Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mid-September Weekend Links

Here are some stories to check out this weekend:

Pride of the city: NYPD vs. FDNY on the baseball field - SBNation

The Wet Stuff: Jeff Henry, Verruckt, and the men who built the great American water park - Grantland

Fungus Could Be the Key to Avoiding a Global Food Crisis - Wired.  Sounds too good to be true.

Pesticide Levels in Waterways Have Dropped, Reducing the Risks to Humans - New York Times.  Good news, with some caveats. 

The Awful Reign of the Red Delicious and America's Last Carousel Craftsmen - The Atlantic.  Two interesting and offbeat stories.

Holey Cow: The Wonderful World of a Fistulated Cow - Modern Farmer.  Same concept as fecal transplants, but something that has been common over the years for cows.  It's cow week at Modern Farmer, check it out.

The Story That Tore Through the Trees: Mann Gulch and the Greatest Fire Story Ever Told - New York

New York Times visits Youngstown, finds huge and nonexistent transformation - Pruning Shears.  On this story.

The Eternal Paternal: Bill Cosby's never-ending tour - The New Yorker

Instant Gratification:  As the economy gets ever better at satisfying our immediate, self-serving needs, who is minding the future? - The American Scholar

Stop and Seize: Aggressive police take hundreds of millions from motorists not charges with crimes - Washington Post

How the Suburbs Got Poor - Slate.  Unsustainable land use based on cheap gasoline and real returns to labor.

Black people are 5 times as likely as white people to be injured by police - Vox

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Fracking Bright Spot

A small industrial revival in Eastern Ohio:
Here in Ohio, in an arc stretching south from Youngstown past Canton and into the rural parts of the state where much of the natural gas is being drawn from shale deep underground, entire sectors like manufacturing, hotels, real estate and even law are being reshaped. A series of recent economic indicators, including factory hiring, shows momentum building nationally in the manufacturing sector.
New energy production is “a real game-changer in terms of the U.S. economy,” said Katy George, who leads the global manufacturing practice at McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm. “It also creates an opportunity for regions of the country to renew themselves.”.....
Vallourec, a French industrial giant, recently completed a million-square-foot plant in Youngstown to make steel pipes for the energy industry, the first mill of its kind to open here in 50 years. The facility, which cost $1.1 billion to build, will be joined next year by a smaller $80 million Vallourec plant making pipe connectors.
The change is evident in the once-moribund downtowns of northeastern Ohio cities as well as in the economic data for the state as a whole.
Ohio’s unemployment rate in July was 5.7 percent, well below the national average of 6.1 percent. That’s a sharp reversal of the situation four years ago, when unemployment in Ohio hit 10.6 percent, significantly above the country’s overall jobless rate at the time, as manufacturers here and elsewhere hemorrhaged jobs. In the Youngstown area, the jobless rate in July was 6.7 percent, compared with 13.3 percent in early 2010.
“Both Youngstown and Canton are places which experienced nothing but disinvestment for 40 years,” said Ned Hill, a professor of economic development at Cleveland State University. Now, “they’re not ghost towns anymore. You actually have to go into reverse to find a parking spot downtown.”
Youngstown and surrounding Mahoning County is hardly Silicon Valley or even Pittsburgh, which long ago bade farewell to its industrial past and sought out growth in new sectors like health care and education. Broad swaths of Youngstown look almost rural, the result of a decade-long campaign to tear down abandoned homes and factories, letting sites that were once eyesores return to nature.
And the new factories that have gone up — like Vallourec’s new complex, or a $13.2 million plant that Exterran opened in May 2013 to make oil and gas production equipment for local customers — employ only a fraction of the workers who once labored at Youngstown’s mills. Vallourec’s state-of-the-art pipe mill has about 350 workers; the old Youngstown Sheet & Tube plant that once stood on the site had a work force of 1,400 when it shut down in 1979. (more on YS&T here)
I hate to be pessimistic all the time, so at least there is some good news.  Now if only the momentum will continue for a while (not as hopeful on that).  This guy is more confident, though:
The economic impact in rural areas of Ohio is less visible but equally significant. Mostly hidden from view behind trees off a two-lane road in rural Harrison County is an Erector-setlike maze of tanks and distillation towers, one of three huge plants in the area built by Access Midstream, an energy firm based in Oklahoma City.
Over the last two years, the company has spent $1.8 billion on new infrastructure to help refine and separate the raw hydrocarbons that come out of the Utica shale.
“This is a 50-year asset,” said Scott Hallam, who oversees Access’s efforts in the Utica shale. “We wouldn’t be spending billions here if we didn’t believe that.”
We'll see how it plays out, but I think there may be more potential with shale gas than with shale oil, at least in the Marcellus and Utica shales.  Time will tell.

