Report of an Interview – Republished From the ECOreport

The attached piece, written by Roy Hales and first published in the ECOreport on February 3, 2015 ( was based on a voice interview he held with me on January 31st. It came about when Roy asked me if I would be willing to comment on the recent report issued by DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) that presented figures on new electrical generating capacity installed in the U.S. in 2014. I agreed to do so and the interview (to be radio broadcast) and the attached article are the results. The article is republished with Roy’s permission and speaks for itself.
(Note: the photos published with the original piece did not reproduce in this republished copy and can be found at the web site referenced above.)


By Roy L Hales

It has been 37 years since Dr Allan Hoffman gave President Jimmy Carter the plan that could have started America’s renewable revolution. The idea was shelved after Reagan was elected. Hoffman waited, as administration after administration ignored the potential, until Barack Obama was elected. The retired senior Department of Energy executive views the growth of US renewables during 2014 as a vindication of what he and his colleagues saw decades ago.

More Than Half Of The New Capacity

(Note: Clean Technica estimates that 54.8% of the installations made in December came from these two sectors and 53.3% of the installations for the year.)

“If the Clean Technica chart (which includes an estimate for non-utility solar) is accurate, more than half of the new capacity added last year is from renewables. This is very significant. I pinch myself when I see these numbers and I am very grateful to see the transition move to the extent it has,” said Hoffman.

Though natural gas was still the leading single energy source, in terms of installations during 2014, its 7.5 GW of added capacity is overshadowed by close to 10 GW from the renewable sector.

Natural Gas Will Be With Us For Decades

Photo Credit: US Electricity Capacity Added in 2014 by Clean Techncia
“There is no doubt that natural gas will be with us for decades, but I don’t see it as a long term option,” said Hoffman. “Right now it is exciting. We will probably use more natural gas in transportation. It is perfectly suited for that, if you build the right kind of car, but I think electrification is the answer for most forms of transportation in the future.”

He used the automotive sector to illustrate what is happening with fossil fuels. The trend is to electrification, but EVs are not yet ready to take over. Around 70% of car trips, in the US, are less than 40 miles. EVs can supply this, but there is still a need for a gas or diesel back-up on longer trips.

“There are a lot of vested interests protecting fossil fuel use. You are going to see a determined battle from the petroleum industry, who want to continue their role in transportation. That doesn’t change overnight. Cars are on the road for an average of 10 to 12 years in the United States. They need petroleum, so that’s going to be with us for a while,” said Hoffman. “But I don’t think the fossil fuel industry can win this battle over the long term and the smart companies will be switching over eventually.”

He added, “We will still have fossil fuels in 2050, but it will be a diminishing fraction. We will move increasingly to electrification. Our children and grandchildren will eventually drive electric cars.”

Alternatives, like biofuels and biojet diesel, will eventually replace fossil fuels in sectors like aviation. The US Airforce is already moving in that direction. Even the US Navy, which uses bunker fuel to power many of its ships, is switching over.

The Real Future Of This Sector Is Offshore

The 4 GW of wind capacity added in 2014 is impressive, but Hoffman believes the real future of this sector is offshore.

“I consider offshore wind to be the most important and exciting emerging renewable technology. When you go offshore, the winds are stronger and more steady. That’s really critical because more steady winds produce a higher capacity factor. A larger fraction of the potential is realized in generating energy, which is really the ultimate test. The other thing is that with higher speeds, the economics become much better. The energy extracted from the wind goes as the third power of the wind speed. So if you double the wind speed, you get eight times the power out of that machine,” said Hoffman.

Developers can also build larger turbines than on land. There are a lot of logistics involved, but 6 to 7 MW turbines are presently common offshore. Hoffman has seen plans for 10MW to 15MW and even a 20 MW turbine.

“Of course there will be hurricanes and things like that and these machines have to hold up under those conditions, but I have confidence we can do that.”

Photo Credit: Total US Capacity at the end of 2014 by Clean Techncia
“The resource available in offshore wind is very, very large. Look at the United States. It has four coastal regions: The East Coast; The West Coast; The Gulf Coast; and the Great Lakes Coast. There is a lot of wind available.”

There is a potential for close to 4,000 GW of capacity, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (2010) report “Large-Scale Offshore Wind Power In The United States.” This figure needs to be reduced, by subtracting areas (like shipping lanes) where you cannot put wind turbines, but the potential is still HUGE.

“To put this number in perspective, the United States’ present potential for generating electricity is just over 1,000 GW,” said Hoffman. “So even if only a fraction of offshore potential is realized, we have a major source of energy coming online in the future.”

Though the US has been slow to adopt offshore wind, Hofffman expects that to change in the next few years. It will start on the East Coast, where the winds are strong and a large part of the population lives.

New Solar Capacity

Photo Credit: Powerfilm Solar Panel by Stephan Ridgway via Flickr (CC By SA, 2.0 Liicense)
The 5.2 GW of new solar capacity added in 2014 is also impressive, but just a beginning. The potential for growth in this sector is enormous.

“Solar may be the fastest growing energy source in the world today. Look at what’s happening in Germany. There are days when more than half the electricity comes from solar and Germany is not a particularly sunny country, said Hoffman. “So I can see that happening in the United States. States like Nevada, Arizona have an incredible solar input.”

Resistance From Utilities

“There has been a lot of resistance from utilities. They have resisted net metering and other simplified connections to the grid because they see it as diminishing the importance of their business model. They make a lot of money selling energy at peak hours, when electricity is more expensive. If solar provides energy during those peak hours, their business model is upset. They are going to resist it for as long as they can because change is hard for people to accept.”

This battle is already over in Germany, where the four major utilities have now switched over to become providers of solar energy. They lease solar systems, maintain them and are now offering energy storage for homes.

Hoffman perceives the utility model of a centralized grid as a relic from the past. There will be more of a variety of systems in the future. Some people will utilize battery storage to be independent of the grid, there will be more local microgrids, regional grids and possibly even a global multinational grid.

“I have no question that this is happening. It’s happening as we speak. It will unfold over the next decades, but I think it is inevitable,” said Hoffman.

Though he believes both nuclear energy and natural gas will continue for several decades, Hoffman predicts their importance will diminish. Environmental pressures and economic realities are pushing the US into renewables.

“Eventually Congress will have to move in this direction, even Republicans can get the message,” he said. “What’s going to happen is that people are going to be talking to their members of congress. The business community has a major impact on Congress and they are going to see it is in their interest to move ahead with a clean energy system.”

US Needs To Adopt An Energy Plan

Photo Credit: Library of Congress by Juan Llanos via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
The US needs to adopt an energy plan, so that people have certainty about the future. Businesses need it, so they can formulate their own strategies.

“Climate Change is real and it has adverse effects, but they are long term effects,” said Hoffman. “Someone has to do the long term thinking to protect this generation as well as future generations from having to deal with it under less desirable conditions.”

Despite the resistance in Congress, Hoffman believes a carbon tax is inevitable. “Putting a price on emissions” is probably the best was to reduce them. The revenues can be used to reduce other taxes, like income tax, or redistributed to low income persons who are adversely affected by increased energy costs due to a carbon tax.

“I think there are a lot of tradeoffs on a carbon tax that would not only address carbon emissions, but that could also provide revenues that can be applied to other aspects of our economy,” said Hoffman.

“I see the early stages of what I consider an inevitable transition away from traditional energy sources, largely fossil fuel sources but also including nuclear to some extent, to an increasing reliance on renewable energy in the form of wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and eventually ocean energy as well.”

“I have been saying this was inevitable for many years, but for a long time it was hard to get people to accept that. I think we’re seeing it happen. When you look at the numbers, both from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regularity Commission (FERC) you can see that the transition is beginning to take place. The new capacity that is coming online is largely renewables.”

(Top Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Lillgrund Wind Farm, Near Copenhagen by Håkan Dahlström via Flickr (CC By SA, 2.0 License)

Living With A Trump Presidency – An Interview.

The article attached below was written by Roy Hales, editor of the e-journal ECOreport ( It is based on a 30-minute telephone interview that Roy conducted with me on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, one week after the U.S. presidential election in which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.. The audio recording of the interview, broadcast on Wednesday as a podcast, is embedded in the original article posted on The ECOreport web site. Photos in the original article are not reproduced here, but can be found in the original article as well.

NOVEMBER 17, 2016
The ECOreport interviews Dr Allan Hoffman, a former senior analyst with the D.O.E., about living with a Trump Presidency

By Roy L Hales

The American people have spoken. Donald Trump is not Dr Allan Hoffman’s choice for President. While it is still possible that Trump will be more reasonable than his pre-election rhetoric suggests, this is unlikely. Hoffman described Trump as a demagogue who appears to be a climate denier, whose statements about energy were “uninformed, ignorant and terrible.” Never-the-less, he has been elected and, for the next four years, “the American public is going to have to live with that.” Hoffman spoke about the realities of living with a Trump presidency.

Living With A Trump Presidency
“If you go on the basis of what he said, it is going to be a very difficult period for those of us concerned about clean energy and (the) environment … (Trump) has made some statements that are terribly critical of solar energy and wind energy, but then there are contradictory statements that he makes at other times, if you look at his website … The bottom line is that it is really hard to know what he is going to do as President. An important clue is who he will put into the 4,000 positions he has control over in the new government,” said Hoffman.

“The next few years are going to be a real test of the American system of checks and balances. Democracies are always vulnerable to the rise of demagogues. … When demagogues arose in Europe in the 1930s, in the form of Mussolini and the form of Hitler, things got rapidly out of control as these people basically took over countries in a non-democratic way. The United States is now in the position where a demagogue has been elected President … but the U.S. President is not a dictator. He cannot just decide what happens in this country and if you go back to the record of other presidents, you see that many of them tried to do certain things but were unsuccessful.”

Ronald Reagan tried to get rid of the departments of energy and education – but failed. Unlike Trump, President Reagan faced a Democrat controlled congress. Trump will initially have the support of a republican controlled House and Sevnate, but it is by no means certain that he can count on them to attack the nation’s energy and environmental sectors.

“I have to believe that not all Republicans are going to back what he has said. A lot of them were very concerned by Trump’s statements during the campaign and there will be opposition to some of his extreme positions,” said Hoffman.

United States Energy System Is Highly Decentralized
Trump’s attempts to hinder renewable development will be hindered by the fact the nation’s energy system is highly decentralized. For example, the federal government does not make the decisions governing utility policies. Those are set by individual states.

“Wind and solar are now price competitive with fossil fuels and certainly competitive with nuclear, which tends to be quite expensive. Decisions are going to be made not just on an ideological basis, but on a pragmatic basis of how we can generate our energy in the most cost effective way and all of that will be in the context of trying to reduce carbon emissions and other emissions that impact our climate – and that includes CO2, that includes methane, natural gas, and that includes nitrogen oxide, which is a residue from agricultural activities,” said Hoffman.

He dismissed the arguments against global warming as simply “dead wrong.”

“The temperatures deep in the oceans are changing, they are going up. A lot of the heat that is being generated by global warming going into the ocean and we are measuring that. That is not a debatable point; that is a measurement.

“Global sea levels are rising. That’s measurable as well, it’s not debatable. When sea levels rise, coastal communities get flooded. Salt water infuses into fresh water supplies and contaminates them so you cannot drink the water without cleaning it up with desalinization.”

“Insects are moving from one location to another because of changing temperatures on land in a manner that is obviously faster than historical trends suggest. That’s all real, you cannot deny that stuff.”

“A lot of things that are going to come into play here. You can certainly not expect California and other states to change what they are doing now to reduce global warming and carbon emissions. You should certainly not expect other countries ou to change what they are doing.”

The Real Price For the United States
“There is a real price for the United States because the future energy system is going to be highly dependent on clean energy. The United States would like, and should be, a major player in the economy that supplies those technologies. Other countries have been moving ahead for years while the United States held back under previous presidents. That means economic growth, that means jobs, reduced environmental health, improved (public) health and so on. There are lots of reasons for moving forward … and if the United States decides to bail on this because of Trump and his administration, it will have an impact but not the horrific impact that some people have anticipated.”

“China is moving actively into the renewable field not for ideological reasons but because it is important for their country to reduce the pollution they get from fossil fuels, particularly coal. India is moving in the same direction ….” he said.

“The United States can impact the pace at which some things happen, but it is not going to stop other nations from moving forward.”

