Coal Country: 200,000+

You see them wherever you drive in Pennsylvania: small oil collection pumps, or wellheads for natural gas. The big fracking sites are away from the roads so they are unseen, but you can’t miss the trucks driving around with fracking liquid.

There was a boom when the fracking started, because gas was close to $4/gal and seemed headed endlessly higher. The coal boom was already winding down, those jobs rolled forward into fracking jobs, and life went on. Trump’s stupid promise to bring back coal jobs probably resonated with a lot of Pennsylvania’s working class (outside of Philadelphia) who resolutely refuse to learn anything about the economic forces and corporate maneuvers that control their lives. It probably seems to have always been thus; Carnegie and Frick also played games with their laborer’s lives, building a steel empire in Pittsburgh that then collapsed because American steel corporations preferred to take profits than to keep their factories technologically competitive. They blamed the unions. Trump blamed everyone except the coal companies and fracking companies, and the workers believed him. Suckers.

It would be nice, actually, if Biden would push for something so courageous. The coal jobs could be rolled over into green energy jobs, except, like a bunch of addicts, americans are going to keep chasing that first rush – and they’re not going to take the risks seriously until the deaths start racking up in large numbers.

I learned a thing the other day: apparently there are about 200,000 small oil wells, small natural gas collectors, and fracking wells. These never get shut down and cleaned up, because they produce a trickle, it’s easier than re-negotiating a lease, and it costs more to  shut them down than to let them rot until they leak into some ground-water and there’s a lawsuit. Lawsuits can be dragged out longer than the life of most plaintiffs, so this stuff will never get cleaned up. Not that Biden would do it, if he became president, but a lot of those coal and fracking jobs could be turned into coal/fracking/oil cleanup and abatement jobs. Most americans now alive don’t know that the oil boom began in Pennsylvania; there are still wells from 1859 – because it’s cheaper to leave them there than to abate them.

Steel was big in Pennsylvania because of the plentiful fossil fuels to fire the mills. I have trouble wrapping my brain around some of this stuff because, to me, all I see if a litany of abusive corporations fucking over labor while getting them to shit their own beds and lie in it. The satanic trick they pulled was getting the laborers to be proud of what they had accomplished – rather than murderously angry.

200,000+ small oil and gas wells. It’s probably the same everywhere in the country where there has been a fossil fuels boom. We’re already running our so-called civilization off a cliff because we’ve burned too much fossil fuel, but the US isn’t honest with itself that most of the concerns are pretend. The melting permafrost in the arctic is already being explored for drilling opportunities, and you know who is going to kill whoever and however many it takes in order to control the fossil fuels. Besides, that may be the only arable land that’s left, at the current projected heating rate. I’m reminded of the ending of the film La Haine:

There is a story of a man who is falling from a building. As the floors go by, he says, “so far, it’s OK.” It’s not the fall that matters: it’s the landing.

Methane is a worse greenhouse gas than CO2. Part of the premise of “clean natural gas” is that the natural gas, which is worse than CO2 is made “cleaner” by burning it.

Remember that, right now, we are tracking the IPCC’s “worst case scenario” for emissions – the one that is not just “civilization probably collapses” but the one that is “a small number of humans may survive.” We’re heading for a huge fall, and our politicians are making an election year issue out of expanding fossil fuel production.


Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, soared to a record high in 2017, the most recent year for which worldwide data are available, researchers said Tuesday.

And they warned that the rise – driven by fossil fuel leaks and agriculture – would most certainly continue despite the economic slowdown from the coronavirus crisis, which is bad news for efforts to limit global warming and its grave effects.

Watch the birdie: we’re trying (and failing) to cut back on the CO2 emissions, but there are far worse things we’re not going to talk about.

Overall, global methane emissions are up 9 percent from the early 2000s, according to the latest findings, and human activity is responsible for more than half of those emissions. Raising livestock like cattle and sheep, which burp copious amounts of methane, is a major source of methane emissions, as is coal mining, which releases methane from deep within the rock.


Curbing methane emissions will require better plugging leaks and other fugitive emissions from oil and gas infrastructure, like wells and pipelines, which are a major source of methane emissions, the scientists said. It will also require an overhaul of agriculture, especially cattle and rice farming, two large sources of methane emissions.

200,000 oil and natural gas wells.

It looks like it’s coming out so hard and fast it can’t burn.

Apparently there is now a satellite that monitors for methane. And it’s finding unpleasant surprises: [nyt]

The first satellite designed to continuously monitor the planet for methane leaks made a startling discovery last year: A little known gas-well accident at an Ohio fracking site was in fact one of the largest methane leaks ever recorded in the United States.

