Wonkbook: North Dakota has way, way more oil and gas than we thought

May 1, 2013

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(Photo by Matthew Staver/Bloomberg)
(Photo by Matthew Staver/Bloomberg)

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 20 percent. That's the amount by which the Environmental Protection Agency has reduced its estimates of methane leaks during natural gas production. Emissions of the greenhouse gas have been a sticking point for some environmentalists. Now the problem is significantly smaller.

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: Natural gas prices, according to different forecast scenarios from the Energy Information Administration.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) N.D.'s fossil-fuels bounty; 2) no further Fed easing expected from meeting; 3) bill would force federal employees onto insurance exchanges; 4) gay rights and immigration reform; and 5) will gun control get a second try?

1) Top story: North Dakota has way, way more oil and gas than we thought

The Interior Dept. just doubled and tripled their oil and gas estimates for North Dakota. "Technological advancements have made the unconventional fossil fuels in North Dakota’s Three Forks formation “technically recoverable,” the Interior Department's United States Geological Survey (USGS) announced Tuesday. And by rolling Three Forks into the Bakken shale formation, the region that spans North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana could now produce 7.4 billion barrels of oil, 6.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 0.53 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. Compared to 2008 estimates, that's triple the amount of shale gas and double the amount of shale oil that the region could yield." Zack Colman in The Hill.

@carney: Good line from #gc2013: “North Dakota is the most interesting emerging market in the world.”

...The sort of stories raise a real question: What if we never run out of oil? "Fracking has been attacked as an environmental menace to underground water supplies, and may eventually be greatly restricted. But it has also unleashed so much petroleum in North America that the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based consortium of energy-consuming nations, predicted in November that by 2035, the United States will become “all but self-sufficient in net terms.” If the Chikyu researchers are successful, methane hydrate could have similar effects in Japan. And not just in Japan: China, India, Korea, Taiwan, and Norway are looking to unlock these crystal cages, as are Canada and the United States." Charles C. Mann in The Atlantic.

EPA lowers estimates of methane leaks during natural gas production. "The Environmental Protection Agency has dramatically lowered its estimate of how much of a potent heat-trapping gas leaks during natural gas production, in a shift with major implications for a debate that has divided environmentalists...[T]he agency now says that tighter pollution controls instituted by the industry resulted in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010, or more than 850 million metric tons overall. That’s about a 20 percent reduction from previous estimates. The agency converts the methane emissions into their equivalent in carbon dioxide, following standard scientific practice." The Associated Press.

It's easy to keep U.S. carbon emissions flat. But that's not enough. "It would be fairly straightforward for the United States to keep its carbon dioxide emissions from rising between now and 2040. All Congress would have to do is keep most current energy policies in place. That’s according to a new analysis out today from the Energy Information Administration (EIA)." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

House panel to look at natural gas exports. "The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power will hold the 10 a.m. hearing, committee spokeswoman Charlotte Baker told The Hill. Witnesses for the hearing have not yet been finalized, she said. The hearing will sharpen the focus on the geopolitical effects of expanding natural gas exports." Zack Colman in The Hill.

@mattyglesias: If cheap natural gas could rid the world of the scourge of electric stoves, I guess that’d be pretty impressive.

Study: Ordering groceries online is greener than driving to the store. "What engineers Erica Wygonik and Anne Goodchild did in their paper (pdf) was to take a look at the actual stores and homes around Seattle and simulate thousands of deliveries and grocery runs around the city. They then analyzed a random sample of those runs. They found that delivery trucks bringing groceries to people’s doorsteps emitted between 20 to 75 percent less carbon dioxide per customer, on average, than having all those people drive their cars from home to the store and back again" Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Counterproductive to tell conservatives something is 'green,' another study shows. "Want to encourage politically conservative shoppers to buy climate-friendly, energy efficient products? Ditching the green messaging would help, new research suggests. The study led by a Wharton School researcher says “promoting the environment can negatively affect adoption of energy efficiency in the United States because of the political polarization surrounding environmental issues.”" Ben German in The Hill.

Music recommendations interlude: Crystal Fighters, "At Home," 2010.

