Archive for the ‘Energy follies’ category

If His Lips Move, He’s Lying…part [n]

November 22, 2016

Donald Trump has yet to meet with the prime minister of the United Kingdom — arguably the closest ally of the United States.  He has found time to meet with representatives of Britain’s Lets-Play-Footsie-With-Fascists UKIP party including its well-dressed proto-fascist leader, Nigel Farange.

In that meeting Hair Führer focused on what really matters in the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Offshore wind farms in Scotland [h/t TPM]:

[Andy] Wigmore, who coordinated the communications effort for the push for Britain to leave the European Union, told The Express and the New York Times that Trump asked them to oppose new wind farms….

Wigmore told The Express that Trump “is dismayed that his beloved Scotland has become over-run with ugly wind farms which he believes are a blight on the stunning landscape.”

Rich guy doesn’t like looking at windmills. Rich guy manages to grasp real power. Rich guy starts f**king with other nations’ energy policy, land use decisions and the rest because…he can.

Welcome to the post policy presidency.  Trump has no idea what energy mix makes sense and he doesn’t care.  Just doesn’t like looking at turbines.  So lose the buggers, amirite!

paul_gauguin_-_the_queens_mill

Apparently, Trump’s intervention appears to have worked, sort of:

Wigmore said that Trump “did suggest that we should campaign on it” and that the conversation “spurred us in and we will be going for it,” according to the New York Times.

Going for it, in this case, meaning that a party and a leadership roundly loathed in Scotland will argle bargle pwfft or something.  But gotta stroke the ferret-heedit shitgibbon, and talk is cheap.

The lagniappe, utterly unsurprisingly, is that the default position of the Trump crowd to any challenge is to lie:

Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied to the New York Times that Trump discussed wind farms during his meeting with Farage. When the Times told Hicks that Wigmore gave an account of the wind farm discussion, Hicks did not respond with further comment, according to the Times.

With every passing day it becomes yet more clear that there is no way that Donald Trump can handle the presidency.  With each passing day his presidency draws closer.

WASF.

Image:  Paul Gauguin, The Queen’s Mill, Østervold Park1885.

Do Organic Kitties Dream of Radioactive Sheep?

June 5, 2014

Someday — soon, I hope — I’ll get back to writing some meatier stuff.  Today ain’t that day.

So, just for now, let me share with you a cautionary tale, broadcast on NPR:

In February, a 55-gallon drum of radioactive waste burst open inside America’s only nuclear dump, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Now investigators believe the cause may have been a pet store purchase gone bad.

“It was the wrong kitty litter,” says James Conca, a geochemist in Richland, Wash., who has spent decades in the nuclear waste business.

Wait! Pet litter? Isotopes? Kitten Strangelove?

The_Monkey_and_the_Cat_by_Abraham_Hondius

Well, kind of:

Cat litter has been used for years to dispose of nuclear waste. Dump it into a drum of sludge and it will stabilize volatile radioactive chemicals. The litter prevents it from reacting with the environment.

Excellent! It is both a dessert topping and a floor polish.  But what went wrong?

Why, the decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts.  Did you know you can get organic kitty litter?  Why yes, you can…and the radioactive waste folks chose to do so:

“Now that might sound nice, you’re trying to be green and all that, but the organic kitty litters are organic,” says Conca. Organic litter is made of plant material, which is full of chemical compounds that can react with the nuclear waste.

“They actually are just fuel, and so they’re the wrong thing to add,” he says. Investigators now believe the litter and waste caused the drum to slowly heat up “sort of like a slow burn charcoal briquette instead of an actual bomb.”

After it cooked a while, the barrel couldn’t take it any more…

But don’t blame  Alice Waters or the slow food movement.  Ultimate responsibility for the safe disposal of radioactive waste falls to the Department of Energy.

Oh — and one more thing. There are over 500 barrels that were likely packed with the wrong stuff.  Precautions are being taken, but dang….

PS:  Organic carrots I get. Organic kitty litter?  This is a thing?  People actually pay money so that Fluffy can poop green?  #yesImanold #grumpytoo

Image:  Abraham Hondius, The Monkey and the Cat1670.

 

 

And In Other News: GOP Finds New Ways To Say “Its Your Money and We’ll Burn It If We Feel Like It.”

July 13, 2011

I ran across news of a minor skirmish in the war to save/destroy America, but I guess it’s worth transmitting, since this time the good guys won.

Believe it or not, a united House Republican caucus failed in their bid to save ordinary Americans from the tyranny of efficient light bulbs.  With this vote, the GOP stalwarts hoped to roll back new standards for light bulb energy use:

The first stage of the standards, which will be phased in from Jan. 1 through 2014, requires bulbs to be 25 to 30 percent more efficient. The second stage could require bulbs to be 60 percent more efficient by 2020. The law includes exceptions for specialty lights, like candelabra lamps, three-way bulbs and black lights.

Republicans seem to object mostly to the idea that energy efficiency is a proper object for government policy, which they mask by declaring that this new standard means the death of the older incandescent technology.  Reality’s well known liberal bias strikes again:

When Congress acted in 2007, many people assumed the incandescent bulb was on its way out. But electric companies have since invested in new technologies that increase bulb efficiency.

