EU3C. 2001–2007 Fossil Fuels

cover for gss book Energy Use

Staying current for Chapter 3

Articles from 2001–2007

Stay current index page for Chapter 3

{ Energy Use Contents }


9 October 2007. A Quest for Energy in the Globe’s Remote Places. By JAD MOUAWAD, NY Times. Excerpt: HAMMERFEST, Norway – For a quarter-century, energy executives were tantalized by vast quantities of natural gas in one of the world’s least hospitable places – 90 miles off Norway’s northern coast, beneath the Arctic Ocean. Bitter winds and frequent snowstorms lash the region. …No oil company knew how to operate in such a harsh environment. But Norway has finally solved the problem. …one of the world’s most advanced natural gas plants is coming to life.
Within weeks, gas will start crossing the ocean in specially designed ships, feeding into the pipeline network for the American East Coast. Before Christmas, furnaces in Brooklyn and stoves in Washington will be burning the gas. It will be the first commercial energy production from waters north of the Arctic Circle.
As global demand soars and prices rise, energy companies are going to the ends of the earth to find new supplies. In Kazakhstan, petroleum engineers are braving wild temperature swings in the shallow waters of the Caspian Sea to tap the biggest oil discovery of the last 30 years. They are drilling wells six miles deep in the Gulf of Mexico. And on the island of Sakhalin, off far eastern Russia, they have drilled horizontal wells through miles of rock to produce oil from a stretch of ocean notable for giant icebergs.
..The cost of producing new oil and gas is rising fast, and companies are troubled by worsening delays. …”There are no easy barrels left,” said J. Robinson West, chairman of PFC Energy, an industry consulting firm in Washington. “The only barrels are going to be the tough barrels.”
There is plenty of oil and gas still in the ground, energy executives say. But global consumption is rising so fast that they must keep looking for new sources. Despite worldwide concern over global warming and the role of fossil fuels in causing it, United States government specialists project that global oil and gas demand will increase by some 50 percent in the next 25 years….

2007 Sep 1. Canada’s Highway to Hell. by Andrew Nikiforuk, OnEarth – NRDC ISSUE: Fall 2007 Excerpt: … fortune seekers travel north on Canada’s Highway 63 to the tar sands of Alberta, to join what may be the world’s last great oil rush. The two-lane all-weather highway starts about 100 miles north of the provincial capital, Edmonton, and ends at Fort McMurray, …It has since become a continental artery to a modern-day Klondike that has made Canada the number-one supplier of oil to the United State…Most locals call it Hell’s Highway or the Highway of Death. On any given day thousands of logging trucks, SUVs, semitrailers, buses, and tanker trucks form a frantic parade to and from North America’s largest engineering project.
…Thanks to a recent explosion in investments by the major multinational oil companies …, Fort McMurray and environs may soon become the planet’s largest source of new oil. By some estimates the surrounding waterlogged forest holds almost 60 percent of the black gold available to global investors. … the tar sands represent the biggest pile of hydrocarbons outside Saudi Arabia.
…But for friendly Canada the tar sands are rapidly becoming an environmental liability as well as an economic hurricane. …the project will eventually transform a boreal forest the size of Florida into an industrial sacrifice zone complete with lakes full of toxic waste and man-made volcanoes spewing out clouds of greenhouse gases. Are Canadians willing to create an environmental disaster in Alberta in order to provide the U.S. market with some of the most expensive oil in the world? The answer seems to be an emphatic yes. The tar sands do not in fact contain oil but bitumen, probably the product of a freak geologic event. Formed more than 100 million years ago by marine organisms trapped in an ancient seabed, the tar sands are composed of a heavy chain of carbon-rich atoms high in sulfur. Bitumen, a thick, sloppy mess of oil, water, clay, and sand, feels and smells like cheap asphalt.
…most petroleum engineers acknowledge that it is one of the world’s dirtiest fuels. …To capture just one barrel of oil from this geologic pudding requires brute force. Great machines mow down trees (and all their supporting creatures such as boreal songbirds and woodland caribou), roll up acres of muskeg, drain entire wetlands, and reroute rivers. Next, for each barrel, workers must scoop up two tons of sand and wash the stuff in hot water. … It costs more than 10 times as much to produce a flowing barrel of oil in this way than it does to produce a barrel of Saudi light oil. The entire process is fueled by natural gas, and the energy consumed is awesome: Every 24 hours the industry burns enough natural gas to heat four million American homes in order to produce one million barrels of oil….

