Oil potpourri

From: Al Koop <koopa@gvsu.edu>
Date: Mon Aug 16 2004 - 22:46:16 EDT

After two weeks away, I have a few comments on the oil discussions.

Before getting to them, let me say that I did manage to read three of
Dan Brown's books during that vacation time--Angels & Demons, Deception
Point, and The DaVinci Code. The author sure can weave together fact
and fiction in a very engaging style. At some points it was difficult to
tell whether specific events were historical or not, But I don't see
why anyone would get carried away by thinking his plots represent
accurate historical accounts. (But I guess that sort of question
relates to the other major topic being discussed here now.) Anyhow you
can tell that if I read three of Brown's books, they must be a pretty
good read in my estimation.

Relating to the More Gloom and Doom thread, it does appear that the oil
supply is now close to the consumption level of oil. I don't think this
means that the world is at the brink of any crisis yet. (I suspect that
there is some manipulation going on with regard to oil prices now.) Now
the traditional supply/demand economics will take over instead of the
OPEC decisions of how much oil they feel like exporting. We may well
move towards a recession and a decrease in consumption along with new
projects and previously too-expensive oil projects coming on line to
keep the supply meeting the demand for years to come. The question is:
When will the depletion of the old major producing oil wells finally
reach the point when there will never be enough oil supply to satisfy
the demand for oil, and when and how will the world leaders try to
educate their people about this problem. At that point will the
countries with the most military might try to exert their strength and
control the oil for them and their friends?

With regard to the hydrogen and ethanol and biofuels threads, I cannot
find any good evidence that
would indicate that these alternatives will make any significant
contribution to our energy needs when petroleum supplies are in decline,
unless there are some new (not yet foreseen) technologies that make
these processes much more efficient than they are now. I think that
Ken's calculations correctly indicate that we cannot significantly
reduce dependence on Middle East oil by ethanol or biofuel production.
The new Science issue is devoted to the hydrogen economy, and from the
small bits I read the Science people are not optimistic that hydrogen
will be a viable energy source anytime soon. I agree with the writer
in the review below that we will almost surely go on a crash program of
nuclear power as well as increase our use of coal. We also know that
hybrid/electric technology works for transportation today and I see that
as becoming more significant in the future.

The September issue of Scientific American has a one page news article
about peak oil--giving the various arguments on all sides of the issue
without comment. Not all that informative if you have followed this
subject at all, but it indicates that the topic is drawing more and more

Since I previously posted an article about Richard Heinberg's new book:
Powerdown, I feel I owe you some comments about the book. Here are two
such reviews from the Energy Resources site--one complimentary and one
not as enthusiastic (plus a comment).

Review #1

Well, I'm about three-quarters through Powerdown and quite impressed
 Heinberg's scholarship. He is able to handle arguments and their
 in so doing come to major conclusions. This is a rare quality, sort of
 top-notch intellectual grasp by an ultimate reader. So far, however, I
 profoundly depressed by the material he presents. Heinberg offers the
 logical conclusion that to make the world work would require that all
 ours in particular, work cooperatively with every other nation and also
work to
 bring the economic level of the underdeveloped nations up to a higher
 where they can survive well; the later point based on the wide gap
between their

 wealth and the wealth of industrialized nations which has evolved over
 Ultimately, I guess, the point comes down to the idea that in order to
have a
 cooperative world, we have to have a just world that functions well and
 includes the perception of equality among us all.
 I don't know if I have summed up what I've read so far or whether or
 I correctly understand Heinberg's major argument and proposal, but I
did have
 a sizable stop as I was reading to this point. If we have all the
trouble we
 are having in trying to spread the message that serious problems lie
ahead and
 that reality is going to be all screwed up in a short while, how can we
 to persuade the American public (except for you and me, Sam) to go
along with
 the program and be kind and charitable and accept the slide into a
thirty year
 depression gracefully and reach out and help all "them foreigners"
because it
 is the right thing to do and besides it might help us and the rest of
 world, then I think there is a serious misunderstanding here. The
 people as I know them are kind, warm-hearted, public spirited, not too
smart and

 addicted to television. I don't think one would have much success in
 them to stand up and wave a flag in a parade based upon Reason, Help
for other
 Nations, and Self-sacrifice. I do believe, however, that we -- all of
us --
 can slide into a dictatorship just as easy as pie on Sunday morning
 conditions and timing are set up that way.

