Bakken and Other Big Oil and Gas Plays Produced 200,000 New Jobs Since 2005

ron-ivory

WILLISTON, N.D. — A pad of ice four inches thick greeted Ron Ivory on a clear and cold December morning at the busy water depot south of town. Ivory is 47 years old, a stocky and bearded truck driver from Vernal, Utah, with 23 years in the business. He’s been in North Dakota two weeks, working 14 hour days and earning $25 an hour hauling fresh water, 130 barrels a load, to oil production sites.

One of the reasons that North Dakota and the other big U.S. shale energy fields have generated so many new jobs is because extracting  gas and oil from solid rock two miles deep is as close as man has gotten to really drawing blood from a stone.

It takes a lot of water, millions of gallons per well, to perform the operation known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The typical well receives 300 to 400 tanker loads of heated fresh water that is mixed with sand, solvents, and other chemicals and then pumped down 10,000-foot well bores at pressures eclipsing 7,000 pounds per square inch. Coupled with explosives and other evolving production practices, the water cannon-shot pulverizes the shale, opening spaces in the rock through which oil and gas flows.North Dakota water depoit ron-ivory-with-pipe

Thirty-five fracking crews work day and night in North Dakota now, and there are likely to be 45 next year. Some 100 to 150 jobs are connected to a frack crew, according to the state Oil and Gas Commission. Some of those jobs involve operating the powerful fracking pumps. The rest are connected with transporting water from pumping stations, known as depots in North Dakota.  There are dozens of depots scattered across the territory and the roads of western North Dakota are jammed with thousands of water tanker trucks.

“Everybody is up here to make money,” said Ivory (see pix above), adding that he anticipated that his next paycheck would have a 4 followed by three zeros. “That’s the game here.”

In a series of ModeShift posts this week I’ve described the accelerating pace and mammoth dimensions of the nation’s oil and gas boom, and steadily closed in on a firm answer to this question: How much influence has it exerted on the American economy?

Today, with the help of a new analysis prepared for ModeShift by Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc., an 11-year-old labor market research firm based in Moscow, Idaho, we’ve reached a clear conclusion.

Since 2005, the oil and gas boom has been one of the most important sources of new jobs in the United States.updated-oilchart

EMSI’s findings are based on federal Department of Labor and Department of Commerce data.

In addition, “production of oil and gas requires all sorts of inputs, from pipe, pumps and transport equipment to engineering, business, and legal services.  At each step, wages, taxes, and property incomes are generated and the associated spending creates multiplier effects,” said Henry Robison, the firm’s chief economist.  “Using traditional economic modeling techniques, EMSI estimates that for every oil and gas sector job, another 2 jobs are generated in support and other affected industries through multiplier effects.”

Bottom line: The 187, 000 oil and gas production jobs are generating 400,000 more jobs in related industry, service, and product sectors like tanker, pipe, and gas turbine manufacturing, construction equipment, real estate construction and the like.

One other point. EMSI found that the roughly 600,000 new oil and gas sector jobs generate an annual payroll of nearly $38 billion.

“Combine this with significant property incomes, taxes and royalty payments and one gets a picture of an industry growing not only in employment terms but also in terms of its effects on the nation’s gross domestic product, and its local, state, and federal government revenues.”

“It’s certainly stunning and noteworthy,” Robison concluded. “I don’t think the public is aware of this. You hear about the windmills and solar power initiatives. But this is striking.”

— Keith Schneider

North Dakota oil patch water-trucks

Afraid of the Wind

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Earlier this month, on a snowy afternoon, the newly renovated Garden Theater held the largest crowd I’ve ever seen indoors in the small Lake Michigan coastal town of Frankfort, with the exception of girls and boys basketball games. On tap that day was a polemical documentary film, “Windfall.” Two groups of citizen activists held the screening to build civic momentum in opposition to a good-sized utility-scale windfarm proposed for Benzie and Manistee counties.

Afterwards the big crowd, composed principally of local residents, many of whom I have known for years, heard from Ray Franz, the newly-elected Republican state House Representative, and from Elizabeth Wheatley, an assistant professor of sociology at Grand Valley State University in Allendale.

The film and the post-screening remarks by Franz and Wheatley also were unrelentingly critical. Franz announced his intention to campaign for dismantling the state energy tax credits, state renewable energy standards, and other public investments and policies that attracted Duke Energy to consider building 112 utility-scale wind turbines in our beautiful and gusty corner of the country. He essentially said such measures were a waste and an overreach by government to influence free markets. Wheatley described attending the first-ever international symposium on the health effects of wind power, held in Ontario in October. She reported, based on anecdotal evidence she collected, that low-level sound waves from wind turbines could cause spontaneous abortions in farm animals.