23 August 2007. Rule to Expand Mountaintop Coal Mining. By JOHN M. BRODER, NY Times. Excerpt: The Bush administration is set to issue a regulation on Friday that would enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. The technique involves blasting off the tops of mountains and dumping the rubble into valleys and streams. It has been used in Appalachian coal country for 20 years under a cloud of legal and regulatory confusion. The new rule would allow the practice to continue and expand, providing only that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law. …A spokesman for the National Mining Association, Luke Popovich, said that unless mine owners were allowed to dump mine waste in streams and valleys it would be impossible to operate in mountainous regions like West Virginia that hold some of the richest low-sulfur coal seams.
All mining generates huge volumes of waste, known as excess spoil or overburden, and it has to go somewhere. For years, it has been trucked away and dumped in remote hollows of Appalachia.
Environmental activists say the rule change will lead to accelerated pillage of vast tracts and the obliteration of hundreds of miles of streams in central Appalachia.
“This is a parting gift to the coal industry from this administration,” said Joe Lovett, executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment in Lewisburg, W.Va. “What is at stake is the future of Appalachia. This is an attempt to make legal what has long been illegal.”
Mr. Lovett said his group and allied environmental and community organizations would consider suing to block the new rule.
…Roughly half the coal in West Virginia is from mountaintop mining, which is generally cheaper, safer and more efficient than extraction from underground mines like the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah, which may have claimed the lives of nine miners and rescuers, and the Sago Mine in West Virginia, where 12 miners were killed last year.
…the stream buffer zone rule. First adopted in 1983, it forbids virtually all mining within 100 feet of a river or stream….

See also… for Google map of mountaintops that have been removed.

June 2007. Appalachian Apocalypse. OnEarth, NRDC. by Erik Reece. Excerpt: Down in Inez, Kentucky, right on the West Virginia border, a high school English teacher named Mick McCoy recently put up a large wooden sign beside his cucumber patch. On it, a light blue fog hovers above steep, verdant mountains. The message reads: GOD WAS WRONG. SUPPORT MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL. Mountaintop removal — the name says it all — is the most ruthless method yet found to extract coal as quickly and as cheaply as possible. That it happens at all is an outrage. That it happens in one of North America’s most biologically diverse ecosystems is heartbreaking. The mixed mesophytic forests of central Appalachia are home to more than 60 species of tree, which are in turn home to more than 250 different songbirds. Unfortunately, two-thirds of those warblers are in decline, largely because their habitat is being cleared by bulldozers and buried with explosives. …A few decades ago, strip miners would cut along the edge of a ridge side, then auger into a coal seam. But today, with bigger machines and little moral or regulatory constraint, coal operators simply blast away the entire mountaintop — its forests, capstones, and topsoil — so they can scrape out thin seams of low-sulfur coal. Nearly everything else is dumped into the valleys below, often burying pristine headwater streams. The resulting “valley fills” create the largest man-made earthen structures in the country — huge treeless funnels that let mud and rainwater wash unimpeded through low-lying communities all across central Appalachia. The town of McRoberts, Kentucky, recently endured three “100-year floods” in 10 days. The water filled homes and carried away carports. When TECO Energy of Tampa, Florida, had leveled every peak around the community, it took the coal, took the profits, and left the people of McRoberts with crumbling homes, terrible roads, and a constant fear of being washed away in one’s sleep.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in addition to the more than 700 miles of streams buried by valley fills, thousands more miles have been contaminated with sediment, heavy metals, and acid mine drainage, a toxic orange syrup that kills everything in its path. …There will soon be enough flattened mountaintops in Appalachia — 1.4 million acres — to set down the state of Delaware on former summits….

