Free Markets, Free People
Funny how some projects attract the EPA like flies to, well, you know and others? Meh. The LA Times reports:
Construction cranes rise like storks 40 stories above the Mojave Desert. In their midst, the "power tower" emerges, wrapped in scaffolding and looking like a multistage rocket.
Clustered nearby are hangar-sized assembly buildings, looming berms of sand and a chain mail of fencing that will enclose more than 3,500 acres of public land. Moorings for 173,500 mirrors — each the size of a garage door — are spiked into the desert floor. Before the end of the year, they will become six square miles of gleaming reflectors, sweeping from Interstate 15 to the Clark Mountains along California’s eastern border.
BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar power project will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.
Despite its behemoth footprint, the Ivanpah project has slipped easily into place, unencumbered by lasting legal opposition or public outcry from California’s boisterous environmental community.
Interesting. No EPA interference. The Enviro crowd rolls over. The project has all of the things which in normal circumstances (i.e. if it was a petro-chemical project) would have it tied up for years both in red tape and court cases.
But for this?
Endangered species? Fuggitaboutit. This is important ideological agenda stuff for the “enviro” crowd.
Away from public scrutiny, they crafted a united front in favor of utility-scale solar development, often making difficult compromises.
Compromises? It is full-scale capitulation. It is abject hypocrisy. It is an example of why the environmental community is seen by many as more ideologically driven than environmentally driven. It explains why their motives are suspect.
Take a look at this page in which you’ll see a conception of the finished project, the impact it has on the desert and the number of projects being developed in California and then just ask yourself what that same environmental community would be doing if the name of the developer was Exxon-Mobil instead of BrightSource.
"The scale of impacts that we are facing, collectively across the desert, is phenomenal," said Dennis Schramm, former superintendent at neighboring Mojave National Preserve. "The reality of the Ivanpah project is that what it will look like on the ground is worse than any of the analyses predicted."
In the fight against climate change, the Mojave Desert is about to take one for the team.
Yet barely a whimper raised by environmentalists over the scale and impact of these projects on what they claim to hold most sacred.
This map should give you a good feeling as you survey it:
All the red you see in the US is a good thing. This graphically shows the results of a survey conducted by the US Energy Information Administration in which it assessed world shale gas resources. The legend is a little hard to read so, for those with eyes like mine:
- Red colored areas represent the location of assessed shale gas basins for which estimates of the ‘risked’ gas-in-place and technically recoverable resources were provided.
- Yellow colored area represents the location of shale gas basins that were reviewed, but for which estimates were not provided, mainly due to the lack of data necessary to conduct the assessment.
- White colored countries are those for which at least one shale gas basin was considered for this report.
- Gray colored countries are those for which no shale gas basins were considered for this report.
And here’s a chart that give you some of the numbers. Pay particular attention to the numbers in the left hand column:
The chart doesn’t show all of the 32 countries, but I wanted you to see the amount of shale gas that is technically recoverable and the amount we import (10%). With the development of these gas fields we can up our domestic production and consumption (an alternative to oil in many cases) as well as become a net exporter.
Says the report:
The development of shale gas plays has become a “game changer” for the U.S. natural gas market. The proliferation of activity into new shale plays has increased shale gas production in the United States from 0.39 trillion cubic feet in 2000 to 4.87 trillion cubic feet in 2010, or 23 percent of U.S. dry gas production. Shale gas reserves have increased to about 60.6 trillion cubic feet by year-end 2009, when they comprised about 21 percent of overall U.S. natural gas reserves, now at the highest level since 1971.
In fact, this assessment provides good news for much of the world:
To put this shale gas resource estimate in some perspective, world proven reserves of natural gas as of January 1, 2010 are about 6,609 trillion cubic feet, and world technically recoverable gas resources are roughly 16,000 trillion cubic feet, largely excluding shale gas. Thus, adding the identified shale gas resources to other gas resources increases total world technically recoverable gas resources by over 40 percent to 22,600 trillion cubic feet.
Of course the catch is “technically recoverable” – i.e. is it worth bringing to market even if we have the technology to do so? That depends on a number of things, to include the cost governments place on those attempting to bring it to market, and the hurdles governments may place in their way if they attempt to do so – such as the hydrofracking controversy.
It is estimated that 80% of the new oil and natural gas wells in the US will require hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking). What hydraulic fracturing does is create tiny fissures in the rock so the oil and gas can flow through the wellbore to the surface. Hydrofracking has been used in over 1 million – yes, that’s right – 1 million wells in the last 60 years (here’s an animation of the process if you’re interested). The fracturing takes place hundreds, if not thousands of feet below the aquifer.
But, as with all things, the process which as been in use for over 60 years and with a million wells is now “controversial” with unsubstantiated claims that hydrofracking in these shale sites will cause contamination of the ground water.
