Saturday, September 27, 2014

Honey Could We Ask For More?

Start of Fall Weekend Links

Some interesting stories to check out:

Did Clayton Kershaw Just Have The Best Summer In Baseball History? - The Atlantic

Life in the Fastest Lane - SBNation

Dewhurst Tells D.C. Crowd Prayer Rugs Found on Border - Texas Tribune.  What's wrong with the Republican party in one headline.

EPA unveils Great Lakes restoration plan - Columbus Dispatch

Ebb and Flow - Texas Monthly.  Life on the border.

The Secret Goldman Sachs Tapes - Michael Lewis, on the secretly recorded tapes from a Fed regulator at Goldman Sachs in 2012.  As you would expect, Goldman ran the show.  Some of the material will be aired on This American Life today.

Manischewitz: The Great Story of a Not-So-Great Wine - Modern Farmer

You Say You Want a Reformation - Josh Marshall.  On calls for an "Islamic Reformation."  Marshall reminds folks that European history after the Reformation was anything but peaceful.

G.O.P Error Reveals Donors and the Price of Access - New York Times

The Dismal Science: "Seven Bad Ideas" by Jeff Madrick - a book review by Paul Krugman.  See also: 7 Reasons the Economic Crisis is a Crisis for Economics - Pieria.

The Women of ENIAC - Fortune

Think you drink a lot?  This chart will tell you - Wonkblog

and a bonus photo from the home place this morning:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Oil Trains Hit Coal Supply at Western Power Plants

From Marketplace:
The northern United States is experiencing the first signs of fall as temperatures drop across the region. This is usually the season when power plants are stockpiling coal in preparation for higher electricity demand during the cold months ahead. Well, as Wyoming Public Radio's Stephanie Joyce reports, this year, building up those supplies is proving problematic.
STEPHANIE JOYCE, BYLINE: Coal leaves Wyoming's Powder River Basin in mile-long trains bound for power plants across the country. One of those is the Comanche power plant outside of Pueblo, Colorado. It consumes hundreds of tons of coal an hour - coal that's stockpiled at the plant.
CRAIG ROMER: And that pile will be, oh, a hundred feet tall at its normal operating height.
JOYCE: That's Craig Romer. He manages the fuel supply for Xcel Energy, one of the nation's largest utilities and the owner of the Comanche plant. During a recent visit to the facility, the stockpile was nowhere close to 10 stories tall.
From where I'm standing it's barely three stories. It doesn't reach anywhere close to the top of the wind barriers that they've set up around it. There is a coal train sitting here on the tracks right outside the plant but it looks like it is empty.
ROMER: You'd usually like to see about twice the amount of coal than what we have on the ground right now.
JOYCE: But Romer says coal trains haven't been making as many deliveries as usual to the plant, in recent months. The problem is this - oil development is booming in the northern Rockies and Dakotas. But there aren't enough pipelines to move it. So it's being loaded onto hundreds of thousands of railcars instead.
ROMER: We're competing for the same rails as that new traffic is competing for.
JOYCE: In addition to oil taking up capacity, there have been two years of bumper grain crops in the Midwest. And an exceptionally cold winter last year meant trains couldn't run as fast. Romer says the only way for the railroads to avoid a slow-motion traffic jam of epic proportions has been to keep some trains off the tracks.
ROMER: Five o'clock, if you put more cars on the road then nobody moves anywhere.
JOYCE: But that means some of the coal bound for Xcel's plants - not only in Colorado but in Minnesota, in Texas - isn't making it there. Romer estimates stockpiles for all of Xcel's coal-powered plants are at 60 percent of where he would like them to be......
JOYCE: Minnesota Power announced earlier this month that it was idling production at two plants in response to delayed coal deliveries. A number of other utilities have taken steps to avoid having to shut down. Gutierrez says several of his member plans are among those, including ones in Wisconsin and Kansas.
GUTIERREZ: Dairyland, Sunflower - both of those facilities - actually went into conservation mode to make sure that they had enough coal on hand to prevent a rolling blackout.
JOYCE: Gutierrez says last winter Dairyland had to truck in coal to avoid shutting down. That came with a hefty price tag since the transportation costs for trucking are much higher than transporting it by rail.
So we have an insufficient infrastructure network, which we can't afford to maintain properly at its current size, let alone expand, and we can barely transport all of our finite fossil fuel requirements to feed our energy needs.  Last year's cold spell, along with other years' heat waves bring us to the brink of rolling blackouts or cascading blackouts.  The fragility of our power grid and transportation network would appear to be a major weakness in our energy intensive lifestyle, and at some point in the next 5 years or so, I would anticipate a major outage which highlights this failing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Cuban Missile, By the Numbers

