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

Renewable is not Sustainable if it’s Industrial

Renewable is not Sustainable
The electricity industry has embraced the cause of renewable energy sources, primarily wind and sun, so that it can pour gallons of greenwash over its installations and run TV commercials about how it’s helping to save the planet. But the industrialization of renewable energy sources is little  more sustainable than are fossil-fuel-burning plants.
For example: dozens and dozens of multi-billion-dollar solar projects haven been proposed for the desert southwest, where, of course, there is lots of sunshine. But most of the proposals involve using the concentrated heat from the sun to run boilers. A typical proposal, for Amargosa Valley, Nevada, would require 1.3 billion gallons of water per year. Water, as you may know, is not plentiful in deserts.
[“Alternative Energy Projects Stumble on a Need for Water” — The New York Times.]
(It is not widely recognized how thirsty the electricity generating industry is. Providing power to the typical American home requires three times as much water as the household consumes for all other purposes.)
There are many other difficulties attending desert solar plants. You need water, as well, for the hundreds of people needed to build and maintain the plants. You need to build huge transmission lines through thousands of back yards to get the power thus produced to market.
As with solar, the industrial approach to wind energy is to erect giant wind turbines where there is lots of wind and transmit it to market via the grid. First, nothing that requires the manufacture of enormous machines and the erection of huge installations can be regarded as sustainable. Second, the highly variable output of wind turbines poses some extremely difficult problems for the managers of the grid.
What would be both renewable and sustainable when it comes to energy? The answer is simple, though not easy. We have to start, right now, to produce the energy we need where we need it. We need, in other words, to de-industrialize electricity, if we are going to keep on having any.
[For much more on this see also Chapter Six, “Grid Lock,” of my book Brace for Impact now available.]

The electricity industry has embraced the cause of renewable energy sources, primarily wind and sun, so that it can pour gallons of greenwash over its installations and run TV commercials about how it’s helping to save the planet. But the industrialization of renewable energy sources is little  more sustainable than are fossil-fuel-burning plants. Continue reading

Hope Flickers

It’s the kind of national inititative, the kind of muscular, frontal assault on one of the most dangerous problems of our time, that could actually give reason for hope.

It’s a massive program announced this week to install in the coming year 100,000 gas-fired household electric power plants in homes (where they will also heat the water) across the country. Continue reading

What’s That Sucking Sound?

What’s That? A Sucking Sound?
Don’t take my word for it, or that of Brace for Impact: one of the foremost energy economists in the world says that “the world is heading for a catastrophic energy crunch that could cripple a global economic recovery because most of the major oil fields in the world have passed their peak production. [T]he public and many governments appeared to be oblivious to the fact that the oil on which modern civilisation depends is running out far faster than previously predicted and that global production is likely to peak in about 10 years – at least a decade earlier than most governments had estimated.”
That’s the bad news; there’s worse. But first the bona fides: Dr Fatih Birol is the chief economist at the  International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, which assesses energy markets for the 30 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). His views appeared in the British newspaper The Independent [Warning: Oil supplies are running out fast] on August 3.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/warning-oil-supplies-are-running-out-fast-1766585.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/25/opinion/25lynch.html?bl&ex=1251345600&en=f0a941c577e3a21f&ei=5087%0A
His views made headlines in Europe, Asia, even Canada. But US newspapers did not mention them until the New York Times ran a mocking op-ed piece by big-oil apologist Michael Lynch [Peak Oil is a Waste of Energy] ridiculing Dr. Firol and all of the world’s scientists who have come to the conclusion that there is not enough oil to satisfy preneially increasing demand, forever. Lynch and his ilk cannot, of course, claim that oil will never run out; the standards of public discourse will have to deteriorate a little more before that becomes acceptable. They rely on arguing that it won’t for a while yet.
But like their brethren the climate-change deniers, the peak-oil deniers have to ignore the avalanche of evidence from saner scientists. Such as those who, for the IEA, have just completed the first detailed assessment of more than 800 oil fields in the world, covering three quarters of global reserves, and have  found that most of the biggest fields have already peaked and that the rate of decline in oil production is now running at nearly twice the pace as calculated just two years ago.
Demand, meanwhile, continues to accelerate, especially as China emerges from recession.  According to Dr. Birol, even if demand remained steady, the world would have to find the oil equivalent of four Saudi Arabias to maintain production, and six Saudi Arabias if it is to keep up with the expected increase in demand between now and 2030.
But if you are not inclined to have confidence in a guy with a foreign-sounding name — he might be a Muslim! — speaking from France, of all places, then let me offer you this conclusion reached by the United States Joint Forces Command in its stretegic report “Joint Operating Environment 2008 published last November:
“By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD… The implications for future conflict are ominous..”
http://www.jfcom.mil/newslink/storyarchive/2008/JOE2008.pdf
In other words the Department of Defense is telling its commanders, with respect to peak oil, to brace for impact.

Don’t take my word for it, or that of Brace for Impact: one of the foremost energy economists in the world says  “the world is heading for a catastrophic energy crunch that could cripple a global economic recovery because most of the major oil fields in the world have passed their peak production. Continue reading

Shorting Out

Now Russia, as well as South Africa, is on the list of industrial countries whose electric grid is on the verge of collapse (as explained in detail in Brace for Impact Chapter Six: Grid Lock). An exploding transformer at a major Siberian hydro-electric plant has taken out three of ten turbines and has moved the whole region closer to the edge of blackout.

[See “Accident at Russian hydroelectric plant kills 8.” — The Associated Press]

Read past the account of the accident to get the real news. Continue reading