Vladimir Putin Opposes U.S. Fracking Because It Threatens Russia’s Oil & Gas Exports

Image via Oil and Gas People, goo.gl/V2c1Yz

Image via Oil and Gas People, goo.gl/V2c1Yz

Russian connections to anti-fracking activism in the United States underscore Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dedication to keeping Eastern Europe dependent on the oil and natural gas which flows from its state-owned energy giant, Gazprom. Russia has successfully stopped fracking efforts in Eastern Europe through phony environmentalist and media campaigns, and is now attempting to disrupt the surge in American natural gas production that is quickly bringing the U.S. into energy independence, and creating threatening unwanted competition for the Russian energy in Europe.

 

Exports from the U.S. via the oil and natural gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – poses a clear danger not only to Gazprom, but to the Russian government. One quarter of the regime’s revenues come from taxes paid by the energy giant, in which the government is a majority stakeholder. It is not surprising, then, that Gazprom is the only major energy company in the world to oppose the development of shale gas. For years its executives have claimed that fracking poses severe environmental risks; Alexander Medvedev, Gazprom’s executive chairman and head of Gazprom Export, has vowed that the Russian state and Gazprom are ready “to wage [ ] war on shale.”

While many former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe have joined NATO and the European Union in an attempt to distance themselves from their Moscow, their overwhelming dependence on Russian energy imports has prevented them from achieving complete independence. Gazprom supplies 30 percent of the European Union’s natural gas, and during a 2009 dispute with Ukraine showed the world that it can make Europe shiver if it turns the spigots off.

European Union nations have repeatedly attempted to find ways to diversify their energy resources, but the powerful environmentalist factions in many countries have lobbied against increased oil and gas imports from the United States and elsewhere. Innocently or no, these groups have played into the hands of Gazprom. After Germans protested in an emotional meltdown when a 2011 tsunami disabled the power supply of three Japanese nuclear reactors, German Chancellor Angela Merkel did an about-face on nuclear energy. With the support of 80 percent of the Bundestag, or German parliament, she decided to phase out nuclear power in that country by 2022. This prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to jokingly tell the Germans:

I don’t understand how you will heat your houses. You don’t want the gas. You don’t develop nuclear energy. Are you going to heat with firewood? You also have to go to Siberia if you need firewood.

 

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Personal Experience with Amtrak

I only recently rode Amtrak for the first time and must admit the United States could do much better in the area of rail travel.

Raised in a fairly nostalgic home environment, my childhood VHS entertainment featured a steady stream of black-and-white films like Young Tom Edison, Where the Red Fern Grows, North by Northwest, and of course a ton of Westerns. Trains have always represented adventure, suspense, and independence in my mind. In fact, some of the best action movies in history have involved suspenseful train scenes. Think of the Mission Impossible series, Money Train, From Russia with Love, and of course Skyfall. But, that’s for another post.

My desire to travel by train as a kid went largely unfulfilled as passenger train service had essentially died in the southern U.S. three decades before I was born.

Image from bootsnall.com

Now, I must admit before giving my full opinion on the nation’s passenger train monopoly, that European rail has thoroughly spoiled my expectations. I’ve traveled on nearly every form of European train, from sleeper cars, to German first class, to ex-communist-bloc clunkers with no plumbing (See image to the right), I expected Amtrak wouldn’t come near Western European standards. But, after my last Greyhound experience which included a ten-hour delay because of a station shooting in Richmond (a station where I was meant to have a healthy layover), having to pay $160 in Nashville (more than my entire round-trip ticket) to retrieve my truck after the incredibly rude Greyhound employees impounded it (their website contained no warning that parking was not available at the station), I had promised myself never to pay a cent to that poorly-run, antiquated dog .

Since, I was unwilling to pay the extra airfare for all the luggage and the bicycle I was taking along and willing to hitchhike from Birmingham to Washington D.C. before resorting to Greyhound, I decided to check Amtrak prices.

The price wasn’t bad – $160 one-way with two free suitcases with an extra $20 for the third. Taking along bikes are free with Amtrak, which was the deal-seller, since the much cheaper Megabus does not have room for them.

I arrived at the Birmingham station three hours before departure, hoping to shed my heavy, unwieldy luggage quickly. However, there were no Amtrak employees in sight and the window remained unmanned. After about an hour, I finally spotted one employee among the fifty or so passengers who were waiting in a filthy waiting room the size of a dentist office. I asked him where I should check in my luggage. He pointed down a hall that looked like it led to a time portal back to the 1950s and said to wait for the announcement to check them in. I walked down the hall which ended at a locked storage room door.

