Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Emailing: Birth to Death

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What fossil fuel divestment means for the Houston area

Course Correction 

Closer than Horizon

It's the end of 2015, and Houston's traveled "T-plus 27" years past the outside estimate for how long humans may safely extend fossil fuel exploitation before stemming a tide of climate change that increasingly threatens modern civilization plus uncountable animal and plant species with disaster and near-extinction.

Around 1978 Exxon's own excellent internal science staff formulated an estimate with only five to ten years remaining at expected global emissions curves to define an alternative path away from fossil fuels.  Well it's taken longer than desired, but with this year's Paris climate accord in hand the whole world now stands united to attempt this major course correction together.

Portland, Oregon and surrounding Multnomah County have followed a joint climate action plan since 1993, now in its fourth installment. Other places started a bit later, and many have yet to begin their first such project.  Unfortunate for locals, Houston, Texas in billing itself the Energy Capital of the World to its peril equates that title with fossil hydrocarbon exploration and production.  This excerpt downloaded yesterday from the Portland, Oregon local government Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) web site gives energy industry leadership pause:
"In November 2015, Portland City Council passed two new resolutions, signaling local resolve to move away from fossil fuels. The first resolution, passed on November 4, opposes oil trains carrying crude oil from rolling through Portland and Vancouver. The second resolution directs City bureaus to identify how to use the City's authority to restrict the development and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure (other than infrastructure like pipes to serve direct end users.) Resolutions are not legally binding on their own. Any legally binding code changes will come back to City Council for consideration at a later date. 
The new resolutions build on a history of action:
  1. Reduce direct use of fossil fuels: The City has been systematically working to reduce fossil fuel use in Portland for more than 20 years, as detailed in four successive climate action plans. This most recent decision reflects the commitment of Portland’s leadership to stay the course, rather than a radical departure from past practice. 
  2. Don't invest City financial resources in fossil fuels: In September 2015 City Council passed a resolution that adds fossil fuel companies to the City’s "do-not-buy" list of corporate securities.
  3. Reduce fossil fuels in our electricity supply: The City continues to partner with clean energy advocates and allies to make it easier for renewable energy development to take place in Oregon. BPS has run programs to help residents and businesses go solar, like Solarize Portland, and has piloted new program ideas like crowdfunding for solar on community buildings. BPS has played an active role in supporting state legislative and regulatory proceedings that advance clean energy, like the Renewable Portfolio Standard."
Consider that Portland has a 20-plus year lead embracing climate action, and we have reason to expect other US cities and counties will enact similar measures quite rapidly as part and parcel of a national contribution toward global fossil fuel emissions reductions of 80% by 2050.  What would this mean for Houston, the nation's fourth largest city, and for surrounding Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties?

The status of diversification in the Houston-area economy

Anyone that lived through the 1983/86 crash in Houston can easily recall to this day what over-reliance on a single fuel to support the regional economy felt like when boom turned to bust.  The CEO of Shell Oil Company walked away from a Kingwood mansion and threw in the keys.

Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (from BLS)

Here's a look at the nation's post-war unemployment history.

Series Id:           LNU04000000
Not Seasonally Adjusted
          Series title:        (Unadj) Unemployment Rate
  Labor force status:  Unemployment rate
Type of data:        Percent or rate
  Age:                 16 years and over

          US Data

The 1983 economic crisis became just as pronounced as the 2008 financial meltdown from which we still recover at a national scale.

Texas Data

Above, a chart of Texas unemployment data clearly displays the dual-spiked economic disaster that a less-diversified Houston weathered in the 1980's (more specific metro-area data only extended back to 1990, and could not show these details).  Also notable, at the tail end of the graph you'll find an early warning of impending economic downturn we've yet to feel in full.

Dating back to the first quarter of 2012, recently released BLS data quantified how Harris County job providers recovering from a 2008 "great" recession employed a little over 2 million workers in a little over 100,000 establishments, sending out $2.8 billion in weekly wages.

Of these about 6 percent of all employees and 1.6% of all establishments directly engaged in the oil and gas industry, and supported almost 18 percent of total wages within the county.   The average weekly wage directed by primary oil and gas industry participants amounted to over $4,000 per worker per week.  

In addition, about 4 percent of employees and 2.8% of establishments derived petroleum products in plastics and chemicals industries, generating almost 6 percent of total area wages. These workers shared in an average weekly wage that neared $2000.  

Also, about 10 percent each of area employees and establishments provided support to primary and secondary oil and gas industries (exclusive of the financial services industry), so that supporting actors sent home almost 13 percent of total area wages.  These tertiary wage-earners averaged near $1800 per week.  

This means in 1st quarter 2012, about 20 percent of jobs and 14.1% of establishments in Harris County, Texas were tied with petroleum industries, providing over 36 percent of the county's entire wage stream.  The average weekly wage for this portion of the workforce in Harris County was $2,499.81, or 187% of the county average.

