Saturday, December 25, 2010

New Year Means New Rules

As we approach the upcoming change in our calendar year (I am glad for one of many reasons) its also time to take note of local and federal regulations regarding current laws as it relates to Construction.

In WA State we have a new Energy code which has new requirements for building. Checking with the local offices of Energy star can assist in assuring compliance and how it affects you.

We have already had the federal regulations regarding lead paint removal and at this point I am not sure what will be rolled out with regards to Environmental issues as this new Congress is loathe to fund any enforcement in that area.

But States are busy altering their current laws especially regarding 1099 Contracts. This is in response to the Federal Tax code and laws governing this has also changed. So check with your local labor or Construction boards on how that may affect you and your business.

There are new regulations and laws with regards to Construction defects and litigation. Again if you do not have an Attorney now would be a good time to find one - they are more affordable and it would be opportune to have a review of all your contract documents for both sub and customers alike.

San Francisco has a new law that is "hire local." This means any construction project must hire the majority of their crew from the city itself. This will undoubtedly be a challenge and certainly has its pros and cons when building a crew with the kind of experience one needs and certainly does nothing to realize that many talented capable people live within a moderate distance who should also be employed.

Take the time to review the laws. I get that we all feel constrained by regulations to the point we all want to become a tea bagger but then when something goes wrong the race to the courthouse to resolve it is a lot more expensive and time consuming.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

LEED Leads to Overrun

I was perusing the local building scene when I found this article about a recent project in San Antonio, The Brooke Army Medical Center.

The problems with any Construction project is as always the change in design. However some of the changes seemed to be the result of having to add features as demanded by LEED to attain certification.

With less than a year left until its scheduled completion, the cost for the renovations and new construction at Brooke Army Medical Center has jumped more than 25 percent.

Randy Holman, program manager for the Army Corps of Engineers and spokesman for the Joint Program Management Office, said the budget for the BAMC renovations originally totaled $630 million but has been increased to $802 million.

Holman added that many design changes were made for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver certification, which is a sustainable "green" building certification that the project hopes to achieve.

In a time of great hysteria over Government spending and cost overruns, mismanagement and the like I find in interesting that this was not an issue when planning the budget? Why was RFP not submitted earlier in the design process and in turn what would have happened if the cost overruns were rejected.

In this volatile time with regards to the very issues that seem to fuel the fires of our political climate I wonder if this type of oversight is something we can continue and at what cost?

If the Army Corps of Engineers had refused to pay for the LEED overruns would they abandon the concept of healthy green building altogether or would they have utilized the elements that did not add to design changes but retained the spirit of green?

As this is a Medical Center and a Public one I think all the projects should be building smart but not if the costs are for a "certificate of sustainability". Even I would agree that is not very smart.

We have to get over the notions that adding elements to a building that do nothing (in this case a glass facade wall) in making the building healthier and sustainable just to get a gold star (in this case silver) we will find ourselves back to ground zero when it comes to building green. And continues to prove that Government can't manage your money or theirs.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Last Call!


The TLC network is looking for outgoing couples with big personalities who own their home and live together in the Los Angeles area for the new home makeover show “Our House.”

The concept: We give you $25,000 and three weeks to do whatever you want to your homeʼs interior. You can re-paint, re-floor, re-furnish, break down walls, install extreme fixtures and make it your dream house. And you have to do it all YOURSELF! (with a little help from your friends and the occasional plumber).

Weʼre looking for fun couples who DESERVE a makeover. Maybe youʼve bought a fixer-upper thatʼs worse-off than you expected. Maybe youʼre strapped for cash; you have to make room for the new baby; the wedding ate up all your funds; Mother Nature paid the house an unwelcome visit; or the house is just ugly! It doesnʼt matter if youʼre married, dating, new homeowners or long-time residents. Whatever your story -- as long as you own your house and want TLC to pay you to re-invent it -- we want to hear from you!

And we know that opposites attract. If you have differing opinions and style ideas, itʼll make the show more fun!

Please send an email to TODAY! (No later than JANUARY 4, 2011) with:
1) Your names and ages
2) Your best phone number(s) and your houseʼs location
3) Photos of you both and, if possible, of the front of your house
4) A brief explanation of why you want to makeover your home.


For more information about this casting call, call 818-478-4570 or visit and click on the TLC casting call.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PEX Update

I wrote about the argument in the Courts regarding the safety of PEX tubing in California.

There is still an ongoing debate and concern and I did read an article in GBA regarding their current attitude with regards to this type of piping.

This is the link and from there they also have another link to Environmental News on PEX tubing.

