Science Global Energy Flux
posted by April 30 at 11:50 AMon
I’ve tried to stay out of this little fight, but I have to jump in here.
(As a prelude, I think both Erica and Annie are smart and all three candidates energy policies are an embarrassment. As an example, corn-based biofuels are a fucking farce.)
And she addresses some of the actual reasons gas prices are at record highs: Americaís refusal to dip into oil reserves, and OPECís stranglehold on oil production.
1. The strategic petroleum reserve is intended for, and should remain for, genuine supply shocks—sudden losses of major sources of oil. A nuclear war in the Mideast, a revolution in Russia, a massive earthquake destroying the Alaskan pipeline, a hurricane decimating the gulf oil platforms, New Orleans and Texas—these are good uses for the strategic petroleum reserve, not as a response demand-driven rises in energy costs. If we use up the reserve in a vain attempt to reverse long-term trends, we will be left without petroleum when we really need it. And we need it. Without petroleum, our society stops. No food at the grocery store. No clean water coming out of the taps. No lights. No heat. The reserve is absolutely necessary to keep our civilization afloat after an unexpected sudden hit in production, to give us enough time to scramble and find an alternative source or drastically ration.
Any politician than wants to use the reserve for short-term political gain—to drive down energy costs temporarily before a key election—is profoundly selfish and irresponsible.
2. With the rise of major new suppliers and alterative oil sources, OPEC plays an increasingly minor role in global energy production. Further, the oil reserves and production rates in most OPEC countries have already started their decline.
Let’s talk numbers. In 2007, the United States imported 13,439 thousand barrels of oil per day from foreign countries, down slightly from 13,707 in 2006. Domestic field production was about 5,103 thousand barrels per day in 2007. Therefore about three quarters of oil consumed in the United States is from foreign sources.
Personally I think this is a good thing. I’d much rather the United States consume other nations oil resources for as long as we can get away with it, saving our deposits for the future in which they will inevitably be more valuable than they are now. From a strategic point of view, it’s a decent trade-off. We keep an intrinsically valuable resource in our nation while sending off a fiat currency abroad. Far better than the trade deficit from China, in which we mostly receive shitty consumer goods.
But wait, you say, why should we send all this money to the Mideast! Only about 2,170 thousand barrels per day came from the Persian Gulf, or 16% of all imports, ten percent of the total. Imports from all OPEC nations were just shy of 6000 thousand barrels per day, or just under half of all imports, a third of all oil consumed.
The nation from which we imported the most petroleum? Canada at 2,426 thousand barrels per day. For those of you keeping track, that’s more than we imported from the entire Persian Gulf in 2007. Much of this was alternative petroleum sources, like oil sands. As I’ve written before, these alternative sources often come at a horrific environmental cost.
Which brings me to my final point. Probably the single most important technology to develop right now, if you care about protecting the environment and expanding energy reserves, is carbon sequestration. Coal, oil shale, tar sands and other dirtier fossil fuels are going to play in increasingly large part in global energy production. China and India are, right now, embarking on a massive expansion of coal-fired power plants. Italy and Germany, having banned nuclear power, are also on a coal-plant building spree. With carbon sequestration, at least, the emissions of these plants can be contained and the impact reduced.
Carbon sequestration, often absurdly wrapped under the term “clean coal,” remains a lab process. No one has invested in the R&D needed to make it commercially viable. We should. It’s the most obvious, the easiest and clearly most potentially effective way of reducing the impact of coming environmental and energy crises.
So, I give Obama credit for having a policy position that recognizes coal as an increasingly dominant source of energy worldwide, a policy that seeks to reduce the environmental impact of this reality—even if I think the majority of his energy policy is about as crappy as the others…
Commenter arduous takes me to task:
First of all, I disagree that carbon sequestration should be our first priority. Carbon sequestration is far from proven, and like hydrogen vehicles, appears to be pie in the sky and somewhat of a red herring. The science isn’t there yet, and may not be there for a long while. Our first priority should be on alternative energy like solar and wind. According to Scientific American’s article entitled “A Solar Grand Plan” investment in solar could supply “69 percent of the U.S.ís electricity and 35 percent of its total energy by 2050.” Here the science is much more clear, and the technology is closer to being developed. Renewables HAVE to be our first priority….
Read what Tim Flannery has to say about carbon sequestration.
Even if you are right and he is wrong about carbon sequestration’s viability (and honestly I hope carbon sequestration is eventually viable because I think it would be another useful tool to have in our arsenal, shouldn’t we be focusing the bulk on our money on REDUCING emissions rather than something that MIGHT in a few decades be able to sap emissions out of the air?
Solar energy might be cheaper than oil in about FIVE years. We’re so close. It’s ridiculous to say that carbon sequestration should be our first line of offense.
To which I reply:
If I was elected president in 2000, I would have invested massively in solar and wind technology. Solar and wind power are among the very few energy sources with even the possibility of having a lower lifetime environmental impact—when considering producing the plant, running the plant and dismantling the plant—than fossil fuels.
I wasn’t president; arduous wasn’t. Bush was.
The policy decision worldwide—in India, in China, in Germany, in Italy and dozens of other nations—was to stick with coal for at least another thirty years. We didn’t make this decision. The lack of a viable non-fossil fuel technology right now, not five years from now, did.
The plants are going to be built, regardless if we get carbon sequestration working. So, although I don’t prefer carbon sequestration and I share the doubts that it’ll ever work on a commercial scale, it’s our best and last hope for dealing with the decisions already made.
Since we’re in fantasy land, if I were president today, I’d focus policy on the demand side of the equation. I’d progressively increase the gas tax over time, add in a fossil fuel windfall tax and use the revenues to invest massively in deploying existing energy efficient technology. Increase federal subsidies for mass transit. Invest in a West coast high speed rail corridor. Pay for homeowners to put in new insulation and windows, new boilers and air conditioners, new refrigerators and ovens and so on.