Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Open Letter to the Public Service Commission

UPDATE: The PSC just told Entergy to lower the fuel rate adjustment!

I just sent the following to Leonard Bentz, Southern District Commissioner for the Mississippi Public Service Commission.
It says on your website that the Mississippi Public Service Commission “is charged with assuring that rates and charges for services are just and reasonable”. If that is your charge, then why did you allow Entergy to charge such an outrageous amount for the “fuel adjustment” on our most recent bill. There is no way you can describe that charge as “just and reasonable.”

Yes, the price of fuel has increased drastically. The price that citizens pay for gasoline has gone up about 27% in a year. The price that businesses (like Entergy) pay for natural gas (which they use) has gone up about 15% in a year. However, the fuel adjustment has gone from .004249 kWh to .036807. That’s a whole lot more than 15%. For say, 1000 kWh, that’s going from $4.25 to $36.81.

But for the sake of argument, just assume the percent increase was the same for consumers and Entergy. They should not be allowed to pass on the entire increase to their consumers. We don’t have anyone to pass our increases onto – we just have to pay them. And every business is trying to pass these costs onto us, although some businesses are more responsible than others. What are we citizens supposed to do?

This is a time of crisis in our country, with everyone paying these increased costs for fuel. However, not everyone is suffering. Apparently, Entergy is allowed to continue to make the same profits that it always has. In fact, its profits and its stock prices are increasing.

You have failed at your job. You and the PSC should have made Entergy suffer losses just like the rest of us. You were elected to represent us, the citizens, and not the utility companies. Or have you forgotten that? I assure you we will not forget.

If I get an answer, which I doubt, I'll be sure to let you know. If you're as angry about your electric bill as I am, I suggest you let your supposed representative on the PSC know what you think. I think it is unconscionable for elected officials to do the bidding of utility companies instead of their own citizens. They think we're lazy and stupid. Maybe they're right.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

CO2 Dumping in Natchez

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In November, I wrote articles about potential CO2 dumping in Natchez. Well, it's here in reality. I recently received an email from Susan Hovorka from the University of Texas, the researcher for the project.

Personally, I am opposed to this project, because I see it as potentially dangerous and unnecessary. However, given the political climate in Mississippi, there is probably little we can do about it.

We are all suffering from our country's addiction to oil - when we fill our gas tanks, pay our electric bill, pay more for food, etc. The Bush administration, the Barbour administration, and Republicans in general think the solution is to drill for more oil. That's like a drug addict saying all they need is a easier source of drugs. Like other addicts, Republicans are deep into denial.

Fortunately for Americans, we do have one leader with the vision to present a real solution. Recently, Al Gore gave an inspiring speech challenging America to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and other clean sources within 10 years. Think where we would be now if the Supreme Court had not elected Bush. It certainly couldn't be any worse than we are now.

Letter from the Gulf Coast Carbon Center

I received this letter from Susan Hovarka of the Gulf Coast Carbon Center at the University of Texas, which is reproduced in its entirety.

Our University of Texas monitoring experiment that you blogged about last year has started collecting data at Cranfield oil field 10 miles east of Natchez on highway 84. Let me update you on what is happening as it is important that local people know before press releases go out. I will tell you first about what Denbury is doing, then the reason for our experiment, then what we found out so far, and then what you can do about it, if you want to become more involved.

What Denbury is doing

Cranfield oilfield was developed by The California Company (now Chevron) in 1945, and production of oil and gas from the deep zones (Tuscaloosa Formation) stopped in 1965 when the field “watered out” meaning too much water, not enough oil was being produced. Some production of gas from shallower zones (Wilcox Formation) continues today, as well as aggregate mining, farming, and timber cutting. Denbury Resources International has been working for about 10 years to bring this field back to production, as they have done with other Mississippi oil fields ( for example Brookhaven, Little Creek, Mallalieu, Soso). The technique that they use is to produce naturally occurring CO2 from Jackson Dome, Mississippi and ship it as a compressed liquid by pipeline to new or retrofit injection wells in oilfields. The CO2 goes down tubing in wells and is pushed into the oil-bearing formation. There it mixes with the oil, causing it to swell and become less viscous, and pushes the CO2-oil mixture toward retrofit production wells, where the oil+CO2+water will be lifted to the surface. The fluids are then separated: the oil to market, the salt water back underground, and the CO2 recycled to injectors to move more oil. The process is called CO2 enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and it works; fields in west Texas have been sustained for 35 years. Because of CO2 EOR, Mississippi is the only state in the US where oil production has recently increased. The limit on CO2 EOR is availability of CO2, only a few places (Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Mississippi) have had the geologic history to have significant natural CO2 deposits.

