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Another blast of freezing air is forecast for the central and eastern U.S. this week as two storms threaten to bring disruptive snow to the Northeast.
“Arctic air looks to make a return to the Northeast and Midwest this week following some of the warmest weather the regions have had so far this year,” AccuWeather Inc. said on its website. “Much of the Northeast and Midwest will be dry and noticeably colder on Monday.”
Milder weather across the Northeast over the weekend pushed temperatures into the 60s Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) inWashington and Philadelphia and the 50s in New York City and Boston, AccuWeather said. Highs today will be 10 to 20 degrees colder, the State College, Pennsylvania-based forecaster said. Low temperatures in New York are forecast at 22 Fahrenheit tonight, according to the National Weather Service.
Temperatures are dropping as the polar vortex, a mass of cold air that is usually kept above the Arctic Circle by strong winds, drops southward. They may slide to a record low in the High Plains, the upper Midwest and Great Lakes, according to the weather service.
Natural gas futures rose to their highest in more than five years. Gas for March delivery climbed as much as 5.6 percent to trade at $6.478 per million British thermal units in electronic trading on theNew York Mercantile Exchange.
“A series of quick-hitting disturbances” will spread some snow across the Midwest and Northeast through Feb. 25, AccuWeather said on its website. Meteorologists are monitoring whether a storm moving through the Midwest meets with another traveling across the South, potentially bringing “disruptive” snow to the Northeast starting Feb. 26, the forecaster said.
“If the storms remain separate until reaching Atlantic Canada, the snow will remain on the lighter side across the Northeast and will only be a nuisance to motorists on Wednesday,” it said. “Steadier and heavier snow would unfold if the storms begin to combine over the Northeast.”
Frigid air will dive south and east from the Northern Plains throughout the week, the Weather Service said in a bulletin on its website.
“By Wednesday, most of the Great Lakes will have single digit high temperatures and parts of the Tennessee Valley will struggle to rise above freezing,” it said.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter firstname.lastname@example.org
“Polar Vortex” Shock And Awe: The Utility Bill Arrives (And Why It Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better) | Zero Hedge
The “polar vortex” shock has arrived, only this time it is not in the form of another 12 inches of overnight snow accumulation but in the shape of household utility bills. A reader was kind enough to send us his just received ConEd bill for the month ended Februery 10. The result speaks for itself. It also speaks for where so much of US household disposable income will go in first quarter. Spoiler alert: not toward discretionary purchases.
If readers have more dramatic instances of the “Polar Vortex” invoice shock, please forward them to us at the usual address.
And unfrotunately it will get worse before it gets better. On the back of a rapid decline in the “glut” of low cost natural gas (as stockpiles are drawn down to the lowest level since 2004) and the shift in forecast (that the freezing weather could last well into March), Natural gas futures are soaring (up over 10% today). This is the highest front-month futures contract price since December 2008 as “the possibility of periodic shortages now looms.”
We now have an answer to why global temperatures have risen less quickly in recent years than predicted in climate change models. (It’s necessary to add immediately that the issue is only the rate of that rise, since the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998.) Thanks to years of especially strong Pacific trade winds, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change, much of the extra heat generated by global warming is being buried deep in ocean waters. Though no one knows for sure, the increase in the power of those winds may itself have been set off by the warming of the Indian Ocean. In other words, the full effects of the heating of the planet have been postponed, but are still building (and may also be affecting ocean ecology in unpredictable ways). As Matthew England, the lead scientist in the study, points out, “Even if the [Pacific trade] winds accelerate… sooner or later the impact of greenhouse gases will overwhelm the effect. And if the winds relax, the heat will come out quickly. As we go through the twenty-first century, we are less and less likely to have a cooler decade. Greenhouse gases will certainly win out in the end.”
Despite the slower rate of temperature rise, the effects of the global heating process are quite noticeable. Yes, if you’re living somewhere in much of the lower forty-eight, you now know the phrase “polar vortex” the same way you do “Mom” and “apple pie,” and like me, you’re shivering every morning the moment you step outside, or sometimes even in your own house. That southern shift in the vortex may itself be an artifact of changing global weather patterns caused at least in part by climate change.
In the meantime, in the far north, temperatures have been abnormally high in both Alaska and Greenland; Oslo had a Christmas to remember, and forest fires raged in the Norwegian Arctic this winter. Then, of course, there is the devastating, worsening drought in California (and elsewhere in the West) now in its third year, and by some accounts the worst in half a millennium, which is bound to drive up global food prices. There are the above-the-normtemperatures in Sochi that are creating problems keeping carefully stored snow on the ground for Olympic skiers and snowboarders. And for good measure, toss in storm-battered Great Britain’s wettest December and January in more than a century. Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, there’s heat to spare. There was the devastating January heat wave in Australia, while in parts of Brazil experiencing the worst drought in half-a-century there has never been a hotter month on record than that same month. If the rains don’t come relatively soon, the city of São Paulo is in danger of running out of water.
It’s clear enough that, with the effects of climate change only beginning to take hold, the planet is already in a state of weather disarray. Yet, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare points out today, the forces arrayed against dealing with climate change couldn’t be more powerful. Given that we’ve built our global civilization on the continuing hit of energy that fossil fuels provide and given the interests arrayed around exploiting that hit, the gravitational pull of what Klare calls “Planet Carbon” is staggering.