I will agree that while there is concern the use and longevity of this piping in Europe which has much more stringent environmental policies than the U.S. to me sends a strong message that ultimately its not a significant dangerous building element.

Please copy and paste into your browser...

Things You Don't Need College For

I received an email from regarding ways to conserve Energy when in College.

Actually this advice particularly useful for Apartment dwellers, home owners and some businesses (well sans the showering with your colleagues).

101 Way to Conserve Water in College

A lot of businesses, households and campuses have recently adopted water conservation plans to save money and protect the environment, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Those of us in the developed world use inordinate amounts of water for personal use, and most of it isn’t used efficiently. With each extra utensil used or toilet flushed, water is wasted, and you can imagine how much water that adds up to on a college campus. Here are 101 ways to conserve water in college, whether you’re a student, college president or professor.

In the Dorms

From laundry to showering, here are ways you and your roommates can save water every day.

Take a home water audit: Print out this audit so that you and your roommate can evaluate your current water usage, and then trim it down.

Turn water off when brushing your teeth: And while shaving or even washing your face. Turn it on when it’s time to rinse.

Check for leaks: Report them to maintenance ASAP to avoid mildew and mold, and of course, water waste.

Take shorter showers: Americans use 1.2 trillions of gallons of water taking showers each year. Spend shower time cleaning yourself, not just standing there zoning out.
Only wash clothes when you have a full load: This shouldn’t be too hard for students who wait until the last minute to do laundry. Just make sure you have a full load, or else you’re wasting water and energy on a half load.

Put rocks in your toilet: Placing pebbles in your tank restricts the amount of water that fills the bowl back up, using less water per flush.

Test your toilet for leaks: Put a drop of food coloring into the tank. If the color bleeds into the toilet bowl without flushing, there’s a leak you need to report.

Turn water pressure down when adjusting temperature: Instead of blasting the shower while you wait for it to get hot, turn the water down during the adjustment process.

Flush sparingly if you’re in a single: If you’ve got a lot of suitemates or just a bathroom down the hall, you’ll have to flush every time out of courtesy and personal hygiene. But if you’re in a single, wait until you have to do the Number 2 to flush.

Shower with a buddy: Waste less water from showering by doing it with a buddy. Just make sure you’re not in there too long.

Don’t use the toilet for arbitrary flushes: Throw cigarette butts and bugs in the trash, instead of sacrificing the 5-7 gallons of water it takes to flush.
Wash clothes in cold water: This saves energy and water.

Turn off water while you wash your hair: If you need a longer shower, turn off water while you let shampoo or conditioner soak in.

Wash your face in the shower: Since the water’s already on, wash your face in the shower instead of turning the faucet on at your sink.

Flush toilets with shower water: Keep a bucket in the shower with you, and use the collected water to flush toilets.

Take fewer showers: You’ll need to bathe every day, but if you plan on working out, schedule your shower for after exercise instead of doubling up.

Use a low-flow shower head: Ask residential life about a new system, or put one in yourself if you’re in an apartment.

Combine laundry with a buddy: If you use utility sized laundry machines at a laundry mat and can’t fill it yourself, ask a buddy to put his or her clothes in, too, and you can split the cost.

Reuse towels: Don’t throw towels into the laundry after only using them once: they’re still clean.

Wear your jeans again: Here’s another excuse to be lazy: you can wear your jeans a few times before washing them, too.

Don’t separate your laundry too specifically: When you use cold water, your colors aren’t as likely to bleed. Just remember that the first couple of times you wash a colored item, be more careful about separating from your whites.

Dining Hall and Kitchen

Whether you’re making your food choices in the dining hall or in your own apartment kitchen, be smart about water with these tips.

Run the dishwasher when it’s full: If you run out of spoons, wash those by hand before running the dishwasher if it isn’t full.

Use the garbage disposal sparingly: Running it wastes water each time.

Water plants with dropped ice cubes: Putting them in pet water dishes is a good idea, too.

Use one glass per day to drink from: If you’re just drinking water, use the same glass all day to reduce the need for washing.

Use a pitcher of water to cool it in the refrigerator: Now you won’t have to let the faucet run to cool the water, or even use ice.

Fill up the sink when you wash dishes: A good alternative to just letting the water run.

Fill up one plate only: Use as few plates and utensils as possible to cut down on dish washing later. Do you really need a separate plate for your mashed potatoes?
Turn off the automatic ice maker: Don’t let it run continuously, and always turn it off when you go out of town.

