Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bright purple crab discovered in Philippines

Four wild-colored species were discovered in a biodiversity hotspot now endangered by mining

purple crab

Senckenberg Research Institute

One of the newly discovered crab species, Insulamon palawanense, which is bright purple in color.

updated 4/24/2012 11:01:58 AM ET

Four new species of crab that sport some wild colors have been discovered near the Philippine island of Palawan.
The newfound species are threatened by mining activities in the region, which is one of the world's major biodiversity hotspots, its discoverers said. About half of the species that live on Palawan are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else.
Scientists at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Germany and De La Salle University in Manila found the four new species of Insulamon freshwater crab genus as part of their Aqua Palawana research program.
The reddish-purple crabs are the only varieties that are endemic to only one or a few islands; the sea keeps them from spreading further, as they depend on freshwater at all stages of their development. Having been completely separated from their relatives, they have developed their own separate species and genera over tens of thousands of years.
"We have proved that the only previously known type of Insulamon is restricted to the Calamian group of islands to the north of Palawan. The four newly discovered species live exclusively on the actual island of Palawan and make it a unique habitat," said study leader Hendrik Freitag of Senckenberg.
But the unique species are threatened by several mining projects that could damage or alter the crabs' habitat.
"The smaller the remaining natural habitat, the greater is the risk to endemic fauna and flora. Even minor environmental changes can lead to extinctions. It is all the more important to do research in this region and show that the biodiversity of these islands is unique and worth protecting," Freitag said in a statement.
The study describing the species was recently published in the journal Raffles Bulletin of Zoology.

Bad reporting. What are they mining. What is being done to protect the crab. What is the Philippine government's take on all this. Do they care? Is this going to be the latest fad in Asia, "Purple Crab Soup"? This crab is really doomed. Nice to see it though before it goes the way of the buffalo.
Pimp Crab


Former TSA chief: Airport security in America is 'broken'

Courtesy of Kip Hawley
Kip Hawley, former administrator for the Transportation Security Administration, says the agency's approach to airport security is "broken."

As head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from 2005 to 2009, Kip Hawley was the public face of an agency despised by millions of Americans. Today, he says that hatred is understandable because the agency’s approach to airport security is “broken,” arguing that it should forgo standardized procedures and a focus on prohibited items in favor of increased flexibility and mitigating risk.
Hawley elaborates on the concept in a new book, out today, called “Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security” (Palgrave Macmillan, $27), co-written with Nathan Means. In it, he reveals the thinking behind the agency’s actions, the problems they’ve caused — in terms of cost, wasted effort and an angry public — and the possibility that someday we may be able to travel with our liquids, lacrosse sticks and large jars of peanut butter.
Overhead Bin caught up with Hawley — on an Amtrak train, for what it’s worth — and asked him about the TSA's future.

Here's a transcript of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Q: You've suggested that the U.S. approach to security is “wrongheaded.” Why do you say that?A:  After 9/11, we moved so fast to protect ourselves against further attack that we put in place security measures that were stronger. But in the 10 years since, al-Qaida has proved to be an adaptive enemy. They simply take the defenses that they see and work around them to try something else. The problem at TSA is that each brick that’s been put up has been put up in a wall and stays there even after the vulnerabilities they address have been closed.
Timeline: The evolution of airport security

Q: So what do you suggest instead?A:  TSA needs to step up and clean out the regulatory phase of security which now essentially lists what’s prohibited and then you go look for things on that list. That may have worked in the past, but it doesn’t work now. It drives passengers crazy and, quite frankly, it drives the TSOs [Transportation Security Officers] crazy because they’re asked to do things don’t really improve security.

Q: Many of the prohibited items can and, in some cases, have been used as weapons. Are you saying that passengers should be able to bring knives, etc., on board? A:  Why are we going through all this stuff about blades and tools and prohibited items? You may be able to get one person or two people with a knife but you’re not going to take over a plane. All the economic cost and the public cost of officers looking in bags for tiny knives and things like that – pull that off their plate and say we need you to focus on toxins and explosive components. That makes their job very focused. They’ll do a better job and the lines will move faster.