 Marvin, Seattle

Review #2

 I am all the way through Powerdown, and I have to say I am distinctly
 unimpressed. The Party's Over (TPO) was for an accidental trip down
 the rabbit hole -- I picked it up at random in my local bookseller, and
 it changed my world view entirely. Unlike you, I do not see Heinberg's
 strength as a drawer of conclusions, but as a presenter and synthesizer
 of other peoples conclusions. The combination of citations and
 references in TPO on cultural history, basic thermodynamics, ecology,
 geology and energy packed a terrific punch in a very slim volume. And
 the wealth of secondary references to follow allows the motivated
 reader to go deeper in all directions. I found the weakest parts of TPO
 to be where Heinberg veered from factual presentation and summary to
 weakly supported op-ed on contemporary politics and the media. (Chomsky
 and Herman do Chomsky and Herman much better than Heinberg.)

 Unfortunately, Powerdown offers a much larger helping of op-ed and much
 lighter helping of new references and synthesis. In places it swerves
 completely into cloud cookoo land, with discourse on the Bush
 administration's aiding and abetting of 9/11, mention of ethnically
 targeted bio-weapons, and vast swaths of anti-Bush jeremiad.

 On the energy front, the lack of substantial new information or
 research means that the conclusions are very familiar to readers of
 this list (or simply widely read people with an understanding of the
 coming oil peak). A major disappointment is Heinberg's continued
 blinders on the issue of nuclear power. Even in chapters supposedly
 devoted to the "unpleasant but likely" scenarios, he does not allow
 himself to believe that we are about to see a substantial upswing in
 nuclear power development. Arguments against nuclear present continue
 to be very thin gruel, the usual political shorthand -- nuclear is
 unsafe, too expensive. I realize Heinberg does not like nuclear, but
 he should at least be intellectually honest enough to note that the
 powers-that-be do not share his reservations. When the energy crisis
 leaves the business pages for the front pages, it will not take long
 for opposition to nuclear to be overrun -- above all, the
 powers-that-be have to keep the lights on for as long as possible. (On
 the current events front, watch Ontario as an interesting case study...
 the provincial government has promised decommissioning the current coal
 fired plants, but has no plans for replacing the generating capacity.
 An study commissioned by the government strongly recommends taking a
 fresh look at nuclear.)

 Powerdown also suffers from being a follow-up book. Many pages are
 spent re-summarizing TPO, or referencing various aspects of it. I
 assume that it was editorially impossible to take the intellectually
 appealing course of treating Powerdown as the "lost chapters" of TPO --
 the remaining content would have been too small to be worthy of
 publishing as a complete book.

 Do not let my tone discourage you though -- Powerdown is not a terrible
 book by any means. But on an enlightening-ideas-or-facts-per-page
 basis, it simply cannot come close to competing with its older sibling,

 Paul Ramsey
 Victoria, British Columbia
 Refractions Research

Response #3

Paul thanks for your take on Powerdown. I loved "The Party's Over".
 I bought an extra copy just to loan out to friends. I don't know if I
 will get around to reading Powerdown or not, I have so many other
 books on my reading list that this will be difficult.

 I agree with you completely on nuclear power. It simply doesn't
 matter whether we are for it or against it, more nuclear power, and a
 lot of it is coming. When natural gas and oil get very scarce and the
 lights start to flicker, the public will be screaming for nuclear
 power. Those who oppose it will learn to keep quiet or get stoned by
 the panicking public. The same goes for drilling in ANWR and the Gulf
 of Mexico. They will be screaming, "damn the pollution, drill, drill,
 drill". And Yucca Mountain will be completed and another hole drilled
 in the mountain if necessary, screw Nevada and their five electoral
 votes. When people start to panic, and they will panic, all
 environmental considerations will evaporate. One's position on the
 issue will be of little or no importance. Just as one cannot reason
 with a lynch mob, there will be no reasoning with a panicking public
 either. And every elected official in Washington will be marching in
 lock step with them.

Received on Mon Aug 16 23:03:58 2004

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