Yet no evidence of that is apparent in the history of the process or an investigation conducted by the EPA in 2004:
U.S. government studies have found no evidence of drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing. In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a study to assess the contamination potential of underground drinking water sources (UDWS) from the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluid into coalbed methane (CBM) wells. EPA found "the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into CBM wells poses little or no threat to USDWs and does not justify additional study at this time." EPA also reviewed incidents of drinking water well contamination believed to be associated with hydraulic fracturing operations. It found "no confirmed cases linked to fracturing fluid injection of CBM wells or subsequent underground movement of fracturing fluid."
In 1998, the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and a team of state agency representatives conducted a survey of state oil and natural gas agencies to establish an accurate assessment of the number of active CBM wells associated with hydraulic fracturing. Based on the survey of 25 oil and natural gas producing states, the GWPC concluded, "there was no evidence to support claims that public health is at risk as a result of the hydraulic fracturing of coalbeds used for the production of methane gas."
So, the map points to a bonanza of natural gas that is technically recoverable, would cover our own domestic needs easily (and may see some oil dependent means of transportation and energy production look toward to switching to cleaner burning natural gas) and even have us exporting the product versus importing it.
If … key word … if the hydrofracking Chicken Little’s aren’t allowed to have their way and delay or stop such exploitation.
Look, no one wants ground water contamination – no one. But a system that has been in use for over 60 years an a million wells with no evidence it has contributed to ground water contamination has enough time and data points to help assure us of process reliability in this case. Here’s something we can do now to help alleviate our energy deficit and cut dependence on imports.
Will we take advantage of this opportunity?
That remains to be seen.
Here’s a formula for you to study:
Green groups want less forestry in the developing world. Industry wants green protectionism to cut the volume of competitive imports. Unions want green protectionism to stop imports to ensure they can keep workers in high-paying jobs.
So using the environment as an excuse, we have these three groups colluding to further their own agendas. Call it “green protectionism”.
In a recent case it has been to keep toilet paper made in foreign countries out of Australia.
That’s right, toilet paper.
Can anyone now figure, based on that formula, what the missing part of the equation might be? The part that is necessary to make such collusion pay off?
Yes, government. Certainly green groups can want less forestry in the developing world, and industry can wish for a way to cut the volume of competitive imports. And unions always hope to ensure high paying jobs.
But only one entity can actually make all those wishes, wants and hopes come true. If government becomes involved it has the power to fulfill the wishes and hopes of these three disparate special interest groups.
That’s what happened in 2008 when two Australian toilet paper manufacturers, Kimberly Clark Australia and SCA Hygiene as well as the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the World Wildlife Fund essentially colluded to keep foreign manufactured toilet paper, primarily from Indonesia and China out of the country. Their ostensible complaint was those countries were “dumping” their product in Australia.
For a short time they succeeded in getting imports restricted by the Australian Customs Service, until, it seems, the ACS did a study to determine the validity of the complaint. Their findings were significant. The Australian Customs Service report calculated that the potential downward pressure of imports could be as high as 42 percent of the price.
In other words, the collusion would cost consumers in Australia 42% more because the competitive pressure that kept prices low would have been removed. In addition, a recent report commissioned by the Australian government found that “illegally logged material” – one of the prime reasons these groups claimed Australia should ban imports of foreign wood products – only comprised 0.32 percent of the materials coming into Australia. In other words, the threat was insignificant.
That’s Australia, but what about here? Well, we’re hearing the same sorts of rumblings concerning “green protectionism”.
Sadly these campaigns appear to be part of a spreading green protectionist disease, where industry, unions and green groups work together. In the United States the disease was brought to life by the Lacey Act, which imposes extra regulation on imported wood and wood products to certify their origin and make them less competitive.
The Lacey Act is actually an update of a 1900 law that banned the import of illegally caught wildlife. It now includes wood products (2008). And that means, since extra steps and cost are incurred by foreign manufacturers, that consumers are stuck with the increased cost.
While the reasons for protectionism may sound good on the surface – save the forests, higher wages, less competition to ensure jobs – it isn’t a good thing. If freedom is defined by the variety of choices, what protectionism does is limit those choices and impose an unofficial tax on consumers. They end up paying the cost of collusive action between government and special interests.
So, each time your government announces that it is doing you the favor of limiting the imports of this commodity or that, based on “green” concerns, hold on to your wallet. Whatever the government is protecting you from, you can rest assured that the price of the domestic variety is headed up, since the other product of government intrusion is limiting competition. Rule of thumb: restricting free trade is rarely a good thing. And the only entity that can do so is government. “Green” is just the newest color in an old and costly game – protectionism.