Whistling Past the Oil Field

World energy demand is skyrocketing. Supplies are running out. Official response: not to worry.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says the world is going to need one-third more energy, primarily from oil and coal, by 2035, as demand from China, India and the Middle East continues its dramatic growth. Most objective students of the world’s fossil fuels do not believe that the sources of that energy exist.

In its annual report titled World Energy Outlook, the IEA said “It is hard to overstate the growing importance of China in global energy markets.” Continue reading

Risky Business: Another Well Blows

Little noticed in the shadow of the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil eruption, the blowout of a natural-gas well in Pennsylvania last Thursday — after the failure of its blowout preventer — spewed gas and toxic chemicals for 16 hours before being brought under control. A single spark near the scene could have turned the event into a headline-grabbing conflagration that would have brought unwelcome attention to another unfamiliar new technology being used to get at previously inaccessible gas deposits. Continue reading

Signs and Portents Ignored

Deepwater Horizon on FireThe more things change, etc. Now in the aftermath of the Gusher in the Gulf (more delicately branded as the “Gulf Oil Spill,” as if it were more like a teacup knocked askew than an ocean destroyed) the people who did it, and the people whose job it was to prevent it — the same people who previously told everyone that it could not happen — are shrugging their shoulders, rolling their eyes and saying, “Who knew?”

In the aftermath, it is becoming clear who knew, as The New York Times recently reported: Continue reading

The Seven Greatest Myths About the Gulf Oil Spill

It’s a Spill. The word spill means that a portion of a finite amount of stuff in a container is inadvertently transferred to another surface. But in the Gulf, toxic oil from a deposit so large its volume cannot even be estimated is erupting into the water column a mile below the surface at a rate so large it has not yet been authoritatively estimated. If this is a spill, then the eruption of  Mt. St. Helens was a burp. Continue reading

Troubled Oil on Gulf Waters

The elegant blonde lady who appears in all the Exxon commercials on TV should now appear with scorched hair, blackened face and wet clothes. It’s the least she could do after years of assuring us that, among other things, to worry about the safety of offshore oil drilling is soooo 1990. With our technology and expertise, the industry murmurs daily, nothing can go wrongongongongong. Continue reading

Hope Springs: Can a Fuel Cell Save Us?

It was the morning of the third day of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. As his army maneuvered into place for what history would remember as Pickett’s Charge, General Robert E. Lee turned to his most trusted subordinate, General James Longstreet, and said, “This could be the day.” He could see victory for the besieged Confederacy, just a few hundred yards away, up the deceptively gentle rise of Seminary Ridge, just beyond the bristling blue line of Federal muskets, bayonets and cannon that waited there.

Today, in the 11th hour of the American Republic as it confronts the absolute limits of its supplies of energy from fossil fuels, with no preparations made for the inevitable and catastrophic encounter with those limits, I will say to you that today could be the day. Today, we just might set a new course toward a better future. For someone who has spent several years writing about the inevitability of an impending crash of the industrial age, this stirring of hope is quite unfamiliar. I had better explain. Continue reading

Oil: Looking a Little Peaked

When our car’s odometer shows us two or three zeros in a row, we tend for a short time to think about its welfare over the long term, not just how much gas is left in the tank. How well have we been maintaining it, what is its life expectancy now, what are the probabilities of major problems? Then, usually, we go back to sticking the key in the ignition and filling the tank.

When changing the calendar shows us a zero in the year’s designation, something similar happens, or should. We tend to review, briefly, the longer-term trends in the country, in our health, in our prospects. Such a review in 2010 brings us face to face with the imminence of a catastrophic global event: peak oil. Continue reading

A Frack Job for Marcellus

It’s not quite the infinite-energy-from-tap-water-via-cold-fusion miracle that industrialists have been assuring us is just around the corner — the sudden scientific panacea that would painlessly and profitably avert our rush toward energy catastrophe. But hydraulic fracturing, invented by Halliburton and beloved of Exxon, is close. Continue reading

Drill, Baby, WAIT!

The company calls itself AltaRock, which translates roughly from the Nordish as “getting high on rocks.” With a $6 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department and $30 million in venture capital (translation: “lottery ticket”), the firm set out to show the world how to turn true geothermal energy — that is, the heat in deep rock — into a major source of alternative, renewable energy. On Friday, it showed the world how to abandon a project and make itself virtually invisible. Continue reading

Circuits Breaking

Among the industrial systems being strained to and beyond their limits by the tensions between growing demand and limited supplies is the electrical network of every industrialized country. Brazil is just the latest to experience the consequences of breaking circuit breakers. Continue reading