February 13, 2006
Another plot to cripple the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was foiled recently, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Reuters). A Montana judge gets credit for apprehending the plotter, in Idaho, although Oregon and Washington are the main consumers of oil from Alaskan oil.
A year ago, we released the 2005 Cascadia Scorecard, which detailed the profound vulnerability of Cascadia's energy infrastructure (pdf), including the Trans-Alaska pipe.
The latest plot--which involved blowing up propane trucks along the pipeline, among other acts of sabotage elsewhere--doesn't seem to have been as far along as one in 1999 or one in late 2003. (Both described here (pdf), on pages 30-31.)
The larger story, of course, is that Cascadian officials have done little to secure its energy system in the past year. Pending energy security measures in Washington and Oregon may be bright spots on the horizon.
April 20, 2005
Blogs Without Borders
An article on energy security we just published in BC online magazine The Tyee has generated a spirited and interesting debate in the comments section about not only energy issues, but also the concept of Cascadia, economic colonization, the nature of transboundary environmental issues, migration, and a few other small issues.
A couple of excerpts:
"There is no Cascadia, there is BC, Canada, USA, Washington & Oregon State, etc...and may each keep their respective sovereignties"
"The fish, bugs, and forests don't recognize political boundaries; neither do greenhouse gases or smog."
"Raw logs, minerals and oil move across the border with impunity while people, who for some reason actually want to travel south of the 49th into Disneyworld, are subjected to all forms of gross indecencies. They’re considered terrorists until proven otherwise."
March 16, 2005
Fool's Gold, II
Further to yesterday’s post, here’s a flagrant example of the spurious security argument in favor of drilling in ANWR:
"I believe our dependence on foreign oil is a direct threat to our national security," said [US Senator Ted] Stevens [of Alaska]. . . "People fail to realize that our dependence on rogue states and militant states makes us weak. This dependence on outside sources of energy leaves our country vulnerable to the whims of these rogue nations." (from Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Yes, and Alaskan oil is just as vulnerable to their whims as oil from the Persian Gulf.
The same article quotes a teenage girl from Florida, who claims that properly inflating all US car tires would save more fuel in a year than ANWR is expected to yield ever. (Don’t quote me on that, I haven’t checked the math. But I thought it an interesting comparison. Anyone know a source?)
UPDATE: The Senate voted in favor of ANWR drilling, by a margin of 1 vote. All California, Oregon, and Washington senators opposed drilling; other Cascadian senators supported it. The New York Times reports.
March 15, 2005
Alaskan Oil: Fool's Gold
Continuing a three decade old argument over drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the US Senate appears likely to make another important vote on the subject in the next 48 hours, according to US Senator John Kerry.
This issue is of interest to Cascadians because Alaska is the main source of Oregon and Washington's oil. (British Columbia runs on Albertan oil; Idaho and western Montana burn fuel from Billings, Montana.) Drilling proponents argue on the grounds of national security, but Alaskan oil is actually far less secure than you might assume. In fact, although it is drilled from American soil, it arrives in the continental United States the same way as oil from the Middle East: by ship.
And the means by which it reaches those ships is insecure: the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, a piece of infrastructure that is profoundly vulnerable to attack. We wrote, in Cascadia Scorecard 2005:
The Trans-Alaska is 800 miles long, sits elevated above the ground for more than 400 of those miles, and was long ago deemed indefensible by the Pentagon. It is aging and corroding and is near the end of its design life. It has already been sabotaged once, bombed twice, and shot more than 50 times, most recently in 2001 by a drunk with a hunting rifle. In 1999, a disgruntled Canadian ex-convict was apprehended just months before he had planned to blow up three key segments in midwinter, when repair could have taken months. He had begun assembling 14 sophisticated bombs and had pinpointed the pipeline’s weak points. Other near misses are much rumored but classified. The US Department of Homeland Security did reveal in 2004 that its late 2003 “elevated terror alert” was motivated by intelligence suggesting terrorists might attempt to ignite the fuel stockpiles at the pipeline’s Valdez terminus. The opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil extraction, if it happens, would redouble and extend Cascadia’s dependence on this single, insecure pipeline.
A winter pipeline attack at remote points along its length could halt oil transport from the North Slope until Spring. Some fear that the normally-heated oil might even congeal in the pipe, making the Trans-Alaska the "world's largest Chapstick." (This point, and some of what's quoted above, comes from the best in-depth analysis of the ANWR question that I’ve seen: Rocky Mountain Institute’s 2001 article in Foreign Affairs called "Fool's Gold in Alaska.")
