Monday, March 31, 2008

My Public

Yesterday I wrote about Obama's advertisement about the price of oil.
Advertising was also the subject of another article in the Washington Post:

"Former vice president Al Gore will launch a three-year, $300 million campaign Wednesday aimed at mobilizing Americans to push for aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, a move that ranks as one of the most ambitious and costly public advocacy campaigns in U.S. history."

Gore says, "The simple algorithm is this: It's important to change the light bulbs, but it's much more important to change the laws."

"The Alliance for Climate Protection's "we" campaign will employ online organizing and television advertisements on shows ranging from "American Idol" to "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. It highlights the extent to which Americans' growing awareness of global warming has yet to translate into national policy changes, Gore said in an hour-long phone interview last week. He said the campaign, which Gore is helping to fund, was undertaken in large part because of his fear that U.S. lawmakers are unwilling to curb the human-generated emissions linked to climate change.

"This climate crisis is so interwoven with habits and patterns that are so entrenched, the elected officials in both parties are going to be timid about enacting the bold changes that are needed until there is a change in the public's sense of urgency in addressing this crisis," Gore said. "I've tried everything else I know to try. The way to solve this crisis is to change the way the public thinks about it.""

I'm so glad to hear this -- I'm glad to hear he's putting his peace prize to good use (he's putting in all the profits from the film, the book, the prizes -- according to the article.) I'm glad to think there is someone out there fighting this fight -- with big bucks and brains an know how. Also -- just in terms of government faith and healing, it's good to hear of someone exceeding expectations rather than falling short!

As a mother of young children I think about advertising all the time -- what the kids see and what they do -- who tries to sell them what and when. Junk, always. Consumerism all the time.

Isn't it nice to imagine that aside from the barrage of barbie and webkins (whose sole purpose of gaming is to sell more and make a game of buying!) -- that some of the advertising they receive over their childhood could actually be good information as well. One of the campaign's partners is the Girl Scouts. (I think we need a new cookie! Maybe an oil cookie?)

Furthermore, isn't it a refreshing opinion of democracy! People need to decide. If we do decide -- en mass -- we can effect change. We can vote and change the outcome of the future!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Candidate

Since the gas lines of the ’70’s, Democrats and Republicans have talked about energy independence, but nothing’s changed — except now Exxon’s making $40 billion a year, and we’re paying $3.50 for gas.

I’m Barack Obama. I don’t take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists, and I won’t let them block change anymore. They’ll pay a penalty on windfall profits. We’ll invest in alternative energy, create jobs and free ourselves from foreign oil.

I approve this message because it’s time that Washington worked for you. Not them.

It's a TV ad -- airing today in Penn. Link Here.

I guess there's some question about whether or not he takes any money from the industry -- a suggested misrepresentation by the Clinton campaign. I hate to see them slandering each other -- I really admire Hiallary Clinton; I think she'd make a terrific president. I really wish we could see what they could do together.

I find it hard to imagine the the oil companies don't give everyone money somehow...

It seems pretty much like what needs to be done -- aside from the obvious omission of the environment -- but I understand that. You have got to choose your motivation, your appeal.

I'm glad to see this ad. I don't really believe in campaign promises or put too much stock in them -- but wouldn't it be nice to believe...

I first saw this ad on The Oil Drum, then followed a link to the NYTimes.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Absurdity of Scale

Look at this!

This image provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department ...

This image provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department ...

The Firestone Vineyard stretchs toward rolling hills in the ...
Photos are all AP photos from a slide show here.

There's an amazing string of AP articles about an oil and gas company in Santa Barbara County. The article by Noaki Schwartz is great, laying out a long series of ironies and disasters. Kudos!

Here are some highlights:

  • Of 21 refineries in California, Greka Oil & Gas Inc. is the fourth-smallest producer, but the state's biggest inland oil polluter, according to state officials.
  • Over the past nine years, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department has responded at least 400 times to oil spills and gas leaks at Greka, resulting in fines, citations, federal and local prosecutions and investigations by the Environmental Protection Agency and state Fish and Game.
  • From 1999 to 2007, the Santa Barbara Air Pollution Control District inspected Greka facilities 855 times and issued 298 violations. During that period, 203 Greka spills threatened or polluted state waters 20 times, according to Fish and Game.
  • In January announced an environmental initiative dubbed Greka Green. But just a day later, it was hit with an 8,400-gallon spill.
The idyllic vineyard is the Firestone Vineyard, which was established by The Firestone family in 1972. For some reason I can't seem to figure out how big it is. But there's lot's of history and pretty pictures on their website.

Greka leases land from the vineyard.
Again, how much sense does it take? Oil. Food Source. Ugh.
Do people really not think that oil is dangerous? I just keep finding myself amazed at the decisions people will make for money.

I think it's interesting to note that the Firestone's sold the vineyard and much of the land last year. Another quote from the AP story:

"Brooks Firestone, whose family leases land to Greka, was one of two members of the county Board of Supervisors who blocked an emergency hearing on Greka in December. He said the staff needed more time to prepare, and warned board members not to become hysterical.

"To me, a huge event involving oil was the Kuwaiti oil fields that were fired by the Iraqi army in the first Gulf War, the 1969 oil spill in the channel, the Valdez tanker and the Normandy tanker," Firestone said at the time. "What is the meaning of this incident?"

Days later, on Jan. 5, Greka spilled more than 190,000 gallons of oil and contaminated water on the land it leases from the Firestone estate. Since that spill, Firestone has withdrawn from deciding matters related to Greka.

Firestone, an heir to the tire fortune, said it would be too difficult to calculate how much income he receives from Greka. On political disclosure forms, he said he owns only 9 percent of the vineyard land on which the Greka installation sits. Officials have to own at least 10 percent of a business to disclose income from it."

I'm amazed by this story.
At it's absurdity of scale, for one thing -- this little company respectively and all the power they have -- all the damage.
It's got everything -- right down to irony and government corruption.
I wonder about all the little companies in this country.
I wonder what will we drink.
When we have polluted the wine
and the rain and the rivers.

Friday, March 28, 2008

What Would We Give Up?

Today I was traveling. I spent the day in Connecticut -- and while there is a pretty big breaking story on the oil front, I'll have to write about it tomorrow. I spent more time in the car and less on the computer...

I was driving through Hartford -- the smell is really bad. So I thought I'd see if I could find out what it was -- I realized I don't take those smells for granted anymore -- what used to just seem like a nuisance now seems like evidence. I found a website that I don't understand that lists Hartford and its varying types of emissions. I don't understand or trust it, but I thought I'd share that it seems to say Hartford's Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Oxide, PM 2.5, PM 10 and Volatile Organic Compound Emissions seem to be 90-100% of the worst in the country.

Also I read an amazing poem today. It's by one of my favorite poets, Marie Howe -- it made me think very much about some of this I have been wondering about here -- her new book just came out from Norton: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. I highly recommend you go buy the book! I have to print it small so as not to mess up the formatting.

"What We Would Give Up"

One morning in Orlando Florida, I asked a group of college students -- What
would we be willing to give up to equalize the wealth in the world? Malls, a
red-haired young woman said right away. Supermarkets, the young man in
a black T-shirt said -- where you go to buy bread, and there's a hundred and
fifty loaves on the shelf. Imported fruit, the young woman sitting next to him
said -- berries in winter. A car, the guy with the nose ring said. I don't have a
car anyway.

Travel? Jet fuel? Well, we'd all be together, someone said. TV, said the guy
without a car, I don't watch TV anyway. What about coffee, I said, looking
down at my double tall half-
caf soy latte. Ok, everyone said, but I wondered
about that one. Ten pairs of shoes? Yes. Movies? Maybe.