I’ll be writing about the fate of Duke Energy’s $360 million proposed clean energy investment in future postings. For background, Glenn Puit of the Michigan Land Use Institute just posted a first-rate assessment of the project and the issues. Jim Dulzo, the Institute’s managing editor, is readying an online report for Sunday that is meant to clarify some of the science related to wind turbines and health effects.

More significant to me is what that January 16 event illustrates about the condition of our community, and in a larger sense,  our country. Stripped to its core, the meaning of that event is this: We’re afraid of the wind.

I’ve spent a career documenting in precise detail the consequences, unintended and otherwise, of technology scaled up and applied across industrial sectors. In March, 1979 I covered the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, watching as General Public Utilities engineers vented radioactive gases to prevent a hydrogen-fueled explosion that could have torn the top off the melted reactor’s containment vessel.

Ten years later I was in Valdez, Alaska, reporting on a drunken Exxon captain who’d been asleep when the bottom of his tanker was ripped open on a reef that every sea captain on Earth knew was there and had been studiously able to avoid. The rest of that assignment, and two more to Alaska, focused on the aquatic effects of crude oil in cold maritime environments, and the cultural fracturings all that oil prompted in Cordova and the other fishing villages of Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

Fifteen years after that I took clear note of the changes in northern Michigan’s snow sports industry as a result of warming temperature. And four years later reported on the 12-year drought in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin, the nation’s pimary food-growing region, where entire farm sectors were being put out of business by the most visible example of the effects of climate change in any industrial nation.

In between all of this my pen, notebook, now laptop computer and IPhone, traversed the various risk-benefit, economic, scientific, and political experts, the grassroots activist offices, corporate suites, and major media newsrooms that form the basic geography of vigorous environmental dispute in the U.S. I’ve explored in too many published words to remember, as well as broadcast interviews and public speeches the gathered facts about the toxicity of farm chemicals, the wisdom of introducing genetically-engineered organisms into the environment, the safety of burying radioactive wastes in underground dumps in New Mexico and Nevada, the hazards of nuclear weapons production and disposal, the cost and risks of incinerating dioxin-contaminated wastes, just to name a few.

The decades of the late 20th century and the earliest years of the 21st that formed the heart of my career were largely defined by the central idea of American environmentalism. The industrial world was a danger to air, water, land, wild creatures and people. But sound law, effective regulation, civic activism, and strong reporting could be applied to substantially reduce the risk. America, in short, showed itself capable of mitigating harm, cleaning up pollution, and preserving the wild places that supported the nation’s natural diversity. I have lived for 20 years in northwest Michigan, a clean and beautiful place that proved the effectiveness and value of these ideas.

I just never thought we’d be afraid of the wind.

More than three years ago my work shifted to a new path fostered by the understanding that climate change, national security risks, and the nation’s crying need for innovation to spark job growth represented a remarkable opportunity for environmentalism. One of the most important solutions for the warming planet, oil-related wars, and new jobs was pursuing clean energy development here at home. Nature offered an answer in unlimited quantities of energy from the sun, the wind, the earth (geothermal), and from converting plants to fuel. Applying our intelligence to harvest these sources, including producing cars that didn’t need oil-based fuels, represented a much safer way of conducting our affairs.

The basic construct of a transition to new energy sources seems sound. By no means, though, are Americans convinced about the benefits or the risks. As I noted in an earlier post this week, Republicans are suspicious of the science of climate change and ideologically opposed to public investment in clean energy. Grassroots activists are resisting construction of clean energy projects of scale all over the country and especially here in Michigan. Most everybody else is hardly paying attention, driven instead by concerns about job security, falling incomes, the price of gasoline, their liberal neighbors, their conservative neighbors, China, terrorism, you name it.

Boiled down, the country is expressing its fear of the future. Fear is the dominant American emotion of our time. Fear could halt a major clean energy investment in my home county and has already done so in many others across the country.

How is it that a nation so fearless that it put a man on the moon, built an interstate highway system, protected civil rights and women’s rights and gay rights, made industrial workers the highest paid on Earth, instituted an environmental protection program that grew the economy eight-fold, strengthened its great universities, and elected a black president has become immobilized? How is it that we’ve become afraid of the wind?

