Archive for October, 2014

The older technology

The older technology

CNN reports that the FTC has accused AT&T of misleading its unlimited data plan customers by failing to adequately disclose the fact that when those customers reached a certain data limit in a billing cycle, the carrier reduced the customer’s connection speeds by as much as 90%. As a result, the FTC complaint alleges, many common smartphone applications — like web browsing, GPS navigation and streaming video — became “difficult or nearly impossible to use.” Read the story here:

Government accuses AT&T of misleading ‘unlimited data’ customers – Oct. 28, 2014.

AT&T, however, says that in July 2011 it issued a press release that disclosed its throttling policy. In that press release, AT&T stated that

…smartphone customers with unlimited data plans may experience reduced speeds once their usage in a billing cycle reaches the level that puts them among the top 5 percent of heaviest data users.  These customers can still use unlimited data and their speeds will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle.

In other words, AT&T put limits on its unlimited data. This is like running a restaurant with an “ALL YOU CAN EAT” buffet proudly advertised for $9.99 per customer, but when customers begin to go back for seconds or thirds they must use progressively smaller plates, and eventually all the silverware is removed from their table.

One question, of course, is whether AT&T only put this warning into a press release, as opposed to billboarding it to customers signing up for supposedly “unlimited” data. That would have hurt their marketing effort, no doubt. Most people don’t read corporate press releases unless the release makes it into the mainstream press, so this excuse by AT&T is weak, at best.

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Baker-Hughes new breast cancer drill bit

Baker-Hughes new breast cancer drill bit

Salon reports that Baker-Hughes will be painting its fracking drill bits bright pink in support of the  Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Fracking’s disgraceful, transparent new “pinkwashing” – Salon.com.

We’re certainly in favor of funding good causes to help fight disease, cancer, etc., and have no axe to grind (so to speak) with the Komen Foundation. But this has to be one of the most bass-ackward public relations ploys in a long time, quite apart from the fact that the connection between fracking and breast cancer is, to say the least, elusive.

Think about this for a minute. That drill bit will be on the end of a string of case hardened steel tubes forced down through layers of rock to a depth of around 10,000 feet. Then, it will be diverted from vertical to horizontal for another two to three miles. That’s about as far into the earth as Mount Everest is tall. If the intent of Baker Hughes and the Komen Foundation is to demonstrate breast cancer awareness to whatever lived during the Precambrian Period, then this is indeed a brilliant strategy.

I have just a few remaining questions.

After boring through 5 miles of rock, exactly how much pink paint will be left on that bit?

Does the fact that during every minute of its descent the bit will be befouled with drilling “mud” in any way detract from the message?

Suggestions to Baker Hughes: (1) Go back to cash donations and rent a couple of highway billboards, and (2) hire a new public relations firm.


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Spent Nuke Fuel (No Swimming Allowed)

Spent Nuke Fuel (No Swimming Allowed)

Nuclear Energy Insider reports that Ukraine has begun building a central storage facility for spent nuke fuel:

Ukraine constructs Central Storage Facility for spent nuclear fuel | Nuclear Energy Insider.

How embarrassing would it be for the United States if, on the competent handling and storage of spent nuclear fuel, Ukraine makes more progress in two years than we’ve made in the last fifty.

Of course, Ukraine also has an incentive to become more energy independent. His name is Vladimir Putin.

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Pacific Gas & Electric has fired three executives whom it says exchanged inappropriate emails with regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission. The emails went back and forth during PG&E’s appeal of a $1.4 billion fine imposed by the CPUC for failure to maintain its natural gas distribution system. The utility’s negligence resulted in the 2010 San Bruno explosion, which killed 8, injured 66 and destroyed 38 homes. The CPUC staff originally recommended a fine of more than $2 billion. Google the “after” pictures and try to distinguish San Bruno from Gaza. It’s tough. PG&E’s execs were trying to get a specific administrative law judge assigned to their case. Michael Peevey, President of the CPUC has recused himself from the case.

But of course the damage has already been done. The Sparkspread has previously pointed out one of the fundamental weaknesses in the utility regulatory framework in all fifty states and at the federal level: regulatory capture. The utility changes the regulator from watchdog to lapdog. We saw this in acute form in Japan a few years ago when the Fukushima reactor exploded:

Regulatory Capture. The second and equally critical problem is regulatory capture, a phenomenon in which the industry to be regulated takes effective control of the government agency that is supposed to be regulating it. The officers and attorneys of regulated entities interact daily with the regulator’s staff, creating a culture of coziness that impairs the objectivity and effectiveness of the regulator.

Remember the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe? It later turned out that regulatory inspectors turned their inspection reports over to the drill rig operators themselves to fill out on their own. Talk about self-reporting. Worse, some of the regulators were sleeping – not metaphorically, but literally – with oil industry executives.

From “Nukes in Our Future,” Sparkspread, June 21, 2012.  We also saw it in another context just weeks ago when secret recordings showed the obsequious behavior of Federal Reserve Bank of New York officers toward Goldman Sachs, the company they were putatively regulating. One might well ask who was really doing the regulating. The NY Fed Reserve even fired the lady who recorded the exhanges because she wrote a memo critical of this state of affairs. More power to her. That we have to rely on Snowden-like revelations to find out the truth about how government operates signifies the putrefaction of these institutions. The fish rots from the head down.

Often the motive for all the sweetness and light that regulators pour over utilities is the hope that they’ll get a (much higher paying) job with the utility once they “graduate” from the regulatory agency. Coziness between regulators and the regulated is a sure path to disaster. Look at San Bruno. Look at Fukushima. Or Deepwater Horizon. Or… Well, I’ll stop here before someone accuses me of violating the 8th Amendment.


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FERCBLOG reports that FERC has approved an LNG export facility for Dominion Cove, which is near Baltimore on Chesapeake Bay. Read the entry here:

FERC Approves Cove Point LNG – FERCblog.com.

That’s a good first step, and it puts the U.S. on the road to countering Czar Vladimir I if he again threatens to cut off natural gas supply to Ukraine or other European countries — but we’re not there yet.

As we’ve pointed out a few times on the Sparkspread, there’s a tremendous amount of natural gas that is being wasted every day in the U.S. In the Bakken, natural gas is treated as “associated gas,” or gas associated with petroleum extraction (read “waste gas”), even though it’s produced in quantities that rival the production in other fracking locales.

But there’s no gathering system in the vast expanse of the Bakken, and so the natural gas is flared at the wellhead. The cost/benefit calculation is easy: better CO2 than methane, which is much worse as a GHG. Estimates are that 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is being flared every day in the Bakken. That’s the equivalent of 10 NYMEX futures contracts, burned up with no benefit to anyone, every day.

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