So:  the GOP is now on record favoring an increase in energy costs for American households — call it a hidden tax — to the tune of at least $6 billion and perhaps as much as $12 billion  — an estimated $50-$100 per household —  by 2015. Not to mention a reduction in energy usage equal to the output of approximately 30 power plants.

The good news, though, is that today’s vote allows me to use a phrase I just learned in connection with the Murdoch scandal:  17 Republicans who voted to repeal these standards have pulled the classic reverse ferret manouver made famous in British tabloid newsrooms.

Most egregiously, Fred Upton, R-Shameless, current chairman of the  House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued the following statement after his original vote in favor of the bill he sponsored setting up the standards, which was signed into law by that famously flaming liberal George W. Bush:

“This common-sense, bipartisan approach partners with American industry to save energy as well as help foster the creation of new domestic manufacturing jobs,”

Now, not so much:

Mr. Upton has removed the old statement from his Web site and posted a new one that says, “The public response on this issue is a clear signal that markets — not governments — should be driving technological advancements.”

Uh, Mr. Upton?  Please see that quote above.  You know, the one about electric companies investing in efficient technologies in the context of these new standards.

 

This would ordinarily be the point at which I shout “Moron!” — except there’s a peculiar elegance to Upton’s utterly unapologetic  volte face. It takes a particular skill, or quality of self loathing, to shed one’s cloak so swiftly and so utterly.  Even the East German judge would have to give the man a 9.3.

But I do think moronic describes this next speaker:

“The 2010 elections demonstrated that Americans are fed up with government intrusion,” Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who proposed the repeal, said in a debate on Monday. “The federal government has crept so deep into our lives that federal agencies now determine what kind of light bulbs the American people are allowed to purchase.”

I know, I know.

It’s Joe Barton, he of whom Molly Ivins would have extended her historic snark that went along the lines of “if he were any dumber they’d have to water him twice a day.”  But still, stumping on the great federal light bulb conspiracy is pretty good, even for him.  Next,  you know, they’ll be telling folks to keep e. coli out of tomatoes!

Tyranny!

These are the people running a big chunk of our government.  Or rather, given today’s re-confirmation of the obvious, running away from actually governing.  That’s why you get nonsense like this, wholly symbolic legislation brought up under rules that ensured it wouldn’t even live to die in the Senate.

Oh — and one more thing:  once again we learn what laser-like focus on job creation looks like — when clowns, con-men and cretins lead the fight.

Image:  El Greco, An Allegory with a Boy Lighting a Candle in the Company of an Ape and a Fool (Fábula), c. 1600.

Because, Because…Soshalism, That’s Why!

June 26, 2011

Not much blogging to come (will anyone be able to tell the difference?–ed.) this week, as I’m writing this from Doha, Qatar, where the biennial World Conference of Science Journalists is about to begin.

But as my body adjusts to the eight hour time difference, I chanced across this piece in The New York Times, which captures in the story of one small household appliance why American Exceptionalism may kill us all yet:

One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, a recent study found.

These set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are generally running full tilt, or nearly so, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use. The recent study, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, concluded that the boxes consumed $3 billion in electricity per year in the United States — and that 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded. That is more power than the state of Maryland uses over 12 months.

That set-up:  the HD box and recorder, can add ten bucks or more per month to a household electricity bill, but the drain isn’t obvious, because the damn things are always on.

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It was said of Pythagoras that he was the only man who could hear the music of the spheres; the rest of us were so accustomed to it, having been cradled in such harmony from womb to grave…and so it is with that 60 cycle hum, or its metaphoric equivalent.  We can’t monitor that whose absence we’ve never known.

What’s truly galling, though, is that there is no technical reason either to spend that money, or to burn the fuel — much of it coal — to make the power required:

The perpetually “powered on” state is largely a function of design and programming choices made by electronics companies and cable and Internet providers, which are related to the way cable networks function in the United States. Fixes exist, but they are not currently being mandated or deployed in the United States, critics say.

Not our fault, says Big Cable:

“The issue of having more efficient equipment is of interest to us,” said Justin Venech, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable. But, he added, “when we purchase the equipment, functionality and cost are the primary considerations.”

Which is to say the old brush off.  You know, “You’ve got a problem, which means I’ve got a problem. You.”*

Except, you know, reality:

But energy efficiency experts say that technical fixes could eliminate or minimize the waiting time and inconvenience, some at little expense. Low-energy European systems reboot from deep sleep in one to two minutes.

Alan Meier, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said of the industry in the United States, “I don’t want to use the word ‘lazy,’ but they have had different priorities, and saving energy is not one of them.”

It’s hard to deny that charge, given this:

But as of Sept. 1, typical electricity consumption of Energy Star qualified products would drop to 97 kilowatt hours a year from an average of 138; and then by the middle of 2013, they must drop again to 29 kilowatt hours a year. Companies have fought the placement of the “Energy Star” seal on products and the new ambitious requirements, which may still be modified before enacted.

