Thursday, March 31, 2011

PA Fish Health Advisory Highlights Mercury Peril (and Natural Gas Benefit)

Trout season last saturday opened in parts of Pennsylvania and perhaps one day mercury, pcb, and other pollutants won't have contaminated our fish so that Pennsylvania must warn anglers about eating fish.  But that great day is not yet here so the Commonwealth has a public health advisory in effect.

Before you eat fish caught in Pennsylvania, see:

And where does the mercury come from? Old coal fired power plants operating without mercury controls in America and around the world.  Such plants must clean up, switch to natural gas or close.

Natural gas has no mercury and is one way to get the mercury out of our fish and ourselves.

Fukushima's Worst Fact Yet

The news from Fukushima gets worse.  Twenty Five miles from Fukushima cesium 137 levels have reached  more than twice the levels the Soviets used to decide whether or not land around Chenobyl should be abandoned, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency which is doing testing. 

The IAEA team found radioactivity at 3.7 million becquerels per square meter and the Chernobyl standard for land abandonment was 1.48 million.  Of all the disturbing facts out of Fukushima since March 11th, this one is the worst yet.

It is now probable that a substantial area around the plant will be unsafe to inhabit for decades and that thousands will experience health impacts, as the Japanese government still has not required evacuations to the 50 mile radius recommended now for more than a week by the American government.

Those following my Fukushima posts know that once the first hydrogen explosion happened at Fukushima on March 12th, I have believed that the facts indicated a terrible disaster.  By March 14th events clearly marked Fukushima as more serious than TMI, and by March 16th Fukushima was akin to or in the same category as Chernobyl .

Each day Fukushima releases more radiation to the environment, and there is no clear ending point.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Statement on New DEP Marcellus Drilling NOV Directive

The new Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection directive requiring just Marcellus drilling inspectors to get approval to issue notices of violations (NOV) of regulations from the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is unwise and should be reversed.  The new Marcellus directive represents a sharp break from the long-standing practice going back at least 5 secretaries and 3 governors of allowing professional DEP inspectors who are the only ones at the site and doing the actual inspections to make the initial decision on whether a violation of regulation exists. 

Inspections of mines power plants, water treatment systems, sewer plants, x-ray machines and much more are not subject to this new review and approval process by the Secretary for the issuance of notices of violations. Singling out just Marcellus inspections and notices of violations for this unprecedented, special process is odd and compounds the error.

The professional, independent regulation by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection of our mines, power plants, x-ray machines, drinking water plants, sewer plants, construction sites and gas drilling sites is indispensable to public safety, public health, environmental protection.   All of those who enforce our law, all our cops, environmental or otherwise, have tough jobs, are subject to second-guessing and attacks, and could not do their jobs if they had to get approval of each and every enforcement action before it was taken.  While all enforcement work is controversial, Marcellus gas drilling enforcement has been especially controversial.

Pressures attacking the professional independence of inspectors have come from many directions, including those who oppose the industry.  Resisting all these pressures must begin with insuring that the inspectors in the field will report the truth, the facts, no matter whom it pleases or displeases.  A good regulator is not a friend or foe to anybody involved in the process.

Importantly the system of law that exists in Pennsylvania gives companies that disagree with the issuance of a notice of violation means to challenge or appeal inspectors's decisions.  There is an existing process that serves as a check on the inspectors initial decision.  This is a critical part of the process.  Outside of the Marcellus area this is the process available to every other company or institution that  disagrees with a notice of violation.

I have been asked today by the media if I believe the Marcellus industry lobbied for this directive.  I do not believe that it did. 

In my experience drilling companies resolved most notices quickly.  Most companies fixed problems and spent considerable funds to do so.  Sometimes companies did disagree with a notice and would avail themselves of the proper avenues to answer, modify or challenge a notice of violation.  But the Marcellus industry, to its credit in my view, was not challenging most or even a significant number of violations.

I urge rethinking and rescinding the directive.

Philly Makes Top Ten Clean Tech Cities

Philadelphia ranked 7th in Reuters' national top 10 clean tech cities list.  See:

The burgeoning clean tech investment and jobs are a major reason why Pennsylvania created the second most jobs in the nation in February and the third most in the nation.  It is also one reason why Pennsylvania now has a lower unemployment rate than Texas, most of the sunbelt, and the nation as a whole.

Fukushima 160,000 Times Worse Than TMI

Measured by the amount of radiation released at Fukushima and TMI, Fukushima is 160,000 times worse than TMI. 

According to a French agency and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (, as of March 22nd, Fukushima had released 2.4 million curies of iodine 131 or 160,000 times the best estimate of the release at TMI.  Also Fukushima is estimated to have released half a million curies of cesium-134 and cesium-137.

As of March 22nd, the Fukushima releases were estimated to be 10% of the radiation released at Chernobyl.  Unlike Chernobyl that had one reactor releasing massive amounts of radiation, Fukushima radiation releases are coming from 3 reactors plus 4 fuel rod cooling pools.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The PA Economy Roars & Beats Sun Belt

The Pennsylvania economy created 23,700 more jobs in February or the second most in the country.  Only California that created 96,500 jobs created more.

For the 12 months from February 2010 to February 2011, Pennsylvania created 106,800 more jobs, ranking third in the nation.  Pennsylvania ranked 7th in rate or speed of job creation, with North Dakota first and Vermont second, both of which are interesting states that are defying easy ideological classification or stereotype.

The Pennsylvania unemployment rate in February stood at 8.0 per cent or nearly a full point below America's 8.9 per cent rate.

Pennsylvania is leaving in the dust sun belt competitors like South Carolina at 10.2%, Georgia at 10.2%, North Carolina at 9.7%, Nevada at 13.6% (the highest in the nation), Kentucky at 10.4%, and Florida at 11.5%.

Pennsylvania also had a lower unemployment rate as well as a lower budget deficit than Texas, the state so many conservatives say is a model.  Go to and see the Regional and State Unemployment Report for February, 2011.  Governor Corbett might want to rethink the line in his budget address about making Pennsylvania more like Texas. 

Pennsylvania benefits from a diverse economy with strengths in education, health care, agriculture, manufacturing, energy of all sorts.  The Marcellus gets a lot of understandable attention, and it is part of our job success. 

But more attention should be paid to the 200,000 plus jobs in solar, wind, energy efficiency, recycling, environmental remediation. 

More attention should be paid to the millions of jobs cumulatively in education, agriculture, manufacturing, health care companies and institutions that  are making Pennsylvania a national jobs leader. 

We should build on all of our strengths and not slash them as the proposed budget cut of 52% to state universities would do. The upcoming budget will be a watershed for our economy and future.

PA Beats Texas

Pennsylvania had a lower unemployment rate than Texas in February 2011.  The Pennsylvania unemployment rate was 8 per cent, while the Texas rate was 8.2%.

Governor Corbett might want to rethink that line in his budget address of making Pennsylvania more like Texas.

Pennsylvania has a few things it can teach the Lone Star state and a better economy with more opportunity, at least in February 2011.

How about celebrating Pennsylvania, our values, and our strengths?

Tiger Facts

The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests released its tiger census and put the Indian tiger population at 1,706 or a 20% increase over 2006 census.  India has 50% of the world's tigers in or near 39 Tiger preserves. 

The biggest threat to Tigers is habitat loss. Economic growth has sometimes come at the expense of tiger habitat. India's economy is growing at about 9% per year.

The census calculated 70 tigers existed in the Sundarbans, an area notorious for tiger attacks on humans.  The Sundarbans is a coastal, mangrove forest that is threatened by rising seas and storms associated with increasing levels of heat trapping gas and global temperatures.

Vladimir Putin is the world leader who has championed saving tigers and conserving their habitat.

Fun Fact: Final Four Brilliance

How many people picked VCU, Butler, Connecticut, and Kentucky? Some at a bar after a few drinks may even claim such brilliance.

Two people can actually prove they did.  Two out of 5.9 million who filled out the brackets at picked VCU, Butler, Connecticut, and Kentucky.

My theory on the two is the following:  Married couple with two children. The dad graduates VCU 23 years ago and the mother Butler 24 years ago.  Both met doing post graduate work at Kentucky.  They had twin girls 20 years ago who are now attending Connecticut.  Both the mom and dad filled out the brackets.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ten Nuclear Lessons On TMI Anniversary

I have lived within the TMI evacuation zone since 1993 when I moved to the area to become a Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Here are 10 nuclear lessons learned since the TMI crisis started on March 28, 1079:

1. TMI accident made everyone serious about nuclear safety and prevented others as a result. The TMI accident generated daily vigilance about safety by regulators, citizen watchdogs, and the nuclear industry that must exist to run nuclear power plants safely.