March 11, 2005
Cascadia Scorecard 2005, IV
In case you're interested, we're publishing a string of op-eds in regional newspapers on the Cascadia Scorecard 2005. Two have now run; three are pending publication (in Bend, Boise, and Eugene); and three more are still being considered (in Tacoma, Vancouver, and Victoria).
You can find the two already published pieces in the Oregonian (coauthored with David Yaden) and the Spokane Spokesman-Review (subscription required). The text of the Spokesman Review op-ed, which ran on Tuesday, follows.
Less than two years ago, Spokane’s own Michael Devlyn Poulin set out to illustrate the profound vulnerability of the Northwest energy system. He did it with a wrench, unscrewing bolts from about 20 transmission towers across the West. Mr. Poulin was no terrorist. He didn’t remove many bolts—no towers fell—and he was a bumbling novice in the arts of subterfuge. In fact, he described himself to the press as “62 years old, overweight, arthritic, diabetic, half-blind and a cancer patient.” Still, he successfully executed his plot for weeks before authorities finally apprehended him.
If someone like Mr. Poulin can monkey-wrench the energy distribution system so freely, the alarming truth is that a group of determined attackers with backhoes or military explosives could cripple it for weeks. Greater Spokane, like the rest of the Cascadia region, relies on a surprisingly scanty energy-distribution infrastructure. Two major pipelines bring in the petroleum products. Two more bring in the natural gas. And electricity travels on a handful of major transmission lines.
Energy companies and public authorities have not been idle about protecting critical energy infrastructure, but unfortunately, conventional security approaches alone are not up to the job. Gates and guards cannot affordably defend a network of pipes and wires that spans thousands of miles of remote countryside.
Fortunately, the weaknesses of the region’s energy distribution system also present staggering opportunities: a clean-energy revolution that is already gathering force in the Northwest offers ways to tighten security not at a cost but at a profit. A “smart grid,” quickly rising efficiency, clean cars, and local renewable fuels can help bombproof our energy system while generating thousands of jobs. They can do so by making our energy system not impregnable but resilient.
Already, scores of Northwest institutions and companies are leading the way. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, for example, is developing “smart-grid” electronic tools that will allow millions of electricity-using and -generating devices to adjust their operation to real-time grid conditions. If attackers were to disable a transmission line, smart-grid appliances would switch into power-save mode and decentralized energy sources such as co-generators in factories would feed power into the grid. A smart grid would largely heal itself.
New technologies also offer to wring dramatically more service from each unit of energy, allowing us to make do with less if the worst should happen. Cost-effective energy savings are widespread throughout the economy, from lighting to irrigation. In fact, the pace of technical development has kept energy efficiency in the position of being the least expensive and most abundant new “source” of energy available for the past quarter century.
But capturing this efficiency potential requires investment capital and technical know-how, two assets that are concentrated in large institutions such as utilities. Those utilities, for all that they do to promote efficiency already, are ultimately conflicted about its success. Utilities that help their customers save energy too effectively also diminish their own sales. The solution to this conflict is a regulatory innovation called “decoupling”: disconnecting utilities’ profits from their energy sales by tweaking the rate formulas approved by state regulators.
A similar example is clean cars—the more-advanced vehicles that Washington will get if it passes legislation now pending in Olympia. With fuel use trimmed by up to 30 percent, clean cars and trucks become a highly decentralized strategic petroleum reserve, their fuel tanks holding many days’ of supply because of the vehicles’ expanded range. And by adopting “clean-car standards,” Washington would accelerate the auto industry’s design of ultra-fuel-efficient vehicles that could reduce the state’s dependence on petroleum even more.
Renewable fuels such as biodiesel (think: used French-fryer grease and vegetable-oil crops) and cellulose ethanol (think: wheat straw) can further the Northwest’s energy independence. The Canadian biotech firm Iogen hopes to open a 50-million-gallon-a-year ethanol refinery in Idaho, pumping as much as $30 million a year into the farm economy by purchasing straw.
The smart grid, efficiency, clean cars, and biofuels are paradigm cases of how, in energy, clean equals secure—and profitable. But such changes won’t appear magically. They will require leadership and the embrace of innovative new incentives such as decoupling and clean-car standards, as detailed in Cascadia Scorecard 2005, Northwest Environment Watch’s annual report on seven trends critical to the Northwest.
The payoff, however, is enormous: we northwesterners keep home more of the $10 billion a year we currently export to pay for oil and gas. And we get an energy system less vulnerable to monkey wrenches and backhoes.
March 04, 2005
Counting to $30 Million
In the time it takes you to read this blog post (which, we'll point out, is shorter than most of our posts), residents of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon will send more than $10,000 out of the regional economy to pay for oil and natural gas. That's about $30 million a day and more than $10 billion a year.