Mr. Wilson recalled that when he was on the California Energy Commission, he asked box makers why the hard drives were on all the time, using so much power. The answer: “Nobody asked us to use less.”

But of course, it isn’t just bad software and slothful, oligolopolist greedoid big Cable that’s to blame.  There is a pattern of trading energy efficiency — conservation — for other pleasures.  The internal combustion engine of 2011 is a vastly more efficient machine that that of the 1973 oil crisis — but the power numbers for just about every car have shot up relative to comparable categories of automobile from thirty and forty years ago, wiping out much of the efficiency gain.

Here, we like having zero time-lag when we wish to couch-potato.   While we enjoy the latest episode of whatever, we are heading for real trouble with our energy sector.  Global climate change is some ways — well, not the least of it — but the effect that we’ll notice second or third, well after we’re wondering why it costs so much to live like an American.

There is a response, of course.  We could try real conservation — actually building energy efficient structures and tools and transportation systems, which, if implemented — with tech that exists right now — would represent a meaningful step towards an energy demand that an alternative energy mix (that would for decades + still include stuff we burn) could plausibly meet.  It would indeed mean changes in habits and cultural practices — and those are very hard to achieve, I know.  But consider the alternative.

If we don’t, then when the rest of the world — and our kids — ask us what the hell  happened, we’ll have to tell them we were too anxious to start watching Survivor to stop and think.

*H/t science writer Jon Cohen, for reminding me of that old gem.

Image:  Jan Breughel the Elder, Landscape with Windmills, 1607

The Collapse of the American Empire Won’t Be Televised…

April 4, 2011

…because we’ll want the juice to light up the last pixels on our flat-screens.

Let’s begin with this:

The world may have no more than half a century of oil left at current rates of consumption, while surging demand from the developing world threatens to create “very significant price rises” before substitutes like biofuels can serve as viable alternatives, the British bank HSBC warns in a new report.

“We’re confident that there are around 50 years of oil left,” Karen Ward, the bank’s [HSBC’s] senior global economist, said in an interview on CNBC.

Now, before I get too deep in the weeds, let me concede that all measures of resource reserves are suspect.  The key phrase above is “may have no more”  —  as in we may in fact be able to extract more than half a century of oil left at current or even greater rates of consumption.  The central issue, though is that the driver of additional supply is price.  We’ll find more oil — maybe lots more — as the scarcity of the easy pickings drives prices up to levels that make the more exotic, more difficult to access sources economically viable.

Which ends up at the same place:  an economy based on cheap energy can’t survive as we push past peak oil.

That dismal thought provides the segue to this (pdf):

The Americas region is a distant third in the race for clean energy investment, attracting $65.8 billion overall in 2010. Investments in the United States rebounded 51 percent over 2009 levels to reach $34 billion, [roughly 2007 levels] but the United States continued to slide down the top 10 list, falling from second to third.  Given uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives, the United States’ competitive position in the clean energy sector is at risk.

This bit of cheer comes from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ latest report on the state of renewable energy investment around the world.  The picture painted there is mixed.  Investment in renewables worldwide has shot upwards from lows attained in the midst of the 2008-9 banking/economic collapse. But the US continues to relinquish the field to more ambitious and focused competitors:

For a variety of reasons, the United States’ competitive position appears to be eroding. Stimulus funding that helped the clean energy industry recover from sharp recessionary declines will expire this year, and there is little indication of any significant policies or incentives to fill the gap in the near future.  In fact, investors have noted ongoing uncertainty in United States policy as a key reason that capital is sitting on the  sidelines, or looking for certainty and opportunity abroad.   Concerns include a lack of clarity on the direction of energy policy, uncertainty surrounding continuation of key financial incentives (e.g., production and investment tax credits), and disproportionate government supports for century-old fossil energy sources. These uncertainties for clean energy are reflected in the United States’ subpar standing on a variety of key measures, including the five-year rate of investment growth and investment intensity.

Translation:  Big Oil plus Republicans means the Chinese (especially) and the Europeans are going to eat our lunch in our energy future.

If current trends hold, we will lag both on installed capacity and on the international economic opportunity open to those who can provide the renewable energy sources that will become more important, and more economically viable, with each hike in the cost of a barrel of crude.

Put that another way: we could and should be playahs in what seems likely to be the most significant economic transition since Pennsylvania crude first knocked the whaling industry into the dustbin of history, but we most likely won’t because of fools like these.

This is how empires die.  We won’t disappear; our trajectory seems to me to resemble Britain’s, or perhaps Spain’s.  We’ll continue to think very well of ourselves indeed, whilst our children, maybe even my own beloved son, will trip off to Beijing or Berlin the way in 1949 my mum escaped still-rationed Britain in to check out this side of the pond.

We’ll grumble.  That our neighbors might have figured out another way will seem somewhere between unpossible and unacceptable.

Images:  Vincent van Gogh, Factories at Asnieres, seen from the Quai de Clichy, 1887.