2. A culure of safety within an industry is indispensable to safe operations and regulators, citizens and industry are indispensable to building a culture of safety. To build and maintain a culuture of safety, regulation must be professional and independent.  The industry is not the client; government is not the partner of industry.  But professional, independent regulation alone will not create a culture of safety.  Citizens must be engaged and the industry itself must be open to challenge.   TMI inspired the industry itself to create the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators (INPO) that set high safety standards, audited operations, and issued performance reports.  Independent government regulation and INPO built a culture of safety within the US nuclear industry.

3. Plant operations at US nuclear plants have become safer and more efficient since 1979. Safety and efficiency can be allies.  At the time of TMI it was almost normal for a nuclear plant to not operate 40%, 50% or even 60% of the time due to one problem or another. An efficient plant operated perhaps 75 to 80% of the time.  Thirty two years later nearly all nuclear plants operate 90% of the time and efficient planst run 95% or more of the time.

4. The 104 nuclear power plants in the USA avoided using a great deal of coal and gas over the last 30 years by providing 20% of our electricity. A lot of the coal  that would have been combusted but for the 104 reactors would have been in plants with few pollution controls.  Mercury, arsenic, soot, smog, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide levels would have been much higher as a result.

5. The air pollution prevented by nuclear power saved hundreds of thousands of lives and prevented millions of illnesses since TMI.  Those who lived longer don't know that less pollution and nuclear power were partly responsible so building a mass constituency for clean air always takes organizing and education.

6. Thirty two years after TMI, new nuclear plants in US have very high capital costs of at least $6 per watt, making them  more expensive than new natural gas, coal, wind, and hydro plants.  Fukushima may increase nuclear costs.   Uprates at existing American nuclear plants to increase power production, however, have much lower capital costs and make economic and environmental sense, though the low price of gas puts at risk the bigger uprates that cost $200 million or more.  Nuclear plants once built are low cost to run with production costs below 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

7. Low natural gas prices and the $6 to $10 billion necessary per nuclear unit make it impossible to obtain financing from Wall Street for a new nuclear plant in the United States without large subsidies that include 100% loan guarantees on favorable terms and more.  Placing a price on carbon/heat trapping pollution would reduce the necessary subsidies (see point 10 below).

8.  The global concentration of heat trapping gas now at 393 ppm and increasing at about 2 ppm per year cannot be stabilized below 450 ppm without China and India building new nuclear plants in large numbers.  New nuclear plants in the USA will not be economic without a significant price placed on carbon.

9. The permanent storage of nuclear waste in the USA (and other nations) is still a major problem. The last 32 years now prove that it is not an easy problem to solve.

10. The nuclear industry and regulators learned lessons well from TMI. Fukushima, BP oil spill, Upper Big Branch mine disaster drive home that all energy choices have risks, differing economics, varying environmental impacts, and national security implications.  But risks and impacts decrease or increase depending on the performance of regulators and the industry.  Regulators must be professional and independent.  Industry must develop a culture of safety.   The American nuclear industry and its regulators have not been perfect, can still be better, but they have compiled an excellent safety track record since TMI.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stunning Fact 3: 1235 Planets

According to NASA, the Kepler telescope on a space satellite has observed 1235 planets.  Wow!  Implications are huge to say the least. Questions abound.

Does "Save the Planet" mean something different?  Should NASA budget be expanded?  I would say yes and by a lot.

Stunning Fact 2: Australia's $15.30 Minimum Wage

Australia's minimum wage is $15 australian or $15.30 US at an exchange rate of $1.02 US dollar per $1 Australian.  That would guarantee mass unemployment, right? Not in Australia.

Australia's unemployment rate in February was 5%.  How could it be?

First, Australia's as well as Canada's banks were tightly regulated and did not implode on September 15, 2008 when Lehman brothers went bankrupt, causing US credit markets to shut, pushing US job loss to 500,000 in October 2008 and over 700,000 in just January 2009.

Second, Australia's mineral resources, coal, gold, and more, are booming due to Asian demand.

If you have other possible explanations for Australia's low unemployment and/or the highest minimum wage in the world, please provide a comment.

The "Fog of War " Shrouds Fukushima But Ugly Facts Emerge

The "fog of war" is concealing from humanity--all of us--critical facts about Fukushima such as are fuel rods and nuclear cores covered with water. The Japanese officials just don't know with 100% certainty key facts. Why?

The high, even lethal levels of radiation and damage to instrumentation at the Fukushima site make assessing basic facts about the facilities currently impossible and possibly so for a long time.

As a result of a similar fog at Three Mile Island, only in 1985, six years after the accident in 1979, was a partial meltdown of the core and its dimensions confirmed.  At Fukushima it is almost certainly going to be years, perhaps a decade or more, before the full facts are known.

But here are some facts now established.  Fukushima was engineered to withstand approximately a 7.5 earthquake.  It was hit with a 9.0 disaster or 15 times stronger than for what it was designed. 

Fukushima is built on a 13 foot bluff overlooking the sea.  The tsunami generated a 30 foot plus wave.  9.0 earthquakes and 30 foot tsunamis are not unprecedented in even recent Japanese and Chinese history.

Those are ugly facts.  It is amazing, shocking that they were ignored in Japan until it was too late.   They offer a huge lesson for operators and regulatory agencies around the world.  They must be faced.

Here are some more facts.  Radiation levels at the plant are at lethal levels.  Two workers on friday were exposed to radiation doses that would create a 50% chance of death within weeks if they were full body doses.  Hopefully, the two workers who stepped in water at 10,000 times the safe level did not receive a full body dose.

It is not fully clear how many workers have died already (some reports say 5), how many have been injured (some reports put the numbers over 20), and what are the dose levels to which workers have been exposed.  Japanese officials have this information and making it clear would respect the sacrifices of those working at Fukushima and help repair their damaged credibility around the world.

Radiation has left the facilities and has contaminated the surrounding environment.  First, the good news.  Radiation levels in Tokyo's water supply have fallen since wednesday when they exceeded safety levels for infants and had returned to safe levels from thursday to saturday.  Tokyo is about 140 miles from Fukushima.

Levels  in areas near the plant appear to be increasing with now the Japanese government encouraging an evacuation within 12 miles of the plant.  Previously it had urged evacuation within 6 miles.  The US government has told Americans to evacuate within 50 miles.

Now for the not good news.  A monitor of seawater on saturday near the facility recorded iodine 131 levels at 1250 times the safe level and on wednesday the level was 147 times the limit.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Stunning Fact 1

Portugal has a 23% high school graduation rate.  Stunning.  What does it mean?

1. The Euro zone has members that are at such different levels of economic and social development, with Portugal at the bottom, that the Euro may well not survive.

2. Nations cannot have even an average standard of living when 77% of their population does not have a high school education, unless you have rich German, French, and other uncles supporting you.  The uncles look like their patience is running out.

3. Education is the single biggest key to productivity, economic growth, high standard of living.  Pennsylvania must remember this basic fact of modern economic life when considering Governor Corbett's proposed 52% cut to public universities and other education cuts that will force closing of kindergartens.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Smart Talk Video

Last night I appeared on WITF TV's Smart Talk to talk Pennsylvania energy issues with Glen Thomas, a former Chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, the always entertaining Eric Epstein, and PPL's George Lewis.

The link is  Wide ranging conversation that seemed real smart talk to me.

Rising Sun: KB Home Makes Solar Standard For New Homes

Doing what is likely to become the norm for many homebuilders within 5 years, KB Home builder announced today that it would make solar pv systems standard on 10 new developments it is building in California.  KB  Home will install SunPower solar systems, among the highest efficiency panels on the market.

KB Home had previously offered solar as an option to buyers.

Five all solar new communities will be completed in California in the next 60 days.

Solar installations have increased resale value of a home and shortened time on the market for homes that are for sale.

Given the horrendous state of the new home market right now, solar may be a particularly powerful edge.

Nuclear Power Booming In China

The news from Fukushima remains grim, but the on-going boom in new nuclear plants in China is not likely to reverse.  China now has 13 reactors operating that provides just 2% of its electricity but has an amazing 27 under construction, with another 50 planned. China's portion of power coming from nuclear power will grow but is not likely to reach this decade the 20% of electricity nuclear provides in America.

China is almost desperate for new power to supply its economy that grows at about 10% per year and has heavily relied on coal often combusted in plants with limited environmental controls.  Fouled air and water has been a result.  China also now is the highest, global emitter of carbon emissions.

With the need for more power and less soot, smog, mercury, arsenic, lead and heat trapping gas pollution, China is turning to nuclear power and may well have more than 100 nuclear plants operating within a decade.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pennsylvania's Energy Efficiency Program Powering Up

The disasters at Fukushima, BP Oil Spill, Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion drive home the perils of our energy choices.  They also underline the imperative and opportunity presented by using energy efficiently.

And here is a great example of the power of efficiency.

In the last year, 50,000 customers of PECO, Met-Ed, PPL removed an old, working refrigerator, got it picked up by their utility, and received a check for doing so. The program saves participating customers money, saves non-participating consumers money, cuts pollution, and creates directly 50 green jobs and more by putting more money in the pockets of consumers.  It is a win-win-win-win energy solution and points the way to more smart, clean energy solutions.

