Category Archives: gas

“Loophole”?

When Malcolm’s alter-ego was a Borough Councillor, Tories had a constant (and even honourable) line on compulsory purchase: they were against it on principle.

That got in the way of many worthwhile municipal schemes, or involved extra expense to “persuade” the sellers of the needed land.

Which makes him raise a wry eye-brow when he reads this, in today’s Times (£ — page 39 of the print edition):

Landowners are entitled to compensation from shale gas companies in return for allowing drilling. If they are still opposed, companies would have to acquire the land under a compulsory purchase order, but this can take several years and would be hugely expensive.

The Times revealed last month that the shale gas industry was talking to the Government about closing the loophole.

A bit more than a “loophole”, one might feel:

  • It certainly plays fast-and-loose not just with any concept of “property”.
  • Any Conservative should recall Margaret Thatcher (in her Reagan lecture of December 1997):

A totally planned society and economy has the ability to concentrate productive capacity on some fixed objective with a reasonable degree of success; and do it better than liberal democracies. But totalitarianism can only work like this for a relatively short time, after which the waste, distortions and corruption increase intolerably.

Does that define the ConDem unquestioning support for fracking as “totalitarian”, leading to “waste, distortions and corruption”?

  • It also plays hell with language, extending mightily the metaphor of “loophole”.

Consider meaning 3 in the OED:

fig. An outlet or means of escape. Often applied to an ambiguity or omission in a statute, etc., which affords opportunity for evading its intention.

 The Times, normally so “conservative” (a capital letter C is optional there), is gung-ho for fracking. We have today a singularly-misguided second leader:

Environmental Dogma

Opposition to fracking and GM crops is anti-science and harmful to the world’s poor

That sub-heading goes missing in the on-line version, unless one clicks past the “taster”. The whole piece is a paean of praise for Owen Patterson (who is not only Environment Secretary, but about as far-to-the-right as any member of this benighted administration).

After a couple of paragraphs on GM crops, we go off on a side-track for this:

Debates over government policy on agriculture and energy are right and inevitable. They should be founded on evidence, however. The environmental groups’ campaigning is instead based on an obscurantist hostility to science itself. Mr ­Paterson is right to call it what it is.

Fracking involves blasting shale rock with water at very high pressures to release the gas. Environmental groups maintain that this activity can cause tiny earthquakes and that the toxic chemicals used in fracking may contaminate ground­water.

In practice, any seismic activity that has been produced by the fracking boom in the United States has been negligible — indeed unobservable by anyone except geologists. Contamination of the water supply is not strictly impossible, in the sense that science does not rule absolutely preclude any scenario that meets the conditions of logic.

Yet there is no evidence that any such scenario has occurred. To issue such warnings with no evidence, or even a plausible explanation by which it might occur, is irresponsible. It is not part of any scientific debate: it is baseless superstition. The benefits of fracking, conversely, in limiting the ­environmental impact of energy exploration and in diversifying Britain’s energy mix are huge.

The biggest losers as a result of the anti-science thrust of much campaigning by Greenpeace and its equivalents, however, are the one billion people still classified as hungry.

The Times‘s dismissal of the many proven unpleasantnesses and dangers of tracking is disingenuous, to say the least.

Unobservable by anyone except geologists ?

To claim that seismic activity [read: earthquakes]has been negligible — indeed unobservable by anyone except geologists is patently untrue:

New research officially confirmed that ‘fracking’ caused the set of nearly a dozen mysterious earthquakes in Ohio in 2011. 

Scientists have spent the past two years trying to explain why Youngstown, Ohio- a town where there had been now reported earthquakes before December 2010- suddenly fell victim to 109 small quakes. [The Daily Mail, 5 Sep 2013]

They started small, but On Dec. 31, 2011, at 3:05 p.m., Youngstown was stirred by a 3.9 quake. For what it’s worth, a 3.91 quake is what was produced by a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, “touted as the most powerful non-nuclear weapon ever designed.” Non-geologists might notice that one.