I walked back into the sweat box where the other passengers were quietly awaiting the time of their deliverance. The employee was gone.

I managed to maneuver the 200 lbs. of luggage into a corner that wouldn’t have been available if the bathrooms I was blocking had not been out of order.

No announcement ever came and my fellow passengers and I headed up to the tracks ten minutes before boarding. The controller naturally told me I needed tags for my luggage and I told him there was no employee at the window to do that.

“Well, it’s too late now,” he said glumly.

He told me they would have to be shipped the following day. I told him that was fine, but he promptly changed his mind. I went back to the station where the sole employee had reappeared. He quickly got me tags and took my bike while I dragged up my suitcases.

The train itself was something a passenger could naturally expect in Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador, Bosnia, or the United States (if said rider had survived Greyhound). The carpet was stained down the aisles with every dark color imaginable, the seats were stained where they weren’t ripped, and the windows looked like they hadn’t felt window cleaner in a year. The pace of travel was especially abysmal. On a bad day of traffic, it takes a law-abiding driver two hours to get from Birmingham to Atlanta. It took the relatively empty Amtrak train nearly eight hours; and since Anniston closed its station, that’s eight hours with no stops. Part of that is because unlike in other civilized countries, Amtrak has to stop for freight trains – often for thirty minutes at a time.

The pace and number of passengers picked up considerably once the train got north of Charlotte.

Sleep on the 22-hour ride was virtually impossible as the staff had the temperature turned down to what felt like 45 degrees.

Amtrak’s food service is actually quite good, although it can be a bit pricey. A full dinner runs $16 – $24 and breakfast $7 – $12, although if one wants to go continental, it can be even cheaper.

Despite the obvious shortage of staff, funds, and infrastructure, the negative aspects of the government-owned company never appeared to dampen the spirits of the employees. The staff consisted of the friendliest, most hospitable, and most helpful transportation employees I’ve ever encountered. One of the controllers immediately took me to a better seat after the debacle with my luggage. Also, despite overhearing them complain among themselves of having to work 70 – 80-hour weeks, they were always eager to help and make customers’ journey as pleasant as possible. Amtrak’s employees, at least from my lone experience appear to match and even exceed any flight crew of any major airline in customer service and work ethic.

Other than freezing all night, the trip was largely pleasant. The WIFI which Amtrak wisely undersells was surprisingly reliable.
I read on the way up that more than 80% of Amtrak trains are late. Mine arrived about two and a half hours behind schedule.

Amtrak is not a dying entity as many make it out to be – at least not yet. It suffers from a lack of interest on the part of American politicians. Their constituents have grown up without easy train access and don’t realize the convenience they’re missing. Trains have always been a lower, middle class means of transportation in Western countries and most politicians come from the upper middle class if they are not outright wealthy. They naturally have little interest in allocating their own tax dollars toward a means of transportation that they will never use. The federal government, despite pouring tens of billions of dollars every year into roads, cannot seem to do little more than slow down the roads’ rate of deterioration. Airlines have attempted to fill the void of good roads, good bus lines, and a good, affordable train system. The result has been smaller seats and less comfort and as a recent case with Delta showed, very poor customer service.

Despite only getting 2.2% of federal transportation subsidies in 2017, Amtrak has managed to survive as a national embarrassment with a small, overworked, though over-paid staff, dirty cars, and infrequent and slow service. Despite the claim that the very fact Amtrak still exists is because of The very fact that it is still around is a testament to plump, government subsidies as anti-Amtrak advocates would have budget-conscious Americans believe is simply not true. There is a continuing demand for passenger rail service.

The workers I encountered were incredibly pleasant and seemed to thoroughly like working with people and enjoy their job, despite the outrageous hours.

As I intend this to only be a summary of my personal experience with Amtrak, I won’t go into the reasons why Amtrak receives so little federal funding when compared to the massive subsidies and funding that airports and highways receive.

The government’s treatment of Amtrak is like parents pouring thousands of dollars into clothes for their daughter and then telling everyone that their son just doesn’t have the sense of fashion like little Suzie – while failing to mention that little Johnny has to make do with his $50 gift card he receives at Christmas.

The following are a few excellent pieces on some of the problems with Amtrak, and proposals to improve passenger train service in the U.S. My personal two cents is that the government should treat rail transportation the same way it treats air and highway travel. Privatize and heavily subsidize!

http://www.heritage.org/report/the-presidents-proposal-de-fund-amtrak-will-force-the-railroad-adopt-needed-reforms

http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre2002101800

http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/15/politics/shuster-defends-amtrak-spending/index.html

https://qz.com/409824/yes-amtrak-was-sabotaged-by-congress/