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Monday, October 7, 2013

Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!

Ever since I became politically aware I have been puzzled by the antics of those of the left.  They take great pride in their intellectual achievements and their “modern” approach to life.  However, every time there seems to be a real scientific advance that benefits society as a whole, they act like Luddites.  Their reasoning is shallow and superficial, they are easily scared, and they rely primarily on emotion, not reason.  Apparently the future scares them.

Let me give you just a few examples.  As early as 1952, the Boeing aircraft company quietly began work on a so-called SST—Supersonic Transport—to carry passengers at supersonic speeds, i.e. faster than the speed of sound (Mach 1; 768 miles per hour).  Just five years earlier, in 1947, Chuck Yeager had broken the sound barrier for the first time in history, flying the experimental Bell X-1 rocket propelled aircraft.  By 1958, Boeing had set up an entire team to develop the SST and by 1960 Boeing was spending more than $1 million annually, about $7.8 million in 2013 dollars.

Not far behind Boeing, but taking a government funding approach, Britain set up their Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee in 1956.  In 1962, Britain joined with the French to develop their own SST, later to be called the Concorde.  Not to be left in the dust, the Soviet Union began working on an SST, the Tu-144.

On 5th June, 1963, President John F. Kennedy announced that the US would pursue construction of an SST.  Like the British, Kennedy decided to take a government funded program.  It was not necessarily the correct approach.  Why should those who would not be flying aboard the SST subsidize those who would be passengers on it?  From the beginning, Boeing believed it was a market place product and that is why they had spent their own money to develop it.  At the helm of Boeing at that time was Bill Boeing, Jr., who was convinced that the SST could be built without a federal subsidy and be sold to airlines at a profit.  It was perhaps when government intervened that the project went off the rails.

But, let me continue with the story.  The Boeing plane, unlike the Concorde, was to be a large plane that was to carry 277 passengers (later reduced to 230) and had many features that later became common fixtures in modern aircraft such as retractable TV screens. 

Flight time for the SST from New York City to Los Angeles at Mach 2 (2,000 mph) would be cut to about 2 1/2 hours and a flight from Washington, DC to London would take approximately 3 ½ hours.  While the British and French proceeded with their Concorde project, the Boeing plane was never built.

Why?  Because those on the left who oddly call themselves “Progressives” were scared of the SST.  They were sure the sky would fall if the SST was flown over land.  Like the opponents of railroads of a hundred years earlier, who were sure the hens would stop laying if trains passed their barns, liberals were sure the SST would be catastrophic for society.  As it is with almost all liberal arguments, the case against the SST was based primarily on emotion, and little concern was given to the facts of the matter.

While the SST may never have been a marketplace product, it is hard to know that for certain.  While the Concorde seated just 128 passengers, and thus the price of a ticket was very high, that was not true of the Boeing SST.  Boeing had two designs, the aforementioned plane that would hold 230, and designs for a plane that would hold many more passengers.  But alas, it was not to be built. 

The Concorde ceased commercial operation in 2003.  If the government had not intervened, and had the left not stirred up so much emotional opposition, it’s possible, just possible that you and I could be flying from Washington, DC to London in half the time it takes today.

And, while the left does not embrace advances in transportation, they do have a love affair with the past.  They love to build public subway systems similar to those built at the turn of the 20th century, around 1905.  They also like so-called high-speed rail service.  Of course, none of these forms of transportation can sustain themselves on their own.  They are outdated and not a market product.  If they were, they would be built with private funds, make a profit, and not be a continuing burden to taxpayers, most of whom never ride such systems.  The capital cost that is born by the taxpayer for the construction of these boondoggle projects is very costly, running into the billions of dollars, but that is the least of the burden.  Worse yet is the annual subsidy for a typical line which costs millions of dollars.  Embracing government built and run public transit is just another example of the left embracing the past and the approach of socialist Europe.

I could call liberals modern day Luddites, but how can a Luddite be modern?  The Luddite movement existed from 1811 to 1817.  Luddites attacked factories and tried to smash machines.  In Luddite fashion, President Obama verbally attacked ATM machines because he said they destroyed jobs.  What he does not apparently understand is that automation increases efficiency and builds wealth. 

When goods and services are produced more efficiently, the more goods and services everyone in society enjoys.  Economic progress depends on a man or woman being able to produce more than they can consume.  Of course, in order to participate in this automation produced prosperity, you need to have a good education, not necessarily a college education.  When you are well educated you can obtain a job where you can operate a manpower saving machine to produce goods and services far faster and more efficiently than you could do without that machine.  When automation stagnates and efficiency declines, prosperity declines.  It is because of mass production, automation, innovation, and scientific advances that increase efficiency in the marketplace that Americans have become so prosperous.  And, of course, this happens only in a free market.

But, it’s not just ATM machines and SST planes that scare the timid left.  It’s always something.  Do you remember the Alar scare?  Alar, or B 995, is a plant growth regulator that apple growers used to keep apples from falling off their trees before they were ripe.  In effect, Alar made the apple growers more efficient and delivered a better, more fresh and tasty apply to the consumer.  However, liberals have a scientifically unfounded fear of chemicals because very few liberals have degrees in science or engineering.  They simply do not understand how or why things work.