Not just Ohio, either:

In 2010 and 2011, there were as many as 1,000 minor earthquakes in Arkansas. And scientists believe they were caused by fracking.

Seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey say the disposal of millions of gallons of wastewater flowback as part of the fracking process can create “micro earthquakes,” which are rarely felt, and also the rare larger seismic disruption. Scientists say that’s what happened in Greenbrier, Arkansas, where the quakes damaged homes.

Yesterday, five local residents settled for an undisclosed sum of money after suing two oil companies. Those five residents aren’t the only ones suing Chesapeake Energy and BHP Billiton. Twenty other residents are expecting to file lawsuits in Arkansas state court, according to Reuters. [The Atlantic Cities, 29 Aug 2013]

And again:

The earthquake registered a magnitude 5.7*—the largest ever recorded in Oklahoma—with its epicenter less than two miles from the Reneaus’ house, which took six months to rebuild. It injured two people, destroyed 14 homes, toppled headstones, closed schools, and was felt in 17 states. It was preceded by a 4.7 foreshock the morning prior and followed by a 4.7 aftershock… Between 1972 and 2008, the USGS recorded just a few earthquakes a year in Oklahoma. In 2008, there were more than a dozen; nearly 50 occurred in 2009. In 2010, the number exploded to more than 1,000. [Mother Jones, March-April 2013]

And yet again:

A recent wave of small earthquakes in and around the Eagle Ford formation in Texas was probably the result of extracting oil and in some cases water used for hydraulic fracturing, according to a study.

Clusters of small-magnitude seismic events between November 2009 and September 2011 were “often associated with fluid extraction,” according to the study scheduled to appear this week in the online edition of the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. The study follows previous research that links earthquakes to the disposal of drilling wastewater by injecting it underground. [Bloomberg, 27 Aug 2013]

Contamination of the water supply is not strictly impossible ?

Pity the editorial writer at The Times didn’t consult the other end of the Murdoch operation, at the Wall Street Journal:

Chemicals found in a Wyoming town’s drinking water likely are associated with hydraulic fracturing, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday, raising the stakes in a debate over a drilling technique that has created a boom in natural-gas production.

The agency’s draft findings are among the first by the government to link the technique, dubbed “fracking,” with groundwater contamination. The method—injecting large volumes of water, sand and chemicals to dislodge natural gas or oil—has been criticized by environmentalists for its potential to harm water supplies, which the industry disputes …

The EPA has responded to several instances of potential fracking contamination, including in Texas and Pennsylvania. In Texas, the EPA ordered a company, Range Resources, to provide fresh drinking water to residents who said their water was contaminated. The case is the subject of a lawsuit.

The agency ordered Pennsylvania to tighten its standards related to removal of drilling wastewater and recently said it would consider nationwide standards for disposal of such water.

Let’s bring that Pennsylvania reference up to date:

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General has filed criminal charges against ExxonMobil for illegally dumping tens of thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing waste at a drilling site in 2010. The Exxon subsidiary, XTO Energy, had removed a plug from a wastewater tank, leading to 57,000 gallons of contaminated water spilling into the soil.

… a July study found that the closer residents live to wells used in fracking, the more likely drinking water is contaminated, with 115 of 141 wells found to contain methane. [Thinkprogress, 11 Sep 2013]

If it’s in your coffee and shower water, what about the air you breathe? —

study by researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in late 2012 reconfirmed earlier findings of high rates of methane leakage from natural gas fields that utterly vitiate any climate benefit of natural gas, even when used as an alternative to coal.

Previous findings showed leakage of 4% methane leakage over a Colorado gas field and the new findings have more than doubled that to 9%.

Gas drilling operations release airborne contaminants that can have detrimental effects on our health.  Areas where there is gas production have reported significant increases in ozone, commonly known as smog, because some of the toxic precursors to smog, such as volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides are released during the process that brings natural gas from the ground to market.  Lisa Jackson, former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admitted in an interview with National Public Radios’ Michele Norris at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June 2011, “You are going to have huge smog problems where you never had them before……These are rural areas. … There is a lot of activity around those wells and that has an impact on air quality — and we know it already.” [Catskillmountainkeeper]

Fracking sitesMoreover, in Britain, we are not talking of fracking out where there’s land, lots of land under starry skies above, as frack-off.org.uk’s map (right) shows.