Recently, I came across the following passage in Time of Illusion, Jonathan Schell’s 1976 classic about Nixon administration malfeasance. Schell wrote it with the nuclear issue in mind, but today it has an eerie resonance when it comes to climate change: “In the United States, unprecedented wealth and ease came to coexist with unprecedented danger, and a sumptuous feast of consumable goods was spread out in the shadow of universal death. Americans began to live as though on a luxuriously appointed death row, where one was free to enjoy every comfort but was uncertain from moment to moment when or if the death sentence might be carried out. The abundance was very much in the forefront of people’s attention, however, and the uncertainty very much in the background; and in the government as well as in the country at large the measureless questions posed by the new weapons were evaded.” Tom
The Gravitational Pull of Planet Carbon
Three Signs of Retreat in the Global War on Climate Change
By Michael T. Klare
Listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, it would have been easy to conclude that we were slowly but surely gaining in the war on climate change. “Our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet,” the president said. “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.” Indeed, it’s true that in recent years, largely thanks to the dampening effects of the Great Recession, U.S. carbon emissions were in decline (though they grewby 2% in 2013). Still, whatever the president may claim, we’re not heading toward a “cleaner, safer planet.” If anything, we’re heading toward a dirtier, more dangerous world.
A series of recent developments highlight the way we are losing ground in the epic struggle to slow global warming. This has not been for lack of effort. Around the world, dedicated organizations, communities, and citizens have been working day by day to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the use of renewable sources of energy. The struggle to prevent construction of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline is a case in point. As noted in a recentNew York Times article, the campaign against that pipeline has galvanized the environmental movement around the country and attracted thousands of activists to Washington, D.C., for protests and civil disobedience at the White House. But efforts like these, heroic as they may be, are being overtaken by a more powerful force: the gravitational pull of cheap, accessible carbon-based fuels, notably oil, coal, and natural gas.
In the past few years, the ever more widespread use of new extractive technologies — notably hydraulic fracturing (to exploit shale deposits) andsteam-assisted gravity drainage (for tar sands) — has led to a significant increase in fossil fuel production, especially in North America. This has left in the dust the likelihood of an imminent “peak” in global oil and gas output and introduced an alternative narrative — much promoted by the energy industry and its boosters — of unlimited energy supplies that will last into the distant future. Barry Smitherman of the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates that state’s oil industry) was typical in hailing a “relatively boundless supply” of oil and gas worldwide at a recent meeting of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.
As oil and gas have proven unexpectedly abundant and affordable, major energy consumers are planning to rely on them more — and on renewable sources of energy less — to meet their future requirements. As a result, the promises we once heard of a substantial decline in fossil fuel use (along with a corresponding boom in renewables) are fading. According to the most recent projections from the U.S. Department of Energy, global fossil fuel consumption is expected to grow by an astonishing 40% by 2035, jumping from 440 to 615 quadrillion British thermal units.
While the combined share of total world energy that comes from fossil fuels will decline slightly — from 84% to 79% — they will still dominate the global energy marketplace for decades to come. Renewables, according to these projections, will continue to represent only a small fraction of the total. If this proves to be accurate, there can be only one plausible outcome: vastly increased carbon emissions leading to rising temperatures and the sort ofcatastrophic climate change scenarios that now seem almost impossible to imagine.
Think of it this way: in our world, the gravitational pull of carbon exerts itself every minute of every day, shaping the energy decisions of individuals, companies, institutions, and governments. This pull is leading to defeat in the global struggle to slow the advance of severe climate change and is reflected in three recent developments in the energy news: a declaration of surrender by BP, a major setback in the European Union, and a strategic end-run by Canadian tar sands companies.
BP Announces the Defeat of Renewables
Every year, energy giant BP (once British Petroleum) releases its “Energy Outlook” for the years ahead, an analysis of future trends in global production and consumption. The 2014 report — extending BP’s energy forecast to the year 2035 — was made public on January 15th. Typically, its release is accompanied by a press conference in which top BP executives offer commentary on the state of world energy, usually aimed at the business media. This year, the company’s CEO, Bob Dudley, spoke with unbridled optimism about the future market for his company’s energy products, assuring his audience that the global supply of fossil fuels would remain substantial for years to come. (Dudley took over the helm at BP after his predecessor, Tony Hayward, was dumped in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.)
“The picture in terms of resources in the ground is a good one,” he noted. “It’s very different to past concerns about supply peaking. The theory of peak oil seems to have — well — peaked.”
This, no doubt, produced the requisite smiles from Dudley’s oil-friendly audience. Then his comments took a darker turn. Can we satisfy the world’s energy requirements with fuels that are sustainable, he asked. “Not at the moment,” he admitted. Because of a rising tide of fossil fuel consumption, he added, “carbon emissions are currently projected to rise — by 29% by 2035, we estimate in the Outlook.” He acknowledged that, whatever good news might be found in that document, in this area “steps are needed to change the forecast.”
