteriorated during the Evo Morales administration, leading to the dismantling of key partnerships," Egbue adds.

Sinkhole update ...

Assumption group seeks sinkhole answers

... Allen Hill, 66, a retired petrochemical industry worker, questioned the length of time for tests to fingerprint or provide a blueprint of the chemical makeup of the natural gas releases, for example.

“Natural gas is coming out of the ground everywhere. We have yet to identify the source of this natural gas. It’s a massive amount of gas that is coming out of here. I don’t think there is enough that’s sitting in that cavern to go as far and as long as this has,” Hill said.

“Why have we not been able to get a [chemical] fingerprint of this gas and go back to these caverns and all these sources around here?” Hill wanted to know.

Hill asserted in a later interview that such testing can be done in hours by industry experts.

The man has a point. GC [gas chromatography] analysis could be done fairly rapidly.

Within a very few weeks of TVA's huge coal ash "spill" at the Kingston Steam Plant at Kingston/Harriman, Tennessee, EPA relieved the state agency of its status as "lead agency" and took over. Sounds that its about time for that, or past it, in Assumption Parish, La.

Within two or three days of the development of the sinkhole, a major "big oil" company was calling around for a contractor with a boat and sampling crew to do sampling of the gas bubbles (and perhaps more?). I know someone who received one of those queries but had their equipment deployed elsewhere. So, wonder what came of that sampling? According to this article, there is a lot of diesel in the sinkhole now. Truly do not know how dependable this source is.


Sampling Continues at Bayou Corne as Sinkhole Expands

Volatile Organic Compounds at Bayou Bubbling Sites

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) sampled the air in the area of the Bayou Bubbling sites for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The data consist of sampling from September 7, 2012 through September 16, 2012. ... [Result listed]

... The Assumption Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness has reported a series of expansions of the Bayou Corne sinkhole in recent days. Land and trees continue to disappear as the sinkhole grows in size.

September 20, 2012: Approximately 25' of embankment on the east side fell into the sinkhole.

September 18, 2012: Texas Brine reported a slough-in of approximately 200' of embankment at the sinkhole.

September 17, 2012: Texas Brine reported a 20' x 20' growth of the sinkhole.

The state seems to have a tight muzzle on news from this operation Sinkhole blackout, officials tell media to censor resident meeting

I've done GC & GC/MS analysis and it's not rocket science. They've had over a month to look at results. Either they're stupid or they're covering up. I'd go with number 2, [but wouldn't discount number 1]

The analytical info that they're releasing is nearly useless relative to the problem [i.e. total VOC (Volatile organic compounds)]. VOC (volatile organic compounds) are all compounds that appear in the gas chromatogram between and including n-hexane and n-hexadecane. Compounds appearing earlier [like Methane, Ethane, Propane, Butane, & Pentane] are called VVOC (very volatile organic compounds)


#2 would require #1, not exclude it. Yeah, this smells big time.


University business school professor gets off to a good start on his understanding of the issues, and then...

Gas prices drop overnight, part of the new norm of wild swings, experts say

Market volatility due in large part to low inventories

The volatility — West Texas crude has bounced between $80 and $110 a barrel this year — is related to the world’s growing difficulty in getting crude oil, says Ian Lee of the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University.

The world is running out of easily accessible oil, he argues. That means we’re running out of cheap oil.

It costs less than $5 a barrel to extract typical Saudia Arabian oil, compared with about $80 a barrel for Alberta oilsands oil, he says.

Other “unconventional” sources, such as oil from Siberia or the deep ocean, will also be “very, very expensive — magnitudes more expensive” than cheap sources.

--- snip ---

Carleton’s Lee says the best way in the long term to solve the problems of scarce and expensive oil is to switch to natural gas. He says it’s cleaner, cheaper and much more plentiful.

... he blows it on the cheap and plentiful natural gas statement.

I guess he hasn't read, as we do here, anything Art Berman or Chris Nelder have written.

It costs less than $5 a barrel to extract typical Saudia Arabian oil, compared with about $80 a barrel for Alberta oilsands oil, he says.

People keep bandying around numbers like $80/bbl for oil sands production. At the moment, the low-cost producers are operating in the $35/bbl range, the majority in the $45/bbl range, and the highest cost producers in the $60/bbl range.