Congratulations to each utility and the Public Utility Commission for operating this strong program.  Please read on.

The PECO, Met-Ed, PPL refrigerator recycling program is just one of the many fruits of Act 129 passed in October 2008.  Old refrigerators use 3 times the power of a new one and can account easily for 10% to 20% of a household's bill. Act 129 requires electric utilities to cut yearly consumption and annual peak demand by specific amounts and removing old refrigerators is a smart way of complying.

Energy conservation is the lowest cost option for keeping electric service reliable.  Saving a kilowatt-hour costs often 3 cents or less.  Buying a kilowatt-hour in the spot market costs more.  Building a new power plant to produce power costs even more still.

Energy savings last year  from removing the 50,000 refrigerators were 85,000 megawatt-hours or 85 million kilowatt-hours or enough power for at least 7,000 homes.  These energy savings benefit all consumers of the utility by lowering the cost of providing electric service and especially by lowering peak electric demand that is very expensive to meet.

50,000 customers is a bit more than 1% of all the residential electricity consumers of the 4.97 million residential cusotmers in Pennsylvania.  About 3.1 million residential customers are in the PECO, Met-Ed, and PPl service territories.

This refrigerator removal program, as most energy efficiency programs do, also reduces soot, smog, mercury, and heat trapping gas pollution.  Saving energy saves your health and the health of others.

In the case of the refrigerator and freezer removal program, 50 green jobs were created at JAYCO recycling facilities in Montgomery and Allegheny counties where the refrigerators are disassembled and recylced.  I had the privilege of opening the Montgomery county Jayco plant and it is a great operation with good paying, green jobs.

Saving energy creates jobs indirectly too by cutting their electric bills and putting more money in consumers' pockets.  Consumers use that money for other needs and services and create jobs when that money buys meals, shoes, and so on.

Call 1-800-270-3521 if you are a PECO or Met-Ed customer and 1-877-270-3522 if you are a PPL Electric Utilities customer and want to get rid of an old, cold energy hog!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

1 Million Electric Customers Now Shopping In PA

The Public Utility Commission reports that 1,001,062 customers have now switched to competitive electric suppliers.  Go to  There are 5,650,102 total customers in Pennsylvania.

Wide variation in the percentage of customers shopping, however, exists.

Residential shopping ranges from less than 1% in Metropolitan Edison, Pennelec, and West Penn Power to 41.7% of residential load in PPL service territory and to 76% in Pike County, a small service territory.

The biggest customers or the highest load customers have disproportionately switched so that 5 service territories--Peco (49%), Penn Power (50%), Duquesne (64%), PPL (68%), and Pike (62%)--have now 49% or more of their electricity supplied by competitive suppliers.

Looking at just the industrial class of customers, 70% to 96% of the industrial load is now supplied by competitive suppliers.

Recommended Reading: Philadelphia Inquirer Article Re Drilling Wastewater

Today's article in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Andy Maykuth is an excellent report on the technologies being used to manage drilling wastewater and the continuing controversy about drilling wastewater.  It is informative and balanced.


Japanese Disaster and Fukushima Reprice Uranium, Gas, Oil, Renewables

The price of uranium is down 30% and natural gas in many global regional markets is up 10% as energy markets reprice fuels to take into account the impact of Fukushima.

The markets indicate less nuclear power and more gas usage to take its place.

The Japanese disaster has actually put downward pressure on oil prices at least in the short run just about offsetting the upward pressure of the Libyan supply disruption.

Japan is using 1 million barrels a day less oil or 25% less than its pre-disaster 4 million barrels per, as the world's 3rd largest economy slows sharply. 

Once Japan stabilizes and begins rebuilding, probably about 6 months from now, Japanese demand for oil will likely increase again.

What about renewable energy?  Zero fuel cost remains zero. 

But shares of renewable energy companies have seen about a 20% increase as a result of the Japanese disaster and Fukushima.

Markets are repricing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

True or False: Renewable Energy Can Replace Nuclear and Fossil Fuels!

Many insist that renewable energy can replace coal, gas, and/or nuclear plants.  My first response to this declaration is to ask, by when?  Next decade?  Someday in the distant future?

Before answering those questions, please consider two sets of facts:

1. Coal (45%), gas (24%) and nuclear plants (20%) today provide 89% of America's electric power, with oil another 1%.  Including large hydro, renewable energy provides 10% of our power.  Nothing to sneeze at all but now just one-tenth of our total power.  See March 19th Posting Key Power Production Facts About Coal, Natural Gas, Nuclear, and Renewables.

2. Also our power production or demand will probably increase about 10% by 2021.  Power production escalated 20% since 1996.  It  declined from 2007 levels in 2008 and 2009.  But power production increased in 2010 to 2007 levels. It is growing again.

So could renewables replace all of coal, gas and/or nuclear power within 10 years? Or 20 years?  As sure as the sun comes up in the morning, the answer is: "no; renewables cannot replace the 90% of power now coming from coal, gas, and nuclear within 10 years or 20 years." 

But renewable energy can do a lot and will.  So here is a different question:

Can and will renewables increase from the current 10% of electric power supply to 20% in 10 years?

Renewables can and I think will provide 20% of our power in about 10 years.  Why?   Renewable energy normally has no fuel costs and capital costs are falling sharply, especially for solar but also wind.

Wind power costs are down, with capital costs $2,500 per kilowatt. Projects can be financed with power purchase agreements at an attractive 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Solar total costs (equipment plus installation) are down to $3.50 per watt for larger projects in Pennsylvania and are falling literally every month.

Attractive hydro opportunities exist around the country.  Many more biogas projects are possible at landfills, sewer plants, and at farms.   So growth for renewables will occur.  But how much?

If renewable energy goes from 10% to 20% of all power provided in the United States in the next decade, it would have had an excellent decade.  Achieving that goal would require a trippling of non-hydro renewables, going from 4% now to 12% of total supply.  It would require too a renaissance in hydro.

A doubling of all renewable sources from 10% now to 20% a decade later would mean that renewable energy effectively met all of the load growth (10%) in the USA plus a bit more over the next decade.  Approximately $600 billion over a decade or $60 billion per year of private investment would be required. 

Even after a tremendous growth decade for renewable energy, 80% of electricity would be coming from a mix of coal, gas, and nuclear.  Using less gas means more coal and/or nuclear.  Less nuclear means more gas and/or coal.  Less coal means more gas and/or nuclear.  That also is our world for the next 10 years and longer. 

Technology can and is changing that world but not at the speed of light.

Thank You To Sandy Bauers at Philadelphia Inquirer

Journalist Sandy Bauers of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes the informative and fun Green Living Blog at the paper and has placed Facts of the Day at the top of her wonderful Blog Roll of many great blogs. 


That is an honor.  Thank you.  I will try to deserve the placement.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Video of NYT Reporter Recanting Lax Regulation/Oversight Narrative

See the new video (link below) of the NYT reporter dialing back substantially his February 27th, Oscar night, dire portrayal of Pennsylvania regulation as an "extreme case" of "lax regulation" and "lax oversight."  The video comes as close as you ever get to a reporter saying he made a mistake.

In the March 2nd video interview, the NYT reporter says about regulation of gas drilling that Pennsylvania has done a "good job," made "great strides," and is "strong in many cases."

 He also says that the criticism that his February 27th story excluded a laundry list (34 specific actions) of strong regulation and oversight was a "fair point." 

All that amounts to a totally different narrative from the February 27th story.  It is a different tune.  I am grateful for the belated concessions to truth.

On the matter of radionuclides in the water, this March 2nd interview was done 5 days before the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released results of in-stream testing at 7 streams showing radionuclide levels at background levels or safe.  See the March 7th blog posting for information about the DEP test results.

For the interview, go to

As this blog has documented at length, this NYT reporter wrote a false narrative that excluded the strong regulation and oversight in Pennsylvania.  In fact, Pennsylvania starting in 2008 implemented 34 specific regulatory and oversight actions that made Pennsylvania's oversight program the strongest in the nation but with more things to do.  The reporter himself in the above video concedes partially this basic point.

Please see the March 5th blog posting entitled: "Pennsylvania's Strong Drilling Oversight Program: The NYT Scandal of the News Not Fit To Print."  This posting is a chronological listing of actions taken in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

Also on Sunday March 5th, the NYT published a 250 word letter from Governor Rendell and myself that began to set the record straight.  Our substantially reduced and edited letter listed just a few of the substantial oversight actions that the NYT reporter  excluded to advance his original and now renounced fictional narrative of lax regulation and lax oversight.

Truth has a tough time catching up to a lie but it may be gaining in this instance. 

And more truth is on the way with the release soon of the results of  the testing of the drinking water supplies for radionuclides by Pennsylvania American Water Company and others.

