Shift in US Natural Gas Market Will Hobble Economy, Harm Environment

By Rory Cox
Pacific Environment

Little noticed by most outside the energy business, the US is currently undergoing a seismic shift for the worse in its energy policy. This shift threatens to kick the cane out from under our hobbled, creaking economy, harming domestic manufacturing while also removing a critical piece of the puzzle in making progress towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently, the US energy grid has a strong strategic advantage in that there are plentiful natural gas reserves in North America. Natural gas is what supplies most of California’s energy grid, and increasingly is replacing coal plants in the US. It is supplied through a network of pipelines. This is different than, for instance, Japan, which relies on natural gas imports delivered by ship from around the world. While Japan pays upwards to $14 per unit for natural gas, the US’s unique situation means we’ve been paying much less—currently, natural gas sells for as little as $3 per unit.

Tar Sands Oil Producers Eye California

By Ngoc Nguyen
New America Media

The Obama Administration’s recent decision to delay the approval process for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline has shifted attention to alternate routes for bringing a glut of tar sands oil in Canada to refineries and ports abroad.

Last week, Canadian firms bought up thousands of miles of existing pipeline in the U.S. Midwest, intending to reverse oil flows southward to Gulf Coast refineries – a “workaround” that would get oil flowing in the right direction, but still not enough to accommodate the volume of crude being produced.

A second – lesser known -- alternative involves piping tar sands oil westward across Canada to Vancouver, where it would reach West Coast refineries by tanker. California, which up until now has remained out of the fray in the fight over tar sands oil, would be key to such a northern pacific route.

Oil Shale: As Much Energy as a Baked Potato

By Pablo Rodriguez
Communities for a New California

Today, Republicans in Washington D.C. held a hearing on increasing the amount of land dedicated to oil shale extraction. Oil shale is a rock that contains a waxy substance called kerogen. When kerogen is heated to extremely high temperatures, it releases a substance that can be turned into crude oil. As with so many things, however, the devil is in the details when it comes to oil shale.   

It takes a lot of rock to create oil shale. In fact, pound for pound, oil shale has about the same amount of energy as a baked potato. Given that, in many cases the amount of energy recovered from oil shale is less than the amount of energy used in the extraction process. If that wasn’t enough, the technology to develop oil shale is not commercially viable and could likely depend heavily on already scarce water in the West.   

Next up for Keystone XL and Tar Sands: California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard

By Simon Mui
Natural Resources Defense Council

Make no mistake. President Obama’s decision to delay the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a big deal.

Some 15,000 Americans took the case directly to the White House. People sent more than 300,000 messages and put the brakes on a process that was all but coasting to approval. Americans from all walks of life made a difference in a battle against a well-funded oil industry effort.

BUT, don’t forget: Big Oil is not going to give up on its plan to strip-mine and steam tar sands from deep under the great Canadian Boreal forest and pipe one of the dirtiest crude oil sources 1,700 miles across America. Whoever is president in 2013—Obama or one of his Republican opponents—will have the final say.

Californians Spend Hours In Traffic, Waste Gallons Of Fuel

By Alan Kandel

In September this year, “[Texas Transportation Institute’s] Urban Mobility Report (Powered by INRIX Traffic Data)” was released. As noted in “National Congestion Tables,” data in “Table 1, What Congestion Means To You, 2010,” in urban areas with 3 million or more in population (very large urban area), for congestion, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana was ranked third, San Francisco-Oakland was ranked sixth and San Diego was ranked 13th.

Ranked in the top 100 were San Jose (22), Riverside-San Bernardino (29) and Sacramento (38), all three cities with between 1 and 3 million people (large urban area). For cities with between half a million and a million population (medium urban area), there is Oxnard-Ventura (66), Lancaster-Palmdale (70), Fresno (75) and Bakersfield (78), while in the small urban area category with populations less than half a million, Stockton was ranked 100.

The Traffic Congestion-Health Connection: Idle Time Takes Its Toll

By Alan Kandel

In a comment I made to my post “Latest CA High Speed Rail ‘Estimated’ Costs Shouldn’t Be Deterrent to Moving Project Forward,” I stressed that America’s thoroughfares are becoming increasingly more plugged. I remarked, “In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers has established that more than a third (36 percent) of the nation's major thoroughfares have been identified as being congested and Americans are stuck in traffic 4.2 million hours a year. What this results in is lost productivity, less time spent with family and in socializing (social activity), more fuel being wasted and with that more emissions being exhausted into the air we breathe thereby lowering our overall quality of life.”

Latest CA High Speed Rail ‘Estimated’ Costs Shouldn’t Be Deterrent to Moving Project Forward

By Alan Kandel

It has been a week since the release of the 2012 Business Plan from the California High-Speed Rail Authority and in reaction to its release, as expected feelings were mixed. But that’s only the half of it. Due to the revised upward construction cost estimate of $98.1 billion as opposed to $42.6 billion (and perhaps due to other factors), this may have turned some people off whereas before they may have been plan supporters. What’s more, it is well within the realm of possibility even there may be those who have since warmed to the project. For the record, the updated plan doesn’t alter my position: I, myself, still hold firm to the belief California’s fast-train system should still be built.

For clarification purposes, the $98.1 billion is in inflation-adjusted 2033 dollars, not 2010 dollars. In 2010 dollars, the cost of high-speed rail construction is estimated to be in the range of $65 billion to $75 billion.

Release of Business Plan Puts High-Speed Rail Back on Track

By Steve Smith
California Labor Federation

There’s no question that it’s been a difficult path forward for California’s high-speed rail project. Given how ambitious the plan is, even the project’s strongest supporters would tell you that the promise of high-speed rail wouldn’t come easy. For months, critics have – often unfairly – assailed the project for being unrealistic and lacking transparency. Yesterday, those critics were silenced with the release of a realistic business plan that lay bare the challenges and costs moving forward, but also underscored the critical importance of the project to our state’s future.

Energy Efficiency Scorecard Results Are In: Massachusetts Tops list; California Comes in Second

By Michael Sciortino

A sour U.S. economy, tight state budgets, and a failure by Congress to adopt a comprehensive energy strategy have not slowed the growing momentum among U.S. states toward increased energy efficiency. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released the fifth edition of its annual ACEEE State Energy Efficiency Scorecard today, ranking the energy efficiency of 50 states.

The top 10 states are:  Massachusetts (taking the #1 position for the first time); California (slipping to #2 after holding the #1 position for the first four editions of the ACEEE Scorecard); New York State; Oregon; Vermont; Washington State; Rhode Island; Minnesota, Connecticut; and Maryland.

With Population Growth Comes Air Pollution Upsurge and Increased Health Risks

By Alan Kandel

Worldwide, population is seven billion. Projections are that population in the United States will reach 400 million by 2050 – a 33 percent increase in roughly 40 years’ time; the U.S. registered its 300 millionth resident in 2006. With an increase in world population has come an increase in air pollution. The burning of fossil fuels and the amount of fossil fuels being burned is the culprit.

In California, “Using data compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, I examined trends in carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel combustion nationally and by state between 1960 and 2001, the most recent year for which state-by-state data are available,” wrote Bernadette Del Chiaro, Energy Advocate for Environment California in “California’s Global Warming Pollution Up 85% Since 1960,” posted on California Progress Report in 2006. “Major findings include: