Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How Fracking can help Hawaii Tourism

Though record high gasoline prices in Hawaii may reflect the rising global costs of oil, it certainly is no help to Hawaii’s tourism industry or the state’s cost of living. Higher oil and gas prices are increasing the cost of airline tickets at a time when tourists have less available money to vacation in Hawaii. It makes everything more expensive in Hawaii because of the increased cost of transportation of goods and rising utility rates. The question for those of us living in Hawaii, or hoping to visit, is “will the cost of oil keep going up or is there some miracle on the horizon that will lower the ever rising rates in the future?”. We have reason to believe in a miracle that will significantly lower the cost of oil and gasoline.

We have previously mentioned new technologies used to extract natural gas that started being used about 4 years ago. Since that time, production of natural gas using horizontal wells, widely known as “fracking”, has doubled the production of natural gas in the US.  As a result the price of natural gas has dropped 78%, from $8.80 per thousand cubic feet to $1.98 per thousand cubic feet. These same technologies are now being used to extract oil from areas of the US that have not been producing oil. The Bakken shale formation in North Dakota, for example, has seen a 600% increase in oil production using this technique.

If these new technologies in producing oil result in a similar increase in production and price drop as they did for natural gas, it could mean a drop in the price of oil from $105 a barrel today to $23 a barrel over the next four years.
Some noteworthy changes that have already occurred and add to the probability of the price of oil going down significantly are:
  1. There are more oil rigs drilling in the US now than in the rest of the world combined (about 1275 rigs). A geological formation of shale in Eastern Colorado (Niobrara) is now producing over 200,000 barrels a day. A new area called the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale on the border of Louisiana and Mississippi initially projected production levels of 25,000 barrels of oil a day has revised it to upwards of 125,000 barrels a day. The Bakken formation, called by some the “new Saudi Arabia”, produced 600,000 barrels a day at the end 2011 and is expected to produce more oil than California or Alaska by the end of 2012. If US production continues to increase at this level, our country will have energy independence within 48 months.
  2. Traditionally pipelines have pumped oil imported on tankers from Houston to the central US to refine it into gasoline at oil refineries in the Midwest. Oil production has increased so much using the new techniques on shale fields in the US that several major oil pipelines are now reversing the direction they pump oil in order to deal with the huge surplus. A pipeline that pumped oil from Houston to Oklahoma and a pipeline that pumped oil from Houston to El Paso have both reversed the flow of oil to send over 500,000 barrels of newly produced shale oil each day to Houston for refining.
  3. The huge new supply of US oil has already lowered the price of oil in the US to 20% less than oil prices in the rest of the world. Recently, a barrel of US produced oil cost $105, whereas a barrel of imported oil costs $125.
  4. The largest refinery in the world is about open in Port Arthur, Texas and will refine over a million barrels of oil a day. This is a remarkable development as elsewhere in the world, large oil refineries have been closing. A refinery in St. Croix that processed over 450,000 barrels a day and several in Europe of similar size closed recently because they were losing money with every barrel they refined.
  5. The low cost of natural gas is making it cheaper to refine oil in the US than anywhere in the world.  The transportation costs are less and the availability of low-cost natural gas can be used to refine the oil instead of expensive oil products.  Oil producers are saving even more money by powering the oil rigs with natural gas produced at the same site and converting supply trucks to using natural gas.  The use of localized energy to extract, transport and refine oil continues to reduce the overall cost of gasoline and oil products for customers in the US.
If the US replaces the 6 million barrels of oil that it imports every day, that would keep $600 million dollars a day within the economy of the US and add jobs and infrastructure investment in the US. In addition to reducing the cost of oil for Hawaii, the $219 billion a year remaining in the US economy would pay for many, many vacations to Hawaii.