That week my phone was out of order. When the company tried to connect
my line to a split line that would allow me fast cable access to the Internet
everything went dead. When I called the phone company I was put on hold
and had to listen to a tinny version of
Vivaldi's Four Seasons pitched at what
seemed a much faster than usual speed.
This call may be monitored.

I was told to punch my number in five times during that first phone call, and
every time I was transferred to a person who asked for my number again.

Eight calls that first day. We'll send a technician out, the central office would
say. The technician, when he arrived would say, The problem is in the central
office. When I called the central office, someone would say, We have to send
a technician out. When I said, a technician has already been there, the central
office person would say, All I can do is put in an order Ma'am. Vivaldi.

After seven days, I began to suspect that at the center of the central office is
a room empty of all furniture but a table. On the table, a ringing telephone.
Somewhere way down a long corridor, one guy in a broken chair in front of
an empty desk. Every once in a while he cranes his neck towards the door and
yells to no one in particular -- is anyone gonna answer that?

If you don't want music, the phone company says, please hold through the

When I came home from Orlando, the phone started working again. The
Gap? Someone said. Everybody said, I don't go to the Gap.

Would I give up the telephone? Would I give up hot water? Would I give up
makeup? Would I give up dying my hair? That was a hard one. If I stopped
dying my hair everyone would know that my golden hair is actually gray, and
my long American youth would be over -- and then what?

Thank you, Marie. Yes.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Unwritten

When I teach writing -- comp, journalism, electronic media -- I teach that, basically, every piece of writing is the same: locate your Audience, Purpose and Tone. If you write based on those three things, your piece will work.

I realize this morning that there has been an element missing for the last two years as I teach this theory: Understanding.

The old adage of creative writing "write what you know" is compelling -- but even more compelling if you take it in terms of non-creative writing. I've been trying for the last few days to figure out how to help my students with this problem -- but it didn't really gel until I set out to learn about oil today.

Lack of understanding is often the problem in freshman English papers -- it's also often a problem in journalism articles.

So I'm going to do what you should never do -- write about what I don't understand. I'm not going to look any further, either.

An article yesterday in the Denver Post reports,

"Garden Gulch, a remote ravine north of the town of Parachute, has been the site of four spills and leaks from oil and gas drilling in the past five months."


"New information pegs it as also being the site of a huge soil-erosion deposit that fell during the building of an oil-field pipeline above."

Okay -- what New Information? Photos? Reports? Whose?

There are two reasons this type of language occurs in any genre: confusion or secrecy.
(okay -- one more reason may be that a writer writes at 5 am with a 7am deadline -- this leads to all sorts of sloppy writing.) Confusion can come from not knowing enough, and also from knowing too much.

I still can't exactly understand what the problem is -- and what is missing in the article is what a soil erosion deposit means and what the effects of one are. After sitting with the article for an hour (it's pretty short) -- I think the issue is: a pipeline for oil and gas products was built somewhere over an important water source. When the pipeline was built it caused a bit of a landslide which deposited a bunch of soil into the watershed. This was not reported -- though it should have been by law. The pipeline has been leaking -- 4 leaks -- and the waste has simply been freezing -- but as spring is coming it is all about to defrost and make its way to the plants and animals. No one knows what's in the frozen waste. It's probably toxic.

Chevron owns the land -- and they didn't know anything about the problem.

"Photographers for environmental organizations mistakenly identified the formation in that photo as the remainder of the four spills from wells that created a million-gallon frozen "waterfall" into the gulch. That gulch is home to Parachute Creek, the source of irrigation and livestock water for downstream landowners and the entire town of Parachute."

Okay -- here I'm wanting to point out a problem I see:

Chevron owns the source of irrigation and livestock water for landowners and the entire town.
Okay -- hindsight, 20/20 all that -- but what did they think was going to happen? The oil and gas giant was going to put vitamin C in the water?

The writer says, "
The saga of the Garden Gulch spills and deposits does hold an element of confusion."

Some of it is the writers creation. There is no one official from the local government on record -- there's no one from Chevron on record. There's a pipeline builder identified as unidentified. She may have been on deadline -- worried about getting scooped -- there are a lot of pressures that go into this type of story which is trying to uncover something people do not want uncovered...

Some of it sounds like extreme negligence on behalf of the oil people. The spills went unreported -- the erosion was also supposed to be reported and wasn't.

And more than that -- the system is set up to protect certain things and certain practices.

Get this: "
Fluids used in drilling and stored in pits are kept secret under federal rules"


Here we are, right. The Federal Government. You don't really have to go much further.

The fact is that the government looks out for the oil companies and the oil companies look out for their money. And whatever you think of any of it -- of the endangered polar bear, of tankers in British Colombia, of being able to travel to California or to work off of your feet -- whatever you think of any of it, the no one is really looking out for the effects of it all.

Audience, Purpose and Tone.
If the audience is the public -- the people who drink and who raise the cows -- if the purpose is to keep in the dark and the tone is to placate or to keep in the dark --
someone is writing well. The laws. The brochures.

The unwritten.

Post Script:

Whatever problems I have complained about in this article I would like to deeply and sincerely thank Nancy Lofholm of the Denver Post for writing it. The most important role of the journalist is to uncover the covered -- it is absolutely through articles like this that education and change occur.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sometimes We Don't Know What We Are Getting Into

But sometimes we know the risks and we aren't prepared.
Then it is negligence -- bravado -- disregard.

In November 11 ships, including an oil tanker broke up in Russia. The story in the NYTimes said,

"Viktor P. Beltsov, a spokesman for the Ministry of Emergency Situations, speaking in a telephone interview, blamed the captains and ship owners for the disaster. “They all knew perfectly well a storm warning was in effect,” he said. “The leadership of these companies simply ignored these warnings.”

Russian prosecutors said they would open a criminal investigation to assess responsibility for the environmental damage.

But the World Wide Fund for Nature said in a statement that the problem ran deeper than errors in judgment by the ships’ captains, citing the Russian practice of using river tankers, like Volganeft-139, on the open sea in rough weather.

“It’s a systemic problem,” the group said. “Most river tankers simply are not constructed for such storms, and the seagoing vessels cannot sail on the Don and Volga Rivers.”"

I'd be interested in a comparison -- is that like driving an oxcart filled with oil on the Massachusetts Turnpike? Is it like wearing wax wings?
Last week, UPI (United Press International) reported:

"Many ships entering California ports may not be able to comply with a state law requiring they have the capability of reporting oil spills within 30 minutes.

Twenty-one of 164 ships subjected to spot state inspection in a three-year period could not place four notification phone calls, The Sacramento Bee reported Sunday."

Maybe it could be argued we so take oil for granted we don't take seriously the effects at all.
We want it all and we don't want to do what it takes to be careful with our environment and the life around us...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I Hate Chain Letters

Speaking of painters... I dated a painter once. Twice.
Years ago. I haven't heard from him since except
this morning I got a chain mail from him in my bulk folder.

You, too, can save the world with just 10 e-mails
(oh, no, not the world, some money.)

> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > This was sent by a retired
Coca Cola
executive. It came from
one of
> >
> >> > his engineer buddies who retired
from Halliburton. If you
are tired
> >
> >> > of the gas prices going up AND
they will continue to rise
> >
> >> > summer,take time to read this please.
> >
> >> > Phillip Hollsworth offered this good idea.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > This makes MUCH MORE SENSE than the
"don't buy gas on a
certain day"
> >
> >> > campaign that was going around last
April or May! It's worth
> >
> >> > consideration. Join the resistance!!!!
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > I hear we are going to hit close to
$ 4.00 a gallon by next
> >
> >> > summer,and it might go higher!!
Want gasoline prices to come
> >
> >> > We need to take some intelligent,
united action. The oil
> >
> >> > companies just laughed at that because
they knew we wouldn't
> >
> >> > continue to "hurt" ourselves by
refusing to buy gas.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > It was more of an inconvenience
to us than it was a problem
for them.
> >
> >> > BUT, whoever thought of this
idea has come up with a plan
> >
> >> > can really work. Please read
on and join with us!
> >
> >> > By now you're probably thinking
gasoline priced at about
$2.00 is
> >
> >> > super cheap. Me too! It is
currently $3.19 for regular
unleaded in
> >
> >> > my town.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > Now that the oil companies and the
OPEC nations have
conditioned us
> >
> >> > to think that the cost of a gallon
of gas is CHEAP at $1.50
> >
> >> > $1.75,we need to take aggressive
action to teach them that
> >
> >> > control the marketplace..not sellers.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > With the price of gasoline going up
more each day, we
consumers need
> >
> >> > to take action.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > The only way we are going to see
the price of gas come down
is if we
> >
> >> > hit someone in the pocketbook by
not purchasing their gas!
And, we
> >
> >> > can do that WITHOUT hurting ourselves.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > How? Since we all rely on our cars,
we can't just stop
buying gas.
> >
> >> > But we CAN have an impact on gas
prices if we all act
together to
> >
> >> > force a price war.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > Here's the idea: For the rest of
this year, DON'T purchase
> >
> >> > gasoline from the two biggest companies
(which now are one),
> >
> >> > and MOBIL.
> >
> >> > If they are not selling any gas, they
will be inclined to
> >
> >> > their prices.
> >
> >> > If they reduce their prices, the other
companies will have
> >
> >> > follow suit.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > But to have an impact, we need to reach
literally millions
of Exxon
> >
> >> > and Mobil gas buyers. It's really simple
to do! Now, don't
wimp out
> >
> >> > on me at this point...keep reading and
I'll explain how
simple it is
> >
> >> > to
> >
> >> > reach millions of people!!
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > I am sending this note to 30 people.
If each of us send it
to at
> >
> >> > least ten more (30 x 10 = 300) ... and
those 300 send it to
at least
> >
> >> > ten more (300 x10 = 3,000)...and so on,
by the time the
> >
> >> > reaches the sixth group of people, we will
have reached over
> >
> >> > MILLION
> >
> >> > consumers.If those three million get excited
and pass this
on to ten
> >
> >> > friends each,then 30 million people
will have been
> >
> >> > If it goes one level further, you guessed
it..... THREE
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> > Again, all you have to do is send this to
10 people. That's
> >
> >> > (If you don't understand how we can reach
300 million and
all you
> >
> >> > have to do is send this to 10 people....
Well, let's face
it, you
> >
> >> > just aren't a mathematician. But anyway,
> >
> >> >
> >
> >> > so trust me on this one.
> >
> >> > How long would all that take? If each
of us sends this
e-mail out
> >
> >> > to ten more people within one day of
receipt, all 300
MILLION people
> >
> >> > could conceivably be contacted within
the next 8 days !!!
> >
> >> > I'll bet you didn't think you and I had
that much potential,
did you!
> >
> >> > Acting together we can make a difference.
> >
> >> > If this makes sense to you, please pass
this message on. I
> >
> >> > suggest that we not buy from

> >
> >> > PRICES TO THE $2.00
> >
> >
> >>>>> >> > > Keep it going
> >
> >> >
> >
> >> > Remember everything is market driven!
> >
> >> >
> >
> >> > To make it work you must participate.
> >

Monday, March 24, 2008

Paint It Black

Last week, a famous British Columbian painter, Robert Bateman, posted a video on Youtube called "Not a Pretty Picture." Bateman has spent his life painting the landscape and wildlife of Northern Canada -- his paintings are in the Smithsonian, and without going too far into it I found one painting listed in an on-line auction for $90,000. They are lovely.

The purpose of the video is to try to prevent the passage of oil tankers through the region. In the video, the 78 year-old artists paints his own painting black.


According to an article in the Vancuver Sun last week,

"Fears over tanker traffic in B.C. waters have escalated since Enbridge Inc. last month rekindled plans for a $4-billion pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat.

If the pipeline is approved, the port would be expanded and crude oil shipped by tanker to overseas markets."

I'll look more into the exploration in BC another morning, but right now I am simply transfixed by this video in which the painter takes one of his own images of the magnificent water way -- filled with whales and birds -- and paints it black.

"We have to think about what can happen to thousands of organisms if there is an oil spill, and we know these can be treacherous waters, from what happened to the Queen of the North and the Exxon Valdez," Bateman said."

Okay -- it looses something -- well, a lot -- to find out the depicted "Orca Procession" a reproduction.

"The picture on the easel is a print, not the original, he admitted slightly reluctantly. It is, however, a digitally reproduced limited edition, probably worth a couple of thousand dollars."

But I love this.

For one thing, he paints beautifully, even as he tries to be ugly with it. His strokes are elegant and his work comes through even here. It's such a violent thing -- the covering over and the blanketing -- an allusion to the image of the landscape after the Valdez spill. Rocks coated, birds coated, a wildlife destroyed.

One of the comments on Youtube said, "oil is a natural substance. The Exxon Valdez disaster was one of the largest so called spills and as little of time as 19 years you have a full recovery. Why? because crude oil is a natural substance. If this substance bubbles up from the bottom of the ocean floor then what. I say lets burn and use as much as possible before it comes to the surface, including off the coast of BC."

But of course, this isn't true. The land and the lifestyle there was devastated and has never returned to what it was. I read somewhere the other day that Exxon is the single most profitable corporation in the history of the free market.

By the way, I looked into oil paint ingredients a few months ago -- vegetable oil; usually linseed, I believe.

Robert Bateman's site is at
The Youtube video is here

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Generating Hope

Over the last two weeks, over the course of spring break, a project has been going on in New Orleans to enlist college students to rebuild the lower 9th Ward. The project had several goals -- affordability, preservation and greening up the place.

"In the Holy Cross Neighborhood of the city's Lower Ninth Ward, the Historic Green project is helping a New Orleans neighborhood become the nation's first zero-carbon community.

"In the short-term, the project will be a success if it gives the neighborhood a sense that they matter. After all the post-trauma, lack of support and other issues they've dealt with, bringing teams of volunteers to show their support is a key element in generating hope for their desperate situation."

--Ryan Evans, Co-founder, Historic Green

For the past two weeks, hundreds of volunteers have been working in New Orleans, bringing their energy and ideas to help revitalize the Lower Ninth neighborhood. They are architects, engineers, city planners, landscapers, interior designers and contractors who are working hand in hand with neighborhood residents to sustainably rebuild their historic houses, parks, playgrounds and community centers."

Story Here. First spotted Here.

Brad Pitt's website Here.

Smart, right -- put it back together better -- the houses will cost less to maintain and be easier on the future. Easier in the future for the people and the earth.

I wrote a few months back that part of the reason that New Orleans was hit so hard by Katrina had to do with erosion because of the states oil industry. There is also talk that global warming is to blame for some of the extreme weather we are getting these days -- though that statement seems to be more controversial.

I love the idea of those kids going down there to work. Spending their money there and doing something good for the people of this country who need it.

Sometimes people ask me if I really do this project everyday -- or are amazed to see that I do it everyday -- or wonder why on earth I would. I love the things I learn.

I think about a drawing assignment I had in college. The prof assigned us a 10 hour still-life. No one did it -- everyone laughed. But I did. I wanted to see what would happen. What it would teach me about drawing. So much -- about depth and growth and seeing. It taught me about time, and dealing with the changes that took place -- in the still life (If I remember right the assignment took place in an unlocked studio over a weekend).