Q: What about limiting liquids to 3.4 ounces or less?A:  When we put the [one-quart, zip-topped] bag rule in place, it was supposed to be a temporary measure – only until we developed the software that would be able to go in the advanced X-ray machines to detect threat liquids. We completed that in 2008, but the dispute is ongoing over whether the public would want to stand in lines if the false positives are too high.
That’s not a choice the government should make unilaterally. I think they should ask the public. Set up some lanes for people who want to bring all their liquids. The lines will be longer [due to more intensive screening, false positives, etc.] but you’ll be able to bring whatever you want.

Q: So the idea, as you say in the book, is to move away from banning specific items and toward a system that accepts reasonable levels of risk. What do you mean by that?A: The only way to make flying 100 percent safe is to ground the airplanes. Instead, we need to have a discussion of risk-management and include the public. Take pat-downs. Are we willing to go through these intrusive pat-downs so people like [underwear bomber Umar Farouk] Abdulmutallab won’t toast their private parts or possibly kill one or two people on a plane? Or do we prefer to take that risk and not have these intrusive pat-downs? Where I draw the line is catastrophic loss, meaning if you can blow up a plane, you have to do whatever it takes to not let that happen.

Q: Why weren’t such efforts implemented when you headed the agency? A:  A lot of it has to do with the internal systems at TSA and standard operating procedures that say if TSOs do everything exactly by the book, they’re covered. We also never had the time or political support to pull back the measures that were implemented in response to specific threats. It took an act of Congress to let lighters back on planes even though al-Qaida had already moved on to electronic detonators. It’s very hard to make changes when those changes lead to outcries that there will be blood in the aisles.

Q: TSA has made some other changes recently, including rolling out the PreCheck registered traveler program and allowing children under 12 to leave their shoes on during screening. How would you grade their efforts?A:  PreCheck is great; they’re using the information that they have from the airlines to encode travelers’ boarding passes. That’s really using intelligence at the checkpoint. It’s probably not perfect, but they’re trying to do the right thing.
On loosening the rules for shoes, I don’t understand that. Age has never been a successful risk-based dividing line, so you can’t exempt a whole category of people.

Q: You’ve laid out a five-point plan for the approach to security that you advocate, including eliminating the ban on prohibited items and allowing all liquids — both of which would free up resources, giving TSOs more flexibility, randomizing security and eliminating baggage fees to reduce some of the crush and frustration at screening checkpoints. Which do you think we’ll see first?A:  You could do them all between now and Memorial Day, but I don’t think [TSA Administrator] John Pistole has the latitude any more than I would to magically wave a wand and make it happen. It will take a whole big effort. The hold-up isn’t the technology; it’s really making the judgment and standing behind it.

Q: And, finally, what do you say to the people who essentially agree with your premise that airport security is broken but that TSA can’t ever be fixed and should just be abolished?A: Then what? If you abolish it, does someone else take over that function or are you willing to let planes be blown out of the sky? People talk about moving it into another department, changing its name — those are press releases from people who like to pontificate, but you’re not addressing the underlying problem. I say skip that bull---- and fix the underlying problem. That’s what needs to happen.

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.
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TSA pats down 4-year-old after she hugs grandmother

