Monday, June 30, 2008

Tipping Point

The price of a barrel of oil hit $142 over the weekend.

Is the incline about speculation -- when will demand begin to fall -- Libya is threatening to cut production -- the US is threatening to take OPEC to court... Meanwhile I've been watching for months as funds to pay for oil spills crop up all over -- technology and laws are looking at damage. Damage, threat, disaster...

A Reuter's Article today in Business Day discusses the analysts view of the state of affairs.

“Oil needs to rise to $150 a barrel for oil as a share of global GDP to reach the levels that occurred in the early 1980s. At that point, we will start to see more signs of demand destruction and an eventual tipping point in oil markets.”

It's all so gradual and ingrained. We look around and see that there is toxicity everywhere we look. That the price is too high. They said that at $100 -- they will say that at $200.

I can't afford to be where I am or where I am going. There has been damage. There has been an unsustainable change.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Thanks, Volunteers

Just under 50 birds, in a building turned emergency facility in Sommerville.

They use Dawn dish washing liquid -- that's it -- just Dawn.

"From now on I'm only going to use Dawn, she said." "Dawn takes grease out of you way," we said at the same time.

She had scratches on her arms. The aren't allowed to take any pictures. She said NSTAR seemed pretty relaxed about it all --

A reporter for the Community News Company wrote,

"Thousands of gallons mineral oil were dumped into Leverett Pond when an electrical line began leaking the fluid this morning, contaminating ducks and geese coating the banks of the Muddy River with oil.

Environmental crews have set up boons in the Muddy River to contain the oil, which has given much of the river a slick, bluish sheen. Between 1,000 to 2,000 gallons of oil have been contained, according to Ed Coletta of the Department of Environmental Protection."

What does mineral oil do when it's not in a bottle to be smeared on a baby? What does NSTAR do with it? Where does it go?

Apparently there was an e-mail circulated at a local college calling for volunteers -- people with animal experience. People who wanted to help.

She said there was a family of geese -- they were so cute -- the babies. She said it made it harder, though -- families will protect each other. And geese are not nice.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Close To Home

> apparently there is an oil spill on the Charles? Sierra is going to
> volunteer
> to clean the birds today.
> Just thought of your thingy.

Spilling, Leaking, Soaking In

I was noticing how gas has been coming through in waves of spam this morning --
in the little messages at the bottom of yahoo mail

in forwarded mass e-mails

Dear Member of Congress,

I'm writing today asking you to do everything in your power to fight the recent attempts to rescind the ban on new offshore oil drilling leases. We need to break free from oil, not further our dependence.


A ferry went down in the Philippines last week in the middle of a typhoon. Rescue attempts were halted because it turned out they were carrying a container of pesticide so strong rescue workers should not have been allowed near the wreck just knowing it was somewhere.

The ship sank on Saturday -- it took until Tuesday for the oil to begin to leak.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Valdez to adhear to what's Generally Appropriate

So -- they did it.
The Supreme Court lessened the damages in the case of the Exxon Valdez. The article is in the front of the Times today.

"Justice David H. Souter, writing for the majority in the 5-to-3 decision, said a ratio between the two sorts of damages of no more than one-to-one was generally appropriate, at least in maritime cases."

Just meaning that what they pay in settlement should equal what they pay in punitive damages. People up in Alaska will be payed another $15,000 pretty soon -- that's less than $1,000 a year.

I've been away for the last few days but still keeping up with my task... I heard on NPR the other day the average driver in CT has paid $1,500 in gas since February. At that rate the settlement will pay for the claimees' gas for a little over two years.

In good news from the court, "Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. owns Exxon stock and did not participate in the decision. As a consequence, the court split 4-to-4 on a separate question, whether Exxon may be held accountable for Mr. Hazelwood’s recklessness. The effect of the split was to leave intact the ruling of the lower court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which said Exxon might be held responsible."

"Justice John Paul Stevens, in a dissent, said he would have upheld the punitive damages award, which the federal appeals court in California had reduced to $2.5 billion.

“In light of Exxon’s decision to permit a lapsed alcoholic to command a supertanker carrying tens of millions of gallons of crude oil though the treacherous waters of Prince William Sound, thereby endangering all of the individuals who depended upon the sound for their livelihoods,” Justice Stevens wrote, “the jury could reasonably have given expression to its moral condemnation of Exxon’s conduct in the form of this award.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Oil War

"MOVEMENT for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), yesterday, de-scribed as empty the order by President Umar Yar Adua to the military to seize militants who attacked the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDCs) Bonga Field, last Thursday, saying it would declare an oil war if the military attacks any militant position," Emma Amaize,

It's almost as if oil is it's own entity here.
Today a pipeline was hit.
With each attack the earth suffers -- and also the people -- as oil coats the water and the earth and the air.
As if oil were fighting back. As if oil could speak and say, I am so much bigger than you -- you try to assert yourself here, but there is nothing you can do to slow my momentum... more and more powerful -- more and more dangerous -- more and more money...