More Fracking Pessimism

More detail on why fracking is most likely a very short-term boost for U.S. oil production:
Canadian geologist David Hughes has some sober news for the Kool-Aid-drinking boosters of the United States' newfound eminence in fossil fuel production: it's going to go bust sooner rather than later.
Working with the Post Carbon Institute, a sustainability think-tank, Hughes meticulously analyzed industry data from 65,000 US shale oil and natural gas wells that use the much-ballyhooed extraction method of hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as fracking. The process involves drilling horizontally as well as vertically, and then pumping a toxic cocktail of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals deep underground in order to break apart the rock formations that hold deposits of oil and gas.
Hughes found that the production rates at these wells decline, on average, 85 percent over three years......
Hughes explained that more than 80 percent of the nation's shale oil comes from just two plays, the Bakken field in North Dakota and Montana and the Eagle Ford in Texas. He estimates that production in those regions will recede back to 2012 levels in 2019. Overall production across the nation's shale oil fields will peak in 2017.
In just the Bakken, Hughes calculates that 1,400 new wells are needed per year to offset current production decline, which right now is 45 percent of current production rates of about a million barrels per day, or 450,000 barrels per day each year.
"You need 1,400 $8 million wells to keep production flat, and they're drilling more than that — they're drilling 2,000 wells per year," he explained. "So production in the Bakken will continue to go up. But it's because at the moment they're continuing to drill the sweet spots."
As those sweet spots are tapped, though, they will also begin to decline.
The scenario is similar to that of the nation's shale gas plays, where 80 percent of production comes from just five areas, several of which are already in decline, according to Hughes.
"Take a look at the Haynesville play, which is primarily in Louisiana and East Texas," he said, referring to an area whose natural gas deposits were fracked starting in 2008. "It was the biggest shale gas play in the US in 2012, when it peaked, and it's now down 46 percent below its peak."
In order to maintain current levels of shale gas production, Hughes estimates that the high rates of deterioration of such wells across the country will require the drilling of 7,000 new wells a year at a cost of $42 billion annually. For maintenance of the overall production of shale oil, some 6,000 new wells would need to be drilled every year, an endeavor that would cost $35 billion.
If Hughes and other naysayers are right (and I believe them way more than I believe the industry hacks spewing rainbows and unicorns), severe oil price increases aren't far away. I'd put off buying that new SUV if I were you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


California from Hal Bergman on Vimeo.

Is This Groundhog Day?

So today the great threat to western civilization is ISIS (or ISIL or IS...fuck, I don't know).  Yesterday it was Putin.  Or Gaddafi (or however you spell his name, it's been spelled a lot of ways over the 25 years he was one of the top public enemies).  Or the Taliban.  Or Al-Queda.  Or just Bin Laden.  Or Saddam Hussein.  Or Kim Jong-Un.  Or Kim Jong-Il before that. Or the Ayatollah.  We've always got somebody who wants to take away our freedoms and end the American way of life, and if we don't stand up to them, we are just like Chamberlain in Munich, and the new Hitler-of-the-day will kill all the Jews (which apparently is us), and history will judge us accordingly.  Well fuck that.  I'm so goddamned tired of hearing that bullshit over and over.  ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever the fuck their name is, is not a threat to our way of life.  If they want to fly the flag of the Caliphate over the White House, I don't give a fuck, because it is much more likely that I'll have sex with Kate Upton tonight. 

I just don't understand the psyche of the American people.  How can the beheadings of two unfortunate journalists make people forget that we spent a dozen years fighting Islamic radicals, and all we did was end up handing them control of more places (From just Afghanistan and Somalia to Afghanistan, Somalia, much of Iraq, much of Syria, Libya, Yemen, Egypt...) than when we started?  And why do people keep getting the idea that somebody is going to come to this country and "take away our freedoms?"  If anybody would do that, and they've been working on it, it would be our own government.  It's not like this massive invading army is going to set sail across the ocean, storm our beaches and then sweep across the country enslaving the freedom-loving, but outgunned American people.  And as great as the supposed threat of ABBA, or, I mean ISIS is, the warmongers can't convince the brave American people to do anything but support air strikes, because we did learn over the last 13 years that ground wars suck, and are unwinnable for us anyway, so we may as well just indiscriminately kill people in Muslim countries from the air. 

