Comments by swimmer

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Posted on September 14 at 9:11 p.m.


"They made more profits than any business in the history of the world this year"

This gives profit rank by industry for 2010.
"Major Oil and Gas Integrated" (i.e. Big Oil) ranks:
#166 out of 215 in p/e ratio
#112 out of 215 in profit margin (income divided by revenue)
#94 out of 215 in return on equity

In terms of absolute profit, AT&T made more than all but one of the nation's 14,000 oil companies. Microsoft, Walmart, IBM, Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Berkshire Hathaway, Procter & Gamble, Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola, General Electric, and Intel made more than all but two oil companies. Do you hate these companies too? What industry are you in?

Your comment shows that you don't know the difference between a profit and a profit margin. A pretty impressive thinker you are, Spacey.

"and they continue to receive subsidies while the country is in a 'recession'."

Define for me 1) what a subsidy is, in your words, and 2) what amount in subsidies the energy industry receives in absolute terms, and then as a percentage of capital investment.

You have no idea. You're just throwing out a slogan here. You read it somewhere and it fits with your ideology.

"Think of all that money they could have made had they not spilled all that stuff into the gulf of mexico."

Sure. But your point? That the industry should have decided to sell the oil instead of spill it? This is the general idea, Spacey. What a silly non-sequitur of a comment.

"They figured out how to extract it from tar sands in Canada.... but they still use 1970's technology to clean up."

This is the only point you make that has some merit, although 1970's technology is a bit of a stretch. BP was guilty of complacency, I believe, but it was surely not an intentional or malicious event. Since BP was at fault, you believe all the other 13,999 oil companies in the US are also guilty. Do you make similarly sweeping hostile claims against the airline industry whenever a plane crashes?

Also, this is another mindless variation on the theme "We can put a man on the moon, so why can't we....?" As if all engineering challenges are equal. As if a few dollars can solve any problem. I wonder if you've ever considered why we have no cure for cancer or the common cold? After all, we've figured out how to produce oil from tar sands.

I would be embarrassed posting such easily refuted and unsupported nonsense as you do. Why do you bother?

On Pipe Dreams Set to Become Reality

Posted on September 14 at 9:04 p.m.


Why do I need to defend myself and post my resume? I'm not declaring anyone guilty of anything. You are. If you're bringing charges, you ought to have a case. You don't. But that doesn't stop you from airing your prejudices for the world to see. It's almost as if you're proud of your economic illiteracy.

" in fact why is it that you can walk the beach in summerland and get a headache from the smell of oil fumes? Is that natural?"

Yes. The tar was used by Chumash Indian to caulk their boats. Seeps were reported in Juan Cabrillo's logs. Seeps can be observed on the ocean floor on camera and by seismic detection equipment. Seeps can be observed coming out of rock at Carpinteria Beach. Seeps were known before there was any production in the Santa Barbara area. How do you think many of the early oil fields were found?

"If oil companies are so industrious, they should be finding ways to use this 'natural' seepage."

They are. In the 1980's Arco installed large pyramid structures capping some seeps in the Coal Oil Point area. You place natural in quotes as if you don't believe there is natural seepage. How ignorant. Why don't you check all this stuff out before making thinly veiled and snarky accusations? Go to the UCSB geology department, you know, that hotbed of conservatism, and ask them if they believe natural seeps are plentiful. Go ahead and do it.

"I mean, all that lobbying has paid off."

How do you figure? As far as I know, the Santa Barbara Channel is still closed to exploratory drilling. Do you have new information? I guess your position is that the oil industry is the most powerful force in the universe... except for the California Coastal Commission.

Top 10 industries by lobbying expenditures, 1998-2011:
Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $2,204,027,124
Insurance: $1,577,725,579
Electric Utilities: $1,487,339,178
Business Associations: $1,232,513,899
Computers/Internet: $1,206,517,827
Oil & Gas: $1,150,840,111
Misc Manufacturing & Distributing: $1,010,365,149
Education: $1,002,954,368
Hospitals/Nursing Homes: $947,933,537
Civil Servants/Public Officials: $910,330,244

Let's hear your rant against insurance and internet companies too OK? And those teachers and nursing homes! They are spending well over 80% of what the oil industry is spending! I mean, I wonder how politicians give every lobbyist everything they ask for!?