Next month, a peace summit is scheduled in Nigeria. The idea of the summit is to try to secure some peace in the region -- where violence is escalating and oil production is impeded. MEND has said it won't attend.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Storms Name In Vain

An Op-Ed piece in The Washington Post yesterday spoke in favor of off-shore drilling.

While I try hard not to write from a truly editorial perspective, today I feel entirely motivated to do so.

"Gas is $4 a gallon. Oil is $135 a barrel and rising. We import two-thirds of our oil, sending hundreds of billions of dollars to the likes of Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. And yet we voluntarily prohibit ourselves from even exploring huge domestic reserves of petroleum and natural gas," Charles Krauthammer begins. Four paragraphs later he goes on to say,

"Technological conditions have changed as well. We now are able to drill with far more precision and environmental care than a quarter-century ago. We have thousands of rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, yet not even hurricanes Katrina and Rita resulted in spills of any significance."

This may well be true.
But to use the name of Katrina to justify anything in the oil industry is disrespectful to the damage and the tragedy of our actions in New Orleans.

A lot of oil was spilled in New Orleans during Katrina.

Coast Guard Photo of  Dynegy Venice Flooding and Spill

Aerial photos: Bass Enterprises

Overhead oil spill photo
link to photos

According to the ITOPF (The International Tank Owners Pollution Federation Limited), a group that tracks tonnes of oil spilled, there were 10 spills in 2007 that released between 7 and 700 tonnes of oil. There were 21 in 2005 -- and while I can't find the paragraph again this morning, the reason given for the doubling was the hurricanes.

The following was issued by the EPA in regards to an oil spill in New Orleans during Katrina:

In the short-term, residents returning to the area should avoid direct contact with the crude oil contaminated sediments. These compounds can pose a skin irritation problem if they get onto bare or broken skin. Skin contact with crude oils for short periods may cause itchy, red, sore, or peeling skin.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (LDHHs) has developed a fact sheet, titled “Extra Precautions for Entering Oil Contaminated Properties in St. Bernard Parish,” that recommends the following safety precautions for persons entering and/or cleaning properties in St. Bernard Parish impacted by the Murphy Oil Spill:

  • Protect your skin from contacting oil
    • Use oil resistant gloves
    • Keep arms and legs covered
    • Wear coveralls or clothing that can be discarded
    • If you get oil on skin, wash well with soap & water

  • Open doors and windows to ventilate the oil-contaminated property

  • Be careful not to bring oil-contamination to other places
    • Wear boot covers or leave work boots at the oil-contaminated property.
    • Do not track oil or oily sediments into your car or truck
    • Do not take items with oil to other locations that might contaminate others

  • Do not wash clothes worn in the oil spill area with family laundry

  • Children and pets should not enter the oil contaminated area

These recommendations are consistent with previous recommendations from US EPA.

Not only was there a lot of oil spilled, but global warming is thought to be the cause of much of the extreme weather we have been experiencing record numbers.

No only was global warming considered a contributing factor in the storm, but Louisiana's own natural integrity has been so decimated by the oil industry that the land was not able to guard itself through the storm.

"At least 1,836 people lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina and in the subsequent floods, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. The storm is estimated to have been responsible for $81.2 billion (2005 U.S. dollars) in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history." Wikipedia (not condoned -- but so handy)

Perhaps we need oil -- perhaps we will expand drilling --

but we as citizens should make no mistake that what happened in New Orleans is happening all over the world and that that is the cost of not changing our societies. We ravage the earth -- we put into jeopardy the people of this world with no regard for their safety or health to maintain our oil-based societies.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Going Back

BAGHDAD — Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Sensitive to the appearance that they were profiting from the war and already under pressure because of record high oil prices, senior officials of two of the companies, speaking only on the condition that they not be identified, said they were helping Iraq rebuild its decrepit oil industry.

For an industry being frozen out of new ventures in the world’s dominant oil-producing countries, from Russia to Venezuela, Iraq offers a rare and prized opportunity.

Published: June 19, 2008

"At ExxonMobil, we know our business has a direct impact on many lives. The oil and gas we produce — and the technologies we have developed — make it possible for millions of people around the world to light and heat their homes, fuel their vehicles, and power their businesses.