The reason for our test

We now know that emission of large volumes of CO2 produced by combustion of fossil fuels is perturbing climate. All the options are hotly debated right now – costs and environment, economics inside the US and globally. How fast and at what cost can we bring on alternatives to fossil fuel, and how do we get from here to there? One of the many ways to reduce climate impact is to capture the CO2 at point emitters (power plants and other large heater and refiners), and inject it back underground, a process called carbon capture and storage or sequestration (CCS). CCS is usually described as a bridging technology, something at could be started quickly at large volumes, it would lets us continue to use fossil fuel power plants as part of the US energy mix but with decreased environmental damage. Environmentalists are divided on the value of CCS. Environmental Defense and Natural Resources Defense Council support CCS as one of the technologies to be considered because it could be started relatively quickly (5 years) and at large scale, they favor market-drive for changes, and they see evidence that makes them think that CCS should be effective and safe. Some environmental organizations, for example Green Peace, are opposed to further consideration of CCS; they prefer to get off fossil fuels as fast as possible, making up the energy losses with conservation and efficiency and more aggressive deployment of wind and solar, and are concerned about the safety of CCS.

Our project is to provide one small but important data set to inform this debate – is large volume injection of CO2 effective in reducing emissions and safe? Large amounts of CO2 has been safely injected in Scurry County TX for 35 years, as well as at about 80 other EOR fields, so we feel quite confident that the Cranfield injection will be safe for people living nearby, and Mississippi State agencies charged with oversight evidently agree because they have permitted the activities. However, before anyone commits to even larger scale more widespread injection, we have an opportunity to make highly precise measurements – is this quality of the storage not only safe but high enough quality to benefit the environment? If this process was used very widely, what would be the risk to water? How do we best select, monitor and test these sites to see they are performing correctly? This test is one of about 10 underway world wide – Frio test in Dayton Texas was our last test, also underway or complete are in Gaylord Michigan, Wabash County, Illinois, Simon/Pump Canyon New Mexico, SACROC in Scurry County TX, Zama in Alberta Canada, Weyburn Saskatchewan, Canada, Nagaoka, Japan, Siepner, in the North Sea, InSalah, Algeria. Ketzin, Germany, Otway, Australia; more are planned. *

This weeks discoveries

Our first experiment at Cranfield is to determine if any CO2 leaks upward. The possible leakage pathways would be flaws in the engineering of any of the many old wells. To study this, we designed a research well, a retrofit of an old well that that been plugged and abandoned. We put one pressure gage at 10226 feet below surface, in the injection zone, and packed off the well above this. As the CO2 flood started about 10 days ago, we saw expected changes in pressure right away, which have now increased by about 100psi (bike tire inflation pressure). We also perforated the well at 9860 feet, and hung a gage to sample pressure in thin sheet of sandstone at this depth. If pressure increases at this 9860 “monitoring sandstone” layer, it suggests that water or CO2 are starting to leak upward, sort of a trip-wire to monitoring system. We sample the read-out and ship out the data to the operator and us in Austin every 10 minutes.. We can measure pressure changes to hundredths of a psi. So far, no pressure increase on the upper gage, so CO2 is staying where it should in this part of the field It looks like those guys who built those wells in 1945 did OK. I know some of them are retired in the Natchez area, so congratulations to them on a job well done. We will keep observing as long as our monitoring system works. If we see changes, we have several tools to test what is going on, which would give an opportunity to repair any wells that are not tight. We are also testing this data working with researchers at Stanford to see how reliable this system is, and if it could help assure the safety of a big injection. This is a world’s first test of this system.

Our collaborators at Ol’ Miss and Mississippi State have started a program to monitor water quality. As long as no fluids cross our “trip wire” we do not expect to see any change in ground water or surface gases caused by CO2 injection. So part of the research will be to assess what leakage could do to groundwater, if it should happen. Water from many areas with naturally high CO2 is sold as drinking water (Perrier) , but is possible that damage such as mineralization or salinization could occur at some site. Our research program will help determine the realistic risk of damage over 100’s of years, as well as test to make sure that damage is not occurring at Cranfield while we are monitoring.

