TIME energy

America’s Big Bet On Natural Gas And Big Short On Coal

Shale gas
A shale gas well in Pennsylvania Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. is becoming increasingly dependent on natural gas

This post originally appeared on OilPrice.com

America is betting the kitchen sink on natural gas. No matter which estimate you look at — the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the International Energy Agency, or Wall Street banks — two things are clear: the United States is slated to consume enormous amounts of natural gas and the dominant fuel of electricity generation for the last 50 years, coal, is diminishing.

First, America’s energy darling: natural gas. It is difficult to overstate the effect shale gas production has had on the United States. In 2006, shale gas production accounted for about 5 percent of natural gas production. In 2013, it accounted for roughly 40 percent. As industry leaders clamored to take advantage of the vast supply of newly accessible domestic natural gas, analysts began to forecast longer and longer projections of low natural gas prices. The result is big expectations for natural gas.

The EIA expects natural gas production to grow at a 1.6 percent annual rate from 2012 through 2040, resulting in a dry natural gas production of 23.04 quadrillion BTU in 2013 and a production forecast of 38.37 quadrillion BTU in 2040. Demand will come from residential, commercial, and transportation use, but the largest demand increase will be from the electric power sector, particularly combined cycle power plants. Today, the U.S. has a combined cycle generating capacity of roughly 190 gigawatts. By 2040, capacity is forecasted to increase to approximately 316 gigawatts.

Meanwhile, the outlook for coal continues to appear bleak. This week, the Government Accountability Office released a newreport with increased projections for the number of coal plants expected to retire in the coming years. The report estimates that 42,192 megawatts, or 13 percent of coal-fueled summer generating capacity, will retire between 2012 and 2025 as a result of environmental regulations, lower natural gas prices, and decreasing electricity demand. These retirements are on top of the 150 coal-fueled units with a summer generating capacity of 13,786 megawatts that have been retired since 2000.

America’s gamble will not affect everyone in the country equally. Almost 40 percent of the retired coal capacity will take place in in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Fortunately, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and to a lesser degree West Virginia, have economies that will be better prepared for this transition as a result of surging production from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays.

The story is the same for exports. Last week, the U.S. Energy Department gave the final approval to build two more LNG export terminals.

Related: This Natural Gas Giant Is Worth The Risk At These levels

The outlook for coal exports is much different. Last month, Oregon’s Department of State Lands denied a key permit to Australia-based Ambre Energy to build a coal export terminal on the Columbia River. On Sept. 15, Ambre Energy was dealt another blow when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied its appeal. Corps spokesman Scott Clemans said, “We could do [the review] and make a yes or no determination, but given the lack of clarity right now as to whether the required state authorization is going to happen, and given the amount of time and energy we still need to devote to this project, it doesn’t make sense to devote resources to a project that may not happen.”

For everyone’s sake, let’s hope the gamble pays off. Because if natural gas fails to live up to the high expectations, there will be less coal to back it up.

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TIME Bizarre

NYC Mailman Allegedly Kept 40,000 Letters Instead of Delivering Them

US Postal Service Mail Delivery Ahead Of Second-Quarter Results
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) logo is seen on the side of a delivery truck in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, May 9, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

No word on whether he was grooving to all our love letters

A Brooklyn mailman has been accused of hoarding 40,000 pieces of mail at home, in his car and in has locker, according to a federal complaint.

The mail carrier, 67-year-old Joseph Brucato, was arrested this week after his supervisor noticed undelivered mail in Brucato’s car.

A police official said that when confronted, Brucato said he didn’t deliver mail on some days for “personal reasons.” The mail carrier’s lawyer said Brucato suffered from depression.

Brucato was arraigned Wednesday and subsequently released. The United States Postal Service has suspended him without pay.

TIME

U.K. Parliament Debates Joining U.S. Air Strikes Against ISIS

Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street before heading to The Houses of Parliament on Sept. 26, 2014 in London.
Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street before heading to The Houses of Parliament on Sept. 26, 2014 in London. Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

British MPs last year delivered a surprise rebuff to plans to intervene militarily in Syria, derailing not only U.K. policy but U.S. plans. Today they are weighing another intervention — and their decision matters more than you might think

What a difference a year makes. Friday, the U.K. Parliament has been recalled to debate joining a U.S.-led military intervention, the same topic that convened Members of Parliament for an emergency session on Aug. 29, 2013. Back then, everyone expected a majority of MPs to rubberstamp the action, just as the MPs gathered Friday in the House of Commons are predicted to approve today’s motion.