A 4-year-old girl was patted down recently by Transportation Security Officers (TSO) at a Wichita, Kan., airport after she embraced her grandmother at the security checkpoint.
Michelle Brademeyer, the girl's mother, wrote about the incident on her Facebook page last week. She said the trouble began when her daughter, Isabel, successfully passed through security, but then ran to hug her grandmother, who had triggered an alarm and had been asked to sit and await a pat-down.
"The Transportation Security Officers who were present responded to this very simple action in the worst way imaginable," Brademeyer wrote.
Brademeyer said that a TSO began yelling at her daughter, would not permit her to pass through the scanner again and said that a pat-down was necessary. Isabel, according to her mother, was wearing Mary Jane shoes, a short-sleeve shirt and leggings that did not have pockets.
"It was implied, several times, that my mother, in their brief two-second embrace, had passed a handgun to my daughter," Brademeyer said.
In a statement to, the TSA explained the decision to pat-down Isabel and disputed that officers suspected she had a gun.
"In this case the child had completed screening but had contact with another member of her family who had not completed the screening process," the statement read. "While it was explained to family members why additional security procedures were necessary in this instance, TSA officers did not suspect or suggest the child was carrying a firearm. TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper current screening procedures in conducting a modified pat-down on the child."
Brademeyer said that the TSOs did not attempt to explain the situation to an "obviously terrified" Isabel.
"They told her she had to come to them, alone, and spread her arms and legs. She screamed, 'No! I don't want to!' then did what any frightened young child might, she ran the opposite direction."
Brademeyer alleges that a TSO then said the entire airport would be shut down and flights would be canceled if Isabel was not restrained. Isabel was reportedly referred to as a "high-security threat."
Isabel was brought into a side room, accompanied by Brademeyer, for a pat-down. One of the officers said that she had previously "seen a gun in a teddy bear," according to Brademeyer. "The TSO seemed utterly convinced my child was concealing a weapon, as if there was no question about it." When Isabel would not stop crying, the TSOs apparently called for backup. Eventually, Brademeyer says, they were asked to leave the airport. 
After a manager intervened, Isabel was cleared through security and Brademeyer made it to the family's departing flight.
The experience, Brademeyer says, traumatized Isabel. "My daughter is very shaken up about this, and has been waking up with nightmares," she wrote.
Brademeyer said she wanted to share the experience so that "no other child will have to share in this experience." 
"There is no reason for any child to go through this, and while I completely understand the necessity of tight airport security, I fail to see how harassing a small child will provide safety for anyone."
Last year, the TSA revised its screening rules for children 12 and under. Airport security workers are supposed to make repeated attempts to screen children using metal detectors or full-body scanners before resorting to a pat-down, according to the new rules.
Though the TSA has tried to improve its child-screening efforts, Brademeyer is not the only parent to recently report that her child endured uncomfortable or traumatic pat-downs.
Last week, the Huffington Post wrote about a 10-year-old diabetic boy who received a pat-down after his insulin pump triggered the alarm. Jacob Wisnik was wearing a new pump that was placed over his groin. According to his mother, Eva, he was not permitted to reposition or move the pump before the pat-down.
The TSA told last week that the agency "is reviewing the passenger's screening experience to determine whether procedures were appropriately applied. We regret the family's perception of the experience was not positive and always strive to screen passengers respectfully while ensuring the safety of all travelers."
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Romney declares victory in GOP primary as general election begins


Brian Snyder / REUTERS
Supporters cheer as they wait for a speech by Mitt Romney in Manchester, N.H. on April 24, 2012.

Updated 9:33 p.m. ET - Mitt Romney declared victory in his quest to become the Republican presidential nominee on Tuesday and kicked off his general election campaign against President Obama in earnest folliowing a clean sweep of primaries in the Northeast.
Romney's performance in five primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island allowed him to tie up loose ends in the waning GOP contest, where his march toward the 1,144 delegates to secure the nomination appeared at this point to be all but a formality.
And, eager to begin prosecuting his case against Obama, Romney took a victory lap in the general election swing state of New Hampshire -- rather than any of the states hosting contests tonight in the future -- to launch his general election effort and declare, "a better America begins tonight."

While President Barack Obama went after the college vote Tuesday, presidential candidate Mitt Romney was prepping for another primary night. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

Updated 8:45 p.m. ET - Mitt Romney won the primaries in Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island on Tuesday, granting the candidate an opportunity to handle unfinished business as he pivots his attention toward the general election.
The former Massachusetts governor faced no meaningful opposition in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, or Rhode Island and is expected to win the vast majority, if not all, of the 222 delegates up for grabs in his bid to formalize the GOP nomination.