C. Trent Rosecrans highlights how out-of-this world Aroldis Chapman has been this season:
With six games remaining in the season, Chapman is on pace to set a major league record by striking out 51.9 percent of the batters he's faced this season. In all, Chapman's faced 181 batters, and 94 of those have struck out. The only other pitcher to have ever struck out more than 50 percent of the batters he's faced was Braves reliever Craig Kimbrel, who struck out 50.2 percent of the batters he faced in 2012.
Chapman's also looking to become the first pitcher since PITCHf/x technology was installed in all 30 parks in 2008 to average 100 miles per hour on his fastball.
This season, Chapman has thrown 371 pitches that have been measured at 100 mph or more. All the other pitchers in baseball have combined to throw 151. In all, 16 pitchers have thrown pitches that have hit 100 mph, according to PITCHf/x. After Chapman, the Royals' Kelvin Herrera has thrown the next most with 54. His teammate, Yordano Ventura, is third with 39. The Cardinals' Carlos Martinez (18) and Erik Cordier (13) of the Giants round out the top five and are the only other pitchers in double figures. Of the 16 to hit triple digits, seven have done it just once, including the Reds' Jumbo Diaz (a first-pitch ball to Casey McGehee on Aug. 9 that was 100.1 mph.)
The triple digits have become so commonplace with Chapman that it takes 101 mph or more to really get the crowd murmuring at Great American Ball Park.
Even 101 has seemed pedestrian for Reds fans, as Chapman has thrown pitches 101 or better on 141 occasions just at Great American Ball Park this season. Overall, he's thrown 195 pitches at 101 or better and the rest of Major League Baseball's pitchers have six — two each by the Royals' Herrera and Ventura and one each by Cordier and the Phillies' Ken Giles. And of those, only Herrera has thrown 101.1 or better, clocking one at 101.1 and one at 101.4.
Chapman's fastest pitch this season was measured at 103.8 mph and it was fouled off by Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt on July 28. Goldschmidt would strike out on a foul tip on a 103.1 mph fastball in that at-bat. In all, Chapman has 11 fastballs that were 103 (including the pitch to Goldscmidt, the lone one that would be rounded up to 104). He has thrown 54 pitches between 102.0 and 102.9 mph.
The man is in a league of his own.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

From Tuesday:

Milky Way above Atacama Salt Lagoon
Image Credit & Copyright: Alex Tudorica (AIfA, U. Bonn)
Explanation: Galaxies, stars, and a serene reflecting pool combine to create this memorable land and skyscape. The featured panorama is a 12-image mosaic taken last month from the Salar de Atacama salt flat in northern Chile. The calm water is Laguna Cejar, a salty lagoon featuring a large central sinkhole. On the image left, the astrophotographer's fiancee is seen capturing the same photogenic scene. The night sky is lit up with countless stars, the Large and Small Magellanic Cloud galaxies on the left, and the band of our Milky Way galaxy running diagonally up the right. The Milky Way may appear to be causing havoc at the horizon, but those are just the normal lights of a nearby town.

A Slight Understatement

From a Wall Street Journal story on U.S. Steel's CEO, and his plan to overhaul the steelmaking giant:
U.S. Steel's share price has more than doubled since Mr. Longhi took over, largely because investors are excited about his cost-cutting initiative, dubbed "the Carnegie Way," after notable steelmaker Andrew Carnegie. The company is cutting $435 million in costs this year and said it can make similar cuts in the next several years.
Notable steelmaker?  You could say that:
Carnegie made his fortune in the steel industry, controlling the most extensive integrated iron and steel operations ever owned by an individual in the United States. One of his two great innovations was in the cheap and efficient mass production of steel by adopting and adapting the Bessemer process for steel making. Sir Henry Bessemer had invented the furnace which allowed the high carbon content of pig iron to be burnt away in a controlled and rapid way. The steel price dropped as a direct result, and Bessemer steel was rapidly adopted for railway lines and girders for buildings and bridges. The second was in his vertical integration of all suppliers of raw materials. In the late 1880s, Carnegie Steel was the largest manufacturer of pig iron, steel rails, and coke in the world, with a capacity to produce approximately 2,000 tons of pig metal per day. In 1888, Carnegie bought the rival Homestead Steel Works, which included an extensive plant served by tributary coal and iron fields, a 425-mile (685 km) long railway, and a line of lake steamships. Carnegie combined his assets and those of his associates in 1892 with the launching of the Carnegie Steel Company.
By 1889, the U.S. output of steel exceeded that of the UK, and Carnegie owned a large part of it. Carnegie's empire grew to include the J. Edgar Thomson Steel Works, (named for John Edgar Thomson, Carnegie's former boss and president of the Pennsylvania Railroad), Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Works, the Lucy Furnaces, the Union Iron Mills, the Union Mill (Wilson, Walker & County), the Keystone Bridge Works, the Hartman Steel Works, the Frick Coke Company, and the Scotia ore mines. Carnegie, through Keystone, supplied the steel for and owned shares in the landmark Eads Bridge project across the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Missouri (completed 1874). This project was an important proof-of-concept for steel technology, which marked the opening of a new steel market.
In 1901, Carnegie was 66 years of age and considering retirement. He reformed his enterprises into conventional joint stock corporations as preparation to this end. John Pierpont Morgan was a banker and perhaps America's most important financial deal maker. He had observed how efficiently Carnegie produced profit. He envisioned an integrated steel industry that would cut costs, lower prices to consumers, produce in greater quantities and raise wages to workers. To this end, he needed to buy out Carnegie and several other major producers and integrate them into one company, thereby eliminating duplication and waste. He concluded negotiations on March 2, 1901, and formed the United States Steel Corporation. It was the first corporation in the world with a market capitalization over $1 billion.
Maybe the Wall Street Journal wasn't impressed that Carnegie gave so much of his wealth away.  Anyway, it is notable that the man who created the U.S. Steel empire is described as "notable" in a story on the same company over a hundred years after Carnegie sold it.

