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boom and bust

Political deregulation of Texan grid to blame for near total collapse & bills of $15,000+

By Andy Rowell - Oil Change International, February 25, 2021

If shivering with cold dark for days in sub-zero temperatures was not enough for many Texans, those lucky enough to still have electricity during the recent freezing weather have been hit with exorbitant electricity bills.

In some cases unlucky customers have been charged a whopping USD $15,000 for one month’s power, or put another way over 70 times the normal cost people pay for all their utilities.

One customer Susan Hosford of Denison told the AP that normally she pays around $2.50 for power per day, but got charged $1,346.17 for the first two weeks of February. “This whole thing has been a nightmare,” she said.

Another customer, Karen Knox, a teacher in Bedford, not only lost power but now owes $7,000 to Griddy, an electricity provider located in Houston. She told the Texas Tribune there was no way she could pay.

Such is the outcry that Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who is heavily funded by Big Oil, had to hold an emergency meeting with legislators to discuss the outrageous bills.

Abbott and others are now promising relief for those hit by sky-high bills, although how people are compensated is yet to be worked out.

As the anger has grown, so too has the political fall-out and finger pointing and as to what has gone wrong and who is to blame.

The reason the grid failed is simple: political deregulation. Along with sixteen other states Texas had deregulated its power market. The market was deregulated in 2002, under the then Governor Rick Perry, who would later become President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Energy.

Perry established the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (known as ERCOT), with roughly 70 providers. And then the politicians cut Texas off from the rest of the country, the only state in the contiguous U.S. that was operating its own electric grid.

And because the Texas grid was then disconnected from the rest of the country, no reserves could be imported when the grid got into trouble.

“As someone who has spent the past two decades studying electricity deregulation, I know that extreme power bills in Texas result partly from the state’s market-driven approach to running the power grid,” wrote Seth Blumsack, Professor of Energy and Environmental Economics and International Affairs, at Penn State in the Conversation yesterday.

Blumsack continued: “the sky-high electric bills in Texas are partly due to a deregulated electricity system that allowed volatile wholesale costs to be passed directly to some consumers.”

Fracking boom brings job and income loss to Appalachian communities

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 23, 2021

A February study examined the economic changes in 22 counties the authors call “Frackalachia” – home to the Utica and Marcellus shale gas industry. The report, Appalachia’s Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and Getting less in return examines the period from 2008 to 2019, a time when the area went from producing a negligible portion of U.S. natural gas to producing 40%. The report summarizes the job forecasts provided by oil and gas industry economic impact studies, (over 450,000 new jobs for Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia), and shows the actual economic data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis – a 1.6% increase in jobs – at a time when the number of jobs across the U.S. grew by 9.9%. Detailed statistics demonstrate the differences amongst counties and states – with Ohio faring the worst and Pennsylvania faring the best. The report’s analysis shows that in the entire area represented by the 22 counties, the share of the national personal income fell by 6.3 percent, the share of jobs fell by 7.5 percent, and the share of the national population fell by 9.7 percent , while 90% of the wealth generated from fracking left the local communities.

The report was produced and published on February 10 by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Pennsylvania, founded in 2020 with the vision of “moving beyond an extractive economy toward shared prosperity, lasting job growth, clean energy, and civic engagement.” This report has been widely reported, including in “Appalachia’s fracking boom has done little for local economies: Study”(Environmental Health News , Feb. 12), which summarizes the report and adds context concerning the health effects of fracking, and the failed attempts to expand production to petrochemicals and plastics using ethane, a by-product of the fracked natural gas.

Appalachia's Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and getting less in return

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, February 12, 2021

Economists debate whether there is such a thing as a “resource curse”.

Between 2008 and 2019, twenty-two old industrial and rural counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, which make up the Appalachian natural gas region, increased their contribution to US gross domestic product (GDP) by more than one-third. In 2008, the 22 counties were responsible for $2.46 of every $1,000 of national output. By 2019, the figure had climbed to $3.33. Their rate of GDP growth more than tripled that of the nation. However, during the same period, measures of local economic prosperity—the economic impacts of that growth—not only failed to keep pace with the increased share of output, they actually declined.