Forty Years Of U.S. Renewable Development
Few Americans possess Dr. Allan Hoffman’s insight into the development of the nation’s renewable sector. His dismissal of Trump’s allegation that climate change is a hoax, invented by the Chinese, as “untrue” arises from personal experience. In 1978, Hoffman presented President Jimmy Carter with the interdepartmental energy plan that would have launched the nation’s adoption of renewable energy decades ago.

Hoffman resigned late in the Carter Administration, out of frustration with insufficient budget support for renewables, but subsequently served under four other presidents. He watched in further frustration as succeeding administrations let the United States’ leadership in solar and wind energy development dissipate. Hoffman was 71-years-old by the time Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and a senior analyst in the Department of Energy. He finally retired in 2012.

“There are a lot of things that are happening now that are moving in the right direction and it’s not going to stop.”

He added that Trump can slow down America’s adoption of renewable energy, but he cannot stop it.

“When people start seeing all the jobs going to other countries, it is going to have an impact back here in the United States because there is a tremendous amount of manufacturing that is going to take place and the United States should be a center of that.”

Is There Still A Place For Fossil Fuels?

Dr. Hoffman argues that there is still a place for fossil fuels, and with proper regulation and enforcement it is possible to reduce fracking incidents to an acceptable level.

“If we don’t do that job well, then there is no benefit to natural gas over coal.”

Asked if adequate regulations are in force anywhere in the United States, he replied some claim they are. He mentioned Pennsylvania’s legislation adding, “We will have to see” if it works.

The fossil fuel sector will continue to expand because people want the energy (and money), but the eventual transition to a fossil free economy is inevitable.

“I am very concerned about the increase in (global) temperature because I think a lot of the impacts are going to be very adverse. For example, climate change will change precipitation patterns. We aren’t going to have the same water supply system that we’ve had for the last 200 years. It is a very uncertain future.”

What Can We Do?

“The first thing is to recognize that a President cannot do just anything that he wants. So, calm down a little bit. The initial reaction is that he is going to do this on day one of his administration. He can’t do that, he just can’t do that,” said Hoffman.

“The other thing is to be eternally vigilant. A long time ago somebody said the price of liberty is eternal vigilance – well that is absolutely true … We are going to have to watch this administration as carefully as we can.”

“We also have to recognize that a lot can be done on the state level. … If you cannot do it on the federal level because of Trump and his people, you can do it on the state level and that is (already) happening in lots of different ways.”

For example, the United States does not have any federal policy for net metering, so close to 40 states have adopted their own net metering laws.

“We should keep pushing on our state legislators and decision makers to promote the increasing use of clean energy.”

The business community needs to be part of this dialogue. One of the strongest arguments for the adoption of renewables is economic.

“A lot people in the private sector, who presumably have the ear of the Trump administration, will simply say it makes a lot of sense to go this way.”

Hoffman says that If it had the political will, and made appropriate investments, reports show that America could obtain 80% of its’ electrical energy from renewable sources by 2050.

(Listen to Dr. Hoffman describe these issues in more detail – as well as topics like the United States’ attitudes towards a woman President, the keystone XL pipeline, and oil by rail – in the podcast embedded in the original version of this article).


Book Review of ‘The U.S. Government and Renewable Energy: A Winding Road’

The first review of my new book has just been posted by Roy Hales, Editor of the e-journal EcoReport. I re-post it below.

The ECOreport reviews Dr. Allan R. Hoffman’s new book, which explains how America adopts energy policies & calls for a National Energy Policy that transcends political ideologies.
By Roy L Hales

Thirty-seven years ago, the United States was poised on the edge of an energy revolution. The interdepartmental plan that Dr. Allan Hoffman presented President Jimmy Carter outlined how the nation could derive 20% of its’ power from renewables (principally wind & solar) by the year 2000. What could have happened, if Carter’s successors had pressed forward, is another of the great “ifs” of history. Hoffman answers another question in his book THE U.S. GOVERNMENT & RENEWABLE ENERGY: how America adopts energy policies.

