Friday, March 28, 2008

LNG Floating Terminal A Bad Idea

One of the things that's so galling about Broadwater is the pretense that there's no better way of delivering Liquid Natural Gas to our part of the world (leaving aside for the moment whether we really need more imported supplies.)

But there is a better way, and we need go no further than Massachusetts Bay, 18 miles east of Boston, to see it.

Texas-based Excelerate Energy has just finished the Northeast Gateway LNG terminal there with a capacity of 800 million cubic feet of gas per day. But instead of building a huge floating regasification terminal to take in the gas, as Broadwater wants to do, it installed only a floating buoy system. The special ships that deliver the gas do the whole job, hooking up to the buoy and then heating the LNG to gaseous form so it can be transported through a pipeline. Even more impressive, these environmentally-superior ships use a water re-cycling system that avoids spilling heated water into the ocean, reducing the impact on marine life.

Compare this to what Broadwater would do. Last September, I attended an informational meeting where a Broadwater representativer said that the water discharged by their operations in Long Island Sound would be raised 3 degrees and contain chlorine. This representative characterized the impact as "minimal and temporary."

Well, not quite, says the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. It estimates that the operation of the ships at the floating terminal will kill 270 million eggs, larvae and juvenile fish, each and every year.

But hey, we didn't really expect to keep fishing in Long Island Sound, did we?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Natural Gas Gone Wild: Construction Boom Biggest in 60 Years

Yes, it surely is ironic. A few years ago when companies like Shell Oil and Chevron Texaco made plans to build 47 new Liquid Natural Gas terminals, it seemed that domestic supplies would be short.

But domestic producers also saw the need and moved to meet it.

The result is the biggest construction boom in natural gas infrastructure in the Southeast/Gulf Coast region since the late 1940s and early 1950s. (This region is the hub of major pipelines that move gas all over the country, including the Northeast) According to a report from Natural Gas Intelligence Press, there are 25 gas pipeline projects under way and 11 storage projects. The storage is being built because now there is an expectation of a surplus of supply coming from domestic operations and just four new LNG terminals in the area.

All of this is causing turmoil in the industry and is expected to bring about volatility in prices and other effects.

This underscores, once again, the madness of not having a coherent national energy policy.

It also highlights the question of whether there is really any need for Broadwater.

As I've written in earlier posts, overbuilding of LNG terminals is expected to leave them operating at below 50 percent capacity for years to come

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New Gas for NYC/LI Ready Without Broadwater

While everyone was paying attention last week to federal approval for the Broadwater Liquid Natural Gas terminal, news about guaranteed expansion of natural gas supply to our region went unnoticed.

The same federal agency that approved Broadwater also gave a green light to the Iroquois Pipeline company to expand its capacity and deliver 50 percent more natural gas--that's right, 50 percent--to Keyspan for Long Island, and Con Edison for the city.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (known lovingly as FERC) told Iroquois it could go ahead and increase pipeline capacity so that it could add 200 million cubic feet a day to Keyspan's system and 100 million to Con Edison's. This was confirmed to me by Ruth Parkins, spokesperson for Iroquois. Delivery will start November 1 for most of it, with the rest phased in by November 1, 2009.

That's 30 percent of what Broadwater says it will deliver to the 1,200-foot-long, 200-foot-wide terminal it proposes to plant in Long Island Sound, IF it can get the supply. The federal Energy Information Administration's energy outlook for 2008 says supplies of LNG will be so tight in years to come that the terminals already existing or under construction, not including Broadwater, will run at under 50 percent capacity. (See previous post on Broadwater.)

The Iroquois expansion does nothing to disrupt the environment, boating, etc., etc., and expanding pipelines is exactly the remedy for expanding energy supplies supported by Connecticut's attorney general, governor and lawmakers.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Exposed: Little Demand, Little Supply for Broadwater LNG

The lead came to me from a sailor. I was looking for information about what it would be like to have a massive Liquid Natural Gas terminal in Long Island Sound, so I called Tom Cox up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, to ask what happened to boaters when 1,000-foot LNG tankers pass through Boston Harbor.