The testing of the drinking water itself will be definitive on the radionuclide issue raised in the February 27th NYT story.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Remarkable New Global Solar Numbers Eclipsed By Fukushima

A starling 18,200 megawatts of solar, enough to power about 4 to 5 million American homes, was installed globally in 2010, according to Solarbuzz (    How many nuclear plants would be needed to produce this amount of electricity?  Four to five large nuclear stations, each about 1,000 megawatts, would be required to provide the equivalent amount of power.

The 2010 total solar number is an amazing 139% increase over the 2009 solar installation total, a record year itself at the time.

The world solar market jumped to $82 billion, up 105%, in 2010 from $40 billion dollars in 2009. 

The increases in the amount installed and the size of the global solar market are impressive.  But the most important news is that prices for solar plummeted in 2010 and are going still lower rapidly.  For example the Solarbuzz price index for a small residential module decreased 3% just in March from February pricing.  Solar is not oil for sure.

Solar Buzz projects factory gate pricing for modules falling another 37% to 50% by 2015 from record low prices in 2010. 

For large projects multicrystaline modules at RETAIL in the USA can now be bought for $1.50 to $1.80 per watt.  Thin Film retail prices for large projects are below $1.30 per watt.  

And less money is buying more power. Panel efficiency continues to increase at about 0.5% per year.

All this good, important news was eclipsed by Fukushima as the desperate events there dominated the news in the past week.

Japan ranked 4th in the world in 2010, installing more than 900 megawatts or about 5% of the total installed.  Undoubtedly one consequence of Fukushima will be considerably greater solar installations and more gas usage especially in Japan but also around the world over the next 5 years than would have taken place.

Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic ranked 1,2, and 3 in solar installations. The USA ranked fifth. More than 100 countries installed solar in 2010.

Not all energy news is frightening and bad.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Is Speaker John Boehner a (nuclear) Socialist?

Speaker Boehner and many conservatives view France, which gets 82% of its electricity from 58 nuclear reactors at 20 facilities, as an energy role model. Perhaps conservatives are so supportive of the French nuclear industry, because the French electricity industry emits a small fraction of the carbon, mercury, soot, and other air pollutants that are emitted in the USA.  But strong conservative opposition to EPA regulations of these traditional pollutants that sicken and kill thousands in America also is a political fact of life.

Whatever the motivaition is, today the Speaker again pointed to the French nuclear industry as an example for America. Moreover, the Speaker and the Congressional Republican caucus last year endorsed building 200 new nuclear reactors in the USA that would cost $2 trillion (trillion not billion).

Conservatives trumpeting the French nuclear industry have always been a curious sight to energy experts.  Why?  The French nuclear industry to this day is almost completely owned by the government.

Electricite De France (EDF) is the owner and operator of all 58 nuclear reactors, and the French government owns 85% of EDF.  Areva is the largest nuclear plant builder in the world and the French government owns more than 90% of Areva.  These companies were until recently fully nationalized operations and are still government-owned enterprises.

Here is another fact about the French nuclear industry.  The French government created it entirely starting in 1974, following the first Arab oil embargo. It is industrial policy on steroids.

In short the French government picked nuclear power as the winner in 1974 and made all other energy sources the losers. The invisible hand did not create the French nuclear industry and would not have. Government picking winners and losers is a no-no to right wing ideologues, right?

The French nuclear industry is as pure an expression of socialism as you can find in the world today.  Of course, John Boehner is not a socialist, but he clearly is confused about the economics of nuclear power and this central fact: Only governments build nuclear plants anywhere in the world, including in the USA.

The up-front capital costs of nuclear power are so high ($6-10 billion per unit) that they frighten away private investors. Fear on Wall Street, not "not in my backyard" fright, has stopped new nuclear plants in the USA.

No private US company will build one, unless the government socializes or removes the risk that a nuclear plant could bankrupt an owner.  Consequently a 100% government loan guarantee, the limitation of liability in the event of an accident provided by the Price Anderson Act, production tax credits for nuclear generation and other subsidies are essential to convince any US company to build a plant. 

Other subsidies include charging monopoly ratepayers of Southern Company in states like Georgia for a nuclear plant years before it begins operating, as is the case with the two new US reactors that are most seriously currently under development.  And even with all these inducements, most power companies view a decision to build a new nuclear plant as betting the entire company on a nuclear project and so remain uninterested.

But bi-partisan and growing environmental support for new nuclear was a reality prior to Fukushima. President Obama's current budget proposes a major national commitment to nuclear power in the form of another $36 billion for nuclear loan guarantees.

Finally, Speaker Boehner also is a climate skeptic as is nearly the entire Republican congressional delegation these days.  These elected officials often deny global warming but favor massive taxpayer support for new plants.

Yet, the economic justification in the US for nuclear power entirely rests on placing a substantial cost on carbon pollution and accepting climate science.  The dire science and facts about global warming had moved many environmentalists to support nuclear power prior to Fukushima.  And one result of the Fukushima tragedy will be more carbon in the atmosphere, since the disaster will cut the number of reactors that would have otherwise been built around the world in the next 10 years. 

With all due respect, Speaker Boehner and so many of our top leaders need a much more factual and less ideological understanding of the most important energy issues of our time.

Updated on 3/19: Fukushima As Bad As or Worse Than Chernobyl

Updated 3/19

The Japanese officials continue to equate Fukushima with Three Mile Island and that alone destroys their credibility.  The loss of credibility by Japanese officials may or may not be a problem within Japan.  But it makes this unfolding disaster more difficult for the rest of the world.

Maintaining credibility is vital for US officials and this week NRC officials did a good job of diplomatically breaking with the Japanese official narrative.  Maintaining US credibility is not easy due to a lack of information; diplomatic relationships with Japan; and understandable, very human impulses to reassure.

Here are the straight, basic facts:

Fukushima has had multiple uncontrolled, large releases of radiation.  Fukushima has had three hydrogen explosions that have done major damages to 3 reactor buildings and possibly compromised the containment systems for 1 or 2 reactors. Fukushima has had 3 partial core meltdowns almost certainly.

Fukushima has had two fuel rod cooling ponds in crisis, with one catching fire and emitting to the environment large radiation doses that would be fatal within close proximity. 

Hundreds of first responders have been exposed to substantial doses of radiation.  Workers and first responders have been injured by explosions and reports have indicated fatalities as well as workers missing.

The 12 mile evacuation area around the plant, at the very least, has received significant, unsafe doses of radiation that will compromise much of that land for a long period of time.

To equate what has happened and is still happening at Fukushima with Three Mile Island is absurd and has been false now for a full week.

The recent progress in bringing electric power back to portions of the site is good news.  But it is not clear at all how much of the damaged infrastructure and operation systems at the multiple parts of the Fukushima site is in a condition to operate even with power restored.

3/16 Original Posting:

Fukushima is as bad as Chernobyl and may yet become worse.  Four nuclear units are in total crisis, with two more in trouble.

Uncontrolled releases of radiation are taking place.  The US government has advised Americans to evacuate within 50 miles of the plant.  Japanese population has not been evacuated from distances further than 12 miles.  Press reports indicate 5 workers at the plants have died and two are missing.

Thousands will suffer serious health consequences. It is beyond a worst case scenario.  It is a nightmare scenario.

Japanese official statements about Fukushima have had little credibility since at least saturday, March 12th when this situation following the first explosion was then clearly worse than Three Mile Island.

Whither Nuclear Power? Down in Europe; Down in USA; Up in Asia

Actual impact on current and future nuclear stations around the world is already taking place. At least twelve reactors have been taken off line or effectively cancelled: 7 in Germany; 3 in Switzerland; and 2 in Texas. Fukushima makes it probable that the world will not double by 2021 the number of nuclear reactors operating as was almost certain prior to this disaster.

This significant reaction to actual plant operations is just the beginning of the impact on nuclear power, because the odds are still rising of a massive radiation release at Fukushima.   Fukushima is already a 6 on the 0 to 7 nuclear event scale (Three Mile Island was a 5). With possibly two containment reactors compromised and fires igniting in a fuel rod cooling pond, the odds of the worst case scenario and Fukushima reaching a 7 are getting worse. 

Desperate, heroic actions are being taken by Fukushima employees who are putting their health and lives at real risk to prevent full meltdowns.  This courage and selflessness cannot be recognized enough and all of us should be thankful.

People are watching around the world, are frightened, and acting.  US sales of iodide are outstripping supplies, even though Iodide has side effects and should only be used when actual radiation readings indicate a health threat which they most certainly do not anywhere in the USA (including Hawaii).

Other actions include NRG's announcement this week that essentially kills the possibility of it building two new nuclear units in Texas with Tokyo Electric Power (the owner of Fukushima units) and the Japanese government as partners.

