Saskatchewan driller hits ‘gusher’ with ground-breaking geothermal well that offers hope for oil workers

Financial Post

Saskatchewan driller hits ‘gusher’ with ground-breaking geothermal well that offers hope for oil workers

A first for Canada and the world, the well can produce enough electricity to power 3,000 homes

CALGARY — A small, Saskatoon-based company has drilled and fracked the world’s first 90-degree horizontal well for geothermal power in a potentially landmark move that signals the arrival of a new energy source in Canada and provides fresh opportunities for oil and gas workers to apply their skills in renewable power. 

No company in Canada has produced electricity from geothermal heat, but Deep Earth Energy Production Corp. chief executive officer Kirsten Marcia told the Financial Post that there’s a “big, big future for geothermal power in Western Canada,” as demonstrated by the results of the first ever horizontal geothermal well, which is also the deepest horizontal well ever drilled in Saskatchewan.

“We were looking for a way to explain to people that we drilled a gusher,” said Marcia, a geologist who worked in the mining and petroleum industries before pioneering a geothermal business in Saskatchewan. In the oil and gas world, a “gusher” is an extremely productive well that pumps substantial volumes of oil and gas.

The well is a first for the global geothermal industry

In Canada’s nascent geothermal power industry, Deep’s “gusher” can produce steaming-hot water and brine with a temperature of 127 degrees centigrade at a rate of 100 litres per second. Marcia said those flow rates mean the well will actually be limited by the hardware, such as pump capacity, that are connected to the wellhead. She said the well, called the Border-5HZ well, is capable of producing 3 megawatts of renewable, reliable electricity, enough to power 3,000 homes.

The well will form part of a larger 20MW geothermal power project, which is expected to commence construction in 2023 in southern Saskatchewan close to the U.S. border.

The well is also a first for the global geothermal industry.

DEEP Earth’s Border-5HZ well in Saskatchewan is capable of producing 3 megawatts of renewable, reliable electricity, enough to power 3,000 homes. PHOTO BY DEEP EARTH ENERGY PRODUCTION CORP.

 

Directional geothermal power wells have been drilled in California, but Marcia said those were drilled at a 75-degree angle, rather than being truly horizontal. Her company’s Border-5HZ well was drilled into the earth at a depth of 3,450 metres before turning at a 90 degree angle and drilling through sedimentary rock along a 2,000-metre lateral route.

“This is a sedimentary geothermal project. There aren’t a lot of them in the world,” Marcia said, noting that most geothermal power projects, including those in world-leading Iceland, drill vertically into volcanic rock formations. “In terms of drilling into a sedimentary basin, you’re drilling into sedimentary units that are like a stack of pancakes.”

Deep is also responsible for the deepest vertical well ever drilled in Saskatchewan, after announcing in Nov. 2018 it had drilled a 3,530-metre well.

Governments in Alberta and Saskatchewan have been revamping regulations for drilling and for power generation in an attempt to stimulate geothermal power investment in their provinces partly because the geothermal industry uses many of the same skills as the existing oil and gas industry.

This week, Alberta MLAs passed legislation that will allow the province’s energy regulator to develop a new framework for geothermal wells to be licensed and drilled in the province. The bill is considered a way to keep oilfield services workers, such as drillers, working as investment in renewable energy is projected to rise in the coming years.

Everything we’re doing is figuratively and literally on the backs of these highly skilled oilfield workers. We couldn’t do this without this expertise in this part of the world

DEEP EARTH ENERGY CEO KIRSTEN MARCIA

While other geothermal wells have been drilled in Canada previously to channel heat directly from the earth, Deep and a handful of other companies are among the first in the country to use the earth’s heat to generate electricity.

In Alberta, Calgary-based oil and gas producer Razor Energy Corp. is working on a geothermal project north of Edmonton that would retrofit existing wells to produce 3MW to 5MW of geothermal power.

Near Fort Nelson, B.C., a natural gas-rich town, a non-profit research association called Geoscience BC is undertaking a feasibility study of the Clark Lake Geothermal project that would repurpose a gas field to produce geothermal power.

Kirsten Marcia, president and CEO of Deep Earth Energy Production Corp. PHOTO BY TROY FLEECE/POSTMEDIA

 

At Deep, Marcia said it’s very difficult to repurpose existing oil and gas wells to produce geothermal power because the diameters of most existing wells are too narrow for the tubing that geothermal wells need to pump water in a cycle through the earth’s crust.

However, geologists have identified multiple locations in Western Canada to produce geothermal power and use existing oil and gas skills in renewable power production, Marcia said.

Over 100 oilfield workers were on site to drill and hydraulic-fracture her company’s horizontal well in southern Saskatchewan in September and October, including a drilling crew from Houston-based Weatherford International Plc, and a pressure-pumping team from Saskatchewan’s Element Technical Services Inc.

“It’s amazing. Everything we’re doing is figuratively and literally on the backs of these highly skilled oilfield workers. We couldn’t do this without this expertise in this part of the world,” said Marcia.

She added that the project was de-risked in part by funding from the federal government, which committed $25.6 million in funding in January 2019 for the project. All told, the geothermal power project is expected to cost $51 million.

When he leaves office, can ex-President Trump be trusted with America’s national security secrets?

When he leaves office, can ex-President Trump be trusted with America’s national security secrets?

Ken Dilanian                     

WASHINGTON — When David Priess was a CIA officer, he traveled to Houston, he recalls, to brief former President George H.W. Bush on classified developments in the Middle East.

It was part of a long tradition of former presidents being consulted about, and granted access to, some of the nation’s secrets.

Priess and other former intelligence officials say Joe Biden would be wise not to let that tradition continue in the case of Donald Trump.

They argue soon-to-be-former President Trump already poses a danger because of the secrets he currently possesses, and they say it would be foolish to trust him with more sensitive information. With Trump’s real estate empire under financial pressure and his brand suffering, they worry he will see American secrets as a profit center.

“This is not something that one could have ever imagined with other presidents, but it’s easy to imagine with this one,” said Jack Goldsmith, who worked as a senior Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration.