Cox is a frost-biter, one of those addicted sailors who risk their skin every winter by racing around the harbor in small boats. He told me that the tankers regularly disrupt the races. He and the other sailors have to steer away from the safety zone imposed by patrol boats trying to protect the tankers against a terrorist attack. More about that later.

But Cox really got my attention when he told me that he trades in stocks and commodities, including natural gas. “The really irksome thing to me,” he said, “is that natural gas is very abundant in the U.S.”

What’s that? You mean we don’t really need the natural gas that backers of the Broadwater LNG terminal in the Sound say we do? The backers have claimed—and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has just agreed-- that our region needs the terminal to meet our growing needs.
But if there’s plenty of gas in the U.S., why do we need to:
  • become newly dependent on foreign supplies?
  • give up public property, a piece of precious Long Island Sound?
  • allow 1,000-foot ships to risk disaster entering the Sound the through its perilous mouth, the narrow, rocky channel known as The Race? (These tankers, by the way, run on one of the most polluting forms of petroleum and will be traveling thousands of miles across the oceans.)
These questions sent me on an information dig, and what I’ve found out boggles the mind: not only is the predicted growth in demand for natural gas over the next 20 years quite modest, but the supply of gas for the Broadwater terminal—and the others proposed for the East Coast—will be so low that they won't be able to operate at even 50 percent capacity.

These predictions come from the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA), whose job is to develop this sort of information to help guide lawmakers and regulators. On March 4, the administrator of the EIA, Guy Caruso, testified (click on the link to a pdf of his testimony) before a U.S. Senate Committee that natural gas consumption is expected to rise 10 percent from 2006 levels by 2016, and then to decline. By 2030, the agency predicts, consumption will be up less than 5 percent over 2006 levels.

What about specifically in New York? The state’s energy plan does predict growth in demand of about 1.5 percent a year, particularly if electric utilities switch to gas from oil to cut pollution and greenhouse gases. But it also says this growth can be met by increased capacity of the pipelines which supply our area. In fact, much of the pipeline expansion predicted in the 2002 plan (which has not been completely updated) has already occurred or is in process.

As for supply, Caruso gave an assessment for the six new LNG terminals in the U.S. already under construction (four along the Gulf Coast and two near Gloucester, Massachusetts). Without even considering the additional supply needed for Broadwater should it be built, Caruso said that “given global LNG supply constraints” LNG import facilities in the U.S. will function at “below 50 percent” capacity through 2030.

To my knowledge, Broadwater officials have never addressed this stunning conclusion, choosing instead to bash opponents for—how predictable—unnecessarily exploiting and inflaming public fears.

Obviously, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which yesterday gave approval for Broadwater, is not on the same page as the EIA. Other entities, however, have considered these basic questions of supply and demand in opposing Broadwater. Among these is the LNG Task Force created by Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell. This bipartisan group has charged that FERC “irresponsibly” concluded that Broadwater is the only option for supplying additional natural gas to New York and Connecticut. As Tom Cox had inferred, and the task force made explicit in a letter to New York’s new governor, David Paterson on March 13:

There are viable alternatives to provide New York with the natural gas it needs and these alternatives will be up and running well before Broadwater is scheduled to be on line…FERC disregarded any actual or any potential increase in the natural gas supply resulting from upgrades to the existing pipeline system and/or from the other new LNG facilities.

You’d think this information, plus the EIA’s predictions of slow demand growth, would have given FERC good reason to be very dubious about Broadwater’s effort to take over public waters of Long Island Sound. But when looking at alternatives, the agency made sure its finding would favor the project by considering only other options that could also deliver a billion cubic feet of new gas to the region. Thus, the readiness of the Iroquois Pipeline company to add 400 million cubic feet of supply wasn’t taken into account. (The Iroquois Pipeline terminates on Long Island and supplies Keyspan and Con Edison.)

Why not? Because, once again the Bush Administration and its minions in the federal agencies are allowing the big energy companies to set U.S. energy policy. Even though the market for oil and gas is dominated by a handful of enormous companies, the Bushies act as if true competition were at work, and that the imaginary free market can magically make better policy than we actual humans.

