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Fracking – the hydraulic fracturing of the deep earth and its cousin, horizontal drilling – is the new buzz word in energy today. It has been spread by journalists and correspondents and NGOs to the general public. What is this strange word's impact on our own lives?

A simple, four stage answer would include: 

  • jobs
  • energy
  • imports
  • environment


The summer is full. Beaches and mountains are crowded, as are malls and stores. School begins soon for many , very soon for some. Vacations are family times, hopefully fun times. The world continues, our lives revolve around each day’s gifts and challenges. We are blessed with our families, our lives, our abundance, our nation.

Yet, there is much concern on the airwaves, in print, at BBQs and dinner parties. Many in our nation remain ignored by the economic recovery. Many are just getting by – and have been just getting by for a decade or more. Many are worried about the direction our nation is facing, much less moving towards.

Despite the largesse of many programs, both governmental and charitable, millions seem to fall through the designed safety nets.

Inequality has become a new worry. We seem to forget that it is equality of opportunity – rather than outcome – that was designed into our country’s system.

Education reform seems to lead to worse rather than better schools and teaching. CA led the world in the 1960s. Today it doesn’t even show up on the radar of education excellence.

Politics is a disruptive discourse – it has been so since Washington’s 2nd term in the 1790s. The word mudslinging was first used more than 130 years ago. It’s just the way democracy works – although decency would be nice.

Health is our most important asset. With it, we can enjoy life; without it, like Steve Jobs, we are at life’s mercy. Obesity, Ebola, you name it, we are encouraged to worry about it.

International news remains full of war and retribution. Despite the fact that far fewer people die in shorter, fewer wars than ever in recorded history, we see horrific images daily.

The markets are in turmoil. Having been a ‘deep participant’ in the markets for nearly 30 years, this is the oddest worry of all. They have been in turmoil since 1796, when a few men traded ‘shares’ beneath a tree in New York. We have seen outrageous disasters impact our economy – just since I graduated from High School in 1966. Yet long term investors with the courage, skill and moxie to survive have done so.

We are aging. Those of us who are the Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 – are greying and slowing; we are spending and seeking help. Our ears and paunches are giving out, while our wallets and eyesight are diminishing. When will this decrepitude, this demise finally stop? When shall we ‘loosen these mortal coils’?

Well, I have chosen a different pathway today. I will always love Bing Crosby’s song, ‘Accentuate the Positive’

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene

Dated? Yes. The 1930s were far harder times than anything we have experienced.

Religious? Yes. The nation was then (and remains) a religious nation.

Improper in its deflection towards the slang of the poor, the South and blacks? Yes. It celebrates the difference between races, locales and people by diminishing it – and accentuatin’ the positive!

My point here is simple. We have our health, our wealth, our nation and our abilities.

Applied science has given us everything we use today. If you have visited parts of the world surviving in absolute poverty (as I have, repeatedly), you will appreciate simple, invisible events: fresh, clean tap water; electricity; books; paved streets; medicine; clothing; autos; sewers; hospitals – the list goes on.

These are simply our basics. We also enjoy property rights; direct and transferable asset ownership; voting rights; education and health rights; clean air, water, land, cities and beaches. While we may disagree with the relative definitions of ‘clean’, ‘rights’ and ‘ownership’, we do all enjoy these. I have been to a dozen countries where everything on these lists is absent. Where death stalks the day and the night.

We also live in the second decade of the 21st Century. The computer I write this on, the one you read it on and the manner in which the electrons travel between these two pieces of plastic are far younger than most of us. The brains inside these pieces of plastic are far more powerful than their cousins of just a decade ago – do you recall typewriters, slide rules or pencil and paper? These simple devices, that cost us perhaps one week’s wages, have the intelligence equivalence of a mouse today. In a decade they will have the ‘IE’ of a dog. A decade hence and they will be on a par with dogs.

Your car today is far lighter and more fuel efficient than your first car – more so than even your previous car. The nation is consuming far less hydrocarbons today because of these two factors. Add in the increasing presence of computers in every component of cars (as well as in their manufacture) and you have a vehicle that emits less than 9% of what your 1966 Thunderbird, Chevelle, or Galaxy emitted.