1 May 2007. Coal’s Energy Potential Is an Engineering Challenge Now. By MATTHEW L. WALD, NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON – Coal is so cheap and so widely available that its increased use is inevitable, but clearing the hurdle to burning it on a wide scale – separating the carbon dioxide and sequestering it – could turn out to be one of the great engineering challenges of the century, energy experts say. There are at least a dozen proposals on Capitol Hill for sequestering all the carbon from coal burning, and the Senate Energy Committee began hearings last month on how to refocus research on the problem. It’s a challenge that has captured the attention of engineers across the country who hope to perfect a clean-coal technology that could provide climate-friendly energy for hundreds of years at modest cost. “Coal has to be in our energy mix, because of its value for society and its importance to the country,” said Mark Gray, vice president for engineering services at American Electric Power, which recently announced three projsects to capture carbon. “We have enough coal for anywhere from 200 to 450 years. “…Engineers … have considered options as diverse as freezing the gases as they come out of smokestacks, and binding them to a liquid chemical after combustion. Two other possibilities are to modify the coal before it is burned, or to change the air it is burned with. Capturing the gas, though, is just one part of the equation. Finding a way to store it is likely to prove equally challenging. The leading possibility is old oil fields, where the carbon dioxide could be injected to force more oil to existing wells. But the total capacity of all the old oil fields in the world is much too small for this purpose. In addition, the oil fields are punctured by wells that could provide escape routes for the carbon dioxide to leak into. Work has also focused on getting a pure stream of carbon dioxide. …

10 April 2007. Iran Says It Can Enrich Uranium on a Large Scale. By NAZILA FATHI. NY Times. Excerpt: NATANZ, Iran, April 9 – Iran said Monday that it was now capable of industrial-scale uranium enrichment, a development that would defy two United Nations resolutions passed to press the country to suspend its enrichment program. …”With great pride, I announce as of today our dear country is among the countries of the world that produces nuclear fuel on an industrial scale,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told government officials, diplomats, and foreign and local journalists at the Natanz site. “This nuclear fuel is definitely for the development of Iran and expansion of peace in the world.” …United Nations Security Council …unanimously passed a resolution on March 24 to expand sanctions on Iran in an effort to curb its nuclear program. The resolution barred all arms exports and froze some of the financial assets of 28 Iranians linked to the country’s military and nuclear programs. The United States and some European governments have accused Iran of having a clandestine weapons program, but Iran contends that its program is peaceful, for energy purposes, and that it wants to produce fuel for its reactors….

10 April 2007. High Stakes: Chavez Plays the Oil Card. By SIMON ROMERO and CLIFFORD KRAUSS, The New York Times. Excerpt: CARACAS, Venezuela, April 9 – With President Hugo Ch‡vez setting a May 1 deadline for an ambitious plan to wrest control of several major oil projects from American and European companies, a showdown is looming here over access to some of the most coveted energy resources outside the Middle East. …said Michael J. Economides, an oil consultant in Houston …”Chavez poses a much bigger threat to America’s energy security than Saddam Hussein ever did.”….