Top op-eds

KLEIN: How Van Halen explains the U.S. government. "It would be nice if the government’s mistakes were typically a product of stupidity, venality or bureaucracy. Then we would need only to remove the idiots, fire the villains and cut the red tape. More often, the outrageous stories we hear are cases of decent people trying to solve tough problems under difficult constraints that we simply haven’t taken the time to understand. That isn’t to suggest that people in government don’t get it wrong. They do, repeatedly." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

TYSON: America's healthy path to fiscal health. ". Altman conjectures that, overall, the growth in health-care spending between 2008 and 2012 was about one percentage point lower than predicted by deteriorating macroeconomic conditions alone. If this reduction continues after the economy recovers – as seems likely, given the cost-containment incentives in the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) – the US stands to spend $2 trillion less on health care over the coming decade." Laura Tyson in Project Syndicate.

MILBANK: A presidential bystander. "It’s never a good sign for a president when he feels compelled to assure the public he still has a pulse. This is the unenviable position President Obama was in Tuesday morning when he held a news conference in the White House briefing room and faced a profusion of questions about the stalled pieces of his legislative program...One hundred days into his second term, Obama has already lost control of the agenda, if he ever had control in the first place." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

ORSZAG: Medicare should pay for patients, not treatments. "[T]the key change proposed within Medicare is the Medicare Comprehensive Care payment reform. Under the Engelberg strategy, health-care providers would receive a fixed payment for each Medicare beneficiary, rather than being paid piecemeal for every test and procedure. This comprehensive payment would be adjusted according to the beneficiary’s health status and the quality of care provided, giving doctors the incentive to avoid unnecessary treatment." Peter Orszag in Bloomberg.

FRIEDMAN: It's a 401(k) world. "We now live in a 401(k) world — a world of defined contributions, not defined benefits...[T]his huge expansion in an individual’s ability to do all these things comes with one big difference: more now rests on you. If you are self-motivated, wow, this world is tailored for you. The boundaries are all gone. But if you’re not self-motivated, this world will be a challenge because the walls, ceilings and floors that protected people are also disappearing." Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times.

CROOK: Free advice for Paul Krugman. "Really, I just wish he’d meet a wider range of people. It’s true that the modern Republican Party includes a growing number of extremists who have no interest in the kind of discussion I’m recommending. In their case, attempts at outreach would be so much wasted breath. But if Krugman got out of his bubble a bit more, he’d find that the other half of the country contains no more than its fair share of knaves, fools and lunatics." Clive Crook in Bloomberg.

JENKINS: The Reinhart-Rogoff distraction. "To err in computing a useless quantum is not the worst sin in the world. In correcting a now-famous mistake in the R&R paper, three authors at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst commit one of their own by vastly overestimating the influence of R&R on what the UMass authors call "the austerity agenda" in the U.S. and Europe. Pundits inflating the importance of pundits is about the only fun aspect of this controversy. When Greeks and Spaniards and Irish were unable to roll over their debts, it was not because investors read Reinhart and Rogoff." Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. in The Wall Street Journal.

GLAESER: Raise fees on air travel. "The federal government retains the ability to control our mobility as long as the FAA is financed with general tax revenue. Passengers should bear the costs of their own travel. Taxpayers generally shouldn’t pick up the bill. In exchange, passengers should be entitled to reliable flights and shorter security lines, free from the mess of Washington politics." Edward Glaeser in Bloomberg.

Emergencies only interlude: How to land a plane if you are not a pilot.

2) Fed unlikely to expand easing programs

Fed probably won't expand QE today. "Federal Reserve policymakers have gathered to begin a two-day policy meeting, and it isn’t just the weather that’s gloomy. But will the central bank respond to a softening economic picture by pumping more money into the economy? Almost certainly not, and the reasons why have some important implications for where Fed policy is heading." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

...And they're also thinking about a tighter cap on the leverage banks can have. "Federal Reserve officials are weighing a stricter cap on bank leverage , a move that would respond to increasing demands to constrain the riskiness of large lenders. According to people familiar with the matter, Fed officials have discussed increasing the amount of equity capital banks are required to hold, setting the bar higher than the 3 per cent of assets level agreed internationally." Tom Braithwaite and Shahien Nasiripour in The Financial Times.

A return to 'Made in America': Why manufacturing is making a comeback. "U.S. firms that have long operated abroad are making similar moves: Caterpillar, GE and Ford are among those that have announced that they’re shifting some manufacturing operations back to the United States. And economists are debating whether these stories are a blip — or whether they signal the beginning of a major renaissances for American manufacturing." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Single-family home prices soar. "Home prices rose in February at their fastest rate in almost seven years, another sign the housing market recovery will help counter the drag on the economy from government belt-tightening. The S&P/Case Shiller index of 20 metropolitan areas released on Tuesday showed single-family home prices rose 9.3 percent in February from a year earlier." Reuters.