  • The 22 counties’ share of the nation’s personal income fell by 6.3%, from $2.62 for every $1,000 to just $2.46.
  • Their share of jobs fell by 7.6%, from 2.62 in every 1,000 to 2.46.
  • Their share of the nation’s population fell by 10.9%, from 3.26 for every 1,000 Americans to 2.9 for every thousand.

It is a case of economic growth without prosperity, the defining characteristic of the resource curse.

Most of the GDP increase in this group of counties was due to the Appalachian natural gas production boom, which was facilitated by the advent of a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for short.

Read the text (PDF).

A Decade Into the Fracking Boom, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia Haven’t Gained Much, a Study Says

By James Bruggers - Inside Climate News, February 11, 2021

After fracking companies invested billions chasing the natural gas boom across West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, what do people living in the middle of the most prolific gas fields have to show for it, more than a decade later?

That’s the question the Ohio River Valley Institute, an independent think tank based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, working to advance a more prosperous, sustainable and equitable Appalachia, asked in a report published on Wednesday.

Its answer: In short, not much.

To be sure, the report found that new horizontal drilling techniques involving hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, which helped reshape the nation’s oil and gas fortunes, produced a lot of economic growth. But it largely failed to bring the things that help people and local communities the most: jobs, personal income gains and population growth.

The natural gas industry hasn’t been an engine for economic prosperity, said Sean O’Leary, the institute’s senior researcher and principal author of the report, and “there is no basis on which we can see that it even can be, going into the future.”

It was unable to deliver on local prosperity even though gas production itself exceeded the most optimistic projections, he said.

The optimistic projections included a 2010 American Petroleum Institute report projecting robust job growth that was seized on by officials in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to usher in the industry. But the institute found that jobs in the 22 counties that account for 90 percent of the production in the three states increased by only 1.7 percent, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, while nationally the number of jobs grew by 10 percent.

The fracking boom offered economic hope in the Upper Ohio River Valley after the collapse of the steel industry and amid the decline of coal mining, which was hastened by a glut of cheap gas.

Appalachian Fracking Boom Was a Jobs Bust, Finds New Report

By Nick Cunningham - DeSmog, February 11, 2021

The decade-long fracking boom in Appalachia has not led to significant job growth, and despite the region’s extraordinary levels of natural gas production, the industry’s promise of prosperity has “turned into almost nothing,” according to a new report. 

The fracking boom has received broad support from politicians across the aisle in Appalachia due to dreams of enormous job creation, but a report released on February 10 from Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank, the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), sheds new light on the reality of this hype.

The report looked at how 22 counties across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — accounting for 90 percent of the region’s natural gas production — fared during the fracking boom. It found that counties that saw the most drilling ended up with weaker job growth and declining populations compared to other parts of Appalachia and the nation as a whole.

Shale gas production from Appalachia exploded from minimal levels a little over a decade ago, to more than 32 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, or roughly 40 percent of the nation’s total output. During this time, between 2008 and 2019, GDP across these 22 counties grew three times faster than that of the nation as a whole. However, based on a variety of metrics for actual economic prosperity — such as job growth, population growth, and the region’s share of national income — the region fell further behind than the rest of the country. 

Between 2008 and 2019, the number of jobs across the U.S. expanded by 10 percent, according to the ORVI report, but in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, job growth only grew by 4 percent. More glaringly, the 22 gas-producing counties in those three states — ground-zero for the drilling boom — only experienced 1.7 percent job growth.

“What’s really disturbing is that these disappointing results came about at a time when the region’s natural gas industry was operating at full capacity. So it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the results would be better,” said Sean O’Leary, the report’s author.