Germany has temporarily taken off line 7 nuclear plants that are more than 30 years old and announced it would rethink its position on extending the operational lives of plants beyond 2021.  Germany had decided that it would close all nuclear plants by that date but Chancellor Merkel reversed that policy and committed to extending the operating lives of the plants.  Now she has fliped again and is rethinking.  Nuclear power is a hot issue in upcoming German state elections.

Switzerland on monday announced that it would no longer replace 3 nuclear plants, as it had intended, at the end of their operating lives.

European authorities are moving forward with new safety inspections of all 143 nuclear plants in Europe.

So far the bright spots for nuclear power's future seem to be China and India.  Both governments have repeated their commitment to building substantial numbers of new nuclear plants. 

Prior to Fukushima it was likely that the world wide total of nuclear reactors would have doubled in the next 10 years from 442.  My estimate is that 10 years hence the world will have no more reactors operating than it has today.  Fukushima has changed enormously the future of world energy supplies.

Just one consequence will be more carbon and higher heat trapping gas concentrations in our atmosphere, because what takes the place of the nuclear plants that will close sooner or not get built will on average emit more carbon.

Gas, wind and solar had good prospects prior to Fukushima and will see even more growth over the next 10 years.

Monday, March 14, 2011

UPDATED: Japanese Nuclear Disaster Much Worse Than Three Mile Island and Japanese Credibility Damaged

Events overnight to tuesday morning confirm an enormous disaster at Fukushima.  Radiation levels outside the plant are reported variously 40 times to 400 times normal.  Such dosages for even limited periods of time create real health risks. Reports state that the most recent explosion may have cracked containment at one reactor.  A fire at a fuel rod cooling pond caused radiation to be emitted directly into the atmosphere, though the fire has been extinguished.

Not surprisingly, some nations and companies are evacuating nationals and employees from Tokyo and Japan or advising them to leave.  The US government has not as of early tuesday morning taken such steps, though on sunday and into monday the US Navy repositioned some vessels to move away from the area most impacted by radiation releases from the plants.

The Japanese Nuclear Disaster was on saturday worse than Three Mile Island with then the venting of radiation, an explosion, and almost certain partial meltdown of reactor 1 at Fukushima.

The reported facts monday night pointed to an escalating crisis, even an emergency out-of-control, with a third explosion, three reactors likely experiencing at least partial meltdowns, rising radiation levels outside the plant, possible damage to at least one containment structure, and a fourth expansion of the evacuation area to now at least 18 miles.  Press reports indicate that as many as 15 workers at the plant have been injured by the explosions and also provide conflicting reports about the number of people--it appears about 100--that are being treated for radiation exposure.

Yet all the way into sunday, even after a second explosion and clear signs of an escalating crisis, the Japanese authorities amazingly persisted in classifying the Fukushima nuclear emergency as a 4 on the 0 to 7 international nuclear event scale.  Three Mile Island was a 5 and Chernobyl a 7. 

Since friday, Japanese authorities have been managing and shaping information about Fukushima to first calm the public and second to inform accurately.  It is also almost certainly true that the government itself may not have fully accurate information.  All that now is plain. 

In short, the pressure of the incredible events in Japan--the earthquake, the Tsunami, the huge loss of life, immense property damage--have perhaps understandably broken the government's ability to level with the public. The Japanese government's credibility about the frightening events at Fukushima is damaged and damaged credibility unfortunately builds panic.

I am going to say a prayer.

An Historic First, No Miners Died In Pennsylvania On the Job During 2010. Why? Lessons for Gas Drilling?

Coal has been mined for centuries in Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvanai miners died on the job every year since the first ton was produced until 2010.  Last year was the first year in history that no Pennsylvania coal miner died on the job: A wonderful accomplishment for all involved with the coal industry and its regulation.

Why did the deadly, tragic coal mining history change in 2010? Does this good coal mining news offer any lessons for the gas drilling industry where everyone agrees safety and environmental performance must improve?

Some would say simply "good fortune" produced no mining deaths in 2010. It would be folly and extreme hubris to say that no good fortune was involved, but the prepared and the safe are luckier than the unprepared and the unsafe.

The chief reason for no mining deaths in 2010 reflects the growth of a strong, consistent, universal culture of safety within the Pennsylvania coal mining industry: the coal companies, the mining unions, and the miners themselves.  How did this culture of safety take root? 

Pennsylvania's culture of safety did not appear overnight and is the product of much work by many over decades.  But an especially powerful, recent catalyst was the near fatal accident at Quecreek in 2002 that ended with a miraculous rescue of 9 miners who had been trapped underground by a flood of water for days.  That near tragedy taught important lessons, but more preciously it galvinized and fueled the political leadership, the state regulators, the union, miners, and the mining companies to redouble efforts to prevent mining accidents and deaths. 

 The redoubling of safety efforts led to the passage of new mine safety legislation by the General Assembly and Governor Rendell.  As a result, in January 2009,  the Pennsylvania Mine Safety Board, a new 7-person body composed of 3 United Mine Worker and 3 coal company representatives plus the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection met for the first time.  I served as the initial Chair.

This new body put an added spotlight on safety.  That helped to reinforce the great work done by the state coal mining inspectors that work at DEP.  And strong rules and enforcement of those rules create incentives for safe operations and serve as a deterrent to unsafe practices.

While government regulation builds or undercuts a culture of safety, government has big limits.   Inspectors are not in the mines at all hours.  They don't do the mining.  Mining companies and their employees are and do.  Only a culture of safety  within those companies and employees can create safe operations.

Fostered by government, a strong, growing culture of safety in Pennsylvania's coal mining industry made 2010 the first year ever that Pennsylvania had no mining deaths.  The companies and the miners and how they do their work,.putting safety first, really and truly first, whether or not an inspector is in the mine, made 2010 a special year for coal mining in Pennsylvania.

Can a culture of safe operations be fostered by government and then take root in the Pennsylvania gas drilling industry where 5 workers died in 2009-2010?

It can and must.

Disasters Put Harsh Light On America's Energy Choices

The last 12 months have seen extraordinary events in energy like the BP Gulf oil disaster, the Fukushima nuclear emergency, the revolutions sweeping through the oil fields of North Africa and the Middle east, and the declining price of natural gas in North America.  Despite the stakes in energy, our collective national understanding of energy choices and tradeoffs of making one choice or another deserves and "F." 

Perhaps our ignorance explains the disastrous, byzantine, incoherent energy policies of the last 40 or more years.  We are indeed putty in the hands of the special interests.

America today gets about 45% of its electricity from coal, 24% from natural gas, 20% from nuclear power, 6% from hydro facilities, 4% from all other renewable sources, and less than 1% from oil.  Oil is close to zero and that is a major change from 1973 when oil was a major source of electric power. 

Coal has declined from 52% in 2000 to 45% now.  Natural gas has increased from 12% of electric power in 1990 to 16% in 2000 and 24% now.  Wind has jumped from next to nothing a decade ago to close to 2% of power today.

Where oil dominates is in the transportation sector where it provides about 90% of our fuel, with ethanol and biodiesel providing most of the rest.  There are just 120,000 natural gas vehicles in America, even though fueling a natural gas car today costs the equivalent of $1.40 per gallon.

Since burning oil makes so little of our electricity, more solar, wind, coal, gas, nuclear electricity will do next to nothing to reduce America's oil consumption and foreign oil imports.  Nada. 

But so often I see a policy-maker talking about more nuclear or more of some electric power technology to cut foreign oil imports.  Yesterday it was Senator Schumer talking about the supposed link between nuclear power and oil imports.  Many others point to this supposed link,  a  phantom connection.  It does not exist. Yet leaders keep talking about building lots of new nuclear plants or solar facilities or some electric power technology to diminish our dependence on foreign oil.

The  illiteracy about our energy choices and their impacts on our health, environment, security, and economy is striking and seemingly impervious to huge loads of ink.

Possibly a silver lining in the BP Gulf oil disaster and Fukushima nuclear emergency might be a heightened interest in learning more about our energy choices, the tradeoffs involved, and then being honest about them.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Duke Crushes (AGAIN) Carolina: 75-58

Duke trounces UNC to take the ACC Championship for the 10th time in last 13 years.  Last time Duke played UNC in the ACC final was 2001 when Carolina was demolished too.  Duke has won the last 4 of 5 match-ups.  Duke completes a successful season, going 2-1 against the heels, and taking back to Cameron once more THE trophy: ACC CHAMPIONS.  Carolina fans can visit daily to see what the trophy looks like.

Big Fallout From Japanese Nuclear Emergency: What It Means For Energy Production and Policy

While Japanese government officials struggle to prevent another explosion at stricken nuclear facilities and a full meltdown at least 2 of 6 nuclear reactors as well as medically examine for radiation exposure some of the 170,000 people evacuated from the area, the Fukushima disaster is more serious than the Three Mile Island accident.  ( I blog from my home within the Three Mile Island evacuation area).  It appears that one reactor and possibly two have partially melted down as a result of loss of cooling water.