I am intrigued by the life this project takes on on its own. I imagine it will be a book -- though I don't have any idea of what the finished project will look like. Some weeks I'm bored or hate the whole thing -- but it's the continuing through that that matters. I'm also interested in the changes of mood. Sometimes in my poems i feel like there is one emotional place I write from -- my photographs, too -- and this project has forced me to break that open; there are days I need to laugh or scream or be quiet, and solving the problem of how to do that inside of the framework is really interesting to me.

This week I'm looking for hope.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Vast Spiderweb of Pipelines

Having tired a bit of the news lately, I've been looking at more industry sites. My newest find is OilOnline. "Your on-line source for the oil industry."

I don't know -- I guess I'd heard of off shore drilling plenty -- just never really thought about what this would mean.

"Strip away the water and sands from the Gulf of Mexico’s Outer Continental Shelf, and you’ll find a vast spider’s web of pipelines – some 28,000 miles of pipe crisscrossing the Gulf from Texas to Alabama. Although deepwater pipelines currently account for a small fraction of the total, that’s where the industry’s focus has been for the past decade."

Planet Earth

In college, two of my best friends and I went camping on Corpus Christi. We camped right on the beach and listened to the waves and the sand. It's one of my favorite places in the world, I think -- though it was a very rough camping night. It was so windy we thought we were going to blow away until someone had he life-saving idea of putting the spare tire from the rental car in the tent. I remember warm Lone Star beer being part of the scenario too... That was 18 years ago, I guess. I went back on my camping trip with my dog a few years later. There was a seafood joint called Snoopy's there. I'm always a sucker for Snoopy. I wonder if it looks different now. If our tent would be sandwiched now between the rattlesnakes and an enormous oil rig.

In 2006 the National Geographic reported on "the successful discovery of oil at a staggering depth beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico."

"The well delves through 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) of seawater and more than 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) of seafloor to strike oil in the lower tertiary formation—a layer of rock laid down between 65 million and 24 million years ago."

I've been looking for about 20 minutes now and I can't seem to find any reports on the environmental effects of the drilling. The National Geographic doesn't mention it -- and I can't seem to find anyone else mentioning it either. This seems strange to me.

I did find a site called the Gulf Of Mexico Foundation -- that says it's purpose is to promote conservation in the Gulf of Mexico. See now, don't try this at home. It looked like a lovely site from the start -- with pictures of coral and clams and things. But when you look at the partners there are lots of big oil dollars attached -- and while the site reports on problems in the Gulf with fish and coral, it doesn't mention oil at all and offers up many negative stories about drug companies, wind farms, biofuels and why coastal residencies.

The ocean is being mined. I'm remembering again my friend Michael, the oilman and deep sea diver warning that we are killing the oceans. That we could reenter a time when the oceans cannot sustain life at all...

Vast spiderwebs of subterranean pipelines abound.

photo by Richard Ling

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Best Tool We Have

"The oil rig rumbles to life, breaking the early morning quiet in this neighborhood of urban townhouses and big box stores with a deafening screech and roar."

So reads the lead in a story by Gillian Flaccus for Newsweek. Because the price of oil is so high, many wells previously deemed empty enough are being revisited with new and better technology to drain every last drop.

There are some concerns, according to the article, that some of the wells have been in disrepair for a long time, that some of the new ways of drilling and extracting could prove unstable, and that unforeseen environmental effects could be big.

I am intrigued by this.
What do we revisit when the stakes are raised -- when time passes...
The crumbs we leave behind during prosperity may be nourishment later.

Then I came across a great website. The website for the Union of Concerned Scientists. They have all sorts of great information there!

And look at this:

"Increasing fuel economy is by far the best tool we have for cutting our oil dependence. It will deliver fast results. It has been proven to work from experience—we roughly doubled the fuel economy of our cars between the 1970s and the late 1980s. We can do this right now. The technology needed to increase the average fuel economy of our cars and trucks to 40 miles per gallon (mpg) has already been developed, but for the most part is collecting dust on automakers' shelves.

If we increased fuel economy to 40 mpg over 10 years, then within 15 years we would have saved more oil than we would ever get out of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge over its entire 40-50 year life. And the savings from better fuel economy would keep on growing indefinitely, while the oil wells would dry up."

I'm not exactly sure what these two things have in common -- but I know I was relieved for the second -- and desperately needed a story that sounded not quite so desperate.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Regional Control

I didn't know there is oil in Somalia. Or the potential --

Yesterday (or today, maybe) a bill backed by the president of Somalia split the parliament -- According to an article on All there was an even split and the speaker voted to break the tie. "President Muse's bill, entitled the "The Oil and Minerals Law of Puntland State Government," aims to award the regional administration the constitutional authority to sign agreements with foreign companies intent on exploring for oil in Puntland."

I did some reading about the history of the place. There have been ideas of oil there for a long time -- there have been suspected oil reserves for many years in Somalia -- all the war and the crisis there has deterred most speculators.

An article last year in the Financial Times explained:

"In the late 1980s exploration concessions were held by companies including Conoco and Phillips, which have since merged; Amoco, now part of BP; and Chevron. They fled the country after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown during civil war in 1991.

The data collected by oil companies has formed the basis of interest in Somalia today. Range Resources, an oil group listed in Sydney, estimates that the Puntland province – which includes the Mudug region – has the potential to yield 5bn-10bn barrels of oil."

I didn't see Blackhawk down -- I guess I should. It seems that oil had everything to do with American involvement in the area.

So the question is, who will have the future stakes in the country -- and who will decide.

In 2005 the president of Somalia, whose bill was in question, "unilaterally signed an exploration contract with a small Australian company to explore for oil and minerals in Somalia's Puntland region."

Local tribes are against it. Parts of the government.

A split vote. It's a tough call -- who makes the decisions for a people -- for which people do they speak and who are the beneficiaries -- victims...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More Precious

A Reuters story in the NYTimes paints a picture of a small Brazilian town, Macae. The town is experiencing growing pains -- in a huge way -- because of an influx of oil revenue.

Macae, Brazil photo by dmatkins | thumbnail version
by dmatkins at
In Brazil Oil Town, Water is a Precious Commodity
Reuters at

It's kind of a typical industrialization story -- where the infrastructure of the region can't keep up with the growth and the influx of people brought by the new wealth.

I can't entirely understand the layout of the water distribution from the article, but it sounds like there is one centralized pipe "attached to the city's main system," to which people attach their own "make-shift" pumps. A sub-industry is cropping up where by people pump and store water then resell it -- for a little under $5 a gallon.

Well, one can complain all they want about $5 a gallon gas...

I wonder what the price of soda is.
I wonder how they are tending gardens. Are the gardens dying? Are the pets running away from thirst? How long would people go without water in lieu of giving up the comforts of oil and the money of oil -- of transportation and modern conveniences...

What really caught my eye was this graph -- the second in the article:

"Oil and gas may have brought riches to the former fishing village but water is almost as precious."

Water is almost as precious as oil.

"The most common health malady that occurs in our body due to lack of proper amount of water in our systems is dehydration. This dilemma may provoke many other diseases. Heartburn, headache, back pain, pain in the legs, daytime fatigue, and rheumatoid pain are some of the adverse effects of dehydration. Dehydration generally occurs when the body starts squeezing water from its tissues, brain and skin." This from an article titled "The Health Effects of Drinking Water."

Elements; primary needs. Water.

