Boom Time Again For U.S. Oil Industry, Thanks To OPEC

A rig digs deep underground into oil-rich shale in North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch. Today, 49 rigs are operating in North Dakota up, from just 28 a year ago.

Amy Sisk/Prairie Public Broadcasting

hide caption

toggle caption

Amy Sisk/Prairie Public Broadcasting

Oil producers across the country are watching to see what OPEC does at its meeting in Vienna this week, since the cartel of oil-exporting countries has recently played a big role in turning around a two-year U.S. slump.

There are more than twice as many U.S. rigs drilling for oil as a year ago, a turnaround that’s felt keenly in places like the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota. Cigarettes and chewing tobacco are flying off the shelves of the gas station Angela Neuman manages in the town of Williston.

“Now there are so many new people, I cannot get a handle on that,” she laughs.

A year ago the price of oil was so low that it made drilling less profitable. Production dropped and companies in North Dakota and elsewhere made painful layoffs.

Across Williston, at the Winterton Suites hotel, sometimes there was only a guest or two, and the price plunged from $300 a night to the bargain rate of $100.

“We almost actually thought we were going to lose it for a little bit,” says Winterton’s manager Chelsey Crozier.

Occupancy has ticked back up this spring.

“Of course, [it’s] not as crazy as it was,” she says, “but it’s doing better.”

In the dizzying boom-bust cycle of the oil industry, things were crazy busy here a few years back, when a barrel of oil was around $100. But that led to a surge in production that flooded the market, pushing the price of oil down. That’s when OPEC stepped in to boost prices by cutting its own production, and Russia followed suit.

“Effectively, these cuts that were put into place last fall are being filled in by other countries,” including the U.S., says Eugene Graner, with Heartland Investor Capital Management in Bismarck.

U.S. production has risen to 9.3 million barrels of oil per day, close to the level before prices plummeted.

When OPEC meets Thursday, it’s expected to keep its cuts in place. Graner says that would help ensure this mini-boom in the U.S. keeps going, though he does not foresee another spike in the price of oil.

President Trump has promised to unleash the energy industry by lifting all kinds of regulations. His full rollback has not happened yet. But energy analyst Trisha Curtis with PetroNerds says Trump’s move to approve the Dakota Access Pipeline is helpful.

“That gives sort of a green light,” she says. “If you were a little hesitant on the Bakken on activity or development, that certainly is a game changer.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline is slated to come online next week. It will make transporting Bakken oil cheaper, and allow it to more easily reach a new market in the Gulf Coast.

In North Dakota, this means a lot more jobs will be needed to produce that oil. At the Job Service North Dakota office in Williston, customer service representatives are busy taking applications.

“Over 150 jobs we posted this week,” says manager Cindy Sanford.

That’s more jobs than there are local workers, she says, and the openings keep coming.

Amy Sisk reports for Prairie Public Broadcasting and forInside Energy,a public media collaboration focused on America’s energy issues. You can follow her@amyrsisk.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Eating Chocolate, A Little Each Week, May Lower The Risk Of A Heart Flutter

The latest evidence that a chocolate habit may lower your risk of heart disease: A study finds people who ate small amounts of chocolate several times a week had a lower risk of atrial fibrillation.

Daniel Fishel for NPR

There’s a rich body of evidence that links chocolate to heart health.

Now comes a new study that finds people who consume small amounts of chocolate each week have a lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation, a heart condition characterized by a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

“The rate of atrial fibrillation was 20 percent lower for people consuming two to six servings [of chocolate] per week” compared with people who ate chocolate less than once per month, explains study author Elizabeth Mostofsky, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The findings are published in the journal BMJ Heart.

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, can increase the risk of heart failure, stroke and cognitive impairment. It affects over 33 million people around the globe, and an estimated 25 percent of adults will develop the condition during their lifetime, according to an editorial published alongside the paper.

To assess how chocolate consumption can influence the risk of AFib, Mostofsky and her collaborators analyzed data from a Danish study the includes 55,000 people. All of the participants had completed detailed questionnaires about their lifestyles, everything from exercise habits to what they ate and drank, including how much chocolate they consumed.

“These people were followed over time,” explains Mostofsky. “So we were able to identify all of the diagnoses of atrial fibrillation.”

As we’ve reported, prior studies have found that habitual chocolate eaters seem to have lower risks of heart disease. Researchers have found that the compounds in cocoa, known as polyphenols, can improve vascular health by increasing blood flow. Cocoa compounds may also help suppress inflammation.

The rule of thumb is that dark chocolate is a better choice than milk chocolate, since dark chocolate typically contains more cocoa solids.