— Keith Schneider

In Era of Turmoil, Top of the World is Melting

Tibetan Plateau & Climate Change

Photo © Aaron Jaffe / Circle of Blue

By Keith Schneider
Circle of Blue

In January, when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledged that it was wrong in predicting that the glaciers of the Himalayas could be gone by 2035, skeptics of global warming used the error to assert that much of climate science was a fraud.

Next month, though, the Asia Society Museum opens a month long exhibition in New York of alpine photographs by David Breashears that are the strongest visual proof ever compiled that climate scientists may have been aggressive in predicting the rate of glacial melting at the top of the world, but not by much. Circle of Blue, the premier news organization covering the global freshwater crisis, this week anticipated the exhibition with a special report on climate change and the Himalayas.

Breashears’ work, collected by the museum in “Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers of the Greater Himalayas,” documents the rapid retreat of one of the world’s thickest and most important sheets of ice. A mountaineer, Breashears has scaled the world’s tallest mountains to take photographs of dozens of glaciers from the same perches that great photographers of the early and mid-20th century used to shoot the highest, and some of the longest glaciers in the world.

In “Rivers of Ice,” the Asia Society Museum presents Breashears’ 21st century pictures alongside those archival photographs. The message, say the museum’s curators, is unmistakable: “The comparison starkly reveals the catastrophic glacier loss sustained during the intervening years.”

The Breashears exhibition coincides with a new scientific reckoning of the pace of Himalayan melting, and the consequences to watersheds, rivers, communities and nearly 3 billion people that rely on what some scientists have come to call “the water towers of Asia.” Two years ago, Circle of Blue documented the risks to Asia’s ten major rivers–the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Irrawaddy, Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus, Amu Darya and Tarim–as well as to hundreds of lesser streams that rely for water on snow, and glacial melt from the Tibetan Plateau and its young, heaven-scraping Himalayan range.

The mistake by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s preeminent climate research group, has only heaped more attention on the region. Three years ago the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Prize for its work to document the causes and effects of climate change, and for predicting an ecological calamity if emissions of carbon were not controlled. But in a too-hasty assessment of conditions in the Himalayas, the IPCC predicted wrongly that the region’s glaciers would be gone within 28 years.

Though the IPCC was embarrassed by its error on glacial melting, the panel’s substantive conclusion, that “more than one-sixth of the world’s population live in glacier-or snowmelt-fed river basins and will be affected by the seasonal shifts in stream flow,” was not jeopardized.

More recent studies conclude that without sharp changes in global policy to curtail carbon emissions the Himalayan glaciers–and there are more than 40,000 of them spread across the peaks and valleys of the Tibetan Plateau–could be mostly gone by 2070. The underlying and inescapable fact reached by scientists who study ice and the Himalayas is that atmospheric conditions are changing fast and dramatically.

A year ago Ravinder Kumar Chaujar, a scientist with India’s Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, published an important paper in Current Science on the increasing temperatures, diminishing accumulation of snow, and rapid retreat of the Chorabari glacier in northern India’s Himalayan territory. Surface temperatures around the glacier since 1980, said Chaujar, have increased 0.8 degrees Centigrade (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Average snow accumulation, Chaujar reported, has dropped from more than 2,000 kilograms per square meter in the decades of the 20th century to just over 1,500 kilograms per meter in 2006, the lowest snowfall in the 50 years of record-keeping.

Tibetan Statue

Photo © Aaron Jaffe / Circle of Blue

Because glaciers provide regular pulses of freshwater that farmers in agricultural zones depend on in the spring and summer growing season, some agronomists worry that Asia’s already tenuous ability to feed itself could be at risk. This weekend, at the G20 economic summit in Toronto, heads of state briefly considered climate change and its effects on the global environment and food production. The leaders, in a statement that closed the two-day meeting, said the warming planet “remains top of the mind,” and that food security was an urgent global development challenge, which was being exacerbated by climate change.

“We want a comprehensive, ambitious, fair, effective, binding, post-2012 agreement involving all countries, and including the respective responsibilities of all major economies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the leaders said.

It’s too bad that they weren’t shown David Brashear’s telling photographs, which explain why the IPCC scientists in 2007 were so pessimistic.

The blue glacial ice of such famed fields as Tibet’s Main Rongbuk Glacier below Mount Everest today are thin, black with soot, and shrinking. Climate scientists and geologists from China and India warn that the range of ice on the Tibet plateau and in the mountains could shrink by 43 percent by 2070. Between 1950 and 1980, about half of the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau were in recession, according to a number of studies. By the first decade of the 21st century, 95 percent were retreating.