Frank Robbins, Drake Well, the first oil well, 1846

DFH’s Say No Blood For Oil

March 10, 2011

That would be DFH’s like Assistant Secretary of Defense Sharon Burke.

Just to take a break from Wisconsin perfidy, consider Burke, whose brief is “operational energy plans and programs,” making the connection between death and dinosaur wine in a speech at Harvard last week:

Though the official price of a gallon of fuel within the military is set at $3.03, Burke said that the actual cost of fuel delivered, depending on the difficulty transporting it and protection needs, can be as high as $50 a gallon.

Burke told a story of tent usage in Iraq. One large tent used as a gymnasium required six generators to power the air conditioning, and even then the temperature was only lowered to 90 degrees. The problem, of course, was that a tent isn’t insulated well, so much of the cooling was lost to the desert.

“People were dying so we can vent our air conditioning to the desert,” Burke said.

Some key factoids from Burke’s speech:

The average U.S. soldier on a 72-hour patrol carries between 10 and 20 pounds of batteries.

There are seven kinds of batteries that power flashlights, GPS devices, night-vision gear, and other equipment considered essential for the modern soldier. Including spares, a soldier lugs 70 batteries, along with the devices themselves, weapons, food, water, and other necessities.

“We’re seeing pack weights of 130 pounds these days,” said Sharon Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs. “You can’t carry 130 pounds without turning up with injuries.”

The idea that our soldiers can’t fight (or can’t fight as easily and with as much stamina as they need) because of all the tools they must needs carry is a very scary one indeed — but that’s a topic for another day.  In the meantime, back to that blood for oil problem:

The soldiers’ battery burden is just the tip of the military’s energy problem, Burke said. Heavily armored vehicles get just 4 miles per gallon. Air conditioners, computers, and other equipment at forward operating bases are powered by inefficient generators, at an enormous cost in fuel, requiring constant resupply. Delivering the fuel to where it is needed requires soldiers to protect the ferrying convoys, and costs both money and lives.

Hence Burke’s job: to find and support efforts like this one:

In Afghanistan, a company of soldiers is testing energy-saving technology in a frontline situation, relying on solar panels on tents, solar-powered lights, and stand-alone solar panels to recharge batteries — together cutting the company’s generator fuel consumption from 20 to 2.5 gallons a day. That drop means fewer fuel convoys which, in that part of Afghanistan, are almost certain to be attacked.

This, of course, runs directly counter to what Real Americans know about energy.  Part of the GOP conspiracy to accelerate the decline and fall of the United States includes a state-by-state level assault on alternatives to fossil fuels.

Against such purity of purpose, what is one to make of the reckless liberalism of that well-known hotbed of hippie fervor, the Pentagon’s inner rings?  Well — our Galtian overlords know what dangers lurk in the heart of reality’s liberal bias:

The Senate confirmed Burke to the job in June, after she came under initial fire from Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe (R) for her apparent support of a 2007 law that bars federal agencies from buying alternative fuels that have higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels (ClimateWire, March 25).

Props to the Obama administration and to the DOD for taking action here…and, as always….

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Image:  Jacopo Tintoretto, Young man in a gold-decorated suit of armour, 1555-1556.

Captain’s Blog: Gulf of Mexico Oil Damage/Worse Than You Thought update

December 7, 2010

In blogging, as in much else, marrying well can make life a lot easier.

Case in point:

Through marriage to my wife I gained cousinhood with Captain Peter Wilcox, who at this point in an adventurous, well-lived life, is master of the Greenpeace ship M.V. Arctic Sunrise.

Which means that because of the family connection, I get Peter’s episodic updates, his Captain’s Blog.

What follows is his latest, from a Gulf of Mexico cruise designed to assess both the damage and decision making about the Deep Horizon disaster that will define the Gulf ecosystem for decades.

First, a work about Peter:  He grew up on boats (next door to my wife-to-be, as it happens in a lefty, multi-racial sort of cooperative housing development in Connecticut, right on Long Island Sound. It was the kind of place where children learned how to sail at about the time they started walking and were allowed to skipper on their own from the moment they proved competent enough.

From there, Peter got involved in water-borne environmentalism on the queen of the Hudson River, the sloop Clearwater (one of Pete and Toshi Seeger’s many give-backs to the community), and then he joined up with Greenpeace.  There he rose to become  captain of the Rainbow Warrior — and was in command when French terrorists spies government-employed-murderous-thugs sunk the ship with two limpet mines, killing one crew member, Fernando Pereira.

In other words, Peter has been there and back again, and has some very hard-won knowledge of what the real world is like — a view barred to those who cannot tear Galt’s glasses from their eyes.

So — what’s in the latest of Peter’s dispatches?

Nothing to make one happy.

Here’s a sample:

Corexit is mostly what BP has used on the spill.  There are a few things to know about Corexit.  One is that is was banned in U.K. over ten years ago because it is so toxic, as in poisonous to humans and sea life. According to the label on the product, it will irritate the eyes, it is not to be inhaled, and it can cause harm to red blood cells, your kidney and liver.  The OSHA data sheet states: component substances have a potential to bioconcentrate, that human health hazard is acute.  Nice stuff.