14 January 2007. A Way of Life, Seen Through Coal-Tinted Glasses. By DAN BARRY, The New York Times. …That daily reminder of coal’s dominion courses again through this small town of a city, stopping traffic, giving pause. It is a coal train, maybe 90 open cars long, creaking and groaning and coating the old brick buildings hard against the tracks with a fine, black dust. And as a cold dusk settles like more dust on Logan’s tired streets, Chuck Gunnoe sits in an unheated launderette and explains how coal runs through veins beyond those in the surrounding hills. He is a coal miner seeking work, …. The mines received him two days after he turned 18. Now 24, and between mines, he takes pride in doing the same crazy-dangerous work that his grandfather did. But the primary draw has always been the money, and with his girlfriend two months pregnant, he says he needs the $20 an hour he can earn by toiling miles removed from natural light. “It’s the best-paying job in this state,” says Mr. Gunnoe, who hours earlier filled out an application with a local mine. “Unless you’re college-educated.” …Almost exactly a year ago, a fire broke out in that nonunion mine down the road, the Aracoma Alma Mine No. 1, owned by the state’s dominant coal company, Massey Energy. Every employee escaped, save two: Don Israel Bragg, 33, and Elvis Hatfield, 46. Months later, two reports – one by the state’s mining-regulatory office, the other by J. Davitt McAteer, a veteran mine-safety consultant – shed light on what had happened in the Aracoma darkness. In Mr. McAteer’s words, the evidence suggested that the fire had “erupted at the lethal intersection of human error and negligent mining practices.” A misaligned conveyor belt ignited and spilled coal that should not have been there. A fire hose contained no water. A missing ventilation wall allowed smoke to seep into a primary escapeway meant to provide fresh air to miners. A crew of a dozen escaping miners hit that smoke and began to panic. In blinding, nauseating clouds of black, they grabbed one another’s shirts and tried to feel their way to a door leading to fresh air. Ten made it to the other side; two did not. One more thing, the reports said: the maps of the mazelike mine given to the would-be rescuers were inaccurate – a cardinal sin in the land of coal….


3 December 2006. Blowing the Whistle on Big Oil. By EDMUND L. ANDREWS, NY Times. A look at how government does business with the oil industry. DURING a 22-year career, Bobby L. Maxwell routinely won accolades and awards as one of the Interior Department’s best auditors in the nation… supervising a staff of 120 people … scrutinized the books of major oil producers that collectively pumped billions of dollars worth of oil and gas every year from land and coastal waters owned by the public. … recovered hundreds of millions of dollars from companies that shortchanged the government on royalties. “Mr. Maxwell’s career has been characterized by exceptional performance and significant contributions,” wrote Gale A. Norton, then the secretary of the interior, in a 2003 citation. …Less than two years later, the Interior Department eliminated his job in what it called a “reorganization.” That came exactly one week after a federal judge in Denver unsealed a lawsuit in which Mr. Maxwell contended that a major oil company had spent years cheating on royalty payments. “When I got this citation, they told me this would be very good for my career,” said Mr. Maxwell, smiling during an interview here. “Next thing I knew, they fired me.” …the federal government oversees about $60 billion worth of oil and gas produced every year on federal property. … Mr. Maxwell…says he is ready for trial, and even for the possibility of losing. If he does lose, his lawyers will not charge for their work but he will have to pay about $125,000 to expert witnesses he has hired. “I can manage it,” he said. He has saved money all his life, he said, and can live on his savings and his pension. “He’s thought about all the options, and none of them seem life-threatening to him,” said his daughter, Angela Maxwell Horn. “What can they do him? They’ve already fired him.”

30 October 2006. U.S. Drops Bid Over Royalties From Chevron. The New York Times. By EDMUND L. ANDREWS. Excerpt: WASHINGTON – The Interior Department has dropped claims that the Chevron Corporation systematically underpaid the government for natural gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico, a decision that could allow energy companies to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties. The agency had ordered Chevron to pay $6 million in additional royalties but could have sought tens of millions more had it prevailed. The decision also sets a precedent that could make it easier for oil and gas companies to lower the value of what they pump each year from federal property and thus their payments to the government. …”The government is giving up without a fight,” said Richard T. Dorman, a lawyer representing private citizens suing Chevron over its federal royalty payments. “If this decision is left standing, it would result in the loss of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars in royalties owed by other companies.”

