Posted tagged ‘Oil’

The Collapse of the American Empire Won’t Be Televised…

April 4, 2011

…because we’ll want the juice to light up the last pixels on our flat-screens.

Let’s begin with this:

The world may have no more than half a century of oil left at current rates of consumption, while surging demand from the developing world threatens to create “very significant price rises” before substitutes like biofuels can serve as viable alternatives, the British bank HSBC warns in a new report.

“We’re confident that there are around 50 years of oil left,” Karen Ward, the bank’s [HSBC’s] senior global economist, said in an interview on CNBC.

Now, before I get too deep in the weeds, let me concede that all measures of resource reserves are suspect.  The key phrase above is “may have no more”  —  as in we may in fact be able to extract more than half a century of oil left at current or even greater rates of consumption.  The central issue, though is that the driver of additional supply is price.  We’ll find more oil — maybe lots more — as the scarcity of the easy pickings drives prices up to levels that make the more exotic, more difficult to access sources economically viable.

Which ends up at the same place:  an economy based on cheap energy can’t survive as we push past peak oil.

That dismal thought provides the segue to this (pdf):

The Americas region is a distant third in the race for clean energy investment, attracting $65.8 billion overall in 2010. Investments in the United States rebounded 51 percent over 2009 levels to reach $34 billion, [roughly 2007 levels] but the United States continued to slide down the top 10 list, falling from second to third.  Given uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives, the United States’ competitive position in the clean energy sector is at risk.

This bit of cheer comes from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ latest report on the state of renewable energy investment around the world.  The picture painted there is mixed.  Investment in renewables worldwide has shot upwards from lows attained in the midst of the 2008-9 banking/economic collapse. But the US continues to relinquish the field to more ambitious and focused competitors:

For a variety of reasons, the United States’ competitive position appears to be eroding. Stimulus funding that helped the clean energy industry recover from sharp recessionary declines will expire this year, and there is little indication of any significant policies or incentives to fill the gap in the near future.  In fact, investors have noted ongoing uncertainty in United States policy as a key reason that capital is sitting on the  sidelines, or looking for certainty and opportunity abroad.   Concerns include a lack of clarity on the direction of energy policy, uncertainty surrounding continuation of key financial incentives (e.g., production and investment tax credits), and disproportionate government supports for century-old fossil energy sources. These uncertainties for clean energy are reflected in the United States’ subpar standing on a variety of key measures, including the five-year rate of investment growth and investment intensity.

Translation:  Big Oil plus Republicans means the Chinese (especially) and the Europeans are going to eat our lunch in our energy future.

If current trends hold, we will lag both on installed capacity and on the international economic opportunity open to those who can provide the renewable energy sources that will become more important, and more economically viable, with each hike in the cost of a barrel of crude.

Put that another way: we could and should be playahs in what seems likely to be the most significant economic transition since Pennsylvania crude first knocked the whaling industry into the dustbin of history, but we most likely won’t because of fools like these.

This is how empires die.  We won’t disappear; our trajectory seems to me to resemble Britain’s, or perhaps Spain’s.  We’ll continue to think very well of ourselves indeed, whilst our children, maybe even my own beloved son, will trip off to Beijing or Berlin the way in 1949 my mum escaped still-rationed Britain in to check out this side of the pond.

We’ll grumble.  That our neighbors might have figured out another way will seem somewhere between unpossible and unacceptable.

Images:  Vincent van Gogh, Factories at Asnieres, seen from the Quai de Clichy, 1887.

Frank Robbins, Drake Well, the first oil well, 1846

DFH’s Say No Blood For Oil

March 10, 2011

That would be DFH’s like Assistant Secretary of Defense Sharon Burke.

Just to take a break from Wisconsin perfidy, consider Burke, whose brief is “operational energy plans and programs,” making the connection between death and dinosaur wine in a speech at Harvard last week:

Though the official price of a gallon of fuel within the military is set at $3.03, Burke said that the actual cost of fuel delivered, depending on the difficulty transporting it and protection needs, can be as high as $50 a gallon.

Burke told a story of tent usage in Iraq. One large tent used as a gymnasium required six generators to power the air conditioning, and even then the temperature was only lowered to 90 degrees. The problem, of course, was that a tent isn’t insulated well, so much of the cooling was lost to the desert.

“People were dying so we can vent our air conditioning to the desert,” Burke said.

Some key factoids from Burke’s speech:

The average U.S. soldier on a 72-hour patrol carries between 10 and 20 pounds of batteries.

There are seven kinds of batteries that power flashlights, GPS devices, night-vision gear, and other equipment considered essential for the modern soldier. Including spares, a soldier lugs 70 batteries, along with the devices themselves, weapons, food, water, and other necessities.

“We’re seeing pack weights of 130 pounds these days,” said Sharon Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs. “You can’t carry 130 pounds without turning up with injuries.”