Also, according to EPA data, Corexit ranked far above other dispersants for toxicity, and far below other dispersants in effectiveness in handling Louisiana crude.

Corexit was also used on the Exxon Valdez spill.  Now read carefully: Almost all the clean up workers who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill are dead.  According to CNN, who made efforts to warn the people of the Gulf about Corexit, the average lifespan of an Exxon Valdez spill worker is 51 years.  That’s almost 30 years less than that of the average American.   There were 11,000 people involved with the Exxon Valdez spill.

The whole thing is below the jump.  Don’t read it if you have a short fuse.  You will detonate.

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One last note: Peter isn’t a journalist and doesn’t claim to be one.

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He’s an environmentalist, one with decades of experience with ocean issues.  You can judge for yourself how well he gets the story below. FWIW, here’s my take, as a sometime journo:

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Peter lays out not just what he knows, but also from whence he gets his data. He distinguishes between that data and interpretation. He makes no secret of his presumptions, his starting point, and he clearly sees players who fill the roles of villain and fool.  I’m passing on this report both because it looks to me to be solid (and troubling as hell) and because Peter has given us all the apparatus we need to dig into his claims if we are so minded.

This is, if you were wondering, very different from what much more “credentialled” MSM pundits do. As soon as I have time, I’m going to write up a couple of recent offenders to illustrate the point, but truth is, no one reading this blog needs the crayon sketch.

Read on.  Peter’s got some serious sh*t to say.

What follows is Peter Wilcox’s most dispatch.  It’s a shipboard update, and you are getting it as is, with minor proofing from me.

Captain’s Blog
Gulf of Mexico 2010
5

That’s a wrap!  One more tour in the bag.  The panic filled weekend at Galveston, trying to get ready for that leg is slowly becoming a memory.  The near sleepless nights of doing multiple CTDs are fading away.  And, we saved the best for last!

After we unloaded the EARS gear in Gulfport, we waited a couple days for the truck to show up from California with a submarine.  We expected them sooner, but it took a day for someone in their logistics department to realize that Gulfport is in Mississippi and not Arizona.  A supporter loaned us his sub for the work.  A very nice supporter!

The Deep Worker 2 is the big brother to the Deep Worker we used in the Bering Sea three years ago.  Its really just two Deep Workers bolted together.  The advantage is you can take down a less trained person in the other chamber. I say less trained, because the “passenger” is still responsible for maintaining her or his own life support.

The idea is to take mostly scientists and a journo or two down to the bottom to see what — if any — damage was caused by the BP oil spill.

The sub crew cleaned up the sub from its cross-country ride in a container.  We then gave it a couple test dives in Gulfport harbor to make sure it was working.

Our first dive was a bit of an eye opener.  Many years ago, when I was on the Sirius, we bought a large jet rhib called the Hoolie.  It weighed close to 2.5 tons I am guessing.  Now the Sirius was a great roller. That boat could roll you head off your shoulders, and needed extra lines at the dock to keep her steady.  It was there I realized that for moving weights of more than one ton around on deck, four tag lines are required, not two.

The first launch / recovery we did with only two.  But give us credit of learning, or remembering fast.  The rest of the time, we used four tag lines, and we were all able to breath a lot easier (as in breath at all).  The first dive was plagued by bad visibility and poor communications.

Arctic Sunrise is a noisy boat.  I am not referring to what those of us living on board have to listen to.  I am referring to the underwater noise generated by the ship’s equipment.  When we were on the Espy in the Bering Sea three years ago, we were able to mount the comms antenna on a long pole that went in the water to a depth below the keel.  But it turned out the Sunrise was too noisy for this.  We used our pole (made in Galveston) to hold the sonar for location of the sub, but had to shift the comms to the jet boat.

The vis got better, the comms got better, and most of the dives were very successful.  I am happy to report that the Alabama Alps, the underwater ridge about twenty miles north of the BP accident did not show any signs of being damaged by oil.  There is more testing need to be done before the scientists are confident about their conclusions, but this is what our first looked showed.

I wish I could be as optimistic about everything else in the Gulf.  My biggest worry now is for the people who live near and work on the Gulf.

Maybe the biggest impression I got from the spill is that BP was very quick out of the gate in protecting its interests, without any concerns what so ever for the health of the people living on the Gulf.  As fast as BP was at controlling the damage, our governments, State and Federal, are completely clueless, and still do not know what they are doing. Still,… today.

Corexit is mostly what BP has used on the spill.  There are a few things to know about Corexit.  One is that is was banned in U.K. over ten years ago because it is so toxic, as in poisonous to humans and sea life. According to the label on the product, it will irritate the eyes, it is not to be inhaled, and it can cause harm to red blood cells, your kidney and liver.  The OSHA data sheet states: component substances have a potential to bioconcentrate, that human health hazard is acute.  Nice stuff.

Also, according to EPA data, Corexit ranked far above other dispersants for toxicity, and far below other dispersants in effectiveness in handling Louisiana crude.