2 June 2006. $92 Million More Is Sought for Exxon Valdez Cleanup. By FELICITY BARRINGER. NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON, June 1 – When the Justice Department and the State of Alaska reached their $900 million court settlement with the Exxon Corporation over the environmental damages caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, they agreed that, if unforeseeable damages occurred later, the two governments had 15 years to ask for $100 million more. On Thursday, with the deadline approaching, the governments exercised this clause. They announced in a statement that they would seek $92 million from Exxon Mobil to clean up stubborn patches of oil, … still interfering with the recovery of animals in the area … like clams, mussels and harlequin ducks. … Mark Boudreaux, the media relations manager for Exxon Mobil, [said a] link between the remaining oil and effects on wildlife…”is no more than a hypothesis.” …Of the $900 million paid by Exxon, $145 million remains in a trust fund administered by a council representing the federal and state agencies and local groups. “If there were any matter in Prince William Sound that needed restoration or repair,” Mr. Boudreaux said, “it was the trustees’ duty to use this money to remedy the problem.” …In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez supertanker, with an inebriated captain, ran aground on Bligh Reef, ruptured and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sound, contaminating about 900 miles of shoreline. The damage to the fishing industry and to native subsistence hunting lasted for years. The herring population, a crucial link between the tiny plankton at the bottom of the food chain and the larger predators at the top, crashed four years after the spill. Of the $145 million remaining from Exxon’s original payment, a significant part has been set aside to compensate herring fishermen. Exxon Mobil continues to appeal a separate punitive damage award of $4.5 billion resulting from the spill….


21 November 2005. Seeking Clean Fuel for a Nation, and a Rebirth for Small-Town Montana. By TIMOTHY EGAN, NY Times. Excerpt: HELENA, Mont., Nov. 15 – … the vast, empty plain of eastern Montana is the Saudi Arabia of coal, … Gov. Brian Schweitzer…, a Democrat, has a two-fisted idea for energy independence that he carries around with him. In one fist is a shank of Montana coal, black and hard. In the other fist is a vial of nearly odorless clear liquid – a synthetic fuel that came from the coal and could run cars, jets and trucks or heat homes without contributing to global warming or setting off a major fight with environmental groups, he said. “Smell that,” Mr. Schweitzer said, thrusting his vial of fuel under the noses of interested observers here in the capital, where he works in jeans with a border collie underfoot. “You hardly smell anything. This is a clean fuel, converted from coal by a chemical process. We can produce enough of this in Montana to power every American car for decades.” [Note: I question the assertion that the synthetic fuel would alleviate global warming…—Alan Gould.] Coal-to-fuel conversion, which was practiced out of necessity by pariah nations like Nazi Germany and South Africa under apartheid, has been around for more than 80 years. It is called the Fischer-Tropsch process. …With coal reserves of about 120 billion tons, Montana has one-third of the nation’s total and a tenth of the global amount. …He is also promoting wind energy and the use of biofuels, using oil from crops like soybeans as a blend. The governor signed a measure this year that requires Montana to get 10 percent of its energy from wind power by 2010, a goal he said would be reached within a few years. …By some estimates, the United States has enough coal to take care of its energy needs for 800 years. …The United States imports about 13 million barrels of oil a day. … Mr. Schweitzer points to South Africa, where a single 50-year-old plant provides 28 percent of the nation’s supplies of diesel, petrol and kerosene. …There is another problem as well… it would require a lot of productive ranchland to be ripped up.” Mr. Schweitzer said the mining could be done in a way that restored the land afterward. …But given Montana’s history of abuse by mining companies – the giant open-pit mine in Butte is the most visible legacy of a bygone era – some Montanans remain skeptical….

10 June 2005. ‘Peak oil’ enters mainstream debate. By Adam Porter. BBC News. In Perpignan, France. How long can we go on pumping oil out of the ground?
Is global oil production reaching a peak? A few years ago only a handful of geologists and academics were considering such a possibility. But now it appears even governments are taking a serious look at the subject….A French government report on the global oil industry [“The Oil Industry 2004”] forecasts a possible peak in world production as early as 2013….Now banks such as Goldman Sachs, Caisse D’Epargne/Ixis, Simmons International and the Bank of Montreal have all broached the subject. “They are being forced to by circumstances,” says Professor Richard Heinberg, author of ‘peak oil’ books Power Down and The Party’s Over. “They have relied on optimistic data and rosy outlooks that are being proven to be incorrect.” … some analysts disagree with the notion of any peak in oil production, also known as ‘Hubberts curve’, after the geologist M King Hubbert who first argued the case. Deborah White, senior energy analyst at Societe Generale in Paris, says that “we have heard these arguments about ‘peak oil’ since the idea of Hubert’s curve came into being. “We don’t endorse the idea at all.” …And yet, the French report, perhaps the most open government dossier yet, questions the viability of long term oil production. [Other resources: –