Ya Tandong, a Chinese glaciologist, recently described in a UN report the condition of Himalayan glaciers this way: “Studies indicate that by 2030 another 30 percent will disappear. By 2050, 40 percent. By the end of the century 70 percent. The full-scale glacier shrinkage in the plateau regions will eventually lead to an ecological catastrophe.”

— Keith Schneider

Can Electric Whirr Save The American Auto Industry?

DETROIT – The old sound of Detroit’s automakers was an octane-stoked Vroom! The sound of Detroit’s future, say top auto industry executives, is an electric whirr. General Motors plans to introduce its breakthrough Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in November 2010.

Ford is already selling the 40-mile per gallon hybrid electric Fusion sedan and is preparing a plug-in model for introduction in 2012. Last December, Chrysler introduced three electric vehicles it is developing for the American market: Jeep and minivan plug-in hybrids, and a pure electric sports car with a range of 150 miles.

Yet the question dogging American automakers as they unveil these promising new products is this: Will they stay solvent long enough to benefit from the revenues and new jobs generated by the next wave of fuel-sipping technology?

For More Information
Make It In America
Executive Summary
Apollo Summary of House Energy and Commerce Committee proposalApollo Analysis of draft Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee proposal

Apollo Letter to Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi

The New Apollo Program

Signature Stories

The Green Room

The Obama administration, business leaders, and state officials across the Midwest say the industry is too important to the nation’s economy to let it fail, a tenet embraced by the Apollo Alliance. Both G.M. and Chrysler have already received, respectively, $13.4 billion and $4 billion in government loans to help them cope with massive revenue shortfalls.

Restructuring Under Way: Preserving Jobs and Benefits Top Priorities
Last week, 84-year-old Chrysler filed for bankruptcy and unveiled a reorganization plan that includes shared ownership between Fiat, the United Autoworkers Union, and the Canadian and U.S. governments. The Obama administration also said it would lend Chrysler $8 billion more to stay in business.

Meanwhile General Motors last week unveiled pieces of its restructuring plan weeks ahead of a June 1 government deadline. The company said it intends to phase out Pontiac, cut 21,000 U.S. factory jobs by next year, close 16 more factories, and reduce its dealerships by 42 percent. The 101-year-old auto company, hoping to avoid bankruptcy and retire most of the company’s $27 billion in unsecured debt, also plans to ask the government to take more than half its stock in exchange for half of its government debt.

A deeper reading of the restructuring plan, according to analysts, sets up a formula for settling with its three principal creditors: the company’s bondholders, the United Auto Workers, and the government, which has already lent the automaker $18 billion.  Bondholders would receive 10 percent ownership. The government would put in another $9 billion, and own half of G.M. The U.A.W. which is owed about $20 billion by the company for its health-care system, would get $10 billion in cash and receive a nearly 40 percent ownership. The basic principles of the G.M. restructuring are similar to those that guided the Chrysler plan, which set as one of its top priorities preserving union manufacturing jobs and benefits.

Officials with the U.A.W.have been cautious in their public statements. But last week Ron Getilfinger,  the president of the U.A.W., responded to the Chrysler plan this way: “Our members have responded by accepting an agreement that is painful for our active and retired workers, but which helps preserve U.S. manufacturing jobs and gives Chrysler a chance to survive.”

Ford, while in better shape due to the tens of billions of dollars it borrowed privately before the downturn, is also losing billions of dollars. The number of cars and light trucks sold in the United States this year is likely to total roughly 9 million, down from 13.8 million in 2007, according to the Department of Transportation.

Independent experts in government, academia, and the auto sector say that the industry must vastly reshape production practices, product lines, and marketing strategies to compete in a world constrained by energy costs, sinking incomes, and more rigorous environmental safeguards. That, too, is consistent with the Apollo Alliance’s view of what it will take to strengthen the auto industry and secure the millions of jobs that rely on it.

New Apollo Program Principles and Apollo GreenMAP
In September, in The New Apollo Program, a comprehensive national clean energy economic development strategy, Apollo called for the federal government to focus its clean energy investments, in part, on retooling the auto industry in order to capture the low-carbon markets of the future. This month, Apollo released Make It In America: The Apollo Green Manufacturing Action Plan as part of a national campaign to secure federal investments to ramp up the domestic manufacture of renewable energy parts and components, including next generation vehicle technologies.