Corexit was also used on the Exxon Valdez spill.  Now read carefully: Almost all the clean up workers who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill are dead.  According to CNN, who made efforts to warn the people of the Gulf about Corexit, the average lifespan of an Exxon Valdez spill worker is 51 years.  That’s almost 30 years less than that of the average American.   There were 11,000 people involved with the Exxon Valdez spill.

When you try to get precise numbers on the spill, it is tough.  Lots of numbers exist.  But what I have found indicates 275 million gallons of crude oil leaked out of the busted well (Exxon Valdez spill was 11 million).  BP used 2 million gallons of Corexit.  On May 20th, the EPA told BP to stop using Corexit.  BP at that time said that they had a quarter million gallons in inventory, and they were going to keep using it.   This is going to be a fatal decision.

So not only should have the people who made Corexit know better, but so should have our government.  Why did not anybody think to call up someone in Alaska, and ask, “what happened when you tried to clean up form the Exxon Valdez spill?

Bob Naman is a chemist at the Analytical Chemical Testing Lab in Mobile.  According to Naman, the poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from this toxic mix are making people sick.  PAHs contain compounds that have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic (an agent that tends to increase the frequency or extent of mutation), and teratogenic (of, relating to, or causing developmental malformation). (I am afraid we all know what carcinogenic means.)   BP sprayed Corexit out of airplanes and injected it into the geyser where the oil was gushing out of the bottom.  Says Naman,”the dispersants are being added to the water and are causing chemical compounds to become water soluble, which is then given off into the air, so it is coming down as rain, in addition to being in the water and beaches of these areas of the Gulf.”

The second week of August while we were checking sponges at Dry Tortugas, WKRG New 5 took a water sample from the area to test for dispersants.  The sample literally exploded when it was mixed with an organic solvent separating the oil from the water.  Naman, who analyzed the sample said: “We think that it most likely happened due to the presence of either methanol or methane gas, or the presence of Corexit”.

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Hugh Kaufman, an EPA whistleblower and analyst, has reported this of the effects of the toxic dispersants:
“We have dolphins that are hemorrhaging. People who work near it are hemorrhaging internally. And that’s what dispersants are supposed to do … And, for example, in the Exxon Valdez case, people who worked with dispersants, most of them are dead now. The average death age is around 50. It’s very dangerous, and it’s (Corexit) an economic protector of BP, not an environmental protector of the public.”

By the middle of last summer, the Alabama Department of Public Health said that 56 people in Mobile and Baldwin counties had sought treatment for what they believed were oil disaster-related illnesses.  Have you heard the expression “tip of the ice berg”?

Yesterday morning, NPR said 1/3 of Gulf residents are showing some sign of trauma.  People lost jobs, their homes, and their lives.  And if BP is as good as Exxon was in fighting judgments, it will be years before some deserving people see any money.  When I was up in Alaska three years ago, some people still have not bee paid (20 years later).  Health care professionals see problems with anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression.

This morning NPR did a piece on the difficulties faced by people in the small fishing communities.  They drew similarities between the Exxon spill and the BP spill as opposed to natural disasters like Katrina. The report claims that natural disasters tend to pull communities together, while man made ones divide communities.

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Katrina did not cause people to lose their way of life.  An Iraq veteran who had been shrimping, lost his family when after he lost his job, the BP compensation payment only came to $1,700 for six month.  He had been paid mostly in cash, and was unable to document his income.  He feels like a failure, and has contemplated suicide.

Steve Pico tracked the problems of the Price William Sound communities after the Exxon spill.  “The communities were blindsided, they did not realize what was happening to them until the suicides started, divorces started and domestic violence became acute.”  Now he is seeing the same issues start sooner in the Gulf than they did in Alaska.  After four yeas in Alaska, there were seven suicides.  There are already two in the Gulf.

And all while this was going on, our governments were saying: “come on down!  The water is fine”.  President Obama went swimming for the cameras.  What was he thinking?  It was this type of attitude that caused scenes like this one:  families swimming and sunbathing on a beach, while ten meters away, people in has mat suits were digging up the beach to try and get to the oil.

Instead of protecting us, and talking about the dangers of the over use of dispersants, our governments were saying: “the BP spill is no big deal!  You can swim in the ocean!”  I ask again, what could they have been thinking?

I think we can all understand that BP’s complete aim was to limit their exposure to liability.  This is a company that has shown repeatedly it gives not a damn for the public health.  But where was our Surgeon General?  Where was the EPA?

But it is not just people who are suffering.  The toxicity levels of the petroleum found in Pensacola Bay at frightening.  In referring to Pensacola Bay, Heather Reed, the environmental expert for the city of Gulf Breeze said, “the numbers are off the chart. It’s extremely toxic to human health.”

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Lab workers had to dilute the sample 20 times just to get a reading. Reed said samples are usually diluted only once.
“The oil is very well preserved,” Reed added. “It smells very strong when pulled out of the water. It made me nauseated.” Reed in late September discovered a significant amount of oil buried in submerged sediment near Fort McRae in Escambia County while conducting independent research.