Next, Dudley tried to put a hopeful spin on the long-term climate prospect. By replacing coal-fired power plants with less-carbon-polluting natural gas, he indicated, overall greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced. Increasing the efficiency of energy-consuming devices, he added, will also help. All of this, however, adds up to little when it comes to the big picture of carbon emissions. In the end, he could point to few signs of progress in the struggle to slow the advance of climate change. “In 2035, we project that gas and coal will account for 54% of global energy demand [and oil another 27%]. While renewables will grow rapidly, their share will reach just 7%.”
Most of the media coverage of Dudley’s appearance focused on his expectations of long-term energy abundance, not what it would do to us or our planet. Several commentators were, however, quick to note how unusual it was for an oil company CEO to address the problem of carbon emissions at all, no less express something verging on despair over the prospect of making any progress in curbing them.
“[Dudley] concludes… [that] the world is still a long way from delivering the peak in greenhouse gas emissions many scientists advise has to be achieved within the next decade to minimize the risk of dangerous climate change,”observed energy analyst James Murray at businessGreen.com.
The member states of the European Union (EU) have long exercised global leadership in the struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of climate change. Under their justly celebrated 20-20-20 plan, adopted in December 2008, they are committed to reducing their emissions by 20% over 1990 levels by 2020, increasing their overall energy efficiency by 20%, and achieving 20% reliance on renewables in total energy consumption. No other region has embraced goals as ambitious as these, and none has invested greater resources in their implementation. Any wavering from this path would signal a significant retrenchment in the global climate struggle.
It now appears that Europe is preparing to rein in the pace of its drive to slow global warming. At issue is not the implementation of the 20-20-20 plan, which is well on its way to being achieved, but on the goals that should follow it. Climate activists and green energy entrepreneurs have been calling for an even more ambitious set of targets for 2030 and beyond; many manufacturers and other major energy consumers have been pushing for a slower pace of change, claiming that increased reliance on renewables is driving up energy prices and so diminishing their economic competitiveness. Already, it appears that the industrialists are gaining ground at the expense of climate action.
At stake is the EU’s climate blueprint for 2030, the next major threshold in its drive to slow the pace of warming. On January 22nd, the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission (EC), released its guidelines for the new plan, which must still be approved by the EU Parliament and its member states. While touted by some as a sign of continued European commitment to decisive climate action, the EC’s plan is viewed as a distinct setback by many environmental leaders.
At first glance, the plan looks promising. It calls for a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 — a huge drop from the 2020 requirement. This is, however, less dramatic than it may appear, analysts say, because energy initiatives already under way in Europe under the 20-20-20 plan, coupled with a region-wide economic slowdown, will make a 40% reduction quite feasible without staggering effort. Meanwhile, other aspects of the plan are downright worrisome. There is no mandate for a further increase in energy efficiency and, far more important, the mandate for increased reliance on renewables — at 27%, a significant gain — is not binding on individual states but on the EU as a whole. This makes both implementation and enforcement questionable matters. Jens Tartler, a spokesperson for the German Renewable Energy Federation (which represents that country’s wind and solar industries), calledthe lack of binding national goals for renewables “totally disappointing,” claiming it would “contribute to a marked reduction in the pace of expansion of renewables.”
To explain this evident slackening in Europe’s climate commitment, analysts point to the immense pressures being brought by manufacturers and others who decry the region’s rising energy prices caused, in part, by increased subsidies for renewables. “Behind the heated debate in Brussels about climate and renewable energy targets, what is really happening is that concern over high energy prices has taken precedence over climate concerns in Europe,” saysSonja van Renssen, the Brussels correspondent for Energy Post, an online journal. “Many [EU] member states and industry fear that a strong climate and energy policy will be bad for their economies.”
In arguing their case, proponents of diluted climate goals note that EU policies have raised the cost of producing a metric ton of aluminum in Europe by 11% and that European steel companies pay twice as much for electricity and four times as much for natural gas as their U.S. counterparts. These, and similar phenomena, are “dragging the EU economy down,” wrote Mark C. Lewis, former head of energy research at Deutsche Bank.
Not surprisingly, many European manufacturers seek to reduce subsidies for renewables and urge greater reliance on less-costly fossil fuels. In particular, some officials, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, are eager to follow the U.S. lead and bring advanced technologies like hydro-fracking to bear on the extraction of more oil and natural gas from Europe’s domestic reserves. “Europe’s hydrocarbons production is in decline,” noted Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency, but “there may be some opportunities… to slow down and perhaps reverse some of these trends” — notably by imitating the “revolution in hydrocarbon production” now under way in the United States.
Read this another way and a new and truly unsettling meaning emerges: the “shale gas revolution” being promoted with such fervor by President Obama as a “bridge” to a more climate-friendly energy system in the United States is having the opposite effect in Europe. It is weakening the EU’s commitment to renewable energy and threatens to increase Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Canada’s End-Run Around Keystone XL Pipeline Opposition
Much to the surprise of everyone, climate activists in the United States led by environmental author and activist Bill McKibben and the action group he helped to found, 350.org, have succeeded in delaying U.S. government approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for more than two years. Once considered a sure thing, the pipeline, if completed, will carry 830,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen (“syncrude”) some 1,700 miles from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. It has, however, been held up by detailed environmental impact studies and other procedural steps ordered by the U.S. State Department. (Because the pipeline will cross an international boundary, it requires approval from the Secretary of State and, ultimately, the president, but not Congress.)