Malcolm admits a personal interest here. Two of those sites are just down the road from his new home. Dart Energy have rights all the way from Easingwold, to Tadcaster, and all the way to the centre of the city of York.

Fracking Tories

In those days of Borough Councillorship, Malcolm’s alter-ego (see top of this posting) could see where the Tory side was on the matter of compulsory purchase.

Similarly, it is comforting to observe, as at the Manchester Conference, that many Tories today remain uncomfortable with George Osborne’s approach:

Chancellor George Osborne has sent a strong message to the Conservative rural heartlands, warning that he will fight any Tory backlash against fracking and saying that it would be a real tragedy if Britain allowed the shale gas energy revolution to bypass the UK.

Research conducted by Greenpeace has shown that 38 out of 62 MPs in the south have land with existing oil and gas drilling licenses – and 35 of them are Conservatives, including many cabinet ministers.

It raises the prospect that many Tory backbenchers in the run-up to the 2015 election will find themselves conflicted by the demands of the UK economy and business to exploit the reserves, and opposition from environmental groups as well as many of their anxious constituents.

ConHome and senior voices in the Tory Party have to be rounded up to keep the line.

For how long? 

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To be filed under “What rats won’t do”

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Angela Knight was Tory MP for Erewash (that’s Ilkeston and district) in the ’90s. Given the heave-ho! by an ungrateful electorate in 1997, she found a role shilling for the banks, and arguing the case for as little regulation  as was credible. Then came the banking crash.

Even then she was a game lass.

To the end,

  • even after the Bank of International Settlements and the WSJ were getting antsy,
  • after New York Fed President Timothy F. Geithner had gone on record to the Bnk of England that all was far from well,
  • when the worms were crawling out of the cupboard,

she was propounding that:

that Libor could be trusted as “a reliable benchmark.”

Such ingratitude!

Not uncoincidentally Angela was soon out of the CEO chair at the BBA.

Oooh! Angie baby! You’re a special lady!

You can’t keep a good girl down.

With a single bound, last year, she was free from the British Bankers’ Association to become boss at Energy UK, the energy industry trade body. 

So now she’s doing the smear jobs on Ed Miliband, as the energy cartel’s own Chicken Little:

Chicken Little Sky Falling

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Filed under advertising., Angela Knight, banking, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Ed Miliband, films, foot and mouth disease, gas, Mervyn King, politics, Tories.

… pass by me as the idle wind,Which I respect not.

Brutus, to Cassius, Julius Caesar, Act IV, scene iii.

The ever-present oaf in the back row of Malcolm’s class would inevitably have one saved to drop at that line. Characteristics of the lesser spotted, adolescent young buck include the ability to produce wind at will, and his mates to find such action hilarious. The performance artist, pale successor to Joseph Pujol, Le Pétomane, invariably identifies himself: he is the one with the straight face.

Such has been a staple of English humour for as long as the English have been around. Back around 1240, at Reading Abbey no less, they celebrated the coming of spring with a Medieval round:

Awe bleteþ after lomb,
lhouþ after calue cu,
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ.
Murie sing cuccu!

If your Middle English is a bit rusty and dusty, that means:

Ewe bleateth after lamb,
Calf loweth after cow,
Bullock starteth, buck farteth,
Merry sing cuckoo!

Oh, and there’s more:

This song is remarkable for being ahead of its time. It is a cannon in four parts sung over a two part “foot” or bass line, itself a cannon in two parts. This makes the whole song a polyphonic composition in six parts at a time when the most “advanced” music was in two or three part polyphony. 

Note well: “a cannon in two parts”. Nice one.