How America Adopts Energy Policies

Cover of Allan R. Hoffman, The U.S. Government & Renewable Energy
America’s failure can be explained in terms of Presidents. None of the Republicans, from Reagan to Bush Jr, believed in renewable energy.1 Though many expected to see an increase in the budgets for renewable energy research and development under Bill Clinton, a Democrat, he had “lots of other fish to fry after 12 years of Republican control of the White House.”
“My hopes were more on actions related to energy in a second Clinton term. Of course my hopes were dashed when the President tried to put a price on carbon by raising gasoline prices by five cents a gallon and ran into a political firestorm. Unfortunately, he never tried again. Vice President Gore was also responsible for a serious setback when he insisted that all programs aimed at reducing global warming be so labelled in the FY1996 budget request, which many of us argued against strongly. Our fear was that with the Republicans winning both the House and Senate in the 1994 mid-term Congressional election (the so-called Gringrich Revolution), such a guide would make it easy for Republicans to cut clean energy budgets. However we were unsuccessful in the face of the Vice President’s insistence and the Republicans subsequently used the “guide” to cut the requested OUT Renewable Energy budget by 25%. This had serious consequences for the NREL, which at the time received 60% of its operating funds from the budget, and the NREL was forced to lay off 200 of its 800 staff. It was a devastating time for renewables, about which I still carry strong feelings,” writes Hoffman2
By the time of Barack Obama’s election, in 2008, Hoffman was beginning “my eighth decade of life” and considering retirement. However America finally had “a President who really seemed to ‘get it’ in a meaningful way.”

Under Five U.S. Presidents
Hoffman’s 134 page THE U.S. GOVERNMENT & RENEWABLE ENERGY contains a distillation of the events he witnessed while serving under five U.S. Presidents (Carter, Bush Sr, Clinton, Bush Jr, & Obama).
Much of what he writes does not have anything to do with politics. He explains how the various renewable energy sources work and the challenges that must be overcome before they could be adopted. Some of the personal anecdotes, like climbing a wind turbine “though I have a serious fear of heights,” are delightful.3 Hoffman’s predictions of “where we will be energy-wise in the next 30-40 years” may prove accurate.4
However the real value of this book is the insider’s perspective it gives on how America has adopted energy policies.
Need For A Clear U.S. Energy Policy
Drawing from his decades of experience, Hoffman calls for the adoption of a clear U.S. energy policy that transcends political ideologies:
“Energy policy is a complicated and controversial field, reflecting many different national, global and vested interests. Bringing renewables fully into the energy mainstream, which is only now beginning, will take time as history teaches, and the needs of developing and developed nations (e.g., in transportation) need to be addressed during the period in which the transition takes place. The critical need is to move through this transition as quickly as possible. Without clear national energy policies that recognize the need to move away from a fossil fuel-based energy system, and to a low carbon clean energy system as quickly as possible, this inevitable transition will be stretched out unnecessarily , with adverse environmental, job-creation, and other economic and national security impacts. It is also true that the revenue generated by putting a price on carbon can be used to reduce social inequalities introduced by such a tax, lower other taxes, and enable investments consistent with long-term national needs. In the United States, it also provides a means for cooperation between Republicans and Democrats, something we have not seen for decades. It is now more than time for U.S. leaders to take this critical step.”

1 Allan R. Hoffman, THE U.S. GOVERNMENT & RENEWABLE ENERGY, Pan Sanford Series on Renewable Energy, pp. 44, 101
2 Hoffman, pp 48-49
3 Hoffman, p 57
4 Hoffman, pp 127-131
5 Hoffman, p 134

Comments on EPA’s Recently Released Report on Fracking

On June 4th the U.S. Emvironmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its draft ‘Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing For Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources’. It can be accessed at It was several years in the making, and was undertaken at the request of the U.S. Congress.


On June 8th I was contacted by Roy Hales, Editor of ‘The EcoReport’ with whom I have worked previously. He asked if I would be willing to be interviewed on my reactions to the draft report, given that I and two Swedish co-authors had published a major review of fracking the previous August (see my blog post entitled ‘Shale Gas and Hydraulic Fracturing-Framing the Water Issue’). I agreed, I read the EPA slide presentation on the assessment as well as the 28-page Executive Summary, and the phone interview took place that evening. My thoughts, and those of one other interviewee, are summarized in the following piece published by Roy in his ejournal ( late last night.

Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas and Its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources

By Roy L Hales

After five years of research, the EPA’s painfully inadequate fracking assessment has been released. “It’s a bit underwhelming,” said Amanda Frank, from the Center for Effective Government. Dr Allan Hoffman, a retired senior analyst with the Department of Energy, referred to the draft report as “disappointing.” They were referring to the extent that industry was allowed to thwart the EPA investigation.