Key words: “ever recorded.” The unrecorded ones might be much worse. Who knows?

The blowout, in February 2018 at a natural gas well run by an Exxon Mobil subsidiary in Belmont County, Ohio, released more methane than the entire oil and gas industries of many nations do in a year, the research team found. The Ohio episode triggered about 100 residents within a one-mile radius to evacuate their homes while workers scrambled to plug the well.


When burned for electricity, natural gas is cleaner than coal, producing about half the carbon dioxide that coal does. But if methane escapes into the atmosphere before being burned, it can warm the planet more than 80 times as much as the same amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

200,000 old oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania. They’re all over Ohio, Tennesee, Texas, California… Banning fracking isn’t even a start: the wells need to be abated, too. For one thing: it’s a good idea, but for another: if the site has been permitted for drilling, and there’s still an operational well, does the permit get grandfathered forever? I bet it does. Which means that it’s going to be nearly impossible to stop oil and fracking. Impossible until civilization collapses, that is. We are headed toward “Mad Max is a Documentary”-land and all we get from Washington is wild gibbering sounds from the shoggoth in chief.


  1. consciousness razor says

    It would be nice, actually, if Biden would push for something so courageous.

    Yep. Biden has been explicitly against a fracking ban. When Sanders pressed him on it in a debate back in March, the point was evaded a few times, but eventually it became clear that his position hasn’t changed, despite the confusing/misleading rhetoric: “no new fracking,” meaning that what we already have would continue, which of course is not a ban.

    And I wouldn’t put money on the claim that he’d even commit to that much, once in office. If Congress wanted to allow more, would he veto? Doubtful.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    americans are going to keep chasing that first rush – and they’re not going to take the risks seriously until the deaths start racking up in large numbers

    What makes you think they’ll take it seriously even then?

    The USA is already, right now racking up deaths in (the) large(st) numbers from Covid-19, and the attitude of the average Yank appears to be “I ain’t wearing no stinking mask, nossiree Bob”. The risk is here, it’s immediate, it’s relatively easily explained and it’s killing large numbers of Americans today and hardly any of them give a monkey’s and their “leader” is opening schools and businesses.

    Deaths – near, far, white, black, old, young – are irrelevant. Yanks will NOT take climate change seriously until it gets expensive, but since the global economy seems to run mainly in dollars they’re in a position to make sure it never does get expensive for them. Freedom!

    I’ve recently started working for an American company. One of the new things there (i.e. different to my previous employer) is monthly safety training, which so far every month includes viewing and answering a quiz on a video made by the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. They’re fascinating. Every month I (a British trained and qualified chartered chemical engineer) watch a description of a set of circumstances. Twice so far I’ve had my pulse quickened just by looking at a crude piping diagram of the equipment in question, before any description of the incident or even conditions has been started. Questions like “wtf?” cross my mind, as I see designs that would give any competent practitioner the heebie jeebies and make them say “Did nobody review this? HAZOP it? Look at it twice after they scribbled it on the back of a fag packet???”

    Time and again the CSB notes in its investigation that similar, less disastrous incidents had occurred before, sometimes even on the same site, but that their recommendations had not been implemented on grounds of cost. Which is to say: the company was allowed to carry on operating a plant already proven to be dangerous without making any effort to make it safe. If companies were issued prohibition notices – i.e. were shut down – until they sorted out their shit, the CSB wouldn’t have to keep ruefully saying “I told you so”. This isn’t even the E part of SHE, not even the H part – it’s the S part, the one that kills you TODAY, instead of killing you in twenty years (H) or killing your grandkids (E). And the legislative set up in the USA seems to be “oh, you didn’t put a working pressure relief valve on that vessel? You really should have you know. Think about putting one on those other twenty you have. Now… carry on.”

    From a Euro perspective, the lax attitude to not blowing shit up pretty regularly is shocking.

  3. komarov says

    “they’re not going to take the risks seriously until the deaths start racking up in large numbers.”

    If Corona is anything to go by, six figures clearly aren’t big enough for that to happen.

    Regarding climate scenarios, anything short Venusian conditions would probably be hailed as a huge success by politicians. “301.5°C: Mission accomplished”

    “the wells need to be abated,”

    Oooh, three guesses who’d pay for that: Umm, the taxpayer, the locals, no one (i.e. still the people who live there, but different currency). Or maybe some black sails insurance company that insures oil companies against that sort of thing and never ever actually pays out – except to their lawyers. Then see first three guesses.