On Pipe Dreams Set to Become Reality

Posted on September 14 at 12:56 a.m.


Are you suggesting that someone should produce that oil for you free of charge? It takes a huge amount of capital and expertise to get it from under the ocean to your car, and it's very risky. I could make all the same charges you just did for copper, coal, and a number of other extractive industries. That copper in Utah belongs to you. So why shouldn't you get it for free? This is like whining about the auto mechanic fixing your car and then charging you for the service. What a racket! It's your car!

What value does a mineral in the ground have if no one has the expertise or capital to bring it to you? It's really worthless isn't it? It has no value at all until someone can figure out how to bring it to market. So someone develops this expertise through years of training, and is able to raise the capital and assume the risk of a dry hole to bring it to you, and you criticize him for wanting to make a profit on it. Does your company make a profit? Why don't you give your expertise away for free? I suggest you go to your CEO tomorrow and tell him that he should aim for zero profit on his investment this year.

As for "obscene profits," I'd expect that any industry that was able to set its prices at will and made obscene profits should have a pretty high p/e ratio, wouldn't you? Why not go to this page, which shows a listing of over 200 industries and their 2010 profitability performance:

Tell us where "Major Integrated Oil & Gas" ranks. Then where it ranks in "Profit Margin." Then where it ranks on "Return on Equity." I don't think you know the difference between a profit and a profit margin, do you?

Then you say "In Norway, the public never loses ownership of their resources."

False. Many multinational oil companies operate in Norway. While the Norwegian government does have a relatively large stake in its oil industry through its operating arm Statoil, its industry is not nationalized. Considering all of the nations where oil is produced, very few have completely nationalized industries.

Your view of industry economics is really quite naive, as if you believe oil companies are like some evil organization out of a James Bond movie. Proceeds from produced oil does not just go straight into CEO wallets. Oil companies must buy the leases (these leases generate billions per year, typically). They pay royalties of 20% or so straight off revenue to the feds. They pay state and federal income taxes and sales taxes. They pay employees, who in turn pay taxes and then reinject their income into local economies. They buy goods and services from other companies. Exxon, for example, made a profit of $31 billion last year. You think that's obscene. But their cost of goods sold was $234 billion: how many jobs do you think that supports?

But maybe I'm wrong about you.
Please list your years of industry experience here ----> _____
And your relevant technical degrees here ----> ____

On Pipe Dreams Set to Become Reality

Posted on September 14 at 12:07 a.m.


You claimed: "Yes, the oil companies with huge profits get govt. subsidies. Renewable does not"

Do me a favor. Google "renewable energy subsidies." Tell me what you find out. Count all of the state, federal, and local subsidies you find.

Then check Wilipedia's entry. It says: "In the US, the federal government has paid US$74 billion for energy subsidies to support R&D for nuclear power ($50 billion) and fossil fuels ($24 billion) from 1973 to 2003. During this same timeframe, renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency received a total of US$26 billion."

Would you agree that your comment was false?

Extra credit if you can name for me these energy subsidies. What are they for? Can you even define what a subsidy is?

Obviously, you haven't considered a solar installation for your home, and haven't considered buying a hybrid or electric car. Had you done either of those things, you would have seen that both are subsidized: you would have qualified for cash back. What this tells me is that you aren't willing to make any personal commitment to reduce fossil fuel consumption.

On Pipe Dreams Set to Become Reality

Posted on September 13 at 10:23 p.m.


I would agree with you. Neither side in this debate is immune to bias. An expert's claim to the truth without compelling technical evidence is no better than the claim of a naive journalist. However, there is a difference, in that at least the expert has a history and a body of knowledge to draw on. He may be drawing on a large volume of anecdotal data or even directly relevant experience. The media has really very little depth here.