Public Involvement

The decisions on the choices to reduce greenhouse emissions in the US lie with voters and energy consumers. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was charged by Congress in 1974 to oversee all injection by the Safe Drinking Water Act, Underground Injection Control program. EPA hass just released for 120 day public comment draft rules for CO2 injection for storage, so this in an opportunity for individuals and organizations to be involved in water protection and by connection to CCS. Details are at Both our states (Texas and Mississippi) have primacy in enforcing these federal laws; we develop state rules that are at least as strict as the federal ones. So we will get a second review of these rules during state processes.

Our project has an obligation to provide education; if you or your readers would like more information, we would be pleased to provide it. In our last experiment in Dayton, TX I was invited by the Rotary Club to speak at their lunch meeting. If you our your readers know of a church group, civic club, school or other setting that would be interested in hosting a forum for more information, questions, and debate related to these topics, please let me know, we could work to set something up.

* you may note that nearly all these first tests are somehow related to oil and gas, which seems suspect. Let me explain that they this is because of relatively low budgets, it has been necessary to save money by piggy-backing tests on other subsurface operations, so that researchers do not have to drill many new wells, put in roads etc and have money for research. Also, the possibility of increased availability of CO2 is of very significant interest to oil producers, it is their best hope of increasing domestic oil production, so they are in favor, as are parts of the coal lobby e.g .“clean coal”. However, the people who need to make the big decisions are energy consumers, these special interests should not drive the show.. The first test I can think of with no oil connection at all will be in Southern Company’s Plant Daniel, in Jackson County Mississippi. A big one is also planned at Decatur, Illinois, at ADM’s new ethanol plant.

I myself am a water quality researcher, I am concerned that climate change is a big risk to water and would like to make sure that any mitigations for climate change protect water. (Please consider me a possible environmental ally although a an adopted Texan and a consider-all-options pragmatist).

Susan D Hovorka, Gulf Coast Carbon Center
Bureau of Economic Geology, Jackson School of Geoscience
The University of Texas at Austin
Office 512.471.4863

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Will the Democratic Convention Be Boring?

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In recent memory, political conventions have been sort of like one long commercial for their candidate - not exactly fascinating for the run of the mill voter. However, this year might be different at the Democratic Convention in Denver next month. (To understand the following, you might want read Convention 101.)

Why? Well, there's this little issue of what to do about Hillary.

This was the closest, longest, and most expensive primary in Democratic Party history. After the primaries were over, Obama had the most delegates but not enough to win, until all the superdelegates piled on at the end. (Superdelegates are not known for their political bravery, so many waited until they knew who the winner would be.)

So you might assume both Obama and Clinton would be nominated at the Convention, there would be a lot of speeches and cheering crowds, and then Obama would win. After all, that's what the rules say is supposed to happen. But you would be wrong.

It seems that the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have a problem with that scenario. First of all, there is the outside possibility that some of the fickle superdelegates might change their minds - especially since Obama has been making some folks mad with his sudden right turn on many policy issues - and Clinton might win. OMG! That would be a disaster!

But there are more likely scenarios that cause the Obama camp anxiety. Clinton's nomination could create tension and disrupt Party Unity, and Obama would be deprived of his TV images of cheering Democrats all united behind him.

The impassioned response by the Hillary supporters (who are still enthusiastic) might rival that of the response to Obama, since many of his supporters have lost their enthusiasm after his flip flops. That would certainly be embarrassing!

The roll call, with its divergent state speeches, would take away from the Obama unity message. At the very least, it would be time consuming and possibly deprive the Democrats of their scripted prime time program.

The DNC totally controls the convention, and the Obama campaign totally controls the DNC, which packed up and moved into Obama headquarters in Chicago. So you would think they could just tell Hillary to go shove it.

One small problem with that plan. Almost half the delegates in that Convention belong to Hillary, and they are not going to take kindly to their candidate being snubbed. This could conceivably be the worst outcome. (You know: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!" - Shakespeare)

You've got to feel sorry for poor Obama - he's between a rock and a hard place. Of course, he could solve the whole dilemma by picking Hillary as his Vice President. Then the Democrats would have their unity, and everyone would live happily ever after - and go on to a landslide win in November.

But all the talking heads say that won't happen.

So Obama's only solution is to sweet talk Clinton into voluntarily taking her name out of nomination in return for something. In 1988, the Democrats devoted a whole night of the Convention to Jesse Jackson, in return for keeping him off the ballot - and he didn't even come close in his delegate count. Jackson totally outshone mild mannered Michael Dukakis, who went on to ignominious defeat.

