Archive for Monday, November 23, 2009

Environmentalism spurs energy scare

November 23, 2009


— What city contributed most to the making of the modern world? The Paris of the Enlightenment and then of Napoleon, pioneer of mass armies and nationalist statism? London, seat of parliamentary democracy and center of finance? Or perhaps Titusville, Pa.

Oil seeping from the ground there was collected for medicinal purposes — until Edwin Drake drilled and 150 years ago — Aug. 27, 1859 — found the basis of our world, 69 feet below the surface of Pennsylvania, which oil historian Daniel Yergin calls “the Saudi Arabia of 19th-century oil.”

For many years, most oil was used for lighting and lubrication, and the amounts extracted were modest. Then in 1901, a new well named for an East Texas hillock, Spindletop, began gushing more per day than all other U.S. wells combined.

Since then, America has exhausted its hydrocarbon supplies. Repeatedly.

In 1914, the Bureau of Mines said U.S. oil reserves would be exhausted by 1924. In 1939, the Interior Department said the world had 13 years worth of petroleum reserves. Then a global war was fought and the postwar boom was fueled, and in 1951 Interior reported that the world had ... 13 years of reserves. In 1970, the world’s proven oil reserves were an estimated 612 billion barrels. By 2006, more than 767 billion barrels had been pumped and proven reserves were 1.2 trillion barrels. In 1977, Scold in Chief Jimmy Carter predicted that mankind “could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.” Since then the world has consumed three times more oil than was then in the world’s proven reserves.

But surely now America can quickly wean itself from hydrocarbons, adopting alternative energies — wind, solar, nuclear? No.

Keith O. Rattie, CEO of Questar Corp., a natural gas and pipeline company, says that by 2050 there may be 10 billion people demanding energy — a daunting prospect, considering that of today’s 6.2 billion people, nearly 2 billion “don’t even have electricity — never flipped a light switch.” Rattie says energy demand will grow 30 percent to 50 percent in the next 20 years and there are no near-term alternatives to fossil fuels.

Today, wind and solar power combined are just one-sixth of 1 percent of American energy consumption. Nuclear? The United States and other rich nations endorse reducing world carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. But Oliver Morton, a science writer, says that if nuclear is to supply even just 10 percent of the necessary carbon-free energy, the world must build more than 50 large nuclear power plants a year. Currently, five a year are being built. Rattie says that as part of “a worldwide building boom in coal-fired power plants,” about 30 under construction in America “will burn about 70 million tons of coal a year.”

Edward L. Morse, an energy official in Carter’s State Department, writes in Foreign Affairs that the world’s deep-water oil and gas reserves are significantly larger than was thought just a decade ago, and high prices have spurred development of technologies — a drilling vessel can cost $1 billion — for extracting them. The costs of developing oil sands — Canada may contain more oil than Saudi Arabia has — are declining, so projects that last year were not economic with the price of oil under $90 a barrel are now viable with oil at $79 a barrel.

Morse says new technologies are also speeding development of natural gas trapped in U.S. shale rock. The Marcellus Shale, which stretches from West Virginia through Pennsylvania and into New York, “may contain as much natural gas as the North Field in Qatar, the largest field ever discovered.”

Rattie says U.S. known reserves of natural gas, which are sure to become larger, exceed 100 years of supply at the current rate of consumption. BP recently announced a “giant” oil discovery beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Yergin, writing in Foreign Policy, says “careful examination of the world’s resource base ... indicates that the resource endowment of the planet is sufficient to keep up with demand for decades to come.”

Such good news horrifies people who relish scarcity because it requires — or so they say — government to ration what is scarce and to generally boss people to mend their behavior: “This is the police! Put down that incandescent bulb and step away from the lamp!”

Today, there is a name for the political doctrine that rejoices in scarcity of everything except government. The name is environmentalism.