Opponents of the pipeline claim that by facilitating the exploitation of particularly carbon-dense Canadian tar sands, it will substantially increasegreenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The use of this bitumen-based fuel releases more carbon per unit of energy than conventional petroleum and its energy-intensive extraction generates additional carbon emissions. Should all of the bitumen in Canada — the equivalent of 1 trillion barrels of oil — be consumed, it’s “game over for the climate,” as former NASA climate scientistJames Hansen has famously written.
How the Obama administration will come down on Keystone XL is still unknown. In a speech on climate policy last June, the president indicated that he would give highest priority to climate considerations when deciding on the pipeline. “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” he said. “And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” At the time, his comments raised the hopes of climate activists that Obama would ultimately decide against the pipeline. More recently, however, an environmental assessment conducted at the behest of the State Department and released on January 31st cast doubt on this outcome. The report’s reasoning: even though the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands will increase the pace of carbon emissions, their extraction and delivery to refineries is assured by alternative means — mainly rail — if the pipeline isn’t built and so its construction will not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.
While this is certainly a uniquely sophistic (and shaky) argument, it is important to note that the Canadian producers and their U.S. partners are indeed attempting to stage an end-run around opposition to the pipeline by increasing their reliance on rail cars to deliver tar sands.
“The indecision on Keystone XL really spawned innovation and mobilized alternatives, and rail is a clear part of the options available to our industry,”observed Paul Reimer, senior vice president in charge of transport at Cenovus Energy, a Canadian oil company planning to increase rail shipments from 7,000 barrels a day to as many as 30,000 barrels a day by the end of 2014. Other Canadian firms have similar expansion plans. All told, the Canadiansclaim that, over the coming years, they will be able to increase rail-carrying capacity from the current 180,000 barrels per day to as much as 900,000 barrels, or more than would be carried by the pipeline.
If this were to happen, count on one thing: rail transport will turn out to have itsown problems — and its own opposition. Not surprisingly, then, Canada’s oil industry still craves approval for Keystone XL, as it would allow even greater tar sands exports and legitimize the use of this carbon-heavy fuel. But the growing reliance on rail transportation does once again demonstrate the powerful gravitational pull of Planet Carbon. “At the end of the day, there’s a consensus among most energy experts that the oil will get shipped to market no matter what,” says Robert McNally, a former energy adviser to President George W. Bush.
Reducing Carbon’s Pull
These three recent encounters in the historic struggle to avert the most destructive effects of climate change tell us a great deal about the nature and terrain of the battlefield. Climate change is not the product of unfortunate meteorological phenomena; it is the result of burning massive quantities of carbon-based fuels and spewing the resulting gaseous wastes into the atmosphere. As long as governments, corporations, and consumers prefer carbon as an energy source, the war on climate change will be lost and the outcome of that will, in turn, be calamitous.
There is only one way to avert the worst effects of climate change: make the consumption of carbon unattractive. This can be accomplished, in part, by shaming — portraying the producers of carbon-rich fuels as the enemies of human health and survival. It’s an approach that has already achieved some modest successes, as in the prevention, until now, of Keystone’s construction. Withdrawing funds from fossil fuel firms, or disinvestment, is another useful approach. Many student and religious groups are attempting to hinder oil drilling activities by pushing their colleges and congregations to move their investment funds elsewhere.
But shaming and disinvestment campaigns are insufficient; much tougher sanctions are required. To stop the incineration of our planet, carbon must be made expensive — so costly, in fact, that renewables become the common fuel of choice.
There are at least two ways to move toward accomplishing this: impose a tax on carbon emissions, raising the cost of fossil fuels above those of renewables; or adopt a universal cap-and-trade system, forcing major carbon emitters to buy permits (at ever-increasing cost) in order to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Both measures have been advocated by environmentalists and some attempts have been made to institute each of them. (Both California and the European Union, for example, are implementing cap-and-trade systems.) There may be other approaches to the problem that could prove even more effective, but the most essential thing is to recognize that genuine progress on climate change will not be possible until carbon fuels lose their financial allure. For this to happen, as BP’s Dudley begrudgingly acknowledged on January 15th, “you need carbon pricing. Universally accepted carbon pricing.”
The gravitational pull of carbon is immensely powerful. It cannot be overcome by symbolic gestures or half measures. The pressures to keep burning fossil fuels are too great to be overcome in piecemeal fashion. Rather, these forces must be met head-on, with the institutionalization of equally powerful counter-forces that make fossil fuels economically unattractive. We humans have a choice: we can succumb to carbon’s gravitational pull and so suffer from increasingly harsh planetary conditions, or resist and avoid the most deadly consequences of climate change.
Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.
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Copyright 2014 Michael Klare
If the ancient Greek storyteller Aesop were alive today, he might have written a fable about North American energy markets. Aesop’s sheet of papyrus may have ended with the moral: “If you wait long enough, gas prices will go up.”