The negotiations between the Obama and Clinton camps are ongoing, with no solution so far.

To test the lay of the land, I polled the Mississippi Delegation to the Democratic Convention and asked them: "Do you think Hillary Clinton should be nominated at the Convention with speeches and a roll call vote? " Although the response was not overwhelming, it was predictable and consistent. Clinton delegates said yes and Obama said no. Here are two typical responses:
Lavaree Jones, Obama delegate from Jackson: "NO!!!! Absolutely not. It is over for Hillary for this round. She should bow out gracefully. There is something sick about hanging on like this and it does not sit well for someone seeking leadership at this high level."

Kelly Jacobs, Clinton delegate from Hernando: "Obama has not won the NOMINATION until all of the Superdelegates cast their votes, and they can change their minds. Hillary won the popular vote and as her delegate I want to vote for her!"
So, yes the Democratic Convention could get very interesting. And we'll be bringing it to you live.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Can Obama Carry Mississippi?

The answer is a definite maybe.

Obama is certainly counting on taking some southern states. Last August in New Hampshire, Obama said:

"I'm probably the only candidate who, having won the nomination, can actually redraw the political map. I'll give you one specific example: Mississippi is 40% African American, but it votes 25% African American. If we just got the African Americans in Mississippi to vote their percentage, Mississippi is suddenly a Democratic state . . . And I guarantee you African-American turnout, if I'm the nominee, goes up 30% around the country, minimum."

To make up for some Democratic states Obama may lose, his campaign manager says they're targeting Virginia and Georgia, and keeping an eye on Mississippi and Louisiana, not to mention North Carolina. Most of the nonpartisan experts say he has a legitimate shot at Virginia (which has really become a mid Atlantic state and not a Southern state) but don't give him much of a shot at the rest.

But we know Mississippi. Does Obama have a shot? We do have the highest percentage of African Americans of any state - although Obama exaggerated slightly. It's 37%, according to the US Census Bureau. What does Obama mean when he says we vote 25% African American? Does he mean only 25% of the voters are African American? If so, that is not the case. In Presidential Elections, percentage turn out of black and white voters is about equal, according to a Newsweek interview with Dr David Bositis, one of the nation's leading scholars of black electoral politics, who says Mississippi has quite good black turnout. Another scholar of black voting patterns, Dr Thomas Schaller, in a column in the New York Times, also talked about the myth of low black turnout.

But Obama claims he's going to increase black turnout by 30%. Not going to happen. Black turnout in 2004 was 57%. Increasing that by 30% would be 74%. The only place with that kind of turnout is in all white states way up north. Most blacks are in the South, which has the most restrictive voting laws in the country, and therefore the lowest turnouts. It'll go up some, but not by 30%.

Not only that, but Dr Bositis, Dr Schaller, and others point out that any efforts to increase black turnout will also likely result in equal increases in white turnout. A good example is when the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed. Blacks registered to vote and actually voted in record numbers. But so did whites. Plus, don't forget there will be a corresponding effort to suppress black turnout.

So turnout is not the answer.

Voting in Mississippi is very racially polarized. In 2004, 85-90% of the black vote (37%) was Democratic and 80-85% of the white vote (63%) was Republican. If this pattern holds for white voters, not even 100% of the black vote will be enough for Obama to win. It seems to me, if Obama is going to win Mississippi, he's got to go after that white vote. So how is he doing with that?

Not too bad. Right now, polls show Obama trailing McCain by only 6 percentage points. But compare those results with those of Democrat Ronnie Musgrove versus Republican Roger Wicker for the US Senate, which show a statistical dead heat. Musgrove is getting about the same black vote as Obama, but he's doing much better with the white vote. So should Obama take lessons from Musgrove?

Obviously not. If Obama were to suddenly start taking the same conservative positions as Musgrove, Democratic voters in other parts of the country would desert him in droves - and Hillary Clinton would be the upset nominee at the Democratic Convention. (: Of course, Obama is not going to do that.

Obama is definitely smart and runs an extremely good campaign, so there is no way he is going to waste much time or effort in Mississippi. He has more money than he knows what to do with, so he'll probably throw some our way just to keep McCain on his toes, but don't hold your breath waiting for Mississippi to become a battleground state.

That little Obama speech I quoted at the beginning? Well, it worked pretty good in the primaries up north where no one has a clue about Mississippi.