Energy helps economies grow and individuals prosper, and is essential to modern society. Fulfilling this need for energy is the foundation of our business and a source of motivation for our company’s 81,000 employees."
Letter from the Chairman;

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Iraqi oil fields burning. link

"So where is the oil going to come from? Governments and the national oil companies are obviously controlling about ninety per cent of the assets. Oil remains fundamentally a government business. While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East with two thirds of the world‘s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies, even though companies are anxious lor greater access there, progress continues to be slow."
Dick Cheney, from a speech at the Institute of Petroleum, 1999

"My friends, I will have an energy policy that we will be talking about, which will eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East that will -- that will then prevent us -- that will prevent us from having ever to send our young men and women into conflict again in the Middle East,” McCain said. May 2

Thursday, June 19, 2008


In the last day, as the President Bush appeals to congress to repeal the ban on offshore drilling, as the New York Times reports "Dearth of Ships Delays Offshore Drilling,"

a floating rig in Nigeria was attacked and shut down. Nigeria, one of the largest producers of oil, where the people live in abject poverty.

Crude oil futures climbed $2 a barrel immediately upon the news.

"production had been stopped from the field, which normally produces about 200,000 barrels of crude per day. That accounts for about 10 percent of Nigeria's current daily output of about 2 million barrels per day production" AP.

Rebels who were, last year, referred to as "thugs" are now being spoken of as a "powerful militant group."

A Bloomberg article quotes, "It's certainly of a different tactical order,'' Antony Goldman, an independent U.K.-based analyst specializing in Nigeria, said by telephone from London. Goldman said he was surprised the militants had the ``hardware'' to carry out such an attack."

Bombs. Guns.
The oil field was more than 65 miles from land.

An American worker was kidnapped.
Today a man was kidnapped.
He must be so scared.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"I don't like to call it a disaster"

I did not know about the 3 million gallon oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969.

Santa Barbara oil spill - 1969
Santa Barbara oil spill - 1969
LA Times Photos

Nature writer John McKinney:
"I had been impressed by the way energetic college students, shopkeepers, surfers, parents with their kids, all joined the beach clean-up. I saw a Montecito society matron transporting oily birds in her Mercedes."
McKinney witnessed the event firsthand as a volunteer who rescued oiled birds. A chapter of his book A Walk Along Land's End describes his experience.

Fred L. Hartley, president of Union Oil Co.:
"I don't like to call it a disaster," because there has been no loss of human life.
"I am amazed at the publicity for the loss of a few birds."

Santa Barbara NewsPress Editor Thomas Storke:
"Never in my long lifetime have I ever seen such an aroused populace at the grassroots level. This oil pollution has done something I have never seen before in Santa Barbara – it has united citizens of all political persuasions in a truly nonpartisan cause."

U.S. President Richard Nixon:
"It is sad that it was necessary that Santa Barbara should be the example that had to bring it to the attention of the American people. What is involved is the use of our resources of the sea and of the land in a more effective way and with more concern for preserving the beauty and the natural resources that are so important to any kind of society that we want for the future. The Santa Barbara incident has frankly touched the conscience of the American people."

[From the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network Website.]

I read about this because President Bush is looking to repeal the ban on off shore drilling imposed by his father in 1990.

First I was intrigued by family politics. The public playing out of power between father and son -- (( can you imagine -- your son is president... but it's him! can you imagine, you are president, and then he comes along...))

But I'm more moved by us, again...

By our inability to remember our history --
how quickly our understandings pass with healing -- memory and understanding and experience disappearing like any other wound...

And what we will do to ourselves -- our bodies -- soil and water -- when we become desperate.
How it is easier to destroy what we have first -- to degrade our resources until we have no choice but to move...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Or Else...

Sometimes I just sort of watch a story for a few months because it feels like, in the constant stream, I know that I am not understanding the implications. Not that there is one understanding -- or that there is one implication. Politics and policy and economics -- governments and people and organizations... all of the communication and communication of fact and fact -- it's all very multifaceted. It's all very ephemeral.

So I've been sort of watching the issues around OPEC.

It started earlier this year, when Bush went to Saudi Arabia to request an increase in oil output -- to no avail. But last week OPEC announced it would increase production. It all seems strange to me -- public announcements and posturing. What does it matter that the US President is traveling hat in hand? What does it mean that that is rebuffed? What does it mean that then the reqeust is met... but not for us?

So I went back a little.

In November, the Climate Progress Blog reported: "OPEC issue bizarre oil threat, Financial Times also confused."