But what kind of threat is ISIS anyway?  Al-Queda got ridiculously lucky, and unfortunately killed almost 3,000 Americans.  But in spite of all the stupid things we did afterwards, our way-of-life continued, although forever changed by our unnecessary fear.  Let's suppose that ISIS was more than three times as successful in killing Americans as Al-Queda was.  That would be a tragedy, but life would continue.  10,000 Americans killed by ISIS would still be less than the number of Americans murdered by other Americans with firearms in a year; would still be less than the number of Americans who took their own lives in a year; would still be less than the number of Americans killed in about four months in automobile accidents.  Yet, few people push to ban guns, even fewer push to ban cars, and nobody proposes spending billions and billions of dollars to try to prevent those deaths.  The President and Congress may agree to attack ISIS, but I will consider it a waste of time, innocent lives and huge amounts of money.  Fuck that shit, and fuck the people who use stupid scare tactics to try to convince me to agree to waste all that.

Christie Allows Sports Gambling

After a wave of casino closings in Atlantic City, Chris Christie tries to breathe new life into the state's casino industry (and distract attention from the the job losses and his support of the Revel casino boondoggle):
Last month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed two bills passed by the state legislature that would have struck down the state’s prohibition on sports gambling, seemingly ending the state’s two-year fight to bring sports gambling to its struggling Atlantic City casinos. At the time, he said he still favored bringing sports gambling to the state, but wanted to do so in a way that wouldn’t break a federal law that allows wagering in just four states: Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware.
But after a wave of casino closings in Atlantic City generated piles of bad press for Christie, and seeking to give his home-state casinos an edge over recently constructed competitors in Pennsylvania and Maryland, Christie apparently has changed his mind.
In essence, Christie is doing exactly what the stage legislature attempted to do earlier this year: Dropping the state’s prohibition on sports gambling, which he claims is a legal move under federal law. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, casinos in Atlantic City will be allowed to introduce sports gambling immediately, so long as no bets are taken on teams located in New Jersey or on any sporting event taking place in New Jersey.....
Christie’s move, however, likely will be challenged in court by the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA, WABC-TV in New York writes. Those organizations already have been successful in stopping the expansion of sports gambling in New Jersey, winning multiple court cases against the state, which then asked the Supreme Court to consider the matter. It declined.
I don't see this happening anytime soon, and I expect the Giants and the Jets are really going to get squeezed in the fight between the state and the NFL.  I also wouldn't be surprised to see the NCAA threaten to withdraw mens' basketball tournament hosting opportunities for the state.  I doubt that New Jersey will be able to host sports gambling as long as two NFL teams are based there.  In the end, though, somebody other than Nevada will get legal sports gambling eventually.  There's just way too much money to be made in that endeavor.

As Zinc Mines Close, Prices Rise


The world is running low on zinc, sending some investors scurrying to buy mining-company shares and forcing the U.S. Mint to redouble cost-cutting efforts in search of a cheaper penny.
Prices for the metal have soared to three-year highs. Investors are betting prices will continue to climb as some of the world's largest zinc mines run dry just as demand is ramping up.
Zinc is used in everything from steel coatings to car tires to sunscreen, and the metal has few substitutes. The U.S. Mint reduced manufacturing costs to offset higher prices for zinc, which makes up 97.5% of every penny. However, steelmakers, which buy about half the world's zinc, are in a tougher bind. Zinc is one of several rust-resistant metals vital to the steelmaking process where costs have soared this year.
Zinc production is expected to fall short of demand this year for the first time since 2007, according to Goldman Sachs. Several large, aging mines are scheduled to close next year, and miners need higher prices to justify the cost of finding and developing new sources of metal. Miners may not produce enough zinc to meet the needs of steel companies and coin makers until 2018, analysts say. Meantime, a rebound in the U.S. property market and soaring global auto sales are creating new demand for galvanized steel.
Zinc for delivery in three months ended down slightly at $2,390 a metric ton on the London Metal Exchange, just below a three-year high. Futures are up 15% this year. BNP Paribas sees prices averaging $2,550 next year.
"There are a relatively small number of large zinc mines that are happening to be reaching the end of their useful lives," said Stephen Briggs, a metals strategist at the bank. "While there are mines to replace them, they're not that many and they're not that big…we're reaching the tipping point."
Next year, metal companies are expected to close two mines equal to 7% of global production. Replacing that supply won't be easy.
The poor penny takes another kick in the groin.  It would seem like issues like this would make folks question the eternal growth story line for the world economy, as we've pretty much used up most of the easy-to-get industrial metals and fossil fuels, but it persists.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Howard's Farm

Howard's Farm from Ivan Cash on Vimeo.