And let's be fair here. If we're going to accuse one set of people (without knowing anything about them or their their business) of being willing to destroy their neighbor's environment for profit, why can't we accuse, say, a filmmaker or a newspaper of lying to their neighbors for the same reason? Doesn't controversy sell newspapers and movie tickets? I don't think Gasland would have had much business, and certainly wouldn't have been nominated for an Academy Award, if it had been a documentary about the safety of hydraulic fracturing.

Personally, I don't believe this to be the case. I'm sure Lee Heller is sincere in her opinions and is not just trying to sell papers. But why are we so eager to ascribe the naked profit motive to one group, and by default consider the other as altruistic? After all, both groups sell things for a living. You seem to be suggesting that the group that supplies the energy we need for a profit has no conscience, but that the group that supplies the news we need for its profit does.

On Ode to a Frenemy

Posted on September 13 at 12:21 a.m.

Heller claims to know "the truth." This is interesting, as it seems to me that knowing "the truth" about the risks of fracking would demand an intimate knowledge of geology, chemistry, and petroleum engineering. Her claim to the truth here reminds me of Pope Urban VIII's similar conviction when he threw Galileo into prison.

But the pope knew nothing about astronomy or mathematics, and the motion of the earth and the sun were unaffected by the pope's claim to the truth. Similarly, Heller knows nothing about geology or petroleum engineering. The paths takes by hydrocarbon molecules in the earth, and the propagation of fractures through rock, are indifferent to her political beliefs.

I suggest we let those with expertise conduct the rigorous studies needed to determine the risks, and then let an informed public weigh them against the benefits. I suggest we don't reach verdicts based on the self-righteous editorial pages (or documentaries) of technically incompetent and obviously (even proudly) biased commentators. Prejudice is an insidious thing, and it's not confined to those on the right.

For Bob Field, "the truth" means a reasonable concern for the well being of his estate.

For Lee Heller, "the truth" means, verrry loosely translated: "I don't like oil companies, so Bob Field must be right, because he's opposing the oil companies." In other words.... it means ideology.

In this column, and the posts that follow, political inclinations replace objective, impartial science. I'd say this is as good a definition of junk science as any. We know this must be the case, because no one has the required technical expertise, and, as we'll soon see, anyone proposing objectivity will be roundly criticized as consorting with the enemy.

On Ode to a Frenemy

Posted on September 12 at 9:49 p.m.

"I can only assume you are a paid staffer at an energy PR company spinning the company line"

The predictable comment. You can almost hear him.. "What? Do you expect me to debate the issue on a technical basis? Let's go for the personal attack."

Who I am is irrelevant. But I can tell you I'm not being paid to write. "Spinning the company line" indeed. As if no opinions that counter yours can be legitimate. As if any statement by any defendant should be dismissed out of hand.

"I know longer live in the county, but based on the rather sordid history of enegy extraction in the North County..."

The "sordid history" you speak of can largely be ascribed to one company out of about 400 operating in California, and out of about 14,000 operating in the US.

"my own opinion is that I don't have a lot of faith in what energy companies have to say about how safe their activities might be."

Prejudice (it's not just a racial phenomenon). See my previous statement. Now in your phrase above replace "energy companies" with a minority of your choice, and replace "how safe their activities might be" with "how innocent they are". Get the picture? You glibly dismiss around 2 million people working in the industry as unsavory characters at best. Somehow, you're better than all these people who deliver your energy to you?

"If an energy company wants to mix toxic chemicals with water and inject the mixture into the ground then the burden of proof of demonstrating that it is safe is on them."

Agreed. But the trial by the media has already been decided, wouldn't you agree?

You're aware, aren't you, that the chemicals naturally occurring in the earth (oil and gas) are already toxic. And you're aware that these chemicals are being injected into this already polluted rock thousands of feet below the fresh water aquifer?

"Groundwater is a public resource and needs to be protected, any contamination that might result would be difficult and expensive to remove."