"Apparently these absurdly rich countries — with projected revenues of $658 billion this year — who are selling their product at nearly $100 a barrel, are threatening not to invest in new production unless the consuming countries promise to maintain demand. Seriously! No, seriously:

Opec will this week seek assurances from some of the world’s biggest oil consumers that they will maintain their demand as the members of the oil cartel come under intense pressure to boost investment in production capacity."

The Financial Times must have been reading, because in February they wrote an article with a slightly amended slant: "Threat by OPEC Triggers Warning."

What I find the most fascinating is the psychology of a threat... We will make it worse for you if you don't promise we will stay in power...

Okay, I have been often accused of over-optimism and a silver-lining mentality, but maybe this means that all signs are in place for change! And that the oil producers know that they are on some (albeit large) cusp of becoming extinct...

Threats inherently show weakness -- show shift and desperation. Waning control.

Sorry, OPEC.
The price is too high -- the toxicity is too great.
It's time to move on.
It's time to look forward to this time in history as a distant memory of absurdity.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Live By The Oil...

Well, I started this morning reading an article from 2001 from the LA Times about the failing health of the workers who cleaned up the Exxon Valdez spill.

"After that summer, some found oil traces in their lungs, in their blood cells, in the fatty tissue of their buttocks. They got treated for headaches, nausea, chemical burns and breathing problems, and went home. But some never got well. Steve Cruikshank of Wasilla, Alaska, has headaches that go on for days. Two years ago, he was hospitalized when his lungs nearly stopped working. "The doctor said, 'I'm going to give you the strongest antibiotic known to man, and you're either going to survive or not survive. I don't know what's wrong with you.' What's wrong is, I haven't felt right since that oil spill.""

So I tried to look for some follow up information. I couldn't find it. I assume it's not much in the way of news -- or people got paid off a bit to shut up -- or died. I found some things written around the time of the spill -- there was a record salmon catch that year in Prince William sound -- which has, again, that sort of irony floating about it -- the article said fears were allayed by the catch; of course the fishing industry was subsequently devastated by the spill.

In Google magic I found a protest article called "Clean Up Chevron!"

"The protesters highlighted a litany of Chevron crimes from Iraq, Burma, Ecuador, Nigeria, the Philippines, Canada, and Richmond, California." Again, I'm not going to link this -- feels too unstable.

I guess I'm thinking about the toxicity we live in and around.
And then when the inevitable breakdown -- collision -- seepage or spills occur...

I looked at photos from spills last year -- California and Korea. I was expecting a change in uniform for the workers -- but they are still cleaning without masks. And in California, all those shiny volunteers walking the beaches to help...

How we live is toxic.
Cleaning it up is toxic too.

And where do we put it?

Bury it in the sand...
burn it into the air...

What happens to us as we try to recover -- to clean -- our proximity increases...

Friday, June 13, 2008

On Flaccid Anger

An article quoting a Spanish news service in an Indian paper reported that 60 penguins died in Uruguay after those tankers collided earlier this week.

Yesterday, a friend accused me of "flaccid anger" in these writings. When I was younger, I used to argue with him until wee hours in the morning. Now I have a search engine and the Times...

This from a 1987 article called "Nation in Decline," By Barbara W. Tuchman, Pulitzer Prize winning Historian"

"The passionate interest the Gary Hart episode aroused in the public, contrasted with the flaccid reaction to lost lives and broken laws, illustrates the shallowness and frivolity of popular opinion. If the American people do not grow angry when their sons' lives are sacrificed to official negligence, or when statutes are casually violated by the caretakers of the nation's security, one cannot expect any change to a steadier Government that commands more respect. Anger when anger is due is necessary for self respect and for the respect of our nation by others.

What has become of American wits? What has become of the America of Washington, Adams and Jefferson? What has become of national self respect, not to mention common decency? (Perhaps the last should be left out of the discussion, because common decency is not considered to be a necessary component of realpolitik in foreign affairs.) To raise the level of public understanding from frivolity to a readiness to take serious things seriously will require a great and concerted national effort - if, like the problem of controlling AIDS, we can figure out how it may be done. Until it is, we shall not soon retrieve coherent national policy or the rule of law."

When I write this blog, I am often torn. My goal is to learn something new every day -- and I don't stop until I do... I think my understanding of the issues and the world has changed enormously over the last 6 months -- honestly, I think the facts speak for themselves. It's about oil -- it's about communication -- life -- my life -- ours...

60 penguins is a lot of penguins. I'm intrigued by the international communication tool. I'm intrigued by who wants to know this fact about birds and who doesn't.