Make soup with water leftover from steaming veggies: You’ve already pre-flavored it!
Bring your own reusable glasses and bottles: Don’t use disposable cups, and minimize dish washing loads for the dining hall staff. Instead, bring your own thermos or cup to fill up on water or fountain drinks.

Stop pre-rinsing: Most newer dishwashers are strong enough to pull off little crumbs, so a shake into the garbage can is all the pre-cleaning you really need to do.

Clean veggies in a pan of water: Much better than letting the water run.

Consider water footprint: You’ve heard of carbon footprint, but did you know that foods have a water footprint scale, too? Lettuce and cabbage have a water footprint of 15-24 gallons, while beef’s is up to 2500-5000 gallons.

Don’t thaw frozen foods with running water: Put it in the refrigerator over night instead.

Campus-Wide Conservation

Here are some ideas your whole school can use to conserve water on campus.
Start campus gardens: Sustainable for many reasons, community gardens also save water and reduce pollution in the form of runoff.

Use recycled water to water grass: It’s already a common practice on many college campuses.

Put out mulch: Packing mulch around trees and landscaping keeps water in.
Connect irrigation systems to weather systems: This prevents watering plants when it’s raining.

Install shower times with red lights: Make it easier for students to take shorter showers.

Get gyms and recreation facilities in on the conservation: Install low-flow shower heads and other water conservation systems there too.

Insulate water pipes: When it’s cold out, insulated pipes mean you won’t have to run the water as long to get a hot shower.

Ask for aerators in faucets: Propose that your school changes the faucets so that they have aerators, which restrict water flow.

Winterize outdoor water faucets: Prevent leaks and breaks from freezing by appropriately protecting outdoor water faucets.

Re-route grey water: Maintenance can re-route water from your dorm to water the lawn and plants.

Cut out water fountains: These waste water and electricity, so encourage students to carry around their own reusable bottles instead.

Install shower timers with red lights: Make it easier for students to take shorter showers.

Use recycled water for fountains, too: It’ll still look pretty with recycled water.
Install half-flush toilets: You’ve seen them catching on, so ask your college to install the half-flush toilets that use less water when, um, you need them to.

Evaluate the watering schedule: Your campus lawn probably doesn’t need the automatic sprinklers to come on twice a day.

Take out some laundry facilities: People will do laundry more often (even when they don’t have a full load) if the laundry room is convenient, so limit the number of laundry facilities you have on campus.

Use drip-irrigation systems: For shrubs and large areas of low-lying plants, use drip-irrigation systems instead of big sprinklers.

Host an awareness day: Besides Earth Day, host a campus-wide "holiday" or public awareness day that’s all about water conservation.

Install more efficient washing machines: Front-load washers use less water.
Streamline cooling systems: Connect cooling systems to a central water plant instead of having separate coolers for each building.

Set up a hotline number: It’ll be easier for students and staff to report leaks anonymously and efficiently.

Cover pools: Keep water clean and prevent evaporation with a pool cover.

Start inspections: Drop into dorms, offices and bathrooms to perform water conservation inspections: check for leaks and evidence of water recycling, and reward those in the building who have taken responsibility for conserving water.

Use recycled water for car washes: If your campus has a large supply of recycled water it’s able to collect, use it for sponsored car washes once a month.

Stop using trays: Take trays away from the dining hall to cut down on washing needless dishes.

Landscape with hard spaces: Create more space by making patios, sidewalks and plazas on campus, which don’t require watering.

Streamline water systems in labs: Campus laboratories use a lot of water, so streamline cooling systems and regulate water flow or even water supply to these areas.

Compost food from the dining hall: Putting large amounts of scraps down the garbage disposal wastes water.

Drill your own wells: Duke considered drilling its own wells during a drought.

Get rid of automatic flush toilets: Switch to manual to eliminate pointless flushing.

Use hand sensor sinks: Water will only turn on when you’re ready to rinse.

Personal Gardening and Patios
If you have a garden on your balcony or a bigger plot outside your apartment, be more conscientious about water usage with these tips.

Use "leftover" water to water plants: Any leftover water you have in a drinking glass or other container should be used to water plants, not thrown out.

Clear off dirt and other messes with a broom, instead of hosing it down. It’ll get things just as clean and save water to boot.

Plant during spring and fall: Considered "less water stress times," spring and fall bring more rain and moisture naturally, so you won’t have to water young plants as often.

Water in the morning or evening: There’s less chance of evaporation due to cooler temperatures and lower wind speed at this time.

Use the right fertilizer: Put slow-release, water-insoluble fertilizer on plants only when necessary. Many fertilizers make plants more thirsty.

Learn how to compost: It’s a life skill you can use to save water.

Look for native plants: Plant flowers, bushes and trees that are native to your area, as they’ll be used to the conditions and won’t need as much water.

Make sure sprinklers are correctly situated: Watering the sidewalk is a depressing waste of water.

Don’t water when it’s about to rain: Pay a little extra attention to the forecast to avoid water waste and killing your plants.

Watch the soil to find out how much water you need to use: If the soil around a plant starts to pool up, you don’t need to keep watering it.

Personal Awareness

Report leaks around campus and challenge yourself to be better about water usage.

Report open hydrants: Call maintenance if you see an opened hydrant that’s gushing water.

Turn water faucets off tightly: After washing your hands or working in a lab, turn the faucets off tightly, and wait a few seconds to see if there are any drips.
Report leaks: Even if it’s not in your dorm, report leaky faucets, toilets, etc. Don’t expect someone else to do it.

Finish your water instead of dumping it out: Or at least make a point to dump the end of your water bottle into a thirsty looking plant, not the pavement or trash.

Get a conservation buddy: Work with your roommate to keep each other accountable.
Write down all the ways you see people wasting water: Then check to see if you’re practicing the same dirty habits yourself.

Turn off the water while washing your hands: You don’t need the water running while you lather up.

Spreading the Word

Get others involved, too.

Send a letter to the newspaper: Write a letter to the editor asking everyone on campus to be more conscientious about water usage.

Host a contest: Pit dorms against each other to see who can save the most water one month. Get residential life involved to amp up prizes and evaluate water bills.

Hang up flyers around campus: Share water conservation tip by hanging flyers in dorms and academic buildings.

Make a YouTube video: Make a funny YouTube video showing places around campus where water is wasted, and hope it goes viral.

Start a club: Participate in events around the city and sponsor water conservation awareness days and events on campus.

Explain the importance of water conservation: Droughts, pollution and water shortages are all important reasons to conserve water.

Write letters to the president or dean: Explain that going green is actually good business for your campus, as it saves money proves that you’re an Earth-friendly school.

Make t-shirts: Sell t-shirts to spread the message across campus.

Get professors involved: Ask professors to pitch in by reporting leaks and reusing coffee mugs.

Join national campaigns: Sign up with the EPA’s WaterSense campaign to find out about events and literature you can share on campus.


From car washes to washing your pets, here are more ways for college students and workers to save water.

Use a commercial car wash: Their design is more efficient, and they use recycled water.

Wash your pets outside: If your lawn needs watering, wash your dog on the lawn to reuse the water.

Keep a bucket on your patio to catch rain water: Use it to water plants when it’s try, or flush your toilet.

Don’t contaminate water supplies: Don’t pour anything into water supplies, like chemicals or drugs into toilets.

Always check your water bill: If you live in an apartment, compare water bills to make sure there’s not a huge discrepancy, which could point to a leak.

Set goals for bringing your water bill down: Try to get your water bill lower each month: you’ll get pretty creative with conservation that way.

Use a nozzle on the hose: When watering plants or washing your car, control water use with a nozzle.

Use hand sanitizer, not water: When your hands aren’t really that dirty, use hand sanitizer.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bring on the Sun

Innovative Project Targets Increased Solar Energy Use in Seattle!

Seattle, WA, – Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (Northwest SEED), Sustainable Queen Anne, and Sunergy Systems are launching a new project - Solarize Queen Anne - a community-driven effort designed to bring widespread use of solar energy to Seattle homes.

Solarize Queen Anne provides a way for residents to get solar panels installed on their homes for less cost than that of a typical solar installation. In addition, the project will incorporate a large amount of education about the benefits of solar energy. A similar program initiated in Portland last year witnessed unprecedented success, more than quadrupling the number of residential solar installations in that city.

Solarize Queen Anne is the pilot project of Solarize Seattle, an initiative launched by Northwest SEED to accelerate the pace of solar installations in Seattle. While registration for the pilot is limited to Queen Anne residents, Northwest SEED anticipates rolling out the Solarize program in two additional neighborhoods in 2011. “With this program, we hope to streamline the process of installing solar, deliver significant cost savings, and unleash the demand for solar energy in Seattle,” said Jennifer Grove, Executive Director of Northwest SEED.

The effort will be co-led by Sustainable Queen Anne, who will engage neighborhood support and involvement in the Solarize pilot project. ”People are surprised to learn that Germany, which is the solar capital of the world, is darker than Seattle,” said Heather Trim, chair of Sustainable Queen Anne, “As we explain the project to Queen Anne residents, we are definitely seeing increased interest. We hope to have solar panels popping up on roofs all over the neighborhood next spring!”

