A history of energy

Here’s an animated take on 300 years of fossil fuels (via Crooks and Liars):

This feels somewhat disjointed. How do you get from coal to the collapse of the global financial system? But this does make sense.

There’s a Pulitzer Prize winning book called “The Prize,” written in 1994 by Daniel Yergen, that shows how oil is tied to every major development since the discovery of the first oil field in Pennsylvania in the 18th century. Gasoline went from being a useless byproduct that oil companies couldn’t even give away (they made their money on kerosene) to the foundation for industrial domination and political power.

The original plutocrats: John D. Rockefeller, the head of Standard Oil, and Henry Ford, the auto mogul. They owned the industrial world and bought politicians.

The global impact: A bunch of nomads in the deserts of the Middle East became billionaires because they happened to reside on a part of the planet that has some of the world’s biggest oil reserves.

The military implications: World War I launched warfare on an industrial scale. The day the generals in Paris commandeered the city’s cab drivers and got them to drive soldiers to the front to fend of the German invaders showed that an effective mechanized fleet instead of horses would forever change military strategy.

Infrastructure: General Eisenhower took a look at the Autobahn in Germany and realized the importance of an elaborate national highway system. President Eisenhower launched the development of the interstate highway in the U.S.

And now that we’re addicted to oil, we’re being asked to go cold turkey because the junk is killing the planet. Yes, global warming has been an issue for a while, and despite the fact that it’s real, deniers still pull out all stops to ensure nothing is done to address the issue.

The new oil extraction technique, fracking, is now being blamed for another environmental trauma:

Cuadrilla Resources, a British energy company, recently admitted that its hydraulic fracturing operations “likely” caused an earthquake in England. Predictably, this news quickly sent a shockwave through the U.K., the oil and natural gas industries, and the environmental activist community. And it certainly feeds plenty of speculation that the same phenomenon could be occurring elsewhere.

Speculation that would be well-founded, evidently. Right on the heels of Cuadrilla’s announcement, news is spreading that the United States Geological Survey has released a report (pdf) that links a series of earthquakes in Oklahoma last January to a fracking operation underway there. Evidently, a resident reported feeling some minor earthquakes, spurring the USGS to investigate. They found that some 50 small earthquakes had indeed been registered, ranging in magnitude from 1.0 to 2.8. The bulk of these occurred within 2.1 miles of Eola Field, a fracking operation in southern Garvin County.

An exaggeration? I don’t know, considering this happened this weekend:

In the heart of tornado alley, Oklahoma is no stranger to mother nature’s wrath. But in 2011, extreme environmental conditions have risen to another level, with records set for a potpourri of natural hazards including earthquakes, heat, cold, wind, hail, and snow! And that’s not to mention one of its worst droughts in memory.

Saturday night’s 5.9-magnitude earthquake was the largest in the state’s history. The quake was felt as far away as Dallas and Des Moines and followed up by nearly 20 aftershocks.

The record earthquake comes on the heels of unprecendented heat across the state this past summer. Oklahoma’s July average temperature was a scorching 88.9 degrees, the warmest to occur in any state during any month on record.

Bizarre weather. Earthquakes. Maybe Oklahomans don’t believe in climate change, and would rule out fracking as something that’s destabilizing the ground under them. But if you want to place bets on the cause of their problems the answer could be closer than you realize.

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Earthquake shakes up folks in D.C.

I was sitting in the office just before 2 p.m. today, when the floor started vibrating. So 10 seconds into the shaking, I’m thinking, “Must be someone using one of those electronic dolly carts to make a big delivery.”

But that didn’t make sense.

So about 20 seconds into the shaking, I’m thinking, “Must be a big truck outside.”

But that didn’t make sense.

So about 25 seconds into the shaking, I’m thinking, “They don’t have earthquakes in Washington, do they?”

Then there was a big jolt and the building moved.

And, right then, the simple answer was, “Yes.”

A 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Washington area Tuesday, shaking buildings and prompting office workers to pour into the streets of the capital. The earthquake’s epicenter was nine miles south of Mineral, Va., and 87 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS initially recorded the quake at 5.8 magnitude, later upgraded it to a 5.9, and then downgraded it again. It struck at 1:51 p.m. Eastern time, the USGS said. A 2.8 magnitude aftershock was reported at 2:46 p.m.

Our building was evacuated, so I walked around and took some photos:

Around 15th Street NW

These streets are never this packed during the day.

MacPherson Square

On a workday, this square in downtown Washington usually has a bunch of homeless people sleeping on benches about now. They had to move.

Lafayette Park

Everywhere you looked, there were people standing outside of office buildings, even in this park across from the White House.

No one quite knew what to do. Traffic signals weren’t working. Sirens were blaring everywhere. Cellphone service was spotty, but texting worked fine. I could get text messages to family in Kentucky, Maryland and New York. Couldn’t make a phone call, though.

You train for fire drills, but that only involves one building, and you have a designated area to go to. You don’t train for earthquake drills on the East Coast: It turns out, your designated emergency area for the fire drill ends up turning into a mosh pit shared by thousands of other people.

Put it in context: This was nothing like what people experience in California.

And here’s something to think about: After being hit with a significant, but mild earthquake today, and seeing an entire city freak out, I’m figuring the people in Japan who went through an earthquake that destroyed buildings, led to a killer tsunami and ended with a nuclear meltdown must be thinking what a bunch of wimps we are.