Enter the parish clerk

Anyone reading Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale (the library copy falls open conveniently at these well-thumbed pages) guesses that Absolom is a wrong’un, and Nicholas will serve him aright, when we have the foreshadowing:

… he pleye on a giterne.
In al the toun brewhous ne taverne
That he ne visited with his solas
Ther any gaylard tappestere was.
But sooth to seyn, he was somdeel squaymous
Of fartyng, and of speche dangerous.

A guitar-playing bar-fly, chatting up the barmaids, and squeamish of farting? Well, we’ve certainly got his number.

Back to English, period 3, Room 54, with Ol’ Redfellow

To quell the mirth in the class Malcolm had a ploy, which involved a bit of that speche dangerous [= “disdainful talk”].

He would ruminate on why back row flatus represented no great achievement. Just don’t do it in a lift or a rugby scrum. He would speculate:

  • that rude animals [sic] can produce multiples of the human gas-output, a sheep four times, a cow eight times;
  • that the manure heaps of the Netherlands were, allegedly, inducing regional climate change;
  • and that an elephant is around twenty-four times as productive as a human.

You don’t get by-the-ways of that quality free, gratis and for nothing on the National Curriculum as ordained successively by those  glaring beams of enlightenment, Baker, Blunkett and Gove.

Moreover, such ruminations were sadly lost on the school’s biology teacher, when she was next on the timetable, and the young enquiring minds sought scientific verification. Malcolm genially regarded her subsequent staffroom moan as another happy result.

And now this, on the BBC Nature website:

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All fired up

A high point in Malcolm’s career in elective politics was chairing the committee of the local crematorium.

Mock it not!

Thereby he  “covered” two hours of an “environmental studies” class, at ten-minutes’ notice, armed only with the journal of the crematoria association.

Over that two-hour session (which significantly contributed to Malcolm’s overtime payments) and allowing for the statutory tea-break, students calculated the effort required to excavate graves six-feet deep, versus the cost of therms charged by still-nationalized British Gas to raise the human cadaver to its burning point (at this distance in time, Malcolm reckons it was then less than 50p a cadaver). Not forgetting, because the two-hours ran slow, an animadversion on the extra cost of incinerating an emaciated advanced-cancer case.

Malcolm’s moment of self-adulation came from the cynical student, leaving the room, muttering “That’s my best class, ever,”

Bleak House

At that time Malcolm’s day-job was to lecture on English Literature, including a course on Dickens.

Captain Frederick Marryat, in Jacob Faithful, killed off his main character’s mother by implying she had spontaneously combusted. After half-a-dozen telling references to “cinders”, we come to this:

A strong, empyreumatic, thick smoke ascended from the hatchway of the cabin, and, as it had now fallen calm, it mounted straight up the air in a dense column. I attempted to go in, but so soon as I encountered the smoke I found that it was impossible; it would have suffocated me in half a minute. I did what most children would have done in such a situation of excitement and distress—I sat down and cried bitterly. In about ten minutes I moved my hands, with which I had covered up my face, and looked at the cabin hatch. The smoke had disappeared, and all was silent. I went to the hatchway, and although the smell was still overpowering, I found that I could bear it. I descended the little ladder of three steps, and called “Mother!” but there was no answer. The lamp fixed against the after bulk-head, with a glass before it, was still alight, and I could see plainly to every corner of the cabin. Nothing was burning—not even the curtains to my mother’s bed appeared to be singed. I was astonished—breathless with fear, with a trembling voice, I again called out “Mother!” I remained more than a minute panting for breath, and then ventured to draw back the curtains of the bed—my mother was not there! but there appeared to be a black mass in the centre of the bed. I put my hand fearfully upon it—it was a sort of unctuous, pitchy cinder. I screamed with horror—my little senses reeled—I staggered from the cabin and fell down on the deck in a state amounting almost to insanity: it was followed by a sort of stupor, which lasted for many hours.

Well, Marryat was simply expanding upon a report in the London Times in that same year of 1832.

