Political Statistics in The Energy Capital of the East

Town Square Offices, Future Noble Energy HQWhen Noble Energy partnered with Consol Energy in 2011 the company banked on growth in the Marcellus Shale natural gas region. And it paid off: the internationally operating company is directing its attention to Southwestern Pennsylvania, announcing its new Marcellus Regional headquarters at Southpointe II in Washington County to be completed first quarter 2015. It’s the latest move from formerly smaller companies who are dedicating more capital and resources to natural gas extraction. Noble Energy Chief Operating Officer Dave Stover said Tuesday that,

“…(Noble Energy’s) Marcellus production increased 65 percent in 2013…(we expect) a 90 percent increase this year. (Marcellus Shale) has contributed 9 percent of our total volumes. And over the next five years, production is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 46 percent. (Our) employment numbers have grown from 12 in 2011 to 147 today, 86 percent of whom were hired from the local region.”

Gov. Tom Corbett
The ability to tout local jobs numbers brought Governor Tom Corbett back to his regional home, telling media and Noble employees that “70 percent of Marcellus Shale jobs are held by Pennsylvanians,” adding that the building’s construction was an “entirely private venture with no state help.”

 

“We’ve recovered almost every job that was lost in Pennsylvania during the Great Recession,” Corbett said.

Gov. Corbett plays both sides when it comes to energy employment numbers. Corbett told Radio PA’s Brad Christman he “disputes the use of statistics” when it comes to the claim that Pennsylvania dropped from 7th to 48th in job creation since he took office. Yet Corbett used similar statistics and sources to criticize former Governor Ed Rendell, telling WFMZ-TV in Allentown, ”We want to be the standard of excellence. We want to be number one. But we can’t do it with a tax rate that is the 11th worst in the entire country, job creation which is 47th.”

The governor said at Noble’s announcement that when considering the entire energy sector, Pennsylvania employs “400,000 people directly tied to the energy sector.” For gas jobs, he says there are nearly 200,000. That claim also includes 
ancillary workers tied to the industry who may have been employed prior to the gas boom, according to the Associated Press. According to the Lehigh Valley’s Morning Call, core gas jobs account for “less than 1 percent of of the state’s nearly 5.8 million jobs.”

The fact remains: international companies are getting local in Pennsylvania. And local companies are looking to expand. Canonsburg-based Rice Energy recently went public on the NYSE, as the largely family-run company looks to spend $1.1 billion in 2014. $386 million will reportedly be spent on lease acquisitions–some of which that other companies like Range Resources and Consol Energy are releasing because they are going out of primary term, or not drilling or producing gas on lessors’ land within a contracted time period. Also according to the Pittsburgh Business Times, Rice is planning to close on a $110 million pipeline in March connecting Greene and Washington counties to the Texas Eastern pipeline. And while Governor Corbett wouldn’t say how, he said he’s “confident” from talks that happened in the past two months with Shell that a proposed ethane cracker plant in Beaver County will come through.

So while Governor Corbett’s jobs claims are hard to pin down–especially in a campaign year–he’s correct in saying the ‘Energy Capital of the East’ is in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Companies are so busy they’re playing catchup: ‘landmen’ are re-negotiating expired lease contracts and more piping infrastructure is being built to meet the demand of drilling and extraction.

Following the tumultuous legal path of Act 13 it’s almost assured that gas extraction policy will be a centerpiece of the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race. Though we have to wait and see what kinds of statistics the candidates will use to argue for election.

2013 Fourth Warmest Year; Solar Energy Sunset (Update)

2013 ties for fourth warmest year on record, according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Average world temperature was 58.12, tying with 2003. The hottest year was 2010–nine of the 10 hottest years have been in the 21st century. With over 97 percent of peer-reviewed climatology papers saying human-exacerbated climate change is having real-time and long-term effects on the world’s hydrological cycles, the question is when will world and U.S. policies concerning posterity for the far-off future start turning into policies of preventing the near-future of climate change? One start could be with U.S. states taking action. 

On Tuesday, January 22, 2014, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett released his
energy recommendations report for businesses and investors; earlier in 2013, the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection put out an updated albeit lax draft plan for climate change that doesn’t include emissions reductions (In 2009, DEP set an emissions reduction goal of 30 percent by 2020. Officials now say they’ve backed away from that because state law requires no such mandate).

vitaliState Representative Greg Vitali (D), chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, calls the Climate ‘Action’ Plan ”woefully inadequate.“  He says the plan “fails to provide clear, quantifiable recommendations to meet (greenhouse gas reduction) goals…The plan also fails to sufficiently incentivize renewable energy… this plan is consistent with (Governor) Corbett’s total failure of leadership on the climate change issue.”