Without doing in-depth research, the far left Natural Resources Defense Council charged that Alar caused cancer.  After a willing and gullible CBS 60 Minutes highlighted this emotional charge, apple growers suffered immense losses, estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and apple consumers were unable to purchase apples at a reasonable price.  Much damage was caused by these wild charges which were later proven to be completely unfounded.  Eventually, the American Council on Science and Health (http://acsh.org/), exposed the Alar scare as a total fraud.  Today, the Alar story is a reminder of the damage that can be done when the mainstream news media cooperates in creating an irrational, emotional public scare based on propaganda rather than facts.  They call themselves Progressives, but they have a knee-jerk reaction against advances in science when any ally on the left promotes a fraud like the Alar scare.

You can almost hear the left mumbling.  If only we could ride a horse drawn wagon.  If we could only ban automobiles.  If we could only force people out of the suburbs and into anthill living in big cities.  If only we could eat apples from a tree planted by Johnny Appleseed.  If only we could eliminate preservatives from our food?  If only we could ban this and ban that?  The future scares the left.  It reminds me of one of my wife’s favorite movies, You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.  There is a character in the movie, Frank Navasky, who is accurately portrayed as someone from the far left.  Frank (played by Greg Kinnear) writes for the Village Voice or some other rag to the left of the Voice.  Frank hates computers and progress.  He loves typewriters and everything in the past.  The future and scientific advances scare Frank, just like they seem to scare today’s liberals.

The latest thing that scares the left is what is commonly called Fracking.  Investopedia (www.investopedia.com) defines Fracking as

“A slang term for hydraulic fracturing.  Fracking refers to the procedure of creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open.  The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted.”

Actually, according to Wikipedia, the history of Fracking goes all the way back to the 1800s...

“Fracturing as a method to stimulate shallow, hard rock oil wells dates back to the 1860s. It was applied by oil producers in Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, and West Virginia by using liquid and later also solidified nitroglycerin. Later, the same method was applied to water and natural gas wells.  The idea to use acid as a non-explosive fluid for well stimulation was introduced in the 1930s. Due to acid etching, fractures would not close completely and therefore productivity was enhanced. The same phenomenon was discovered with water injection and squeeze cementing operations.”

I first became aware of the vast amounts of oil and gas reserves trapped in shale in 1966 when I was a young engineer working for Gulf Oil in Port Arthur, Texas.  I remember reading the Oil and Gas Journal (www.ogj.com) in the library of the Gulf refinery.  There were a number of articles in the Journal about the large reserves of oil and gas found in shale formations across the nation.  At that time all the oil and gas industry could do was to bemoan the fact that there was no way to extract those reserves.  Fortunately, that is no longer true.

But, while oil and gas fracking has been with us a long time.  The late George P. Mitchell is considered the father of modern day fracking.  Mr. Mitchell died at the age of 94 in July of this year.  His is a great American success story, and it deserves to be told.  And, he deserves our gratitude.  By all accounts, Mr. Mitchell had a penchant for hard work and perseverance.  The son of a Greek immigrant that tended sheep in Greece before immigrating to the United States, Mr. Mitchell worked his way through Texas A&M University, graduating first in his class in petroleum engineering.  The Dallas Morning News, said this of Mitchell in his obituary…

The work of this legendary oilman, who died last week at age 94 in Galveston, is the reason the United States is in the midst of an energy renaissance.  In the past decade, natural gas drilling has created thousands of jobs, been a godsend to American manufacturing, revived U.S. oil and gas production, expanded natural gas exports and reduced CO{-2} emissions as utilities turn away from coal and toward natural gas to fire up their generating plants.  Some now predict North America could be energy independent by the end of this decade.

Until Mitchell’s breakthrough in the 1990s, gas couldn’t be collected cheaply enough from the depths of impermeable shale to warrant exploration companies to even try.  But after two decades of trial and error, he discovered that sand, water and chemicals blasted into rock formations at high pressure could free gas trapped in the shale for capture and storage.  As a result, unprecedented drilling frenzies are underway in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, the Barnett Shale in North Texas, the Eagle Ford in South Texas, the Permian Basin in West Texas and the Bakken in North Dakota.

Mr. Mitchell is just another in a long line of American entrepreneurs like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Henry Firestone, Bill Boeing, Sr., Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and thousands more who have made our lives better and America stronger.  Through their hard work and innovation they have not only created millions of jobs, but increased efficiency so that the standard of living in the United States is higher than any other place in the world.  They could not have started so low on the economic ladder if government had continually gotten in their way.  No, Mr. President, these men did not achieve success because of government, they achieved success because of their hard work, their perseverance, and the blessing of God.