Many people in Denmark, where the study took place, typically consume milk chocolate. So Mostofsky says she wasn’t sure she’d find such a significant reduction in risk.

“We were pleasantly surprised that — despite the fact that most of the chocolate may have [had] relatively low cocoa concentrations — we were still able to see robust findings,” she says.

Now, these findings are not the green light to add lots of candy bars to your diet. Candy comes with lots of sugar and packs in calories, too. So — though this may seem obvious — moderation is key.

“If you’re a chocolate lover, eat a nice, one-ounce piece of chocolate,” says Tom Sherman, a professor at the Georgetown University Medical Center, who was not involved in the study.

The reduction in AFib was highest for people who consumed two to 6 servings of chocolate a week. But people who consumed just one serving a week had a reduced risk of the condition as well.

This study is not the final word on how chocolate consumption may influence heart health. And it’s possible that the reduction in AFib risk found in the chocolate eaters could be explained by other factors, too.

For instance, the accompanying editorial points out that the chocolate eaters in the study “had less hypertension, less diabetes and lower blood pressure.” Also, the chocolate eaters “had higher levels of education, which is often associated with improved health status.”

But the editorial concludes that regardless of these limitations, “the findings are interesting and warrant further consideration.”

Indeed, lots of researchers are involved in nailing down the potential health benefits of cocoa. As we’ve reported, scientists are now studying whether a “chocolate pill” made of cocoa extract can boost health.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Trump Wants Families On Food Stamps To Get Jobs. The Majority Already Work

Some 55 percent of families with kids that receive food stamp benefits were earning wages. The problem is, those wages aren't enough to actually live on.

Whitney Hayward/Press Herald/Getty Images

When President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, unveiled the administration’s budget blueprint earlier this week, which calls for significant cuts to food stamps, he noted that the aim of the budget was to get people working.

“If you’re on food stamps, and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you’re on disability insurance and you’re not supposed to be — if you’re not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work,” Mulvaney said Tuesday.

But the reality is, many people (44 percent) who rely on SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as food stamps is now known — have at least one person in the family working, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And when it comes to families on SNAP with kids, a majority — 55 percent – were bringing home wages, according to USDA. The problem is, those wages aren’t enough to actually live on.

That jibes with what Feeding America, a network of U.S. food banks, found in 2014 when it issued Hunger in America, a comprehensive report on who uses food pantries and why. It found that 54 percent of the families who turn to pantries to help put food on the table have at least one member working – and that rate was much higher, 71 percent, for households with kids.

In fact, SNAP already requires able-bodied adults without children to find a job within three months and work at least 20 hours a week within three months or lose their benefits. All told, about 42 million people receive SNAP.

Ironically, many of the working poor who rely on SNAP benefits to get enough to eat are actually employed in the food industry. As we’ve reported, an analysis from University of California, Berkeley Labor Center found that 52 percent of fast-food workers are enrolled in, or have their families enrolled in, one or more public assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Overall, Trump’s budget proposal would slash $191 billion from SNAP’s budget over the next decade. But many of the states where residents rely most heavily on food stamps are also states where support for the president is strongest.

For instance, in West Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana, 1 out of 5 residents receive SNAP benefits, according to an analysis from the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. All three states voted overwhelmingly for Trump last November.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

NBA Says 2019 All-Star Game Will Be In N.C. After Partial 'Bathroom Bill' Repeal

The Charlotte Hornets, who play in the city’s Time Warner Cable Arena, will host the 2019 NBA All-Star game.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The NBA has announced that Charlotte, N.C., will host the 2019 All-Star Game, after the state partially repealed its controversial law that limited civil rights protections for LGBT people.

The professional basketball league moved last year’s All-Star game from Charlotte, where it was originally scheduled, to protest the state’s HB2 law.

“While we understand the concerns of those who say the repeal of HB2 did not go far enough, we believe the recent legislation eliminates the most egregious aspects of the prior law,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.

Today’s decision has drawn criticism from some transgender advocates, who say the state is still not providing adequate protections. “This is a disgrace from the NBA but not surprising,” Chase Strangio, a staff attorney at the ACLU working on LGBT issues, wrote on Twitter. “Lessons in why you should never trust corporations as your allies.”

HB2 is also known as the “bathroom bill” because it said that in public institutions, transgender people must use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate, rather than their gender identity.

The law created an intense backlash, ultimately costing the state an estimated $3.7 billion after businesses pulled out and events moved elsewhere.

In March, lawmakers came up with a compromise to partially repeal the measure – but “the deal prohibits local communities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances for at least three years,” as NPR’s Camila Domonoske reported. “That will block cities from imposing their own protections for LGBT people.”

