Friday, May 27, 2016

Fracking Won't Go Away

The Democrats can’t kill fracking – the process of busting open shale rock with high-pressure water that, along with horizontal drilling, has put American on the road to energy independence. But the Democrats are trying hard.

Locally, an officer of the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida who was formerly chair of the Lee County Democratic Party decried the evils of fracking in a Naples Daily News commentary. Her qualification for doing this was apparently that she was a Democrat. It certainly wasn’t that she knew anything about fracking. Her writing showed she didn’t.

Facts notwithstanding, it’s become a rallying cry for the left: Ban fracking. The so-called progressives wear their ignorance like a badge of courage. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida never misses a chance to flog fracking.  

The Feds are trying to kill it as well. The latest attempt was an EPA missive to cut methane emissions from natural gas production, nearly all of which involves fracking. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. No matter that less than 30% of methane released to the atmosphere comes from the oil patch (most comes from natural sources, landfills and cattle flatulence). But the oil industry is an easy target.

The proposed rules require new wells to be monitored and steps taken to reduce methane releases 45% by 2025. But guess what? Even without government mandates, the industry, with continually improving technology, will easily meet that goal and more. After all, methane lost to the atmosphere is methane that can’t be sold.

No, neither the EPA nor the local Democrats will kill fracking. And neither will depressed oil and gas prices. In true free-market style, the weak producers are falling by the wayside, and the strong producers are tightening operations, focusing on the most productive plays and driving down costs.

As a result, oil and gas production remains strong. Crude has just hit $50 a barrel. When – not if, but when – crude oil returns to a sustained $60 a  barrel, the frackers will be back in force.

The majors – Exxon Mobil, Chevron and others – continue to be active players.  It’s important to keep in mind that much of U.S. land-based oil and gas recovery, even from older, non-shale wells, now involves some form of enhanced treatment, often hydraulic fracturing. Fracking is no longer a curiosity. It’s an integral part of today’s oil and gas production.

Also lost in the hand-wringing is that fact that fracking has provided big environmental benefits. Cheap shale gas has replaced coal in many power plants, dramatically reducing carbon emissions. As a result, meeting President Obama’s 2025 emission goals will be an easy matter.  

But what about climate change? Isn’t that based on undisputable evidence that fossil fuels are the villain, that reversing damage to the atmosphere can only be achieved by delivering on the Paris accords – namely getting rid of all fossil fuels, including shale gas?

For starters, the Paris conference was a fraud, a feel-good sham. Countries made voluntary promises that, even if kept, wouldn’t keep warming below the target 2-degree Celsius rise said by the experts needed to avert global disaster. And the Paris plan allows many countries to keep adding coal plants – China until 2030 – plants that, if you believe the experts, will do irreparable harm.

But those same experts are now having second thoughts. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now says, even with greatly improved climate models, it cannot forecast atmospheric warming with any certainty. Gone is the dire warning of a 3-degree Celsius increase by 2100. The so-called experts just don’t know.

In fact, a recent study found that cold temperatures are more of an immediate threat than global heat. Of 74 million deaths recently examined, only 0.5% were found due to heat, while 7% were caused by extreme cold.

Facts are still evolving; the science isn’t yet settled.

Put it all together and the conclusion is fracking isn’t going away any time soon. The Democrats will have to try harder.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Political Enema

Cleaning out the political files is always therapeutic …

·      My files may be cluttered, but they’re nothing compared to the chaos of the Florida legislature. Our lawmakers just wrapped up another session, where the crowning achievement was passing a budget on the final day. That was an improvement over the debacle of last year when they had to return to Tallahassee like errant children in order to pass a budget. Winners in the 2016 session included public education, which got record expenditures. The big loser was the environment, left unprotected from fracking and without adequate funds for groundwater cleanup or the Everglades.

·      Then there’s the local scene, where I’m always amazed at the amount of ink given the City of Naples. The city has 6% of the county’s population, yet gets more than half of the space in the Naples Daily News. Part of that is devoted to the arts, clearly centered in the city. But much of the coverage is political – most recently the mayoral race, which seems to have tickled the fancy of the scribbling class. The coverage is misplaced. Whether John Sorey, Bill Barnett or Teresa Heitmann is elected mayor will have little effect on Collier County, where the real power is in the county commission, school board and the fire districts.

·      Quote of the week: “Hillary Clinton has more baggage than American Airlines.”

·      It’s become fashionable to politicize the environment. Latest is a commentary by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida president, who took a shot at Governor Rick Scott for criticizing President Obama’s reduction of funding for a Lake Okeechobee dyke system. The fact is there’s plenty of blame to go around. For years, both the feds and Tallahassee have been misguiding and undercutting water-management expenditures for south Florida. Damning the Republicans won’t help the cause.

