Heat costs going up this winter

WASHINGTON (AP) — Although global oil prices have plummeted, the cost of heating your home this winter will be a lot more expensive, especially for households that depend on fuel oil, the Energy Department predicted Tuesday.

Households that use fuel oil can expect to spend an average of $2,388 – or $449 more than last year – for the October-April heating season. Users of natural gas will pay less than half that, $1,010 on average, still $155 more than last year.

The department’s Energy Information Administration emphasized that the cost figures should be viewed as “a broad guide” comparing this year’s expected heating costs to last winter and said actual expenses can vary depending on region, local weather and the energy efficiency of individual homes.
Higher costs all around

But across the board, whether one uses heating oil, natural gas, propane or electricity, costs will be higher, said the agency.

Users of electricity to heat homes will see the smallest increase, about 10% on average, followed by propane, 11%; natural gas, which is used in more than half of the nation’s homes, 18%; and heating oil, used widely in the Northeast, 23%.

That’s not good news for a country where people have been reeling from a summer of record $4-a-gallon gasoline, a booming credit crisis and a struggling economy.
Increase in shutoffs

Energy experts say some people have yet to pay last winter’s heating bills or the summer’s air conditioning costs. A recent Associated Press survey found that utility shutoffs because of unpaid bills have been running 17% to 22% higher than last year in some parts of the country.

The Energy Department said it expects the price of fuel oil will average $3.90 a gallon, 60 cents more than last winter.

While the cost of crude oil has declined from a high of $147 a barrel in July to just under $88 a barrel for delivery in November, the department said “oil markets are expected to remain relatively tight because of sluggish production growth.” Barring a worse-than-expected global economic decline, prices are likely to edge back up to about $112 a barrel, the agency said.

Partly because of refinery shutdowns caused by the two recent Gulf coast hurricanes, distillate inventories – fuel oil and diesel – are expected to be lower going into the heating season than last year, said the agency. Fuel oil is used by about 7% of the nation’s households.

Natural gas supplies will be plentiful this winter, with storage in November expected to be well above the five-year average, the gas supply industry said earlier this week. And wholesale gas prices have dropped to nearly where they were a year ago after soaring this summer.
Record-high natural gas

Still, the retail cost of natural gas for heating is expected to be 18% higher this winter.

“Much of the natural gas utilities will deliver to households this year was purchased when prices were at or near these historic highs,” said Chris McGill of the American Gas Association, which represents 202 local natural gas utilities across the country. That higher price will, for the most part, be passed on.

Meanwhile, people are using much less oil this year because of high prices at the gasoline pumps and the weakening economy, the Energy Department said.

Total U.S. petroleum consumption this year is expected to average 19.8 million barrels a day, or 830,000 barrels fewer than in 2007, followed by a further 100,000-barrel-a-day decline expected in 2009, according to the EIA report.

On the other hand, the agency said, domestic oil production this year will drop below an average of 5 million barrels a day for the first time since 1946 because of declining fields and the disruptions caused in the Gulf of Mexico by Hurricanes Ike and Gustav.


Open letter to God

Dear God,

The other night, James Dobson’s organization asked all believers to pray for a storm on Thursday night so that the Obama acceptance speech outdoors in Denver would have to be canceled.

I see that You have answered Dr. Dobson’s prayers — except the storm You have sent to earth is not over Denver, but on its way to New Orleans! In fact, You have scheduled it to hit Louisiana at exactly the moment that George W. Bush is to deliver his speech at the Republican National Convention.

Now, heavenly Father, we all know You have a great sense of humor and impeccable timing. To send a hurricane on the third anniversary of the Katrina disaster AND right at the beginning of the Republican Convention was, at first blush, a stroke of divine irony. I don’t blame You, I know You’re angry that the Republicans tried to blame YOU for Katrina by calling it an “Act of God” — when the truth was that the hurricane itself caused few casualties in New Orleans. Over a thousand people died because of the mistakes and neglect caused by humans, not You.

Some of us tried to help after Katrina hit, while Bush ate cake with McCain and twiddled his thumbs. I closed my office in New York and sent my entire staff down to New Orleans to help. I asked people on my website to contribute to the relief effort I organized — and I ended up sending over two million dollars in donations, food, water, and supplies (collected from thousands of fans) to New Orleans while Bush’s FEMA ice trucks were still driving around Maine three weeks later.

But this past Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that the Republicans had begun making plans to possibly postpone the convention. The AP had reported that there were no shelters set up in New Orleans for this storm, and that the levee repairs have not been adequate. In other words, as the great Ronald Reagan would say, “There you go again!”