“He’s shown as president that he doesn’t take secret-keeping terribly seriously,” Goldsmith said in an interview. “He has a known tendency to disrespect rules related to national security. And he has a known tendency to like to sell things that are valuable to him.”

Goldsmith and other experts noted that Trump has a history of carelessly revealing classified information. He told the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in 2017 about extremely sensitive terrorism threat information the U.S. had received from an ally. Last year he tweeted what experts said was a secret satellite photo of an Iranian nuclear installation.

Image: President Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavro (Russian Foreign Ministry Photo / AP)
Image: President Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavro (Russian Foreign Ministry Photo / AP)

 

The president also may be vulnerable to foreign influence. His tax records, as reported by the New York Times, reveal that Trump appears to face financial challenges, having personally guaranteed more than $400 million of his companies’ debt at a time when the pandemic has put pressure on the hotel industry, in which Trump is a major player.

“Is that a risk?” said Priess, who wrote “The President’s Book of Secrets,” about presidents and intelligence. “If it were someone applying for a security clearance, damn right it would be a risk.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment. The Biden transition declined to comment.

Trump has said his finances are sound, and that the debts are a small percentage of his assets. Generally, though, large debts to foreign banks — Trump’s biggest creditor is reported to be Deutsche Bank, a German institution with links to Russia — would exclude a person from a top secret clearance.

Presidents, however, are not investigated and polygraphed for security clearances as all other government officials are. By virtue of being elected, they assume control over all the nation’s secret intelligence, and are allowed by law to disclose any of it, at any time, to anyone.

Former presidents aren’t subject to security clearance investigations, either. They are provided access to secrets as a courtesy, with the permission of the current president.

Typically, former presidents are given briefings before they travel overseas, or in connection with an issue about which the current president wishes to consult them, Priess and other experts say.

When President Bill Clinton sent former president Jimmy Carter to diffuse a tense stand off in Haiti, for example, Carter likely received classified briefings on the situation ahead of his trip.

And when George H.W. Bush visited his son in the White House, he sat in on on the President’s Daily Brief, the highly classified compendium of secrets that is presented each morning to the occupant of the Oval Office, according to Priess, who interviewed both men for his book.

It’s unclear whether former President Barack Obama has received intelligence briefings after he left office, but President Trump said in March that he hasn’t consulted his predecessors about coronavirus or anything else.

Former presidents have long made money after leaving office by writing books and giving speeches, but no former president has ever had the kind of international business entanglements Trump does. Trump has business interests or connections in China, Russia and other U.S. adversary countries that covet even tiny portions of what he knows about the American national security state.

That said, Trump probably is not conversant with many highly classified details, experts say, He was famous for paying only intermittent attention during his intelligence briefings and declining to read his written materials. Moreover, intelligence officials tend not to share specifics about sources and methods with any president, unless he asks.

So Trump probably doesn’t know the names of the CIA’s spies in Russia, experts say. But presumably he knows a bit about the capabilities of American surveillance drones, for example, or how adept the National Security Agency has been at intercepting the communications of various foreign governments.

Trump disclosed secret weapons system to Woodward

The president revealed to Bob Woodward in the new book ‘Rage’ that he had built a secret weapons system. The panel discusses.

Like so much with Trump, his track record of sharing secrets has been unprecedented in American presidential history.

In interviews with the journalist Bob Woodward for a book released this fall, Trump boasted about a secret nuclear weapons system that neither Russia nor China knew about.

According to the Washington Post, Woodward’s sources “later confirmed that the U.S. military had a secret new weapons system, but they would not provide details, and that the people were surprised Trump had disclosed it.”

When Trump briefed the public about the commando raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, he disclosed classified and sensitive details, according to reporting by NBC News.

In 2017, Trump gave the location of two American nuclear submarines near North Korea to the president of the Philippines.

That same year, a member of his golf club at Mar-a-Lago took a photo of a briefing Trump and the Japanese prime minister were receiving in a public area about North Korea, and posted it on Facebook.

Image: Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago (Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images file)
Image: Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago (Nicholas Kamm / AFP – Getty Images file)

 

In 2018, the New York Times reported that Trump commonly used insecure cell phones to call friends, and that Chinese and other spies listened in, gaining valuable insights.

Doug Wise, a former CIA officer and Trump critic, argued this week in a piece on the Just Security web site that Trump has long posed a national security danger, and that affording him access to secrets after he leaves the White House would compound that danger.

Trump’s large debts, he wrote, present “obvious and alarming counterintelligence risks” to the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, for one, would have a great incentive to pay Trump to act on Russia’s behalf, Wise wrote.

“Assuming President Joe Biden follows custom, Trump would continue to have access to sensitive information that the Russians would consider valuable,” he wrote. “As horrifying as it would seem, could a financially leveraged former president be pressured or blackmailed into providing Moscow sensitive information in exchange for financial relief and future Russian business considerations?”

It was not impossible to envision Trump paid millions on retainer by Gulf Arab states or other foreign governments, Harvard professor Goldsmith said, “in the course of which he starts blabbing and disclosing lots of secrets. It wouldn’t be an express quid pro quo, but people would pay for access to and time with him, knowing that he will not be discreet.”

Former CIA Director John Brennan, a frequent Trump critic who was denied access to his own classified file by the president, said the Biden administration should carefully weigh the question of Trump’s access to future secrets.

“The new administration would be well-advised to conduct an immediate review to determine whether Donald Trump should have continued access to classified information in light of his past actions and deep concern about what he might do in the future,” he said.

Then again, it may never become an issue, said former CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos, who pointed out that Trump has long displayed “disdain” for American intelligence agencies.

“I would frankly be surprised if he even wanted these briefings,” Polymeropoulos said.

Trump’s about to turn the GOP into one long, humiliating episode of ‘The Apprentice’

Trump’s about to turn the GOP into one long, humiliating episode of ‘The Apprentice’

Linette Lopez                           
trump the apprentice
Soon-to-be former President Donald Trump and his sons Eric and Don Jr. back in the “Apprentice” days. Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

  • After he leaves the White House, President Donald Trump is going to turn the GOP into “The Apprentice,” a show where he stars, he hosts, and all the contestants compete for his favor.
  • To do that, all he has to do is keeping talking to his base.