I'm not really interested in talking about how I think -- though I do too much (am right now) -- The truth seems clear enough for me. Some weeks, I prefer the weeks when I'm more poet than journalist. Some weeks I prefer more journalist than poet. It's all very complex and I don't believe in judgment and I don't know what's going to happen. Of course there is no such thing as an impartial observer -- all of our filters and our pores move against that ideal. I don't know what's right -- I don't know what I want to happen.

The places we get to are far more complex than one could ever imagine -- or imagine a way out of.

Michael Franti says in a song lyric about music and politics, "to rhyming without a real reason is to claim but not to practice a religion."

But I am not an activist. The role of activist is different that documentarian.

The best that any journalist or artist can do is notice some bit of reality and frame it...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Until It Costs US Something

Well, Cuba is looking to drill for oil 50 miles off the coast of Florida. The well looks to be really big -- "The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated the Cuban field holds at least 5 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 10 trillon cubic feet of natural gas." (That from a Reuters article in the Times.)

First off, I'm pretty amazed that we don't have control over water that close to our shore. American companies aren't allowed to drill less than 100 miles from the Florida shore. I didn't know Cuba was less than 100 miles away, either.

"The [Cuban] government has sold oil concessions to seven companies and has said a consortium of Spanish, Indian and Norwegian companies will drill the first production well in the first half of 2009."

Of course, wouldn't this country be more comfortable if that water was drilled by American companies -- our profits, our responsibilities (we're still waiting for the Exxon Valdez verdict, by the way)... Furthermore, it seems from the article that US technology is necessary to access the depth of these particular wells. Because of the embargo American companies are prevented from passing on that information, according to the Times article.

"Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, an expert on Cuba energy matters and a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, says America’s thirst for oil will soon force a fundamental change in Washington’s relations with Havana."

This from an AP story in Havana today.

Last month, President Bush spoke at the White House for Cuban soildarity:

"Today, after nearly a half-century of repression, Cuba still suffers under the personal despotism of Fidel and Raul Castro. On the dictators' watch, Cuba's political freedoms have been denied. Families have been torn apart. The island's economy has been reduced to shambles. Cuba's culture has been drained of artists and scholars and musicians and athletes. And like the once-grand buildings of Havana, Cuba's society is crumbling after decades of neglect under the Castros."

Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado continued,

“I’ve always argued that we would keep the Cuban embargo in place until we got to the point where it started to cost us something.”

What's the message here -- dictatorship is bad unless we can't run our A/C all summer? I am not saying anything about the embargo -- it's merits or not -- I really don't know the situation well enough at all. I imagine it has mostly hurt the Cuban people. It doesn't seemed to have changed power. I did always think at least our government believed in the cause...

I have been thinking about my own priorities all week, as luck would have it...

What would you be party to if you thought it was going to happen anyway? What if you really really wanted it? If you never met the people you were hurting, or if it seemed like you were inconsequential or irrelevant or if you really really really wanted something? What if you thought it was your one real chance for happiness?

Just to repeat,

“I’ve always argued that we would keep the Cuban embargo in place until we got to the point where it started to cost us something.”

I don't know. This morning I'm wondering how we live with ourselves at all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

At The Whim Of Our Sources

Today I'm thinking about language and reporting again. The issue with the news is that we take it as fact -- and the entire style of writing the news is written in order to portray itself like fact.

Today from the NY Times:

"Global oil demand is expected to grow at a slower pace than previously expected this year as a result of record prices and shrinking subsidies in some emerging countries, a leading energy forecaster said on Tuesday."

I think that's interesting -- especially in light of the G-8 news -- was Bush's urging to cut subsidy really a statement of anti-industrialization?

But what really surprises me is the second graph:

"But because of lagging investments in new sources of oil, the growth in consumption is still expected to outpace new supplies, according to the latest monthly report by the International Energy Agency, a policy adviser for industrial countries."

You are always at the whim of your sources if you don't know what you are talking about. It's the placement of the attribution -- we attribute at the end of a sentence to leave the emphasis on the information -- but think about how the paragraph changes if you put it at the beginning. This statement sounds like spin for the purpose of policy change -- but it is reported as fact.

The second paragraph of a NY Times article blames the oil problem on lack of new wells.

This is not shocking coming from an industry advisor.
This is shocking coming from the Times.

The issues of peak oil and global warming -- they seem to be fairly well documented -- they also seem to make sense. Oil is a finite resource. We burn a lot of toxins. Furthermore, one reason for lack of development in new sources is that the oil that is out there still is harder to get, harder to use, and smaller in reserve... it's not like lack of investment as in why don't you stop smoking or why don't you spend some more time in therapy, dear. The International Energy Agency itself is calling for an "energy revolution."