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“The oil was in about 3 feet of water and was buried pretty deep in the sediment,” Reed recalled. “The mats where between 6 inches and a foot in diameter, but some were more than 2 feet in diameter. I kept digging and finding more and more.  “Finding this submerged oil is very alarming to me because it’s in such large mats,” Reed explained. “I believe it came into (the bay) in June with the initial impacts.”
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Reed on Sept. 30 revisited the site and another near Barrancas Beach with BP and Coast Guard officials to inform responders of her discovery. She also discovered oil present at Johnson Beach, Fort Pickens and Orange Beach through research she conducted in September.  The topography near Fort McRae helped preserve the submerged oil. Because the area is a secluded cove, very little water flows through it – resulting in low oxygen levels.  “(The oil) is in an anaerobic environment, so there is not a lot of bacteria to break it down,” Reed explained.

Reed said that similar samples that might possibly remain submerged in the Gulf of Mexico could be extremely damaging to the marine ecosystem.  “I am concerned about upwelling events,” Reed said. “Strong currents draw up nutrient rich water and sediment from the sea floor that nourishes plankton and other organisms that are the foundation of the marine food chain.
“If an upwelling event brings up any oil material with these toxicity levels, it could be harmful to any animals near the upwelling plume.”

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“I would not recommend going into the water”, she said.

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She explained that the effects near the beach would be different because of more aeration.  Though no oil has been reported on Gulf Breeze shores or in local bayous, those areas could be at risk.

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“We don’t have any barriers, the Coastwatchers aren’t patrolling anymore, and there has been no communication to the city of this oil entering the bay,” Reed said.  If oil entered any of the Gulf Breeze bayous, Reed explained that it would sink and become submerged just as it had near Fort McRae.  “It would definitely sink and be preserved,” Reed said. “And it would be very difficult to find.

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This has been a very difficult letter to write.  I am not a dispassionate journalist.  Writing this drives my blood pressure up 20 points easily.

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I have seen many ugly situations during my life.  Many of them, like the U.S. Government’s purposely experimenting on Marshall Islanders to study the effects of radiation, I have partly shrugged off because they happened so long ago (50 years in that case).  But the BP spill and its effects on the people of the Gulf are happening now.  Today.  And tomorrow, and for the next 20 years.  There are people there who need help right now.

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And we know it.  We know that like the Exxon Valdez spill, the people who did the actual clean up will pay for it with lost years of their lives.  And BP will give out some money now, and then spend 20 years keeping itself and its lawyer’s rich, while the people of the Gulf suffer.  And if their track record is anything to go by, this won’t be the last time.

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My last night at sea, I went up to the bridge tonight at 18.00 to relieve Ivo, our chief mate from Croatia for dinner. I looked back on the deck, and Wendy, our cook is writing in her journal.  She is not cooking dinner, because Neil, the world’s coolest R.O. is making pizza.  Johanne from Denmark is re-sizing the pilot ladder; until (on a Sunday evening) it is so dark she cannot see any more.

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The rays of sunset are making spokes across the sky from the higher cumulus clouds. This is such a beautiful place, despite man’s best efforts over the last six months.  I really want to go home and see my family.   This has been one of my toughest tours in many years: the constant organizing for the next day’s activities, a crew who all worked very hard, without enough down time to catch their breath.  And in the backs of our minds, constantly the knowledge that while we were not always seeing oil float around on the surface, we were witnessing a huge disaster.

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But in spite of all that, I do not want Veracruz to poke its head over the horizon after lunch tomorrow.  I could do this job forever.

Images:  Joseph Mallord William Turner, Shipwreck, 1805.

George Seurat, Bathers in Asnières, 1883-1884.

Texas is missing (one of its) Idiots: OMG That Man’s A Congressman Dept.

April 22, 2009

Via TPM TV:

Watch it and weep.  I mean really.  There are many reasons the GOP deserves to lose every election:  Joe Barton (R – Magic Beans) is one of them. This man shouldn’t be allowed to operate power tools, much less have 1/435 votes on matters of national and international import. Until that sporadically loyal opposition decides that minimal competence is a virtue, it will continue to earn is deserved losses.

And for his part, Steven Chu deserves a medal for not blowing coke through his nose on hearing that question.

We Are Ruled By Idiots: Susan Collins/Ben Nelson division

February 5, 2009

Update: TPM points out in one of their updates to this story that (a) the list of proposed cuts keeps changing and (b) that this is in fact an effort to secure the votes for passage of the bill.  So on the theory that some bill is better than none, this may be worth the effort.  But the choices still matter, and cutting science and technology and public health when the bill still retains less-efficient tax cuts is folly.  If the 100 billion that the group seeks to cut slashed tax side money at least as much (and much better much more) than shovel-ready spending, then it would be more palatable.  But given the sausage injunction, I’ve toned down the language of disdain below.

From TPM comes this word:  that Senator Collins (R(know nothing)-ME and Senator Nelson (D(who won that last election?)-NE) have come up the almost 80 billion dollars worth of cuts to the stimulus that will somehow speed our transition back into a simulacrum of economic health.