As for the perils of LNG terminals, Richard Clarke, the former anti-terrorism adviser to Bush, has said that the mammoth tankers might as well have targets painted on their sides as they traverse narrow inlets like Boston Harbor and the mouth of Long Island Sound. An October, 2005 article in a local Massachusetts newspaper, SouthCoast Today, reported that “Boston officials cross their fingers when the 1,000 foot tankers pass through the harbors, fearing an accident or a terrorist attack on a loaded vessel could produce a conflagration that incinerates businesses and residents alike up to one mile away.”

Broadwater backers point out correctly that LNG does not explode and that even if it should spill and burn, the Broadwater terminal would be about 10 miles off both the Connecticut and Long Island shores. Of course, any boaters or fishers who might be nearby at the time would be toast. But the tankers will be less than a mile from Fishers Island when they enter the Sound through the Race, which takes its name from the turbulent rush of water that spills in and out of the Sound with every tide.

If a tanker were simply to lose steerage—as happened not long ago in Boston Harbor—or run aground in the Race—it would block all sizable commercial vessels from entering the Sound. (The only other way in, at Plum Gut, is too narrow for such large vessels.)

The next step forward for Broadwater would be approval by New York Governor Paterson, but no matter what he decides, litigation will tie up this project for a long time to come.

I can only hope that he will understand that what is at stake here. Otherwise, the Bush Administration, this time in the guise of FERC, will again have thumbed its nose at the public while ignoring the best supply and demand predictions of its own sister agency. Broadwater Energy is a partnership of TransCanada, a pipeline company, and Shell Oil. Their fingerprints are all over FERC’s biased decision to grant the project a permit. ##

Thursday, March 20, 2008

2008 Energy Use Forecast: A Challenge for Conservation

The U.S. will be sucking down 19% more energy by 2030, says the Energy Information Administration in its 2008 energy outlook, delivered to Congress recently. This estimate is bad news because it takes into account the new higher mpg standards for cars; more efficient appliances and lighting and other such mandated improvements, as well as use of biofuels. The even worse news is that our emissions of carbon dioxide also will be rising at an average annual rate of .6%, which adds up to an unfathomable 6,859 metric tons of CO2.

The culprits for the increase in global warming CO2 are continued reliance on coal-fired power plants for electricity and use of more petroleum for transportation.

But there's good news here, too. Electricity growth is slowing down. And, if we can retire the dirtiest coal plants, switch to cleaner fuel and ramp up our conservation efforts, we could make headway. Similarly, the report says that the new mpg standards will be outweighted by more travel. So we both need to raise the mpg standards more and use other strategies--like congestion-based pricing--to get folks out of their cars and on mass transit.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Anti-Environment Snobs

Snippy, snotty and snobby. That was the attitude of the NY Times Sunday Design section March 16 in a sophomoric effort to be considered cool while advocating environmentally positive products.

First up was the "Samurai Shopper" with a piece on green cleaning products. Using the cheap--and unimaginative--writing technique of setting up a straw person who is then oh so easy to knock down, S.S. Fair made sure we knew that "eco-maniacs are no fun" before dishing out information on eco-friendly toilet bowl cleaner. Gee, and here I go out of my way looking for eco-maniacs to befriend. Thanks for the correction!

Writer Alex Kuczynski followed with an otherwise rather interesting piece about the use of old wood in upscale homes. He found it necessary to have his interview subject tell us that people who buy old wood in an effort to save old-growth forests probably have showers "that run 20 gallons a minute" and therefore aren't "really saving the environment," are they?

Well, pardon you for your stereotypes and both writers for their inability to take seriously the effort necessary to save our planet in reasonably good shape for generations to come.

It is not maniacal to search for and use green products. It's just a plainly responsbile way of living. Let's applaud people--and ourselves--who make positive changes and then hope we can act to do more. Substantial change is the goal, not perfection.

Dissing people who are trying to live gently on the planet is just plain anti-social. Get over it, Alex and Ms. Samurai!

Meanwhile, if you want to understand why so many products sold in the U.S. contain dangerous chemicals, have a look at an excerpt from Mark Schapiro's Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's At Stake for American Power."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How To Complain about Credit Cards

I'm fed up with Citibank. Make a payment a day late and they slam you with incredibly high interest, but try to get them to credit back disputed charges? It's wait, wait, and wait some more.