He started the evening with wins in three of the five states, including Delaware, where former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had pinned the future of his candidacy.
Romney has faced only token opposition from Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul since winning the the last slate of primaries in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin. Two weeks ago,  Romney’s principle conservative rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, suspended his White House bid.
Romney planned to finish the night with a speech in New Hampshire, an event dubbed, "A Better America Begins Tonight."
"After 43 primaries and caucuses, many long days and not a few long nights, I can say with confidence -- and gratitude -- that you have given me a great honor and solemn responsibility," Romney said in prepared remarks. "And, together, we will win on November 6th!"
The fact that Romney was spending the evening in New Hampshire -- a swing state in November -- and not any of the states hosting primaries tonight or the near future portended the shift to the general election season.
Major Republican figures have begun to rally around Romney and offer their endorsements, but he must still work toward winning the 1,144 delegates needed to formally secure the nomination.
According to Associated Press projections, heading into Tuesday's contests, Romney has already secured 698 delegates -- putting him on pace toward crossing the threshold in late May or early June.
Romney has continued to heed primary voters’ concerns, appearing in Pennsylvania on Monday alongside Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a conservative darling, before the Keystone State’s Tuesday primary.
But the former Massachusetts governor has also begun the work of pivoting in style and substance toward the general election, where a grueling matchup against President Barack Obama looms.
The president’s re-election team has been eager to reuse fodder from the primary season against Romney in the context of the general election, underscoring the urgency for Romney to put the GOP contest to bed.
Another symbolic moment at stake Tuesday included Obama's own renomination. Despite facing no meaningful primary opposition, the president is likely to secure the delegates he needs to become the Democratic nominee versus Romney this fall.
But the top-billed contest is the GOP primary, and Romney must still tie loose ends with Republicans. While Santorum dropped out two weeks ago, he’s among the conservatives who are yet to have thrown their support to Romney. That Romney had not yet won an endorsement before the primary in the state that Santorum had represented in Congress suggests that the rift between conservatives and the presumptive nominee has not yet fully healed.
Romney is all but certain to win Pennsylvania’s primary, with or without Santorum’s support, but extant work remains to paper over differences between Romney and the Republican base.
For his part, Gingrich has pinned the future of his campaign to his success in Delaware’s primary, where he and his wife have campaigned most aggressively and courted the state’s Republican officials.
A loss could mean that Gingrich would finally end his campaign – in spite of his longstanding vow to fight on with his campaign through the Republican National Convention this summer in Tampa.
Paul is also promising to forge ahead with his own campaign, perhaps through the late May primary in his native Texas. But Romney might have won the delegates he needs by that point.

The Future Of Oil

Monday, Apr. 09, 2012

The waters of the Atlantic Ocean 180 miles east of Rio de Janeiro are a cobalt blue that appears bottomless. But it only seems that way. Some 7,000 ft. beneath the choppy surface lies the silent seafloor, and below that is 5,000 ft. of salt rock, deposited when the continents of South America and Africa went their separate ways 160 million years ago.

Underneath it all is oil. By one count, the presalt reservoirs off the central coast of Brazil hold as much as 100 billion barrels of crude; that's another Kuwait. It's why former Brazilian President Luiz Incio Lula da Silva called the presalt finds a "gift of God," and it's why the massive Cidade de Angra dos Reis floating oil-production facility--operated by Petrobras, Brazil's state-run oil giant--is anchored in the Atlantic, pumping 68,000 barrels of crude a day from one of the deepest wells in the world. The platform deck is so big you could play the Super Bowl on it, if not for the nest of interlocking pipes and valves that circulate oil, methane and steam throughout the ship. As I tour the deck in an orange safety jumper, a Petrobras engineer named Humberto Americano Romanus urges me to put a hand to one of the oil pipes. I can feel it pulse like an artery, the oil still warm from the deep heat of the earth. "It's 50 barrels a minute passing through here," he says over the din of the platform. "That's a lot of oil."
But not enough. Demand for oil is still rising--set to grow 800,000 barrels a day this year despite a still sluggish global economy. Meanwhile, production from places like Russia, Iran and Kuwait seems to be plateauing. The rigs that have gathered along the coast of Brazil are drilling deeper than ever before, through layers of salt rock, in some of the most complex and risky operations the industry has ever seen. "This reservoir is very heterogeneous, very challenging," says Jose Roberto Fagundes Netto, general manager of research and development for Petrobras. "But we know an accident is unacceptable." A well blowout like the one that caused the BP oil spill in 2010 would be even harder to contain in the deeper presalt waters.