Through a competitive bidding process, Northwest SEED and Sustainable Queen Anne selected a Ballard-based company, Sunergy Systems, as the project’s solar installer. Sunergy will offer solar panels at discounted rates to project participants. “One cannot underestimate the impact this innovative program will have in taking solar in Seattle to the next level. This, combined with the best incentives and lowest prices ever, results in “now” being the best time ever to go solar. Sunergy Systems is excited to help spread the message, install quality solar systems, and be a part of the solution in making Seattle one of the nation's leading solar cities,” said Howard Lamb, Founder and Principal Engineer of Sunergy Systems.

Registration for Solarize Queen Anne opened Monday, December 6th and will close April 22, 2011, Earth Day. Solar energy workshops will be held throughout the registration period. For additional information and to register please go to

About Northwest SEED: Northwest SEED is a non-profit organization that empowers community scale clean energy through expert guidance that combines technical support, community education and practical implementation.

About Sustainable Queen Anne: Sustainable Queen Anne is a team of committed volunteers acting to increase awareness of and support for the social natural and economic sustainability in the Queen Anne neighborhood.

About Sunergy Systems: Sunergy Systems is a full-service solar design and installation firm located in Seattle, Washington. Sunergy specializes in the sales, engineering, design and installation of solar electric and solar hot water systems for both homes and businesses.

Heather Trim, Sustainable Queen Anne: (206) 351-2898
Jennifer Grove, Northwest SEED: (206) 267-2212
Jeremy Harvey, Sunergy Systems: (206) 297-0086 ext. 6000


Zap Away.

This blog enty is a paid Advertisement from But in the effort of full disclosure I am also a VIP customer.

I have been using Zappos for years. I LOVE THEM! It is difficult for me to be unbiased when it comes to their business (admittedly when sold to Amazon I panicked but its still fantastic.)

Why do I love Its got free shipping both ways. That is right FREE SHIPPING.

The selection is amazing when it comes to shoes glorious shoes. From high fashion to just plain simple sneakers if you cannot find it on they don't exist.

The last year or so they have also added a luxury site for more high end lines but even those items go frequently on markdown. There is little I don't like about

They have this amazing Core Values philosophy which I also love. And is often most apparent in their original and very quirky ads on television.

If you are looking for gifts that are not just shoes they have that too. They ship fast and again their return policy is amazingly easy. I have NEVER had a problem with I am sure you won't either.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Going Going Gone

I have talked about death before when I discussed Green Funerals. I am not one to shy away from what is ironically a fact of life.

Recently I was sent some information regarding burial insurance. I thought what is that is someone trying to tell me something.

What it is is a basic "life" insurance policy that covers people till they reach the age of 100. It is a simple insurance policy that has less complexities of a basic life insurance policy and designed to cover the costs of funeral expenses. And in today's economy its unfortunate to think you would somehow have to "save" on those.

There are specific burial insurance for seniors which is not something akin to the dreaded death panels but a safety net for those who do not want to burden family members with unexpected expenses.

If you are trying to understand the difference as to what the difference between Burial Insurance vs Life Insurance Definition it is a matter of intent. One is to provide a source of income the other is to provide money for the costs of funerals. They are exceedingly different and should be thought of as such when making end of life financial matters.

Consult an Attorney or Certified Financial Planner when making such important decisions regarding your health and personal finances. They can be essential to secure peace of mind and relief before you need them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thinking of the Earth.

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I think I might have found the most one purpose Eco-friendly site that offers a wide range of products and items from DIY to Gifts with purpose.

Earthwhile is committed to finding and offering a wide variety of environmental oriented products that are both good for you and good for the environment.

Products were selected on a three fold concept: That they do what they promise, that they save money or conserve energy and promote alternative energy or technology.

Earthwhile has a wide selection of home insulation products that include pipe and hot water heater blankets/wraps and conventional batt insulation.

If you are looking for the children in your life look for Eco friendly toys and gifts. Earthwhile has a wide selection of safe and healthy toys in varying price points to make them affordable and accessible.

And for your basic needs the Reusable Shopping bags. From fashionably chic to practical Earthwhile has something for everyone.

Earthwhile is a forward thinking company with forward looking products for home and body and peace of mind.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Today marked the 30th "anniversary" of the death of John Lennon. A Libra like me is perhaps why I understood his complex nature and his compassion.

