The Oil Drum: New York City

Helping New Yorkers understand, prepare and adapt to the implications of Peak Oil

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Permanent Move to

As I mentioned earlier, I have moved over to from here forward. They have a scoop site which allows for greater connectivity and group participation. If you would like, you can sign-up over there and even submit your own articles.

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Tri-State Commuters Adjusting to $3 Gas


There are already signs that New York City area residents are adapting their commutes to save money on fuel.

While we will have to wait until the end of the month to see just how many commuters have switched over to MetroNorth and Long Island Railroad trains or private bus lines, reports are flooding in that there are many newcomers on the trains over the last 2 weeks since Katrina sent gas over the $3/gallon mark.

According to a NY Times article, people in the Tri-State area are adjusting their commutes to consume less gas, including carpooling.

From MetroNorth: "Officials of the Metro-North Railroad and New Jersey Transit said this week that they believed more people were leaving their cars at home and riding trains and buses to and from work....the officials said their conductors had been noticing new faces and were more frequently fielding questions usually asked by newcomers."

From NJ Transit: "Officials of New Jersey Transit also believe that people have been making the switch to mass transit as the cost of driving has shot up this summer, said Dan Stessel, a spokesman for the transit agency. New Jersey Transit raised its fares by an average of 11.5 percent on July 1, an increase that would reduce ridership by 2 or 3 percent normally, he said. But so far, there has been no measurable decline in the number of passengers, he said."

From a new carpooler: I really enjoyed the freedom of my own car until I realized it was just strapping me," Ms. Reeves, 45, said in an interview this week. Her first response was to start splitting the driving on the 80-mile round trip with a co-worker. But now she is preparing to share the pain inflicted at the pump with a group of six colleagues in a van subsidized by federal and state programs, which she estimated would reduce their monthly cost of commuting to about $80 each."

Even if they don't see the big picture about peak oil, people can adapt their consumption patterns to a certain extent if they have the incentives. Hopefully gas prices will continue to steadily increase, driving more people into a more sustainable lifestyle before we reach the peak.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Impact of Higher Gas Prices

From today's NY Times, it seems that even a city boasting the largest mass transit system in the nation is suffering under the effects of three dollar (or more) a gallon gasoline.
Many businesses are passing on the costs to their customers, like a messenger service that doubled it's rates from NJ to Manhattan. A friend told me last week that delivery of a rocking chair she was giving to a friend cost $35 more in the suburbs

Some interesting stats on how dependent NYC is on gas:
*Drivers in New York State may pay an extra $600 million a month in fuel costs, based on $3.25 a gallon for unleaded regular gas, according to an estimate by Senator Charles E. Schumer. If such prices persist for a year, he said, it will cost residents $7.2 billion - $1 billion in New York City alone.
*MTA fuels 5,000 buses everyday - estamated a $119m fuel bill for 2005 based on a price of $2.40/gallon
*Department of Education - with 6,100 buses carrying nearly 200,000 schoolchildren

Of course higher costs means either higher taxes or less service or trade-offs with other budget items. Or for heaven's sake, perhaps we could actually start finding ways of conserving fuel and lowering our gas bill through less consumption!

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Building a Sustainable NYC


Let me simply state that I am not one of those "head for the hills" type of people who thinks they can completely insulate themselves from the impact of peak oil by founding an eco-village or some type of intended living communities. Rather, I see the answer to peak oil not in each person becoming more independent from society, but rather from forming more local/regional levels of interdependency and self-sufficiency - local energy generation, local food production, local manufacturing bases, communities that are relatively self sufficient for the basics of life. Frankly, I don't see how we can escape this future if energy supplies become more scarce. Those communities that embrace this future path and invest now have a better chance of survival/adjustment than others. If you want to start making a difference in this, read further.

Next Wednesday, the NYC Peak Oil Meet-up will be meeting to specifically address ACTIONS (not just theories/words) that we can take to make NYC more sustainable. Please come with actionable short term ideas to get the word out about peak oil or build a more sustainable city.

