Playing with Fire

© Shell
The Incompatible Trends of Extreme Weather and New Fossil Fuel Projects
As I ponder the dramatic media warnings of yet another imminent, record-setting storm (“Crushing, Cruising Snowstorm to Plaster the Northeast”, per a recent post), I am reminded of the old parable used to teach children about safety:

The curious child will only touch a burning hot stove once.

Too bad we aren’t applying such logic to climate change. There is a bizarre, incompatible set of trends occurring before our very eyes. At the very time we are witnessing:

  • stunning increases in both the quantity and quality of record-setting weather extremes,
  • significant, rapid alterations in the Earth’s vital ecosystems,
  • unprecedented worldwide scientific consensus linking man-made greenhouse gas emission activity to these very changes, with the understanding that reducing our fossil fuel emissions is a necessity to mitigate against these changes

we are still moving forward with new, massive fossil fuel projects in the U.S. and around the world.

The following is a short list of new fossil-fuel projects currently underway or under consideration in the U.S.:


  • Keystone XL Pipeline: A 2,000-mile pipeline carrying bitumen—an even more dirty form of oil than conventional crude—from Alberta Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas. Maximum capacity 900,000 barrels per day. Operations could begin in 2012/2013. Operated by TransCanada (Calgary).
  • Wrangler Pipeline: A new 800km, 36-inch diameter pipeline for crude oil transport between Cushing, Oklahoma, and the Texas Gulf Coast. Transport capacity: 800,000 barrels per day. In service by mid-2012. Partnership between Enterprise Products (Houston) and Enbridge (Calgary).
  • Parkway Pipeline: A 219km pipeline for gasoline, jet fuel and diesel transport from Norco, Louisiana, to Collins, Mississippi, transporting up to 200,000 barrels per day for major markets in the southeast U.S. Joint venture between Kinder Morgan (Houston) and Valero Energy (San Antonio). Expected to be in service by mid-2013.
  • Pettus/Chorpus Christi Pipeline: A 99km, 20-inch diameter crude oil pipeline to transport 250,000 barrels per day to Gulf Coast markets. Operated by: Koch Pipeline Company (Wichita).
  • BP Gulf of Mexico Offshore Drilling: This is not a typo—President Obama recently approved a new permit to BP—the same company currently under indictment for safety and environmental violations related to the Deepwater Horizon accident two years ago.

NEW NATURAL GAS PROJECTS (a significant greenhouse gas contributor despite industry claims). This list could go on for days. Here are two:

  • “Sunrise” Pipeline Expansion (Pennsylvania and West Virginia): A 71km, new pipeline system, operated by Equitrans (Pittsburgh), which expands on existing pipelines in the Marcellus Shale, and will transport additional gas from West Virginia to Pennsylvania. Scheduled for operation by summer 2012.
  • New Jersey-NY Pipeline Expansion Project: Would transport fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New York City through an underground pipeline through the Hudson River, entering Manhattan in the West Village—one of the most densely populated areas in the U.S. The pipeline will carry 800 million cubic feet per day of gas to markets in New York and New Jersey. Completion Date: November 2013. Owner: Spectra Energy (Houston).

Fossil fuel expansion projects, it must be noted, are hardly limited to the U.S. These are four of many in the works worldwide:

  • Northern Gateway Pipeline (Canada): A new, 1,177km pipeline for transporting crude oil from the vast Alberta reserves to Canada’s Pacific marine terminals in British Columbia. The pipeline will carry up to 525,000 barrels per day for export to Pacific Rim markets. Operated by Enbridge.
  • Exxon/Rosneft Offshore Partnership: Offshore drilling partnership between Exxon Mobil and Russian oil company Rosneft to jointly develop untapped hydrocarbon deposits in the Russian Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Purpe-Samotlor pipeline (Russia): A new, 430km pipeline to China and the east Siberia/Pacific markets, designed to carry 25 million tones of crude per year (500,000 barrels per day) Operated by Roseneft and Transneft.
  • The “Prelude” Off-shore natural gas Project (Australia): A historic leap “ahead” for the natural gas industry. This project, with notable lack of media attention, takes the form of the largest floating vessel of any kind, ever constructed. It’s the first-ever floating natural liquid gas refinery, off the coast of Australia. Operated by Royal Dutch Shell, it will produce an estimated 5 million tones, annually, of liquefied natural and petroleum gas. The facility is expected to be operational in 2016.

This list could go on for days: The Mideast, Africa, Asia—all have substantial new fossil fuel projects in the pipeline (pun intended).

Nobody—however informed or motivated by long term, sensible environmental concerns—should be less than aghast at such clear apathy towards the well-being of our future generations. Chevron reported earnings of $7.8 billion for the third quarter of 2011—more than twice what it earned in the equivalent quarter last year. Similar growth was recorded by Exxon, Occidental and other fossil-fuel industries.

Such economic growth is related to increased production and that’s exactly what is happening: Occidental reported daily worldwide oil and gas production at 739,000 barrels per day in the third quarter—up from 706,000 bb/d a year ago. Hence the trend for more pipelines, more fracking, more off-shore drilling. “Burn, baby, burn” is really all about “earn, baby, earn.” However inescapable the laws of economics may be for some, there is indeed another more intractable law: that of Mother Nature. Chemistry and physics won’t care about fossil-fuel company earnings; there will be no compromise with big oil due to “market realities.”

We know that the Earth’s climate system is changing “in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases” and that “the potential risks are serious and actions are required to mitigate climate change.”

Those actions are simple: the reduction and elimination of man-made greenhouse emissions.

As the northeast navigates through another record-setting storm (snowstorm in October?), and as the Midwest, south and western U.S. reflect on the massive droughts, wildfires and flooding of the past year we should take a moment to recognize what’s happening:

Fossil fuels march on.

Stick your finger on the stove again, Johnny.