These scenarios may appear near-identical, but they differ in one glaring respect. When British parliamentarians served up a surprise and rejected involvement in the planned U.S. air strikes against the Syrian regime last year, they triggered a chain of events that saw U.S. President Barack Obama abandon his mission at the 11th hour in favor of a new round of diplomacy. The consequences of that swerve are still being assessed, leaving Syrian President Bashar Assad in power and, according to proponents of the intervention, allowing jihadist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) to grow. Others maintain that the aborted campaign would have simply fueled the jihadists’ rise. Another, wide strain of opinion in Westminster and among the British public looks back at Britain’s 2003 decision to join the U.S. in toppling Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as a profound error that must never be repeated.

These arguments are even now being rehashed. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron had barely begun his speech when he was interrupted by veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner who asked, scornfully, “How long will this war last and how soon will mission creep start?”

There are other such skeptics in the chamber — their numbers will become clear at around 5 p.m. London time, when MPs vote. But here’s one reason why that vote, irrespective of outcome, looks very different to the one that took place 56 weeks ago in the same chamber: the result won’t make a significant difference to American policy.

The U.S. Air Force has been running missions into Syria and Iraq since Monday alongside jets from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, targeting ISIS militants as well as infrastructure and supply routes used by the group now occupying extensive territory on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border. If British MPs go against predictions again to vote against joining in, these missions will continue. Moreover, the motion under discussion is limited in scope, committing the U.K. to air strikes in Iraq and specifically ruling out extending any action into Syria or deploying combat troops on the ground. Britain has received a direct request for assistance from the Iraqi government that proponents of the motion argue gives the proposed action legitimacy under international law that the strikes in Syria do not necessarily share.

Even so, what Britain decides matters—perhaps not as much as Britons reared on tales of Empire and World War victories are inclined to think, but enough that the U.S. has worked with the U.K. to ease the passage of the motion, accepting its limited nature and careful to say nothing that might make it more difficult for Cameron to unite his own Conservative Party on the issue, coax his Liberal Democrat coalition partners on board and, most importantly, to secure sufficient Labour Party support. It was Labour opposition that torpedoed the 2013 vote. This time around, Labour leader Ed Miliband issued a call to support the motion, partly on the basis that in asking countries in the region to engage, Britain needed to show a moral lead. He added that in helping to oust Hussein, “the Iraqi state that emerged is partly our responsibility.”

That history has made both Labour and Conservatives wary of appearing to yield too easily to pressure from Washington. Cameron acknowledged Obama had “made clear” he wants British support, but based the core argument for British participation on a humanitarian imperative and on British national interest. “If we allow [ISIS] to grow and thrive there’s no doubt in my mind that the level of threat to the country would increase,” he said.

U.S. officials have denied claims made this week by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of a specific threat by ISIS to attack subway systems in New York and Paris, but the U.S. and the U.K. are both worried about the possibility of blowback. Last month, Britain raised its terror threat level to “severe.” As Matthew Barzun, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, pointed out in an article in the London Evening Standard, published on the eve of the debate, as many as 12,000 citizens from 74 different countries are estimated to have gone to fight with rebels in Syria alone. British security chiefs believe at least 500 Britons have made the journey, including the ISIS member dubbed “Jihadi John,” shown in videos murdering U.S. and British hostages. Those murders and the threat to further hostages still held by the group have strengthened the appetite to tackle ISIS.

In case that appetite falters, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour have all ordered their MPs to support today’s motion, deploying the so-called whip. Rebels can expect reprimands and will certainly be marked down as troublemakers by party officials. This, together with the restricted scope of the motion, should be enough to secure a positive outcome but will also add to the resonance if there is still a rebellion of any size.

Because another reason today’s vote matters is that it marks the beginning of a longer and more difficult decision-making process in a country that has lost faith in military interventions but is also alarmed by appeal of jihadism to its own citizenry. There is little agreement among the political parties about how to counter that trend, and they are divided over the possibility of any action in Syria. There will be a brief moment of clarity later today and, most likely, an announcement of British jets roaring into action. The bigger issue of the role Britain will play in the Middle East will remain urgent and unresolved.

TIME U.S.

JFK Sign on the Side of a Dallas Tour Bus Sparks Controversy

The sight of the former president's face next to the slogan "Big Things Happen Here," plus the placement of the metal door handle in the middle of his forehead, has been deemed offensive

A Dallas tour company drew criticism after an image of one of its buses featuring a controversial design floated around on social media.

Dallas City Tours’ design consisted of a photo of former president John F. Kennedy with the line “Big Things Happen Here,” which critics said was an inappropriate reference to Kennedy’s 1963 assassination in Dallas, according to WFAA News 8, a Dallas news agency. Critics also found the placement of the metal door handle—in the middle of JFK’s forehead—offensive.