Reporting is a flawed art, of course; that is true in life and in the papers. Interpretation, analysis, communication. But you always have to understand why you know and what is told to you as separate entities.

Best to try to look around and see things the way they are. There's no judgment in seeing clearly -- but it's necessary for the future.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

US Oil Demand By Region

Well, I came across an Energy Information Administration graph that shows US oil demand by region -- it's from 2002 -- but you know, everything the government does takes years and years...

The East Coast consumes roughly 6000/thousand barrels a day.
The Midwest consumes roughly 5000/ thousand barrels a day.
The Gulf Coast consumes a little less -- (it's a bar graph).
The West Coast about 3000/ thousand -- but it is pretty warm there and they have the sea breeze.
But the Rockies -- they consume less than a thousand thousand.

So for a minute I thought -- wow.
There is a place in this country. I want to go there.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were a place in this country where people behaved well... were doing it right...

It took me a little while to notice the dots on top of the bar graph that show per capita consumption extremely consistent.

Sometimes that short moment of belief is worth a lot. It can show you what you want -- what the world could exist like in your imagination.

But the dots... their harder that way.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Here and Now

Well, the average price of gas is $4.

I read two interesting articles this morning --

Truckers are striking in Spain and France. Gas there is $9 a gallon or so.

"In the latest show of distress, Spanish truckers Monday began a blockade of their country’s border with France, lining up their rigs and slowing them to a crawl to protest the cost of diesel fuel. The strike blocked the highway in both directions in southwestern France. The protest turned ugly when would-be strike-breakers in Spain found their windshields and headlights smashed and their tires slashed.

But the Spanish drivers were not the only ones feeling the pinch. French drivers slowed traffic near Bordeaux to demand lower fuel prices, offering a foretaste of a planned national strike by truckers next Monday. Portuguese drivers blocked roads and in Belgium thousands of labor union members demonstrated in Liege to protest the rising cost of living as a result of fuel costs."

NY Times

The price of oil is starting to effect people who use oil to produce other goods.

"The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company is trying to adapt. Its raw material of choice now is natural rubber rather than synthetic rubber, made from oil. To sustain profits, it is making more high-end tires for consumers willing to pay upwards of $100 to replace each tire on their cars ... Goodyear has kept its head above water in part by passing along some of the higher prices to dealers. The dealers, however, have not been able to pass along all of those increases to consumers and are absorbing the difference in lower profits.

Since last spring, the average profits of the nation’s corporations — from behemoths like Goodyear to small neighborhood retailers — have declined at an annual rate of nearly 6 percent, government data show."

NY Times

It's so hard when the way that you have constructed your life is clearly not going to work in the future.

We try to stave it off... see how little we can do with how much we can do without --

I remember that feeling before I got divorced. I feel the same way now.

Still, I for one turned on the A/C today. I thought I would try to go the summer... and I'm thinking about some international travel...

It's here, now, right?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Transparency in Energy Markets

The G8 meetings are still going on -- with oil at the top of the topic list...

"Japan, the United States, China, India and South Korea -- who together guzzle nearly half the world's oil -- said that they had agreed on the need for greater transparency in energy markets and more investment by consumers and producers both, while stopping short of calling on OPEC to pump more crude today." Reuters/Times

"But a call from the United States for an end to heavy price subsidies that protect many Asian drivers from soaring costs fell on deaf ears, as China and India said they could only raise domestic rates gradually in view of their fragile economies."

It's like when you are talking to a friend and they accuse you of their own behavior.

Maybe it's called something different when they do it -- like a tax break or a vice president...

And you look at them and you don't know what to say.

And you know that you are in way, way over your head with nothing to do

but get in the car and drive to the beach.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Search Engine Ironies

One of the things I do every morning is put the key word "Oil" into the NY Times search engine. This is not all I do -- but I do it just about every day.

Today, entries 6-10 were all from today's paper (many older stories come up on the search) -- a combination of by-lined and wire service stories -- really, this was the order:

Oil Prices Take a Nerve-Rattling Jump Past $138
Oil's biggest day yet drags down stocks
Energy chief: Flat production behind oil prices
U.S. Urges Subsidy Cuts, Not Regulation, to Tame Oil
Some Oil Pundits See Crude Hitting $140 Or More

How much do those pundits earn, I want to know...

Today I am wondering what it would look like if there were a search engine for my life. I have the awful feeling that entries 6-10 would hold this same kind of idiotic irony --

If we could just integrate our understandings -- what we do, how we do it, why we do it, where we've been and where we are going... it's all in there for us to see clearly.