The Houston area was widely considered to maintain additional employment strengths not directly related to petroleum-dominated industries. So beside petroleum interests and in order of wage-earning power during 1st quarter 2012, Harris County industries with generally better than twice average US location quotient were:

  1. Financial Services: almost 7 percent of all employees worked in almost 13 percent of all establishments earning over 12 percent of total wages.  Average weekly wage was $2,433.17, or 182% of the county average.
  2. Aerospace: with just ten employers that provided 3,131 jobs earning $6.4 million in weekly wages, the business of outer space made up a mere quarter percent of the Harris County total.  Average weekly wage was $2,051.26, or 153% of the county average.
  3. Biotech: with a lower location quotient (LQ) of only 0.75, biotech actually appeared underrepresented in Harris County with only 56 establishments supplying 742 jobs earning $1.2 million in weekly wages.  This industry supplied four hundredths of a percent of Harris County's total wages, leaving plenty of room for growth.  Average  weekly wage was $1,672.63, or 125% of the county average.
  4. Rice Milling: a mature Harris County industry with a whopping 6.71 L.Q., provided 184 jobs in just seven establishments offering $254,621 in weekly wages, which is only one hundredth of one percent of the county total.  Average weekly wage was $1,383.81, or 103% of the county average.
  5. HVAC: the air conditioning industry in this hot and humid land had L.Q. of 1.62 where 212 establishments provided 7,382 jobs offering $9.4 million in weekly wages, which is about one-third percent of county total wages.  Average weekly wage was  $1,273.90, or 95% of the county average.
  6. Coffee Bean Roasting: a recent startup industry in Harris County, green coffee roasting maintained 490 employees in eleven establishments offering $605,325 in weekly wages, which amounted to an embryonic two hundredths of one percent of county total wages.  Average weekly wage was $1,235.36, or 92% of county average.
  7. Medicine: an average-paid Medical Center with lower-wage supportive services like ambulance drivers and home health care workers, combined to offer $188 million in weekly wages (6.74% of the county's total) to 178,819 workers (8.6% of the county total) spread over 8,706 establishments.  Thus averaged, a weekly wage of $1,053.47 was 79% of county average.  The gigantic and expending size of the Texas Medical Center hinted at a large and growing population in the Houston metro area,  Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land was the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the United States and second-largest in Texas with a population of 6,313,158 in 2013 and 6,490,180 in 2014, according to U.S. Census Bureau's most recent mid-year (ACS 1-Year) estimates.  Considering the size of population served, the medical profession in Harris County still has a location quotient of only 1.27, meaning it has ballooned but only to 27% larger than the average medical industry of a US metropolitan city.
  8. Finally, with over three times the L.Q. average, Harris County's innovative Bus and Rail Transit industry employed 3,120 workers in 12 establishments offering a total of almost $3 million in weekly wages, between one and two tenth's percent of the county total.  Average weekly wage was $910.45, or 68% of the county average, marking this the lower-wage industry among the big ones in the Houston area. 
Remaining jobs not clustered above fell closer to or below the US average location quotient of 1.0, so the majority of employees (64.4%) performed typical duties as in any big American city.  This huge range of jobs taken together averaged to around the same wage as the bus and train transit drivers got: $910.98 per week.  


So the top 20 percent of earners working in Houston-area's predominant energy industry took home over one third of all wages, all tied to oil and gas.  Other employment clusters led by financial services captured 15% of total wages, and the remainder followed (almost 2/3 of total area jobs) with under 44% of area wages.

Can we do without the petrol-jobs?  Not if we want to remain a vibrant, viable metropolitan area that is pushing ever closer to a desired world-class standing.  Will similar jobs be maintained in our future?  This is only likely if the oil majors perform a tremendous strategic turnaround of their own.  