12 December 2004. Testy Sea Hampers Response to Alaskan Spill. By SARAH KERSHAW. NY Times. Rough sea and bad weather have hampered efforts to deal with the oil spill from the freighter that split off the Aleutians last week. 

29 November 2004. Delaware River Oil Spill Leaves Wildlife Imperiled. NY Times. By JASON GEORGE. PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 28 – Ducks and geese coated in crude oil were carried to a national wildlife refuge yesterday by volunteers trying to save them from the largest oil spill on the Delaware River in nearly a decade. 

Fall 2004. A Thirsty Nation. OnEarth (NRDC publication) by Tim Folger. The Hopi have sold their coal and their water to the Peabody company for decades. The money keeps flowing, but now their springs are running dry. 

16 August 2004. Unusual Alliance Is Formed to Clean Up Mine Runoff. NY Times. By FELICITY BARRINGER. AMERICAN FORK CANYON, Utah. An unusual partnership linking the federal Forest Service, the environmental group Trout Unlimited, the ski resort owners Snowbird Corporation and Tiffany & Company has been created to clean the acidic mine runoff from the American Fork watershed – and perhaps spur similar alliances around the West, where mining waste has polluted the headwaters of 40 percent of all watersheds. The Mining of the West: Profit and Pollution on Public Lands Oxfam — Mining Ombudsman Annual Report 2000-2001

24 February 2004. Forecast of Rising Oil Demand Challenges Tired Saudi FieldsBy JEFF GERTH. Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are in decline, raising questions about whether the kingdom will be able to satisfy the world’s thirst for oil in coming years. 

13 January 2004. Alaska Thaws, Complicating the Hunt for OilBy Andrew C. Revkin/The New York Times. DEADHORSE, Alaska – Harry Bader…, the state’s land manager for the oil-rich [Arctic shore] North Slope, was consumed with one thing – the warming climate. Oil-prospecting convoys in search of new deposits are allowed to crisscross the fragile tundra only when it is snowy and solid. But over three decades, rising temperatures have cut this frozen season in half, to 100 days from 200. Environmentalists have begun to point out the contradictions in a situation where Arctic-wide warming, which many scientists say is at least partly driven by smokestack and tailpipe emissions, is curtailing the quest for a fossil fuel that is a prime source of such pollution. Nowhere is the warming trend more acute than here on this Minnesota-size stretch of pond-pocked plains and shrubby foothills. But even as temperatures have risen, so has the demand for oil from the Slope, which holds the country’s last big known domestic reserves. 

True Costs of Petroleum MapsThis is a series of four maps that trace the effects of petroleum extraction and use, and petrochemicals throughout four areas: the World, the Bay Area Community, the House, and the Body. Ecology Center, Berkeley, CA


October 2003. Oil SpillBy Luci Yamamoto, The Monthly, p. 5. If oil reserves are waning, how will we fuel our future? Richard Heinberg foresees global battles for remaining oil, an economic collapse worse than the Great Depression, automobiles too expensive for anyone but the wealthy, poor anyone but the crop yield without petrochemical fertilizers, mass famine and water scarcity, oceans without fish, and human overpopulation by the billions. To produce a fifth of current U.S. energy annually with wind power by 2030, we would need to install half a million turbines, roughly 20,000 per year starting immediately-five times the present world production rate for turbines.


7 February 2001. What Next Galapagos? The worst of the recent fuel spill in the Galapagos has passed … or has it? Researchers plan to use a variety of tools, including NASA satellite data, to assess possible long-term problems with the islands’ unique ecosystem.