Don't believe us? See the dollars drain out of the region yourself with an energy counter we created as a real-time tally of how much our dependence on expensive, imported fuels is costing us in 2005.
**Please add your comments below to a discussion about how the Northwest can reshape its energy system and keep more money circulating close to home.
P.S. - As Clark pointed out yesterday, if oil prices stay high, the tally may rise to $34 million a day for oil alone--money that, if it were used for just about anything else, would be far less likely to skip town.
P.P.S - Read more about this subject in Cascadia Scorecard 2005: Focus on Energy, and in our 1999 book Green-Collar Jobs (pdf, go to p.67), where we use Bend, Oregon, as a case study in the impact of energy spending on the local economy.
February 28, 2005
The Eugene Register-Guard has a good article (and sidebar) today on the proposal to build a liquified natural gas port at Coos Bay, Oregon. Liquified natural gas is safe and clean, except in the very unlikely but not impossible event of a well-planned and executed attack. Then, it becomes a massive threat. Each average-sized marine LNG tanker holds as much energy as 50 Hiroshima-sized bombs.
We discuss the issue in Cascadia Scorecard 2005 (1 Mb pdf, see page 32 and associated citations). Two other proposals for Cascadian LNG ports mentioned in CS05 are on the lower Columbia River. Three additional proposals, not mentioned in the book are at Humboldt Bay in northern California, at Kitimat in northern British Columbia, and at Cowichan on Vancouver Island. (Tip of the hat to Guy Dauncey for information on the latter two.)
Cascadia Scorecard 2005, III
One astute reader of the Cascadia Scorecard 2005 poses a good question. The reader wonders:
what the "benefit" is of publishing maps that blatantly expose our energy vulnerabilities which Alan says are "virtually impossible to defend against determined attackers."I realize that you are trying to open our eyes to the tremendous need we have of weaning ourselves from fossil fuel dependencies, but do you really think that painting a "bulls-eye target" on our present-day energy resources is a sane solution, in today's global terrorism society?
We thought about that, too. We thought about it a lot. Here's why we did it:
Terrorists have long targeted energy systems in other parts of the world, with attacks on oil tankers and pipelines. They've specifically mentioned oil infrastructure as the "lifeline of the crusader community." Cascadia Scorecard describes a threat that is largely unknown to northwesterners but is old hat to jihadists. So we're definitely not giving them an idea they didn't already have.
The Northwest's energy vulnerability is a matter of public record. Anyone with a library card and an Internet connection has access to far more information about the region's energy vulnerabilities than we described in Cascadia Scorecard. In fact, that's all we used to do our research on energy vulnerabilities.
We were careful in preparing the report to tell readers only enough to understand the threat, not enough to misuse the information. Our maps, for example, are intentionally imprecise and schematic. They wouldn't be much use to anyone with malicious intent.
What are your thoughts?
February 25, 2005
Cascadia Scorecard 2005, II
There was a lot of media coverage of yesterday's release of the 2005 Cascadia Scorecard (for example, this and this). What most interested me was that the media couldn't find anyone who would directly contradict our finding that the Northwest's energy system is virtually impossible to defend against determined attackers. We knew our analysis was alarming; we were braced to defend it vigorously. But there was no counterpunch.
The closest that anyone came to contradicting us were the quotes in this Associated Press story (here in the Salem Statesman-Journal). But the statements in this article do not actually contradict our analysis, they simply offer assurances to the public that the situation has improved since 2001. And that electric authorities are pretty good at responding quickly to emergencies. But that's not saying much.
Now, the question is, will awareness of the energy system's vulnerability to sabotage actually sink in and help to motivate more-rapid progress toward a resilient, clean, and prosperous energy future? One encouraging sign is this morning's Seattle Post-Intelligencer's editorial.
February 22, 2005
Paul Krugman burns hot today on the failings of the US government to secure the homeland. Many major American toxic and nuclear facilities, including some in Cascadia, are sitting ducks for sabotage.
We'll add substantially to this story Thursday, when we release the Cascadia Scorecard 2005.
Consider, for example, the case of chemical plants.
Just days after 9/11, many analysts identified sites that store toxic chemicals as a major terror risk, and called for new safety rules. But as The New York Times reported last fall, "after the oil and chemical industries met with Karl Rove ... the White House quietly blocked those efforts."
Nearly three and a half years after 9/11, those chemical plants are still unprotected.
Other major risks identified within days of the attack included the possibility of terrorist attacks on major ports or nuclear plants. But in the months after 9/11, the administration flatly refused to allocate the sums that members of the House and Senate from both parties thought necessary to secure these sites.