It’s becoming crystal clear what President Donald Trump wants to do after he leaves the White House: He wants to turn the GOP into his old TV show, “The Apprentice.”

Trump envisions a Republican Party where everyone who wants to be anyone has to vie for his approval, just like in the show. He will be both the star and the host. Forget about constituents. Forget about the party at large. Prepare to see some Omarosa Manigault behavior. That’s what Trump likes.

Over the past few weeks there have been whispers around Washington about GOP lawmakers who told their Democratic colleagues that they wished they could congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and move on with our normal peaceful transition of power. But they couldn’t, because Trump would be furious. Delsware Sen. Chris Coons said several GOP senators told him they couldn’t speak freely … yet.

If the GOP lets the Trump show go on, that “yet” may never come. Even as a private citizen, Trump will demand absolute loyalty — anyone who steps outside that will hear the old “You’re fired.”

The show must go on and on and on and on

Turning the GOP into a Trump show means, of course, that all the focus, all the oxygen in the room, will go to Trump. There will be no place for other Republican stars unless they are subservient to him. And party leadership will not have full control because he will direct his base according to his own wishes.

The reason for this is obvious: Trump doesn’t get his power from being backed by the GOP, but from his popularity with the base, which includes many voters who don’t normally turn out on Election Day. He’s going to keep doing the things that make him popular with those voters: He’s going to keep talking, tweeting, and likely doing rallies, even after he leaves the White House. He has to do it not only because he likes doing these things, but because he desperately needs the money to fight legal battles and pay debts.

This will all be fairly easy to do, which is good for Trump given how lazy he is. With YouTube and Twitter, he doesn’t need to do the work of building his own news network. And of course, plenty of other platforms would be happy to have him. Over at Vanity Fair, Gabe Sherman reports that News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch is considering giving Trump a $100 million deal for a book and a show on Fox News so Trump will stop bashing the network he once championed.

So we won’t be rid of Trump. And for as long as Trump is around, the GOP will subject to his whims, which have nothing to do with what’s good for the party.

Consider the reports that he may run for president again in 2024. A source told the Washington Post that Trump couldn’t care less about younger GOP politicians who want to run, like former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. He wants to hold the space for himself whether he runs or not because he enjoys the attention and because he wants to keep the party under his thumb.

This is less like leadership and more like hazing freshmen joining a fraternity.

Trump has also told friends that he wants people to “kiss the ring” and receive his blessing before they attain power within the party. That means he will prioritize slavish devotion over talent, just as he did in his highly incompetent White House and with his highly incompetent legal team. Anyone obsequious enough will be able to travel to Mar-a-Lago for the king’s approval or make an appearance at a rally. Trust that the people making that journey will not be our most upstanding Americans.

Republicans, your name is ‘Reek’

Since he lost to Biden, Trump has basically stopped doing the work of the presidency. His public schedule is largely blank, and he barely addresses the American people who continue to suffer during a pandemic. When he does address us, he keeps it brief and does not take questions.

That’s all to say we are now experiencing a preview of what Trump’s interest in party politics will look like when he’s no longer governing. And it’s not promising.

We can see clearly now that Trump doesn’t care about other Republicans, not even ones who have been loyal to him. If he did, he would be in Georgia helping Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler keep their seats through what promises to be a pair of challenging run-off elections. They already face a challenge in that the pandemic is worsening and many Republican voters in Georgia do not trust mail-in voting thanks to Trump.

Instead of helping to keep control of the vitally important Senate, Trump is holed up in the White House, casting doubt on the democratic process and hurting their chances of winning. One of his attorneys, Lin Wood, is tweeting inane conspiracy theories and calling for Georgia voters to write in Trump’s name at the ballot box to register their delusional anger that the presidency was stolen from Trump.

The idea that the Republican Party should be destroyed as revenge for Trump’s loss has been a theme in right-wing social media and among Trump supporters protesting the result of the election. They’re not going to let this go unless Trump calms them down. But he won’t. He’s a vengeful, petty man, and he likely blames Republicans for his loss. He certainly isn’t going to take any responsibility for it.

This is exactly what the Republican Party deserves. Trump went from a pariah and a laughingstock to a standard-bearer because the party could not check its thirst for power. The party debased itself, and now, unsurprisingly, Trump has contempt for it. If leaders like Mitch McConnell want full control of their party back, they’ll have to show a courage we have yet to see from any of them. Until then, they’ll have to pretend to enjoy the show.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is moving $455 billion of unspent stimulus money into a fund the incoming Biden administration can’t deploy without Congress

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is moving $455 billion of unspent stimulus money into a fund the incoming Biden administration can’t deploy without Congress

Joseph Zeballos-Roig                    
Mnuchin says he will talk to lawmakers about PPP disclosure
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is moving $455 billion in unspent stimulus money into a fund that the incoming Biden administration cannot deploy without Congress, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.
  • It will leave Mnuchin’s likely successor, Janet Yellen, with only $80 billion in relief funds at her discretion.
  • Experts say Mnuchin’s move greatly limits the tools available to the Biden administration to manage the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Video: Billionaires’ net worth increased by half a trillion dollars during the pandemic

How billionaires saw their net worth increase by half a trillion dollars during the pandemic

40 million Americans filed for unemployment during the pandemic, but billionaires saw their net worth increase by half a trillion dollars. This isn’t the first time billionaires have seen gains while others dealt with loss, and it tends to tie back to two things. First, the government disproportionately gives more aid to banks and corporations. Then, when the stock market bounces back, the unequal bailouts mean that the wealthy still have money on hand to invest and thus profit, while the middle and lower classes do not. Wealth-friendly tax laws and loopholes then keep those billionaires at the top. Knowing all of this, some are advocating for policies to help level the playing field and create change.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is moving $455 billion in unspent stimulus money into a fund that the incoming Biden administration cannot deploy without Congress, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

That amount includes money that Mnuchin is yanking from the Federal Reserve and unused loans for companies. The funds will be deposited into the Treasury’s General Fund, which requires legislative approval to use the money elsewhere. The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move, experts say, will likely undercut the ability of Mnuchin’s likely successor, Janet Yellen, from restarting the Fed’s lending programs at a similar scale early next year. Instead, she will have only $80 billion at her discretion.