Figure ES -1 . Schematic cross – section of general types of oil and gas resources and the orientations of production wells used in hydraulic fracturing. Shown are conceptual illustrations of types of oil and gas wells. A vertical well is producing from a conventional oil and gas deposit (right). In this case, a gray confining layer serves to “trap” oil (green) or gas (red). Also shown are wells producing from unconv entional formations: a vertical coalbed methane well (second from right); a horizontal well producing from a shale formation (center); and a well producing from a tight sand formation (left). Note: Figure not to scale. Modified from USGS (2002) and Newell (2011) .

“My general reaction is ‘why bother?’ I have a lot of compassion for EPA, they must have really struggled with this one, but I don’t feel like they produced a very useful report. There is nothing new. It is accurate as far as I could tell. They did review some records, but then they put in all these caveats about how limited the data really was. It is very clear they probably didn’t get co-operation from the industry. That’s a very bad sign in my opinion,” said Dr Hoffman.

The EPA tried to get companies to monitor their wells. They need to test the water before they started drilling, test during the drilling and test afterwards.

“Most companies flat-out refused to comply. So this report is more of a literature review. It is very thorough, in terms of looking at the available data, but limited because they still can’t say how widespread these impacts are when there so few companies that are willing to let the EPA study them,” said Amanda Frank.

She added, “They admit in the conclusion that, based on the number of wells that we know of and based on the number of incidents that we know of, water contamination is not a widespread issue. But the next sentence basically says there is so much data missing that it is hard to make that claim.”

Hoffman recently co-authored a report on the impact hydraulic fracturing has on water. He shares the impression that the number of incidents is small, but added, “We really don’t know.”

“If industry is not going to co-operate on this, then they are not to be trusted. They have plenty of incentive to hide accidents, spills and all that kind of stuff. That’s what people do, they protect their self interest.”

He believes the number of incidents can be brought under control, but suspects that it may take a major accident for the United States to adopt strong enough regulations and enforcement.

A water impoundment at a drill pad in the Fayetteville Shale gas play of Arkansas. The water will be used in the hydraulic fracturing process, where it will be combined with chemicals and sand, then used to create artificial fractures in gas-bearing rocks to allow the gas to be recovered. Photo Credit: Bill Cunningham, USGS

In the meantime, there are reports of water contamination but it is difficult to prove the cause was fracking without proper testing.
If company’s are allowed to withhold the identity of the chemicals they use, you don’t even know what to test for.

There have been large water withdrawals in areas with low water availability. Though the EPA reported the national average was only 1%, in some counties the number was actually 50%.

(Trent Orr, an attorney with Earthjustice, recently informed the ECOreport that much of California’s fracking takes place in Kern county, one of the area’s most affected by the drought.)

In some states, the industry appears to have virtually taken over. In response to communities that have passed fracking bans, both Texas and Oklahoma have passed legislation overruling local control.

“Is fracking going to be safe? Nothing is. There are risks with everything. Getting into my car and driving to work is not ‘safe.’ Industry needs to recognize this and stop trying to say how safe and wonderful it is. They need to acknowledge there are risks. Then we need to ask ourselves, are these risks worth it?” said Frank.

Many hoped the EPA report would help clarify matters.

“The big disappointment is not so much in terms of the report’s scope, as that the conclusions are not widespread. To really fix the problems with fracking, you need to require baseline testing. If we were to require that in every well across the country, we would have a much better sense of how widespread this problem is,” said Frank.”

On June 9th the Washington Post editorialized on the EPA report and basically agreed with the thoughts documented above in Roy Hale’s article. I reprint the editorial below for your information.

“By Editorial Board June 8 at 7:25 PM
IN THE ongoing war over fracking, the loudest voices try their best to obscure this essential point: The controversial drilling technique doesn’t need to be banned; it needs to be well regulated. That’s how we explain the seemingly contradictory reaction to the Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of fracking’s effects on drinking water, a draft report released last week that industry and environmental groups each spun to support its side. In fact, it supports neither side.