Observers must speculate to some degree, because Japanese officials are either unsure of the exact condition within the reactors or are not providing full and clear information to their citizens or the world or possibly both.

So what do the last 72 hours mean?  In terms of world energy production, this event will have longer and bigger impacts than the BP oil spill.  It will mean the closure of some nuclear reactors years before they would have otherwise closed and raise the already high costs of new nuclear plants even more.

Specifically the Fukushima nuclear accident has already:

1. Shut down almost certainly forever at least 6 of Japan's 55 nuclear reactors and probably more.  Other Janpanese nuclear reactors are vulnerable to earthquakes and it is highly likely that the Japanese public will demand their early closure.

2. The 6 reactors now off line represent nearly 1.5% of the world's 442 operating reactors as of January 2011.

3. If two reactors at Fukushima have partially melted down there, a total of 4 reactors at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now at Fukushima have partially melted down or approaching 1% of reactors built.

3. The Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, one of 104 American reactors, that is owned by Entergy will now close with 100% certainty.  The Vermont Legislature voted to close the plant but Entergy  sought a new owner for the plant with the hope that new ownership and management could convince Vermont state government to reverse its position.  Forget it.

4. Nuclear plants in California will be targeted for closure.  Other US nuclear plants with earthquake risk will face substantial opposition to any license renewal and may well have to fend off organized efforts to close them before the end of their 40 year license.

5. The cost of new nuclear plants in the USA just went up.  Their costs already are so high, at least $6,000 per kilowatt, that no company would build one here without the US government providing a 100% loan guarantee.

6. Japan before friday got about 30% of its electricity from nuclear power.  It will have lost at least 5% of its power production and possibly more.  Japan will be using more natural gas.  While natural gas has much less emissions than coal or oil, gas will mean more carbon and other conventional emissions than the nuclear plants.

7. Fukushima means substantial new opposition to nuclear power in Europe.  On saturday, 60,000 Germans took to their streets to protest the German government's position on closing or not closing existing plants there.  That will be just the beginning of pressure on existing plants and opposition to new ones in Europe.

8. Fukushima makes it even more likely that natural gas and solar power will dominate world energy production over the next 20 years (See prior posting for more on why).

All energy choices have consequences.  More or less of one or another creates tradeoffs.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japanese Nuclear Crisis Causes Asian LNG Price Jump

How will Japan keep the lights on now?  Markets are predicting with natural gas as Asian spot markets for LNG jumped 5%, reaching $9.90 for a thousand cubic feet.  By comparison, the friday Henry Hub spot price in the USA was $3.72.  Shale gas supplies in the USA have created oceans of gas at low prices.

A theme of this blog is that no energy choice is perfect.  Every choice made or not made has effects.  Stop using gas means using more coal and oil in America for example.  Judgments about any energy source cannot be made without understanding the full consequences within the energy marketplace of our energy choices.

In Japan replacing lost nuclear power means more natural gas used to make electricity and at a high price.

Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Explosion Is Second World Energy Shock in 30 days

The explosion today at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility destroying a building housing a stricken nuclear reactor will shake the energy world as much or more than the recent run up in oil prices to $115 per barrel.

 MSNBC ( reports: "Footage on Japanese TV showed the explosion had crumbled the building's walls, leaving only a skeletal metal frame standing. Its roof had also been blown off. Plumes of smoke spewed out of the plant..."

The Japanese government has now increased three times the size of the evacuation area from the plant, starting first at 1 mile, then to 6 miles, and now 12 miles.  Radiation is clearly leaking and the amounts are reported to be 1,000 normal levels in the control room and 8 times normal level outside the plant. 

Populations in the area are being advised to cover their mouths, not drink drinking water, and iodine is being distributed.

As many as 6 nuclear reactors are in trouble, with at least one reactor and perhaps more in danger of a full meltdown.  In the case of a full meltdown, much higher levels of radiation release is probable given the damage already clearly visible to the containment structures. 

This catastrophic situation is a second major energy shock in 30 days to the world.  The Japanese nuclear industry is considered among the best and safest in the world.  This disaster there will have profoundly negative impacts on the future of nuclear power around the world and in America.  

I live in the Three Mile Island evacuation area and had responsibility for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's radiation protection programs and emergency response.  I will be blogging regularly on this incredible event. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

US Solar 2010 Record Year Portends Solar and Gas Will Dominate

Eye popping numbers, bright enough to make you squint, as though the sun was in your eyes, dot the Solar Energy Industries Association ( 2010 report. 

These numbers and the remarkable 16,000 megawatts of solar built globally in 2010 mean that solar and gas will be the dominant energy sources for the next 50 years. 

Solar became competitive with gas in California in January 2011 (See this blog's first post entitled "Bigger Than Marcellus") and will become competitive in most parts of the USA and the world by 2015.

The US solar industry was a $6 billion business in 2010, up 67% from 2009's $3.6 billion total.  Costs keep coming down in solar as the industry scales and innovates and as the costs come down the industry scales some more and innovates some more.  A virtuous cycle is now underway.  Solar won't stop getting better and cheaper. 

Again, natural gas and solar will be the dominant fuels of the next 50 years.

US electric solar installations were 956 megawatts while global solar projects exceeded 16,000 megawatts in 2010.  America now has a total of 2,600 megawatts of electric solar installed or enough power for 500,000 homes. 

Pennsylvania ranked 7th in 2010 solar capacity built. 

Total USA electric generation exceeds 1,000,000 megawatts so solar is well less than 1% of all capacity.  But solar is still growing in the USA (and globally) at remarkable rates and now from a not inconsequential base of 2,600 megawatts.

Solar electric technologies include various types of solar PV as well as now 17 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants, with a 75 mw CSP plant coming on line in Florida.  Solar technology continues to innovate and advance with major strides being made in the ability of solar plants to store and dispatch energy.

The SEIA report also documents over 35,000 solar water heating projects and another 29,540 solar pool heating jobs were done.

The solar industry now employs 93,000 Americans and 6,000 Pennsylvanians.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Updated: What Takes The Place Of Gas If Drilling Is Banned?

The intense, exclusive focus on drilling crowds out critical information about our energy choices that causes a thinking malfunction.  Drilling is not and never will be zero impact, even with strong regulation that is an imperative.

But a judgment about the environmental impact of gas drilling cannot be reasonably made without genuinely facing what the consequences of banning drilling and fracking would be for our environment and public health.  Those thinking about the wisdom of a ban must come to grips with these facts:

All fossil fuels--coal, oil, and natural gas--have very different environmental foot prints.  Period. And America runs primarily on coal and oil today, the two dirtiest fuels.

Yet, banning natural gas drilling and fracking would insure that natural gas prices hit the moon and a surge in  coal use and possibly oil. Natural gas would lose market share and no longer provide 24% of our electricity or 51% of our home heating. 

Just as damaging to the environment, a ban would mean losing the environmental prize that can now be won of replacing, refueling with gas, or closing quickly at least the one third of coal fired power plants that are 40 plus years old with no or few pollution controls and of decreasing oil's 90% share of our transportation fuel. 

Here are just a few of the overwhelming facts:

Coal plants provide 45% of our electricity but are responsible for 98% of mercury emissions from electric power plants and 46% of total mercury emissions.  Coal plants are responsible for 40% of total Hazardous Air Pollutants emissions (from all sources)

Coal plants are responsible for 98% of sulfur dioxide emissions from electric power plants and 86% of nitrogen dioxide pollution.

Natural gas has zero mercury emissions.  Natural gas has essentially zero soot.  It emits considerably less sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. 

And it emits about 50% less carbon dioxide on a life cycle basis according to a February 2011 NETL study (more on this topic soon).

Simply put, banning natural gas drilling and fracking would mean more mercury, hazardous air pollutants, smog, soot, water damage.  All that when already power plant pollution, mainly from the 40-year and older coal plants with few environmental controls, is killing up to 36,000 Americans per year.  A ban would be a public health disaster.

The intense focus on drilling runs the risk of causing a loss of memory about the huge impacts on water from coal and oil.  Just consider in Pennsylvania the coal ash impoundment that collapsed in 2005 and polluted the Delaware river or the major oil spill from a tanker again on the Delaware river.  Please don't forget the huge oil plume under a large portion of Philadelphia or the substantial pollution of ground water by MTBE or the 3,000 underground oil storage tanks just in Pennsylvania that are abandoned and threatening water supplies.  Or the daily spills of oil big and small around the state. 

The worst mining impacts are no doubt the 500 mountain tops "removed" and the 1200 miles of streams buried as a result in Appalachia.  But that is just the very worst.  The worst fish kill in recent Pennsylvania history, The Dunkard Creek disaster, was caused by a coal mining discharge in West Virginia.

The right course for the environment and our health  is to regulate strongly natural gas drilling to reduce its impacts; use more natural gas, less coal, less oil; and accelerate renewables and energy efficiency.