Friday, June 6, 2008

My Apology

Two ships collided of the coast of Uruguay yesterday -- the oil was 13 miles long and heading to Buenos Aires --

"I hope it doesn't get there,"
someone said.

sometimes our weight drives us
sometimes it is too hard to turn
we collide
we spill
we cause damage...

it's the nature of the fundamentals -- of transportation and containment, I suppose.
the nature of toxic cargo and fuel...

Thursday, June 5, 2008


In case you were wondering what you would watch this summer, I have it for you.
"True TV" actually made a reality show where crews compete to find oil.

" From the creator of "Ice Road Truckers" and "Deadliest Catch" comes a one-of-a-kind series about Texas oil men who gamble everything for a chance to strike it rich. Wildcatters risk their life savings and roughnecks risk their lives. Black Gold takes you inside the action as the race for oil heats up."

I find this so disturbing.

For one thing, running oil rigs is really dangerous -- so if anyone thought Survivor was sporting with disaster... while I'm quite sure they film this all before it happens to make sure no one gets really hurt, when I talked to Michael, my oil man friend, he said this was one of the most dangerous jobs -- "people don't die very often," he said "but people lose fingers all the time."

One has to assume, though, that the point of this show is not to make people think that they should use less oil because of the risk and and the danger to the people working on the rigs -- fingers aside there are 36 hour shifts and fumes being away from families...

The fallacy of "real TV" makes me queasy. People behave differently in front of a camera, and there are certain things that should be taken more seriously.

Can you recall the emblematic photo of the NVA officer shooting a soldier in the mud of Viet Nam? Robert Capa took that photo -- and I believe the story was that the shooting took place for the camera. Capa used to say, if your photo isn't good enough your not close enough.

But at least war photography has at its core the effort to stop war -- to save humanity by exposing the distortions of war.

The idea that we romanticize and justify the things people do to themselves --
the fact that we still romanticize the high risks high stakes money of oil --
the fact that we find misfortune, stupidity and real danger entertainment...

all this makes me want to throw away my TV.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

My Hull

The Exxon Valdez spill was the most expensive spill in history.
But it was only the 35th largest,

according to the -- one of two websites I've been reading for the last hour or so. The other is the ITOPF. Both sites appear to be funded by oil companies -- and must constitute some public service arrangement in some clause somewhere. They are not advertising, they are very well written -- but they do seem to have quite a few built-in maze like features... the good news is I scored 5 out of 5 on a quiz about oil pollution -- it's working -- I'm learning! The reason the Valdez was such a big deal, of course, was that it was the first major spill in American waters.

What I'm intrigued by today it these photographs of these huge ships sinking -- broken in half and leaking...

The first time I ever wrote about oil was in 2004 or so -- I was in grad school and I wrote about a ship leaking oil -- when metal is fragile


Amoco Cadiz 1978


Tasman Spirit 2003


Torry Canyon 1967

-- it was a poem about being a mommy, really -- being responsible and also being unable to prevent disaster -- feeling helpless...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Pay Respect, Exxon

I did not know the ship formerly known as the Exxon Valdez continued to sail after the ship spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William sound.

Honestly, I'm in shock.

The Exxon Valdez

During the next three weeks, the Supreme Court is expected to render its final decision on whether Exxon will pay $2.5 billion in punitive fines over the spill.

Exxon made $40.6 billion dollars last year.

It cost $30 million dollars to repair the broken hull of the Valdez, before it was deemed seaworthy and renamed the Mediterranean . According to the KTUU news in Alaska, the tanker was still sailing in 2007.


adj. wor·thi·er, wor·thi·est
1. Having worth, merit, or value; useful or valuable.
2. Honorable; admirable: a worthy fellow.
3. Having sufficient worth; deserving: worthy to be revered; worthy of acclaim.
n. pl. wor·thies


Again, I don't condone Wikipedia -- but they sure do have a lot of dubious information clear and accessible... According to that questionable source:

In 2005 the average age of a tanker was 10 years.

(The Valdez launched in 1986, making the vessel 22 years old this year.)

In 2005, according to the same entry, the price of a new tanker ranged from $43 million to $120 million. (One would imagine this price tag was lower in 1989.)

Buy a new boat, guys! This one ought to (have been) retired!

Not only was it not retired, 13 years after the spill, the New York Times reported that, while laws prohibiting any tanker that had spilled more than a million gallons of oil from entering Prince William Sound, the Exxon subsidiary then operating the Mediterranean was considering appealing the decision to keep the tanker from entering that port.


Now, it seems to me that a lot of this conversation is about arrogance -- arrogance, entitlement -- and the actions that turn those qualities into cruelty.