This is the new world of extreme oil. Petrobras can afford to push the frontiers of offshore drilling because the price of Brent crude, a benchmark used by oil markets, is more than $120 a barrel, and last year it averaged $111, the highest average cost since the Drake well in Titusville, Pa., began spewing wealth in 1859, launching the petroleum era. From that time on, even despite J.D. Rockefeller's attempt to monopolize it, oil has experienced a 150-year price slide, interrupted by periodic spikes. The prices of all commodities fluctuate, but oil's irreplaceability--it's the fuel that makes us go--ensures that those spikes hurt. Last year oil soared in part because of geopolitics, especially the threat that Iran would block the Gulf of Hormuz and cut supplies. That uncertainty contributed to a risk premium of perhaps $20 or more a barrel. A promise by Saudi Arabia in late March to bring spare oil production onto the market has done little to calm prices.

In the U.S., consumers face an extreme-oil paradox. We need more oil to achieve energy independence--and we're producing it in places like the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota--even as we are using less of it. A combination of recession, conservation and improved auto efficiency has helped the U.S. shed demand impressively. But demand in China, India and other developing nations has replaced it. Result: plentiful but expensive oil that translates into painfully high gas prices. Last year the average cost for a gallon of unleaded was $3.51, the highest on record, up from $2.90 a year before. On March 26 the national average was $3.90. That takes a chunk out of household budgets and threatens an already underwhelming economic recovery.

In an election year, gasoline prices can ignite volatile political debate. That's one reason President Obama showed up in Cushing, Okla., the main terminal for oil produced in the West and Canada, to promote a new pipeline that will deliver crude from Cushing to refineries along the Gulf Coast. "We're drilling all over the place right now," he said, defending his energy policy. Obama does not want to slip up on oil.

Not that long ago, the big worry about fossil fuels was how rapidly supplies were waning. Now new and unconventional sources of oil are filling the gaps. Ultra-deepwater reserves like those found off Brazil offer the promise of billions of barrels. Technological breakthroughs have unlocked what's known as tight oil in the shale rock of North Dakota and Texas, reversing what seemed like a terminal decline in U.S. oil production. Alberta's vast oil sands have given Canada the world's second largest crude reserves, after Saudi Arabia's, and offer the U.S. a friendlier crude dealer. As global warming melts the Arctic sea ice, an unexpected dividend is access to tens of billions of barrels of oil in the waters of the far north. "We've seen a paradigm shift over the past decade," says Daniel Yergin, chairman of the research group IHS CERA. "You look at tight oil and oil sands and deepwater, and you see the results."

Those results could be the problem. While unconventional sources promise to keep the supply of oil flowing, it won't flow as easily as it did for most of the 20th century. The new supplies are for the most part more expensive than traditional oil from places like the Middle East, sometimes significantly so. They are often dirtier, with higher risks of accidents. The decline of major conventional oil fields and the rise in demand mean the spare production capacity that once cushioned prices could be gone, ushering in an era of volatile market swings. And burning all this leftover oil could lock the world into dangerous climate change. "I'm less concerned about the absolute disappearance of fossil fuels than about the environmental consequences of pursuing what's left," says Michael Klare, an energy expert and the author of The Race for What's Left. There will be oil, but it will be expensive, dirty and dangerous.

The Bakken Boom

If you want to find oil in the U.S., or a job, for that matter, head to North Dakota. The Peace Garden State is experiencing a remarkable oil boom in the midst of high gas prices, with production rising from 98,000 barrels a day in 2005 to more than 510,000 barrels by the end of last year--greater than the entire national output of OPEC member Ecuador. Thanks to shale oil in the Bakken formation, the petroleum workforce has risen from 5,000 in 2005 to more than 30,000 people. North Dakota's unemployment rate is the nation's lowest, 3.2%, and so many would-be roughnecks have flooded the state that workers are housed in temporary "man camps" like Wild West mining settlements. And North Dakota isn't the only state benefiting from the boom. Texas is pumping oil at rates that haven't been seen since the days of Dallas. "You can go straight to those fields and get a good-paying job," says Scott Tinker, the state geologist of Texas. "The demand is there."

So is the supply, thanks to innovations in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have opened up reserves of oil previously considered unobtainable. Using a process similar to one employed in shale-gas exploration, which has flooded the U.S. with cheap natural gas, rigs drill down first and then horizontally into shale layers before fracturing the rock to release the tightly bound oil. "The same massive investment we saw with shale gas is now happening with tight oil," says Seth Kleinman, an analyst with Citigroup who recently wrote a research note on the potential of tight oil. "And it's going to play out in the same massive way."