Monday, March 7, 2011

DEP Radioactive Material Test Results Show Water Safe & NY Times 2/27 Article Deliberately False

The Department of Environmental Protection issued today a press release announcing that test results for radioactive material in streams in 7 counties and all samples "showed levels at or below the normal naturally occurring background levels of radioactivity."

Secretary Krancer is quoted as saying "Here are the facts: all samples were at or below background levels of radioactivity; and all samples showed levels below the federal drinking water standard for Radium 226 and 228." 

For the press release go to:

The monitoring took place in November and December with in-stream monitors in Washington County, Greene County, Indiana County, Venango County, Beaver County, Tioga County, and Lycoming County.

These are welcome test results and more testing is being done by the Pennsylvania American Water Company and the Pittsburgh Sewer and Water Authority.

These results also are another blow to credibility of the New York Times February 27th story that was deliberately false.  The story had a fictional narrative of lax regulation and oversight of gas drilling in Pennsylvania.  It also gratuitously frightened Pennsylvanians by suggesting that their water was contaminated with radioactive materials and unsafe. 

Currently about 70% of drilling wastewater is partially treated and recycled and reused and not discharged to rivers and streams.  The amount of recycling is increasing. 

In August 2010, Pennsylvania completed a rulemaking that ended the decades long practice of allowing unlimited amounts of drilling wastewater to be discharged without treatment for Total Dissolved Solids.  The new, stronger rule required all new or expanded treatment plants that discharge drilling wastewater to treat it at the pipe to the Safe Drinking Water Act standard of 500mg/liter. The rule also created a watershed standard to insure that the cumulative loading of TDS from any or all sources could not cause waters to have TDS concentrations about the Safe Drinking Water Standard.

The August rule conditionally allowed the historic, existing plants to continue operating without treatment for TDS only if they did not expand or did not cause the receiving waters to have TDS levels above 75% of the Safe Drinking Water standard.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

UPDATED: Pennsylvania's Strong Drilling Oversight Program: the NYT Scandal of the News Not Fit To Print

Pennsylvania has the strongest oversight of gas drilling in the United States.  This post will detail by year the actions taken by Pennsylvania to oversee the gas drilling industry that supports this statement.  The original Sunday, February 27th story  willfully ignored, shunted into "document readers," or otherwise manipulated critical actions and facts to create a fictional, dramatic narrative of lax regulation and lax oversight in Pennsylvania.

Drama served the NYT's commercial purposes that the NYT nakedly revealed by releasing this story on the night of the Academy Awards, when Gasland added spice and interest, and by pairing the February 27th story on its website with material celebrating an anti-drilling celebrity activist.

Of course, a factual, accurate account of oversight in Pennsylvania would have been good journalism, a public service, but perhaps boring.  Such an account would have fair criticisms to make as well.  But it would have included much of the information that I provide in this piece and could not have had the narrative of lax regulation and oversight to describe the Department of Environmental Protection's regulation of the gas industry.

Instead of good journalism, the NYT went for drama and scandal and created ironically both in the February 27th article itself.  The basic method of the piece was to exclude  from the main article discussion of the many, many strong oversight actions taken by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Stated chronologically the following is what the NYT had to ignore, move out of the February 27th article itself, manipulate, or otherwise conceal to write its February 27th story.  Here is why Pennsylvania's gas drilling oversight program is the strongest in the nation.


1. 1400 violations issued by DEP to gas industry from January 1, 2008 to June 30, 2010.  As the Pennsylvania Association of Land Trusts and many others commented, 1400 violations is a lot. The Land Trusts Association's excellent report on the violations received enormous coverage by Pennsylvania's media (as it should have).   The 1400 violations proved that DEP was actively overseeing the industry and enforcing rules.  And it raised legitimate concerns about the performance of the gas industry in complying with rules and operating safely.

Despite more than 3,800 words in the Sunday, NYT article, there was no space to print "1400 violations" to the gas industry issued by DEP.  It is a jarring number and contradicts powerfully the fictional narrative of lax oversight.

2. Also not in the NYT report were any mentions of orders to stop drilling for weeks and months to some companies.  No mention of orders to some companies to stop fracking for weeks and months.  No mention of orders requiring companies to pay to fully clean up spills.  No mention of orders to companies to fully pay to clean up leaks.  No mentions of orders to plug gas wells at great expense to companies and landowners who lose royalties.  No mentions of orders to companies to spend tens of millions of dollars repairing gas wells.  No mention of the major investigations of practices conducted by the DEP.  There are so many that they literally would fill not one book but many.

Of course other reporters and media have covered heavily these enforcement actions.  Some of these enforcement actions have drawn national and even international coverage.  The many, tough enforcement, regulatory, and oversight actions taken by DEP are part of the public and media record.

But for this reporter and the February 27th article, they were a problem.  What to do?  Ignore them because they contradict a fictional narrative of lax regulation and oversight.

3. Pennsylvania adopts Water Plan requirement for drilling.  The Water Plan requirement was the first of 4 major regulatory actions to strengthen rules across the board to protect waters and regulate gas drilling.

Following 2 cases where water withdrawals for gas drilling damaged streams, Pennsylvania required in 2008 that every application to drill have a water plan.  The water plan must specify the amount of water that will be used and the source of the water.  If the water is being withdrawn from a river or stream, the withdrawal is judged against a protective standard for the stream.  The stream is assumed to be in drought condition and the withdrawal is approved only if it would not damage a stream in a drought condition.  This is early, strong oversight.

The Water Plan requirement of course was completely ignored in the NYT February 27th story as it strongly contradicts the fictional narrative of lax regulation and oversight.

4. Pennsylvania DEP commences emergency rulemaking to raise the fee charged to apply for a Marcellus drilling permit.  The fee was also raised for all applications but the non-marcellus fee increase was not put into the emergency rulemaking package.  All revenues from the fee increase would be dedicated to hiring additional gas oversight staff.  The fees were raised and revenues increased from less than $1 million per year to more than $10 million per year.

The fee increase was ignored in the article because it contradicts the fictional narrative of lax regulation and oversight.

5. Pennsylvania DEP issues drinking water advisory to the public in the Pittsburgh region when TDS levels on the Monongahela river exceed the secondary drinking water standard of 500 ppm.

The NYT article deliberately misleads the reader to conceal the DEP oversight role and says "local officials" advised the public.

6. Pennsylvania DEP orders municipal treatment systems on the Mon River that had been taking drilling waste to cut by 95% receipt of drilling waste.  The DEP also secures agreement from coal mining operations to reduce their discharge of mine water.  DEP also contacts West Virginia DEP to seek assistance because the water was crossing the Pennsylvania border already at the 500 ppm level.  Pennsylvania DEP also coordinates actions with the Army Corps of Engineers.

The NYT Feb 27th article ignores all of this while discussing the events on the Mon and describing those events with anonymous quotations in the most dramatic manner.  The exclusion of the orders to the municipal systems to cut by 95% their waste flow was deliberate and done so again because to include it would have powerfully contradicted the fictional narrative of lax regulation and lax oversight.

7. Internal decision is made to commence hiring additional oversight staff for gas drilling.  This decision was made possible by the fee increase discussed in point 3.

8. DEP puts on its website the names of chemicals used in fracking.

NYT article does not mention this action as it powerfully contradicts the fictional narrative of lax regulation and oversight.

9. Internal discussions commence about a new rulemaking to end Pennsylvania's historic practice of allowing drilling waste to be discharged with partial treatment but no treatment for TDS as Marcellus drilling meant that volumes would increase and overwhelm streams ability to keep TDS levels below 500 ppm.

10. Internal discusions commence about creating a buffer requirement for Pennsylvania's waters.

2009  (Major enforcement actions continue throughout the year.  See point 1).

11.  DEP begins hiring staff that would raise staffing levels from 88 to 202 from 2008 to 2010.  Pennsylvania leads the nation in hiring staff.  No other state can match or even come close to Pennsylvania's hiring record.  In 2009, 37 new staff were hired.

Concealed in a single sentence that describes several actions late in an ocean of ink the persistent, careful reader reads the word "doubling" of staff.  That is it. 

Reporting the facts and that Pennsylvania led the nation in hiring gas oversight staff would be devastating to the fictional narrative of lax regulation and lax oversight.

It was a big problem for this reporter.  You can see the tricks and manipulations he used.  In my opinion, this article demonstrates that indeed he is a skilled practitioner of the dark tools of journalism that are used to mislead the reader.

12. DEP completes gas drilling fee increase package.

NYT  article provides not information about the commencement or completion of one of the largest fee increases in the history of DEP.  To do so would powerfully contradict the fictional narrative of lax regulation and oversight.

13. DEP opens new gas oversight office in Williamsport for new staff and to move staff closer to a major new area of gas drilling so that staff can more efficiently oversee the gas industry.

NYT article does not report it.