Here is the message straight from the organizer:
What: Sustainable NYC

When: Wednesday, September 14, 6:30 - 7:30 PM

Where: Wai Cafe (6th avenue between 16th and 17th)

If you are ready to take action to make NYC sustainable in a
fuel-depleted future, come to the Sustainable NYC committee.
Do you want to do public outreach, organize groups and events,
or research policy options for NYC? Bring your own ideas,
brainstorm with others - and be ready to commit to working on a
project, not merely suggesting ideas for others to carry out.

Facilitated by Dan Miner and Lois Sturm.
Wai Cafe, Wed., Sept. 14, 6:30 - 7:30 PM

Learn more and RSVP

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Joining The Oil Drum

My inspiration for starting this blog came in large part from reading and
contributing to a blog called The Oil Drum (TOD: They
have done an excellent job of covering the international and national level
news related to Peak Oil, adding their expert commentary and perspective.
Their recent coverage of the implications of Katrina for the oil industry
has been absolutely stellar, providing insider information on what is really
happening behind the scenes before the Mainstream Media reports on it.

I started this blog to cover local issues on transportation, energy,
housing, etc from the perspective of preparing for the eventual consequences
of peak oil since each community will have to adapt in different ways.

The folks over at TOD have invited me to join their new scoop website and I
have gladly accepted. Over the next week I will be transitioning this blog
over to

The Scoop website will allow for greater interactivity and collaboration.
This collaboration between national and local contributors all in one place
will help us better share best practices and learn from each other.

I will be calling on folks from the NYC Tri-State Area to become regular
contributors, particularly if you have expertise in specific areas. Stay
tuned for more details.

With that, I will be on vacation until Tuesday evening, only writing from my
Blackberry if something really strikes me. I hereby grant Ianqui full powers
to post whatever she wants.

Finally please dig deep into your pockets and contribute what you can to the
victims of Katrina. Craigslist has a good list of charities and is running a
temporary housing matching program.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Gas Is So Cheap!

While everyone else in the country seems to be complaining about high gas prices are, I'm lamenting how cheap it is compared to Amtrak.

I'm planning a trip from NYC to Washington DC for the weekend and I wanted to see if the new gas prices at $3-3.50 would make Amtrak more competitive for two people to take the train instead of drive. NY Penn Station to Union Station in DC is about as well traveled an intra-city rail connection as there is in the country. It only takes about three and a half hours each way and trains run pretty much every hour.

So let's do the math on the incentives to drive vs. take the train, assuming we simply park the car when we arrive and do not use it for anything except intracity transportation:

Amtrak ticket: $80 each way, $160 roundtrip (no discount for RT!)
2004 Honda Civic: 250 miles, 30 mpg, assume $3 and $3.50/gallon gas = $25-30/each way. That's really cheap compared to the $80 Amtrak tickets.

Not that most people factor this into their plans, but gas is only a fraction of the cost of using a car for this trip. Let's assume parking is $25 each night x 3 nights. Tolls will be another $15 each way (bridge/NJ Turnpike/Tunnel). That brings us up to a total roundtrip cost for the car to $155-165. Ok that's competitive on the margin for one person to take the train, but remember this was a two person trip, meaning the car costs would be cut in half. This is the power of carpooling.

For me this exposed several issues:
1. Despite all the groaning out there about gas prices, I truly doubt that this will change behaviors except for some financially strapped people on the margins who really can't afford to pay for the extra gas. Gas is a pretty good value at $3/gallon.

2. Amtrak needs better funding to compete with the auto/airline industry. I think the government should take on more of the burden of investing in improving the rail infrastructure (like it does for highways!) and start to introduce more competition for regional passenger rail services. Even drivers should support these proposals because this takes cars off the road - less traffic.

3. Having alternatives helps you make solid financial calculations to decide what your incentives are, but unfortunately for many people there is no alternative to their car. We need to identify opportunities to expand mass transit into suburban communities, assuming they become interested in increasing their range of choices.

Ultimately I convinced my travel companion to take the train simply to do our part for lowering consumption during our time of need. So there is my contribution for the cause this weekend.