So the last thing John McCain and the Republicans needed was to have a split-screen on TVs across America: one side with Bush and McCain partying in St. Paul, and on the other side of the screen, live footage of their Republican administration screwing up once again while New Orleans drowns.

So, yes, You have scared the Jesus, Mary and Joseph out of them, and more than a few million of your followers tip their hats to You.

But now it appears that You haven’t been having just a little fun with Bush & Co. It appears that Hurricane Gustav is truly heading to New Orleans and the Gulf coast. We hear You, O Lord, loud and clear, just as we did when Rev. Falwell said You made 9/11 happen because of all those gays and abortions. We beseech You, O Merciful One, not to punish us again as Pat Robertson said You did by giving us Katrina because of America’s “wholesale slaughter of unborn children.” His sentiments were echoed by other Republicans in 2005.

So this is my plea to you: Don’t do this to Louisiana again. The Republicans got your message. They are scrambling and doing the best they can to get planes, trains and buses to New Orleans so that everyone can get out. They haven’t sent the entire Louisiana National Guard to Iraq this time — they are already patrolling the city streets. And, in a nod to I don’t know what, Bush’s head of FEMA has named a man to help manage the federal government’s response. His name is W. Michael Moore. I kid you not, heavenly Father. They have sent a man with both my name AND W’s to help save the Gulf Coast.

So please God, let the storm die out at sea. It’s done enough damage already. If you do this one favor for me, I promise not to invoke your name again. I’ll leave that to the followers of Dr. Dobson and to those gathering this week in St. Paul.

Your faithful servant and former seminarian,

Michael Moore

Gustav worse than Katrina

The mayor of New Orleans has issued a mandatory evacuation order for the entire city, as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the US Gulf Coast.

Ray Nagin said residents of the city’s West Bank should begin moving out at 0800 (1300 GMT) on Sunday, with the East Bank leaving at midday (1700 GMT).

He called it “the storm of the century” and added: “You need to be scared”.

Gustav, which is forecast to strengthen to a Category 5 storm over the Gulf, powered through western Cuba overnight.

Gustav ploughed through Cuba’s Isla de la Juventud, or Isle of Youth, overnight on Saturday before hitting the mainland in Pinar del Rio province, home to Cuba’s lucrative tobacco plantations.

The storm, which has now moved into the Gulf of Mexico, currently has maximum sustained winds of nearly 240km/h (150mph), with even stronger gusts.

At least 300,000 people have been evacuated in Cuba, says the BBC’s correspondent there, Michael Voss. There has been extensive flooding and reports of severe damage where the storm has hit, but no reports of fatalities.

Officials on Isla de la Juventud said that nearly all the island’s roads were washed out and many areas were underwater.

No help

Hours before Mr Nagin spoke, a hurricane watch was put in place along America’s North Gulf coast, from Texas along to the Alabama-Florida border.

The BBC’s Kevin Connolly, in New Orleans, says Mr Nagin spoke in “passionate and desperate” terms, telling a televised news conference the storm was “so powerful” and growing more powerful every day.

“I’m not sure we’ve seen anything like it,” he told reporters at City Hall.

Mr Nagin said Gustav – expected to make landfall on Monday or Tuesday – was more powerful than Hurricane Katrina.

That storm, which hit New Orleans in 2005, killed some 1,800 people and caused hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage.

Addressing anyone considering riding out Gustav, Mr Nagin said: “I have news for you – that would be one of the biggest mistakes of your life”.

The mayor said he was aiming for a 100% evacuation, which extends to members of the emergency services – fewer than 50 city workers will remain in the city.

Mr Nagin described the threat facing New Orleans in stark terms, calling Gustav “the mother of all storms” and urging people to follow the evacuation order.

Mr Nagin that there would be no emergency services to help anyone who chose to remain in the city.

“If you are stubborn enough, if you are not taking this as seriously as we need you to take it, and if you decide to stay; you are on your own.”

The mayor, who was in office when New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said those who stayed would almost certainly be stranded in a flooded city.
Predicted route of Hurricane Gustav (30 August 2008)

“Anyone who decides to stay, I’ll say it like I said it before Katrina: make sure you have an axe, because you will be carving your way, or busting your way out of your attic to get on your roof with waters that you will be surrounded with in this event,” he said.

“So anyone who’s thinking of staying, rethink it, get out of town.”

Our correspondent says that thousands of people were already beginning to leave the city before the evacuation order was announced, joining a continuous stream of vehicles heading north.

