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Sean Hackbarth Breaking Up With Fossil Fuels is Hard to Do

Yale University anti-energy activists may hate fossil fuels, but they do like staying warm.

The latest snowstorm to hit the Northeast forced Fossil Free Yale to cancel its event for Global Divestment, the Yale Daily News reports:

FFY Project Manager Mitch Barrows ’16 said the delay is due to unfavorable weather conditions and other logistical issues, including some cancellations from speakers and performance groups. The postponement was made final as of Thursday evening.

As part of Global Divestment — a two-day coordinated outreach effort spanning campuses and communities in five continents — FFY had organized a series of events to rally support for its cause, including performances from student groups, guest speakers and a collaborative art installation.

The movement’s irrational mission is to force institutions, like Yale University, to make bad financial decisions [subscription required] by selling their investments in companies that develop oil, natural gas, and coal.

One of the leaders of this movement is author Naomi Klein. Hot Air’s Jazz Shaw linked to a web chat by Klein—that was presumably run on computers powered by a coal- or natural gas-fired power plant--where she declared energy producers to be a “rogue sector” of the economy, and we must nationalize them in order to wipe them out of existence

[For more on Klein's extremism, read my post on what she calls, "Blockadia," a movement to block fossil fuel projects.]

Such an extreme position conflicts with reality. As you can see in this Energy Information Administration chart, Americans will use fossil fuels for decades to come.

eia_energyoutlook2014_energyconsumption_800px.jpg  1980-2040 Energy Information Administration chart on primary energy consumption: 1980-2040

Because of their high energy density, fossil fuels offer a lot of energy at an affordable cost. Cooking, cleaning, communicating, commuting, and living our modern lives would be more expensive, if not impossible, without fossil fuels.

As the video above shows “breaking up with fossil fuels is hard do to.”

Thomas Pyle of @AEA: Fossil fuel divestment campaign wants Floridians to “‘divest’ from modern life.” https://t.co/r6x6b3HqyQ

— America's Power (@AmericasPower) February 13, 2015

Sean Hackbarth A man in a t-shirt supporting the Keystone XL pipeline at a Laborers' International Union of North America rally.A man in a t-shirt supporting the Keystone XL pipeline at a Laborers' International Union of North America rally. Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.

In the shadow of President Obama’s expected veto, Keystone XL pipeline supporters continued advocating for the energy infrastructure project.

Terry O'Sullivan, president of the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), a long-time backer of the pipeline, lambasted the President and Congressional Democrats for distorting the approval process and “cowardly politicking”:

To back up his expected veto, the President has correctly stated that there is “a well-established process in place” to consider approval of major infrastructure projects such as the Keystone XL Pipeline. What he didn’t say is that he and too many job-killing Democrats have perverted that process.

We remain hopeful that this lifeline to good careers and energy independence will be built. If it is, it won’t be due to a legitimate review process for pipelines – it will be because it managed to survive a destructive distortion of the approval process and cowardly politicking.

Joining O’Sullivan are 24 Republican governors who sent a letter to President Obama, asking him to sign the bill:

With one stroke of a pen, you have the power to give thousands of Americans the shot at a good-paying job that will help them provide for their families and get ahead in a tight economy. Approval would also demonstrate a sincere interest from your Administration in building bipartisan support for a truly all-of-the-above energy policy, and strengthen our economic relationship with Canada. Alternatively, you also have the power to veto the jobs, economic growth, and increased energy security the Keystone XL  pipeline represents.

The bipartisan support reflected by labor unions and Republican leaders is seen in polling on the Keystone XL pipeline. A December 2014 Fox News poll found that majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents think the Keystone XL pipeline should be built. Such broad-based support for the project has been the norm.

Karen Harbert, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy sums it up in a statement released after the House of Representatives approved the Keystone XL bill:

President Obama has a choice—side with the vast majority of the American people, more jobs, and more revenue, or say no to appease a vocal minority who are using this issue to wage a larger fight. It is time for the president to stop holding our economy back and to sign the bill, grant the permit, and greenlight jobs and investment in America.

According to the State Department, the Keystone XL pipeline will create more than 42,000 jobs, add $3.4 billion to the economy, and generate more than $5.2 billion in property taxes for local communities.

Sean Hackbarth Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) hold up signs in support of the Keystone XL pipeline. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) hold up signs in support of the Keystone XL pipeline. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.

The House of Representatives has an important vote ahead of them Wednesday. They can accept the factually-challenged arguments of anti-energy zealots who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, or they can support the jobs and economic benefits that will come from it.

In the last few days, the Huffington Post piled on with two poorly-argued posts against the project.

First, Mark Weisbrot, co-director of Center for Economic and Policy Research, declared that “ditching” the pipeline would be a “no-brainer.”

In fact, the real “no-brainer” would be not approving it. Weisbrot writes:

The 1,179-mile pipeline extension would carry some of the world's dirtiest oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Stop right there. The truth is from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective, Canadian oil is similar to Venezuelan and Nigerian oil. Either that type of oil will come from a friendly neighbor like Canada, or it will come from less-friendly sources. That’s the choice.

Weisbrot continues:

Supporters of the pipeline have tried to argue that the oil from Canada's tar sands will be exploited anyway, with or without the pipeline. There wasn't much to that argument a year ago, but after a 50 percent fall in oil prices, there is nothing left of it. This oil is expensive to produce, and without a guarantee of cheap transportation, oil companies are not going to invest in expanding production in the 170-billion barrel reserves of Canada's tar sands.