The EPA doesn’t pretend to have a final and precise answer on the scope of fracking’s impact on drinking water. There were sharp limits on its data. But the agency used 950 sources of information from government, industry and environmental groups, so their findings represent the best that science can offer right now. The conclusion: The EPA couldn’t find evidence that fracking has “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

The assessment continued, “The number of identified cases where drinking water resources were impacted are small relative to the number of hydraulically fracked wells.” Given the economic and environmental benefits of using domestically fracked natural gas — which produces less carbon dioxide than coal when burned — the arguments for fracking bans continue to look very weak.

But, the report goes on, there are several possible mechanisms of contamination that drillers and regulators need to treat with a healthy caution: “We found specific instances where one or more of these mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells.” Moreover, given the limitations of the available data, there might well have been instances of contamination that have been so far invisible to regulators.

Though the available evidence doesn’t justify banning the technique — as Maryland and New York have done — it clearly calls for sensibly regulating it. Properly cementing new wells is a must. Ensuring that blowout preventers, critical valves and other safety hardware are in good shape is, as well. Lining pits containing contaminated water can prevent seepage into groundwater. Taking care not to drill too close to another well, particularly old and rickety ones, can reduce the possibility of opening cracks in the subsurface geology that promote the movement of tainted water and chemicals.

Government officials need to pay attention to seemingly mundane considerations, too: Spillage from ancillary operations such as trucking wastewater to containment areas can affect drinking water if accidents happen in the wrong places. Promoting the reuse of fracking water would be a way for drought-prone states with significant fracking activity to conserve water for other uses.”

Early Thoughts on the Trump Administration

The article attached below was recently published on the e-journal web site It is an updated version of a piece I wrote several weeks ago during the U.S. presidential transition period. That earlier piece was posted on the web site of The Fairfax County Times (aka Fairfax Times), which is a local newspaper in Northern Virginia. It was also posted on the web site of the e-journal ECOreport. Karel Beckman, Editor of, requested the update to also include my thoughts on the initial days of the Trump Administration.


Editor’s note by Karel Beckman: The first actions of the new Trump administration raise grave concerns, both with regard to their energy policies and their policies in general, writes Allan R. Hoffman, author of the blog Thoughts of a Lapsed Physicist and formerly with the U.S. Department of Energy. We need to be vigilant to safeguard our democratic system.

