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Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Entering conspiratorial territory here. Based on the writings of William Clark, “Revisited-The Real Reasons for the Upcoming War in Iraq: A Macroeconomic and Geostrategic Analysis of the Unspoken Truth.”, we get the interesting confluence of coincidences and inferences.

The coincidences:
EuroNative CurrencyDollar
Oil UsersFrance, Germany, etcUSA
Oil ProducersIraq, VenezuelaNorway, Great BritainSaudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc
Evil AxisNorth Korea, Iraq, Iran

The inferences:
In January 2003, before the invasion of Iraq, Clark outlined his thesis. Basically, he argued that the attack was due to fears in the US administration that 1) future oil supplies had to be ensured since the arrival of Peak Oil (after which production will begin to decline) was approaching, and 2) it had to keep OPEC from following Iraq’s lead and converting to the Euro as favored petro-currency.

At first I was thinking that this didn't make complete sense, since why wouldn't England support a transition to the Euro? But then if you realize that England and Norway (both declining oil producers) do not use the Euro, and that England has huge amounts of money tied up in the USA in the form of real estate and commercial interests, it does make some sort of sense ... in a tin-foil-hat kind of way.

Barrel, Fish, Shoot

An abstract from 2003
The Global Energy Outlook for the 21st Century
Lecture by Peter R. Odell, Professor Emeritus of International Energy Studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Wassenaar 21 May 2003
Fossil fuel use since 1970 has been much below expectations at that time. Consequently, proven reserves have expanded to an all-time high. These provide a secure base for supply growth of coal, oil and gas. Collectively their present 90% share of global energy use will decline very slowly, viz. near 80% by mid-century and still over 50% by 2080.

Conventional expectations for coal’s growth are unrealistic. ....
Finally, what if oil and gas are NOT fossil fuels? As argued by the inorganic origin theorists of the Former Soviet Union – home of the world’s largest hydrocarbons industry. Enormous implications follow from oil and gas being renewable resources. All concerns for “scarcity” would be undermined and future oil and gas supplies at stable or falling costs could be guaranteed.

Peter R. Odell
May 2003

The lecture notes and slides associated with this abstract contain the main talking points of (1) They (peak oil alarmists) have been wrong before (2) Just look at how big the numbers continue to be and (3) Market forces will help dramatically to forestall future problems. OK, we have heard this framing before, but then at the end he starts accelerating downhill.

The closing paragraph of the lecture notes and the slide postscript creates a big opening for criticism. The argument: If the esteemed professor volunteers up the questionable theory of oil and gas being produced though an abiotic process, why does he not say the same about coal. After all, he spends a good deal of time pontificating on the subject of coal, but doesn't seem to understand that coal, natural gas, oil, tar sands, etc all exist on a continuum of process, namely arising as fossil fuels. Each variation of fuel created by vegetation compressed by different amounts of pressure. Basically, if he ever admits that coal is abiotic (e.g. has this guy ever seen how charcoal is produced?), then he has just stepped on the slippery slope.

In other words, coal has never been offered up as an abiotic (i.e. no vegetation involved) creation, yet it fits as a fossil fuel candidate perfectly. It just doesn't make sense that the other variations of fossil fuel would just magically percolate from the bowels of the earth, while coal remains of biological origin.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Peak Oil

The PeakOil.com website is currently very active. Aaron, who runs the thing with seemingly boundless energy (the PeakOil message board attracts a mix of people with a fair number willing to work the numbers), interviewed Prof. Richard Smalley very recently.

I suggested these questions to Aaron for Smalley:
1. Is there still hope in using the moon to collect solar power and then beam to Earth?
(this was his best hope as of last year)
2. Ask about the abiotic theories of oil generation (will likely dismiss out-of-hand)
3. How to lure more students into engineering and science? (a pet cause of his)
4. How did his commitee briefings on Capitol Hill get received?

Currently, the PeakOil server has been having some problems, so unfortunately I can't access the interview to find out if he used any of these questions.