Last week, the ticker showed the highest continental natural gas prices in four years, momentarily bobbing above $5.50 (U.S.) per 1,000 cubic feet (Mcf) in the United States and $5 (Canadian) in Canada. We know Aesop could have easily penned another truism, “Cold weather drives higher prices,” but would he have offered the more complex wisdom: “Prices under $3.50 are not sustainable?”
Are we to believe that the days of two or three dollars for a 1,000 cubic feet of the coveted heating fuel are gone?
Since December, the shivering populace on the eastern side of the continental divide have dialled up their thermostats and brought vigour back to winter natural gas consumption. Scenes of snowy roads and frosty mustaches made it look like conditions were exceptionally frigid in the U.S. and Canada. They were (and still are). But averaged over the span of the continent, the numbers tell a different story; the spreadsheets show that what we have been experiencing is nothing more than a good old-fashioned winter. While thermometers have been showing cold in the east, readouts in western states like California have been indicating warm temperatures.
Of all the natural gas burned in North America in one year, between 30 and 35 per cent is seasonally related to warming up our bodies in the winter months. Heating Degree Days (HDDs) are a measure of cold weather intensity that correlate directly to natural gas consumption. Figure 1 shows weekly U.S. HDDs from 2000 to present. The seasonality of heating is obvious: Furnaces are turned off in mid-summer and blowing hard in the third week of January.
What’s notable about our HDD chart this week is that there is nothing notable about this winter of 2013-14. Total HDDs have been close to the long-term average, back to 2000. In fact, this winter’s performance is unremarkably reminiscent of the winter of 2009-10.
It was the winter of 2011-12 that was weird – one of the warmest on record. And last winter, that of 2012-13, was also anomalously short on heating, and therefore gas demand. Back to back, these abnormally weak winters were juxtaposed against excessive gas output from shale drilling. On top of that, large quantities of associated gas – natural gas liberated as a byproduct from oil drilling – also pressurized the pipeline gauges to “full.” Storage levels ballooned out as a consequence. Not enough consumption and too much production combined in a “perfect storm” that pummelled gas for two years hence.
Today, North American natural gas production is still rising, but nowhere near the growth rate experienced between 2007 and 2012. During that boom era, productive capacity in the U.S. expanded by 20 per cent (10 billion cubic feet a day). Today, output growth is running at a reasonable 2 per cent to meet incremental demands, which means that the demand-pull of a normal winter isn’t masked by a surplus of production.
By the numbers, this coming year is like déjà vu 2010, which was arguably a pretty “normal” year. Volumes of natural gas in storage today – where supply meets demand – are on a restrained 2010 trajectory. By association, price indications for 2014 also seem to be tracking 2010. Back then Henry Hub averaged $4.40 (U.S.) Mcf while AECO logged the year at $4.00 (Canadian) Mcf. Those numbers are reasonable expectations for 2014.
Yet neither producer nor consumer should believe that $4.00 (U.S.) Mcf ($3.50 U.S. Mcf AECO) is a stable price, although the bias is for a firmer floor. Volatile weather will always conspire to rattle the markets up and down. Fundamentals are running hot and cold too. New drilling and completion techniques continue to improve productivity, yet the marginal cost of bringing dry gas to market is still obscured by waste gas coming from oil drilling. Production growth is becoming increasingly dependent on “sweet” areas like the Marcellus (concentration of assets is usually accompanied by greater volatility). And the price impact of potential liquefied natural gas exports may excite markets in a couple of years.
More than anything, the past couple of months remind us that natural gas is a commodity that can’t sit still. Prices are, and will continue, to be volatile. So it’s prudent for both producers and consumers to heed Aesop’s advice in his classic winter fable, The Grasshopper and the Ant: “It is wise to plan for tomorrow today.”
Peter Tertzakian is chief energy economist at ARC Financial Corp. in Calgary and the author of two best-selling books, A Thousand Barrels a Second andThe End of Energy Obesity.
In his State of the Union, President Obama added to the conventional wisdom that supplanting coal with natural gas will act as a bridge toward a climate solution. Unfortunately, gas is more of a gateway drug than a bridge to a clean energy future.
1) It’s still a major greenhouse gas. Sure, natural gas is cleaner than coal, but that’s setting a pretty low bar. Even if my shit smells sweeter than most, it’s still shit.
Natural gas powered electricity still pours 1.22 lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every kilowatt-hour of electricity it produces. That’s 6 tons of CO2 per year from every household in America if its electricity were completely generated with natural gas.
And that’s the emissions from the stuff that actually gets to the power plant. The EPA has collected industry-reported data suggested that leakage from the drilling, production, and pipeline process runs close to 1.5%. Other studies show much higher leakage rates. At a 2.7% leakage rate, gas is no better than coal for the climate.
2) Gas for electricity competes with gas for heating (and gas for transportation). The recent “polar vortex” events have meant spikes in home heating costs. As Forbes notes, “The cold affected electricity generation systems, particularly natural gas, in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast such that supply weakened and prices skyrocketed. In New England, natural gas faltered so much that regional grid administrator ISO-New England had to bring up dirtier coal and oil plants to try to make up the difference.”