The tour bus conducts four tours each day, and makes several stops along city landmarks, many related to JFK’s assassination. Some viewers found this to be an acceptable explanation of why the former president’s image would appear on the bus.

The owner of Dallas City Tours told WFAA News 8 that the slogan was intended to be on the other side of the bus, as it was in the original design he sent to graphic artists, and that he regrets how the design turned out. The owner said he will cover up the current design while a new one is prepared.

TIME Iraq

Iraq’s New Premier Says He’s ‘Happy’ With the Anti-ISIS Coalition

Al-Abadi says ISIS controls at least a quarter of Iraq and is very close to the capital, Baghdad

Iraq’s newly appointed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told CNN Tuesday he was “happy” that the U.S. and Arab coalition has joined the fight against ISIS.

But he warned that they must “do it right.”

“We have warned in the last two years: this is a danger,” he said, in one of his first international interviews. “It’s going to end in a bloodbath if nobody stops it and nobody was listening.

“They thought they were immune from this danger and only Iraq and Syria were on the spot of this danger but now I think we’re happy.”

Five Arab nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar — have joined the U.S. to fight the militant extremists who control vast swaths of Iraq and Syria.

Al-Abadi’s comments came after the coalition launched a series of strikes Tuesday against ISIS and Khorasan targets in Syria.

“I personally am happy that everybody is seeing this danger so that they are going to do something about it and I hope they do something about it and they do it right,” he said. “They don’t do it the wrong way.”

Sharing al-Abadi’s optimism, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday that no country could just stand by and do nothing when faced with the ISIS threat.

“I’ve been very encouraged, as I think all of us engaged in this are, by everybody else’s cooperation, by the overwhelming unity and support for Iraq’s new government,” he said. “No civilized country can shirk its responsibility to stop this cancer from spreading.”

Al-Abadi had been instrumental in pushing the international community to expand its campaign against the militants into Syria. But he criticized Washington for not working closely with Iraqi ground troops fighting ISIS, CNN reports.

“Our forces are moving forward and, when they are moving forward, they need air cover, they need air support,” he said, adding that ISIS controls at least 25% of Iraq and remain very close to the capital, Baghdad.

Al-Abadi must also attempt to mend the deep rifts in his own country between the Shi‘ite majority and the Sunni minority. “This is our country. And if we don’t work together, we don’t deserve a country,” he told CNN.

TIME Syria

Watch as U.S. Air Strikes Target al-Qaeda-Linked Khorasan Group

“We believe that the Khorasan Group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland"

The aftermath of U.S. and Arab allies’ missile strikes on al-Qaeda affiliate the Khorasan Group can be seen on this footage obtained by CNN.

The U.S. Department of Defense said the first wave of strikes that targeted the extremist group were close to the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Raqqa, but do not go into more detail.

Tuesday’s attacks hit key Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) facilities as well as the little-known Khorasan Group, which is based in northwest Syria.

But it is not yet clear to what extent the Khorasan leadership and operatives had been taken out in the attacks. The joint staff director of operations Lieut. General William Mayville said the U.S. was still “assessing the effects of the strikes.”

The U.S. military says the terrorist organization, made up of seasoned al-Qaeda operatives, posed an “imminent threat” as they were preparing to launch a “major” attack against the West.

“We believe that the Khorasan Group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland,” said Mayville, adding the group is attempting to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives to infiltrate their own countries.

“The Khorasan Group are clearly not focused on either the Assad regime or the Syrian people, they are establishing roots in Syria in order to advance attacks against the West and the homeland,” he said.

Speaking from the White House lawn Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “It must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and do Americans harm, that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”

TIME Syria

Watch Live: Obama Speaks on ISIS Strikes in Syria

Address comes before Obama leaves for the U.N. General Assembly in New York

President Barack Obama is expected to make a statement Tuesday morning, 10 a.m. ET, about the launch of airstrikes against Islamist militants in Syria for the first time. The strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria aimed for key targets like the group’s base of operations in Raqqa and were conducted in partnership with five Arab nations.

TIME Japan

U.S. and Japanese Forces Lock and Load With One Eye on China

Japan-U.S. Joint Drill Begins
U.S. Marines and members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force line up before a joint exercise at the JGSDF's Aibano facility in Takashima, Japan, on Oct. 8, 2013 The Asahi Shimbun

And China's leaders have, in turn, become increasingly wary

When U.S. Marines stormed ashore during a beach-landing exercise in Okinawa recently, they weren’t alone. Charging alongside them was a group of Japanese soldiers assigned to live and train with the Marines and learn the basics of amphibious warfare.