The NBA commissioner said that the league would work with the Charlotte Hornets to “apply a set of equality principles” so that the game and other associated events “will proceed with open access and anti-discrimination policies.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, applauded the decision: “Hosting the All-Star Game will pump millions of dollars into our economy and provide an incredible showcase for our state, but it will also remind us of the work that remains to ensure equal rights and protections for all North Carolinians.”

Michael Jordan, the legendary basketball player and Charlotte Hornets chairman, said he was “thrilled” about the announcement and emphasized that it would have a “tremendous economic impact to our community.”

Charlotte has been the focus of the state’s debate over the HB2 law. As Camila reported, “the city passed a measure protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from being discriminated against by businesses. It included a provision allowing trans people to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender.”

State lawmakers then convened and rapidly passed the HB2 law, ultimately overriding the Charlotte city measure.

Other events that fled during the controversy are slowly coming back to the state; last month, the NCAA announced that it will bring back college sports events, though it said it was doing so “reluctantly,” as Camila reported.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Episode 773: Slot Flaw Scofflaws

Slot Machines at Caesar’s Palace Lake Tahoe.

Nik Wheeler/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Nik Wheeler/Getty Images

A few years ago, a rumor started going around the casino world. There was a crew of Russians hitting up casinos across the U.S. They’d roll up, find their favorite slot machine, play for a couple hours, and walk out with thousands of dollars. They didn’t lose.

All of it was caught on camera, but there was no evidence that these men ever physically tampered with the slot machines. There was, however, something unusual about the way the men played: They always kept one hand buried in their pockets or in the bags they carried with them.

In July of 2014, Ron Flores, who oversees surveillance at the Pechanga Casino in California, witnessed one of these men in action. He called the California Department of Justice to pick him up. But Ron was not the only one who wanted to get to the bottom of it. So many casinos had gotten hit that the FBI had opened its own investigation into the case. The trail takes investigators deep inside the slot machine itself, and into some of the core vulnerabilities in machines all around us.

Today on the show, how the Russians figured out how to never lose at slot machines. And how the FBI cracked the case. It’s a crime caper wrapped in some hard core computer science wrapped in hundred dollar bills.

Here’s the Wired article by Brendan Koerner that inspired this story.

Music: “Stinkin’,” “Talk Is Cheap,” and “Hangin’.”Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts or PocketCast.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

President Trump's Big Wall Is Now Just 74 Miles Long In His Budget Plan

A farmer passes along a border fence that divides his property in Mission, Texas. The state alone shares more than 1,200 miles of border with Mexico.

Eric Gay/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Eric Gay/AP

After making the need for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border a central campaign theme, President Trump has asked Congress for just $1.6 billion to start building 74 miles of barriers. Texas alone shares more than 1,200 miles of border with Mexico.

If Congress approves the current request, 14 miles of old fencing in the San Diego sector would be replaced, and 60 miles of new structures would be built in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas — the region with the heaviest illegal traffic.

With the 74 miles of new barriers and 654 miles of existing border fence, more than one-third of the southwest border would be covered.

The request is far less than the $21.6 billion the Homeland Security Department had estimated that wall construction would cost. Still, Trump’s request works out to $21.6 million a mile, or nearly $13,000 a yard — for what’s expected to be a steel and concrete barrier.

The White House has said that the wall will take years to build, and that it plans to ask for additional construction funding in later years. Still, the administration lowered its ambitions when skeptics in Congress questioned the cost and effectiveness of a barrier on the border.

Some members of Congress not only oppose the wall but say it would be imprudent to begin building while plans for the project are still incomplete.

“It continues to be irresponsible to start a multi-billion dollar construction project that has ignited growing concern from members of Congress … without knowing what it costs and where it is actually needed,” Sen. Claire McCaskill said in a statement on Wednesday. The Missouri Democrat is ranking minority member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, has been critical of the border wall plan, saying that in some areas other security measures such as additional Border Patrol personnel would make more sense.

“When I hear the president talk about the wall,” Cornyn said, “I think he is speaking metaphorically.”

Border Patrol officials have asserted they’re in favor of some new wall construction so long as it’s part of a “tiered approach” that includes more agents and surveillance technology.

The president’s fiscal year 2018 budget request also includes 500 new Border Patrol agents and $1 billion for new technology such as upgraded communications equipment.

Proponents of the wall say such barriers are needed to prevent the illegal transit of narcotics and humans.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has assured Congress his department does not want a barrier “from sea to shining sea,” saying it might not make sense to put a border wall in some areas.