"Water is a universal solvent and thus plays an important role as a media to carry and distribute the metabolites, hormones and other material around the body and within the cell. Many solutes are also dissolved within it, so it's also essential for health, growth, stamina, building muscle and development. Energy reactions also take place in this medium."

Our bodies are about 70% water. Our earth is about 70% water. It's a nice symmetry, isn't it. A frightening parallel of treatment, too.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spilling Over

PARIS, March 17 (Xinhua) -- About 100 tons of heavy oil spilt into France's Loire River late Sunday when pipes of an oil tanker leaked during the loading process, local government of Loire-Atlantique Province said Monday.

According to a government statement, aside from the 100 tons of heavy oil spilt into the river, 300 more were poured onto the river bank near a refinery belonging to France's oil giant Total.

The provincial government warned that heavy oil is harmful to human health and has to be handled with caution.

Residents living in the area are not allowed to join in the government effort to clean up the spill, the statement said.

The China View.

Sau Paolo, Brazil: A Norwegian cargo ship crashed into a pier and cracked its hull, spilling 5,000 liters (1,320 gallons) of engine lubricant into a bay in the northeastern state of Bahia, officials said Monday.

The International Herald Tribune.

The city of Austin uncovered the mystery owner of the tank that caused January's 10,000-gallon oil spill downtown.

The Littlefield Building on Sixth Street is the proprietor of the tank. City of Austin spokesperson Lynne Lightsey said Austin Watershed Protection found documents at the Austin History Center and University libraries that said the building had requested the tank to be installed at a city council meeting in December of 1910.

The Daily Texan.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Some days I can't stand to open the newspaper. Today I sat down in front of my bookshelf to begin.

I came to one of my favorite books -- An anthology of Native American Literature I got in college.

I kept finding myself wanting to use a search engine on my books -- but as this is impossible, I went back to the computer.

I googled Yusef Komunyakaa, oil and poems together -- I don't know why him... He's one of my favorites. Seemed likely oil might have crossed his lips -- he writes about the earth -- and about war -- and about people...

I found this:

You and I are Disappearing -- Bjorn Hakansson

The cry I bring down from the hills
belongs to a girl still burning
inside my head. At daybreak

she burns like a piece of paper.

She burns like foxfire
in a thigh-shaped valley.
A skirt of flames
dances around her
at dusk.

We stand with our hands

hanging at our sides,
while she burns

like a sack of dry ice.

She burns like oil on water.
She burns like a cattail torch
dipped in gasoline.
She glows like the fat tip
of a banker's cigar,
silent as quicksilver.
A tiger under a rainbow
at nightfall.
She burns like a shot glass of vodka.
She burns like a field of poppies
at the edge of a rain forest.
She rises like dragonsmoke
to my nostrils.
She burns like a burning bush
driven by a godawful wind.

You can hear him read it here. I love his readings. He is a veteran of the Vietnam war.

Yesterday I wrote about healing -- or lack there of. About the fact that we can disrupt our own healing down to the cellular level...

and then a friend, a spiritual healer, wrote me out of the blue. I don't think she'd read my post yesterday -- just knew to write.

So there is also healing in the world -- on the energy level. The through the air and the spirit level.

Another poem -- this one from my bookshelf.

The Remedies

Half on the earth, half in the heart,
the remedies for all the things
which grieve us wait for those who know
the words to use to find them.

Penobscot people used to make
a medicine for cancer from mayapples
and South American people knew
the quinine cure for malaria
a thousand years ago.

But it is not just in the roots,
the stems, the leaves,
the thousand flowers
that healing lies.
Half of it lives within the words
the healer speaks.

And when the final time has come
for one to leave this Earth
there are no cures,
for Death is only
Part of live, not a disease.

Half on the Earth, half in the heart,
the remedies for all our pains
wait for the songs of healing.

by Joseph Bruchae
The Remembered Earth
ed. Geary Hobson,
University of New Mexico Press, 1979

This post is for Kim.

On A Cellular Level

I've just spent an hour reading about oil. About intentional spills in Dubai and punitive damages in California...

But here's what I've learned today -- from headline from Science Daily:

"Toxins in Oil Spills And Cigarette Smoke Prevent Stem Cells From Becoming Cartilage."

The new study released March 4 from the University of Rochester Medical Center asserts a common toxic pollutant spread by oils spills, forest fires and car exhaust slows healing by impairing bone growth from a cellular level. The study is focused on showing the negative effects of smoking on healing -- but I am amazed at this internal altering...

healing prevented
healing slowed
by what we breath
by our exhaust
by what we put out into the air
by the effects of disaster
the effects that disaster takes into the body
the effect of the body
and its inability to regenerate

"Gene expression is the process by which instructions encoded in genes are followed for the building of proteins, the workhorses that make up the body’s organs and carry its signals. In the current study, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique that measures gene expression levels, revealed the genetic changes caused by exposure to BaP in mouse stem cells."

will our grandchildren look back and study us as the strong ones --
how children heal we do now

we are becoming weak we are making our bodies weak by what we dump we breathe

"We believe this new research will establish for the first time the mechanisms by which polyaromatic hydrocarbons interfere with the healing process.”

how does one live unable to heal

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dots... Conecting The

From The Washington Post this morning:

"There is no single conspiracy theory about why the Bush administration allegedly waged this "war for oil." Here are two.

Version one: Bush, former Texas oilman, and Vice President Cheney, former chief executive of the contracting and oil-services firm Halliburton, wanted to help their friends in the oil world. They sought to install a pro-Western government that would invite the major oil companies back into Iraq. "Exxon was in the kitchen with Dick Cheney when the Iraq war was being cooked up," says the Web site of a group called Consumers for Peace.

Version two: As laid out in an April 2003 article in Le Monde Diplomatique, "The war against Saddam is about guaranteeing American hegemony rather than about increasing the profits of Exxon." Yahya Sadowski, an associate professor at the American University of Beirut, argues that "the neo-conservative cabal" had a "grand plan" to ramp up Iraqi production, "flood the world market with Iraqi oil" and drive the price down to $15 a barrel. That would stimulate the U.S. economy, "finally destroy" OPEC, wreck the economies of "rogue states" such as Iran and Venezuela, and "create more opportunities for 'regime change.' ""

That article prints the following images from this website:

brushstroke.<span class=

Blood for oil?

(in the interest of full disclosure, unrelated and unbeknown to me, one of the images from this site, "iRaq" not shown here, will appear in the next issue of Tuesday; An Art Project."

Another image on the site was this:

No War in Liberia protest poster Liberian Flag

This Image from the NYTimes a few weeks ago, under the headline "Struggling but Grateful, Liberia Welcomes Bush."

photo by Lawrence Jackson, AP

“It’s easier to tear a country down than it is to rebuild a country,” Mr. Bush said in a speech at the Barclay Training Center, where the United States is helping to train soldiers so Liberia can replace United Nations peacekeepers with its own army. “And the people of this good country must understand the United States will stand with you as you rebuild your country.”

The last time I wrote about Africa Elisa, who works for Care, sent me to a website called "Pambazuka News, a weekly forum for social justice in Africa." I was writing about the praise for Bush in Africa, and how it concerned me. Them too.

"The Bush Administration's fixation on security and the "war on terror" is already escalating the militarization of U.S. policy in Africa in 2008. In his last year in office, President George W. Bush will no doubt duplicitously continue to promote economic policies that exacerbate inequalities while seeking to salvage his legacy as a compassionate conservative with rhetorical support for addressing human rights challenges including conflict in Sudan and continued promotion of his unilateral HIV/AIDS initiative. The third prong of U.S.-Africa policy in 2008 will be the contin- ued and relentless pursuit of African resources, especially oil, with clear implications for U.S. mili- tary and economic policy."

