Friday, June 27, 2008

Will Offshore Oil Be Exported?

Here's a question for all those who favor drilling for new oil in Alaska and off the coasts of the U.S.: if we take the environmental risks, allow industrialization of our ocean coasts and pristine areas of Alaska, will we end up seeing that oil exported? 

Here's why I ask: I've been researching the topic of gasoline and diesel prices, and I was surprised to find  that U.S. oil companies are currently exporting both gasoline and diesel fuel out of the U.S. In the case of gasoline, 5,691,000 gallons were exported in March, 2008, the latest month for which statistics are available; for distillate fuels, which include diesel, 11,110,000 gallons in March.

Ron Planting, an economist at the American Petroleum Institute pooh-poohs the impact of these exports, noting that for gasoline they amount to only 2% of the U.S. market. 

But gasoline use in the U.S. has been flat for the three years ending in 2007, and is declining this year. That trend should continue for the next 5 to 10 years, the time it would take for the new drilling to produce oil. Not only are Americans shunning gas guzzlers for more efficient vehicles, but biofuels are increasingly displacing petroleum. In fact, petroleum imports are already falling. 

Planting says Americans shouldn't mind even if the newly drilled oil is exported because it will simply be adding to world supply and help keep the price of crude from going higher. 

But I do mind. If the U.S. Congress is foolish enough to take the environmental risks of drilling offshore and in Alaska (remember the Exxon Valdez? The Supreme Court has just drastically lowered the punitive damage award against the company for the biggest spill in history--caused by human error.) they'd better include the requirement that the oil from those wells can not be exported. . Otherwise, the argument that the drilling would improve our energy security is entirely specious.

Furthermore,  we need to reduce global consumption of oil and other fossil fuels if we are to arrest  climate change. Keeping supplies tight will spur conservation and a shift to a new era of alternative fuels. 

Which means that my grandchildren, should I be so lucky to have them some day, will be able to sail to the horizon without drilling platforms in their way.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Broadwater: Energy Security It Isn't

When NY State Governor David Paterson announced the state's decision against Broadwater, I had the suspicion we were not done with this fight. Sure enough, thanks to the deep pockets of its owners, Shell Oil and TransCanada, Broadwater has filed an appeal  to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. In addition to various other arguments, the company claims that building Broadwater would improve national security by diversifying and improving the reliability of our sources of energy here in the NY Metro area.

What's amazing about this argument is that it's such a fantasy. The LNG that would be brought to the Broadwater terminal would be coming across the oceans from some of our favorite Mid-East countries, including Qatar, Yemen, Iran and Algeria. If that scenario suggests an improvement in energy security, the folks at Broadwater should stop smoking whatever they're putting in their pipes.

Energy security will come to us when we have our own domestic supplies of renewable fuels. Period.

But thanks, Broadwater, for imposing a new expense on us taxpayers in New York. Now we'll have to pay all the legal fees in fighting off this appeal. Just what we need while the folks at Shell Oil are enjoying their profits from $4 a gallon gasoline and $5 a gallon diesel.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Organic Milk Offers Superior Nutrition, Natural conditions for Cows

When you next see an ad for dairy products showing happy cows grazing peacefully in pastures, take a deep breath and realize that what you're seeing is mostly fantasy.

Sadly, most cows these days never get to set a foot on the grass, much less eat lovely clover or enjoy the shade of a tree. Mostly, they live in cow factories, which the industry calls "confined feeding operations." That means standing in a stall with just enough space to lie down, eating a diet designed to maximize their output of milk. It's a cruel fate for creatures that are rightly worshiped in India, because cows are able to transform plants that are indigestible to us into food we can eat. Indeed, human civilization could not exist without cows.

I've long suspected that cows who get to graze on pasture probably produced more nutritious milk, but now there's proof that this is true. As part of a cross-European study, researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom have found that cows that graze on grass produce milk with healthier fatty acids and higher levels of fat soluble vitamins and antioxidents. Of course, they've also not been fed antibiotics or hormones that otherwise would get passed along to us.