  4. says

    What makes you think they’ll take it seriously even then?

    There will be americans denying what’s happening until their last breath. “Fake news! (gasp) (collapses)”

    The response to coronavirus has convinced me that humans have an inability to respond effectively and collectively to global disasters. I used to attribute it to nationalism but it’s hard to pick apart the strands and figure out the causes. We may just be that stupid.

  5. says

    Oooh, three guesses who’d pay for that: Umm, the taxpayer, the locals, no one

    I’ll take “no one” for $1. The strategy is clearly to run out the clock. It won’t matter, then, so it won’t have to be done, etc.

  6. johnson catman says

    Did you just post your home address for the world to see?
    Is that big oval a racetrack near your home?

  7. says

    johnson catman@#6:
    Did you just post your home address for the world to see?

    It’s on my website (the old version of my website, anyhow)

    Yeah, my farm’s prior-prior owners were horse sulky racing fanatics, and they hit it big with one horse and spent a lot of money in various weird ways around the property. One of those weird ways was a quarter mile exercise track. The other was an assortment of soviet-made agricultural equipment, which was damned hard to maintain. I was letting the track grow over with weeds but one of the neighbors asked me if they could resurrect it and use it for their horses, so I figured “why not.”

    Depending what map you’re looking at, you can see my ring of standing stones up on the ridge of the hay field… Edit: I just looked on google maps and it’s 4 years out of date; the old pole barn is up and my hot forge shed is not there, yet.

    In my time on the internets, I have had “internet death threats” a few times but none I have considered remotely worth taking seriously. It is in the nature of these things that the barking dogs seldom bite, and, I did have one credible threat back when I lived in Maryland, from an ex-girlfriend’s brother when I sent her packing. He was a serious risk so I actually set up some perimeter alarms and some weaponry. Fortunately for everyone, he decided honor was satisfied with bluster, or he knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t scare that way. I’ve put hackers in prison, and some of them (may) know who did the back-tracks; I used to worry that a bitcoin-rich hacker might hire someone to come snuff me but I figure so what, it wouldn’t hurt much.

    Feel free to send a postcard! Or, if anyone wants to come kill me, please schedule a time – I’m going to be really pissed if I spend hours waiting in a foxhole for you.

  8. DrVanNostrand says

    While I’m still pretty skeptical of Biden, I’d like to point out that his new climate change plan is very comprehensive. Of course, all of the standard caveats apply: Will he follow through? Maybe. Will the fossil fuel lobby succeed in watering it down? Probably. Will it be a complete mess once Congress is through fiddling with it? Definitely.

  9. avalus says


    Sorry I have nothing more to add other than more obscenities.

  10. sonofrojblake says

    The response to coronavirus has convinced me that Americans have an inability to respond effectively and collectively to global disasters

    I’ll hold up my hand and include the British and to an extent the Italians and certainly (and surprisingly, to me) the Swedes in that.

    The response to coronavirus has convinced me that the best thing the world could do for itself is put Jacinda Ardern in charge.

    I have had “internet death threats” a few times but none I have considered remotely worth taking seriously

    You mean you didn’t immediately, indignantly and laughably respond that you know Krav Maga or Dimac or something (with Youtube links to prove how badass you are), and at the same time explain the many reasons why the “threat” was in fact NOT a threat, and why? How… mature.

    I’m curious, and you sound like something like the best person to ask: what percentage, would you estimate, of “internet death threats” have ever been followed through on even a little bit. By which I mean – how many people have ever, following a “death threat”, done anything as proactive as, I don’t know, leaving their house? Because it strikes me that if someone did mean another person harm (rather than, to give a random example, warning in intemperate terms them that anti-social behaviour directed towards a hypothetical, non-specific wrong sort of person may cause them a problem in the future), then any even vaguely sensible person would give zero warning they were coming. I’ve seen enough episodes of television police procedurals and read enough stderr to know the retroscope sees all and knows all. If you expect to get away with doing someone a mischief, then surely step 1 is making sure you can’t be connected to them in any way, ESPECIALLY via the all-seeing eye of the internet (or, y’know, being their ex’s brother).

  11. sonofrojblake says

    gas was close to $4/gal


    For people not using Freedom units or dollars, that’s £0.84 per litre. Recently the UK was surprised by petrol dropping below £1.00 a litre for the first time in about fifteen years. That was short lived, and it’s back up around £1.12 a litre right now. (This is for unleaded – diesel is another 5-6p/litre.)

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