Comparative Quotes of the Day
"Tell people something they know already and they will thank you. Tell them something new and they will hate you for it." George Monbiot

"I'm a guy; I hate asking a question that I don't know the answer to." Deputy Sec. of State Richard Armitage, 6/29/2004, Hugh Hewitt radio interview

Monday, June 28, 2004

What if crude was part of the Atkin's diet?

An interesting bit of trivia that blows my mind.

Petroleum contains about 33,000,000 joules/liter.
This is equivalent to 39,000 calories/teaspoon.

The average well-fed human requires 2500 dietetic calories of energy per day to thrive.

So, if petrol was edible and humans could metabolize the energy within it, humans would only need about 1/16th of a teaspoon per day to satisfy their caloric intake. insert SANITY CHECK here: times 1000 to convert from dietetic calories, so actually about 1-1/3 cups

The smallest measuring utensil I own doles out 1/8th teaspoon at a time; cooks refer to half of this amount as "a pinch".

Think about that the next time you (1) look at a crop field, (2) eat a bowl of cereal, or (3) flush your toilet.

UPDATE: This post was a load of crap (for me to poop on!) because of poor dimensional analysis. Thanks to DarkSyde for pointing this out. What it does now show is how the energy content of vegetable oil is similar to petroleum. The sanity check is that people could probably survive for awhile consuming a cup of vegetable oil per day, but they could not by consuming only 1/8 a teaspoon. I also have a better appreciation now for the "greasel" enthusiasts.

What’s the old quote about wisdom being gained from experience and experience is gained from mistakes?

Saturday, June 26, 2004

(fictional) Science Role Models

Plotline: Cold warriors are out to eliminate an American scientist (Elisabeth Shue) who's developed a formula for cold fusion that could solve the country's energy crisis. (The Saint, 1997)

I don't know why, but the role of Dr. Emma Russell, despite the gaps in logic, seemed so realistic in so many ways. Particularly in the little details, as in the way she keeps all her notes scribbled on Post-Its and her naivete in other matters (I guess the cliche is absent-mindedness).

Second best: Val Kilmer (coincidentally co-star of Shue's in The Saint), playing the hot-shot student in the JPL-like school in Real Genius. He essentially reminded me of every student that breezed through school.

Richard Smalley says engineering and science role models are needed to dream up new solutions to the energy crisis and to attract students to a dwindling (since the moon push) supply of science graduate students. Be a scientist, save the world

Interesting, when asking this "favorite" question to several colleagues at work, one M.E. agreed on Shue (he claimed to be just thinking about this movie before I blurted out my own favorite) and another CompSci said without hesitation, Real Genius and proceeded to quote "“At times like this I remember the words of the immortal Socrates who said, ‘I drank what?”"

But after this, the pickings get slim. I have seen just a few of these, but based on my informal survey:
  • Never Cry Wolf - Charles Martin Smith as Arctic biologist (one that has been on my list to see forever)
  • Insignificance - Nicholas Roeg featuring an Einstein-like character in a kind of "what-if" scenario
  • Apollo 13 - Clint Howard as the wisecracking engineer manning the boards at Houston central command
  • Stargate - Kurt Russell and James Spader as SciFi explorer/scientists.
  • Naked Gun series - The comical deadpan Forensic Scientist Ted Olson1
  • Marathon Man - Dustin Hoffman as a meek history Columbia U graduate student. Not exactly a scientist, but he liked running and had the research down pat.
  • Chain Reaction - Keanu Reeves, not very memorable, IMO.
  • Incredible Hulk - Bruce Banner, for completeness

The Discovery Channel produced an awful list of Top 10 Movie scientists that serves to purely irritate. This list is equivalent to saying the Top 10 movie athletes would include Air Bud and Robin Williams as Flubber.