His death began an era I believe that truly marked the age of obsession/celebrity. Shortly after his murder by a deranged "fan" who felt dismissed, Ronald Reagan was shot by a deranged nut who was obsessed with Jodie Foster. The age of celebrity and the need to connect to someone "famous" seems to mark the time when people had no role models of real significance or issue. By then John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy were all dead at the hand of assassins and in turn our leaders were a disgraced President with few others available who could capture and lead a time of immense social and economical upheaval.

The Beatles came at a time of great growth in the world and period in the world where there was still optimism, excitement and creativity. Imagine was not yet written but the time when the Beatles emerged they had an effervescence with no seeming end. And that excitement was shared by the new America. As they grew and changed so did the times. It doesn't seem surprising that the worlds upheaval paralleled that of the band. The Beatles dissolved but the power of Lennon and McCartney evolved as did we. For many Lennon was one who represented a time when "Revolution" was not just a song.

I really think John who would be a man in his 70s today would be an interesting cultural counterpoint to today's almost silent youth. John if anything was not a silent man. A man of Cool Britannia but a man who was also very American in espousing the most precious of American values - free speech.

He was on Nixon's enemy list and today we have Beck's Blackboard. Would John be on it? I would only hope. And I suspect he might have laughed about it. Then railed against its purpose.

Peace and Love. Peace and Love. A message from yesterday one for today.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Frack This.

As the Climate Conference in Cancun comes to an end and to no surprise no progress was made to global cooperation with regards to Climate change.

Meanwhile it is highly unlikely that any progress on the US front will be made with regards to our Energy needs and anything regarding Climate matters. To our industry oriented friends the thought of regulation and laws governing resources is just another intrusion of "big Government."

In the meantime industries are pushing forward and covering their tracks on what is the ineveitable and finding new ideas that they are pushing as green.. or are they?

Much has been made of a process called "Fracking". Varying publications from Vanity Fair to the New York Times have had articles on the subject.

Last week BBC Newsnight discussed at length the process and its not something just affecting the US. The transcript is below.

Whatever you say this is one fracked up dangerous plan.

Susan Watts | 18:40 UK time, Thursday, 2 December 2010

Never heard of "fracking"? If not, chances are you will soon. It is short for hydraulic fracturing, and is part of a process by which the United States is tapping into a vast new source of energy - natural gas trapped in shale rock, deep underground.

But this new source of energy is controversial. Video sharing website YouTube is buzzing with clips showing people who live close to gas drill sites setting light to their tap water.

They claim this happened only after drilling released methane gas and contaminated their private water wells.

There is a lot at stake - not just money, but also the reputation of a whole new industry.

Potential rewards

Some estimates suggest there is enough shale gas under US soil that in energy terms it represents at least a couple of Saudi Arabias. What is more, this trillions-of-dollars-worth of energy is home-grown, and cleaner than other fossil fuels.

Until recently it was thought too difficult to tap economically. But a new engineering approach that combines "fracking" with horizontal drilling has challenged that (see how fracking works in the video below).

If all goes well in the US, Europe could be next. Just this September, a Chatham House report weighed up the prospects of a shale gas revolution.

But is it safe to go ahead?

'Learning by doing'

In early October, I went to the town of Dimock in the US state of Pennsylvanian to find out more. Residents there have become well known for their experience with fracking, and with the gas companies at work in their backyards.

The message I took away from the trip was similar to that highlighted by Chatham House, which in its report spoke about the industry as one which is "learning by doing".

When I spoke to one of the gas companies operating in Pennsylvania, Chesapeake Energy, I found that such "learning by doing" had uncovered a problem.

The company, the second largest gas company in the US, conceded this straight away. Brian Grove, from Chesapeake, told us that problems the company had encountered with shallow pockets of gas could explain how methane might reach people's drinking water.

The threat of methane in people's drinking water is one of two chief safety concerns about the industry.

If colourless, odourless methane gas migrates into people's private drinking water wells it is not a health risk in itself, though in high concentrations methane gas is an asphyxiate.

More worrying, the gas could explode if it collects in a confined space.

Contamination claim

The second anxiety is over what is in the so-called fracking fluids. These are mixed in with millions of gallons of water, and pumped underground at high pressure to help ease the gas out of the dense shale rock.

One of the Dimock residents we met, Bill Ely, like many landowners in the area, leased his land to a company called Cabot Oil and Gas, hoping to make money from royalties.

Now he is suing the firm for contaminating his water supply with methane gas and putting his home at risk of explosion.

After a neighbour's private water well apparently did explode, Cabot installed ventilation pipes on Mr Ely's water well, and agreed to divert his well water through a hose, rather than into his home. They truck in all his drinking water too.