Vitali has introduced House Bill 100, which would require Pennsylvania electric companies to obtain 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2023. Vitali also introduced House Bill 200, which would provide $25 million per year for the PA Sunshine Solar Program, which helps residents and small businesses install solar systems. But the program has been exhausted.

As of Nov. 25, 2013, the PA Sunshine Program has $0 available for payment of rebates.

That’s from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection website. The question now is what happens to a program that was so *successful: Pennsylvania was in the top 10 states for solar business and energy production, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (it slipped to 11 in 2012-13). The commonwealth has more than 428 solar-based businesses and more than 8,000 residences producing solar energy; over 52K commercial-based installations.

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*The price of solar credits have plummeted since everyone jumped in the Sunshine program–that means with so many taking advantage of rebated installs, residential solar units pumped the grid full of never before seen solar supply. That had utility companies substantially dropping solar credits on residential solar energy bills, and subsequently, the utilities ‘buying’ less energy from private homes. In 2013 the market price for PA-sourced SRECs ranged from  $0.04 – $0.120/kWh, according to U.S. Dept. of Energy.

State Representative Chris Ross (R) had hoped to have his house bill force utilities to buy more residential energy credits, but it has since stalled in committee.

Sun Setting on Pa. Solar Program

From 2008 to 2013, there has been a boon in private solar energy usage in Pennsylvania, which has been ranked as the 10th leading state in solar since state rebates and federal tax breaks had been offered. But state-offered incentives are going away December 31, 2013 unless lawmakers renew legislation to keep the solar cash flowing. Over $100 million has been doled out for over 7,500 residential and 52,000 commercial projects, according to data from the Department of Environmental Protection. As of August 30, 2013, there is still over $2.3 million in rebates available for home or business owners through the PA Sunshine Program.

If the Sunshine Program expires, there are still SRECS, the Solar Renewable Energy Credits, that unfortunately for energy users, fluctuate like the stock market with even less return on investment. The SRECS have gone anywhere from  $2.00  to a couple cents–and each size system gets a certain number of SRECS for each kilowatt hour produced from solar and pumped back into the grid. Customers typically see between 250 to 500 dollars in SREC returns each year. The ‘golden age’ of solar in Pennsylvania was about two years ago.

"Passed 50 percent: Aug. 25" Candy DeBerry's meter shows 2700 kWh produced since April 26-- 50 percent of previous year's entire usage produced in 121 days.

“Passed 50 percent: Aug. 25″ Candy DeBerry’s meter shows 2700 kWh produced since April 26– 50 percent of previous year’s entire usage produced in 121 days.

State accredited solar installers looking to sustain their jobs, and those looking to purchase solar arrays in the next few years, their hopes lie with State Representative Greg Vitali’s legislation, house bills 100 and 200. House bill 100 is largely concerned with climate change, and would spur demand for renewable energy by requiring energy companies to have at least 15 percent of output come from renewables or ‘green’ energy by 2023 (1.5 percent of that would have to be solar). House bill 200 addresses funding for the Pa. Sunshine Program by calling for $25 million in Act 13 drilling fees be used to fund the grant program. Impact fee monies from drillers was $202 million in 2012, and and $204 million in 2011, according to data from the Public Utility Commission.

The Taco Truck running on solar even on a cloudy day.

The Taco Truck running on solar even on a cloudy day.

(The data are for ‘traditional’ solar, or photovoltaic energy from solar panels–this does not include solar-thermal or other heating or solar technologies).

Solar Experiment One at W&J: Efficiency if covered; testing micro-inverters

Solar Experiment One at W&J: Efficiency if covered; testing micro-inverters

W&J Solar Experiment 2: Mimicking Reflection Efficiency, e.g., snow or buildings.

W&J Solar Experiment 2: Mimicking Reflection Efficiency, e.g., snow or buildings.

(In Southwestern Pennsylvania, most energy customers sign on with West Penn Power, a subsidiary of First Energy. Of the 6.1 million First Energy customers, 13,000 have used solar as a primary or supplementary source of energy. )

 

FDA Stakeholders Meeting on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Hope for Patients?

UPDATE: This post has corrections* from No Poster Girl, a blog on ME-CFS

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The two-day meeting in Bethesda, MD (April 25-26) that had FDA policy makers, drug makers, and patients coming together was a big step for the FDA and those with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. If nothing else, it’s a sign that the FDA is listening–but what did it take for them to listen? Three decades of complacency, deferred drugs, and a man not eating for 11 days

One of the revelations that happened over the two-day meeting that *rattled the patient community is Kim McCleary leaving as longtime CEO of CFIDS Association.

(Some have said her stepping down is of concern; other patients say it will allow someone with a more patient-focused policy as opposed to one centered on research that was also tied to the CDC). 