Options include:
  • implementing ever more efficient co-generation solutions wherever the remaining fossil fuel budget may be burned.
  • right-sizing petroleum production for almost exclusively closed-loop feed stock and not so much direct-burn fuel purposes.
  • becoming a serious supplier of pure carbon buckyball lubricants and nanotube fiber stocks as sequestering develops a non-fossil-fueled ability to retrieve and split CO2 from ambient air.
  • partnering with the private aerospace industry to create prodigious amounts of pure hydrogen and oxygen to fuel ever cheaper launches and deeper space ventures, and on the side power embedded fuel cells and entire trains of self-driven hydrogen cars on land, rail and in the air.
  • mitigating existing ship channel properties to redevelop the land for future-trade post-Panamax business, especially if asteroid mining begins to pay raw-materials dividends.
  • hugely retooling and reinvesting in future base-load energy options such as modular breeder reactors and eventually magnetically-constrained slow fusion direct electric and heat production.
  • exploiting that intense nuclear energy and supplementing it with abundant alternatives to create a stream of custom hydrocarbons (boutique fuels) from seawater and feed stocks.
  • partnering with the public to mainline carbon-fee dividends to customers' checking accounts.
  • participating in a tremendous new public-private partnership to develop free energy as public good, perhaps distributed underground from a safe, secure superconducting spine that will traverse the center of North America from Hudson Bay to Houston.
  • taking ownership of whatever the OPEC oil states may leave to private oil majors after they have predominantly purchased winners of competition in advanced bio-fuel industries.
  • final development of identified fossil fuel reserves but only within Earth's limited remaining carbon budget, and in order of most economical-ecological exploits first - the rest will remain in solid earth reservoirs.
  • eventually, and this is really looking ahead, making good on those space company partnerships to transport valuable new bulk hydrocarbon resources from Jupiter's moons for safe delivery to a carefully carbon-neutral future Earth.
Any/all scenarios require that Houston-area industry maintains and further develops its hydrocarbon and energy expertise even if we soon experience a shift from once-thru fuel-to-be-burned to more durable feed stocks that can be shaped and reshaped.  This is similar, but more extensive and profound than the sustainability shift which occurred within the timber industry between the 19th and 20th centuries.  Wood fiber has not yet reached the point of up-cyclability.  Let's do them one better!

With hope and happiness for a new year, Houston Climate Justice wishes the very best for 2016!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015



2% people think; 3% people think they think; 95% of the people would rather die than think," - George Bernard Shaw

Global Health Lab - Google+

Thursday, July 24, 2014

SEC Climate Disclosure Search — Ceres

SEC Climate Disclosure Search — Ceres

How are Houston-area energy corporations doing to disclose risks to their business of climate change?

Monday, May 19, 2014

I'd like to go on record regarding what my town needs to engender future success

I'm a working citizen of Houston, Texas, USA.  It's no secret that the State of Texas and Houston's local economy has boomed in the past few years while the low-hanging "fruit" was fracked and horizontally drilled from tight, formerly uneconomical reservoirs in the United States.  Several multibillion dollar construction projects to consolidate corporate campuses and to build completely new petrochemical plants around the Houston area are now underway. 
A massive international-scale program, I'd say unacknowledged in public, has been conceived - and I've no idea by whom - to allow Gulf Coast refineries to continue to "sweat the pipes" should the US engage in any form of fossil-carbon restrictions.  This meta-activity consisted of many parts, each of them large and expensive, and little subjected to any kind of public-spirited planning review: 
Planning for the future of Harris County does require ongoing capital flow into Harris County.  As Andres Duany (http://www.dpz.com/Organization/AndresDuany) has said,
"private capital provides the medium while planning provides the sieve, form or template"
to shape and adapt our region during a long era of utmost local, national and global challenge.  Of course there's much to do that is simply practical to enhance our quality of life like protecting against surges and sea level rise, modernizing and burying the electrical grid, cleaning and conserving floodwater, microbiologically cleaning out polluted aquifers, inventing-commercializing-modularizing-miniaturizing breeder nuclear reactors that can safely burn all the nuclear waste we've piled up over the years, cleaning up our appearance by formalizing public land, air and water use decision-making (bet this list could go on forever).  But...

From a strictly economic viewpoint if we are to sustain our strengths without becoming a global-trade backwater, then we must assess:

1.     how to transition our base jobs to seawater hydrocarbon production - sustainable energy-intensive carbon-neutral liquid fuels (designer fuels) made with modular nuclear and renewable power resources (http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2014/04/navy-just-turned-seawater-jet-fuel/82300/) - and how largely to avoid drilling solid earth reservoirs for any additional fossil fuels,

2.     how to recover and regroup private space industry into a much-modernized “space city” (http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2010-01/04/content_12751719.htm), preserving Houston's all-important cooperative-coordination role,

3.     how to evolve the world’s largest medical center over the next 30 years by fully engaging science and inter-faith religion as human and machine intelligence begins to equate (http://www.phrenicea.com/chiphead.htm), and far more direct methods of establishing sentient-being immortality raise ethical issues about whether, when, which species, under whose accountability and with what objectives (http://www.livescience.com/6967-hang-25-year-wait-immortality.html), and

4.     how to harness nanotechnology advancements in structural (http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=26700.php), energetic (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kensilverstein/2013/03/05/nanotechnology-expanding-clean-energy-and-easing-fuel-shortages/), and medical (http://www.nanotechproject.org/inventories/medicine/) materials and Nano machinery for future industries with the potential to hoist Harris County well beyond our recently demonstrated strengths.

Friday, April 25, 2014

FW: Celebrate with Free CE- Uncoil Blog & Newsletter are back!



From: Kayla, Uncoil Team [mailto:uncoil@gbrionline.org]
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2014 1:32 PM
To: Suckow, Paul (CSD)
Subject: Celebrate with Free CE- Uncoil Blog & Newsletter are back!


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