Just a connect the dots project today. What more is there to say...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Yield Strength

The trans-Alaska pipeline system is 800 miles long -- and has moved over 14 billion barrels of oil.

I can't find a credit, but here's the link.

Four entries from the glossary of the Alyeska pipeline website:

Breakout Tank
- a tank used to relieve surges in a hazardous liquid pipeline system, or to receive and store hazardous liquid transported by a pipeline for re-injection and continued transportation by pipeline.
Permafrost - Any rock or soil material that has remained below 32½F continuously for two or more years.
Thermal Expansion - change in pipe length due to a change in crude oil temperature.
Yield Strength - the stress level above which the pipe will yield/bend/stretch.

Yesterday in New Mexico a Canadian man, Alfred Heinz Reumayr , was convicted of trying to blow the thing up with a series of explosions planned for January 1, 2000.

The plan was designed to wreak environmental and financial havoc on the United States.

The last line in the International Herald Tribune article reads:

"Al repeatedly said, 'I don't want anybody hurt,'" the lawyer added.

How is it that we are so capable of disassociation? That the ideas of injury are distanced enough from our sense of impact that we can excuse ourselves from their wake? Are we at our yield strength? What is the next category of give?

At any rate, he never could have done it. For the entire project the man with the know-how was an ATF informant.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Speculation (part 1)

I had lunch yesterday with another old friend -- we met in a poetry class when I was first getting back to poetry after a long hiatus. I was pregnant with my eldest daughter, Sage. 2000.

This guy taught me about pantoums, took my kids on a behind the scenes tour of the New England Aqurium, and plays blues harmonica in a pick up jam at Johny D's in Sommerville Sunday nights. Actually, I also used to always want to swim across Walden Pond -- somehow this seemed insurmountable to me at one point -- and Michael went out there with me one early morning and did it with me just to keep me company. He used to swim it every day.

Michael's an oil man.

Thirty years ago, after making a bunch of money on gold in the futures market he was looking to break into another arena... he met a guy at a party who said, want to buy part of an oil well...

Okay -- first off, if that had been me, no doubt if that had been my money it would have wound up in Tahiti!

He likes the risk -- and the wheeling and dealing. To hear him talk, the wild west is still alive and well and living on the internet. Not much of a field for women, he says -- though there are women accountants and women in the insurance, he says -- women scantily clad at boots at the trade shows... where's one of those strong Cartwright women when you need 'em!


I loved Bonanza!

Turns out, aside from the big oil companies, there are hundreds of oil speculators all across the country. They dig the little wells -- though his best producer was yielding 200 barrels a day, to the tune of about $20,000 a month, if I remember right. He digs mainly in Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado. Right now he's invested in roughly 10 wells, and thinks he hits about 50 percent of what he digs.

He says he's the only oil speculator he knows in Boston -- says we don't have the temperament for the risk -- for the irregularity or the highs and lows.

"People don't understand what a dangerous business oil is."

For one thing, every month you get statements and a check and a bill-- what you make versus what the expenses are -- what you owe. Some months you owe more than you get -- and this can be hard on the nerves and lead to different kinds of difficulties. A former partner started padding bills as they were sent out.

My friend's own daughter entered the business for a little while -- but she didn't keep up with the outgoing payments; her wells weren't doing very well... You have to keep up. "I told her, I'm taking you out of the oil business."

There's one or two big wells in a lifetime, and a lot of disasters. He told one story about a rig that just started falling over mid pump...

"People don't understand what a dangerous business oil is."

I did ask him if he worried about the environment.

"Oh we are a mess," he said. "We could go back to a time where the oceans were dead -- that would be a disaster ... We have to get off oil."

In the meantime, though, as long as someone is going to be digging them, it may as well be him.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Accident Waiting to Happen

An article ran today in the NYTimes talking, again, about the price of diesel and the effect it's having on the trucking industry. Companies are cutting the fat out -- they are making adjustments and layoffs and hard decisions. But truckers, according to the article, are also forced to decide what money goes :

"Stunned by the high prices, businesses are trying to cut fuel consumption any way they can. Farmers are buying more fuel-efficient equipment. Truckers are putting off maintenance and packing lunches."

Notice the way putting off maintenance is just slipped in there.

When the really tough decisions come down it always comes to safety eventually. People have to choose between heat and food or food and medicine... gas and brakes.

There was an article in the LA Times last month that said if consumers changed the oil in their cars every 7,000 miles instead of every 3,000 miles, we could save 21.6 millions of gallons of oil waste per year. Now, I think that's probably right -- that oil ratings have improved and the dealerships and engine oil makers have resisted -- but last year I almost burned out my engine... I'm still not altogether sure how that happened -- I happen to think there was something wrong with the car, but it could just be denial.

We have a lot of highways with a lot of cars and trucks.
Maintenance is one of those funny things -- exercise, sleep enough, eat right... oil change, new wipers, check the breaks... meditate, call your mom, change the timing belt...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Daylight Non-savings Time

I didn't know:

In 2005, when the American Congress voted to extend daylight savings by four weeks, pushing the start date back three weeks to today, it was advertised as saving Americans the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil daily. (The

A new study out of Indiana seems to prove we are actually spending a lot more on energy because of the shift in time -- (the one that is making me still very sleepy this morning.)

Articles here (NPR) and here (The talk about the study in depth.

When daylight savings was first conceived by Ben Franklin, the concept was all about lighting -- saving bees wax and paraffin. But far more than lighting, we now control the temperatures in our house in a way that Franklin never would have imagined.

The biggest shift, it seems, is in air conditioning -- evenings in the fall are pushed forward an hour, so the hottest time of the day moves into the dinner hour. A/C is electric, so a lot more coal is burned -- which is hard on the environment. People seem to drive more too, in their extra daylight, and we heat our homes at a colder part of the day in the spring.

Unforeseen consequences are everywhere. Newton's law of motion says that every action causes an opposite and equal reaction.

The study in Indiana was possible because for years many farmers maintained a natural time clock, following the sun instead of convention. It was recently mandated that those communities move to DST -- which created the perfect environment for research on the energy usages.

It feels unnatural, doesn't it? One look around the kindergarten and you'll see a bunch of beings fighting their own biorhythms and truth detectors.

Our control over our environment... Nature works, it seems to me this dark 6 a.m.; between people, between the earth and people. In the summer the kids naturally wake up earlier -- they sleep less too.

There's a new program which suggests combating global warming by shielding the earth from the sun. We strive to control everything -- from the temperature and the light to an emotion or a conversation.

Maybe we could find a way to make the days actually longer in the summer and shorter in the winter...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hypocracy is the Greatest Luxury

My friend from Paris said he thought gas was about $7/gallon there. I thought it would be easy to figure out -- but not. I've been looking for a half an hour and the closest I've gotten is an English blog post from December.

They put the price in December at about $9 per gallon.

Yesterday I went to the ocean.

I got a little lost. I do that sometimes -- it's my brain's way of tuning out. When I was really stressed out in college I would just 'go for a drive.' I drove cross country for 3 months when I was 22. Camped with my German Shepard from North Carolina to Big Sur.

Yesterday, I think I spent about $20 on gas -- just judging vaguely from the gauge. I think it should have cost me about $10. Though doing the numbers that estimate seems off. Maybe today I will follow things a little more closely.

I have a big car -- it's a really really safe car -- I got my first one when my daughter was born in 2001, and I've been in several accidents since and think they have saved us quite a bit of injury. I think I get about 20 mpg very roughly on average, driving mostly in the city. It also has a very big tank.

If gas was $9/ gallon it would cost $162 to fill up my tank.
It would cost me $20 to get to the beach and $50 to get lost. I use about a tank a week -- just doing the minimal things that I do -- school work grocery shopping. $162/week is more than I spend on anything else.