Ernie Tedeschi, a policy economist at Evercore ISI, called Mnuchin’s decision “a dangerous move” as the US economy faces a perilous moment in the pandemic.

“It’s one more enormous risk we are piling onto the winter in the US atop of other risks already there,” Tedeschi told Business Insider. “We may need that backstop again as cases have now blown through their prior peaks, state and local governments are making cuts, and we’re about to kick off millions of people from unemployment insurance.”

Bharat Ramamurti, a Democratic member of a congressional panel overseeing the funds, criticized the move.

“This is Treasury’s latest ham-handed effort to undermine the Biden Administration,” he wrote on Twitter. “The good news is that it’s illegal and can be reversed next year.”

The development came after Mnuchin recently announced he was not extending most of the Fed’s emergency lending programs past December 31, including those supporting markets for corporate bonds and another providing loans to medium-size businesses and state governments.

The Treasury and central bank jointly operate the lending programs under the CARES Act, which Congress approved in March. The pandemic relief law doesn’t mandate Mnuchin move the money into the Treasury’s General Fund — it could keep it within easy reach for President-elect Joe Biden in another pot of money until 2026.

Mnuchin also requested last week that Fed Chair Jerome Powell return unspent stimulus money. He objected and said the lending programs should continue, sparking a rare public clash between two figures that had collaborated closely to contain the economic devastation from the pandemic. The Fed later said in a letter it would return the funds.

Mnuchin then called on Congress to repurpose the unspent money, and he drew support from Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“We don’t need this money to buy corporate bonds. We need this money to go help small businesses that are still closed or hurt, no fault of their own, or people who are going to be on unemployment that’s running out,” he told CNBC last week.

Congress has been fiercely divided on passing another coronavirus relief bill that most economists say is urgently needed. Nearly 12 million workers are at risk of losing all of their federal unemployment aid next month, according to an analysis from the progressive Century Foundation.

Three Billion People Live in Farming Areas With Water Shortages

Three Billion People Live in Farming Areas With Water Shortages

Megan Durisin                           November 26, 2020
Fresno California Water News | The Fresno Bee

(Bloomberg) — Roughly 40% of the world’s people live in farming areas facing large water shortages, and scarce supplies pose an increasing risk to food security as populations swell and the climate changes, the United Nations said.

About 3.2 billion people live in agricultural areas with “high to very high” water shortages and competition over resources is rising, the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization said in a report. Many farms that depend on rain are at risk as severe droughts become more common, and bigger global incomes are spurring demand for water-intensive foods like meat and dairy.

Of the total, 1.2 billion people — a sixth of the global population — are in areas with severely constrained water supplies, and the amount of freshwater available per person has dropped 20% in the past two decades, according to the report. Swaths of Asia and North Africa have been most affected, while small amounts of people in Europe and the Americas have seen extreme restrictions.

Agriculture accounts for 70% of the world’s freshwater withdrawals, and the UN called for better management to keep resources in check and boost agricultural yields. Earlier this year, CME Group Inc. announced its first futures contracts on water supplies in California, which has been afflicted by droughts and wildfire.

Almost two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to face water shortages by 2025, according to the bourse.

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

Army Corps of Engineers issues Enbridge permit for $2.6B pipeline across northern Minnesota

Star Tribune

Army Corps of Engineers issues Enbridge permit for $2.6B pipeline across northern Minnesota

The permit is last big hurdle for the construction project, which will be one of largest in recent history for Minnesota.

The Corps decision paves the way for Calgary-based Enbridge to begin building the pipeline as early as next month. It will be one of the largest Minnesota construction projects in recent history and is expected to employ 4,000 workers.

“This decision is based on balancing development with protecting the environment,” Col. Karl Jansen, St Paul District commander, said in a statement. “Our decision follows an exhaustive review of the application and the potential impacts associated with the construction of the pipeline within federally protected waters.”

The Corps’ blessing was expected after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) this month approved related construction permits for the pipeline, a replacement for Enbridge’s current Line 3.

The federal permit, issued by the Army Corps’ St. Paul district, covers construction impacts to myriad water bodies in Minnesota. The pipeline will ferry heavy Canadian oil across northern Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wis.

The 340-mile new pipeline will cross 212 streams and will affect more than 700 acres of wetlands in Minnesota — the reason many environmental groups have fought the project throughout the regulatory process.

“Enbridge has now received all remaining federal permits required for replacing Line 3, an essential maintenance project,” the Calgary-based company said in a statement.

The MPCA must still grant a stormwater drainage permit to Enbridge, a more routine approval that’s expected in the coming weeks. Enbridge is also waiting on a final construction authorization from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which already has approved the project.

“We are prepared to start construction as soon as these are in hand,” Enbridge said.

The Army Corps was waiting for the MPCA to act on the more sweeping pollution permits before making its decision. The MPCA two weeks ago granted water quality permits related to Line 3 construction.

The pipeline has been winding through the Minnesota regulatory process for six years. The PUC, the state’s primary regulator of pipelines, approved the pipeline in February for the second time after a court sent it back to the panel for changes in the project’s environmental impact statement.

Environmental groups and Indian bands opposing Line 3 have already appealed the PUC’s decision to a state appellate court, and petitions to overturn the Corps’ permits may be in the offing, too.

“It’s tragic but it’s not a surprise that the Trump administration would approve these permits regardless of the water quality impacts from the pipeline, and during a time when a pandemic is sweeping across the North Country with workers already here,” Winona LaDuke, head of Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth, said in a statement. “The tribes and others will surely sue and we will see them in court.”

Environmental groups and some Indian bands have said the pipeline — which follows a new route — will open a new region of pristine waters to the prospect of oil spills, as well as exacerbate climate change by allowing for more oil production.