1 No, not the Ted Olsen that resigned from the Bush cabinet.

Oil from a Turnip

The oil industry-supported IPPA site has interesting numbers on the national scene. You can get some insite into our own production capacity and what the future portends. According to depletion analysis, all oil wells have a finite lifetime. The so-called stripper wells are nearing the end of their lifetime. A previous post pointed out how they contribute about 20% of the nation's production. The intriguing part once again is how they average only 2 barrels of oil per day. At current prices, this is less than $80 gross/day. Remember, these are pumping 24/7 and basically generate the equivalent pumping flow of approximately ONE fluid cup of oil per minute.
2.2 barrels/day * 42 gallons/barrel * 16 cups/gallon * 1 day / 1440 minutes = 1.03 cups/minute

The rest of the oil wells (middle-age, so to speak) in the USA average 10 barrels/day. But this is still only 5 cups/minute per well. Only 3 % of wells are flowing; the rest need artifical lift.

I have no idea how rampant the notion of the "classic" oil gusher is to most people in this country, but when you step back and stare at the numbers, a different picture emerges. In my mind, I visualize that we basically operate several hundred thousand autonomous kool-aid stands to supply a portion of our nations oil needs. And, bizarre as it sounds, the average rate is the same as a grade-schooler selling lemonade at the vegetable market on a hot summer day.

And this next last bit also blows my mind. What is the consumption of gas (in cups per minute) of a SUV getting 16 MPG travelling at 60 MPH?
1 cup per minute

The bottom-line: The average stripper well pumps enough oil to keep ONE SUV continuously operational.

EPA-Euphemism Advancement Agency

Healthy Forests Initiative - unregulated logging to allow smaller "stronger" trees to grow
Clear Skies Initiative - "removal of birds" - Al Franken

And now...
A pathetic public service announcement has come out deriding a part of American culture. In particular the EPA ridicules car owners who work to reduce their consumption of gasoline; but (curiously) deify homeowners who try to save energy. Some people in the EPA evidently were told it was open season to mock, or, perhaps we should read between the lines.

Energy Savings Initiative - modifying energy usage so oilitists can add to their savings accounts

So this makes sense in only two ways. The non-conspiratorial obvious explanation is hiring ad-people that have sophomorish senses of humor. The more sinister explanation is that the administration wants people to use more oil and less natural gas. Basically more profits to oil companies and protection of our natural gas assets.

Alan Greenspan pontificated on controlling the natural price in April, in which he claimed significant impacts due to natural gas volatility on our economy.
Greenspan said a dramatic rise in recent years in the price of both oil and gas for delivery six years into the future was almost certain to have an impact on the U.S. economy.
But he said the impact was likely to be greater for users of natural gas because they had no global supply to cushion price increases.

And once again we must ask "What was that Secret Energy Task Force" all about?

Friday, June 25, 2004

Revisionist history

I was told today at work that a mutual former colleague of ours (who was also a former tanker sergeant) had said that it was quite common knowledge that Kuwait was actually the aggressor in the first Gulf war.

Not a lot of references to this but it just goes to show how common the control for oil urge is:
Fourth, Kuwait drilled laterally into the Rumaila oilfield of which 90 percent is located within Iraqi territory. Prior to the invasion Kuwait had extracted approximately ten million barrels of oil from Rumaila. This was 0.5 percent of its total production of 2 million barrels per day and amounted to approximately $2.4 billion during the eight year war.

I guess Kuwait was a bit too timid, not enough shock and awe.

UPDATE: Oyster adds, "For what it is worth, I had heard the same thing about Kuwait's slant drilling. In Texas, people have been killed over such disputes."

This comment reminded me of an old suggestion regarding traveling to Mars to explore for oil. The person suggested it would be cheaper to drill through the earth until we reach Saudi Arabia and get our oil that way.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Blood for Oil

Typical muckraking (as in good) article from the July issue of Harper's. The money quote:
Put another way: if this war is not about oil, then truly we stand poised at the abyss.

The author, Luke Mitchell, also quotes the economist Feis in 1946, on predicting the need for control, or at least access, to oil for eternity to maintain economic prosperity. This argument has been put forward by Chomsky with quite a degree of regularity over the last few years (with emphasis on the control part).

Finally, Mr. Mitchell also reminds us of pending oil contracts with Iraq totalling $1.1 trillion from Russia, China, and the European Union, who apparently would clean our clock unless we gain that mysterious control.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Even though WaPo columnist George Will hints at potential long-term oil issues, he basically gets his facts wrong.
In 1971, a year before Texas output passed its peak, U.S. production was more than two-thirds of the nation's needs. Today the nation imports 54 percent of the oil it uses.