Meanwhile, Republican party presidential candidate John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin announced they would travel to Mississippi on Sunday to observe storm preparations there.

The hurricane has already claimed the lives of more than 80 people in the Caribbean.

It has swept through Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica over the past week, killing dozens of people and causing widespread damage.

It has strengthened rapidly from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane, and is expected to grow to a Category 5 storm – the maximum on the scale – as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico.


Be afraid. Be VERY afraid. Blackwater Issues Mercenary Call For Hurricane Gustav

Email disseminated 29 August 2008 from Blackwater Worldwide


Security for Hurricane Gustav

Blackwater is compiling a list of qualified security personnel for possible deployment into areas affected by Hurricane Gustav.
Applicants must meet all items listed under the respective Officer posting and be US citizens. Contract length is TBD.

Law Enforcement Officers (all criteria must apply)

1. Current sworn [may be full time, part time or reserve]
2. With arrest powers
3. Armed status (must indicate Armed and/or Semi Auto. Revolver only not accepted) expiration must be greater than 60 days out
4. Departmental credentials (not just a badge)

Armed Security Officers (all criteria must apply)

Only from the following states: OR, WA, CA, NV, NM, AZ, TX, FL, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, IL, OK

1. Current/active/licensed/registered armed security officer
2. All training verification [unarmed and armed certificates of completion]
3. Current state issued face card indicting armed status [expiration must be greater than 60 days out]

Applicants will be required to provide an electronic copy of the above required credentials/documents, recent photo within the last six months with response to this AD prior to consideration for deployment.

Personnel who meet the above qualifications and are interested, please send resumes and files to: 25505@blackwaterusa2.hrmdirect.com.

New Orleans considers evacuation as Gustav looms

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Three years after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Louisiana coast, New Orleans residents on Wednesday again faced the prospect of an evacuation as Tropical Storm Gustav loomed.

Not since Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which followed in its wake, have residents faced government orders to evacuate their homes and businesses. Many are still struggling to rebuild their lives in a city famed for its jazz clubs and Mardi Gras festival.

On Wednesday, two days before the third anniversary of Katrina’s August 29, 2005, landfall, Gustav drifted away from Haiti and the Dominican Republic after killing 22 people. It could hit the U.S. Gulf Coast around Monday.

The storm was expected to strengthen to a hurricane over the Gulf’s warm waters, and U.S. landfall could be anywhere from the Florida panhandle to Texas.

But Gustav’s most likely track is directly toward New Orleans.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal put New Orleans residents on alert, saying evacuations could begin as early as Friday.

City officials said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin would order an evacuation if Gustav looked likely to come ashore with wind speeds over 111 miles per hour (178 kph) — a Category 3 hurricane or higher on the 5-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

“It’s still too early to tell exactly what it’s going to do,” city emergency preparedness director Jerry Sneed said.

Nagin, the city’s public face during Katrina and Rita, cut short his trip to the Democratic National Convention in Denver to return home.


During Katrina and Rita, many city residents ignored mandatory evacuation orders and remained to guard their homes and businesses from looters.

Sneed said residents would not be physically forced to leave their homes during an evacuation order — which would be given about 30 hours before the storm comes ashore.

But they assume responsibility if they stay, Sneed said.

“If a tree comes through the roof and buries them underneath there, they’re going to be on their own,” Sneed said.

Sneed said he was confident that floodgates and pumping stations that failed during the 2005 storms would bear up.

“The citizens should not be worried about the flooding again,” he said.

Storm levees broke under the onslaught of Katrina in 2005, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans and killing almost 1,500 people in the city and along the Gulf coast. The hurricane caused at least $80 billion in wind and flood damage. Some estimates put damages as high as $125 billion.

Jindal said he had activated the state’s catastrophic action team and could declare a state of emergency as early as Thursday. He also has put the Louisiana National Guard on alert.

Jindal, elected in October 2007, is hoping to avoid heavy criticism that fell on his predecessor, Kathleen Blanco, for not reacting swiftly after Katrina.

Federal agencies and the New Orleans city government also faced the wrath of residents over their response to the disaster. President George W. Bush himself was severely criticized for his role, including his initial decision to view the devastated city only from the air.

After Katrina, chaos broke out in New Orleans as stranded flood victims waited days for help. Many residents who fled the hurricane have not returned.

Jindal said that if the threat continues, the state could make 700 buses available for assisted evacuations, which could begin on Friday for people who need help due to medical or other conditions.

Amtrak trains were standing by to move 7,000 elderly residents to safety, Sneed said.