14. DEP commences rulemaking to end practice of allowing unlimited discharges of drilling waste into rivers and streams and to create a watershed standard to protect rivers and streams from all sources of TDS pollution.  The proposed rule singles out gas drilling waste for the toughest treatment by proposing an end of pipe discharge standard and not an in-stream standard.

NYT article does not mention the commencement of this rulemaking in 2009 and has only a few words at all on the new rule in the main article.  Instead the reporter puts all the information that powerfully contradicts his narrative of lax regulation and oversight in a "document reader" that most readers will never read.

15. DEP applies the proposed standard immediately in 2009 to individual permit cases for discharging drilling wastewater.

The NYT main article does not tell its reader that permits starting in 2009 had this standard applied to them.  Got to go to the document reader for that too.

16. DEP commences proposed rule-making for a mandatory river/stream buffer from development.

17. DEP commences proposed rule-making to strengthen entirely the regulations governing gas drilling construction, design, materials, monitoring, reporting, testing, disclosure of chemicals. 

18.  DEP commences stopping drilling truck traffic to do radom truck stops. FRACNET is born and continues forward. State police participates in the oversight.  State police and DEP put out of service 40% of the trucks stopped.

NYT ignores state police/dep truck stops as they contradict the fictional narrative of lax regulation and oversight.

2010 (Major enforcement actions continue throughout year.  See point 1).

19. Inspections of Marcellus drilling sights increase to 5,000 or 100%. 

Of course the NYT reporter deliberately ignored this statistic.  And you know why.

20. DEP hires another 77 staff for gas drilling oversight, bringing total staff to 202.  Pennsylvania leads the nation on hiring gas oversight staff.

21.  Major enforcement actions continue on a whole range of matters, including on a blow out in Clearfield county and gas migration cases in Dimock, Susquehanna county. 

22. DEP orders drilling stopped, fracking stopped, plugging of wells and gas well repairs to stop gas migrating in Dimock at costs of millions. By December methane is removed from 14 of 19 impacted wells.  DEP also issues fines totaling more than $1.1 million to the driller.

23. DEP wins payments to the impacted families of twice the property value, and they average $200,000.  Families keep their properties and mineral rights.  No state has won payments of this size to compensate families for gas migration to their property. 

A plan to build a pipeline to serve the 19 families triggered massive local opposition, with thousands signing a petition not to build it, local officials promising to block the pipeline, and influential Republican state senators announcing their oppostion to the pipeline.   The costs of the pipeline would have been approximately $10 million and by December 2010 methane had been removed from the water of 14 of 19 families.  Opponents of the pipeline pointed to these costs and the concern that the state would not be able to recover the line's costs from the drilling company as some reasons for their opposition.  Right or wrong, the line was not going to be built after Governor Rendell left office in the face of massive local opposition.

24. DEP opens another new staff office to move more oversight staff closer to new areas of drilling to increase efficiency of oversight.  This one in Scranton. 

25. DEP equips staff with camera, vehicles and other tools needed for oversight.

26. DEP updates the chemical list on its website for chemicals used in fracking and informs the public of the new more comprehensive chemical list.

27. DEP volunteers in May 2010 for STRONGER to do an independent review of its gas drilling oversight program.  STRONGER issues positive report on September 24th, 2010.

The stronger report was deliberately excluded from the Feb 27th article. It was an independent review of the regulatory program at the time the NYT was creating a fictional narrative of lax regulation and lax oversight.  On February 27th, I asked why he had excluded the report?  The reporter said it was out of date, a transparently false statement, again offering one of many windows into this reporter's skilled practice of the art of misleading.

28. DEP implements new state law requiring the publication and release of gas production data.

29. DEP puts on its website a report of all the violations issued to the gas drilling industry and updates monthly.

30. August 2010 new TDS rule becomes effective.  The rule was opposed by the drilling industry, coal industry, Pennsylvania Chemical industry, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the Allegheny Conference as too tough and expensive.  It was supported by the Pennsylvania drinking water companies, the Philadelphia Water Department, and nearly all environmental organizations.

31. November 2010 mandatory 150 foot buffer rule becomes final for 22,000 miles or one-quarter of Pennsylvania streams and all of Pennyslvania's High Quality or best streams.

32. DEP with DCNR issue joint policy on review of any applications for permits to drill in state parks.

33. DEP issues technical guidance document on the issue of aggregating air emissions from drilling equipment.

34. Gas Drilling Standards Rule to set state of the art standards for gas drilling that commenced in 2009, is approved by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission in December 2010 and becomes final on February 5, 2011.

In conclusion, I have been among the first to say that Pennsylvania's laws still need some further tightening (bonding, max fines, setbacks as examples).  I have been the first to say that oversight staffing should be increased as the industry grows.  I have been the first to say that rules do no good unless they are enforced and that regulators must be professional, independent enforcers of the rules.  I have been the first to say events may show rules need to be strengthened.

And I was the first to say, "Test the Waters," in response to the original NY Times story.  Pennsylvania's regulatory program can be improved and it should be.  The test results will show whether the August 2010 rule is tough enough and working or not.  That will be a good thing to know.

But the current Pennsylvania gas drilling oversight program is the strongest in the nation.  Just ask those in the drilling industry how much oversight they experience here versus in other states. Just look at all the actions taken, some of which I have described above.

The NYT February 27th article creates a fictional narrative of lax regulation and lax oversight.  It is scandalously false for the reasons stated above and in previous posts.

I became Secretary on September 2nd, 2008 and was responsible for nearly all the actions reported by the NYT but I was not interviewed until after the February 27th publication.  That was not an accident. A reader probably thought I was interviewed, because I was quoted in the piece.  This reporter is a skilled practitioner of the art of misleading the reader.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Updated: Water Testing Commences/Results Likely of Water Safe

Pennsylvania American Water Company, one of America's best water companies, announced that it will begin testing water for the pollutants the reporter for the NYT highlights in the February 27th article.  Thank you Pennsylvania American Water Company which operates 5 water plants in the Pittsburgh region 

PAWC spokesman Terry M. Maenza is quoted in today's Philadelphia Inquirer ( as saying that PAWC will do "a battery of radiological tests during the next few weeks."

Mr. Maenza goes on to say: "We expect that there will be no cause for concern."  Of course you have to read about this information in the Philadelphia Inquirer and other papers but not from the NYT.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority will also test.  Thank you to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority as well.

If the results come back that the water is unsafe for radium or the pollutants identified by the NYT, I will be the first to urge that the new rule enacted in August 2010 and used in permits since 2009 was not tough enough and must be still further strengthened.  The August 2010 rule was supported by Pennsylvania's drinking water companies and the Philadelphia Water Department and opposed by other business interests that argued it was too expensive and strict.  Yet, if the results show that the water does not meet safety standards, the new August 2010 rule will have been proven to be inadequate.

If, however, the results come back that the water meets safety standards, then Pennsylvanians can have their peace of mind restored.  They will also have had a strong lesson about the reliability of the NYT that wrote this piece, printed it on Sunday, the night of the Academy Awards, when Gasland added to the sizzle of the night.  The NYT also promoted this piece on its website next to material about a celebrity anti-drilling activist.

In the event that the results are that the water is safe, I will urge that a new reporter be assigned to write a piece that is at least as long (over 3,800 words in main article plus document readers in addition) that tells the nation that Pennsylvania's water is safe, and that Pennsylvania has the strongest gas drilling oversight in the nation. 

Let me tell the NYT now the following:  I would be glad to be interviewed no matter the results.  I can be reached through this blog or other well known contact information. 

But I would request that any quotations attributed to me in the story written about the results come from an actual interview of me by a new, credible NYT reporter and not to repeat the practice of putting words in my mouth taken from my thousands of past interviews with other reporters at other times in other places and contexts.  Hopefully that is a small request.

NYT Update: The Power of the Press

Governor Rendell and I submitted today an approximately 600 word draft response to the NYT February 27th piece that was over 3,800 words to the February 27th article.

A gracious (not being sarcastic) editor of the letter section advised initially that the NYT would publish a 250 word response but that it should stick to "the issue."  For her, the issue was not the reporting errors and omissions of the NYT at all.  For us those points are very much part of the issue.

The NYT letters editor then edited our submission. Governor Rendell and I accepted her edit that was skillfully done to achieve the objectives of a much shorter submission and removal of any discussion of the deliberate reporting flaws in the original piece.  The ratio of words in the orginal story to the response will be about 10:1.  I, nonetheless, felt our choice at that point was to accept the edited version or not have a response of any sort printed. 

I am not sure when our edited letter will run.  Sunday would make sense as the original story ran on a Sunday.

As to those portions of our response concerning the wilfull reporting errors and omissions designed to create a fictional narrative of lax regulation and lax oversight of gas drilling, the NYT letters editor recommended that we take our concerns to the NYT Public Editor.

I did that on monday when I left a voice mail for and sent an email to the NYT Public Editor.  As the sun goes down on wednesday, I have received no response from the Public Editor.