This number does demonstrate the U.S. trend for becoming more dependent on foreign oil, but it is off by a bit.

From the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, Table 1 in a study called "Reforming the Federal Royalty Program for Oil and Gas", we get the real numbers. In 1998, it shows the U.S. production at 2,282 million barrels/year or 6.25 million barrels/day. This means that oil imports are closer to 70% than the 54% that Will quotes. And from the DOE, the combination of oil and natural gas liquids was 2,759 million barrels/year in 2002, which means we still import well above 60%.

From Stateline.org, extrapolating from the following numbers we get only 22% from U.S. production.
The hike in oil prices also affects the 29 states with stripper wells. An estimated 402,000 stripper wells produce only about 2.2 barrels a day each, but collectively account for 20 percent of total U.S. oil production, said C. Jeffrey Eshelman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), a Washington, D.C., trade group. That is about the same amount that the United States imports from Saudi Arabia each day, he said.

Only two barrels a day per well? When we get to look at it the numbers this way, these hardly constitute as gushers any longer. The low output per day also makes it apparent that these have a finite lifetime. Will does quote this interesting tidbit:
Russell Roberts, an economist, says: Imagine that you love pistachio nuts and are given a room filled 5 feet deep with them. But you must eat them in the room and must leave the shells. When will you have eaten them all? Never. Because as it becomes increasingly difficult to find nuts amid the shells, the cost of the nuts, in time and effort, will become too high. You will seek a substitute -- pistachios from a store, or another snack.

This oft-quoted phrase typifies the current U.S. situation:
Everyone talks about oil production as if it is like turning a tap on your water tank. In fact it is more like sucking water out of a sponge through a straw.

At some point your lungs start getting really tired.

(note to self) Bill Murray prefers Swill, the viscous mineral water dredged from Lake Erie.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


Regulation is all about negative feedback. Deregulation is the suppression of feedback.

The ideological right-wing despises negative feedback. They think everything should run open-loop. Faith in GOD and prayer is their one-and-only feedback mechanism. HE will right any wrongs. Everything is either black or white, right or wrong, moral or immoral; negative feedback is a gray area that must be avoided if not under their own control. The political right-wing will add positive (moral) feedback to the mix to exagerrate the effects.

We typically experience three types of feedback in our daily lives:
Negative feedback: Serves to counteract a trend with a suppressing or negating term that is usually proportional to the original trend but opposite in sign.
Open-loop: Nothing is done to counterbalance the trends.
Positive feedback: Positive reinforcement proportional to the size of the trend.

And we have responses to the feedback:
Damped: Negative feedback usually results in a trend toward an equilibrium.
Cyclical or Chaotic: Since nothing runs completely open-loop, especially in nature, the open-loop outcome typically shows lots of fluctuations
Hitting the rails: Positive feedback usually results in the effect of "hitting the rails" (a phrase borrowed from electronics). The rails are usually self-limiting factors, such as running out of resources.

The open-loop in action:
Orcinus demonstrates how Enron flails wildly as they sue customers, and consumers retaliate in kind. Chaos will be the norm in the near future.

Positive feedback in play:
Detroit Auto executives donation patterns favor current administration

We're going to hit the rail soon:
TBOGG finds that Enron and disciples are still foremost fund-raising contributors to the current administration.

Feedback on this post, as always, is appreciated. As you can probably tell, I am running a bit open-loop here.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Which Way is Up?

Today's Scorecard

Individual Politics
Dot-matrix bicycle printer

Local Politics
Small agency takes lead in Enron fight

National Politics
It was always fairly obvious that Cheney installed himself as "Vice" President on the orders of the oil companies who created George W. Bush to be their spokesmodel. This latest revelation --- that, unauthorized, he ran the response on 9/11 --- (and predictably executed badly, I might add) seals it.