These ideas are penetrating Washington and the auto-manufacturing states of the Midwest. In February, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provides car buyers with a $7,500 tax credit if they purchase a plug-in electric hybrid. The law also provides $2 billion for the development of advanced lithium ion batteries used in plug-in hybrids; a 30 percent investment tax credit for building plants that manufacture next generation vehicles and components; $400 million to states and local governments to build charging infrastructure for the national plug-in fleet; and a 50 percent tax credit to businesses that install their own plug-in charging stations. In December, 14 companies with expertise in batteries and advanced materials joined with Argonne National Laboratory to establish the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture. The group said it will raise up to $2 billion in government funding over the next five years to build a manufacturing facility with an “open foundry” for the participants to pursue the goal of perfecting lithium-ion batteries for cars.

Last month, House and Senate energy committees opened debate on a new energy bill that could hasten the achievement of all of these steps. The House measure, The American Clean Energy and Security Act, includes a Vehicle Manufacturing Assistance Program to provide financial help for auto manufacturers to retool and retrain workers to produce cleaner, more efficient autos and purchase advanced batteries. A separate measure in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee would create loans to help auto companies and other manufacturing firms become more energy efficient in both their industrial processes and buildings – an essential step to building the clean energy economy.

Kate Gordon Testifies
“We encourage you to think big,” Kate Gordon, co-director of the Apollo Alliance, told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee late last month during a hearing on the House proposal on Capitol Hill. “Think not only about the millions of barrels of imported oil and the billions of dollars in energy costs we will ultimately save if we reduce the carbon we pour into the atmosphere; think also about the countless Americans who might finally be able to earn a living wage, or enter the middle class, or invent a new cutting-edge energy technology if we embrace and invest in the transition to a clean energy future.”

Energy efficiency and the development of next generation vehicles also has been a focus of state legislation and policy. Last year, Michigan approved a $335 million package of credits and subsidies to encourage the development of an advanced battery industry in the Detroit region. The package was, in part, a response to calls for state assistance from G.M.

G.M. is building a $30 million plant in southeast Michigan – to assemble battery storage packs – that will employ more than 100 union workers. The batteries themselves are manufactured by LG Chem, a South Korea company. In January, A123 Systems, a Massachusetts-based battery manufacturer, said it had applied for a $1.8 billion federal grant to build a 7 million square-foot factory in Michigan to produce energy storage systems for plug-in hybrids and hybrid-electric vehicles. At full capacity, the plant could employ 14,000 people.

“If we capture and produce advanced energy storage systems for autos and defense, for applications for wind and solar energy storage, that would be huge,” said Stanley “Skip” Pruss, the director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth. “The lithium ion battery market for autos could easily be $50 billion in seven or eight years. The question is where will it be deployed and where will it be commercialized. We want to capture the value chain for batteries and other clean energy investments. We want the plants and the jobs here in Michigan.”

Michigan’s Clean Car Future
There’s nothing new about electric cars. The first vehicles to emerge from Detroit’s turn of the 20th century car shops were electric. What is new is the convergence of powerful regulatory and market trends pushing electric vehicles to the mass market. The 2007 energy bill required automakers to raise fleet-wide fuel efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. During the 2008 election campaign, then-candidate Obama called for manufacturers to build 1 million plug-in hybrids by 2015, and he promised to buy the first vehicles for the White House fleet.

Another important factor is that engineers are powering the cars with lithium ion, the same type of battery that runs laptop computers. Lithium ion is lighter than a traditional nickel acid battery, and holds a longer and more powerful charge.

No company is pushing harder than General Motors to get a plug-in hybrid on the market. GM is advertising its Chevy Volt on television and public radio. At the company’s Technical Center in Warren, MI, engineers are running batteries through tests intended to simulate the lifecycle of an average vehicle: 10 years, or 150,000 miles. Last week, even as it announced the company’s plan for restructuring, it also provided a Volt test drive to USA Today reporter James R. Healy, who said the car was fast, quiet, and “punchy.” G.M. says the Volt will sell for $35,000 to $40,000, a price made easier with the new $7,500 tax credit approved in February.

This is Volt chief engineer Andrew Farah’s second go-round with an electric car project. In the late ‘80s, he began working on the revolutionary, all-electric EV1. GM built thousands of EV1s, but, in a much-disputed decision, ultimately abandoned the model due to drawbacks that made it impractical for most drivers, Farah said in an interview with the Apollo News Service. The battery weighed 1,200 pounds. In order to wring 40 miles out of a single charge, the car had to be a tiny two-seater, with no trunk. “You had to build the car around the battery,” he said.