...But home ownership is at a historic low. "The US home ownership rate fell to the lowest in nearly 18 years pointing to the jump in demand for rental housing and investor purchases...The share of the country’s population that owned their homes fell to 65 per cent in the first quarter, down from 65.4 per cent in the same period in 2012 and the lowest since the third quarter of 1995, commerce department data showed on Tuesday. Home ownership is still far below the 2005 peak of 69.1 per cent." Anjli Raval in The Financial Times.

Consumer spending without consumer confidence. "[R]ather than a sign of strength, spending figures for March show that money is tight, causing households to cut back on other spending in the face of higher spending on necessities. Against that backdrop, it should come as no surprise that consumer confidence fell in April to a nine-month low, as measured by the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer-sentiment index." Teresa Tritch in The New York Times.

What's the economic value of our technology? "Value added by the information technology and communications industries — mostly hardware and software — has remained stuck at around 4 percent of the nation’s economic output for the last quarter century. But these statistics do not tell the whole story. Because they miss much of what technology does for people’s well-being." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

The studies behind austerity are weak. Those behind uncertainty are weaker. "You’ve heard about all the problems with Reinhart and Rogoff. But how about the problems with Baker, Bloom and Davis?...The Bloom, Baker and Davis measure of policy uncertainty gets a lot of attention — but it’s shot through with holes" Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Continuing the Tankersley-Casselman debate over labor force participation. "Participation among prime-age adults with less than a high school diploma is plummeting, Robert Moffitt, an economist at Johns Hopkins University who specializes in labor force issues, told me in an interview this month. Whether those would-be workers will return when the recovery finally picks up steam “is the million-dollar question,” Moffitt said." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.

Financial-reform fight roars. "Wall Street bankers and some of the world’s top finance ministers are waging a bitter international campaign to block Washington financial regulators from extending their policing powers far beyond the nation’s shores...Banks and overseas regulators are resisting an agency proposal, intended to go into full effect as early as mid-July, that would require overseas offices of American-based banks, foreign institutions and hedge funds to turn over information on foreign trades if they involve United States customers, or are guaranteed by a financial institution with American ties, requirements that the industry calls redundant and excessive." Eric Lipton in The New York Times.

Cacophonous interlude: An interactive music map.

3) Should federal employees be on exchanges?

Bill would force federal employees onto insurance exchanges. "A new Republican proposal would push federal workers off their employer-sponsored health plan and onto the insurance exchanges being established under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced the bill on Friday, following rumors that Democrats were trying to exempt members of Congress and their staffs from a provision in current law that requires them to enroll in the exchanges in 2014." Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.

Why we should be coordinating our health care. "Advocates for hospital patients and their families say confusion about who is managing a patient's care -- and lack of coordination among those caregivers -- are endemic, contributing to the estimated 44,000 to 98,000 deaths from medical errors each year. A landmark report by the Institute of Medicine in 1999 cited the fragmented health-care system and patients' reliance on multiple providers as a leading cause of medical mistakes" Roni Caryn Rabin in Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post.

Health law is 'working fine,' Obama says. "President Obama said Tuesday that his health care law was “working fine,” and he played down concerns that the law could disrupt coverage or lead to higher premiums for people who already had health insurance." Robert Pear in The New York Times.

...But he does see 'bumps' ahead. ""Even if we do everything perfectly, there will still be glitches and bumps," Mr. Obama told reporters Tuesday. He added that most Americans wouldn't feel disruptions from the law, and that the country will benefit from covering the uninsured over time. The stakes are high for the administration since the outcome of Mr. Obama's signature domestic-policy legislation could shape the course of his second term. Republicans are preparing to seize on any early flaws to further their campaign against the law, and make gains in 2014 elections." Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

Poll: 42 percent of Americans unsure if Obamacare is still law. "If you want to know what a challenge the Obama administration faces in implementing its signature health-care law, this statistic might help: Fewer than six in 10 Americans know that the Obamacare law is still on the books. Seven percent think the Supreme Court struck it down; 12 percent say Congress repealed Obamacare." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Over-the-counter sales of morning-after pill approved for ages 15 and up. "The Obama administration on Tuesday approved over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill for ages 15 and above, a move that contradicts a court order requiring the pill to be made available to women of all ages. While it fell short of that order, the administration’s move represents a historic liberalization of contraception rules — perhaps the most significant since the morning-after drug was approved 14 years ago." Sarah Kliff and Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Affordable Care Act application just got a whole lot simpler. "When the Obama administration published a first draft of the form that Americans will use to apply for health coverage under the nation’s new Affordable Care Act, it didn’t go well. The application got the most attention for being 21 pages. It was clunky — for example, applicants had to provide their Social Security number twice on the same page. That intimidating stack of paper was quickly pitched. On Tuesday, the Health and Human Services Department rolled out the final version of the basic application, which had been cut to five pages and is available below." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