With gas prices as volatile as history shows (data below from EIA), increasing gas reliance in sectors other than home heating (e.g. electricity, transportation) is just asking for Oil Crisis v2.
3) In electricity and transportation, we have much cleaner options. If you want a cleaner way to heat your home than natural gas, you’re going to have to pay a lot more. Solar hot water, geothermal, and other renewable options are not yet cost competitive.
But in the electricity market, renewables are more cost-effective than natural gas. Wind power is routinely the lowest cost wholesale power, as the following cost comparison from investment bank Lazard (from 2011) illustrates.
Solar power plants are competitive in a different way. They tend to deliver power right when natural gas power plants operate, at periods of peak demand (which is, in part, why a judge recently told a Minnesota utility to buy solar instead of building new natural gas power plants). Even back in 2011, California utilities were buying energy from solar on long-term contracts for less than the cost of energy from natural gas power plants.
Furthermore, because they have zero fuel cost, wind and other renewables tend to exert downward pressure on wholesale electricity costs, as shown in the following graphic.
In transportation, natural gas loses to electric vehicles. Natural gas vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20-30% over gasoline vehicles, but electric vehicles would lower emissions by 50-75% in most regions of the country, and they get better as grid electricity gets cleaner. And electric vehicles cost less per mile driven (5¢ compared to 6.7¢ for natural gas). Additionally, why build an entirely new refueling network for natural gas vehicles when every gas station and home in America already has a power outlet?
4) Building natural gas infrastructure chains us to a carbon-based energy future for 50 years. Electric utilities build power plants with 50 year life expectancies, same for gas companies and pipelines. Every dollar invested in dirty gas infrastructure is a dollar not spent building solar and wind farms, not spent researching battery technologies, and not spent helping communities capture the most of their local energy dollar. And it’s committing us to burn more natural gas for decades, during a time which greenhouse gas emissions must fall precipitously to avoid the major consequences of climate chaos.
Expanding natural gas use in electricity and transportation is risky, it’s dirty, and – most of all – it’s unnecessary.
The electricity sector is already undergoing a rapid transformation to a carbon-free system, driven by renewable energy standards and rapidly falling costs for wind and solar power. Converting coal plants to natural gas makes short-term sense, but building new fossil fuel infrastructure when we have free-fuel renewables is inane.
The transportation sector has already identified a low-carbon alternative to gasoline vehicles with an in-place fuel network. Electric vehicles will only get more efficient and cleaner as they grow in numbers and as the grid gets greener.
Americans are finally on a course to wean ourselves from an unhealthy addiction to fossil fuels in two major sectors of our economy. Natural gas isn’t a bridge, it’s a relapse. And it’s time we admit it.
With California experiencing emergency drought conditions and sun-glass-clad bronzed beauties driving their convertibles around in Lake Tahoe amid not an inch of real snow, the East Coast – just emerging from the cocoon following Polar Vortex 1.0 – is, as we warned, about to be confronted with another chilly blast of “Arctic Cold” weather with temperatures up to 25 degress below average and 8 inches of snow due for New York City tomorrow, and wind chills up to 40 below for the Upper Midwest On the bright side, it will be a BTFD opportunity for all those missed earnings expectations for Q1 retailers.
New York City could get up to 8 inches on Tuesday and Tuesday night, while Washington D.C. could get up to 7 inches. In Chicago, up to 5 inches could fall overnight Monday and temperatures Tuesday could be as cold as 13 below zero, including wind chill
A strong cold front will dive southward from the Plains and Midwest on Monday to the East Coast and Southeast on Tuesday. Bitter wind chills to 40 degrees below zero will impact the Upper Midwest. At the leading edge of the cold air, a winter storm is forecast to develop on Tuesday that will impact the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Coast with snow and blowing snow.
…Heavy snow for the Mid-Atlantic into Southern New England…
…Temperatures will be 10 to 25 degrees below average from the Mississippi Valley into the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic…
A front moving off the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Coast will develop a wave of low pressure over the Tennessee Valley that will intensify rapidly moving off the North Carolina Coast by Tuesday afternoon/evening. The storm will continue to deepen Tuesday night into Wednesday morning moving just off the Mid-Atlantic Coast paralleling the Northeast Coast to just off Cape Cod by Wednesday morning.
The system will produce light snow over parts of the Middle Mississippi Valley by Monday evening expanding into parts of the Ohio Valley by early Tuesday morning. As the storm moves into the Mid-Atlantic on Tuesday, moisture from the Atlantic will move inland aiding in the development of snow over the Mid-Atlantic to the Ohio Valley/Tennessee Valley.
The system’s dynamics will increase, producing an area of moderate to heavy snow over parts of the Mid-Atlantic by Tuesday evening, moving into Southern New England and Coastal Northern New England by Wednesday morning.
Just when everyone thought the infamous polar vortex is gone (if not quite forgotten, having dipped the temperatures in some part of the US to sub-Martian levels), it’s baaaack. Sky News reports that America is set to be hit by another blast from the polar vortex although this time Niagara falls may not freeze, as temperatures are likely to be higher than last week’s extreme conditions. “The polar plunge is expected to move south from Canada, bringing colder air and sub-zero temperatures to the US this week. Forecasters say it will sweep over the lower Mississippi Valley and Midwest on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then hit the East on Thursday. The main thrust of the cold air will follow up a couple of days later.”