Harvest Moon


and finally

North Dakota Farmers See Some Side Effects From Oil Boom

Farmers have had farms contaminated from wastewater spills:
Last summer, in a wet, remote section of farm country in Bottineau County, landowner Mike Artz and his two neighbors discovered that a ruptured pipeline was spewing contaminated wastewater into his crop fields.
“We saw all this oil on the low area, and all this salt water spread out beyond it,” said his neighbor Larry Peterson, who works as a farmer and an oil-shale contractor. “The water ran out into the wetland.”
It was August, and all across Artz’s farm the barley crop was just reaching maturity. But near the spill, the dead stalks had undeveloped kernels, which, the farmers knew, meant that the barley had been contaminated weeks earlier.
Soon after, state testing of the wetlands showed that chloride levels were so high, they exceeded the range of the test strips. The North Dakota Department of Health estimated that between 400 to 600 barrels of wastewater, the equivalent of 16,800 to 25,200 gallons, had seeped into the ground.
Wastewater, known as “saltwater” because of its high salinity, is a by-product of oil drilling, which has been a boom-and-bust industry in North Dakota since at least the 1930s. Far saltier than ocean water, this wastewater is toxic enough to sterilize land and poison animals that mistakenly drink it. “You never see a saltwater spill produce again,” Artz said, referring to the land affected by the contamination. “Maybe this will be the first, but I doubt it.”
Artz is far from being the only farmer in his area, or even in his family, to be forced to cope with the environmental and financial costs of wastewater. His brother Pete recently testified before the state legislature’s Energy Development and Transmission Committee that he lost five cattle after they drank contaminated water from a reserve pit left from two wells drilled on his property in 2009. His other brother, Bob, had a spill that sent wastewater pouring down the road and across his land in late July.
In fact, farmers and landowners all across Bottineau County are struggling with the compounding effects of both new and decades-old water contamination. The county lies in the northern outskirts of the Bakken Formation, which has transformed over the last few years into one of the top-producing oil fields in the world, generating more than 1 million barrels a day.
Bottineau County isn't in the heart of the current oil-producing region, but it has seen a lot of problems from both previous booms and from failing pipelines.  However, wastewater spills are fairly common in the more active regions of the Bakken field:
Most large spills are caused by burst pipelines, but another source of contamination is tank explosions at water-disposal sites. The water-storage tanks are made of fiberglass, which is a perfect conductor for lightning during storms. This summer, at least three saltwater tanks have exploded after being struck, causing the waste to spill onto the surrounding land. “The industry says it’s cheaper to just put up another tank than to put in the technology to avoid lightning,” said Jerry Samuelson, emergency manager of McKenzie County, where the new drilling boom is occurring.
A third problem is tanker rollovers, which occur when a driver’s wheels catch the often icy edges of North Dakota’s narrow highways and flip over. “There are more wrecks and fatalities than I’ve ever seen,” said the owner of a small trucking company in Williston who previously worked as a driver for the oil industry in Alaska and Texas and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “In the winter there are two or three every day.”
I don't feel bad that Western Ohio isn't a part of the fracking boom.  I'll take my land oil-poor and not contaminated. If that's not enough, I really don't need the population to quadruple around me.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

September 6:

Moonbow Beach
Image Credit & Copyright: Rogelio Bernal Andreo (Deep Sky Colors)
Explanation: Like a rainbow at night, a beautiful moonbow shines above the western horizon in this deserted beach scene from Molokai Island, Hawaii, USA, planet Earth. Captured last June 17 in early morning hours, the lights along the horizon are from Honolulu and cities on the island of Oahu some 30 miles away. So where was the Moon? A rainbow is produced by sunlight internally reflected in rain drops from the direction opposite the Sun back toward the observer. As the light passes from air to water and back to air again, longer wavelengths are refracted (bent) less than shorter ones resulting in the separation of colors. And so the moonbow is produced as raindrops reflect moonlight from the direction opposite the Moon. That puts the Moon directly behind the photographer, still low and rising over the eastern horizon, a few days past its full phase.

This is Bengals Country

Per Facebook, this is a map of the most popular NFL team in each county in the U.S.:

What the hell is wrong with Toledo?  Ok, that might be a rhetorical question.