The idea that our soldiers can’t fight (or can’t fight as easily and with as much stamina as they need) because of all the tools they must needs carry is a very scary one indeed — but that’s a topic for another day.  In the meantime, back to that blood for oil problem:

The soldiers’ battery burden is just the tip of the military’s energy problem, Burke said. Heavily armored vehicles get just 4 miles per gallon. Air conditioners, computers, and other equipment at forward operating bases are powered by inefficient generators, at an enormous cost in fuel, requiring constant resupply. Delivering the fuel to where it is needed requires soldiers to protect the ferrying convoys, and costs both money and lives.

Hence Burke’s job: to find and support efforts like this one:

In Afghanistan, a company of soldiers is testing energy-saving technology in a frontline situation, relying on solar panels on tents, solar-powered lights, and stand-alone solar panels to recharge batteries — together cutting the company’s generator fuel consumption from 20 to 2.5 gallons a day. That drop means fewer fuel convoys which, in that part of Afghanistan, are almost certain to be attacked.

This, of course, runs directly counter to what Real Americans know about energy.  Part of the GOP conspiracy to accelerate the decline and fall of the United States includes a state-by-state level assault on alternatives to fossil fuels.

Against such purity of purpose, what is one to make of the reckless liberalism of that well-known hotbed of hippie fervor, the Pentagon’s inner rings?  Well — our Galtian overlords know what dangers lurk in the heart of reality’s liberal bias:

The Senate confirmed Burke to the job in June, after she came under initial fire from Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe (R) for her apparent support of a 2007 law that bars federal agencies from buying alternative fuels that have higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels (ClimateWire, March 25).

Props to the Obama administration and to the DOD for taking action here…and, as always….

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Image:  Jacopo Tintoretto, Young man in a gold-decorated suit of armour, 1555-1556.

Carly Fiorina Reveals the Source of Her Failure at HP: Can’t Walk, Chew Gum at the same time/shouldn’t be a Senator edition.

June 17, 2010

So, stylist/Senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina is turning her attention away from her opponents ‘do to more serious matters.

Unfortunately, she brings the same gravitas to the question of confronting the gulf oil disaster that she did to the matter of Barbara Boxer’s hair.

The AP reports today that while she supports President Obama’s success in compelling BP to come up with a $20 billion escrow fund to cover local losses, she disapproves of another part of his handling of the crisis:

Fiorina, who is trying to unseat Democrat Barbara Boxer of California, said the president should be focused on capping the leak and cleaning up the oil, not working with Boxer on greenhouse gas legislation.

“President Obama’s emphasis right now should be on cleaning up the spill, something (Sen.) Dianne Feinstein clearly recognized when she said, ‘cap-and-trade legislation isn’t going to clean up the spill,'” Fiorina said.

Instead, she said the president is planning to meet with Boxer to discuss the climate change bill.

“I think our commander in chief’s attention should be devoted exclusively to cleaning up the spill and to making sure that the residents of the Gulf Coast receive the relief that they so desperately need,” Fiorina said after her visit to Rex Moore Electrical Contractors and Engineers in Sacramento.

Oh FSM! Where to begin?

Last time I looked, American presidents have to be able to think about more than one thing at a time — and to do so beyond the next quarter’s results.  Actually, as people have been pointing out for a while, that’s President Obama’s particular strength.

Fiorina , it seems, would rather have it that Obama do nothing but don his scuba outfit and put what one blogospheric type called his magic tampon down the Deepwater Horizon well.  (Apologies to the mystery wit; lost the link in the day’s surf madness Thanks to commenter Courtney below for pointing to the correct attribution.  We love the blogosphere. 😉

Heaven forfend that he should also think about the context of the spill:  the fact that the need to drill in conditions in some ways more difficult than those of outer space is the direct consequence of an unsustainable dependence on oil as one of our chief sources of energy.

“Cleaning up the spill” is a critical task, of course — but after organizing the executive branch to do so, while fending off GOP resistance to, say, “making sure the residents of the Gulf Coast” get the help they need, there is a limit to the number of hours Obama can usefully give to that job out of every 24.  But there is a larger concern, one with several levels — which is how to prevent repeats of the disaster.

Clearly that involves looking at what went wrong at both the drill site and in the regulatory process that allowed BP and its drilling partners/subcontractors to get away with as many shortcuts as it appears they did.  Making the drilling process work better is clearly a good thing

But there is, of course, a larger context, which is that dependence on oil as a primary energy source is a long term loser, not simply in the sense that the peak oil concept suggests, but given the fact that exploitation of oil compels us to accept risk that over time will produce various disastrous outcomes.  Bad spills, cash flows to unstable regions and hostile folks, wars from time to time are all part of the cost of oil. They aren’t “accidents,” “natural disasters” or acts of God.  They are anticipatable, if not precisely predictable outcomes of what you have to do where to get oil out of the interior of the earth. Not to mention the use of oil carries with it significant, real environmental costs (and not just global warming).

Note also this map — versions of it been making the round of  the ‘tubes lately.  Note, as many have , just how much of that fossil fuel infrastructure is concentrated around the Louisiana coast in particular, and the Gulf Coast more generally

Put all that together, it seems to me that trying to work out how to reduce the role of oil (and other fossil fuels) as energy sources is an integral part of responding to this specific catastrophe — and it even seems like it would be directly relevent to what the folks on the Gulf Coast need if a total disruption (and/or extinction) of a lot of ways of life down there isn’t going to recur every few years.

