Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Year In Review 2009

It has been an interesting year, 2009. On several fronts, the legal and technical world made advances and a few retreats. My observations follow.

First, climate change in California, the United States, and the world. In California, several pieces of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, were codified. Tire Pressure regulation, Landfill Gas regulation, Cap and Trade, Computer Chip Manufacturing, and others are either now on the books or have the rough draft completed and seeking comments. The California government continues the fiction that AB 32 will create jobs, and already has created jobs, although the plain fact is that unemployment in California is at 12.5 percent and climbing. As I wrote earlier, if green policies created jobs, California should have very low unemployment - yet the reverse is the case.

In the U.S., the House passed a weak version of a global warming bill (Waxman-Markey), and only just barely obtaining sufficient votes. The Senate made a few false starts on a similar bill but postponed it until 2010 and after the disastrous Copenhagen climate summit meeting in December (the meeting is ongoing as I write this, with great acrimony, mistrust, and violence). As more and more evidence accumulates showing the entire foundation for man-made (i.e. CO2-induced) global warming is false, legislators must be fearing for their re-election chances if they vote for such a law.

The Obama EPA finalized their finding that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant. While this move may be but a pawn in a game to goad the US Senate into action to pass a Cap and Trade bill, it will be challenged in court. The EPA must use sound science in its determinations, and that is woefully absent in this case.

Worldwide, the Copenhagen climate summit, mentioned above, is in hopeless disarray. One sticking point is that poor countries view this event as an opportunity to redistribute the wealth of rich nations, which wealth was produced by (oddly enough) burning fossil fuels that produce CO2. The rich nations are refusing to pay what is demanded by the poor nations.

In addition, the Climategate scandal erupted in November, with literally thousands of emails and other documents (including computer code) released into the internet. These documents show that leading scientists manipulated the data to show a warming where there is none, conspired to control the peer-review process, and stifled dissenting views. The excellent work by bloggers at climateaudit, wattsupwiththat, and especially E.M. Smith at exposed the wrongdoing. It is more and more clear that there is no global warming, but there was clever selection of thermometers (or digital temperature measurements) to yield a perceived warming. Chiefio's blog entries are must reading.

The climate catastrophe is not cooperating with the warmists' agenda and schedule; in fact, most of the US is much colder than average (see California for December), the 2009 hurricane season is now over and had very few and very weak hurricanes, the prolonged drought in the US Southwest is ending with wave after wave of storms bringing both rain and snow, sea levels are not rising, heat waves are no greater than in the recent past, and many indications point to the lack of sunspots rather than any CO2 emissions.

A noted PhD chemical engineer, Dr. Pierre R. Latour, with PE in both chemical engineering and in process control, wrote and had published in Hydrocarbon Processing magazine two excellent letters to editor that show beyond any doubt that CO2 is not and cannot be the cause of any changes in the earth's average temperature. I expanded on this theme on this blog. Climate scientists may be educated, and may indeed understand a few things about the climate, but they must reconcile their findings and projections with the realities of engineering. The principles of process control are well-known, not new, and are completely inviolable. CO2 fails these principles, and therefore it is a complete waste of time and money to pursue global warming schemes based on reducing CO2.

Second, manufacturing and process plant safety. 2009 was not a good year for process plant safety. Space does not permit a list and discussion of all the plants that exploded or caught fire or had another type of chemical release. Refineries in Utah, Texas, plants in North Carolina, Wisconsin, California, and others all experienced such events. One of the most troubling is the refinery in Utah that had a false sense of security related to process plant piping wall thickness. A contracted inspection company wrongly reported adequate thicknesses, when the pipes were actually very thin. An explosion due to pipe failure resulted, and the entire refinery is now shut down while an investigation is undertaken. Litigation from this event will be ongoing for years.

The number of serious events was so great that the Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency, had too few resources to investigate them all. see

Third, The Grand Game where renewables, nuclear, oil, coal, and natural gas all compete for shares of the world's energy. California has a goal, or requirement, that 20 percent of electric power be produced by renewables by December 31, 2010. This is most unlikely to occur based on plant construction. Some plants are planned, but not progressing rapidly.

More about the Grand Game may be found here.

Advances and flops in fuel-efficient cars and trucks were seen in 2009. California obtained their long-sought waiver from the EPA to require very fuel-efficient cars be sold in California, with a requirement for 42 miles per gallon on average by 2016. The US increased the national mileage requirement, to just over 35 miles per gallon by 2016. The automobile companies nearly collapsed in 2009, and the added strain of producing such vehicles certainly is not helping them. Ford Motor Company is currently leading in profitability, but has no cars that meet the California standard. GM apparently is counting heavily on the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that will use only battery power for short runs. Yet the Volt may be priced so high that only the rich can afford to buy one.

Refineries saw at least five shut down, while construction was completed on a major refinery expansion. Demand for petroleum products is down and will likely continue very low as the Obama administration demonstrates its incompetence in stimulating job growth and economic activity. Blaming the previous administration for all problems is not becoming. Tax cuts are proven to stimulate the economy, but such are rare for Democrat administrations.

Oil was discovered in places where oil is not supposed to exist, deep below the ocean below the salt layer. Natural gas is literally everywhere, from shale gas, coal-bed methane, and LNG plants that came online in 2009. OPEC is understandably nervous that their long-held control of oil markets is disintegrating.

The proposed nuclear power project in South Texas created an uproar over falsified cost figures, with projected costs revised upward again and again. This is exactly what I predicted, because the final cost will be approximately $25 billion - and no one will invest at that cost. Nuclear proponents insist that project costs will decline after a few plants are built, yet the proven experience is that nuclear power plants have no learning curve. With more than 400 plants built and operating world-wide, cost over-runs of 100 percent to 200 percent are the rule and not the exception. Startup dates are years behind the initial baseline schedule. A new project in Finland is a case in point, many billions of Euros over budget, and years behind schedule, with no final date established for startup. By comparison, the recently-completed major refinery expansion had a modest cost over-run of approximately 30 percent due to price of materials increases. The startup date was right on schedule. (see link just above).

Fourth, and personally, I was privileged to make four speeches this year. The importance of the climate change laws in place (e.g. California AB 32) or proposed is not fully appreciated by many people. I spoke to engineering groups in Los Angeles, Walnut Creek (California), Nashville (Tennessee), and Ventura (California) this year, all on the requirements of AB 32. Sound public policy must be based on proven, sound science, and nothing less. Engineers have answers that must be provided as input to the public policy decision-making process, to act as a senior, sober, and sound counter to the alarmist scientists with their apocalyptic scenarios of doom based on falsified data.

Finally, predictions for 2010. More refineries will shut down in the US, with approximately 1 million barrels per day shut down. These will be small and inefficient refineries, causing thousands of workers to lose their jobs. More explosions and fires will occur in refineries and other plants. The climate change bill in the Senate will fizzle, as a grass-roots movement swells and Senators are hit with thousands of requests to vote against the bill. AB 32 will be more and more in the spotlight, with unemployment in California reaching 15 percent. Efforts to repeal AB 32 will escalate, although success is elusive in the heavily Democrat state.

Hybrid cars will increase in sales, although the Chevy Volt will not sell well with a price tag of $40,000.

With a fading El Nino in the Pacific, temperatures will decline substantially in the northern hemisphere, bringing many more people to the awareness that the climate warmists claims are false.

The South Texas nuclear project expansion will collapse due to insufficient investors.

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