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Every Man for Himself

This was perhaps the most anticipated natural disaster in history. For decades, all levels of government were aware that a major Hurricane would devastate New Orleans and much of the surrounding areas. As Paul Krugman points out this morning in the NY Times, FEMA listed the New Orleans hurricane scenario as "perhaps the most deadly", more deadly than a major terrorist attack in NYC or an earthquake in San Francisco. Much effort was made to prepare the city for at least a Category 3 Hurricane, but it seems now that there was no real back-up plan for a Category 4 or 5 Hurricane.

Instead, the alert went out to residents to get out by any means possible. The president urged anyone in the storm's path "to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground."

Basically, this was a call for those with cars to jump in and get out. For everyone else, they had no plan except to get to the Superdome, if possible. For the elderly, for the disabled, for those that did not own cars, they were all on their own. And since Monday, they have had no shelter, no running water, no electricity and no food, save for what they could find.

In New Orleans 27% of the population lives below the poverty line. Many of these folks did not have cars to immediately flee the city. Effectively, there was no plan for them. It truly was every man for himself.

The swift breakdown in civilization is something that many people who have studied peak oil worry about. This really should be a lesson learned on how not to evacuate a city. However, I'm really trying to not give in to the "every man for himself" mentality. We are ALL in this together. If this happens to NYC, then god help us all. And if this could happen in a major metropolitan area, then don't think you will be safe in some rural outpost. You will be probably be found by greedy and fully armed people just as easily if law and order break down. In fact if you were allocating resources, would you concentrate your few resources in protecting urban areas or rural areas? If you go it alone, you better be very prepared. Or think of this another way - we are only hearing now about the urban chaos because that's what the media has been able to pick up. Just wait until you hear about the silent chaos/score settling happening in rural areas.

I wrote about the differences between the 2003 and 1977 New York blackouts in my review of James Goodman's Blackout. My basic conclusion was that negative economic conditions combined with a lack of immediate response by the police caused a much worse breakdown in 1977.

Recent events seem to confirm that civilization is somewhat fragile. Some would interpret these events as a reason to become ever more self-reliant, further insulating them from society and and that is a natural response. You should take steps to prepare yourself for a number of eventualities - including the evacuation of yourself and family from NYC. Personally, I keep a bag ready to go with a sleeping bag, water, food for 2 days, a first aid kit, flashlight, etc.

But really the answer lies not in a nation full of survivalists, but in strong communities that can withstand major crises. Rather than withdrawing into our own private bunkers when the oil storm strikes, we need to build stronger more sustainable communities now.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Second Letter to Friends and Family

Following up on my letter to Friends and Family back in July, I decided that in light of the sky rocketing oil prices, I would send out another letter to help put the current situation into perspective.


Dear Friends and Family

The devastation from hurricane Katrina is now becoming apparent both in the terrible loss of human life and the total evacuation of New Orleans, a unique and economically important city.

What will probably become more apparent in the coming weeks and months is just how dependent America is on oil. Katrina has stopped production of about 1-2 million barrels of oil a day and a similar amount of refining capacity. This is roughly 5-10% of the daily US oil consumption of 20 million barrels a day. It has also slowed oil imports from abroad as repair work continues on the Ports along the Mississippi river. This is why gas prices have gone from $2.40 to over $3 in some places.

But even before Katrina, the oil production and refining system was operating at near full capacity to met the growing demand of oil in the US and in the developing nations of Asia. Anything could have disrupted this delicate supply chain, it just so happened that Katrina was the event. But now we are even more vulnerable to political instability in oil exporting nations and ever more dependent on their willingness to supply the oil we have become addicted to.

There is also a theory believed among many academics and oil industry insiders that the world many be near it's peak in oil production. That we may not be able to physically continue to increase the rate of extraction of oil from the ground. This is not saying that we will "run out" of oil, but we will have to adjust to a steadily decreasing supply of oil - either through conservation or replacement of other sources, if possible.

This is just something that I would like you to consider. I'm hoping that a better understanding of the issues will give you more perspective on the current situation. Think about it and come to your own conclusions.

You can learn more about the theory of peak oil at these websites:
Good introductions: Wikipedia, Energy Bulletin,,

More scary Scenarios: Saintbryan, Kunstler, Matt Savinar,

Last month I started a blog to write about this subject and I invite you to read more about this at other websites, in particular The Oil Drum, which is run by folks far more expert in the subject area than I have in my research. I wrote two of my own introductions on my blog to the subject of peak oil - "What is Peak Oil?" and "What is Peak Oil? Part 2" about the concept and what this means for our way of life. Also, this subject can be depressing to think about, but really what I am advocating for is a more sustainable way of life.