We eat far better (perhaps too much) than we did in 1976 or 1986. We are more aware of healthy choices and are buying what we can afford – to enjoy our healthy lifestyle. We may workout, play, walk or enjoy our children and grandchildren. We sleep better, on excellent mattresses and nicer sheets, washed in more efficient machines using less detergent than has far less impact on the water and environment.

Clothing is made better, lasts longer and is less costly. The workers who make it around the world are both glad to have the work and are better paid for their efforts. While different from our work world, theirs is far safer and cleaner. They can afford electricity rather than wood or dung for fuel, heating and light.

At the cutting edge of today (wasn’t there a TV show in the fifties called, The Edge of Tomorrow – a soap?), genomics, molecular biology, nano-science and quantum mechanics are leading, very quickly, to efficiencies well beyond our imagination. New resins, ceramics and ‘silicos’ will move the design and manufacturing process in post-industrial society farther and faster than steel and plastics did in the 1880s and 1950s. Ever heard of graphenes? You will, soon. Genetic modification (whatever your views towards GMO) has been with humans since we learned to plant seed. The newest forms will greatly reduce water and fertilizer use while further enhancing crop yields – particularly for those living beyond the edges of poverty.

In a decade you will be able to buy wall paint that changes color, that reflects heat and knows when you are in the room. You may stop driving cars in less time. Health care is today being designed specifically to your body. Energy efficiencies are being built into the Grid today that will further reduce our energy consumption – and change our habits. Agricultural water use – far and away the greatest waste of water in post industrial society – will see the greatest improvements, but urban choices will be more directed, cost conscious and efficient too.

In my two specialties (money and energy), the changes are happening faster than many had expected. Management fees are going down as technology improves our abilities to service your financial planning needs in real time. Your choices for investment, efficiency of trading and ability to explore all the equities of the world are far greater than when I started with three decades ago. Energy production and distribution costs are rapidly declining too. These costs are passing on to consumers, indirectly today, but more direct as time rapidly passes. Gas prices at the pump are not reacting to the internecine warfare of the Middle East, nor did they react excessively to the y cold winters of the past few years.

On the environmental front, the nation’s CO2 emissions are today lower than at any time since measurements began by the EPA in 1992 – this is according to the EPA. Three reasons: the recession, greater vehicular efficiencies and hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas in the U S. The latter has allowed the substitution of natural gas (methane) for coal in electricity production across the country.

Natural gas is working its way into the truck world in a bigger way each year as new engines that burn CNG/LNG are used at airports, on city buses and by long and short haul truckers. The EPA has called the Honda Accord natural gas car ‘the most fuel efficient car with the lowest carbon footprint of any vehicle on the road today’. There are 15 models of personal cars and trucks in the 2014 lineup, with two dozen more in 2015. By 2025, 1/4 of the U S vehicle fleet may be natural gas powered. The figure for Brazil, Australia, Malaysia and Iran is greater than 80% – today.

Fear and loathing sell advertising in the media. Hope and change sell little, anywhere. We are deluged with fears. This is nonsense! I’d be glad to send you one or a dozen books, articles or web-links telling a far different tale. Just ask.

The economy and the markets are doing quite well, thank you. Investors – at least my clients – are living comfortably off their portfolios – at far lower fees. Energy stocks continue to lead the way forward. They pay lovely dividends, have low debt, are responsive to their communities and are very reasonably priced. Technology stocks may redefine the world of tomorrow – today. Information technology and medical technology are the leading edge of a storm of change.

Imagine you and I are talking in my office in 1997, just 17 years ago. Cell phones, internet TV and electric cars are science fiction. Russia is the new investment of choice for many. Politicians are getting the long term unemployed back to work. Environmental folks can’t decide whether cooling or warming is the real global threat. Food production and democracy advances leapfrog across the globe. Could we then imagine our world today? I think we would miss the mark.

Enjoy your summer days!

Eat wisely. Sleep well. Love with abandon!

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As a follow up to the previous comments on the NAPTP conference in DC, here are a few more newsworthy items.