It's a little understandable, I suppose, why Exxon would fight this tiny judgement all the way to the supreme court -- because there are a million such law suits -- because you can't back down...

But wouldn't they have done Alaska, themselves -- and people at large -- a better service to make some sort of show of good faith? Turn the ship into a museum 18 years ago? Empty it out, and make some sort of commemorative thing out of it?

Do you really have to accept blame to accept apology? Exxon is the most profitable corporation in the world. They are not worthy.

The Valdez spill was a tragedy. The loss of wild life remains staggering, and for the people who lived and live there a whole way of life died.

Exxon has failed to pay its respects.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Clean Up Breakthrough

Science is pretty amazing.

An international team, lead by scientists from MIT, just invented a "paper towel" constructed of nanowires to clean up oil spills. Apparently it looks, prints and cuts like paper...

"“What we found is that we can make 'paper' from an interwoven mesh of nanowires that is able to selectively absorb hydrophobic liquids — oil-like liquids — from water,” Dr Stellacci said.

“Our material can be left in water a month or two, and when you take it out it's still dry. But at the same time, if that water contains some hydrophobic contaminants, they will get absorbed.”

The membrane is able to repel water because the nanowires are covered with a hydrophobic coating, while the tiny pores in the material are ideal for trapping oil."

You can leave it in water for a month, take it out and it is still dry?
Another cool thing -- the paper towel can be reused -- and so can the oil! The paper traps up to 20 times its weight in oil.
They also think that they can use the stuff to clean up other types of chemical spills.

By the way, according to Wikipedia, "is a wire of diameter of the order of a nanometer (10 to the negative ninth power)" I don't condone Wikipedia use, but every other definition I found was some sort of foreign language you need a PhD to decipher. The negative ninth power.

I learned two other interesting facts about all this. I read the article from the press office at MIT and an article in the TIMESONLINE -- the London paper -- which was largely based on the press release and the original article in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. I couldn't go there -- didn't even look it up.

1. This story, as far as I could tell, wasn't reported in America. I couldn't find it in the NY Times -- not even the Boston Globe, where it all happened. Australia and London carried the story prominently -- and some Science and Nature journals.

2. "Some 200,000 tons of oil have already been spilled at sea since the start of the decade."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

White on White and the Black Sea

There have been reports for the last week of another oil spill in Black Sea. Last November a massive spill occurred when tankers broke up in a storm just off the coast. I wrote about that spill at the time -- I quoted the NY Times as reporting that the severity of an oil spill is often measured not only in amount of oil, but that extent of damage can also be seen in proximity to land.

Pavel Shevtsov/Reuters

Last week there were reports of another spill in the Black Sea. This spill is suspected to be 100 miles into the sea, and can't be reached for verification, according to an article on, which appears to be a Bulgarian wire service.

"Valio Tanov, Director of Border Police in Bourgas has stated earlier Friday that the verification is made difficult by the strong waves, but has also said that the results should be expected around mid-day.

The Maritime Administration announced that they are verifying the reports as well, adding that it is impossible for them to reach the presumed location of the spill since the distance is about 100 miles into the sea. It is also impossible to make another satellite picture right now because there is no satellite over this part of the Black Sea.

Ships passing through the area have been asked to verify the information, however, until now they have not confirmed it."

Isn't it amazing to think of a spot of earth we can't reach or see in this day and age?

I read somewhere that a spot in the ocean has as many life forms as the Amazon Rain Forrest. It seems so like us to think the only deaths there are are the ones we mark with out eyes -- the birds and fish that wash up.

I imagine crawling on the bottom of the ocean -- with a covering of oil descending.

I went to the web site that first posted the satellite photos of the alleged spill.

It's so strange to look at this site -- it's all in Russian -- which I do not speak. This indecipherable language this indecipherable image. And yet here it is. This image reminds me of Malevich's "White on White" which is my favorite painting.

Kazimir Malevich. Suprematist Composition: White on White. 1918
White on White. 1918
Kazimir Malevich. Oil on Canvas.

This painting made people really angry when it came out. There were all sorts of cerebral arguments for and against it. Minimalism v. representation. But when I looked at that painting, it always made me feel at peace. I wanted it on my wall. I wanted to curl up into it -- to fall asleep there.

Abstract Expressionism and it's response to Realism. The plight of the worker the plight of the soul.

The plight of the single-celled v. the plight of the gull.

"Capitan Nikifor Gerchev is the Chief of the volunteers from the border police. He has made statements that the reports are, most likely, "a storm in a glass of water", and that he does not believe that there is an oil spill in the Black Sea."

It is as if it is our nature to assume the non-existence of anything beyond our vision.

All this many years after Galileo Galilei...