Disclaimer: we are investors in companies that produce materials used in “fracking” as well as those that produce oil and natural gas in the US.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Merrie Monarch 2012 in Hilo

Merrie Monarch week is coming to a close today in Hilo, Hawaii. It is a special time of year when residents, hula halaus (schools) and hula enthusiasts from around the world come together in the town to celebrate hula and Hawaiian meles (songs). We attended the Ho’olaule’a (music festival), at the start of Merrie Monarch week, in Hilo on Easter Day. This day is reserved for local groups and dancers that are not part of the hula competition to show off their skill.  Several halau’s, the community college in town, and a local high school performed for the crowd.

Our favorite performance, the reason we are drawn to the civic auditorium in Hilo every year are the performances by Halau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua led by the Kumu Hula Johnny Lum Ho. Johnny Lum Ho creates unique, multi-dimensional expressions of hula by designing the use of space with large numbers of dancers, the use of colors with varying costumes in unique combinations, the use of smell with fragrant leis adorning the dancers, the use of sound with fantastic meles and singing, and his creative and high speed hula steps.  The energy and intensity of the dance is overwhelming.  We are not alone with our love and awe of Johnny Lum Ho; the auditorium is always packed and the crowds makes their appreciation known. The prayer performed by Halau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua with visiting Japanese dancers below gave us chills down our backs and a sense of elation.

Hula that is influenced by modern dance is excluded from the Merrie Monarch competition because the festival’s strict requirements limit hula movements to those of olden days. Merrie Monarch group competitions seek to keep hula as it existed during King David Kalakaua’s reign and before by not allowing innovation in the dance and presentation. The competition classifies hula into two types, Kahiko (pre-1890) and ‘Auana (encompassing the late 1800’s era of King Kalakaua (with gowns instead of leaf skirts and musical instruments instead of ipu (gourd) drums).The rule book for Merrie Monarch competitions are 20 pages long to preserve the art.

We appreciate the value of history and maintaining a piece of Hawaiian heritage. When watching the live broadcasts of Merrie Monarch group hula competitions from our living room, the costumes and meles transport us to the 1890’s. But we also feel lucky that the annual Ho’olaule’a allows us the rich experiences of the evolving art form of hula.

More videos of the Easter event are located here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Living on an active volcano island

Vog (volcanic smog), created by the gasses and ashes spewing from Kilauea Volcano tends to collect on the southwest side of Hawaii Island. Most days we get up early and get a dose of sunshine before the Vog starts to float inland and rise up the mountainside in Kona. This week the Vog has been so thick that it feels like the sun did not rise. The sounds of traffic and air conditioners are muted by the heavy air and the ocean and the sky merge into a single shade of gray. Hualalai Volcano, which rises behind Kailua-Kona town, is hidden behind a thick cover.   We study the Volcano through a variety of web links and wonder if there is more ash in the air these days or if the change in season has modified the direction of the wind.

We watch the grayish-blue cloud roiling out of Halema’uma’u Vent from a CAM set up by the USGS. We know that if the plume is heading to right on the screen it means Vog is coming our way. If the plume is bent away from the screen, we may have sunshine and clear skies in Kona the next day or two. At night we watch the eerie red emitting from the growing lava lake within Halema’uma’u on the camera.

We study the “tilt” events carefully recorded on graphs by the scientists at the HVO and know now that “deflation events” mean the lava is subsiding and “inflation events” mean the lava is surging, often spewing from Pu’u O’o vent down toward the ocean.  We study the USGS seismic map dotted with earthquake events  where the island is shifting and shuddering.

In Spring of 2008, the latest episode of this active volcano began.  Before 2008, there were 5 to 10 “tilt” events a year. There were 64 in 2009 and more every year since.  In the first three months of 2012, there have already been 37 “tilt events” measured from surging lava, more than ever recorded.   The island has had over 40 earthquakes in the past two weeks, the biggest a 4.9. The gas plume emissions from the Volcano contain sulfur dioxide, measured at 400 tonnes a day last week, and ash.

Though the dangers of tainted air, shaking earth, collapsing lava shelves,  and lava flows are very real, we feel alive and very well on our “living island”.