China is building the world’s first CNG tanker for Indonesia. The vessel will transport CNG to remote islands in the archepelago. This is a new approach: the gas tankers on the ocean today are LNG. The gas is liquified, shipped, then regasified at the delivery terminal. These will be running from three terminals in LA and TX by the end of next year, exporting our massive surplus of natural gas.

The U S Commerce Dept. has allowed the export of condensate crude for two firms this year. Ten others are asking for the same permit. This is the opening of the U S crude market to global demand. Condensate means that the volatile gases have been removed , the same process that is, or should be, used for train shipments of crude from the Bakken and the Eagle Ford. Splitters and stabilizers remove the NGLs for safe shipment.

The condensate market should heat up as crude is easily made safer this way. This window on exports also allows us the ship the light crude produced in TX and ND to Europe, where refineries can process it, while importing from Canada the heavy crude our refineries were designed to process. Until we redesign local refineries to accept the lighter crude, condensate treatment and transhipment is an acceptable and simple solution to our excess crude production conundrum. In a few years, the new refineries will be able to handle light crude.

Whether our demand can keep pace with our production is another matter. Engines are more efficient and lighter. People are driving fewer miles. Natural gas is becoming a game changer in public transportation, waste management and long distance trucking. Industry is using more natural gas for electricity production, reducing the demand for coal, hydro and nuclear power generation. Utilities are finding it harder to pass on rate increases when their supply chain is less costly in many states (CA expected).

Meanwhile, our European friends continue to assume that the temperature is rising. Rather than urging industry to greater fuel efficiencies, an obvious solution to several concerns, they insist upon changing the entire structure of energy production. It is not for them to meet the rising global demand for plastics (based upon natural gas). They prefer a dither over who imports to them from where. So be it… Meanwhile, our plastics industry is entering yet another boom time as natural gas availability increases and prices decrease. $65B in new projects have been announced just for 2014 in the U S.

Our other friends in Big Oil are finally learning the lessons from their smaller cousins, the independent oil and gas producers. These independents are at the core of the Energy Revolution in America. The Bigs are beginning to sell off assets and turn to more productive working sites. They are beginning to slow their spending on building reserves (investing in multibillion dollar megafields) deep below the sea or the desert. The Kashagan, Kearl and Pre-sals are under-performing – or not performing at all. ConocoPhillips and Oxy are hiving parts of themselves off as new entities or simple splitting into new firms. Leaner and meaner is the new tune, even at ExxonMobil and Chevron. While super fields will still be developed by the majors, as only they and the state owned firms can, downsizing seems to be the new mantra.

KISS – keep it simple, stupid – is one of the more intelligent sayings from the field of management. Sand is simple. Firms that develop sand mines are the big winners in the frack world today. Sand is used for silicon, solar panels and your cell phone. It is also the major component down-hole with hydraulic fracturing. 4-8 million gallons of water may carry 20-30 pounds of sand in each gallon. Northern white is the sand of choice and finding it, processing it, selling it and delivering it are the provinces of a few specialty firms. As demand increases, so do prices. Technology continues to dominate the sand castle.

The process of adding sand to water and pushing the slush down a drilling hole is constantly changing. The chemical additives are going green, the amount and type of water is changing. The process itself has gone full circle. The older way – slick water fracking – is now becoming popular again. As toolpushers (guys who run the rigs) and environmental field scientists learn more about the deep reservoirs they exploit, they have come round to realize that more saline water is better than pure water. Using the same amount of sand by weight in this flow reduces the volume of sand used. The water that returns to the surface can more easily be reused. The best sand is required to keep the low permeable rock 12,000 – 18,000′ down open for flow to the surface.

One of the best sand firms is run by a woman. Laura Fulton predicts a further 10% price increase in her simple product before the end of the year. Her long term contracts with the major service firms such as Halliburton  make for a profitable future for shareholders. “There really is no limit on the demand side”, says Ms. Fulton, CFO of the company Hi-Crush.