In the short term, I would like all of you to do what you can can to conserve gasoline during the next 2-3 months while the country adjusts to a temporary loss in supply. More long term, I urge you to think about how you can alter your lifestyle to consume less oil.

Thanks for listening. I invite your questions and comments.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Friends in the Sustainable Blogosphere

I'd like to point regular readers of this site to check out some great blogs that I have been following over the past few weeks and highlight some other people involved in building a more sustainable world.

Upstate in Syracuse, NY we have Baloghblog, who has been taking pictures of gas stations and has recently wrote an interesting post on taking a low energy vacation. He's also been keeping me up-to-date on gas prices with daily photos of gas signs in his area. We love the photos Baloghblog, but we hope you're in the passenger seat when you take them!

Cityhippy reminds me that all the little stuff we do matters and has collected more than 430 bookmarks on interesting sites dealing with sustainable living and regularly posts articles about people trying to live a more sustainable life. Recently CityHippy did an interview with the founder of GuideMeGreen - an inspiring guy.

Starts and Fits latest post is on the lunacy of GM's emphasis on heavy trucks to drive sales in the recent run-up in gas prices. Somebody over at the NYC Department of Fixing Stuff must read that page considering the recent quick turnaround on a request he posted.

Jeff over at Sustainablog has been a great source of information this Summer while he was vacation from school, although lately with school starting he seems content to use the Weekly World News as a key source on Peak Oil news. But then again, where else would I find out that "Gals Who Go Topless Live Longer"

Also, check out some of my links to the right and send me any of your favorite sites.

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Rally Today Against Mass Arrests of Cyclists

From Time's Up:

Wednesday, Aug. 31, 5:30 p.m.
Centre St. sidewalk east of City Hall (bet. Spruce and Beekman)

Last August marked the beginning of mass arrests during Critical Mass. In the past year, over 500 cyclists have been arrested for riding their bikes. Forty-nine cyclists were arrested just last Friday. Don't be silenced! Come out and protest all mass arrests and illegal detentions that took have taken place since the RNC, when hundreds were arrested, some while engaging in peaceful protest actions, others while simply passing by during the mass arrests. Let the Bloomberg Administration know you are outraged

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Finding Your Carpool

As I mentioned earlier, there will be higher gasoline prices while production, imports and refining capacity is cut in the wake of Katrina. I think the best way to reduce prices is to have as much voluntary reductions in gas consumption as possible over the next 2-3 months. Perhaps we can learn some ways of permanently reducing our demand for gas during this period of time to help learn how to adjust to a more sustainable way of life.

One easy way of reducing demand is to eliminate as much single occupancy vehicles as possible and start carpooling more. According the US Census report that I recently downloaded, only 1 in 7 NY State commuters carpool of those who use a car as their primary way to travel to work.

On the 10 o'clock news I saw them cover a service that helps connect people in need of a ride. It's called NuRide. Go check it out. Even if you don't own a car, you can participate. And you can earn points toward gift certificates from their sponsors. Help create a more sustainable way of life in your community.

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Heartbreaking News from New Orleans

So I'm sitting at home watching and reading about the unfolding disaster happening in New Orleans, Southern LA and Mississippi. I couldn't help but feel a deep sense of empathy for those caught in the storm's wake, particularly after reading about the death, destruction, looting and general chaos that reigns in the area. Then I read this:

With conditions in the hurricane-ravaged city of New Orleans rapidly
deteriorating, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Tuesday that everyone still in the
city, now huddled in the Superdome and other rescue centers, needs to be

"The situation is untenable," Blanco said, pausing to choke back tears
at a news conference. "It's just heartbreaking."

The breach of two levees Tuesday meant the city was rapidly filling with water and the prospect of having power was a long time off, the governor said. She said the storm also severed a major water main, leaving the city without drinkable water.
"The goal is to bring enough supplies to sustain the people until we can establish a network to get them out," Blanco said.