The report cited Belmont County, Ohio, as a particularly shocking case. Belmont County has received more than a third of all natural gas investment in the state, and accounts for more than a third of the state’s gas production. The industry also accounts for about 60 percent of the county’s economy. Because of the boom, the county’s GDP grew five times faster than the national rate. And yet, the county saw a 7 percent decline in jobs and a 2 percent decline in population over the past decade.

“This report documents that many Marcellus and Utica region fracking gas counties typically have lost both population and jobs from 2008 to 2019,” said John Hanger, former Pennsylvania secretary of Environmental Protection, commenting on the report. “This report explodes in a fireball of numbers the claims that the gas industry would bring prosperity to Pennsylvania, Ohio, or West Virginia. These are stubborn facts that indicate gas drilling has done the opposite in most of the top drilling counties.”

A Boom Without Job Growth

This lack of job growth was not what the industry promised. A 2010 study from the American Petroleum Institute predicted that Pennsylvania would see more than 211,000 jobs created by 2020 due to the fracking boom, while West Virginia would see an additional 43,000 jobs. Studies like these were widely cited by politicians as proof that the fracking boom was an economic imperative and must be supported.

But the Ohio River Valley Institute report reveals the disconnect between a drilling boom and rising GDP on the one hand, and worse local employment outcomes on the other. There are likely many reasons for this disconnect related to the long list of negative externalities associated with fracking: The boom-and-bust nature of extractive industries creates risks for other business sectors, such as extreme economic volatility, deterring new businesses or expansions of existing ones; meanwhile air, water, and noise pollution negatively impact the health and environment of residents living nearby.

“There can be no mistake that the closer people live to shale gas development, the higher their risk for poor health outcomes,” Alison Steele, Executive Director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, told DeSmog. “More than two dozen peer-reviewed epidemiological studies show a correlation between living near shale gas development and a host of health issues, such as worsening asthmas, heart failure hospitalizations, premature births, and babies born with low birth weights and birth defects.”

Moreover, oil and gas drilling is capital-intensive, not job-intensive. As the example of Belmont County shows, only about 12 percent of income generated by the gas industry can be attributable to wages and employment, while in other sectors, on average, more than half of income goes to workers.

In other words, it costs a lot of money to drill, but it doesn’t employ a lot of people, and much of the income is siphoned off to shareholders. To top it off, equipment and people are imported from outside the region — many of the jobs created went to workers brought in from places such as Texas and Oklahoma.

Despite the huge increase in shale gas production over the past decade, the vast majority of the 22 counties experiencing the drilling boom also experienced “economic stagnation or outright decline and depopulation,” the report said.

The American Petroleum Institute did not respond to a request for comment.

“[W]e could see long ago that the job numbers published and pushed out by the industry years ago were based in bluster, not our economic realities,” Veronica Coptis, Executive Director of Coalfield Justice, a non-profit based in southwest Pennsylvania, told DeSmog, commenting on the report. “At industry’s behest and encouragement, Pennsylvania promoted shale gas development aggressively in rural areas for more than a decade. And yet, the southwestern counties at the epicenter of fracking do not show any obvious improvement in well-being.”

International Oil Companies: The Death of the Old Business Model

By Paul Stevens - Energy, Environment and Resources, May 5, 2016

The future of the major international oil companies (IOCs) – BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total – is in doubt. The business model that sustained them during the 20th century is no longer fit for purpose. As a result, they are faced with the choice of managing a gentle decline by downsizing or risking a rapid collapse by trying to carry on business as usual.

Most commentary on the IOCs’ problems has focused on the recent fall in oil prices and the growing global commitment to tackle climate change. Important though these are, the source of their predicament is not confined to such recent developments over which they have no control. Their problems are more numerous, run deeper and go back further. The prognosis for the IOCs was already grim before governments became serious about climate change and the oil price collapsed.

Read the report (Link).