TPM highlighted the 1.4 billion cut in stimulus funding for the NSF — 100% of the total proposed in the Democratic majority bill.  But in fact the proposals are actually much worse than the topline message at TPM indicates.  One thing that becomes clear from reading the details of the Nelson/Collins “compromise” is that these folks just don’t get science. Which means, in essence that they do not get how to stimulate an economy:  you want to spend the money on stuff that not only gets cash into circulation fast (as buying equipment, hiring students and researchers, renting space, paying for telephony and all the rest actually do), but on stuff that will produce more money-making (and spending) activity in the future.

That is to say, science and its applications leads to figuring stuff out that makes a difference in people’s lives.   Tax cuts, by contrast, do so only indirectly, if at all, and at a fraction of the efficiency that comes from actually just hiring people to go out get to work.

What we are seeing here, thus, is an example of the operative definition of neurosis — the repetition of an action over and over again, whilst expecting a different outcome this time — our distinguished representatives, especially almost every Republican (Ben!  What are you doing in such company?) serving  in Congress right now — are effectively residents of Bedlam

So: what is it that that Collins and Nelson et al. can’t quite see themselves voting for:

Starting from the top, at the Department of Agriculture:  Whack $100 million off food research — 100 % of the total proposed.

Next:  $750 million gone from NASA’s exploration budget, half of the proposed total, along all of the 1.4 billion NSF money, as mentioned above.

Next: NOAA gets a haircut to the tune of $422 million, a 35% trim — suck on that Florida and the rest of the hurricane belt, just for starters — while the National Institute of Standards and Technology, one of the most important unknown agencies in the government, loses $750 million, or half of its proposed stimulus funding.

And the hits keep coming!  One billion, 38% of the total, off of the DOE’s energy efficiency/renewable energy research budget — now there’s some forward looking policy!  4.5 billion — big numbers, folks — or 47% of proposed funds for DOE’s EISA energy technology loan guarantee program. That’s money that goes to folks in private industry (get that free market zealots — companies out in the world) to support commercial-potential energy research.  There is a bunch of political-economy debate you can have about how best to do this, but basically this is money spent to reduce our dependence on energy sources that have been the focus of conflict for a long, long time.  Dumb, dumb, dumb!

The beat goes on.  I’m not sure if you’d call this research, but the enriched uranium processing funds get removed altogether, to the tune of 390 mil.  And the DOE Office of Science — which, for those that want to see a nuclear energy future is a major source of research funds — also loses all the proposed stimulus it would otherwise receive, $100 million.

On the next page of the good senators’ proposal, Department of Homeland Security loses all of the 14 million bucks proposed for cybersecurity research.  Damn — why don’t we just tell Bin Laden to get his cryptographers rolling? And this is surely not scientific research, but these deep thinkers want to cut all 20 million from the Interior Dept’s dream of creating a department wide modern computer and financial management system.  Heaven forfend that the goverment might actually be given the tools to run more effectively!

Let’s see.  What atrocities lurk on this page?  How about a 100 percent cut — 610 million — for Department of Eductation disability research.  5.185 billion, 90% of the total sought, hacked off the HHS’s desire to spend money on disease prevention.  It’s somehow better for the economy to let HIV infected folks go untested and, perhaps, remain disease vectors, than it is to spend money, right now, on work that could save people’s lives.

Other people will, I’m sure, comment on the foolishness of many of the other choices — one of my favorites at a time when (a) US physical infrastructure is in pieces, lagging well behind the quality of basic transport in many of our competitors, and (b) when projects that get US citizens out on the roads and bridges building stuff would be a damn good idea (wait for the new jobless claims tomorrow, if you haven’t figured that one out), these Solons seem to think hauling 5.5 billion in discretionary DOT project funds makes sense.

I mean really?  Just to talk for a moment to my neighbors up the highway:  Maine, you need roads and bridges just like the rest of us,  and you could surely use an extension of the rail line up to Brunswick at least (if you make your money off tourism, figuring out how to get tourists past the bottlenecks in the road system might be a good idea.  Just sayin…), and so on and on,=.  With all that, what were  you thinking when you sent your pinnacle of legislative competence back to Washington last Nov?

But I digress.  Add up all the science/medicine/technology spending Nelson and Collins want to eliminate and it adds up to over 14 billion dollars.  That’s a lot of science, technological development and public health, that won’t get done if these two have their way.  And all this is spending that is, to use the mantra targeted, timely, and as temporary as anything else in government.

In the end what I see here is legislative frivolousness.  This isn’t a list that suggests anyone thought about what they were doing or why.  It’s just a bit of Washington “bipartisanship.”  If you want cuts, get rid of the tax breaks that everyone who actually studies the record of such things agree are the least effective way of adding life to our stricken economy, and spend the money on people and things right now.  And if you can do it buying work that will continue to pay off in the future — that might even be good governance.  Perish the thought.

Image:  William Hogarth “The Interior of Bedlam” from A Rake’s Progress, 1763.

Why You Shouldn’t Listen to Stupid People

December 10, 2008

Outsourced entirely to Roy Edoroso.

Image: Lucien Lefèvre, “Electricine,” 1897.