Enbridge has said the new pipeline is a critical safety enhancement. The current Line 3 is so corroded it’s running at only half capacity. The new pipeline would restore full oil flow.

Jansen said the Army Corps staff consulted all parties on Line 3, working “deliberately and extensively with our federal and state partners, federally recognized tribes, environmental organizations and the applicant.”

Meet the South Poll cow: the healthier, naturally raised cattle of the future?

Meet the South Poll cow: the healthier, naturally raised cattle of the future?

Georgie Smith                      November 25, 2020

 

Missouri rancher Greg Judy spots a six-month-old South Poll heifer calf in his herd that is a prime example of what he calls a “good doing cow”. A cow that will “do good” on grass alone.

Related: ‘In the sun they’d cook’: is the US south-west getting too hot for farm animals?

She’s got a “big butt”, Judy says, meaning wide hips that will help her easily bear calves when grown. She sports a shiny, slick red hide that flies avoid landing on; cows stressed from fly bites – Judy has seen hundreds on a single cow – don’t grow well. She has a large “barrel” or gut, meaning enough stomach capacity to store large amounts of grass, which she will convert to energy and will keep her in good health, even during the winter with no extra feed. “This is the kind of heifer you want,” Judy says. “You can build a herd out of those.”

Judy raises cattle in a highly–managed, grass-only system that he believes is better for his cows and the environment. His 300-plus herd is kept together in a dense group, and moved often – Judy moves his cattle twice a day to fresh paddocks – creating a symbiotic relationship between cows and grasslands that soil scientists are finding encourages soil health and rapid grass growth.

But Judy has learned not all cows thrive on grass alone, especially the type of cattle favored by a US ranching industry that has grown largely dependent on feeding cattle grain rations.

In Judy’s system, those “common cows”, as he calls them, looked like they had been starved six months after he put them on a grass-only diet. Instead, Judy found success – after nearly going bankrupt in 1999 trying to raise cattle the conventional way – utilizing intensive, grass-based management with cows that had the “grass genetics” to thrive.

“At the end of the day, the money comes from animals that can excel on a grass diet,” says Judy, referring to the lower costs of raising cattle with a genetic predisposition to thrive on grass, since they don’t require the grain, growth hormones and antibiotics often used in traditional cattle ranching.

It’s a counterintuitive problem, considering cows evolved to eat grass. But today, approximately 97% of US beef cows spend the last four to six months in confined feedlots where they are fed grain rations until slaughter. Before that, they spend most of their lives out on the pasture, but even then some ranchers feed them grain to keep their weight up through winter or during stressful times like calving.

Meanwhile, the grass-only beef market is small, but growing rapidly, according to a report by Stone Barns Center. The intensively managed grazing Judy employs is a supercharged version of traditional cattle-grazing techniques. By moving his cows often, they do not have a chance to damage the grass by eating it too short. Instead, they encourage healthy root development increasing soil health, which some scientists have found allows the soil to capture and store carbon from the atmosphere – a process known as carbon sequestration.

This heavily managed grazing style – also called holistic grazing – is part of a growing worldwide interest in “regenerative agriculture”. By promoting multiple practices that build soil health, regenerative agriculture has been said to improve agricultural lands and ultimately sequester carbon, according to Rattan Lal PhD, an Ohio State University soil scientist and the 2020 World Food Prize winner.

But the growth of regenerative grazing systems has been slow, in part because, as the cattle industry turned to feeding grain, ranchers ended up breeding fewer cows that could thrive on grass alone, says Richard Teague PhD, a range ecologist with the Texas A&M University Agrilife Research center. Ranchers like Judy were put in a pickle, without the cows appropriate for their grass-only systems.

“People wanted to feed corn, [so] they bred huge animals that require very big inputs of corn and also pharmaceuticals,” says Teague. He argues that raising “cattle like that” comes at the expense of the health of consumers – and the health of the soil that nurtures them. “We have to go to animals that we know thrive under good management.”

The traditional ranching industry denies the charge that grass-raised cows are better for the climate than their grain-fed product. In a 2017 study by Oklahoma State University researchers found that grain-fed cattle – with their shorter lifespans – resulted in a 18.5 to 67.5% lower carbon footprint compared with grass-finished beef.

Meanwhile, a 2017 report from the Food, Climate and Research Network challenged the idea that grass-fed beef can be good for the environment at all, saying there was no evidence that grazing cattle helps sequester carbon except under the most ideal conditions.

However, Teague argues, “It’s not the cow, it’s the how.” A 2015 study in Georgia of dairy cows in an intensively grazed system recorded eight tons of carbon sequestered per hectare annually. The intensive livestock grazing systems such as Judy uses are one of the best ways within agricultural systems to sequester carbon, according to Teague. “Under decent management, sequestration exceeds emissions, and the better the grazing management, the more it exceeds it.”

For Judy, it comes down to raising cattle in a system that works with nature instead of against it. But to do that, he also had to find the best cattle to thrive in his environment. For him, that perfect cow is the South Poll.

A relative newcomer to the beef cattle scene, the South Poll is a small-framed, stout, highly fertile red cow, well adapted to hot and humid conditions. It has good mothering instincts that have earned it the nickname the “southern mama cow”. The breed also has a rock star – or at least, country music star – cachet; it was originally developed in the 1990s by Teddy Gentry, the bass player for the country music group Alabama.

Judy is far from alone in his enthusiasm for this up-and-coming breed. In mid-September, South Poll cattle fans from all over the US showed up in Copan, Oklahoma, for the annual South Poll cattle auction. The cows are becoming increasingly popular with grass-focused ranchers – especially in the south-eastern and mid-western US where the cattle are best adapted – according to Ann Demerath, secretary of the South Poll Grass Cattle Association.

Some of the animals purchased at the auction may be cross-bred with other cattle breeds. Ranchers hope to use the South Poll genes to adapt their existing cattle to do better on a grass diet, Judy says. He advises ranchers to start by purchasing the “best South Poll bull you can afford” and breed it to the best females in their existing herd. Then, ranchers should select the best females from that generation and breed those with a South Poll sire – a technique called “line-breeding” that quickly focuses on desirable traits without risking genetic defects.