Stranded Assets and Thermal Coal in Japan: An analysis of environment-related risk exposure

By Ben Caldecott, Gerard Dericks, Daniel J. Tulloch, Lucas Kruitwagen, and Irem Kok - Oxford, May 2016

Deploying a ‘bottom up’ asset-level methodology, we analysed the exposure of all of Japan’s current and planned coal-fired power stations to environment-related risk. Planned coal capacity greatly exceeds that required for replacement - by 191%. This may result in overcapacity and combined with competition from other forms of generation capacity with lower marginal costs (e.g. nuclear and renewables), lead to significant asset stranding of coal generation assets. Stranded coal assets in Japan would affect utility returns for investors; impair the ability of utilities to service outstanding debt obligations; and create stranded assets that have to be absorbed by taxpayers and ratepayers.

Read the report (PDF).

Bakken truckers often ‘haul heavy’ – Star Tribune

By Maya Rao - Star Tribune, November 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

– The dump truck rumbled over miles of unpaved roads in the hills just east of the Montana border, past the cattle and grain bins and haystacks, before arriving at the dirt pit. Bill Gore slid his truck onto the scale, inched up in line, and made a curving gesture to the man in the front-end loader.

That was the signal to pile the dirt on high, and the loader did: Gore’s five-axle truck pulled out of the pit north of Cartwright last week weighing 19,000 pounds more than its registered limit of 82,000 pounds.

“We try to run it as hard as we can,” said Gore, who’s been driving trucks here for four years.

Heavy trucks are the backbone of the ­Bakken oil fields, transporting the water, pipes, and sand needed to produce more than 1 million barrels of oil a day in western North Dakota. They move oil rigs from site to site, crude to pipelines and rail terminals, and dirt and construction materials to build the new roads, homes and businesses needed to serve the exploding population of new workers.

But the frenzied pace of the oil fields and spotty enforcement by authorities have encouraged the rise of overweight trucks. State authorities estimate that one-quarter of the Bakken’s water trucks alone are overloaded.

Trucks hauling larger loads than what they were designed for pose safety concerns because extra weight lessens their braking power and increases the potential damage they could cause in a collision. On the crowded Bakken roads, truck crashes that led to severe injuries jumped twelvefold during a recent four-year period. And 100,000-pound trucks, which are common in oil field traffic, take 25 percent longer to stop than 80,000 pound trucks, according to the Truck Safety Coalition.

Heavy trucks also degrade bridges more quickly and crumble prairie roads built for light farm traffic, prompting the state to make record investments in rebuilding roads and bridges and constructing new bypasses.

In McKenzie County, the state’s top oil-producer, the tiny Sheriff’s Office has a file cabinet containing enormous violations. A driver from an Alexandria, Minn., company was pulled over this summer while hauling a crane that was 61,300 pounds overweight. A trucker from a Clear Lake, Minn., firm was caught driving 76,100 pounds overweight while carrying an excavator.

Trucker Michael Fisher, who acknowledged driving overweight, said one problem is being able to adequately slow down.

“It’s the stopping power,” he said, adding that he tried to keep more distance from other vehicles. “Your brakes are set up to stop a certain amount of weight, and if you increase that, you have a lot more chance of something going wrong.”

Material Risks: How Public Accountability is Slowing Tar Sands Development

By Tom Sanzillo, Lorne Stockman, Deborah Rogers, Hannah McKinnon, Elizabeth Bast, and Steve Kretzmann - Oil Change International, October 29, 2014

The report, “Material Risks: How Public Accountability Is Slowing Tar Sands Development,” presents market analysis and industry data to support its estimates on lost sales revenue to the tar sands industry as public opposition creates delays and project cancellations. The report also describes other market forces that are putting tar sand developers at a growing disadvantage.

The report puts tar sands development lost revenue at $30.9 billion from 2010 through 2013, in part due to the changing North American oil market but largely because of a fierce grassroots movement against tar sands development. The report attributes 55% of the lost revenue, or $17 billion, to the diverse citizen protests against pipelines and the tar sands.

A significant segment of opposition, the report notes, is from First Nations in Canada who are raising sovereignty claims and other environmental challenges.