The truth is oil price volatility isn’t stopping development. BloombergBusiness’ Matthew Philips writes, that oil sands production is more akin to mining. “An oil sands project, once up and running, can continue to chug along, even in the face of lower prices, since its costs are spread out over a decade or more,” he writes. Philips then notes that new production isn’t letting up:

A total of 14 new oil sands projects in Canada are scheduled to start next year with a combined capacity of 266,000 barrels a day, according to data published by Oilsands Review. That’s 36 percent more than were started in 2014. Since most of those investments have already been made, those projects are probably safe. Even for projects that are only partially paid for, investors will still probably be loath to stop halfway.

Next, we have Tom Steyer, bankroller of all things anti-Keystone. He argued that the pipeline is a “bad deal.” Ironically while griping that pipeline proponents toss out “tired talking points,” he throws out a misleading talking point of his own that only a few dozen permanent jobs along will be created.

Steyer, the supposedly savvy investor, ignores the thousands of construction jobs and local economic development the pipeline will create. Only this isn’t a talking point. It’s based on the construction of the southern leg of the pipeline.  Southern Methodist University's Maguire Energy Institute found that in Oklahoma and Texas, the project resulted in

Over $5.7 billion in new economic activity. Over 42,000 person years of new employment. Over $217 million in additional state and local taxes.

Terry O'Sullivan, General President of Labors International Union of North America (LIUNA), hasn't taken lightly to Steyer and others (including the President) disparaging the thousands of "temporary" construction jobs the Keystone XL pipeline will generate. In a 2014 Washington Post op-ed, O'Sullivan pushed back at Steyer [emphasis mine]:

It's not completely surprising that a hedge-fund manager would fail to understand the kitchen-table economics of a pipeline or its value to working people. Or that construction work is, by nature, temporary and that millions of construction workers lead middle-class lives, own houses and put their children through college by moving from one union construction job to the next.

And in a letter to House Members in January, O'Sullivan added:

Regardless of the lies and mischaracterization of construction jobs as somehow being inferior because of the temporary nature of the industry, this legislation is a jobs bill for the thousands of union construction workers that will build this Pipeline.

The State Department concluded that the Keystone XL pipeline will create 42,000 jobs with minimal environmental impact.

When voting, Members of Congress can either side with facts or fiction.

Tell your Representative to support the Keystone XL pipeline.

Ian Wagreich Arkansas Ultra Supercritical Coal Plant Technology Faces Extinction

It is no secret that affordable and reliable energy is the backbone of our nation's economy, enabling businesses and industry to grow and produce high-paying jobs for American workers. 

Much less appreciated, however, is the degree to which technological innovation is making U.S. energy resources cleaner than ever, without sacrificing affordability.

There is no better example of this than Southwestern Electric Power Company's (SWEPCO) John W. Turk Power Plant in western Arkansas. Operational in 2012, the ultra-supercritical coal plant burns 180,000 fewer tons of coal and produces 320,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide annually, making it 15% more efficient than any other coal-powered plant.

Sean Hackbarth  Daniel Acker/Bloomberg.Sections of pipe sit on the ground in Atoka, Oklahoma. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg.

It’s been over one year since it was released, and EPA finally weighed in on the State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline, the one that concludes that it will create 42,000 jobs with minimal environmental impact.

EPA argues, “Given the recent variability in oil prices, it is important to revisit these conclusions.”

In other words, there should be more delays in approving the pipeline, if not a rejection.

Here are a few observations:

First, when the application for the permit for the pipeline was first submitted in 2008 oil prices were actually lower than they are today, but you didn’t hear a peep from EPA about that fact.

Second, it's entertaining to see opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline (and oil in general) cheering lower oil prices.

Third, I share the same frustration with Reason’s Ronald Bailey who writes “Why not let the builders of the pipeline decide whether or not it is economic to construct?” Studies have found that’s the “multi-billion-dollar, privately financed infrastructure” project is environmentally safe and will add to the economy. To any ordinary person, that means building it is in the national interest.

So what should we make of EPA’s comments?

Stephen Eule at the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy calls them, “very weak beer,” because they ignore the fact that not all oil is the same, and that Canadian oil sands crude is similar to oil imported from other countries. He explained:

What EPA overlooks—whether consciously or not—is that crude oil from Canada backs out crudes from other suppliers that have equally high life cycle GHGs. Our refiners along the Gulf Coast are geared to processing heavy, sour crudes, so if they’re not using Canadian crudes, they’re using other crudes with similar characteristics.

This chart confirms that Canadian crude is a substitute for other types of heavy crude. As the U.S. imported more Canadian oil, imports from Nigeria and Venezuela declined.


eia_nigeria_venezuela_canada_imports.png Oil imports to the U.S. from Nigeria, Venezuela, and Canada. Oil imports to the U.S. from Nigeria, Venezuela, and Canada.

In addition, oil from all three of these countries generates a similar amount of greenhouse gas emissions, as this chart from a 2014 Congressional Research Service report shows.

crs_oil_ghg_800px.jpg Greenhouse gas emissions estimates for global crude resources. Greenhouse gas emissions estimates for global crude resources.

Eule concludes:

Killing the Keystone XL pipeline just means we would have to rely on imports of heavy crude oils with similar life cycle GHGs from suppliers that are not as stable or reliable as Canada. Not a very appealing prospect.