Thursday, December 25, 2008

P1. Pick Points

These are small quotes from articles that might be either currently informative, or turn out to be significant, and thus tied into longer and more significant posts, at some time in the future. They are generally culled from the Web sites of some of the daily papers around the world, and also from other blog sites. I am still working out the protocols for developing the site, and so these first versions of this are going to be very short and limited.
Extensive snow in Canada
For the first time in four decades – from Atlantic to Pacific, from Windsor just south of Detroit to Ellesmere Island, just south of the polar icecap – all of Canada is experiencing a white Christmas.
This may or may not have any significance, we’ll just have to wait and see as winter wears on.

Next years gas prices will be relatively low
Although it's almost 2009, prices at the pump – close to $1.65 a gallon – are below what Americans paid in 2004. That year, the top three bestselling vehicles were pickup trucks, and gasoline prices averaged $1.85 a gallon for regular.

Also this winter, residents of the Northeast are expected to see their heating costs shrink by almost 25 percent when compared with last winter.

“It's a bit of a gift, like a giant tax cut," says Sarah Emerson, managing director of Energy Security Analysis Inc. in Wakefield, Mass. "This is one of the best things to happen to the economy over the next six months."

In 2009, the price of gasoline will average $2.03 a gallon, the Energy Department forecasts. While this number is higher than current prices, it's much lower than 2008, when gasoline prices averaged closer to $3.27 a gallon and crested at over $4 a gallon in July.

This ties into the story quoted above it. If the winter requires more heating oil, and the economy picks up a little, then we may see quite a change in crude oil prices. At the same time there are oil producing countries that need additional income, and the number of countries needed to impose some discipline on export limits are getting smaller every year.

This ties into:
A prediction that the world economy will grow 0.9% next year.
The World Bank's 2009 Global Economic Prospects report is projecting world growth will shrink to 0.9 percent next year from 2.5 percent in 2008. The report said that a long and deep global recession cannot be ruled out.
The interesting point is that the report is, overall, optimistic about growth increasing.

That may mean that the demand for coal is going to increase, and (as part of an ongoing story) the court struggle over carbon dioxide emissions made another step today.
Court reinstates EPA power plant pollution rule
The court found on July 11 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency went beyond its authority to create a trading scheme among utilities to cut emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides at power plants in the East and Midwest.
But the current ruling vacates that earlier decision and leaves the interstate rule in place while the Environmental Protection Agency fixes flaws in the plan. . . . . . The earlier ruling effectively vacated the entire CAIR program, which regulates interstate emissions that contribute to acid rain and smog.

There are, however, other issues than just gases that come out of power plants. One of the products is coal ash, or fly ash as it is often called (see the upcoming post on power plants). This has to be stored, and . .

A retaining dam failed in Tennessee
The breach occurred when an earthen dike, the only thing separating millions of cubic yards of ash from the river, gave way, releasing a glossy sea of muck, four to six feet thick, dotted with icebergs of ash across the landscape. Where the Clinch River joined the Tennessee, a clear demarcation was visible between the soiled waters of the former and the clear brown broth of the latter.

By afternoon, dump trucks were depositing rock into the river in a race to blockade it before an impending rainstorm washed more ash downstream.

The spill, which released about 300 million gallons of sludge and water, is far larger than the other two similar disasters, said Jeffrey Stant, the director of the Coal Combustion Waste Initiative for the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental legal group

As someone who can still remember where I was when I heard of the the Aberfan disaster and knows of the studies done to prevent a repetition, these failures should not happen. Yet, on the other hand, the ash that they refer to is the same cinders that some neighborhoods sprinkle on the roads after snowstorms, so the levels of toxicity are unlikely to be as high as some residents fear. But still . . . . .

There are some stories, on the other hand, that pop up every winter.
Russia threatens to cut off gas to Ukraine
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev sternly urged Ukraine on Wednesday to fully pay its $2.1 billion debt for Russian natural gas supplies or face sanctions, as a Jan. 1 deadline for payment loomed.

Each year it seems that we go through this, with the increased price that Ukraine is now charged for gas by Russia leading to payment delays. The threat is that if Russia cuts back on deliveries, then the gas supply may be tapped by Ukraine as it passes through to Western Europe. This has, in the past, led to shortages in different countries, and these shortages have been of varying severity. A bad winter, however, such as the one inferred perhaps by the first citation at the top of the post, would make the situation worse.

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