Brent Garner 8 years, 6 months ago

No, bozo, he isn't damning the torgpedos. What Mr. Will is poointing out is that those who have predicted the imminent exhaustion of our planet's resources having consistently and universally been wrong. Now, I am not going to say that such will always be the case. As I pointed out to a science class over 20 years ago, even if the entire planet were one big drop of oil eventually we will run out. What Mr. Will is saying is that contrary to the doom and gloom crowd, that point is no where soon. Is Mr. Will opposed to finding alternatives? I hardly think so, but he doesn't want a bunch of self-serving lunatics with a highly socialist/marxist style agenda to dictate to us what we should do. I'm all for alternative, renewable energy but I am not willing right now to pay double or triple the cost to get it. The cost of renewable energy is constantly declining. When it becomes cost competitive with fossil fuels you will see a large and swift transition. If you want to hasten the coming of that day, let's set aside money to fund the research to get us to that day, but let's not bankrupt the consumer and the country to do it.

Chris Golledge 8 years, 6 months ago

I'm just wondering:

Where is all the oil in PA now? True or false, we are consuming oil faster than it is being made? What does the price or relative abundance of fossil fuels have to do with the thermodynamics of GHGs or the chemistry of CO2 in the ocean?

Will's argument can be reduced to, "I don't want to expose myself to any potential sacrifices; therefore, there is no problem."

gr 8 years, 6 months ago

See the pattern: 10 years, 13 years, a decade. All not immediate time frames, but near enough to cause fear. Repeatedly.

"have to do with the thermodynamics" I've heard it said thermodynamics only works in a closed system of which the earth ain't. Not exactly sure where thermodynamics do work.... ;-)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 6 months ago

"I've heard it said "

There's a real "voice of authority."

gr 8 years, 6 months ago

"There's a real “voice of authority.”"

You mean as in, I've heard it said there is global warming?

svenway_park 8 years, 6 months ago

At least George Will doesn't buy himself a solid concrete house (one of the worlds most CO2 unfriendly building materials) and then label his architecture practice as "ecological."

Eh, 2bfrank?

Scott Drummond 8 years, 6 months ago

"Today, there is a name for the political doctrine that rejoices in scarcity of everything except government. The name is environmentalism."

Actually, this conclusion is 100% wrong. It is capitalism that rejoices in scarcity of everything, including government, because scarcity leads to higher prices and scarce government results in unfettered ability to do anything in pursuit of the almighty dollar. The environmental movement, on the other hand, hardly rejoices at the scarcity of everything but government, but instead seeks to preserve a wealth of diversity and has the audacity to do so using the instruments of government. Right wing projection, as usual.

gr 8 years, 6 months ago

"scott, actually you are 100% wrong. Capitalism is not a being that rejoices in anything. ''

I think scott was implying about companies such as M$. Which kind of proves your point since such companies are about eliminating competition, about not having a choice, about political maneuvering to create a sole source -- themselves.

Paul Decelles 8 years, 6 months ago

Oh I guess I will have to blog on this...but my short response is that lots of the confusion has to do with the term reserves. Usually what is meant are proven reserves-reserves that are economically and technologically feasible to extract today. By that figuring the best estimate is that the United States has about 21.3 billion barrels of petroleum reserves maybe 25 billion if certain very recent deep water finds are countable.

The predictions Will cites are based on proven reserves at that time coupled with anticipated consumption rates and both are subject to lots of uncertainties. Some estimates that are out there claim that there is lots of oil left in the United States but the economic and environmental costs of extracting that oil are not at all clear to me.

Here is an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal, that while taking an optimistic view point on the future of oil and the economic and environmental costs does put the reserve concept in perspective:

gccs14r 8 years, 6 months ago

It isn't just whether there is something to burn, but whether it should be burned at all, given what we've done to the planet so far. Releasing millions of years of stored carbon over a handful of decades isn't good for anybody.

sbell10 8 years, 6 months ago

Any argumentation that suggests that politicians and journalists are using scare tactics to push the point of global warming and environmentalism is simply a way of justifying ethnocentric, destructive human lifestyles.

To scare people away from consumption goes against any logic. Consumption fuels the economy and life in the western world. To stop consumption in the name of the environment is an enormous sacrifice, one that experts wouldn't suggest unless it meant that we were really in a large amount of danger. Can't we just admit that we're doing this to ourselves?

Forget oil, has anyone thought about our water?

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