The Volt, on the other hand, is what GM calls an “extended-range” vehicle. Once the electric charge runs down, a gasoline engine takes over. But the engine doesn’t power a drive train, as on a traditional vehicle. It powers the electrical system that runs the car. The energy required to drive 40 miles on battery power is equivalent to “well under a gallon” of gasoline, according to Farah.

The Volt and other energy efficient vehicles may represent the last chance to revive American auto manufacturing and the development of high-wage green collar jobs. By using less petroleum-based fuel, they will help the nation sever its dependence on foreign oil. And plug-in hybrids emit zero climate-changing emissions when running on electric power.

A study two years ago by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest Laboratory estimated that if 200 million — or 84 percent — of the nation’s vehicles were plug-in hybrids, the country’s consumption of oil would decline to 3.5 million barrels a day, a mere 35 percent of current levels. Vehicles are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases. A national plug-in fleet would reduce climate-changing emissions nationally by 27 percent.

“There’s at least three sides that are coming together to make the electric car viable,” says Chrysler spokesman Cole Quinnell. “You’ve always got a small sector of the market who’s willing to take steps to reduce their environmental impact. You’ve got the technological segment. Three to five years ago, people in the auto industry decided to use the lithium ion battery, which offers more power per pound than traditional batteries. Then there’s the regulation side. There’s been a drive to reduce tailpipe emissions, and hybrids are falling short. We need to take the next step.”

Still, tempering the hopefulness within the industry is the reality of the present. Can the whirr of hybrid plug-ins save the American auto industry? The new restructuring plans, the Obama administration’s clear willingness to provide financial support, and all of Detroit’s new technology reflect a nation’s hope for the industry – if it can at least hang on.

— Keith Schneider

Casual Carpool Plus Transit, A S.F. Commute

Light rail line along Embarcadero

SAN FRANCISCO — Since late March I’ve been living in a one-room cottage behind an old Craftsman-style home in Berkeley, and commuting to downtown San Francisco. It’s not your typical daily trip. But as gas prices rise, congestion mounts, and family incomes fall, it may well become a new kind of commuting norm in the United States. Of course it may not, too. This being San Francisco. And the weather is just unbelievably good most of the year.

But this is how it goes. I am a casual carpooler. Every morning I stand on line in front of the Safeway on Claremont Street, about six minutes walk from my house. Usually there are other people there, too, along with a line of cars and drivers waiting to pick up other casual commuters, two or three at a time. The goal in all of this is to save time and money for driver and passengers. Crossing the tragically congested San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on a weekday morning can take over an hour because of the longest toll lines I’ve ever seen. The cost also is $4.00.

But cars with three or more passengers zip through in the free carpool lanes. I save the $3.30 it would cost to ride the BART from the Rockridge Station to Embarcadero.

I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now and it’s just a marvel of ingenuity, convenience, and overcoming the fear of the stranger, which has gripped our country for 40 years or so. I’ve ridden with two student artists at San Francisco State, a manager of high rise buildings in San Francisco, a graphic designer, and a developer of affordable housing. I’ve had the chance to check out a two-seat Mercedes, a brand new Volvo, a Land Rover and any number of Toyota Prius’s. Nobody, and I mean nobody, drives an American car here. One of the guys I rode with is an engineer who gave me a lead on an apartment in Oakland, which turned out to be too expensive. Another told me about a hot graphic designer, who is as good as advertised and may fit into our publication schedule at the Apollo Alliance, where I work.

Drivers dispatch their passengers in San Francisco at the corner of Fremont and Howard, which is a couple of blocks from the Embarcadero along magnificent San Francisco Bay. In 1991, two years after the Loma Prieta earthquake, San Francisco demolished the elevated Embarcadero Freeway, replacing it with a palm-lined boulevard. An active lightrail line now runs in the median, passing gardens and parks and thousands of new units of housing, and swanky bars, the Giants baseball stadium, and all the other centers of human commerce that blossomed in what had been the shadows of a loud, dangerous, transportation eyesore.

If I walk, with the sun rising over the bay, it takes about 25 minutes. When I ride the Muni train to 4th Street, a block from my Townsend Street office, it takes about 10 minutes and costs $1.50. Total commute time: 45 minutes to an hour. Going home, I take the Muni to the Embarcadero BART station. BART takes me to the Rockridge Station, and I walk the 12 minutes up College Avenue and Claremont, stopping by the Safeway to get something for dinner. Travel cost: $4.80. Travel time: 45 minutes. Total expense saved from not having to own or drive a car: At least $1,000 a month, after taxes.