Judy also advises ranchers to cull – or remove – any animals that don’t fit their standards for health and disposition, even if they “look at you funny”, from their breeding stock. His mantra? “You’ll never have a herd any better than what you are willing to cull for.”

Relentlessly selecting for the best-adapted cows within his own system has allowed Judy to produce South Poll mother cows so well-adapted that they stay healthy through the winter. That means, unlike most ranchers, Judy can give the mothers more time with their calves during the winterwhich gives those calves an extra boost of growth and leaves him with a stronger, bigger calf in the spring.

For Judy, that is the goal – a cow that needs nothing but well-managed grass, passing their health and wellbeing on to the next generation.

“The animals,” Judy says, “are just healthy.”

Trump Stress-Tested the Election System, and the Cracks Showed

Trump Stress-Tested the Election System, and the Cracks Showed

Alexander Burns                       
"I voted" stickers collected by Home Slice Pizza, which offered a free slice of pizza to anyone who showed their sticker, in Austin, Texas, Oct. 31, 2020. (Tamir Kalifa/The New York Times)
“I voted” stickers collected by Home Slice Pizza, which offered a free slice of pizza to anyone who showed their sticker, in Austin, Texas, Oct. 31, 2020. (Tamir Kalifa/The New York Times)

 

As President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election have steadily disintegrated, the country appears to have escaped a doomsday scenario in the campaign’s epilogue: Since Nov. 3, there have been no tanks in the streets or widespread civil unrest, no brazen intervention by the judiciary or a partisan state legislature. Joe Biden’s obvious victory has withstood Trump’s peddling of conspiracy theories and his campaign of groundless lawsuits.

In the end — and the postelection standoff instigated by Trump and his party is truly nearing its end — the president’s attack on the election wheezed to an anticlimax. It was marked not by dangerous new political convulsions but by a letter from an obscure Trump-appointed bureaucrat, Emily Murphy of the General Services Administration, authorizing the process of formally handing over the government to Biden.

For now, the country appears to have avoided a ruinous breakdown of its electoral system.

Next time, Americans might not be so lucky.

While Trump’s mission to subvert the election has so far failed at every turn, it has nevertheless exposed deep cracks in the edifice of American democracy and opened the way for future disruption and perhaps disaster. With the most amateurish of efforts, Trump managed to freeze the passage of power for most of a month, commanding submissive indulgence from Republicans and stirring fear and frustration among Democrats as he explored a range of wild options for thwarting Biden.

He never came close to achieving his goal: Key state officials resisted his entreaties to disenfranchise huge numbers of voters, and judges all but laughed his legal team out of court.

Ben Ginsberg, the most prominent Republican election lawyer of his generation, said he doubted any future candidates would attempt to replicate Trump’s precise approach, because it has been so unsuccessful. Few candidates and election lawyers, Ginsberg suggested, would regard Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell — the public faces of Trump’s litigation — as the authors of an ingenious new playbook.

“If in a few months, we look back and see that this Trump strategy was just an utter failure, then it’s not likely to be copied,” said Ginsberg, who represented former President George W. Bush in the 2000 election standoff. “But the system was stress-tested as never before.”

That test, he said, revealed enough vague provisions and holes in American election law to make a crisis all too plausible. He pointed in particular to the lack of uniform standards for the timely certification of elections by state authorities, and the uncertainty about whether state legislatures had the power to appoint their own electors in defiance of the popular vote. The 2020 election, he said, “should be a call for some consideration of those issues.”

Yet even without precipitating a full-blown constitutional crisis, Trump has already shattered the long-standing norm that a defeated candidate should concede quickly and gracefully and avoid contesting the results for no good reason. He and his allies also rejected the long-standing convention that the news media should declare a winner, and instead exploited the fragmentation of the media and the rise of platforms like Twitter and Facebook to encourage an alternative-reality experience for his supporters.

The next Republican candidate to lose a close election may find some voters expecting him or her to mimic Trump’s conduct, and if a Democrat were to adopt the same tactics, the GOP would have no standing to complain.

Still more important, legal and political experts said, is the way Trump identified perilous pressure points within the system. Those vulnerabilities, they said, could be manipulated to destabilizing effect by someone else, in a closer election — perhaps one that featured real evidence of tampering, or foreign interference, or an outcome that delivers a winner who was beaten handily in the popular vote but scored a razor-thin win in the Electoral College.

In those scenarios, it might not be such a long-shot gambit for a losing candidate to attempt to halt certification of results through low-profile state and county boards, or to bestir state legislators to appoint a slate of electors or to pressure political appointees in the federal government to block a presidential transition.

Indeed, Trump managed to intrude on normal election procedures in several states. He summoned Michigan Republican leaders to the Oval Office as his allies floated the idea of appointing pro-Trump electors from the state, which Biden carried by more than 150,000 votes. And he inspired an onslaught from the right against Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who declined to affirm Trump’s false claims of ballot tampering. Though Raffensperger oversaw a fair election, both of Georgia’s Republican senators, channeling the president, called for his resignation.

Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, said the country had experienced a “‘Lord of the Flies’ moment” that revealed just how willing some powerful actors were to enable an undisguised effort to sabotage a free and fair election.

“It’s easy to laugh at the Trump challenges, just because they’ve been so out there,” Li said. “But what’s scary is, you step back from that a bit and see how many people were willing to go along with it until fairly deep in the process.”

“There will be closer elections, ultimately,” he added. “This one wasn’t very close. The fact that people are willing to go down dangerous paths should give us all pause.”

It remains to be seen whether Trump will wind up as a singularly sore loser or as the herald of a new Wild West era in American electioneering. There have been far closer elections this century — including the 2000 vote that plunged the country into a weeks-long review of Florida’s rickety vote-counting procedures, and the 2016 election that made Trump president through a historically wide split between the popular vote and the Electoral College. But no one else has entertained the corrosive tactics Trump has sought to employ.