Tight oil has helped revitalize the American drilling industry--there are now more rigs operating in the U.S. than in the rest of the world combined--and it could contribute significantly to global supplies, with the International Energy Agency (IEA) projecting that U.S. tight-oil production could reach 2.4 million barrels a day by 2020.

Thanks as well to greater efficiency, last year the U.S. imported just 45% of the liquid fuels it used, down from a peak of 60% in 2005, and just 1.8 million barrels a day came from the Persian Gulf. If domestic oil production continues to rise, the U.S. could actually approach a goal that has long seemed a political fantasy: energy independence.
But just how much more the U.S. will be able to produce is up for debate. While tight-oil reserves are plentiful, wells tend to dry up quickly, which means a lot of drilling is needed to keep the oil flowing. Even if the U.S. can't achieve energy independence, the oil-sand resources of Canada, already America's biggest oil supplier, could further reduce imports from the Middle East. High oil prices have boosted investment in the oil sands, and the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the analytical arm of the U.S. Energy Department, projects that oil-sand production will rise from 1.7 million barrels a day in 2009 to 4.8 million barrels in 2035--more than Iran's current output.

Brazil, with its deepwater resources, also looms as a friendlier and more secure dealer, something that has become all the more important in the wake of Arab Spring--related disruptions in oil-supplying countries like Libya. "We're seeing rapid and major changes in the geopolitics of oil," says Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA--most notably that the Americas, after years as oil customers, are poised to become sellers again.

So does that mean the return of $2-a-gal. gasoline? Nope. It's true that reducing oil imports is good for the U.S. economy. Americans spent $331.6 billion--the size of the entire agriculture industry--on oil imports last year, up 32% from 2010. Cutting imports keeps that money in the U.S., reducing a trade deficit that hit $560 billion last year. It's also, of course, good for international oil companies like Shell and Chevron, which are increasingly being squeezed out by massive state-owned companies. You may not like Exxon because of the pump price or its oversize profits, but how much love do you have for autocratic petrostates like Iran or Russia? Exxon's growth trickles down; the oil-and-gas industry created 9% of all new jobs last year, according to a report by the World Economic Forum, even as oil companies booked multibillion-dollar profits.

But contrary to what the drill-here, drill-now crowd says, oil companies could punch holes in every state and barely make a dent in gasoline prices. Even a more energy independent U.S. can't control prices, not with a thirsty China competing on the globalized oil market. "Energy security is fine, but it doesn't have that much meaning in a globalized economy," says Guy Caruso, a former head of the EIA. "More production adds fungibility to the world market, but we're still vulnerable to shocks in other countries." The oil the U.S. uses may be American, but that doesn't mean it will be cheap.

Boom and Bust

There is no substitute for oil, which is one reason it is prone to big booms and deep busts, taking the global economy along with it. While we can generate electricity through coal or natural gas, nuclear or renewables--switching from source to source, according to price--oil remains by the far the predominant fuel for transportation.

When the global economy heats up, demand for oil rises, boosting the price and encouraging producers to pump more. Inevitably those high prices eat into economic growth and reduce demand just as suppliers are overproducing. Prices crash, and the cycle starts all over again. That's bad for producers, who can be left holding the bag when prices plummet, and it hurts consumers and industries uncertain about future energy prices. Low oil prices in the 1990s lulled U.S. auto companies into disastrous complacency; they had few efficient models available when oil turned expensive.

The advantage of OPEC and especially Saudi Arabia, with its vast, easily tapped oil fields, is that producers could work together to manage prices, increasing production when demand rose and throttling back when prices were about to fall. It's not exactly the invisible hand at work, but the promise is more predictability, which helps consumers, producers and governments plan with confidence.

Those days are gone. Today major oil producers are pumping flat out. The Russians and Saudis, for instance, need expensive oil to power their wobbly economies and placate their people. It suggests more booms and busts ahead, especially if the global economy slows again. "If OPEC can't play that price-stabilizing role anymore, then we can't banish oil's natural volatility," says Robert McNally, founder of the Rapidian Group and a former White House adviser on energy. "That means we could see prices ranging from $200 to $30."