Among the reports findings:

  • Market forces and public opposition have played a significant role in the cancellation of three major tar sands projects in 2014 alone: Shell’s Pierre River, Total’s Joslyn North, and Statoil’s Corner Project. Combined, these projects would have produced 4.7 billion barrels of bitumen that would in turn have released 2.8 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This is equivalent to the emissions of building 18 new coal plants that would last 40 years each.
  • Tar sands producers lost $30.9 billion from 2010 through 2013 due to transportation bottlenecks and the flood of crude coming from shale-oil fields. Of that, $17.1 billion, or 55 percent, can be attributed to the impact of public- accountability campaigns.
  • The combination of risks facing the industry has the potential for canceling most or even all of the planned expansion of the industry in Canada.
  • Rather than seeing more than a doubling of output from 2 million barrels of oil per day to 4.8 million barrels per days — as the industry predicts — the report projects flat production levels.
  • Tar sands producers have lagged, with 9 of 10 leading tar sands producers in Canada underperforming the broader stock market in the last five years.

Analysts have recently downgraded their outlook for tar sands production.

The report also explores how smaller tar sands producers are having trouble accessing capital markets, how the industry is increasing capital spending even as it faces declining cash flows, weak revenue expectations, rising production costs and tight margins.

Read the report (PDF).

Adrift in Oil Country

By Laura Gottesdiener - Tom Dispatch, October 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

At 9 p.m. on that August night, when I arrived for my first shift as a cocktail waitress at Whispers, one of the two strip clubs in downtown Williston, I didn’t expect a 25-year-old man to get beaten to death outside the joint. Then again, I didn’t really expect most of the things I encountered reporting on the oil boom in western North Dakota this past summer.

“Can you cover the floor?” the other waitress yelled around 11 p.m. as she and her crop-top sweater sidled behind the bar to take over for the bouncers and bartenders. They had rushed outside to deal with a commotion. I resolved to shuttle Miller Lites and Fireball shots with extra vigor. I didn’t know who was fighting, but assumed it involved my least favorite customers of the night: two young brothers who had been jumping up and down in front of the stage, their hands cupping their crotches the way white boys, whose role models are Eminem, often do when they drink too much. One sported a buzz cut, the other had hair like soft lamb’s wool.

The rest of the night was a blur of beer bottles and customer commands to smile more. It was only later, after the clientele was herded out to Red Peters’s catchy “The Closing Song” -- “get the fuck out of here, finish up that beer” -- and the dancers had emerged from the dressing room in sweatshirts, that I realized everyone was on edge.

“What’s wrong?” I asked the scraggly bearded bouncer walking me to my dusty sedan, whose backseat would soon double as my motel room.

“The kid’s going to die,” he replied. Turned out one of the brothers had gotten his head bashed in by a man wielding a metal pipe. He’d been airlifted to the nearby city of Minot where he would pass away a few days later.

Catalysts for Instability

I hadn’t driven nearly 2,000 miles from Brooklyn to work as a cocktail waitress in a strip club. (That only happened after I ran out of money.) I had set off with the intention of reporting on the domestic oil boom that was reshaping North Dakota’s prairie towns as well as the balance of both global power and the earth’s atmosphere.

This spring, production in North Dakota surged past one million barrels of oil a day. The source of this liquid gold, as it is locally known, is the Bakken Shale: a layered, energy-rich rock formation that stretches across western North Dakota, the corner of Montana, and into Canada. It had been considered inaccessible until breakthroughs in drilling and hydraulic fracturing made the extraction of oil from it economically feasible. In 2008, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) announced that the Bakken Shale contained 25 times more recoverable oil than previously thought, sparking the biggest oil rush in state history.

Now, six years later, the region displays all the classic contemporary markers of hell: toxic flames that burn around the clock; ink-black smoke billowing from 18-wheelers; intermittent explosions caused by lightning striking the super-conductive wastewater tanks that hydraulic fracturing makes a necessity; a massive Walmart; an abundance of meth, crack, and liquor; freezing winters; rents higher than Manhattan; and far, far too many men.

Read the entire article here:

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