Agreed. Can we do the science and find out what that risk is? Can we let those who understand geology and petroleum engineering determine the risks (doesn't have to be eneryg industry people)? Or should we just leave to inexperienced journalists?

"Stating that there is no evidence that it's not safe is not proof, bring on the research that prooves it's safe."

There is plenty of evidence. Over the past 60 years, over a million wells have been fracked. For example, repeating the reference above: Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs: EPA 816-R-04-003.

Can you prove that air travel is 100% safe? No one will ever be able to prove fracking is 100% safe. Human error is always a factor, in any industry, including yours. But as a society we should not let a frantic, uninformed, and biased media make our decisions on energy policy. We need to balance risks versus benefits. Would you agree?

On Fracking Friction

Posted on September 11 at 11:34 a.m.


Notice that I haven't said that contamination is not possible. I'm just saying:

1) show me a compelling technical case where an aquifer has been contaminated by fracking; and

2) demonstrate for me what the risk of contamination is, and then what the benefits are.

You can make a compelling case that airline crashes kill people. But you're aware of the risks and benefits. So, armed with that understanding, neither you nor anyone else is going to say that air travel should be banned. Can't airline accidents be mitigated? Can't new procedures be put in place to reduce crash risk? Can't FAA oversight be stricter?

Given all that's at stake, I fail to see why fracking doesn't warrant the same objective assessment. If that objective assessment reveals that fracking is indeed harmful at a high rate of probability, regardless of any possible mitigating steps, then I think it should be banned. But if the assessment shows that the risk of contamination is vanishingly small (possibly contingent on additional safeguards or procedures), which I suspect would be the case, then I don't think we should object.

On Fracking Friction

Posted on September 11 at 11:32 a.m.


I'll repeat. Both the head of the EPA and the head of the DOE (a Nobel prize winning physicist) are on record as saying they know of no documented incidents of aquifer contamination by fracking. The are aware of Gasland. You might wonder what they know or understand that you don't.

Everyone keeps citing all of these "cases" of contamination, and claims that fracking is destroying the earth as we know it, but we strangely never hear of any convincing documentation. At least the EPA and DOE under Obama haven't. Most critics, one must assume, don't think a case needs to be supported by solid evidence: hearsay and ideological motivations are sufficient.

Why do you accept Gasland so readily? One scene, for example, where gas was shown to catch fire from a faucet in Colorado? Colorado's environmental agency has refuted that. The gas in that case was naturally occurring biogenic gas. There are other examples but I won't go into it. Gasland has been widely refuted by many, and its producer has zero experience. And yet people embrace it without a second thought. Why is that? Why do they not demand the same scrutiny of Gasland's claims as they do for Acme Oil's claims? I think the answer to that is obvious.

Even if all of the incidents shown in Gasland were true, I don't understand why you so readily accept that it means all fracking is dangerous, everywhere, and no matter who does it. If Gasland's inexperienced producer followed airline crashes all over the world, would we conclude all airlines are careless and dangerous? Suppose he made it his business to document plagiarism. He found several examples from around the world. Do you conclude that journalists and novelists are dishonest everywhere? Are all newspapers and publishers subversive and incompetent?

This rush to judgment is really quite remarkable. If a minority youth were convicted with the same casual lack of attention to facts, the public would be rightly outraged. But when the de facto defendant is politically incorrect or unpopular, the standards of justice fall to those of the Salem witchcraft days. We accept an inexperienced (and obviously biased) movie producer's word at face value, no further questions your honor.

And by the way, a Halliburton truck is evidence of what, exactly? Be specific.

On Fracking Friction

Posted on September 10 at 12:29 a.m.

What kind of a question is that? If a crime is committed, do you first ask what the color of the suspect's skin is? Do you think a person's background is more important than the hard facts read out in a courtroom?

Forget about who I am, and forget about ad hominem attacks and implied conspiracies. Stick with the evidence. The molecules moving about in the ground that we're trying to understand could care less about who I am or who you are.

On Fracking Friction

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