“Following the retreat of Arctic air this weekend, waves of progressively colder air will move southward over Canada this week,” said Paul Pastelok, AccuWeather.com’s lead long-range forecaster. “We will likely see a piece of the polar vortex break off and set up just north of the Great Lakes spanning January 16 to 20.
“This next main arctic blast will not rival, nor will be as extensive as the event last week.”
Many areas are still recovering from last week’s polar vortex, which saw the mercury plunge to -12C (11F) in New York City and -24C in Chicago.
A Coast Guard cutter was brought in to keep shipping lanes open, but the ice was too thick to break in places.
Residents have flocked to the river banks to take pictures of the polar conditions.
Rick Wilson, from Yardley, Pennsylvania, told an ABC TV station: “Incredible. I came down here just to take pictures of this. My grandchildren would not believe this. This looks like something you’d find in Antarctica.”
Sky News weather producer Jo Robinson said: “After a milder spell, plunges of cold air are expected later in the week. “The first is expected across parts of Canada, the Midwest and eastern parts of the US over the next few days. “More significant cold air will affect those areas by the weekend, but thankfully it doesn’t look to be as cold as last week.”
Of course, what is bad news for anyone who needs to buy heating at surge pricing, is great news for apologists of bad economic data, because don’t look now, but January employment numbers just became “meaningless” and if the BLS issues another disappointing jobs report on the first Friday of February, it will be the weather’s fault. And, “logically”, if the report is great, it will be entirely due to the recovery.
Canada has a problem. Our greenhouse gas pollution is soaring. With climate impacts hitting harder and closer to home (ice storms, polar vortexes, floods…), our country is recklessly racking up a huge carbon bill that will saddle future generations with a debt impossible to pay off.
In a new report prepared for the United Nations, for the first time Environment Canada did the number crunching all the way to 2030. We’ve known for awhile that our 2020 target has become a mission impossible. But this report also paints a sorry picture of 2030, where Canada still doesn’t have its act together and climate pollution, specifically from the tar sands, continues to skyrocket (check out this detailed analysis by the Pembina Institute).
The report reaffirms that the growth in pollution from the tar sands – if the tar sands are allowed to continue expanding as projected – will wipe out any progress made to reduce emissions in any other sector, including Ontario’s coal phase-out, B.C.’s carbon tax, or other provinces’ energy efficiency and carbon reduction measures.
The result is while some pull up their bootstraps and clean up their acts, soaring pollution from the tar sands will cancel out everyone else’s hard work. And this means if Canada is to meet a national goal to cut emissions, some regions and sectors will need to do more than their fair share because one sector – oil – is getting off scott-free.
We hear a lot of talk these days about pipelines as “nation building projects” and being in the “national interest.” But if tar sands expansion is allowed, made possible by big new pipelines, this is a recipe for dividing our country, not uniting it.
Here’s why: At some point, Canada will need to get serious about reducing emissions, and how the carbon pie is divided between regions will become important. We can expect regions to speak up loudly if they’re asked to do more than their fare share to reduce carbon emissions because the oil industry is being irresponsible.
All provinces have a stake in major pipeline proposals like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and TransCanada’s Energy East. There’s the tangible danger that these pipelines could spill tar sands oil into forests, farmland and drinking water sources. And then there’s the less tangible – but critical – impact they would have on the amount of carbon the country is pumping into the atmosphere and the impacts of climate change.
Will Ontario, British Columbia or Quebec be keen to do more than their fair share to cut carbon to make up for the impact of these pipelines? Doubtful. And they should not be asked to. All sectors and regions will need to reduce emissions. For the oil sector, that means keeping production at current levels and cleaning up existing operations – not expanding. It also means seeing the government put in place robust regulations on the oil sector that will see emissions go down, rather than up. Even the weak regulationsunder discussion now have just been punted ‘a couple of years’ further down the road by the Prime Minister.
The idea that Canada may fail to rein in soaring emissions by 2030 may not seem like the brightest news to kick off the New Year, but there is an important caveat to this story. It can only come true if industry and government get their way when it comes to rapid and reckless tar sands expansion.
The good news is that new pipelines and oil projects aren’t getting a free ride these days. With ever-growing public concern about moving oil (by tanker, rail, or pipeline), a world feeling the early impacts (and paying the price) of a changing climate, and new conversations in the financial sector about the risks of investing in high-carbon fuels, the tar sands are facing a serious uphill battle.
The world is waking up to climate change and the environmental devastation of projects like the tar sands, and while our current government chooses to leave their head in the sand, Canadians are also standing up to demand the safe, smart, clean energy future we deserve.
“Don’t Flush Your Toilets” Mayor Says As Ohio Water Supply Freezes; Niagara Falls Frozen | Zero Hedge
The nation may be slowly thawing from its deep freeze “polar vortex”, but that is no comfort for tens of thousands of Ohians, whose water supply has literally frozen in the past day after the valves at the Avon Lake Municipal Utility plant were planted in ice, dramatically lowering the supply of water. NBC reports that “tens of thousands of customers in several counties in Ohio are facing a dramatic water shortage after the intake valves at a key plant that draws water from Lake Erie apparently froze amid the wild winter weather.” As a result, the mayor of Avon had a modest proposal as a response to the caticestrophy: don’t flush your toilets. At least there is toilet paper, which is more than Venezuela, and its 480% returning in 2013 stock market can say.