“When they landed on the beach, it was difficult to tell who was who, which was an impressive feat,” said Colonel Romin Dasmalchi, a Marine commander.

The beach drill was just the latest in a dramatic increase in joint training activities between U.S. and Japanese forces. The goal is to broaden Japan’s military capabilities, weave U.S. and Japanese forces ever closer together and solidify the U.S. “pivot” to Asia.

On almost any day, U.S. and Japanese ground troops, sailors or aircrews can be found practicing combat skills side by side or preparing for major training operations throughout the Japanese archipelago, and across the Pacific.

Day-to-day coordination is up as well. U.S. Marines now have full-time liaison officers with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) in Tokyo and southern Japan. And JGSDF officers are assigned to Marine headquarters in Okinawa, Hawaii, Washington, D.C., and Quantico, Va.

That’s a deep sea change from even a few years ago, when most U.S. and Japanese forces had little direct contact, says Grant Newsham, senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo and former liaison officer between U.S. Marines and the JGSDF.

“There is both a qualitative and quantitative difference in training these days. We are beginning to train together jointly, instead of the traditional parallel arrangement,” Newsham says.

U.S. and Japanese officials agreed during talks in Tokyo in 2012 to boost joint training and improve interoperability. That was due in part to lessons learned from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan — where there were communication and coordination breakdowns — as well as concerns over China’s rapid military buildup and aggressive territorial demands.

Much of the new training is focused on improving Japan’s ability to defend its sprawling southwest islands chain.

That has not gone unnoticed in China, which claims historical ownership of some of those islands. Chinese leaders are increasingly wary of both the U.S. pivot and the Abe administration’s efforts to boost defense spending and ease restrictions on Japan’s powerful but low-profile military.

“The PLA [People's Liberation Army], as well as the mass media, are certainly very sensitive to these joint training and exercise programs between the U.S. and Japan, especially the increasing amphibious war-fighting capability,” says Yu Tiejun, deputy director of Peking University’s Center for International and Strategic Studies, in Beijing.

“These joint training activities will not only intensify the security dilemma that’s already there, but also trigger the escalation of the arms race in this region,” Yu says.

With a defense budget only about a third of China’s and with just a modest spending increases planned for the coming years, it is not clear that Japan is bent on an arms race.

Nonetheless, it is clear that Japan is boosting the size, scope and frequency with which it trains with, and learns from, the powerful Americans.

In 2006, for example, the JGSDF sent just a couple dozen soldiers to take part in the Marines’ annual Iron Fist exercise in Southern California. Those soldiers took part in only a few phases of the weeks-long drill.

Now, more than 300 troops take part in the full exercise each year, including live-fire training and force-on-force drills against the battle-tested Americans.

Last year, the JGSDF launched a new exercise with the Marines in California, called Dawn Blitz. Tokyo sent a flotilla of warships packed with ground troops, landing craft, helicopters, vehicles and other heavy equipment all the way across the Pacific for two weeks of hard training with the Marines.

For the next edition of Dawn Blitz, in spring 2015, the Japanese have said they hope to send fighter planes as well. Close air support is essential element of amphibious warfare, but one that requires sophisticated skills.

Less noticeable but perhaps equally significant is a program launched in 2013, in which a platoon (about 30 soldiers) of JGSDF is assigned to the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Those troops live and train with the Marines for a period of up to three months. That includes, in most cases, clambering aboard U.S. Navy assault ships to cruise the Asia-Pacific region alongside the Marines (if the Marines are called into combat, however, Japan’s pacifist constitution requires that the Japanese troops off-load at the nearest location and return to Japan).

Colonel Takayasu Iwakami, training and exercise director for the JGSDF, says the overall goal is to develop both tactical skill and the ability to operate seamlessly with the Marines in wartime conditions — should that become necessary.

“We are trying to develop an amphibious warfare capability, but we don’t have the knowledge yet. The Marines have the experience of real war so they know much more about it, and we can learn from them,” Iwakami says. “But it’s not just a matter of how frequently we train together, or even the type of training that we do. It’s also about developing a deep sense of understanding and trust for each other.”

That also has benefits for the Marines. With land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan all but over, thousands of Marines have returned to their bases in Okinawa. Training opportunities are limited there, however, and the Marines have begun training more frequently at JGSDF at bases on the main islands.

“Even though we were in Japan and trained in Japan, we didn’t put as much effort into training with the Japanese as we should have,” says Major Eric Mattson, who heads the Marines’ joint training program in Japan.

“Now it’s ‘Let’s do some real training. Put them on our ships. Let them see how we live, see how we train. Do all that right along with them.’ And then we go up to their ranges, stay on their bases, fire their weapons. So it has tangible benefits for us,” says Mattson.

