Boring work of staggering effectiveness

Right along the lines of super unexciting infrastructure fixes to crucial bridges, railways, pipes and water mains is the capping of methane-spewing oil wells, of which we have a leaky and abundant surplus:

Curtis Shuck calls the well a “super emitter,” one of many in a wheat field not far from the Canadian border, a part of Montana known as the “golden triangle” for its bountiful crops. Aside from the scattered rusty pipes and junked oil tanks, the field is splendid and vast, its horizon interrupted intermittently by power lines and grain bins. On these plains, Shuck says, you can watch your dog run away for a week.

He is a former oil and gas executive who nowadays leads a small nonprofit — the result of a personal epiphany — and is tackling global warming one well at a time. That is the approach of his Well Done Foundation, plugging this and then other orphaned sites and trapping the methane underground. The effort started in Montana in 2019 but will expand to other states before the fall.

“When we’re done, it will be like this well was never here,” Shuck said, standing upwind as cement was pumped hundreds of feet down, through a series of pipes stuck in the 7½-inch-wide hole like a straw in a juice box.

30K to cap a well. Well done, Well Done. Plant trees, install solar farms, wind farms, stop dumping sewage, limit runoff, cut back on steaks (sorry! but do), refurbish the train lines, live close to work. Listen to ‘Trane while you walk. Live a little.

What’s it going to take? All of it, every last all of it. Everything.

Image: Abandoned oil storage tanks left behind in Montana. (Adrián Sanchez-Gonzalez for The Washington Post)

The Modern Transport System

In China.

High-speed trains linking Beijing and Shanghai made their passenger debut Thursday on a $33 billion track China hopes will help ease its overloaded transport system.

The fast link, which has been hit by safety concerns and graft, is opening a year ahead of schedule and will be able to carry 80 million passengers a year — double the current capacity on the 1,318-kilometre (820-mile) route.

So we get safety and graft concerns, too, but without the fancy new rail lines to show for it. And sure, destructive for the airline industry, okay, what else? Have you flown recently? The airlines are about as cavalier about comfort, cost and efficiency as is sub-humanly possible. The flight distance between Atlanta and Boston is about 950 miles, and we’re at least twenty years away from China building a high-speed rail route linking the two cities. Probably more.

The Trains in Spain

Move speedily across the plain, much faster than those in Maine. Or even between Boston and Philly.

TPM has a rather pathetic feature about the future present of High Speed Rail around the world and what several countries have been able to accomplish with some wise investment, imagination and planning. Pathetic in the sense that it makes the US look like chumps, real and actual morons for being lead by our loyalty to outmoded technology and means of transportation. But look Ma, we’ve got all these awesome tanks and bunker-busting bombs! Yes, there is shock, and more than a little awwww… but not the good kind.

Look at the pics they’ve put up and then compare them to this:


I took that right before we boarded for a trip to NYC two years ago. It was an all night trip, great experience, priced comparable to flying except for far less hassle both departing and arriving, thus exacting a far lesser human toll. But look at that train. Our National Train System. It was rickety; there was still a space in the wall of the sleeper where a monitor with VCR had been installed, then taken out. But even so, there’s still nothing like seeing the countryside passing by the window next to you. Plus the conversations you get into over twelve hours together. And the Porter was the same vintage as the train car – tons of great stories he didn’t even need to tell you, so clearly were they written into his face and wrinkled hands.

We took the Eurostar with garcon d’verte in 2000 and the TGV many times before and since – the comparison is not the point. Look at the slide show above, it’s like another planet somewhere. They’ve left us far behind and long ago. A guy in the 3rd this summer described to me how they were testing a newer, faster TGV that met some crazy speed for a mere electric train – at nearly 600 km/hour it was outrunning the current that powers it, creating a new array of problems for the engineers, problems that they will solve.

The point is how much of this future present we are deliberately denying ourselves, all for the sake of infinite hegemony for car maker and oil companies. We are powerless before their century-plus of lobbying and propaganda, the individual freedom we believe was immaculately conceived within the sacred chambers of the combustion engine, from which we must not be sundered.

Meanwhile, we munch a Gordita and listen to Beck on the Interstate while a dude in Shanghai is sleeping on the maglev, dreaming of a day or a girl or a boy or a house or a song or a cure or another train, to somewhere. Who’s future is it, again?


In another dimension:

For decades, three hours has been seen as the magic number, the journey time at which train travel becomes faster than flying on a centre-to-centre basis. But with stricter and more time-consuming airport security, plus frequent air traffic delays, that magic three hours is stretching. So much so, that Guillaume Pepy, CEO of SNCF (French national railways) has stated that this three hours has become four or perhaps five.

He cites Paris-Perpignan, where SNCF’s high-speed TGV takes five hours, yet where rail has captured 50% of the market.

It’s not only journey time that’s important. European high-speed trains typically achieve punctuality of 90-95% on time or within 15 minutes, whereas European airlines struggle to reach 63-68%. And with WiFi and power sockets for laptops, a train journey is often more productive.

The point in the first graph is one that anyone who flies understands all too well: as flying becomes slower, rail becomes faster.

Aren’t you glad that, as opposed to worrying about things like high speed rail service between, say, Charlotte and Chicago, your government keeps dicking around with whether rich people deserve permanent tax cuts, or even more importantly, ways to keep Muslim community centers out of Manhattan? Manhattan?

Makes you wonder about what qualifies as a pre-existing condition. Ah, freedom.

As seen on Atrios.