In due course (which brings us back on track), by 1852, Dickens was writing Bleak House and needed to off his minor villain, Krook. Krook is found mysteriously burned to death:

“What’s the matter with the cat?” says Mr Guppy: “Look at her!”

“Mad, I think. And no wonder, in this evil place.”

They advance slowly, looking at all these things. The cat remains where they found her, still snarling at the something on the ground, before the fire and between the two chairs. What is it? Hold up the light.

Here is a small burnt patch of flooring; here is the tinder from a little bundle of burnt paper, but not so light as usual, seeming to be steeped in something; and here is — is it the cinder of a small charred and broken log of wood sprinkled with white ashes, or is it coal? O Horror, he IS here! and this, from which we run away, striking out the light and overturning one another into the street, is all that represents him.

Help, help, help! come into this house for Heaven’s sake!

Plenty will come in, but none can help. The Lord Chancellor of that Court, true to his title in his last act, has died the death of all Lord Chancellors in all Courts, and of all authorities in all places under all names soever, where false pretences are made, and where injustice is done. Call the death by any name Your Highness will, attribute it to whom you will, or say it might have been prevented how you will, it is the same death eternally — inborn, inbred, engendered in the corrupted humours of the vicious body itself, and that only — Spontaneous Combustion, and none other of all the deaths that can be died.

A Malcolmian aside:

Compare and contrast —

    • Charles Dickens, 1852: “What’s the matter with the cat?” says Mr Guppy.
    • Arthur Conan Doyle, 1894: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.” “That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes. 

Dickens, for this piece of literary legerdemain, was the focus of instant criticism. All modern editions contain Dickens’ self-defence:

The possibility of what is called spontaneous combustion has been denied since the death of Mr. Krook; and my good friend Mr. Lewes (quite mistaken, as he soon found, in supposing the thing to have been abandoned by all authorities) published some ingenious letters to me at the time when that event was chronicled, arguing that spontaneous combustion could not possibly be. I have no need to observe that I do not wilfully or negligently mislead my readers and that before I wrote that description I took pains to investigate the subject. There are about thirty cases on record, of which the most famous, that of the Countess Cornelia de Baudi Cesenate, was minutely investigated and described by Giuseppe Bianchini, a prebendary of Verona, otherwise distinguished in letters, who published an account of it at Verona in 1731, which he afterwards republished at Rome. The appearances, beyond all rational doubt, observed in that case are the appearances observed in Mr. Krook’s case. The next most famous instance happened at Rheims six years earlier, and the historian in that case is Le Cat, one of the most renowned surgeons produced by France. The subject was a woman, whose husband was ignorantly convicted of having murdered her; but on solemn appeal to a higher court, he was acquitted because it was shown upon the evidence that she had died the death of which this name of spontaneous combustion is given. I do not think it necessary to add to these notable facts, and that general reference to the authorities which will be found at page 30, vol. ii.,* the recorded opinions and experiences of distinguished medical professors, French, English, and Scotch, in more modern days, contenting myself with observing that I shall not abandon the facts until there shall have been a considerable spontaneous combustion of the testimony on which human occurrences are usually received.

Modern instance

Now we have West Galway coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin coping with a similar inexplicable death.

Just before last Christmas, the body of Michael Faherty had been found , totally burned, with damage only to the immediate floor and ceiling.

Malcolm has no opinion on how such things could happen. All he knows is that the human body contains a considerable quantity of sodium. And he has seen how that can burn.

So, on “spontaneous combustion”, like Charles Dickens, he has an open mind.

Especially in regard to Bleak House.

The death of Krook apart, that is a fine novel.

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Fearful symmetry

William Blake — which is whence Malcolm takes his title —  would have hated railways: just as well he didn’t recognise the significance of what Edward Pease was doing between Stockton and Darlington.

Those of us who love railways deplore the concrete and tarmac runways which have destroyed the more civilised, more communal, more economic, more ecological, more economic method of transporting people and things from A to B.

A few years back, the Lady in his Life and Malcolm needed to catch the train at Waterbury, Vermont.