We've already seen something like it. When the economy crashed, so did oil, falling from $145 a barrel in mid-2008 to $30 by the end of that year. Now prices have spiked again, high enough that economists are warning that oil costs could endanger the economic recovery, which would send prices spinning down again.

The True Price of Oil

Then there's the environmental cost. Oil has never exactly been clean, but the new sources coming online tend to be more polluting and more dangerous than conventional crude. Producing oil from the sands in northern Alberta can be destructive to the local environment, requiring massive open-pit mines that strip forests and take years to recover from. The tailings from those mines are toxic. While some of the newer production methods eschew the open-pit mines and instead process the sands underground or in situ, which is much cleaner, they still require additional energy to turn oil sands into usable crude. As a result, a barrel of oil-sand crude usually has a 10% to 15% larger carbon footprint than conventional crude over its lifetime, from the well to the wheels of a car. Given the massive size of the oil-sand reserve--nearly 200 billion recoverable barrels--that's potentially a lot of carbon. It's not surprising that environmentalists have loudly opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, which would send 800,000 barrels of oil-sand crude a day to the U.S. "There's enough carbon there to create a totally different planet," says James Hansen, a NASA climatologist and activist.

Tight-oil production isn't as polluting as extracting from oil sands, but it does make use of fracking, which has quickly become the most controversial technique in energy. Fracking fluids contain small amounts of toxic chemicals, and there have been allegations in Pennsylvania--where fracking has been used to produce shale natural gas--that it contaminates groundwater. The federal government is considering stricter regulations on the practice. "The federal rules have loopholes, and the state rules are too weak," says Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "There are risks to groundwater, and there are risks to air." So far, there have been few complaints of water pollution from tight-oil wells in North Dakota and Texas, though both those states have notably oil-industry-friendly attitudes.

If tight-oil production spreads to more densely populated states like Ohio and California, both of which have shale plays, we could see those states gripped by the same controversies that have come with shale gas in Pennsylvania and New York. Sparse North Dakota is struggling to deal with the sudden influx of workers and equipment as well as the air pollution that results from tight-oil production. Even the oil industry is realizing that it needs to assuage public concerns. "We cannot ignore parts of the public that don't trust our industry and our ability to operate safely," Statoil CEO Helge Lund said at a recent energy conference. "This is a fundamental issue affecting us all."

The offshore drilling in Brazil's presalt reservoirs and in the Arctic waters being opened up by climate change is cleaner, but as seen with the Deepwater Horizon spill, if something goes wrong, it means catastrophe. If you think cleaning up an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was tough, try doing it in the remote, forbidding Arctic. But even greater than the immediate environmental danger posed by unconventional oil is the larger risk to the climate. One of the expected consolations of peak oil was the assumption that running out of conventional crude would finally force us to develop carbon-free alternatives such as wind and solar. Extreme oil means there will still be enough--more than 1 trillion barrels by one estimate--to keep cooking the planet if we decide to burn it all. Deborah Gordon, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says that "21st century oil is not 20th century oil. New, unconventional oils are going to recarbonize global petroleum supplies."

So this is the future of oil: as costly as it is polluting. But if we can't ensure cheap oil, we can become more resilient when fuel becomes expensive. That requires continued improvements in energy efficiency. The U.S. has made some strides recently in that area (new vehicles get better mileage now than ever before), but it still lags the rest of the world. Obama's push to increase corporate average fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles to 55 m.p.g. by 2025 is vital. After all, doubling the mileage of your car is the equivalent of cutting the price of gasoline in half. Other kinds of energy alternatives must be developed to break the monopoly of crude, for environmental and economic reasons. Diversifying your energy supply is as wise as diversifying your portfolio. "We've got to develop every source of American energy, not just oil and gas but wind power and solar power, nuclear power and biofuels," Obama said in a recent speech. "That's the only solution to this challenge."

From Brazil to Bismarck, human ingenuity (and tens of billions of dollars in investment) has extended the age of oil, as well as our anxiety about it.
There's no reason the same formula can't eventually bring it to an end--on our terms.