On the financial front, E&P firms have been using debt at a rapid rate. It is cheap and easy to service, as they spend less than $2 per barrel on debt coverage.  Most of this debt doesn’t come due until the middle of the next decade and virtually all of it is at a fixed rate, a very low rate. As technology allows E&P firms to capture more hydrocarbons from downhole, the ability to service debt should continue to be an easy burden to bear. Recall that these companies require an enormous amount of capital to continually flow new and existing wells.  Every hole is different, as Jake says in my book Fracking, America’s Alternative Energy Revolution.

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The past winter demonstrated two complex phenomena: weather is unpredictable and the Marcellus/Utica plays met increased natural gas demand for heating cleanly and effectively.

While the U.S. stockpile of natural gas dropped to a decade low, production and midstream delivery met the challenge of replacement and further production.

Utility demand for natural gas continues to grow. Transportation demand for commercial vehicles powered by methane increases. Manufacturing demand is just beginning to come on line as billions in new plants are in development.

If we can believe it, even public awareness is turning towards energy – positively. Pennsylvania leads the way in the Northeast in both tax revenues and regulatory oversight. Pittsburgh leads the new manufacturing revolution, as it has in the past. Gas replaces coal in power generation and manufacturing reliance. Ohio has doubled its natural gas and crude production in just one year. Marcellus production will grow by 87% for Consol in 2014.

Technology runs ahead of production. Well spacing reduction results in greater EUR. Laterals may run longer or shorter, depending upon the hydrocarbon and its concentration. Frac intervals are increasing in type and number as drillers get a better understanding of the geology of each basin. Pads have grown in size and number of wells. Frac stages are now running well beyond 150 on some pads.

Cabot has just completed the first 10 well pad, run entirely on bifuels. This reduces cost and environmental impact, replacing locally produced methane for diesel fuel. Engine efficiencies and run times increased substantially over pure diesel engines running the frac rigs and pumping stations. On site gas processing fractionated the NGLs from the methane, allowing the new engines to run at peak efficiency. The byproduct is a profit center for the drill site. The ten well pad ran entirely on bifuels at the planned 70% replacement rate. This reduced diesel use by 110,000 gallons and 16 tanker resupply runs, while increasing the safety factor for workers and the local environment.

It cut NOX emissions in half and eliminated carbon monoxide emissions entirely. Chemicals used during fracturing were all approved and screened for persistent organic pollutants as suggested by the UN globally Harmonized System for Chemicals. Cabot’s 170 stage 10 well pad was completed in 27 days. It is the greenest and cleanest frac site in North America today.

Stacked plays add enormously to productivity and to production. With three basins to work, a stacked play drills to and draws from each simultaneously. Well costs of $6-8M/well can be recovered in one year.

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Imagine the nation where all interested members of the energy community participate in the ongoing discussion of energy source and use.

Imagine every concerned citizen contributing to the problems, challenges and opportunities of exploration, drilling, completion, transshipment, storage, processing and use of all energy sources.

Imagine power transmission folks exploring grid challenges with pipeline experts.

Imagine conservationists and environmentalists in open and frank conversation with drillers and trainmen – seeking answers to intractable systems issues.

Imagine regulators and politicians in support of the wise application of the best standards for extracting, conveying and delivering energy to intelligent consumers.

Imagine consumers wisely shutting down their energy consumption, using electricity affordably and intelligently while conserving it.

Imagine the youth being educated about energy use, sources and impact without agenda or false science.

Imagine thousands of birds returning to the airways, thousands of prairie chickens roosting again – and thousands of new, efficient uses for energy.

Imagine by John LennonImagine nuclear, natural gas, petroleum, solar and local wind energy sources subject only to market forces for survival, without regulatory or tax interference.

Imagine a nation – a world – of intelligent energy choices made by smart citizens working together.

Wouldn’t John Lennon be proud?

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John Graves on Fracking

Yesterday I was interviewed by Charter’s California Edition.

The primary focus of the interview was on fracking, what it is, and how it will play out in California.

You can watch the interview here:

Listen in on this short interview of John Graves as he talks about what fracking is, how it impacts the environment, and the future of fracking in California.

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News on the fracking front this week.