But, liberals do not acknowledge the greatness of America’s entrepreneurs.  They live in a world of make believe.  They really believe that green energy is the wave of the future.  They cling to the past.  We had windmills in the 1800s and once again today we are told by the left to use windmills and other renewal energy sources, even though they cannot exist without government subsidies.  In other words, because subsidies always help a few and damage many, we must lower our standard of living in order to please the left.  Liberals really fear freedom.  It’s unkempt and messy.  They envy the success of entrepreneurs, they are jealous of their honestly earned wealth.  They can’t understand why a businessman without much education who has built a company through hard work, long hours, and at great risk should be more wealthy than they are.  After all, they have a PhD and many successful businessmen don’t even have any college education.

Yet, the left touts themselves as compassionate, yet they don’t seem to care that high energy prices hurt the poor the most.  I realize that I have said this many times before, but this is a very real economic issue for people who are barely making it.  A huge proportion of their income is devoted to energy use, whereas a middle class couple with a family spends proportionately much less.  And, what is the argument for eschewing low cost oil and gas in favor of windmills?  Well, there really isn’t a rational one.  It is, as with nearly all arguments on the left, based on emotion, not reason.

Today, the left likes to make fantasy documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth and Gasland to promote their far left agenda.  I say fantasy because there is virtually no fact or truth in any of these movies.  They are based almost solely on emotion.  Yet, these slick movies seduce the low information voter who knows practically nothing about anything, thus making them an ideal Democrat. 

One of the most intelligent articles on Fracking was written by Englishman Matt Ridley, whose books have sold more than a million copies and have been translated into 30 languages.  Mr. Ridley graduated with BA and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Oxford University.  He worked for the Economist for nine years as science editor.  Ridley’s paper is entitled “The Five Myths of Fracking.”  You can find it and other excellent Ridley blogs online at www.rationaloptimist.com/blog.  He identifies five things that are repeatedly said about fracking, but are simply untrue:

  1. Shale gas production has polluted aquifers in the United States.
  2. Fracking releases more methane than other forms of gas production.
  3. Fracking uses a worryingly large amount of water.
  4. Fracking uses hundreds of toxic chemicals.
  5. Fracking causes damaging earthquakes.

Here are a few excerpts from his blog on Fracking…

“The total number of aquifers that have been found to be polluted by either fracking fluid or methane gas as a result of fracking in the United States is zero. Case after case has been alleged and found to be untrue.  The Environmental Protection Agency closed its investigation at Dimock, in Pennsylvania, concluding there was no evidence of contamination; abandoned its claim that drilling in Parker County, Texas, had caused methane gas to come out of people’s taps; and withdrew its allegations of water contamination at Pavilion in Wyoming for lack of evidence.  Two recent peer-reviewed studies concluded that groundwater contamination from fracking is ‘ not physically plausible.’”

Regarding…

“…the claim that shale gas production results in more methane release to the atmosphere and hence could be as bad for climate change as coal.  Study after study has refuted it. As a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology put it: ‘It is incorrect to suggest that shale gas-related hydraulic fracturing has substantially altered the overall [greenhouse gas] intensity of natural gas production.’”

As far as the claim that Fracking uses too much water, Ridley points out that Fracking uses .3% of all the water used in the United States, less than is used by golf courses.  Even in Texas, a big Fracking state, only 1% of all the water used is for Fracking, according to Ridley.

As for chemicals injected into the wells (that now has to be reported by law), Ridley says this…

“Fracking fluid is 99.51% water and sand. In the remaining 0.49% there are just 13 chemicals, all of which can be found in your kitchen, garage or bathroom: citric acid (lemon juice), hydrochloric acid (swimming pools), glutaraldehyde (disinfectant), guar (ice cream), dimethylformamide (plastics), isopropanol (deodorant), borate (hand soap); ammonium persulphate (hair dye); potassium chloride (intravenous drips), sodium carbonate (detergent), ethylene glycol (de-icer), ammonium bisulphite (cosmetics), petroleum distillate (cosmetics).”

And, finally, in regard to earthquakes caused by Fracking, Ridley writes…

“As for earthquakes, Durham University’s definitive survey of all induced earthquakes over many decades concluded that ‘almost all of the resultant seismic activity [from fracking] was on such a small scale that only geoscientists would be able to detect it’ and that mining, geothermal activity or reservoir water storage causes more and bigger tremors.”

In the Wall Street Journal of October 3, 2013, it was reported that the United States is now the number one energy producer in the world, flying past Saudi Arabia and Russia.  That is good news.  We are energy independent, no thanks to President Obama and his allies in Congress.  Why are we energy independent?  We are energy independent because of Fracking, pure and simple.  Fracking means jobs, it means low cost energy, and thus it means a helping hand to the poor to help them get out of poverty.  It means a higher standard of living for all Americans.

Even the emotion driven politicians in New York and in California are giving a second look at Fracking.  Fracking is here to stay, but it is only the latest scientific advance to be hated and despised by the wagon wheel left.  The Luddites will always be with us because there will always be timid, easily scared folks who have a hard time accepting the future. 

But, while the left is clinging to the past, I say…On to the future!



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