Waterbury is a fortunate place: it still has an Amtrak train a day to and from New York — even if tomorrow it requires a change at Springfield, MA, and takes some nine hours. The railway depot at Waterbury (as left) was once a stately red-brick building: happily, it has been preserved that way, even though its proper function no longer applies.

So, a taxi was ordered to take her and him to the station. The driver was quite inquisitive:

  • Why would anyone think of making the journey by train?

And then, almost pathetically, —

  • “I’m sixty-seven years old. I’ve never travelled by train. What’s it like?”

Explanatory

All that sprang to mind when Malcolm noticed the first two titles, below the cover item, on this weekend’s New York Times Books Update:

Railroaded by Richard White, reviewed by Michael Kazin

The historian Richard White sees the 19th-century American railways as a Gilded Age extravagance that worked social, political and environmental havoc.

“Type of the modern! emblem of motion and power! pulse of the continent!” Walt Whitman sang in praise of the railroad. When he published those lines in 1876, the vast network that connected West to East was being widely hailed as the muscular marvel of the industrial age. It sped the bounty of farms and factories across the land, spawned hundreds of towns and cities along its routes, pioneered in marketing and managerial organization, and employed a huge and growing labor force. The men who created and ran the transcontinentals — Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Jay Gould, Mark Hopkins, Charles Francis Adams Jr., among others — were as famous in their era as such high-tech moguls as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are today. Their entrepreneurial daring did much to transform the United States into a prosperous, developed nation.

Richard White will have none of it. “Transcontinental railroads,” he asserts in “Railroaded,” “were a Gilded Age extravagance that rent holes in the political, social and environmental fabric of the nation, creating railroads as mismanaged and corrupt as they were long.” This is a bold indictment, but White supports it convincingly with lavish detail and prose that swivels easily from denunciation to irony.

The Big Roads by Earl Swift, reviewed by Tom Vanderbilt

Earl Swift’s account of the creation of the U.S. expressway system is textured and nuanced, easy on the asphalt, long on personalities.

When “On the Road” was published, in 1957, it may have seemed a rousing dawn chorus for an awakening generation of postwar seekers, but it was also an encomium of sorts — for the year before, construction had begun on the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. “You can’t do what I did anymore,” Kerouac would later say. And as noted in “Why Kerouac Matters,” by the New York Times reporter John Leland, even as Kerouac was writing, the author glimpsed that his kind of rambling “may soon be obsolete as America enters its High Civilization period and no one will get sentimental or poetic anymore about trains and dew on fences at dawn in Missouri.”

In place of poetry we had standardized efficiency, not just the new Esperanto of green highway signs speaking to us at 65-mile-per-hour Highway Gothic — the same tongue from Maine to Montana — but the whole experience of travel itself. “With the modern car on the modern freeway,” Earl Swift writes in “The Big Roads,” “the modern traveler was left with practically nothing to celebrate but the ever-briefer time he had to devote to getting from one place to another.” Or, in John Steinbeck’s famous remark, one could now drive from “New York to California without seeing a single thing.”

Both books look worthwhile comments on their related topics, though Earl Swift has obviously yet to experience the congested modern highway — and Malcolm has met tail-backs in the US (the Holland Tunnel? Anywhere in the LA conglomeration?) which makes the sclerotic UK look efficient. Every bridge, river crossing, bottle-neck bodes to be your next investment plan (which means your next tax hike) unless you want strangulation in a year of two. Can the US economy, can any advanced economy, afford this constant ratchet of more investment, more concrete, more pollution?

“Gas” (we Europeans still call it “petrol”) has now reached price-levels — Malcolm believes $3.75 for a US gallon is not far adrift — where all but the rich-and-wasteful consider their usage of the substance. Europeans still marvel at those basement prices (over here, try multiplying by three). Just wait for the next oil crisis.

So, whether the New York Times and its readers wish to recognise the link or not, there is a direct connection between the thesis of those two books.

Eisenhower’s Interstates were considered essential, were initiated as defense requirements — and killed the railroads. The 35-year road-building programme cost the US the modern equivalent of $440 billion dollars. Maintenance is over $5 billion a year.