It is heartbreaking. One of the oldest and most important US cities and trading ports has effectively been abandoned to the sea for an undefined period of time. Hundreds of thousands of people will be homeless for weeks to months.

Please dig deep into your compassion and donate whatever you can to the Red Cross Hurricane Fund.

Staten Islanders Call for Toll Fairness

I don't often align with the Staten Island Advance Editorials page, but they recently took the Democratic candidates running for mayor to task for all coming out against East River, while also calling for increases in the MTA bridge tolls. Here's the pertinent exerpt:

Talk about talking out of both sides of your mouth.

Then the candidates were asked about putting tolls on the East River bridges, which are currently free to cross by car, in order to ease traffic congestion in Manhattan.
Naturally, each candidate declared his or her staunch opposition to that idea.

Anthony Weiner, who has tried to position himself as the defender of the middle class, asked, "Why is it fair that every time there's a challenge in this city, people want to raise taxes on the middle class?"

We'd ask Mr. Weiner: Why is it fair that the residents of Brooklyn and Queens pay nothing to drive into and home from Manhattan over the East River, while residents of Staten Island have to pay a whopping toll to drive home from Brooklyn?

I'll add my own self centered perpective as a current resident of Manhattan: Why is it that Manhattan has to bear the traffic and congestion of free-riders from Brooklyn taking the low toll route out of Brooklyn and Queens, thus avoiding the $8 toll on the Verrazanno-Narrows Bridge going into Staten Island?

What we really need is congestion pricing, car-free parks, harrassment-free biking, more investment in mass transit alternatives, better mass transit quality, better freight rail links, and more hybird Taxis and alternative fuel cars.

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Composting for a greener New York

My building's tenant's association has decided to begin a newsletter. Recently, after a neighbor saw me taking a my bag of compost to the Union Square Greenmarket, she asked me to write an article about composting to explain it to other building residents. I thought the information might be informative for readers of PO-NYC too.

I was a regular at the Union Square Greenmarket for almost two years before I got curious about the stand at the southeastern end of the market. “Help create a sustainable NYC!” their sign says. I stopped to look, and discovered that the stand is run by the Lower East Side Ecology Center (7th St. between Aves. A and B), which is dedicated to recycling, composting, and environmental education. At the Greenmarket, the volunteers collect kitchen scraps that are used to make compost. Compost provides nutrients to soil and helps it retain moisture.

Composting is environmentally responsible and practical too, since it benefits city gardeners. The LES Ecology Center website notes that “The Department of Sanitation (DSNY) collects roughly 11,000 tons of ‘garbage’ every day, and according to DSNY’s waste compositions analysis, organic materials – anything from yard, wood to food waste – make up 26% of the waste stream.” By composting, New Yorkers could potentially save 2,860 tons of waste per day from entering the sanitation system.

Composting is simple. I have a small garbage can for composting under the sink, but if you have a balcony, you could put a covered trash can outside. I line the can with a plastic bag, and during the week, I make sure to separate the organic waste from the rest of the trash. Organic waste consists of all vegetables and fruits, bread and pasta, coffee and tea, among other items. Dairy, meat, and animal food are not composted. The volunteers at the Greenmarket give out a detailed list of compostable items to take home. The next step is to take the compost up to the LES Ecology Center stand at the Union Square Greenmarket. They’re there on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 8am-5pm. All you have to do is drop your bag in their bin.

In many ways, New Yorkers are good environmental citizens without realizing it. By living in apartment buildings and taking public transportation, our lifestyle is pretty efficient. But there are other minimal changes that people can make in order to further reduce both energy consumption and waste. For example, consider buying compact fluorescent light bulbs, which only consume about 25 watts of energy, but give off the same amount of light as a 100W bulb and last 10 times as long. Another idea is to carry a small cloth bag for short trips to the grocery store. Cloth bags can be folded into a square just a couple of inches wide and easily stored in your purse or briefcase.

In the end, the small actions will help New York City become a greener place to live.

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Simmons on Brian Lehrer

Matthew Simmons, author of "Twilight in the Desert" an expose of the Saudi
oil industry which explains peak oil, will be on Brian Lehrer's show today
on NPR. You can catch the show on 820 AM or on their website.