I firmly believe we should end subsidies to gas companies in this country. We consume a disproportionate amount of the world's oil and emit a disproportionate amount of the world's pollution.

I am not ready to not be able to afford to go to the ocean on a Sunday afternoon.

Life these days
can be so complex
we don't make the time
to stop and relfect
I know from first hand experience
one can go delerious
seriously it can be like that
But before I put my foot in my mouth
'cause that's what I'm about to start
talkin about
please let me confess before all the rest
that I'm afflicted
by this addicted like most in the US
It's tough to make a living when you're an artist
It's even tougher when you're socially conscious
Careerism, opportunism
can turn the politics into cartoonism
Let's not patronize or criticize
Let's open the door and look inside
Pull the file on the state of denial

Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury
Raise the Double Standard

-- Disposable Heroes of Hiphopcricy

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Welcome To The Machine

It gets tiring. The bad news. Last night I had dinner with a dear friend/investment banker who's moved to Paris to combat his discontent for this country. He's taken all his money out of the market and advises his clients to do the same -- gold, cash, T-bills. He says we're headed for a depression. This would bother me less if three years ago I hadn't called him a lunatic for claiming we were going to go to war with Iran...

Maybe that's why today I was drawn to a story by Bob Geldof in the London Times on-line. Sir Geldof accompanied President Bush to Africa last month, rode on Air Force one and writes to tell about it. It sounded like fun.

I should say from the outset I'm a huge Pink Floyd fan. More, perhaps, Roger Waters than the rest of the crew, though I'm listening to "Wish You Were Here" in deference to those who may prefer Syd Barrett. Couldn't have done any of it without Geldof -- and he's gone on to do much more. I say this because what we are drawn to -- our admirings and private loves -- these our our biases.

I teach my journalism students that to write a really good profile you have to fall in love with your subjects. Not in a weird romantic way -- just in a way that allows you to absorb them -- with patience and respect -- in a way that allows you to be the conduit for their words and the experiences of being around them. This is a dangerous set up, though, as you have to work ever harder to let them speak for themselves -- where very often an interviewer will get caught up in the romance of the moment... these stories often do very well, but I can't stand them.

I'm sorry to say I found the article that way. Geldof is dazzled by Bush's wit, boyish enthusiasm for the USA and with the autographed M&Ms from Air Force 1 (Bush has his own M&Ms. You can order your own custom printed M&Ms here. Mars, please feel free to support the arts.)

"At one point I suggest that he will never be given credit for decent policy like here in Africa because many people view him “as a walking crime against humanity”. He looks very hurt by that. And I’m sorry I said it because he’s a very likeable fellow."

He is impressed by Bush's initiatives in Africa; says he can't understand why they don't get more press; thinks this president has done an enormous amount of good there. Sir Geldof was invited along because of his own work for the region -- which began, I believe with the "Feed the World" tour he organized with Bono in the late 80s.

"The Bush regime has been divisive. But not in Africa. I read it has been incompetent. But not in Africa. It has created bitterness. But not here in Africa. Bush can’t do oratory. He can in Africa. Here’s why. His administration has saved millions of lives and has helped 29m children to go to school for the first time."

Geldof quotes Bush: “Human suffering should preempt commercial interests.”

90% of Africa's exports to the US are oil.

Funny to think that we needed to move away from the foreign press and into the local leader to get look at our country a bit more critically...

The NYTimes ran a story on February 15 about Bush's trip to Africa -- it ended this way:

The United States is increasingly interested in Africa’s substantial oil reserves. Some see Mr. Bush’s visit as a means of countering the rising influence of China on the continent. On Wednesday, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, delivered a message to China to invest responsibly in Africa.

“Obviously, the continent is rich with resources,” Mr. Hadley said, asked if the United States is concerned about China’s influence there. “We think those resources need to be used in a way that enhance and accelerate the development of the continent, and we think countries need to be responsible in their activities.”

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Greasy Hair Clean Up

When I was little I lived for a while in Bowdoin, Maine. My mom built a sweet little house in the middle of 17 acres of woods -- our firewood came from the trees, our corn came from the garden and out water came from a well in the front yard.

Well water. We had a hand pump -- I don't remember what it was used for -- but I do remember the endless up and down with that noise of rubbing the metal against metal -- I think it was red. Inside we did have running water -- but it was often cold, and there were always concerns about it running out. Showers were rationed.

This was a traumatic thing at the time. I kept my hair long like Joan Jett -- and spent hours curling the front pieces with the iron that doubled as a microphone when Genella came over. But the effect was entirely undermined when my hair was greasy. My hair was often very greasy. As in embarrassing greasy -- as in, don't make me go to school like this greasy - as in, there is absolutely nothing redeeming about it.

I was reminded of this in my search for stories about oil...

Turns out hair's affinity to oil is the basis of a grass roots oil spill operation in California.

A grass roots organization "A Matter of Trust" used mats made out of human hair to clean up the oil spill in San Francisco last year.

I first read about this last year -- now for some reason the original information isn't available anymore -- so -- at the risk of my memory failing, the hair mats were first designed by Phil McCory (his photo's still on the website) as small mats of mulch for potting plants -- and later applied to the oil spill.

After the mat has been soaked, Matter of Trust covers them with oil eating mushrooms.

Photos from Matter of Trust website.

Last the mat are composted.

"The mission of Matter of Trust is to Link ideas, spark action and materialize sustainable systems. We like to mimick how Mother Nature integrates enduring cycles and provides access to necessities in abundance. We concentrate on ecological and educational programs for manmade and natural surplus. The results are worthwhile, common sensical and often enchanting."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Negligable Natural Resources

An oil tanker, missing since Sunday, was found capsized in Vietnam yesterday. According to a story in the International Herald Tribune, 14 sailors are missing and presumed dead, but they say they think they can contain the cargo; some fuel has already leaked, though.

But I am still intrigued by the CIA website.

I searched the site with the simple key word "oil" and I came up with 482 documents. Lists -- first arranged by category: pipelines, economy, exports, industries, natural resources, current environmental issues. Then countries are listed individually.

These three countries are one on top of the other:

Natural Resources:

United Arab Emirates
petroleum, natural gas

United Kingdom
coal, petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, lead, zinc, gold, tin, limestone, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, potash, silica sand, slate, arable land

United States of America
coal, copper, lead, molybdenum, phosphates, uranium, bauxite, gold, iron, mercury, nickel, potash, silver, tungsten, zinc, petroleum, natural gas, timber

A snipit from each lengthy economy entry:

Despite largely successful efforts at economic diversification, nearly 40% of GDP is still directly based on oil and gas output.

The UK has large coal, natural gas, and oil reserves; primary energy production accounts for 10% of GDP, one of the highest shares of any industrial nation.

Imported oil accounts for about two-thirds of US consumption. Long-term problems include inadequate investment in economic infrastructure, rapidly rising medical and pension costs of an aging population, sizable trade and budget deficits, and stagnation of family income in the lower economic groups.

Full entry of each for Environmental Issues:

lack of natural freshwater resources compensated by desalination plants; desertification; beach pollution from oil spills

continues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (has met Kyoto Protocol target of a 12.5% reduction from 1990 levels and intends to meet the legally binding target and move toward a domestic goal of a 20% cut in emissions by 2010); by 2005 the government reduced the amount of industrial and commercial waste disposed of in landfill sites to 85% of 1998 levels and recycled or composted at least 25% of household waste, increasing to 33% by 2015

air pollution resulting in acid rain in both the US and Canada; the US is the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels; water pollution from runoff of pesticides and fertilizers; limited natural fresh water resources in much of the western part of the country require careful management; desertification

I used to go to the British Virgin Islands every year with my mom.