The Prelude, World's Largest ShipThe energy industry is having a fling! The Prelude, the largest ship ever built, is a FLNG, or floating liquefied natural gas ship. This vessel will be able to drill for natural gas, liquefy it, and load it onto LNG tankers for worldwide delivery. The costs for a FLNG are 30% lower than building two entire facilities – and it is mobile. When the field is depleted, it moves on to the next one.

The technology required to build such a ship have been 15 years in development, according to Shell. It has the capacity to produce more than 5M metric tons of gas and condensate with a 25-year life expectancy. She is 1,600’ long with a 243’ beam. She is designed to withstand Category 5 cyclones and hurricanes. The anchor chain links are so huge you can stand inside the loop of one!

The vessel can be used offshore in Columbia, Israel, Malaysia, West Africa, and the Gulf. 16 vessels are schedule for completion by 2020. The engineering challenges surrounding loading an LNG tanker from such a ship are developing, with the guidance of global regulators.

The substitution of natural gas for diesel in fracking operations across the nation continue. Gas Substitution systems reduce CO2 emissions while increasing profitability: a win for the environment and for capital.

Substituting natural gas for coal in power generation has led to some amazing results for the environment, as detailed here and in the book. Now, we realize another natural savings: water. University of Texas auditors have found that life cycle water use from fracking operations are 30% less than from coal operations, as measured from initiation of production to power generation.

So, water use is reduced by fracking. You won’t hear that from any other site!

The above video features the launch ofThe Prelude, the world’s largest ship, which is taller than the Empire State Building and weighs over 600,000 tons. It is a floating city that will harvest natural gas from the ocean’s depths off, liquify 3.9 million tons each year, and then offload it to smaller ships for worldwide delivery. Set to begin actual drilling in 2017, it will stay at its new home 300 miles from the coast of Australia for 25 years.

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IRS buildingThe esteemed Ms. Lerner, recently of the IRS, has pleaded the fifth (or drowned in a fifth) in her own defense of oversight actions against certain political action groups. Recently released emails from her personal computer indicate that her entire set of actions against these groups was based upon suggestions made to her by Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, groups from the opposing side. The groups urged her to consider a rule that would change the requirements for 501c4 groups.

These suggestions are precisely what she then urged upon the Cincinnati office, according to the local agent assigned to the case, a Mr. Joseph Herr. Thanks so much for the clarification. We though you might have thought this one up yourself, Mr. Herr.

Or at least that’s the riff from the quartermaster in DC, a Mr. BO…

Oddly enough, these actions are a perfect mirror of the events that occurred at DOI (Department of Interior) while they were rewriting the rules on the Endangered Species Act and Eagle Protection Act. This rewrite happened during 2009-13. The concern was that climate change would destroy as much as half the bird population of the planet, along with a few humans. Raptors such as bald and golden eagles as well as millions of passerines (song birds) were dying at wind farms. This was illegal. The wee tykes would have to fend for themselves, but the Big Birds were the problem. Seems we wrote two laws that prevented their death by human intervention.

What was the Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service, or FWS) to do? Why turn to the wind industry for an answer! Which they did and which industry promptly responded. Buried in a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) release of 914 pages are the letters from the AWEA (American Wind Energy Association) suggesting a variety of responses to the problem of avian mortality from wind farms. Each and every one of those responses is included in the Service’s ultimate rule. Which rule was released to the unwary public at 4 p.m. on a cold DC Friday afternoon. NO questions allowed, no formal hearings. This is simply a few rule changes. Nothing to worry about. Keep moving along.

The changes? Oh, you would have to ask: Takes are permitted by the wind industry (only by said industry) for 30 years. No reporting is required. No permits are required. No intervention is necessary. No mitigation funding needed.

Takes = kills. The wind industry can kill all the birds it needs to — so that we can survive the onslaught of climate change.

Each story is reminiscent of the other. Each involves a vested party setting new rules by which it has significant advantage over others. Each federal agency complies, in obedience.

We have met the enemy and he is US!

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The Green ThingStrange goings on at the IPCC, the InterGovermental Panel on Climate Change and good news!

No climate refugees.

No increase in global cyclonic frequency over the past century.

No species extinctions.

The rate of warming between 1998 and 2012 has been “smaller than the rate calculated since 1951.”