So yesterday, with $3,000 in charges that shoud be credited to my husband's account still generating income for Citibank after months of phone calls and letters, I decided to try to equalize this battle by getting help from the government entity that regulates the bank.

Now, these days "bank regulation" is something of an oxymoron. As we're all seeing every day in the headlines about the economic meltdown, regulating banks has been about as fashionable with the Bush Administration as raising taxes on oil company profits. But there are very specific consumer protection laws regarding credit cards, and usually when a bank gets an inquiry from a regulator--or a member of Congress--things suddenly get expedited.

But who exactly regulates Citibank? It turns out that the answer is not obvious.

I thought it might be the Federal Reserve, so I went to that website. There I discoverd that responsibility for regulating banks is split among six--that's SIX--different federal agencies. One regulates state banks that are members of the Federal Reserve--that' s the Fed itself. State banks not members of the Federal Reserve? That's the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation? National banks, supposedly identifiable by the word "national" in their name, or the initials N.A. after the name? They fall under the Comptroller of the Currency. Etc.

Believing that Citibank was probably a national bank, I took out my bill and then the credit card itself to look for "national" or "N.A." after the name. No such designation. Nothing telling me that if I have a complaint, that I can contact such-and-such an agency.

This is outrageous. Consumers who have complaints about the practices of their credit card company have to do research to figure out who regulates their bank.

Here's how to do that. The FDIC has a search engine that lets you enter the name of any bank. The information that it returns includes who regulates it. It turned out that, indeed, Citibank is a national bank and thus regulated by the FDIC. I will be pursuing my complaint with them.

But what's needed here is some disclosure. Every credit card statement should clearly disclose which agency regulates the issuer of the card and provide a web address, phone # and snail mail address for making a complaint.

The power equation between a bank and a consumer will always favor the bank, but disclosing the name of the regulator would certainly tip the balance a little in our direction.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cell phones & Kids: A bad call

Eight years ago when I wrote about AT&T's promoting cell phones to kids, the company denied it was actually targeting youngsters. The Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck phone jackets they had put on the market that Christmas were meant to entice the adults in the family, said a spokesperson, because, after all, only adults can actually sign up for a phone. Wink, wink.

Well, the industry isn't shy about its marketing any more. Getting kids to demand cell phones is a major market strategy, and all those family plans have now pushed the average age of new cellphone users to a tender 10. But there's still so much more market to tap, and concerns about health effects be damned.

The New York Times reported recently that simplified phones designed for children as young as 5 are now being pushed with no apology from anyone in industry.

This despite the fact that the same concerns about the safety of cell phone use by youngsters remain unresolved, just as they were 8 years ago.

The crux of the problem is that cell phones may cause tumors or otherwise affect a developing brain because the radio-frequency microwaves they emit can penetrate the skull. (Microwave ovens use this radiation to cook food!) A 1995 study showed that the smaller heads of five- and ten-year old children absorb more radiation than adult-sized heads, and the raditation penetrates farther into their brains.

Is there definite proof that children are being harmed? No, but out of an abudance of caution, for example, parents stand out on bus stops with their children in sheltered suburban neighborhoods, rain or shine, on the remote chance they could be kidnapped. The same caution should apply to cell phone use by childrten. Indeed, as The Times reported, France's health minister issued an alert in January warning parents to reduce children's use of cell phones. This followed a similar warning by a French government research group that now expects to conduct a study of the subject.

Cell phone companies, of course, are still taking the view that more research is needed and that, in the meantime, parents shouldn't worry. That was exactly their attitude 8 years ago, when Dr. George Carlo, who had headed a six-year program paid for by the cell industry to investigate cell phone safety, told me: "The evidence we've accumulated indicates that children could be at especial risk."

Personally, I wouldn't give a child a cell phone to use on a regular basis. And, on the other hand, I'd let my kids be kids and stand on the bus stop by themselves.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Barbara Seaman: Warrior for Women's Health

Hundreds of people crowded Riverside Memorial Chapel in Manhattan last night to memorialize feminist activist and crusader Barbara Seaman, who died Feb. 27 of lung cancer. Her Washington Post obituary admirably lays out the highlights of her career as the mother of the women's health movement and as a clear and urgent voice warning women of the dangers first of birth control pills and later hormone replacement therapy.