Natural Resources:

The economy, one of the most stable and prosperous in the Caribbean, is highly dependent on tourism, generating an estimated 45% of the national income.

Environmental Issues:
limited natural fresh water resources (except for a few seasonal streams and springs on Tortola, most of the islands' water supply comes from wells and rainwater catchments)

Forget Iceland.
I'm going back to Tortola

.British Virgin Islands Photographs

I was watching a video clip of Warren Buffet talking on an economy show posted on The Oil Drum this week. He basically said we have to change what we are doing. We have wind farms, but they are not the answer. He said something like, we've basically been sticking straws into the earth for a really long time -- more people, more demand, and we are running out. We have to change what we are doing.

I wonder if we will tell our children about the places we went to as some exotic luxury of the past... I wonder if they will ever go to the Island where I searched for shells for hours -- have a pina colada and conch fritters at the outdoor bar and walk through mangled breadfruits after a sudden downpour.

I wonder what this means for all the kids in the inner cities here who already don't see trees.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Miles and Miles and MIles

When you go to the library of the Central Intelligence Agency on-line a cursor writes the title across the top of the page and makes a noise that sounds and blinks like a very old computer.

The alphabetical list of world pipelines by country is listed in kilograms.
First I am annoyed because last I checked, saved that week in second grade, we as a country aren't metric.
Next I'm relieved to imagine that our government is also concerned with the rest of the world.
Next I wonder if the whole list is set up to be unreadable. There are different categories of pipelines which seem to change from country to country and don't seem to be constructed in any sort of a parallel list. Reporting years vary. I also wonder if I have just set up some red flag for myself simply by looking for oil stats on the CIA website. When I was little I wanted to be a spy.

The United Arab Emerates list is: condensate 520 km; gas 2,908 km; liquid petroleum gas 300 km; oil 2,950 km; oil/gas/water 5 km; refined products 156 km (2007)

In 2006, the US had 244,620 km of pipelines for petroleum products and 548,665 km of natural gas ones.

Thanks to a handy little on-line calculator metric conversions are easy:
The US has 152,001 miles of pipelines for petroleum products.

The entire country is only 3.7 million miles square. I wonder how this can be right or if I have simply read the whole site wrong.

I'm thinking again about the conference where cardio-vascular surgeons and oil refiners got together to brain storm.

I don't want these pipelines to be our veins.
I don't want oil to be our blood.

I am thinking that the ruins of of ancient Greece are quite beautiful. ((I saw an opera set outside as in the ruins many years ago -- the sun went down as live horses were marched across the stones.))
I am thinking that the ruins of now will not be.

I am thinking that I will be glad when this year is done.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

One Thing.

I've been getting overwhelmed.

There are lots of stories. There was an oil spill in the Dominican Republic over the weekend, and another in Nigeria. In UAE, where one country recently created the first zero carbon emission community, another has just contracted for a Six Flags theme park. I said yesterday that lately one story doesn't seem enough. A hurricane of stories. A glacier. A tsunami.

And so I take a deep breath. One thing about oil everyday for a year.

Today I learn.

According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory U.S. oil production uses 10 barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced.

photos copyright Jennifer S. Flescher 2004

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

There Will Be No Other End Of The World

Okay -- here's kind of a crazy story. Well, it seems crazy to me, not being a geologist or an oil refiner.

The National Energy Technology Lab (NETL), owned and operated by the Department of Energy, "supports DOE’s mission to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States." All they do is study coal, oil and natural gas.

February 28, about two weeks ago, NETL sent out a press release about the furthering of a new program "sequestering" dangerous carbon dioxide gas. What does that mean? Does it mean that the emissions won't get to read the newspaper for two weeks? Will have to stay in a seedy motel and miss work?

No. It means they are injecting CO2 gas into holes in the earth to see if this would be a viable mean of storing the negative product of our emission-filled lives -- holes formerly filled by oil and coal.

There is the added benefit that by injecting oil basins with the gas it is possible to extract more oil than could previously be retrieved. Displacement as opposed to suction, I presume.

So they are doing this -- in Michigan -- to see how the gas will react.

This from a separate DOE website:

"In an enhanced oil recovery application, the integrity of the CO2 that remains in the reservoir is well-understood and very high, as long as the original pressure of the reservoir is not exceeded."

Umm... as long as...

Youtube has a bunch of videos of Co2 bombs going off. Soda bottle size bombs that explode and make some holes -- in earth in buildings...

"The Norwegian oil company, Statoil, is injecting approximately one million tonnes per year of recovered CO2 into the Utsira Sand, a saline formation under the sea associated with the Sleipner West Heimdel gas reservoir. The amount being sequestered is equivalent to the output of a 150-megawatt coal-fired power plant."

Yesterday I went on a walk in the woods with Sara, a veterinarian turned science professor. She showed me various different signs of spring -- mating bird songs and snow specked with snow fleas. These little jumping creatures have a life cycle of about two days. All they do is wake up, mate eat and jump. I said I wanted to write about them, but she said they were too beautiful to be written about with oil. Then we saw a red plastic gas jug littering the woods. I argued it was not simple to think of backing up our lives -- undoing transportation and mechanization that has altered the lives of humans. Maybe I'm just jealous that she gets to go to Florida next week and I don't.

I feel like I've been very disjointed lately -- almost like one story a day doesn't express what I want to right now -- it's an avalanche of stupidity -- a genocide of shortsightedness and greed and impossibility...

I do stupid things all the time. I set off on endeavors that are clearly misplaced from the start that pose the potential to cause harm...


They are experimenting with filling the earth with gas.

NOTE: March 13 -- yesterday someone told me that CO2 is inert and would not be dangerous in this capacity. I have to track someone down to tell me about it now...

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Border

I'm thinking about interconnectedness this morning. The way we lean on each other even as tensions rise... the way if tensions rise enough we have to remove our own supports.

Last week in Ecuador, flooding and landslides damaged a major oil pipeline. Two dozen people died in the flooding, and thousands of barrels of oil poured into a local swamp.

According to the AP story in the International Herald Tribune,

"Environmental fallout from the 4,000 barrel spill in a mountainous region 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Ecuador's capital, Quito, is "grave," as many Coca River tributaries, a water source for nearby communities, have been contaminated, Oil Minister Galo Chiriboga said."

Ecuador is the fifth largest exporter of oil in South America.
Ecuador relies on Colombia for a pipeline in one area to aid with its extraction of oil.

Today, tensions in the entire area are beginning to erupt. The story in the Times leads,

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela and Ecuador mobilized troops to their borders with Colombia on Sunday, intensifying a diplomatic crisis after Colombian forces killed a senior guerrilla leader at a jungle camp in Ecuador.

The article today suggests that even the threat of war is a welcome distraction from the economy in Venezuela. There were similar suggestions in this country some years back... I think I've said before -- I'm having a hard time deciphering the coverage from the times about Venezuela. Through the rhetoric it is too hard to discern what is actually happening. Chavez speaks in language better suited to a cartoon villain, yet he is real and there is something very condescending about focusing on his words and posturing rather that the actualities of the situation -- demeaning to the people effected by it all. Here and there.

On the border
on the border of war...

It's tiring, listening to people. Listen to poetry.

A Song on the End of the World

by Czeslaw Milosz

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944

Translated by Anthony Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz, "A Song on the End of the World" from The Collected Poems; 1931-1987. Copyright © 1988 by Czeslaw Milosz Royalities, Inc. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: The Collected Poems: 1931-1987 (The Ecco Press, 1988).