Two propositions:

  • It ought to be axiomatic that for any “short-haul” journey, city-centre to city-centre, surface transport should be faster and cheaper than air travel.
  • Since private cars are a no-no in city centres — for congestion and pollution reasons, public transport should be the norm.

Even when the journey is partly over water, the calculation should not be too unbalanced. For example, Malcolm travels London to Dublin:

  • By air, that’s an hour or more to the airport, an average of an hour check-in, another hour boarding (allowing for average delays), an hour-and-a-quarter flight-time, an hour to clear Collinstown, an hour into College Green: six hours. Some days better, many worse. Bottom line: you might wangle a £30 fare out of Aer Lingus, on a good day, booking well ahead. Get to Paddington (taxi or underground fare); Heathrow Express: £16:50 — or an further forty minutes+ sitting on the Piccadilly Line.
  • By rail and sea, from London Euston, eight hours (and that’s with a couple of changes and the slow-and-easy along the North Wales coast). Bottom line: £33 booked in advance, no air surcharges, no baggage charges.
London to Paris is even more no-brainer. Eurostar is faster than any air travel, once waiting times and commuting to the airport are included. There is a peculiar irony in jet aircraft being scheduled slower on the Paris route than props were back in the 1950s.
Alone of major economies, the US seems reluctant to realise the benefits of tracked surface travel. Many of the distances are excessive, but that doesn’t mean that rail travel is impossible — it’s just not made comfortable and convenient. Inner-urban stuff should be a doddle — most of the legacy routes are still there, just begging for reinstatement.
When the juice of the last gas station is strangled by the greed of the last oil company executive, it will all be too late.

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Compare and contrast:

1. From the BBC News website today:

Record rise for British Gas bills

British Gas owner Centrica says it is raising gas prices by a record 35% and electricity prices by 9%.
The UK’s biggest domestic energy supplier said that the price hikes would take place with immediate effect.
It blamed “soaring wholesale energy prices“, but added that standard tariff prices would not rise again in 2008.

2. From the New York Times, this morning:

Energy Prices Are Bright Sliver in Grim Economy

Oil has fallen more than $23 a barrel, or 16 percent, since peaking on July 3. Gasoline has slipped below $4 a gallon and is dropping fast as Americans drive less. Natural gas prices, which had risen the fastest this year as traders anticipated a hot summer, have fallen 33 percent since the beginning of the month.

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Regurgitated gas:

Here’s Malcolm, last November 17th on “Unnatural gas”:

…the price of domestic gas and electricity shows little sign of reducing. We are now paying 90% more for gas, and 60% more for electricity than 2003. There are further price increases due in the near future. Scottish and Southern is upping tariffs next January by 12.1% for gas and 9.4% for electricity. In the name of all decency, why?

Last January, the wholesale price of gas was 71.25p per therm: this year it is being offered at 61.7p (a fall of nearly 15%). The “spot” price is just over 40p per therm (half the peak price reached last Spring), though this is not significant because most suppliers are locked into long-term contracts. However, suppliers, to justify price increases, repeatedly quoted the “spot” price.

And, strictly for comparison, here is the second leader, “Flagging Energy“, in today’s Times:

While wholesale gas prices have fallen by about 40 per cent in the past six months, householders’ bills have risen an average of 30 per cent in that time. Average gas bills have risen by 94 per cent in three years and electricity bills by 60 per cent, pushing the average household into paying more than £1,000 a year for energy.

What is going on? Only last month Ofgem, the energy regulator, warned Britain’s gas suppliers not to “keep jam on their fingers” by failing to pass on falling costs to consumers, and theatening to use its powers to fine them. There is typically a lag in price changes being passed on, since energy companies tend to pay at least three months in advance for their supplies. But wholesale gas prices have been falling for longer that that, and the retail price seems to be heading in quite the opposite direction. Four gas companies raised their prices again on January 1, in some cases because capped deals expired.

Remember, you read it here first.

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