(You can see Mr Ely setting light to gas coming off his water in the video below)

George Stark is the spokesman for Texas-based Cabot, which has already invested $900m in exploiting gas in just this one county in Pennsylvania.

He says people have long been able to light up their water round in the area because of naturally-occurring methane:

"Our experts have checked over our casing, cementing, the drilling practice itself, the tubular that we're using to go down and they have determined that at this point that there's no Cabot operations that's occurring allowing for the discharge of methane into the waters," he told me.

But the state's environmental regulator says he has the equivalent of fingerprints linking the methane in local wells and Cabot's operations.

So there's a standoff.

UK tests

Vast tracts of North America sit on top of the ancient shale rock that holds natural gas in tightly compressed layers. Extraction or exploration is now underway in 30 US states, with attention focussed on the so-called Marcellus shale under Pennsylvania and New York states.

And in New York, they are watching Pennsylvania with interest. The state has a moratorium in place while its regulators weigh up the pros and cons.

There is growing interest in shale gas in the UK too. This summer, Cuadrilla Resources, a UK company, began test drilling near Kirkham in Lancashire.

Geoff Maitland, professor of energy engineering at London's Imperial College, told me there is probably significant potential in the UK, as yet unexplored:

"There are good indications both in the Lancashire area, and in Dorset in the onshore Kimmeridge shales. Scotland also has good prospects," he said.

Tony Ingraffea, a geologist from Cornell University in the US, specialises in rock fracture analysis. He has spoken out against the way shale gas drilling is being carried out:

"You have steel casing, surrounded by cement, surrounded by rock. If any of those protection barriers fails we have an open pathway. A faulty cement job can be a failure by which gas or other fluids can find their way to the surface."

And it seems Chesapeake Energy might have hit upon at least one explanation for people's flaming tap water. The company told us that it had been forced to change its drilling mixture earlier this year, adding more latex.

Why? Because, just as Mr Ingraffea feared, problems with cement had allowed gas to migrate outside the well casing.

Brian Grove, from Chesapeake, explained: "In some cases it looks like, as the cement was drying, high pressure shallow methane kept it from drying properly, and would allow channelling to develop on the outside of the casing, which then could allow methane to move upwards through the shallower zone and to get into fresh water."

Mr Ingraffea is not surprised, but does not think this is the right approach: "I don't accept the notion that that industry can come in and say 'we're safe - oops, wait a minute, we found another mistake, we found another situation we hadn't anticipated, we're learning while we're doing'."

Haliburton subpoena

Much of the suspicion about the natural gas industry dates back to 2005, when US President George W Bush signed an energy bill which granted it exemptions from federal regulations, including the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Then-US vice-president Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, worked prominently on energy policy at the time.

Halliburton is one of the major makers of fracking fluids, but appears to be the most reluctant to disclose their chemical make-up.

Earlier this month, the company was issued with a subpoena by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force it to disclose more. Halliburton said it has worked to supply the EPA with the information it wants.

And as the gas companies expand their work across the US, this is a debate that is going global. As we finished filming in October, China's state gas company announced plans to invest in Chesapeake Energy's oil and gas fields.

The growing interest in the industry is not all positive. A documentary called Gasland has fired up the debate.

While New York State weighs up its position, many landowners welcome the industry, and the jobs and wealth it brings. Others say they are determined to secure the best deal for themselves, and for the environment, from this new gas Gold Rush.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The American Worker/The Walking Dead

It is not sustainable to continue on this current Economic course that American businesses seem intent on pursuing.

There is an immense disconnect from what is happening in the United States of working America and the one of the rich. The top 1% of Americans control over 40% of the economy and if this "recession" continues their wealth will rise and their control with it. Real Americans are confused, frustrated and angry. Congress regardless of party affiliation are equally frustrated, confused and angry just not about the same issues "we the people" are.

While parties fight for political dominance there are no real plans to get Americans back to work. If anything they are more preoccupied with paying down the debt by cutting services and programs while simultaneously not raising taxes on those whose ability and financial security will not be affected by any tax raise. Many Americans are thoroughly convinced that if they "give" this to the rich they will open up their hearts and purse strings and "give" Americans jobs.

Well in a time when record profits are being made as unemployment rises there is no imperative to give any American anything but a swift kick to the door. Outsourcing is still alive and well and there is nothing stopping that, financial reforms are now loopholes and bubbles are back and well business in America for those in the business of maintaining the rich they are just fine. For them this is a sustainable model that works.