Even the U.S. Navy, which has long had a close relationship with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), is upping the frequency and sophistication with which it trains with its counterpart.

Earlier this year, for example, U.S. warships completed a complex live-fire exercise off the coast of Guam with eight JMSDF ships, including naval gunnery, antisubmarine warfare, tactical maneuvering and communication drills.

Vice Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the Yokosuka-based U.S. Seventh Fleet, says U.S. and Japanese ships now work together “virtually every day.”

“Our operations with the JMSDF are focused on high-end interoperability, so often the quality of the training is even more important than quantity,” Thomas says.

Both the frequency and scope of U.S.-Japan training is almost certain to increase.

Japan plans to field a 3,000-man amphibious warfare unit, based in southern Japan, no later than 2018. They will use the same amphibious assault vehicles, V-22 Osprey aircraft and other equipment used by the Marines and Navy. That will require close coordination with Americans.

That’s not a bad thing, says Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a think tank in Honolulu.

The Chinese are likely to complain no matter how much or how little U.S. forces train with the Japanese, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to ease restrictions on Japan’s military are likely to remain tempered by public opinion, Glosserman says.

“I like the idea of our armed forces training so much with other countries’ militaries. It increases familiarity, reminds our military that all armies don’t fight alike, and the better that we understand those differences among our partners, the smarter we can be. What’s not to like?”

TIME Law

The Last of the Witch-Trial Hangings

Salem Witchcraft
An illustration showing a woman executed by hanging, for the practice of witchcraft, 1692. Published in 'A Pictorial History of the United States', 1845. Interim Archives / Getty Images

Sept. 22, 1692: Seven women and one man are hanged as witches in Salem

It was easy to be declared a witch in Salem in 1692: All you had to do was deny that witches existed.

After a number of the town’s teenagers began to hallucinate and convulse, bark like dogs and run around on all fours, two magistrates were tasked with rooting out the evildoers behind the bizarre afflictions. The men invented their own methods for detecting witchcraft, according to TIME’s 1949 review of the book The Devil in Massachusetts:

After due deliberation the magistrates declared that a devil’s “teat” or “devil’s mark” on the body of the accused was proof of guilt, that mischief following anger between neighbors was ground for suspicion, and, most important of all, that “the devil could not assume the shape of an innocent person.” This last meant that hallucinations would be accepted not as evidence of the wrought-up condition of the accuser but as proof of the guilt of the accused.

In practice, suspicion fell even more broadly. In the absence of a devil’s mark or neighborly mischief, anyone who stood up to authorities and publicly questioned their actions was likely to be Salem’s next top suspect. Such was the case with Martha Cory, “a hearty matron who had rashly asserted she didn’t believe in witches,” and who appeared soon afterward in a stricken girl’s vision. Since the girl was in church at the time, half the town heard her scream, “Look! There sits Goody Cory on the beam, suckling a yellow bird betwixt her fingers!”

Cory (also spelled Corey) was among the seven women and one man hanged as witches on this day, Sept. 22, in 1692. It was the last round of executions before the tide of public opinion turned and the trials began to subside. They had claimed 20 lives.

Although Cory had urged her examiners not to believe “all that these distracted children say,” according to Charles Upham’s book Salem Witchcraft, the jury was less moved by her words than by the convulsions of her accusers while she spoke. In the midst of the proceedings, one woman threw her shoe at Cory, hitting her “square on the head.”

Cory’s husband Giles, who defended his wife and was therefore labeled a “dreadful wizard,” had been executed three days earlier — pressed to death under a pile of stones. In the backwards justice of the trials, those who confessed were spared, while those who protested their innocence were often killed. Giles Cory, who refused to plead guilty or even to stand trial before a corrupt court, endured the torture of a slow death instead.

Asked for his confession whenever a new layer of stones was added to the pile, he is reported to have answered only, “More weight!”

Read a 1999 story about the rise of Wiccanism in the armed forces: I Saluted a Witch

TIME U.S.

Watch As Tennessee Officials Blow Up a Bridge On Purpose

It’s been a bad couple of months for a Tennessee bridge. A stretch of I-65 in Williamson County was severely damaged when a tanker truck collided with a bridge support last month and exploded. Officials saw the explosion as a death sentence for the bridge, and delivered the coup de grace this weekend by blowing up the entire bridge, ABC’s Nashville affiliate reports.

This video, taken by a bystander, shows the explosion of the bridge Saturday morning. It happens quickly and with a massive explosion, and it’s very impressive. Scroll to about 3:20 for the boom.

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