The “innate behavior of the climate system imposes limits on the ability to predict its evolution.”

Vulnerability is rarely due to a single cause.”

Such honesty is welcome. Unfortunately, it is matched with the new economics of income inequality and redistribution demands. Climate resilient development pathways are dictated by inequality and marginalization.

Appears to me that the wealthier we are, the more we can afford to care about the environment. Wealth ensures safe development and income enhancement. The markets are far better at allocating capital than any government. Care for a few shares in Solyndra?

Students across the nation and the world will be the last to hear this, certainly. While they study environmental science and can’t get a job, the few who have degrees in engineering and petroleum geology are getting starting offers at $87,000+. Nice work for a 22-year-old. Too bad about the professors harping on about the end of the world…

Well, at least the IPCC has the courage to admit that CO2 concentrations are not the canary in the coal mine that the hair shirts have feared.

There is hope once again for mankind!

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FracFocus.orgAs You Sow, a shareholder activist group has announced an agreement with ExxonMobil to release more pertinent data on the firm’s hydraulic fracturing. XOM joins several other firms in attempting to provide more information to an informed public on fracking: EQT, XTO, Noble, EnCana & Anadarko are among the most recent firms to provide more detailed information.

Job well done. The author has been suggesting just such openness since publication of the book last January. Websites sponsored by industry and state regulators already release info on many thousands of wells across America:

The largest non-naval vessels ever built will soon take to the sea to drill for natural gas, liquefy it, and load it onto gas tankers. As we said in the book, Fracking, the Prelude is being built in Korea. She is 1,600’ long and 243’ wide and able to produce 3.5M metric tons of gas each year. FLNGs, floating natural gas vessels, allow for quicker and less costly development of an offshore shelf. The first ship will work the coast of Colombia next year, producing more than 500K metric tons of gas annually.

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal demonstrates the jobs creation juggernaut that fracking represents here in the U.S. 250,000+ jobs have been created just since 2010. The average income for a frack worker today is $107,200 a year. Not bad for essentially unskilled labor. The presence of frack sites also contributes significant economic growth to each region in which it works.

Of course, these leads to income inequality for states such as New York and California that ban fracking or make it extremely difficult. Meanwhile, North Dakota leads the nation in employment and unemployment: highest employment and lowest unemployment. compare this to California or New York.

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Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman was famous for this simple saying. Many of us were raised on this perfidy, this outrageous disregard for authority. The editor of Mad was reputed to have a life-sized King Kong head out his New York office window, a reminder of how the mighty have fallen.

Yesterday, that great ape deserved to be headed to the EPA. In their latest hissy fit, they are now worried about methane gas emissions from fracked wells. These wells release 23% of the total annual U.S. methane emissions, which represent just 9% of total GGEs, greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. The new rule will apply to the .9% of natural gas wells on public land.

Thus, your government at work is writing a rule affecting one hundredth of two percent of the methane emissions in the U.S. (.23 x .09 x .009 = .001863).

Truly fascinating. So many have sacrificed so much for such foolishness…

In the real world of energy exploration, development and distribution, the bi-monthly publication Shale Play Water Management has as its byline: “Responsible solutions for North America’s oil and gas industry.” How refreshing. This issue discusses in some detail:

Regulations and responsibility

Turnkey approaches to synergy and reduced costs

Dynamic modeling for water management

New recycling plants in the Niobrara

Frac water recycling solution case study

Applied science trumps social ‘science’ and political ‘science.’

You may have noted this past Saturday was Turn Off Your Electricity for an Hour in Support of Earth Day (or Night).

North Korea at night

You are welcome to join the image above (the dark side of Korea).

Imagine for just a moment what an hour without electricity would be like. Turn off everything you depend upon that has a wire to the wall. If you are on life support equipment, please ignore this directive!

How do you feel in the dark? Think now about all that electricity offers you. The simplicities and complexities of life. Your car, computer, cell phone, refrigerator, oven, lights – everything you use without even thinking.

Welcome to the Eco paradise – North Korea. You have met the new global standard for ecologic – brainwashed into submission, starving, living in caves, eating rats for nourishment.

Now go hug a fracker!

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