It probably would take $80/bbl to bring a new oil sands project on-line, but that is after all royalties, taxes, capital costs and interest is paid, and includes a healthy profit for the investors. Including all these things in "costs" is somewhat misleading for the average reader.

The $5/bbl number may be realistic for the Saudis, but I don't think that is realistic, either. If they only got $5/bbl, the whole country would go broke. There would probably be riots and possibly a government overthrow.

Czech study of European unconventional gas

A detailed (135 pgs) Masaryk University study of unconventional natural gas in central & eastern Europe was published recently, reviewed here (with link to original):

Ethanol takes a thrashing in Minnesota

Across the industry, companies are pressured on two sides -- high prices for corn, their single largest cost, and lagging prices for ethanol, their main product.

Transmission pipelines near high consequence areas (HCAs)

In case anyone is able to assist, I'm seeking info regarding situations where high-volume transmission pipelines (of natural gas, crude or refined petroleum products) are located very close to schools, high-rises, hospitals and old folks homes.

We have a situation in eastern Ontario where a pubic school (ie. the building itself) was built within 33 feet of a previously existing transmission pipeline which carries refined products, primarily gasoline. This is a older high pressure pipeline, rated for 1,200 psig, now into its 7th decade of service.

I'm concerned about this situation, but at this point I would like to have a sense of how common/rare such situations are.
Thanks for considering this.

I think the Canadian Standards Association recommends a minimum 200 metre (660 feet) setback for schools and other high occupancy public buildings from pipelines carrying high vapor pressure products, and they would prefer more distance. 33 feet (10 metres) is obviously too close. It sounds like they built the school right up to the pipeline right-of-way, with no regard to imposing a setback for safety considerations.

If the pipeline is 7 decades old, then one would assume that the school was built after the pipeline was laid. One would also assume that the school is also relatively old, because one would think that newer regulations would prohibit building a school that close. If something like that blows up, it could burn down buildings for a block or two around it, as has happened in California and other places.

There was a time when governments allowed companies to build high-pressure pipelines right through the middle of residential areas with no setbacks, but no more. (I can't vouch for all jurisdictions because you never know what some governments would allow.) There was a distinct lack of regulations in the old days.

Thanks for your reply, RMG

An official at Pipeline Safety in Washington sent me a very thorough 2007 document from California Dept. of Education re. schools and pipelines. Their new Protocol calls for a minimum distance of 1,500 feet from high-pressure transmission pipelines. They define high pressure as over 80 psig, so this Ontario situation seems to be a bit extreme both in terms of proximity to the classroom wall and pipeline pressure. The flow rate is around 70,000 bpd, so the volumes involved could be considerable should a rupture or major leak occur.

The school was built two years after the pipeline, and why Board officials approved building a new school so close to a gasoline main-line is very puzzling. The pipeline goes directly across the full width of the school playground, but the yellow markers are much closer to the building than they are to the far end of the playground.

One danger with liquid pipelines (as opposed to gas) is that the liquid will flow downhill. In this case, the front of the school is downhill from the pipe, and the pipeline itself is on the other side of the school, so children would need to move extremely quickly downhill and then uphill and upwind.
I would also think that explosion (which is a rare event) would be a definite risk in this case, since vapours could quickly penetrate (and be confined by) the school building.

NEB governs most aspects of pipeline operations but I never considered CSA... I will check.

New subdivisions are being built very close to pipeline right-of-way (ROW). The newest subdivision is all upscale homes, all of them sold whose back-yards are up against the ROW, all around $600,000 I am told. One wonders if the developer is obliged to inform prospective buyers about the pipeline; also what responsibility the City planners have re. safe set-back distances for homes.
I think we can argue that there is a lack of prudent regulation, even in these days.

This situation is clearly unsafe, but my question remains: is it rare?

California has had some pretty big pipeline explosions in the last few years, so I can understand why they are paranoid about putting schools next to pipelines. As I said, the CSA recommends a minimum of 200 m (660 ft) of setback, but they also said that they would like to see more. It becomes a matter of judgement depending on how both the pipeline and the school are designed and interrelated. I mean, you can design a school to withstand a pipeline explosion - it looks more like a bomb shelter - and in some cases you might want to do that. In your case, I would suggest going with the California standards.

