Betting on coal in Mississippi • Additional safety for gas and oil workers not needed, says oil firms • Texas slow to introduce safety regulations for handling fertilizer • India's urbanization slowing • Rural homeless vets face unique challenges
Mississippi is betting on a new way to process coal, and they’re betting big. Huge, in fact. Construction is underway for the costliest power plant ever built in the U.S. Way over its initial $1.8 billion, the new estimate for the completed project is $5.8 billion. That’s $6,800/kilowatt compared to $1,000/kilowatt for a natural gas burning plant.
The builders of the plant, the Southern Company, say it will use cutting edge technology to extract nitrogen and hydrogen, which will then be burned to produce low-cost electricity. Skeptics say the technology won’t work and point to the fact that natural gas is already a low-cost power solution.
One hundred thirty-eight oil and gas workers died on the job in 2012. Yet requiring additional federal work-safety regulations would be “like prescribing painkillers for a paper cut,” says an Oklahoma City oil executive.
Oil and gas wells are exempt from “process safety management standards,” which the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration applies to other industries. Oil field deaths reached a 10-year high in 2012 as production increased.
Oil and gas extraction workers have a fatality rate of 24.2 per 100,000 workers. That’s 1400% higher than the chemical manufacturing death rate of 1.7, according to data from Texas A&M.
OSHA tried to expand worker safety of oil and gas workers in the 1990s but backed down. The agency is looking at its rules again.
The Houston Chronicle reports that more than a dozen oil companies and trade groups oppose the proposed rule changes.
Also from the Houston Chronicle, a year after the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, the state House is holding its first committee meeting on possible changes in safety regulations. The blast killed 15 people and injured hundreds. But lawmakers say they are skeptical of changes in regulation and want to make any changes carefully.
Slower economic growth in India’s cities, coupled with programs designed to alleviate rural poverty, are reducing the rate of the nation’s urbanization, reports the Wall Street Journal. Economists are worried that the trend will harm India’s long-term economic prospects.
The story follows two men who left their rural farms for jobs in the city, only to return when urban wages didn’t keep pace with inflation and they started falling behind.
Economists quoted in the story tie India’s prosperity to urban development like information technology, financial services and manufacturing. But urban worker conditions sound less than appealing:
The hardships and squalor of big-city life are another factor in migrants' decisions to go back to the village—or simply never to leave in the first place. Planning, infrastructure and housing in India's metropolises remain deficient, discouraging urbanization. …
[Rural migrant] Ram Singh's first home in Delhi was a 56-square-foot room that he shared with four or five other migrants. In a study released in February, the McKinsey Global Institute found that such economic deprivation is no less severe in India's cities than in the countryside.
Government programs designed to alleviate rural poverty are making rural communities more attractive. Some economists argue those programs are hurting economic expansion by keeping more workers on the farm.
It’s an interesting argument. Should the Indian government make rural life less attractive so migrants will settle for overcrowding, low wages and less opportunity in urban work?
“It’s a problem of geographic isolation,” said Eric Oberdorfer, research associate at the council. “Because many live far away from [Veterans Affairs Department] offices and other resources, they can’t access them, or they might not even be aware that programs exist.”
The VA is trying to help homeless vets, but not all services are reaching out into the isolated areas. The administration is giving out housing vouchers, for example, but only 3% of the 60,000 vouchers have gone to rural VA medical centers.