The New York Times yesterday discussed the fact that regardless of the recessions depth and ultimate end there will be a rise in a great group of "underclass". Educated and trained workers who will not be hired. When a nation and when business can survive on unemployment that has risen and risen again with little affect to the bottom line why change? We may well become a country with unemployment that will always be in the 8% or greater number well into the future.

And I read this on Highdown Lowdown today which confirms that whatever "uncertainty" they claim about America they have no such uncertainty about foreign countries.

America's unemployed and downsized workers are furious that corporate profits, stock prices, and CEO pay are up – while hiring and wages are held down. But wait – U.S. corporations actually are increasing their payrolls. Just not in America. In a two year period, these corporate giants hiked hiring in foreign countries by 729,000 jobs, even as they cut 500,000 jobs here. Hilton hotels, for example, moved a U.S. call center to the Philippines, calling it a move for "maximizing efficiencies" – which is cold corporate jargon for "chasing cheap labor."

Likewise, JPMorgan Chase, which hauled in $25 billion from the Wall Street bailout, is moving its telephone banking business from Troy, Michigan, to the Philippines. Dell, the computer peddler, has closed its last PC factory here, while creating tens of thousands of PC jobs in China. And get this: Hewlett-Packard has dumped its human resources staff in 10 states, moving the work to Panama. Hello, human resources is the corporate division that ostensibly helps resolve worker complaints and boost employee morale. So the message here is. "Hey, bud, got a problem? Take it to Panama." Yet, a clueless Harvard business professor recently pooh-poohed any concerns about this outflow of American jobs: "When companies succeed abroad," he asserted, "people at home succeed." Golly, professor, I can hardly wait for you to enjoy the success of seeing your job offshored to some orangutans in Malaysia.

Bear in mind that replacing American employees with low-wage foreigners does nothing to improve products or even make them cheaper. The savings on wage costs are simply pocketed by corporate executives and Wall Street financiers. It's a massive redistribution of wealth from the many to the few. And the moneyed elites wonder why workaday Americans are furious?

I fear that if we continue with this course of action we will become a nation of Zombies as those in the AMC series Walking Dead. And that is not what makes a country it destroys it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dig This

I had read about this site in of all things a woman's magazine. I think this is a much better and safer alternative than Craigslist. In addition this season they are generously using their site to help those in need. And there is a lot of need of late.

Please check on their site. They sent me this notice and I hope you will look through it for your use now and in the future.

Online home improvement classified is giving Americans an easy-to-use avenue for charitable giving this holiday season that allows to donate to charity, no matter how hectic the holidays, or how cash-strapped the family budget.

The website’s “donation center” offers DiggersList visitors a simple way to clear out clutter from their garage or home, and offer it to Habitat for Humanity, one of the nation’s most respected nonprofits, which uses the donations to build homes for victims of natural disasters and people in need.

Visitors to DiggersList simply click on the “donation center” link on the DiggersList homepage, fill out a short form that describes the home improvement items they are offering to Habitat for Humanity as a donation, and click “submit.”

The donations that Habitat for Humanity accepts are sold at the non-profit’s nationwide network of ReStores to raise money to support their philanthropic mission. Habitat for Humanity has built over 350,000 houses around the world, providing more than 1.75 million people in 3,000 communities with safe, decent, affordable shelter.

“Someone’s home is the most personal thing, and this holiday season a lot of people are without,” said Matt Knox, CEO of DiggersList. “DiggersList’s donation center was created to help those people, and the fact that it can be done with just stuff that people have laying around in their garage makes it an easy charitable choice for the holidays.”

Despite a deep recession, a nationwide poll found that most Americans are planning on donating to charity just as much this holiday season as last year. In the nationwide American Red Cross poll conducted this fall, 62 percent of respondents said they would give to charity an equal amount as last year, and 10 percent said they expect to give more than last year.

According to a recent USA Today article on the American Red Cross poll, Americans are caught between two difficult realities during a recession — most realize that charitable giving is more important during an economic downturn because of the number of people in financial need, but the majority of Americans are struggling with their own financial hardships that preclude large charitable commitments.

DiggersList’s “donation center” solves this difficult dilemma by making charitable giving accessible to anyone with unused home improvement items in a garage or storage space. Items like tile, windows, light fixtures and appliances are perfect donation items that Habitat for Humanity can re-sell to fund their extensive work along the rebuilding Gulf Coast and in other parts of the nation.

“If there ever is a great time to clean out the garage and help people out, the holidays are it,” said Knox. “Most people are charitable and want to help, and we are just trying to provide an easy outlet for that.”

To visit DiggersList’s “donation center” log on to and look for the “donation center” link on the lower left-hand side of the page.