How right she was became apparent when researchers halted the Women's Health Initiative after finding that HRT actually raised the risk of heart disease and breast cancer. Widespread use of HRT, in fact, by the women of Long Island could explain the high incidence of the disease there, a theory I laid out in an op-ed for Newsday.

But the dozens of speakers last night made plain that Barbara practiced generosity on an unmatched scale, using a vast network of friends in all places as an intricate web that supported and encouraged all of us.

I saw Barbara at a party last fall celebrating the publishing of Devra Lee Davis's book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer. She did for me that night what I now understand was her way with everyone: not just introducing me to people she thought I should meet, but blowing a horn for me that I would never have had the nerve to do myself. I learned at her memorial service that this is what she did for everyone she knew, not just setting up a new connection but pumping up each person's confidence with a recitation of their achievements (how she remembered it all, I cannot say) and admonitions to follow through and make things happen.
I didn't know it was the last time I would see her. She looked well. She told few people about her illness and did not subject herself to chemotherapy or radiation, choosing instead to live out her remaining days in relatively good health until the last few weeks.

In her eulogy last night, novelist Erica Jong described Barbara as her mentor and the mentor for so many other women writers and activists. Barbara had been particularly attentive to young women in her later years, and Jong said she took that as a lesson.

"Mentoring is the next stage of feminism," said Jong.

Perhaps that's just another way of saying that what we give returns to us a hundred-fold.

I miss Barbara. But the appreciation she expresssed for me will always stay with me, a goad to live up to her image of my very best self.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Green My Ride

With the price of gasoline pushing $4/gallon, folks who want to stop bleeding dollars at the gas pump should check out Sierra Magazine's article on green rides. I did a lot more research for this article than could fit on the two-page spread, so here are some other good choices to consider:
  • 4-wheel drive SUVs: the Mazda Tribute Hybrid gets 29 city and 27 highway, just like the Ford and Mercury Mariner Hybrids (identical to each other but for the brand name). These vehicles have enough interior space for the kids and the dog and the skis, and the sure-footedness of 4-wheel drive. Amazingly, Ford is making only about 20,000 of these a year, most of which seem to have been snapped up by NYC cabbies, so expect to wait six months if you want one.
  • Wagons. The best mid-size is the VW Passat Wagon, which gets 20 city and 28 highway with an automatic transmission. The KIA Rondo (19/26) and Saab 9-5 Sport Combi (18/26) do slightly worse in the city but almost as well on the highway. Among the smaller wagons, the Honda Fit (28 city, 34 highway) comes out on top, but the Pontiac Vibe (23/33) and Toytoa Matrix (26/33) trail close behind.
  • Large & Mid-Size Sedans. The large Honda Accord (22/31) and Hyundai Sonata (21/31) do a lot better than most. In mid-size cars, (size designations are based on interior passenger and cargo volume, not overall length or width), the hybrid Prius (48/45) is the hands-down winner, but the Nissan Altima Hybrid (35/33) and Nissan Versa (27/33) are also good choices. The Altima Hybrid, in fact, is luxurious and roomy inside, and would make a great choice for carpools. But don't expect much space when you open the trunk. The battery takes up much of the cargo space.
  • Low-price compacts and subcompacts. The non-hybrid Honda Civic (25/36) is runner-up to the Toyota Yaris (29/36) in the subcompact class, although it is considerably more expensive at about $15,000 compared to $11,300 for the Yaris. The Scion xD is another good choice (27/33) and priced about the same as the Honda. Among the compacts, the Honda Civic Hybrid (40/45) is followed by the Toyota Corolla (28/37) and Kia Rio (27/32).
An important note about the safetyy of smaller cars: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives many of the smaller cars good crash test ratings. But a spokesman reminded me that their tests simulate collisions with vehicles of the same size. So bigger is safer, particularly if you mainly use your car for high-speed driving.

To check out fuel economy ratings yourself, see the Environmental Protection Agency's listings.