It's A Start

The Cincinnati Bengals have started the season 3-0, and are undefeated in September for the first time in seven seasons.  That year they finished 8-8.  Hopefully  this season will go a little better.

I think we could use some music.

Canary in the Fracking Play?

A couple Fridays ago, the July production data for the Bakken field in North Dakota were released:
June Oil 32,775,559 barrels = 1,092,519 barrels/day
July Oil 34,429,910 barrels = 1,110,642 barrels/day (preliminary)(NEW all-time high)
1,047,034 barrels per day or 94% from Bakken and Three Forks
63,608 barrels per day or 6% from legacy conventional pools
June Gas 37,588,622 MCF = 1,252,954 MCF/day
July Gas 40,035,470 MCF = 1,291,467 MCF/day (preliminary)(NEW all-time high)

June Producing Wells = 11,090
July Producing Wells = 11,287 (preliminary)(NEW all-time high)
7,862 Wells or 70% are now unconventional Bakken –Three forks wells
3,425 wells or 30% produce from legacy conventional pools
Hey, a new record high.  That's good news.  But compare it to the June data:

May Oil 32,254,545 barrels = 1,040,469 barrels/day
June Oil 32,778,524 barrels = 1,092,617 barrels/day (preliminary)(NEW all-time high)
1,048,462 barrels per day or 96% from Bakken and Three Forks
44,155 barrels per day or 4% from legacy conventional pools

May Gas 36,978,663 MCF = 1,192,860 MCF/day
June Gas 37,594,631 MCF = 1,253,154 MCF/day (preliminary)(NEW all-time high)

May Producing Wells = 10,902
June Producing Wells = 11,079 (preliminary)(NEW all-time high)
7,704 Wells or 70% are now unconventional Bakken –Three forks wells
3,375 wells or 30% produce from legacy conventional pools
So, 158 new wells came on-line, but overall production from the Bakken-Three Forks wells actually decreased by over 1,400 barrels a day.  There are a lot of potential explanations for the decrease, including bad weather, inaccurate data (they are preliminary numbers), onetime factors or other background that I can't think of.  Also, this is just one month of data. 

However, there are also a few potential factors which lend credence to doubts of more optimistic views of the "shale oil revolution."  We are getting 3 years on from when well startups really took off in the Bakken play, so those wells are probably reaching the end of their significant production lives.  July, 2011 saw 198 new wells come online, and total production increased from 384,809 barrels a day to 423,550 barrels a day.  That was a 38,741 barrel per day, or 10 percent increase.  Going forward, it may take almost 150 wells per month just to replace the decline in production from 3 years worth of existing wells.  That will make the monthly increases in production harder to come by.  Likewise, you are more likely to see more dry holes and more low-production wells as we move away from the sweet spots in the field. 

Next month's data release may show July to be a one-off decrease in production, but the warning is still there.  Several folks are predicting a peak in production within 2 or 3 years in the Bakken.  The Eagle Ford and the Permian basins will see peaks eventually, too.  So it is very likely that soaring oil prices and supply issues will be seen in our intermediate future.  That will strain what is already a shitty economic expansion and put a greater strain on already suffering middle-class households.  That will be bad.