Officials at Avon Lake Municipal Utilities west of Cleveland said Wednesday that the valves at the plant are caked in ice. Although they are still able to draw water, the rate is below typical demands — which means several surrounding cities could be hit by a veritable drought.
In a message on the city of Avon’s official website, officials called on residents to hold off on doing anything that uses a lot of water.
Avon Mayor Bryan Jensen sent out an emergency messages to locals asking them to hold off on laundry, baths and showers, according to Cleveland.com.
“We even ask people to refrain from flushing toilets as often as they used to until this can be resolved,” Jensen said.
The plant website said it provides water to over 200,000 people living in a 680-square-mile area made up of seven counties — including Lorain, Cuyahoga, Medina, Erie, Huron, Ashland and Wayne.
And in other polar vortex news, the Niagara Falls has frozen.
The polar vortex which affected large swathes of the US is expected to calm off this weekend (Picture: REUTERS/Aaron Harris)
The Rainbow Bridge connects the US side of Niagara Falls to the Canadian side (Picture: REUTERS/Aaron Harris)
Over 20million people visit Niagara each year (Picture: REUTERS/Aaron Harris)
Ice chunks flow over the Niagara into its gorge (Picture: REUTERS/Aaron Harris)
Visitors brave the cold to take a look at the beautiful sight (Picture: REUTERS/Aaron Harris)
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The weather warnings are dire: Life threatening wind chills. Historic cold outbreak. Bitter cold temperatures.
Winter is normally cold, but starting Sunday tundra-like temperatures are poised to deliver a rare and potentially dangerous sledgehammer blow to much of the Midwest, driving temperatures so far below zero that records will shatter.
One reason? A “polar vortex,” as one meteorologist calls it, which will send cold air piled up at the North Pole down to the U.S., funneling it as far south as the Gulf Coast.
The temperature predictions are startling: 25 below zero in Fargo, N.D., minus 31 in International Falls, Minn., and 15 below in Indianapolis and Chicago. At those temperatures, exposed skin can get frostbitten in minutes and hypothermia can quickly set in because wind chills could hit 50, 60 or even 70 below zero.
Temperature records will likely be broken during the short, yet forceful deep freeze that will begin in many places on Sunday and extend into early next week. That’s thanks to a perfect combination of the jet stream, cold surface temperatures and the polar vortex — a counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air, said Ryan Maue, of Tallahassee, Fla., a meteorologist for Weather Bell.
“All the ingredients are there for a near-record or historic cold outbreak,” he said. “If you’re under 40 (years old), you’ve not seen this stuff before.”
Snow already on the ground and fresh powder expected in some places ahead of the cold air will reduce the sun’s heating effect, so nighttime lows will plummet thanks to strong northwest winds that will deliver the Arctic blast, Maue said. And there’s no warming effect from the Gulf to counteract the cold air, he said.
The cold blast will sweep through parts of New England, where residents will have just dug out from a snowstorm and the frigid temperatures that followed. Parts of the central Midwest could also see up to a foot of snow just as the cold sweeps in pulling temperatures to 10 below zero in the St. Louis area.
Even places accustomed to normally mild to warmer winters will see a plunge in temperatures early next week, including Atlanta where the high is expected to hover in the mid-20s on Tuesday.
“This one happens to be really big and it’s going to dive deep into the continental U.S. And all that cold air is going to come with it,” said Sally Johnson, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls.
It’s relatively uncommon to have such frigid air blanket so much of the U.S., maybe once a decade or every couple of decades, Maue said. But in the long-run the deep temperature dives are less meaningful for comparison to other storms than daytime highs that are below-zero and long cold spells, he said.
And so far, this winter is proving to be a cold one.
“Right now for the winter we will have had two significant shots of major Arctic air and we’re only through the first week of January. And we had a pretty cold December,” Maue said.
Cities and states are already taking precautions. Minnesota called off school for Monday statewide, the first such closing in 17 years, because of projected highs in the minus teens and lows as cold as 30 below. Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., students also won’t be in class Monday. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple urged superintendents to keep children’s safety in making the decision after the state forecast called for “life threatening wind chills” through Tuesday morning.
Sunday’s playoff game in Green Bay could be among one of the coldest NFL games ever played. Temperatures at Lambeau Field are expected to be a frigid minus 2 degrees when the Packers and San Francisco 49ers kick off, and by the fourth quarter it’ll be a bone-chilling minus 7, with wind chills approaching minus 30, according to the National Weather Service. Officials are warning fans to take extra safety measures to stay warm including dressing in layers and sipping warm drinks.
And though this cold spell will last just a few days as warmer air comes behind, it likely will freeze over the Great Lakes and other bodies of water, meaning frigid temperatures will likely last the rest of winter, Maue said.
“It raises the chances for future cold,” he said, adding it could include next month’s Super Bowl in New York.