·      Everyone is passionate about the presidential race, where candidates are lining up on either the far left or far right, even though over 40% of the voters describe themselves as moderates. One neighbor says if Trump wins she’s moving to Canada. Another neighbor says if Hillary wins he’s moving to Costa Rica. The real estate market might take a real hit!  

·      A good friend, a thoughtful guy, describes the choice we have: “Hillary is corrupt and Trump is dangerous.” Maybe we could draft Michael Bloomberg or exhume Ronald Reagan.

·      Climate change (if you believe there is such a thing) has become very political, particularly the remedies (if you believe there is such a thing). The Democrats would have us destroy the environment by plastering the country with solar farms and wind turbines – vast swatches would be needed to make an energy impact – and the Republicans would have us deny the problem and hope for a favorable turn in the geological cycle.

·      Show tunes for the political season: “Give ‘Em That Old Razzle-Dazzle” (‘Chicago’), “Let Me Entertain You” (‘Gypsy’), “Dad Gum Guv’ment” (‘Big River’), “I Don’t Understand the Poor” (‘A Gentleman’s Guide’) and “Send in the Clowns” (‘A Little Night Music’).

·      There are role reversals everywhere. The Republicans may have the Koch brothers, but the common-folk Democrats are winning the money race with big spenders like Warren Buffett, Tom Steyer, Eric Schmidt and Steven Spielberg. Then there is abuse of eminent domain – not by big-government Democrats, as you might expect, but by Republican Donald Trump.

·      Betting on the NCAA basketball tournament has always been a spring sport. This year handicapping the local political races might be even more fun. For example, what odds do you give on Hiller versus Brock for Clerk of Courts? How about the right-wingers versus the old guard for school board control? Or Hudson versus Passidomo for Richter’s state senate seat?

Okay, that empties things out a bit. Next I’m going to go through old tax returns.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


 You don’t really know how diverse our country is until you’ve visited Hawaii. My wife and I did last month, and it was an eye-opener.

Here are some recollections.

First off, it’s a great way to experience Pacific polynesia without carrying a passport or changing money. Some say it’s Florida with mountains. But it’s more than that.

The residents, most of them a polyglot of southeast Asia, are fiercely American. Don’t tell them you’re from the United States. They are too, and they’re proud of it.

All U.S. coffee comes from there, as does most pineapple and macadamia nuts. The coffee plantations – there are 520 on the Big Island alone (think Kona coffee) – are enough to keep you in caffeine for a lifetime of meetings. The biggest producer, interestingly, is not on Hawaii’s Kona Coast, but on Kauai, where laid-back tours show you how coffee is made.

We visited three islands, each with its own specialty.
·      Oahu has Waikiki, a Honolulu resort strip worthy of Miami Beach, but with Diamond Head as a backdrop.
·      Kauai has Waimea Canyon. Mark Twain called it “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and it doesn’t disappoint.
·      Hawaii, the ‘Big Island,’ has volcanoes, including Kilauea, the most active in the world. But no red-hot lava, at least when we were there.

All three islands have incredible waterfalls you can reach by road, and all have flowers in profusion. No big surprise. There’s lots of rain and rich volcanic soil.

The drive across the Big Island, from windward Hilo (140 inches of rain a year) to leeward Kona (10 inches a year) is a primer in meteorology. Passing through the jungle-like east, you go through clouds and drizzle on the south slope of 13,796-foot-high Mauna Kea and emerge into sunshine and desert on the west. Like turning a switch!

Hawaii is unique in other ways as well.

·      It’s in the middle of the Pacific and subject to heavy weather. Hilo and other coastal towns have clearly marked evacuation routes. Tsunamis kill more Hawaiians than any other natural event.

·      When the islands aren’t getting rain, the sun is shining, and Hawaii takes advantage of it, generating more solar energy per capita than any other state. Rooftop solar panels are everywhere.

·      And sports. Where else are there surfing leagues? And surfing tours? That’s right. Professional surfers go from event to event, catching waves wherever there’s prize money. Then there’s rowing. High schools have eight-person crews that race between the islands.

Unfortunately, paradise has its downsides. Everything is very expensive. Property values make Naples look like a bargain. Tourism is not for the faint-hearted; visiting there empties the wallet.

And taxes are astronomical. Perhaps taking a cue from California, Hawaiian officials have found a way to tax everything. The add-ons to hotel, restaurant and even car rental bills jack up costs by 20-30%. It’s creative government at its worst.

But, in spite of the downsides, Hawaii is not to be missed. It has diversity and texture and marvelous people. And a harbor in Oahu where history was changed on December 7, 1941.