How can you get your hands on milk from grazing cows? The surest way is to buy certified organic milk, if you can afford the premium price. According to Mark Kastel, codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm and food policy research group, "the vast majority of brand name organic milk comes from cows that were given the opportunity to graze on fresh pasture whenver possible."

But "vast majority" doesn't mean all. Aurora Organic Dairy, which provides private-label organic milk for stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, has been found to be in violation of organic standards, including not putting them out to pasture sufficiently. Cornucopia also charges that Dean Foods' farms, which markets organic milk under the Horizon brand, also does not give its cows enough access to pasture.

The Cornucopia Institute has ranked producers of organic milk based on a 19-question survey it sent them. Its rating system is based on factors including whether the farm is run by a resident family and whether it gets all of its milk from its own herds or buys some of it on the open market, meaning the source of that milk could be a factory operation. Makers of cheese and other dairy products are included, so you will find, for example, that Ben & Jerry's ice cream gets a 3-cow rating (5 is the best).

Unfortunately, none of the grocery chains that sell private label organic milk thought fit to respond to the survey, so Cornucopia's researchers used enforcement records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and industry sources to get information.

If you find your local brand in this category of non-respondents, try telling your local store manager, filling in a comment form, or sending a letter to the corporate office. At stake here isn't just honesty: if factory farms are able to sell their product as organic, they will muscle out of business the families that really do care for and about their animals. For food security, we can't allow that to happen!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Gender Diffferences in Treatment of Heart Problems

This is my first blog post in weeks due to emergency treatment for blockage of a coronary artery and then a hemorrhage that left me with untreated anemia for a week. After suffering with the symptoms that result from the loss of well over a quart of blood, I finally received a transfusion of two pints of blood. It's been a slow climb back, but I am now close to feeling my usual amount of energy.

The episode has once again turned my attention to gender differences in health care.

I first addressed this topic in my book, Women Pay More (New Press, 1995). At the time, women were still not being treated as early as men for symptoms of heart disease or coronary artery disease, although heart disease was, and still remains, the leading cause of death for women.

In my case, after a stress test showed the likelihood of a blockage in a coronary artery, a local cardiologist immediately told me I needed a cardiac catheterizataion, an amazing procedure in which instruments are inserted from a point in the groin through the femoral artery up to the heart. The doctors who do these procedures, interventional cardiologists, can then see an image of the coronary arteries, determine the extent of blockages, clear them and then insert one or more stents to hold them open. In my case, I needed one stent. I've since heard from one friend after another about people who have 3, 6, 9 stents holding open their arteries. Who knew?

All this went just fine until I began to hemorrhage internally, and suddenly realized there was a small crowd around my bed. Two doctors were pressing on my abdomen, working to stop the bleeding. My abdomen swelled up, my husband says, about an inch and a half. After some time, I can't say how long, they seemed to have stopped the bleeding.

The next morning, without further discussion of this bleeding episode, I was sent home. This was at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, New York, reputedly one of the very best hospitals for heart problems.

After a week of feeling absolutely horrible, I returned there to be subjected to a bunch of tests which finally ended with the conclusion that this bleeding had indeed made me anemic. The two pints of blood relieved my worst symptoms (shortness of breath, pounding heart, fever), and home again I went. I'm slowing getting back to my usual routine of swimming, long walks, golf, tennis, etc. A couch potato I'm not.

Now, here's the kicker: women are twice as likely as men to suffer complications after a cardiac catheterization, according to a comprehensive research study published in the Journal of Invasive Cardiology. Why? No one seems to know. A commentary on the article suggested that women may just react more strongly to the usual anti-coagulant drugs that are given before the catheterization. It is not clear that this is related to body size, hormonal differences, or other factors. Or if the vascular sealing device used by my surgeon and other surgeons--instead of manual pressure for a half hour, followed by putting weights on the site and forced immobility--fails more in women than men.

The surgeon who did my procedure probably does 50 of these per week, and the hospital itself has more than a half-dozen catheterization labs that are in constant use. So it seems reasonable to wonder if extra attention should be paid to complicatons in women. In my case, that surely did not happen.

Anyone with similar experiences?