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Wednesday
Aug302017

'Harvey' Has A Message For All Of Us!

Hurricane 'Harvey' is a disaster for Houston, and increasingly the remainder of the US as apart from anything else it loses 12% of its oil refining capacity - not just for days, but quite probably for months, and in some cases perhaps years as the effects of innundation on extremely low-lying and vulnerable refineries is felt.

This is from Dino Grandoni's Washington Post Energy 202  column, dated today:

"Nothing quite like Harvey has hit the United States before. The National Weather Service said Harvey is "unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.” The administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it is probably the worst disaster in Texas history.

But beyond the human toll — which, as it should be, is the immediate concern of both first responders and the reporters covering them -- three questions hang over the hurricane fallout.

How hard was Houston’s oil and gas infrastructure hit? To what extent did climate change exacerbate this storm? And finally, born out of those first two, there’s a final question: What will be the political fallout?

"This is not like anything we have ever seen before:”

Houston markets itself  as the energy capital of the world. Many of the largest firms in the oil and gas sector, including Phillips 66, are based there. And many more, including ExxonMobil and Dutch Royal Shell, own huge refining complexes along the region's coastline. Houston's petrochemical industry turns crude oil and other raw materials drawn from around the Western Hemisphere into gasoline and other petroleum products to be shipped as far away as Asia.

We have some idea of the short-term impacts. The storm has:

  • as of Monday evening, shut down 12 percent, or 2.2 million barrels, of U.S. refining capacity
  • that, in turn, has driven up gasoline prices up as much as 6.8 percent since Friday
  • As of Sunday, Exxon shut down its Baytown refinery, the second largest in the United States
  • Shell has shut down its Deer Park refinery
  • And at least four energy export terminals in Corpus Christi have halted shipments, Reuters reported

But the long-term impacts to the oil and gas sector— how badly, if at all, that infrastructure is damaged —  have yet to be assessed. An extremely prescient piece by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune last year lays out the risk flooding poses to the Texas Gulf Coast petroleum industry:

""Flooding is the most disruptive type of damage an industrial plant can experience from a hurricane. Salty ocean water swiftly corrodes critical metal and electrical components and contaminates nearby freshwater sources used for operations. Even plants that aren’t flooded would likely have to shut down because they depend on storm-vulnerable infrastructure — electric grids, pipelines, roads and rail lines. [After a direct-hit storm] the Ship Channel itself — a crucial lifeline for crude imports and chemical exports — would probably be littered with debris and toxins, officials say. It would have to be cleaned up before ships and tankers could move safely again.""

We may already be seeing the first signs of some of that environmental fallout. As The New Republic’s Emily Atkin reports, “ ‘[u]nbearable’ petrochemical smells are reportedly drifting into Houston.”

“It was certainly worsened by it:”

Because of its unprecedented nature, the storm has again reopened the debate over the link between climate change and hurricanes."

But the upside for us is that it is a timely reminder of just where we are heading in regard to climate change and sea-level rise. We have been literally kidding ourselves on this score (never mind Alistair Brickell's incredible dissembling on the subject), by ignoring the more realistic predictions on which Denis Tegg was initially a lone voice - namely the additional danger and damage resulting from storm and wave ingress on top of sinking landscape as has been proven to be occurring on the Hauraki Plains - up to 10cm a year!

An election meeting in Thames last evening attended mainly by the converted, and addressed by Greens climate change spokesperson Eugenie Sage was I am sure an eye opener for many in regard to the culpability of our present Government. Add to this the hand wringing of councils that feel helpless in the face of  Government indifference as exemplified by Nick Smiths refusal to release the critical updated report on coastal risk that would provide a platform for councils to negotiate effective joint action. 

Sage drew attention to the enthusiasm espoused by by our local Member in regard to the issues surrounding climate change, but which amounts to very little when compared to the actions of the Government for which he is partially responsible through his conservation and environmental roles. In other words - he is all talk and no action, but he has such huge unquestioning support from the generally National leaning local population that he can virtually cruise back into office with a winning smile and little else.

In the light of the rapidly changing polls that are clearly heading away from National domination, we as strategic voters are no longer just facing  a choice betwen Labour and National, but rather one between NZ First and the Greens as partners for Labour. Why I even mention NZ First relates to Winston's consumate skill in turning an aging demogaphic in his direction.

From having been 'in the gun' over the weekend, he has suddenly become 'the victim,' and loudly castigates National ministers for their 'illegal' behaviour over the release of information on his pension payments. Regardless of the veracity of his claims, his ability to seek and obtain the 'sympathy' vote is undoubted, and undiminished. It could be sufficient to confirm his 'Kingmaker' status.

On the other hand, the 'back-story' debacle arising from the Metiria saga has hit the Greens hard, and we all stand to lose out as a result if it provides Jacinda with the excuse to sideline and disavow the 'coalition' agreement in favour of offering Winston a co-goverance opportunity. In the end, it will come down to the numbers.

If that scenario is to be avoided, it is critical for those of us whose primary concern relates to the likely effects of climate change, and in particular, sea level rise in our own back-yard, it will surely be imperative  to have the Greens in Parliament alongside Labour who have suddenly (through  statements by Jacinda, if not through officially sanctioned 'channels') indicated their adoption of the most obvious of the Greens policies in this regard. 

And that is why at the outset I drew attention to the likely fall-out of 'Harvey,' and its effect on the US refinery industry. Only the Greens have previously formally stated sustainable policies on carbon, and  climate change, and more importantly on water, and the inclusion of agriculture in our carbon calculations.

It has been fascinating to watch the manner in which Jacinda has 'cribed' on these issues, but the only policy commitment remains by the Greens, and that is why I believe that it is only by providing the Greens with our Party vote that we can hope to ensure adequate participation, and influence on the new ministry - Labour may have to be held to the flame!

Eugenie Sage provided in her excellent address last evening all the rationale we need to follow this course of action. The thought of another three years of Nick Smith and Nathan Guy determining our future environmental policies, and the continuation of agricultural advantage, and dominance of thinking on the Treasury benches raises a cold sweat.

I implore everyone who reads this blog to consider these issues with great care before casting your vote. THe only possible strategic leverage we have is through the Greens, and their association with Labour. Forget the poverty side-issue - it is extremely important, but hardly compares with generational survival - it is that important. We owe it to our children, and our grand-children.

And if that is not reason enough - here is the latest iteration of the Taxpayers' Union Bribe-O-Meter

 

 

 

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