Additionally,  the absence of  Dr. Paul Cheney and other *prominent clinicians worried some patients at the meeting.  In general, patients are concerned that the FDA is not meeting with or listening to the best and brightest in the field who work directly with patients or treat them. But the FDA is starting to bring in new faces and is starting to drop its long-time grip to CDC definitions and assumptions.

(Clinicians are not normally expected at these types of meetings. Of more concern was Dr. Dan Peterson not being invited, and that the most ill patients were unable to attend by the very nature that transport is near impossible without sending them into dangerous levels of system shock).  

As Robert Miller told the board, patients need fast-tracked drugs: FDA did it for emergency HIV scripts and are doing it for Alzheimer’s drugs.

One sign of hope at the meeting was a representative from Hemispherx Biopharma (maker of the rejected drug Ampligen) reaffirming their willingness to work with FDA despite the drug board turning down Ampligen for widespread and general use. Drug makers will continue to be discouraged if rejection comes so readily as if a rubberstamp of ‘No’ was made for the ME/CFS drug sector. Patients cannot continue to co-opt other drugs for their symptoms and expect results prescribed for other conditions.

Some positives: the FDA announced before the meeting that ME/CFS made it into the supposed priority list of diseases to research and develop treatment plans for over the next three years. The FDA told patients that NIH has funds to to develop standardized testing for patients and drugs (the hope is that FDA and other federal medical authorities recognize questionnaires and acute, short-term tests don’t capture patients’ experiences with crashes, recovery, and ongoing symptoms). *From public testimony, some notable comments were:

Dr. James N. Baraniuk:  A biomarker is better than subjective criteria. 

Dr. Judy Mikovits: FDA would benefit better by looking to already-gathered knowledge bases and collaborations on data as compared to discussions on symptoms. 

This patient community has little political capital behind it as well. U.S. Senator Harry Reid (NV) is one of the few politicians who acknowledges the condition, but his fight for any issue anymore is questionable.

The series produced for KDKA-AM focused on retroviruses or similar as a plausible cause for the condition. This came with the admission that I don’t know what causes this condition. Lacking an across-the-board biomarker, there are many plausible causes, yet the *trigger remains the same: patients suffer symptoms after “(an) insult to their immune system, which can include viruses, immunizations, or mold-related illness, among others.”

Patients have staked out their beliefs on blogs, social media, and through their respective treatment regimens–that leaves regulators having to weigh different types of evidence and patients cannibalizing their own resources by criticizing others’ stances.

The ME/CFS  patient community needs brave researchers, less-than-patient doctors, and diligent advocates that don’t have this condition. The FDA has stuck its head out the door for the first time in three decades–will it follow through and continue to engage the patient community? Or is this a dog and pony show with empty promises?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

 

UPDATE: The series will run on KDKA-AM 1020 April 21st Monday through Thursday (day of first FDA meeting) at 6:40 a.m. and p.m.

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Today starts The Lens, a blog that will attempt to examine issues that remain out of the public eye and far away from public action. This first post is a series that’s slated to run on KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh the week of April 21st.

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It’s about a disease often referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The medical community knows it as Myalgic encephalomyelitis (you can hear the pronunciation in the segments below) and jointly known as ME/CFS for short.

The benign and innocent name was coined in the 1980s by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after an inability to pinpoint any certain cause or symptom set for the condition.

There’s no treatment or cure. Patients are often prisoners of their own minds and bodies, as those with severe cases can hardly move and having a simple conversation can leave a person exhausted.

The tide may be turning for patients, or at least that is the hope, as a first-ever stakeholders’ meeting organized by the Food and Drug Administration (which recently rejected the only drug in a decades-long clinical trial for ME/CFS sufferers) is being held April 25th and 26th in Bethesda, Maryland.  With patients bound to their beds and trapped in their homes, hardly anyone knows of the condition; researchers and drug companies are reluctant to act in a static climate of splintered funding and medical opinion–and some are following dead leads that presume the condition is mentally related.)

The condition is real, ignored, and for most,  terminal.

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The following is formatted for radio. Listen to a segment, then click back. Each is approximately 3 and a half minutes. 

For more information, visit:

http://www.mecfs.org.au/what-is-meorcfs
http://phoenixrising.me
http://nopostergirl.com

Cited in this report: Robert Miller. Jocelyn Waite. Rivka Solomon. Jennifer Spotilla. Greg Mitchell. Dr. Bruce Rabin. Dr. Judy Mikovits.

Background: Dr. Nancy Klimas, Dr. John Chia, Dr. Paul Cheney, Dr. Daniel Peterson, and two patients who preferred to remain anonymous.