To repeat: Presidents have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. The last GOP hopeful who denied this lost, badly, to the man now in the office that requires such mental agility.

So:  Fiorina is an idiot.

But we knew that.

I’ll leave you with the thought that what’s actually interesting about Fiorina’s inadvertent self-revelation here is that her reaction is precisely that of someone incapable of thinking past the immediate horizon — nothing matters more than hitting the next quarter’s numbers, in the context of her experience.  That’s a crappy way to run a business — and it is a much worse way to run a government.

Image:  General view of Funkville in 1864, Oil Creek, Pennsylvania

More on McCain’s innumeracy…energy policy edition

August 10, 2008

Outsourced almost entirely to Rob Perks, posting at the NRDC’s Switchboard blog. (h/t Natasha Chert’s very useful blog round up over at

Perks’ basic point is the simple, brutal arithmetic of the gap between US oil consumption and US domestic supply. We consume 24 percent of the world’s total, he tells us, and produce 2 percent. PerkD writes:

Do the math: drilling is not a credible answer to the price pinch we’re all feeling. Despite what President Bush claims, opening up our remaining offshore protected areas is a crude gimmick – pure and simple.

Of course, it’s not really Bush we have to concern ourselves anymore. John McCain is the man who matters now when it comes to the oil-first approach to energy. He still claims, on his website, that drilling offshore is a meaningful response to US dependence on foreign oil, our balance of trade deficit — and by implication our vulnerability to price spikes like the one we’ve experienced this year. Go read the statement on McCain’s issues page. It is a model of incoherence, rhetorically and politically.

But most of all, what McCain says he wants he can’t have — and it doesn’t take the proprietary models of the energy gurus to figure out why. Perks is in fact more right than he writes above. It isn’t just that we cannot drill our way into a position to move global oil prices significantly. It’s that even if drilling could produce results tomorrow — instead of the seven to ten year horizon actual oil people tell us it will take to see significant flows from new fields — US oil, what’s left of it, is relatively high-cost. The reason that there are a bunch of leases already let that remain undrilled is because the cost of oil production in places like Alaska’s North Slope and the outer continental shelf is high.

What that means, of course, is that lower cost producers — say Saudi Arabia — can manipulate production to maximize their revenue and margins, and we still won’t be able to do anything about it. Put it another way: absent an Iraq-sized pool of oil waiting somewhere nearby to be discovered, extractable at something a lot less than it takes to grab extreme oil, and neither US dependence on foreign supplies nor our vulnerability to world market supply-and-demand pricing is going to change.

McCain may or may not be able to count well enough to grasp this. He certainly seems to hope the rest of us can’t.

And while we are on the subject…

July 23, 2008

…I couldn’t resist posting this unbelievably cool picture:

From the summary description at my source for the image, Wikimedia Commons:

This image depicts an early oil field exploitation in Pennsylvania, around 1862. The two wells shown are the Phillips well and the Woodford well, both among the most productive of the time. Note the small distance between them. At the foreground appear wooden barrels in which the crude was stored, explaining why oil is still measured in “barrels”. Note the barrel size was not standardized yet : various size of barrels can be noticed.

More on the Offshore Drilling Bait-and-Switch

July 23, 2008

Much more informed and more rigorous info on the issue I blogged here, outsourced to Wilco 278.

Cherry picking data is one of the oldest tricks in the book. As TJ warned: eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Keep this in mind if the hurricane lets McCain make his scheduled emulation of Don Quixote tomorrow.

Update: It won’t.

(BTW: thanks, Wilco. Real knowledge is a wondrous thing.)

Image: Lourdes Cardenal, Group of windmills at Campo de Criptana in La Mancha, 2004. Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, ver. 1.2 or later. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Clinton, Canute, and a Certain Gravity.

May 6, 2008

Parts of the blogosphere is having (a) some fun with Senator Clinton’s sudden self-discovery as the scourge of experts or (b) a collective WTF at her continued attempt to reorganize the space time continuum in which we live into one that suits her better. (Not to mention this gem of a solution to high gas prices that apparently neither Clinton nor McCain considered.)

But the jump the shark moment — or perhaps the most recent leap in the 400 meter shark hurdle race — has to be this. Senator Clinton, perhaps recently bitten by a radioactive spider, has decided that she now has the mojo to break up OPEC.

Great idea! Why didn’t anyone think of that before?

Plenty of folks have already had their way with this one too. The most succinct that I have seen so far comes from Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. The basic take is, in essence, that Clinton is playing King Canute, without that monarch’s self awareness. (Or perhaps she’s Glendower in Henry IV: She can call spirits from the vasty deep, but with Hotspur we may reply, “Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?”)

But to pick up on Josh’s take, I’m given to understand that the next target of the growing anti-elitist lobby will be the law of gravity. However, even were Senator Clinton to add her voice to the chorus of disdain for Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and other such out of touch eggheads, this issue has in fact already been put on the table.

Ah well. It will all be over soon.

Image: J.W.M Turner, “The Sea at Egremont,” 1802. The work of art depicted in this image and the reproduction thereof are in the public domain worldwide. The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.