Like numerous other presidential schemes over the last four years, Trump’s plot against the election unraveled in part because of external circumstances — the large number of swing states Biden carried, for instance — and in part because of his own clumsiness. His lawyers and political advisers never devised an actual strategy for reversing the popular vote in multiple big states, relying on a combination of televised chest-thumping and wild claims of big-city election fraud for which there was no evidence.

Barbara Pariente, the former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court who oversaw the state-level battle over the 2000 vote, said it was essential for Congress to clarify the process by which elections are conducted and resolved or risk greater calamity in the coming years. Trump’s team, she said, had already breached fundamental standards of legal conduct by filing cases seeking to throw out huge numbers of votes “without any evidence of impropriety, and then asking a court to look further into it.”

“As I look at what is happening now, I think it’s a real attack on our American system of democracy, and it is causing tens of millions of Americans to doubt the outcome,” Pariente said. “It has grave implications, in my view, for the future of this country.”

Even if Congress were to impose a clearer set of election procedures, however, there is reason to doubt whether the rules could reverse the total-war mindset Trump has modeled. In failure, he has created a road map for his own party — or even, under certain circumstances, for a grievance-laden Democrat — to wage a bitter-end fight against an unfavorable election result, with the support of loud voices in the right-wing media and much of his party’s conservative base.

And it is that last cohort, the millions of voters who remain loyal to Trump and who appear largely indifferent to the facts of the vote tally and the niceties of legal procedure, that represents the most potent kind of weapon for this defeated president, or another executive who might follow his example.

Shawn Rosenberg, a professor of political and psychological science at the University of California, Irvine, who has written pessimistically about the trajectory of American democracy, said Trump has been highly effective at exploiting the gap between the complexity of the country’s political system and the more rudimentary grasp most voters have of their government. For the average partisan, he said, issues of political norms and procedures were “very abstract” and far less important than simply winning — an impulse Trump stoked to the detriment of democratic institutions.

Rosenberg warned that while Trump’s political opposition had managed to unseat an incumbent — a rare feat in the nation’s presidential system — the election was not the kind of overwhelming rout that might have proved American democracy “invulnerable” to the kind of erosion on display in newer democracies like Poland and India. That was something of a disappointment to Trump’s critics on both the left and right, he said.

“Their hope was that he had gone so far that he would awaken this awareness and resolve in the American people,” Rosenberg said. “And clearly that was not the case for roughly 74 million of them.”

A destructive legacy: Trump bids for final hack at environmental protections

A destructive legacy: Trump bids for final hack at environmental protections

Oliver Milman                       
<span>Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

 

Donald Trump is using the dying embers of his US presidency to hastily push through a procession of environmental protection rollbacks that critics claim will cement his legacy as an unusually destructive force against the natural world.

Related: Trump officials rush plans to drill in Arctic refuge before Biden inauguration

Trump has yet to acknowledge his election loss to president-elect Joe Biden but his administration has been busily finishing off a cavalcade of regulatory moves to lock in more oil and gas drilling, loosened protections for wildlife and lax air pollution standards before the Democrat enters the White House on 20 January.

Trump’s interior department is hastily auctioning off drilling rights to America’s last large untouched wilderness, the sprawling Arctic National Wildlife Refuge found in the tundra of northern Alaska. The refuge, home to polar bears, caribou and 200 species of birds, has been off limits to fossil fuel companies for decades but the Trump administration is keen to give out leases to extract the billions of barrels of oil believed to be in the area’s coastal region.

The leases could result in the release of vast quantities of carbon emissions as well as upend the long-held lifestyle of the local Gwich’in tribe, which depends upon the migratory caribou for sustenance. Several major banks, fiercely lobbied by the Gwich’in and conservationists, have refused to finance drilling in the refuge but industry groups have expressed optimism that the area will be carved open.

An airplane flies over caribou on the coastal plain of the Arctic national wildlife refuge in north-east Alaska.
An airplane flies over caribou on the coastal plain of the Arctic national wildlife refuge in north-east Alaska. Photograph: US Fish and Wildlife Service/AP

 

The administration is also opening the way for drilling around the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, considered a sacred area by the native Navajo and Pueblo people who live near the New Mexico site and has targeted a linchpin environmental law, known as the National Environmental Policy Act, to allow more logging and road-building in national forests.

Trump has previously shrunk federally-protected areas as part of an “energy dominance” mantra that the president claims will bolster the US economy.

Meanwhile, safety rules for offshore drilling, put in place after the disastrous 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, are being watered down. The risks of a catastrophic, unrestrained spill are highest in the Arctic, where retreating sea ice is encouraging some fossil fuel firms to move into a region largely devoid of clean-up and rescue infrastructure.

The Trump administration is is also maintaining air quality standards widely condemned by experts as being insufficient to protect communities from sooty pollution that comes from cars, trucks and heavy industry. Many cities in the US are riven with environmental injustices, where poorer communities of color are routinely placed in proximity of industrial plants, highways and other sources of pollution.

Vehicles drive on the 101 freeway in Los Angeles, California.
Vehicles drive on the 101 freeway in Los Angeles, California. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

 

The regulatory rampage extends to creatures from the skies to the prairies to the oceans – fines for people who kill migratory birds are being reviewed while the US Navy has been given latitude to inadvertently harass endangered whales with noise from explosions and speeding vessels during war game exercises along the west coast.

A plan to slash protections for sage grouse across the US west has been finalized, placing the habitat of the once-common bird, about the size of a chicken and known for its flamboyant mating dances, at risk. “These guys are hellbent on turning over the last refuges of the vanishing greater sage grouse to drilling, mining and grazing,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s disgusting, transparent and illegal.”

The Trump administration spent four years assaulting every protection for our air, water, lands, wildlife and climate

Jill Tauber

The actions of the exiting administration will have “extremely damaging environmental consequences”, said Richard Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University. “Trump’s counterproductive actions have allowed the climate crisis to intensify and put the health of many Americans, especially in the most vulnerable communities, at risk by ignoring threats from pollution,” he added.