The tradeoffs of simplicity, Obamacare edition. "[T]he new form really is less intimidating for single adults, who now get an application catering to them. But it’s a bigger pain in the neck for a family of four, who now get an application catering to families of two — and to a media that equates fewer pages with better forms and laws. As larger families will now find out, shorter and simpler are not actually synonyms." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Dictionary interlude: Hallmarks of the hipster.

4) Gay rights and immigration reform

Push to include gay couples in immigration reform. "This has been a good year for gay rights advocates — with public opinion shifting in their favor and same-sex marriage advancing in the states — but not when it comes to immigration. An 844-page bill introduced in the Senate in mid-April by a bipartisan group of eight lawmakers includes measures to make legal immigration easier for highly skilled immigrants, migrant farmworkers and those living here illegally. It has no provisions that would help foreigners who are same-sex partners of American citizens to become legal permanent residents." Julia Preston in The New York Times.

How immigration reform and demographics could change the presidential math. "A bill to allow unauthorized immigrants to gain citizenship carries electoral risks and rewards for the Republican Party. On the one hand, if the bill were passed, some of those immigrants would eventually vote. Roughly 80 percent of illegal immigrants are Hispanic, and about 10 percent are Asian — groups that voted heavily Democratic in the last two elections. On the other hand, such legislation could plausibly improve the Republican Party’s brand image among Hispanics and Asian-Americans, perhaps allowing the party to fare better among these voters in future elections. Which of these effects would outweigh the other?" Nate Silver in The New York Times.

Conservatives' ads pressure GOP on immigration. "A conservative group is joining business leaders in sponsoring TV ads that seek to tamp down Republican jitters over a Senate immigration bill and build support among GOP lawmakers for the measure...Another group, the National Immigration Forum Action Fund, said this week that it had received a six-figure donation from hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer to promote a comprehensive immigration deal." Neil King Jr. and Danny Yadron in The Wall Street Journal.

Adorable animals interlude: Otter hops in car, refuses to leave.

5) Background check vote continues to ripple

Sen. Kelly Ayotte under pressure after background check vote. "The contentious political fight over gun control moved into the White Mountains of New Hampshire on Tuesday as gun-control activists began to focus on Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) as a prime target in their effort to revive their push for stricter gun laws. Ayotte was a key, high-profile vote against the bipartisan plan to expand the national gun background-check program, which failed in the Senate two weeks ago despite overwhelming public support and extensive efforts by the White House." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Expanding background checks more popular among Republicans without Senate in mix. "The Gallup poll conducted an experiment where half of those polled were asked whether the Senate should have passed a measure to expand background checks. The other half were asked a different question on background checks without mentioning the Senate action. In the first question, 65 percent of Americans said the Senate should have passed background checks, while 29 percent agreed with the upper chamber’s decision to reject the measure." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Interview: Kathleen Frydl on the drug war: 'Here we have a total and complete failure.' Dylan Matthews.

FDA: Plan B will be over the counter for women 15 and over. Sarah Kliff.

It’s easy to keep U.S. carbon emissions flat. Sadly, that’s not enough. Brad Plumer.

The studies behind austerity are weak. The study behind ‘uncertainty’ is worse. Ezra Klein.

Study: Ordering groceries online is greener than driving to the store. Brad Plumer.

The tradeoffs of simplicity, Obamacare edition. Ezra Klein.

WonkFeud Part 2: The labor force participation debate gets real. Jim Tankersley.

Affordable Care Act application just got a whole lot simpler. Sarah Kliff.

Poll: 42 percent of Americans unsure if Obamacare is still law. Sarah Kliff.

Et Cetera

How millenials think about politics: they're cynical and partisan. Sheryl Gay Stolberg in The New York Times.

Smithsonian to close small exhibits due to sequester. Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.

What you should know about Transportation Secretary nominee Anthony Foxx. Adam Bernstein in The Washington Post.

WH announces new effort to boost hiring, reduce unemployment among vets. Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Why don't Americans care more about campaign finance reform? Juliet Eilperin and Scott Clement in The Washington Post.

Tom Wheeler expected as nominee for next chair of FCC. Cecilia Kang in The Washington Post.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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