Meanwhile, U.S. taxpayers would foot the bill to begin construction. Trump had declared on the campaign trail that he would make Mexico pay for the wall but Mexico continues to adamantly refuse Trump’s insistence that it reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the cost of the wall.

Ildefonso Guajardo, Mexico’s economy secretary, told NPR last month that President Enrique Peña Nieto “has been loud and clear — there is no way Mexico will pay for the wall.”

Customs and Border Protection plans to announce its selection of prototypes for new border wall construction later this summer.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

CBO: Republicans' AHCA Would Leave 23 Million More Uninsured

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan holds up a copy of the American Health Care Act during a news conference with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy R-Calif., (left) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) outside Ryan’s office in the U.S. Capitol on March 7.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The revised Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will leave 23 million more people uninsured over the next decade than if that act, also known as Obamacare, were to remain in place. The GOP bill would also reduce the deficit by $119billion.

That’s what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported on Wednesday in its latest score of the American Health Care Act. The CBO’s assessment raises potential concerns about the bill. The agency reports that the bill could destabilize individual insurance markets in some states, leaving unhealthy Americans unable to buy insurance. The CBO also notes that the AHCA could mean some Americans would buy coverage that doesn’t cover “major medical risks.” Because of those policies’ skimpy coverage, the CBO doesn’t count those people as insured in this report.

The fate of the bill rests in part on this score, as House Republicans passed their most recent version of the bill without waiting for the CBO to report the bill’s estimated price tag. Three weeks after passing the bill, however, they have not sent the bill on to the Senate yet, because budget rules dictate that if its deficit savings did not reach $2 billion (and that $2 billion had to come from particular spending categories), the bill would be dead upon arrival in the upper chamber.

The deficit reduction in the latest version of the bill represents a decline from previous versions. When the CBO first scored the AHCA, it said the plan would save $337 billion over 10 years. Later revisions reduced those savings to $150 billion.

By far the biggest savings would come from Medicaid, which serves low-income Americans. That program would face $884 billion in cuts. Cutbacks in subsidies for individual health insurance would likewise help cut $276 billion. But those are offset in large part by bigger costs, including the repeal of many of Obamacare’s taxes.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

What We Know About The Suspect In The Manchester Arena Bombing

British police have identified Salman Abedi, 22, as the bomber behind an attack on an Ariana Grande concert Monday in Manchester, England. Abedi died in the bombing, which also claimed the lives of at least 22 victims and injured dozens more — many of whom were children.

Law enforcement in the U.K. continued to expand its investigation Wednesday, citing a wider terror network and arresting at least six people in connection with the attack.

“Clearly this was a pretty sophisticated and powerful bomb,” a high-ranking Western government official told NPR, explaining that officers believe Abedi received help in the attack. “Our assessment is he did not have the skills to build such a bomb, and the conclusion is there is a bombmaker out there.”

Greater Manchester Police say Abedi — a British national whose father, Ramadan, comes from Libya — was part of a wider terror network.

His family has come under scrutiny, as well: Libya’s RADA counterterrorism force issued a statement on Facebook saying it has arrested and interrogated Abedi’s younger brother, Hashim. In the statement, the force says the 20-year-old engineering student had been planning to launch an attack of his own in Tripoli, and that after his arrest Tuesday night, Hashim confessed to ties with the Islamic State and knowledge of his brother’s planned attack in Manchester.

The Associated Press reports the brothers’ father, Ramadan Abedi was also arrested in Libya, but did not offer a reason. In an interview with the AP before his arrest, Ramadan said his 23-year-old son, Ismail, had been arrested Tuesday, as well.

“We don’t believe in killing innocents. This is not us,” Ramadan Abedi told the news service. “We aren’t the ones who blow up ourselves among innocents. We go to mosques. We recite Quran, but not that.”

Ramadan Abedi fled to the U.K. in the early 1990s to escape the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, according to The Guardian. The British newspaper reports that in 2001 he returned briefly to the country, where he fought Gadhafi’s soldiers as part of the al-Qaida-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting group.

A Libyan neighbor says the elder Abedi returned again to Libya in 2011 after Gadhafi’s government fell.

Salman Abedi, for his part, lived for years with family in a modest red-brick house in the Fallowfield section of Manchester, a middle- to working-class neighborhood. Though his neighbors tell NPR they did not know him well, some of them recall an incident in which a local resident complained to police several years ago that members of the Abedi family had shown signs of radicalization.

Police had followed up on the complaint at the time and visited the house.

The senior Western official tells NPR that Salman Abedi had only returned from a trip to Libya in the past several days.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)