Trump administration needs to be watched closely
January 31, 2017
Allan Hoffman

Nine days after Inauguration is much too soon to draw any firm conclusions about our new President and his Administration. Nevertheless, as a breathing, non-brain-dead sentient being, I do have some thoughts.
Like many others in the U.S. and in other countries I am wrestling with my reactions to President Trump’s initial actions and how to respond. I was also touched by Karel Beckman’s thoughtful statement in his latest newsletter: “I know this newsletter is supposed to be about energy. I apologise for this digression. There are more important things in the world than energy. Since I have this platform I wanted to speak out before another darkness descends on us.”
This is exactly the dilemma I am facing with my own blog, Thoughts of a Lapsed Physicist. I generally try to keep it focused on energy and environmental issues where I may have some credibility, but occasionally stray when I believe it would be dishonest not to do so. This is one of those occasions.
I voted for Hillary Clinton to become our next President because I thought she was a better choice than Donald Trump in temperament, experience, and policy. I also thought it was time for the U.S. to have a female president. I did this despite two serious misgivings about Clinton, her handling of the health insurance issue in the early days of her husband’s first term as President, and her failure to respond adequately to the seriousness of her decision to use a private email server while serving as Secretary of State.As a former government official I understand how frustrating dealing with the security systems in government can be, but poor judgements were made by Clinton and her staff, all of whom should have known better. Nevertheless, I was strongly offended by many of Trump’s statements during the Republican primary race and the general election, and saw no way to vote for a man I considered an uninformed and arrogant demagogue.
Mixed signals
Well, enough of my fellow citizens felt differently and Donald Trump is our new President. As a strong believer in Churchill’s 1947 statement on democracy (“Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”), I reluctantly accepted the results of our democratic process.
As I first did in 1968 when Richard Nixon was elected President and I had a fleeting hope that he would govern differently than his record would suggest, I asked myself if that was possible with Trump. However I quickly reminded myself that the Nixon we saw from the late 1940s to 1968 was the Nixon we got, and I concluded that Trump as President would most likely be the bullying, uncouth, self-focused narcissist we had seen over the past 20-30 years. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal and Trump’s apparent lack of core beliefs and mercurial nature suggest a President with unusual flexibility to go in many different directions. We shall see.
Throughout the transition period there were many uncertainties about what to expect from a Trump White House. A few mixed signals emerged from his proposed Cabinet and White House appointments, but in reality we were and are left with many questions. Early indications are not encouraging, as many of his pronouncements and Executive orders, and confirmation testimony by several of his Cabinet nominees, have raised serious concerns about his Administration’s commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the values that our country stands for. Some of this uncertainty and even ‘chaos’ may be attributed to learning on the job by people without prior or extensive experience in government, but serious questions have already been raised about what the next four years will bring. The large number of protests at this early point of the Trump era and the large number of people supporting these protests is a clear indication of serious public concern.
It is disturbing that the White House website now has an entry entitled ‘An American First Energy Plan’ which ignores the issues of global climate change and makes no reference to solar or wind energy or any of the other renewable energy technologies
However, we do already know a few things: the next few years, with a Republican House, Senate and White House, will be a real test of the Republican Party, where party loyalty in a number of cases will come into conflict with national values and interests. Checks and balances among the three branches of the U.S. government, a pillar of our form of democracy, will be tested as never before in my lifetime. Not only was the recent election a test of the American people but the next few years will be a test of our democratic institutions as well.
As a person who devoted the bulk of his professional career (I retired in 2012) to the development and deployment of clean energy technologies (energy efficiency, renewable energy), I am quite concerned about what a Trump Administration will do to U.S. efforts to move as rapidly as possible from an energy system highly dependent on fossil fuels to one increasingly dependent on clean energy. While a President is not a dictator and cannot just do anything he wants to do in our system of checks and balances, he can change emphases, impact budgets, and slow things down.
This is of special concern when he is surrounding himself with climate change deniers or skeptics and, in principle, can count on the support of a Republican House and Senate. His initial appointments raise serious questions about the path he will pursue, especially in light of his oft-repeated statement that global climate change is a ‘hoax’ perpetrated by the Chinese. This is an ignorant and false statement. A President and his appointees who go by such views can do damage in a variety of ways to our national clean energy programs.
It is disturbing that the White House website now has an entry entitled ‘An American First Energy Plan’ which ignores the issues of global climate change and makes no reference to solar or wind energy or any of the other renewable energy technologies. This is a serious misreading of a serious global issue and the inevitable direction global energy systems are taking. Thankfully, other countries, individual states within our Union, and some Republican members of Congress are not likely to follow or support such a damaging path.
I and many others have read or lived through too much of the history of Europe in the 1930s. People said suppression of democracy couldn’t happen in Germany and Italy, and it did
What was of particular concern during the presidential Transition period was the Trump Transition Team’s request to the Department of Energy (DOE), thankfully withdrawn, to provide the names of DOE employees and contractors who worked on climate change issues. For those of us old enough to remember the 1950s this request brought back memories of the McCarthy era when a U.S. Senator abused his position as a Committee Chairman to carry out witch hunts for possible communist sympathizers. It took a while, but responsible government and private sector officials finally opposed such un-American tactics and censured the Senator. The Transition Team’s request for names raises the same concerns about intimidation, and was properly rebuffed by the Department. Nevertheless, the fact that such a request initially made it through the filters of the Transition Team suggested a tendency to suppress opposing views, a precursor to autocratic rule.
This concern is also raised by President Trump’s attitude toward the press. A free press is critical to a functioning democracy, which is always vulnerable to the rise of demagogues. Another critical test for our country will be whether the press is up to its task of probing government intensively and fairly and bringing the results of that probing to the American public. Recent history suggests that the press has not always done its job as well as it should and that the new Administration will resist such probing. In fact, this resistance is already playing out in statements by the President and senior representatives of his Administration, specifically his Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, his Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and his Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway. These early actions represent a war on the press, a dangerous development in a democratic system.
I recognize that some people might see a degree of paranoia in my comments above, but there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about what might happen in the next four, and possibly eight, years. I and many others have read or lived through too much of the history of Europe in the 1930s. People said suppression of democracy couldn’t happen in Germany and Italy, and it did. Speaking up is required. Not speaking up is failing in our obligation and capacity as citizens.