The scorched earth approach of Trump’s final months will further exacerbate a four-year legacy where climate policies have been dismantled, clean air and water rules scaled back and legions of demoralized federal government scientists sidelined or decided to quit.

“The Trump administration spent four years assaulting every protection for our air, water, lands, wildlife and climate,” said Jill Tauber, vice-president of litigation at Earthjustice, a non-profit law organization.

People visit Griffith Observatory on a day rated &#x002018;moderate&#x002019; air quality in Los Angeles, California, in June 2019.
People visit Griffith Observatory on a day rated ‘moderate’ air quality in Los Angeles, California, in June 2019. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Leah Donahey, legislative director at the Alaska Wilderness League, added: “No administration has been worse for our environment or our nation’s public health than this one.”

Biden will be able to reverse some of Trump’s actions and has vowed to limit drilling on federal land as well as to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, which the incumbent has removed the US from. Biden has called the climate change an “existential threat” in the wake of a year of fierce wildfires in California and a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, but his ambition to pass sweeping climate legislation hinge upon a US senate that, with looming special elections in the state of Georgia, appears likely to remain in Republican control.

Any successful remediation of the rollbacks will also have to survive as flurry of lawsuits, with the US supreme court now titled decisively in a conservative direction. All of this will soak up time during a period where scientists say planet-heating emissions must be cut rapidly to avoid the worst ravages of the climate crisis. “Trump’s legacy on environmental issues will be less about lasting policy changes,” said Revesz, “and more about lost time and missed opportunities.”

Wind and solar now cheaper than natural gas

Wind and solar now cheaper than natural gas

But before you get too excited and decide to cut off your natural gas supply, what hasn’t changed is the unreliability of both solar and wind

 

We all remember the disturbing stories coming out of Europe as little as two years ago called the heat or eat phenomenon. The push towards renewable energy contributed to large spikes in electricity costs that seniors and other people on low incomes in the U.K., in particular, were forced to choose between heating their homes or eating.

Even in Ontario, that province’s push under previous provincial governments to bring in more solar and wind power caused prices to rise so much that it helped lead to the defeat of Kathleen Wynne’s provincial Liberal government.

According to a new report from the University of Calgary, however, that era of high-cost renewable energy is over.

The School of Public Policy report on energy and environmental policy trends, Cheap Renewables Have Arrived, has found that solar and wind power prices have plunged so precipitously that they are now less expensive than efficient natural gas plants.

Recent analysis shows that over the past 10 years, wind costs have fallen by 70 per cent and solar by 90 per cent.

“Perhaps more significantly, the levelized cost of wind and solar — a measure which includes cost to construct and operate power plants — has now reached parity with the marginal cost of efficient natural gas plants,” write co-authors Nick Schumacher, Victoria Goodday, Blake Shaffer and Jennifer Winter.

“This suggests building new renewables is now cheaper than operating existing fossil power plants.”

Shaffer, an energy economist and an assistant professor of economics, says the perception for people who aren’t “electricity nerds” is that solar and wind power is a kind of “boutique power” — costly and niche.

“For many people who are thinking back about five years ago, certainly 10 years ago, and hearing about the cost of solar and wind and, you know, runaway electricity prices in Ontario, we still have that in mind because that’s not long ago,” said Shaffer during a Wednesday interview. “But it’s just changed so dramatically that’s no longer the case. Wind and solar is now cheaper than natural gas.”

Now, before you get too excited and decide to cut off your natural gas supply, what hasn’t changed is the unreliability of both solar and wind. Basically, you only get wind power when the wind blows and solar power when the sun shines.

But Shaffer says with more countries committing to net-zero emissions targets — including  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement on Thursday  that pledged Canada to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — the push will be on to find ways to store this “zero-emission power” to be used when demand is highest — primarily through batteries, which are currently costly and not so green.

“Despite their low costs, wind and solar still have a long way to go before they are the dominant sources of energy,” states the report.

“In 2018, renewables accounted for only 8.5 per cent of total global energy supply. Despite their small share of supply, renewable energy investment growth — 97 per cent of which is in wind and solar — is outpacing any other energy source at 7.6 per cent per year.

The report points out that even the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2020 report — which tends to be highly conservative — declared: “Solar is the new king of electricity.”

Shaffer says the rapid decline in the cost of solar panels was caused by the demand for them in Germany, California and other European countries and particularly now that China has taken the lead on production.

“So, the renewables are now the cheapest in terms of producing electricity, but it still doesn’t give us the on-demand power we want. And so just looking at cost alone isn’t fair. We need to figure out how to turn that raw energy into on-demand power.”

Shaffer notes that just recently TransAlta put in a large Tesla battery to store renewable energy and California and South Australia are doing the same.

He anticipates that natural gas will continue to play an important role in electrification to fill in the valleys caused by the intermittent nature of solar and wind for some time to come.

Solar panels atop the Southland Leisure Centre in Calgary in 2014. At the time, it was the city’s largest solar array. PHOTO BY POSTMEDIA ARCHIVES

 

In October, Premier Jason Kenney announced a new strategy for Alberta’s massive 300-year supply of natural gas, including net-zero hydrogen exports, something that Shaffer believes will be in high demand in the world.

Indeed, the hydrogen industry is projected to be worth $2.5 trillion by 2050, according to the Hydrogen Council, a global group of corporate executives encouraging investment in the hydrogen economy.

So, are solar and wind the game-changers that replaces oil and gas?

“No, they’re not,” says Shaffer. “It’s not the same scale. But what it is is it’s a great opportunity to replace a lot of generation to reduce emissions at really low to no cost.”

He says Alberta is “blessed with all of these great energy resources, and it just so happens that we also have some of the best wind resources in Canada. You go down to Pincher Creek, you’ll agree with me. We also have the best solar resources in Canada, us and southern Saskatchewan.”

“There’s nowhere cheaper in Canada to build solar and wind than in Alberta.”

The greening of the electrical grid no longer will force people to choose between heating or eating. It will, hopefully, one day soon be about cleaner air and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions at a reasonable cost.