If the school was built 2 years after the pipeline, then it too must be nearly 70 years old. The pipeline will be well past its "best before" date and the school will be, too. The pipeline will be suffering from corrosion problems and thinning pipe walls, and the school will not be built to modern fire prevention standards. If you know anything about Normal Accident Theory, then this represents A Disaster Waiting to Happen.

The NEB does regulate Interprovincial and International pipelines but not in-province pipelines. Otherwise, the Ontario government would responsible, but I have no idea what their rules are. I am in Alberta and the Alberta government would never permit this. They would move either the pipeline or the school. If it was an old interprovincial pipeline the NEB would probably not require any changes, but the Alberta government would move it anyway.

If the local city government is permitting people to build houses right next to the pipeline ROW, then they are asleep at the switch. Local governments in Alberta tend to impose setback requirements, and then have the developers turn the ROW and setback into a linear park. This is really the best solution. Broad, tree-lined bicycle paths and trails cutting straight through residential districts are very handy and quite nice additions to the urban landscape.

I'm speaking as someone who has 35 years experience in the oil industry and is on the local planning board.

Thanks for the additional info, RMG

The pipeline has been operating since 1952 (steel manufactured in 1951?), school opened in 1954 so both will soon be into their 7th decade of service. A unacceptably dangerous combo, I agree.

The pipeline is the primary/only pipeline carrying petroleum products from Montreal to Toronto so it is interprovincial. Comapny officials say that it is in fine shape, etc thanks to cathodic protection and their proactive in-line inspection regime, etc.
The flip side is that this line is still under a 20% pressure reduction ordered by NEB because of recent (minor) leaks.

I think there is a fair degree of complacency/unwarranted trust on the part of local authorities: just because the pipeline has been there for 60 years (trouble-free in our region) is no reassurance.
Instead, they should be mindful of 60 years of nature working on old steel and the extreme proximity of large volumes of gasoline to young children and their teachers.

As for previous incidents, the San Bruno disaster was gas. But the NTSB has thorough analyses of the gasoline ruptures in Bellingham (1999) and Mounds View (1986). In both cases the gasoline ignited, with fatalities.
I will ask our Board authorities to please examine this literature.

Notwithstanding what the pipeline company says, it's still a very old pipeline. The small leaks and NEB pressure reduction order are indicative of wear and corrosion in the pipe. Pipelines don't last forever. It should be replaced with a new pipeline, but... this whole Peak Oil idea is not a surprise to the oil companies. They may not expect it to be in service much longer and don't want to spend the money.

Yes, familiarity breeds contempt. Your local authorities seem to have become complacent because they have never had a major pipeline rupture, but it only takes one to ruin your whole day. I suspect they don't have a disaster plan for what they are going to do if the pipeline ruptures next to the school - you should ask to see it on the assumption they must have one, although they probably don't.

When you are doing disaster planning, you should first assume you are going to have a disaster, and then figure out what you are going to do if you have one. It helps if you don't have large numbers of children you have to evacuate on very short notice.

We in the oil industry had disasters on a fairly frequent basis, so we were not complacent (at least in the companies I worked for). We used to fly an airplane along all the main pipeline routes every week, looking at the ROW. They weren't actually looking for leaks, they were looking for people digging holes and building things next to the pipeline. If somebody was doing some work, they could expect a company man in a pickup truck and a safety helmet to show up within a few hours to talk to them, see what they were doing, and offer any useful advice they needed - with all the equipment to mark the exact pipe location for them.

Natural gas leaks are in some ways safer than gasoline leaks. NG is lighter than air and will rise rather than flow along the ground, and it won't ignite if the NG/air ratio is either above or below the ideal mixture. By contrast, gasoline vapors will flow around the ground and ignite easily off any ignition source. Once that happens, the flame will flash back to the pool of gasoline and set it on fire. Liquid gasoline burns very intensely, and is difficult to put out before it all burns up.

Also, gasoline is much more toxic than natural gas, so if the pipeline has been quietly leaking for a few years, you could have a nasty environmental contamination problem under your school - another reason for setting it back from the ROW. This is more a problem with old gas stations, though, which are frequently environmental disaster areas due to leaking tanks. You would be amazed at how far gasoline can flow underground without anybody noticing.

Would berms alongside of the pipeline ROW be of any use in directing things up and along rather than sideways?


Possibly, NOAM

I will drive out to this school and the surrounding village tomorrow to take another, closer look at the elevation profile and the surfaces.

The surface next to the school is paved almost to the pipeline marker, after which it is grass. If the pavement is lower than the grass, then a curb/berm could help stop the liquid from flowing along the pavement and creeping under the doors.

In any event, the flowing liquid isn't what ignites: it's the vapour cloud above it. At a mere 33' it is hard to imagine vapours not entering the building, berm or no berm.
The solution really is to get this school out of that location ASAP.

You are quite right that the berm would not be much help. Berms help contain crude oil, but gasoline vapor creeps over them, and the gasoline itself can flow underground right under the berm. If the school has a basement, there is the possibility of gasoline and/or vapors leaking into the basement without ever appearing on the surface - and it is the vapors that are a bigger problem than the liquid, because they could accumulate, light off the furnace, and blow up the school.

Now you probably understand why we didn't like people building things right next to our pipelines. We had a good idea of all the different things that could go wrong - much more than they did. If they were a long way away, the things that could happen to them were a lot fewer - although they had the unreasonable expectation that nothing should ever go wrong anywhere, which is statistically impossible. When something did go wrong, it was better to have mitigated the consequences in advance.

Rick - you should post this over on the Sat. Drumbeat. This one's pretty much dead...

I discourage people from doing that. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Leave discussions where they start.

At a party last night I talked to a pipeline engineer. He agreed.

He alos pointed out that most pipelines are designed for a 40 year lifespan, which can be extended (see nukes).

Best Hopes in Moving the School,


He's quite right. Most pipelines are designed for a 40 year lifespan.

One of the problems with the Canadian export pipelines is that they were built over 50 years ago to carry Canadian exports of conventional oil from Alberta to the Midwestern US and to Eastern Canada. Oil depletion is not a surprise to Canadian oil companies, and they knew the conventional oil in Alberta would not last much more than 40 years, so they didn't plan for more.

However, non-conventional oil has completely changed the picture, and the pipelines are running long past the date when they thought they would abandon them, while volumes are increasing steadily. This is part of the reason there are so many pipeline breaks on the Canadian export system through the US.

It makes it quite difficult for the pipeline companies to build new pipelines, and another problem is that even when they want to replace the existing pipe in a ROW, the people near it object and take them to court. They want the pipeline to be abandoned completely. Well, given the amount of money at stake, the pipeline company is going to fight that tooth and nail, and so will the oil producers, refineries, and Canadian federal and provincial governments. They want more export pipelines, not fewer.

The US government used to encourage them too, for strategic reasons, but in recent years they don't seem to be planning past the next election.

Thanks to you all for your interest and for your info.

I'm still trying to get a sense of how rare/common it is to have schools (or other "high consequence areas") near pipelines.

RMG (since Alberta probably has more miles of pipeline of various diameters than any other province), are you or your colleagues aware of any schools, hospitals, etc which are on/close to high pressure transmission pipelines?

I've heard that folks in Burnaby, etc are upset re. prospect of twinning TMPL. They say that the existing line is already a threat to various schools, high-rises, etc, so my sense is that what we have here in Ontario is probably not all that exceptional, unfortunately.

I'm not aware of any schools or hospitals close to pipelines in Alberta. Most city planners here are highly aware of what the oil industry is doing, and building a school or hospital next to a pipeline would just strike them as being a bad idea.

Here's an example from the bylaws of the County of Strathcona near Edmonton. (As it happens, Strathcona County has most of the oil refinery capacity in Western Canada).

Land Use Bylaw, Section 6

6.7 Setbacks from Pipelines

6.7.1 A minimum setback from the right of way of a petroleum products pipeline with a maximum licensed operating pressure of 3447.5 kPa or greater shall be provided for the following uses:
c) 200 m for a principal building for community recreation services, private education, public education, emergency services, spectator entertainment, exhibition and convention facilities, major health services, religious assemblies, or spectator sports.

And that is the same as is recommended in the Canadian Standards Association Land use planning for pipelines: A guideline for local authorities, developers, and pipeline operators

The route of Kinder Morgan's Trans-Mountain pipeline through BC is less than ideal, but the pipeline is nearly 60 years old, after all. The pipeline does, in fact, run under at least one school yard.

This is very useful info, RMG.
I have downloaded the CEPA doc, will examine it carefully and pass it along to local authorities.
Thanks again
- rick