Global Politics
A big chunk of what Al-Qaeda wants -- and they've always been pretty damned up front about it -- is to get the West out of what they consider holy land. More than that, once the former Saudi Arabia is in their hands, they intend to harness the region's oil resources to finance a greater war against the West.
Which puts the U.S. in an interesting position right now. Support the Saudis in a greater crackdown? Al-Qaeda probably gains in the long term. Withdraw support for the Saudis? Al-Qaeda probably gains in the short term.


As the price of gas fluctuates from $1.50 to over $2.00 in most parts of the USA, we should put this in the perspective of other countries that have a much higher baseline petrol price.
To best make sense of this, contextualize gas increases in terms of percentages and how consumers react to price variations in other products. For example, most consumers do not make a decision based on sales markdowns of well under 10%. However, price reductions over 30% provide significant leverage. So, essentially Europeans and Japanese are dealing with fluctuations of less than 10% overall while Americans get dragged around by their nose.

But this can also have political repercussions on the way down. Huge fluctuations on the way up combined with consumer's short-term memory can actually trick some people into believing that current gas price reductions are good deals.

How this plays out close to election time remains to be seen.

Update: And of course there is the historical perspective courtesy of Howling at a Waning Moon.

Sunday, June 20, 2004


A jarring juxtaposition: a financial web page called Futures and Commodity Market News features a transcribed Voice of America piece called End of Oil.

It tries to give a balanced view by offering viewpoints by Paul Roberts and An Empty Suit.
(paraphrasing) Suit: Oil has the most dense concentration of energy in the most convenient form. Ergo, we will have reserves for the next fifty years and then 500 years after that.

In other words, if I don't say this, I may get fired from my cushy policy wonk position.


Daily Kos explains the potential attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure.

Talking Points Memo claims only the foreign oil workers need to worry in Saudi Arabia, in that the infrastructure remains an asset to whichever side comes out on top.

The Rocky Mountain Institute's 2001 update to the 1982 Brittle Power book is available here

From Chris Bond, in the Kos comments referring to an Alaskan pipeline:
one drunk with a rifle shut down that same pipeline, and a sixth of U.S. oil production, for 60 hours

Which reinforces the MOBJ post on clogging the funnel

Saturday, June 19, 2004


Drought story in the western US provides illustrative numbers.

Apparently, the flow of the Colorado River has been reduced to almost half its previous Dust Bowl levels. In general, I don't know what to make of this, but I do know that all the water gets used by humans by the time it reaches Mexico. The current rate over the last few years has been 5.4 million acre-feet per year at a gauging station in Arizona.

This number is interesting because it amounts to:

5.4e6 acre-feet * 43560 ft2/acre * 7.48 gallons/ft3 / year = 1.76e12 gallons/year
115 million barrels of water / day

Remember that the world uses 80 million barrels of oil per day.

This is like tapping the Colorado River for nearly all its worth in equivalent volume of oil. Picture a big spigot connected to the Hoover Dam.

The difference in practical terms? Evidently the SouthWest has learned to adjust to variable amounts of water over the years. But what will happen when fluctuations in oil become this severe?

Ross, Ross, and Ross

Ross Gelbspan has a new book coming out called, Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Have Fueled the Climate Crisis -- And What We Can Do To Avert Disaster.

Ross McKittrick of whom David Appel claims to be associated with the George C. Marshall Institute, one of a number of think tanks that question the human role in global warming will ponder writing a critique blasting the book. The odds of this happening are statistically1 in proportion to the amount of funding received from the Institute.

Ross Ice Shelf is patiently waiting in the wings, eventually providing a resolution to the controversy, as it peels off icebergs the size of Jamaica2.

1Subjectively derived in terms of a large historical data set of "foundation-sponsored scientists" who write in favor of the agenda of their sponsoring organization.
2Phil Hartman as Sinatra to Sting as Idol: "I got pieces of guys like you in my stool!"

Slay Lay

Indictments soon, speculation says.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Another Oilitist

Ernest Ronald Oxburgh

University College, Oxford (MA), Princeton (PhD)
Studied under Harry Hess, one of the founding fathers of plate tectonics
Non-executive chairman, Shell;
chairman, House of Lords select committee on science and technology;
honorary professor, Cambridge University;
fellow of the Royal Society.
Awarded KBE in 1992 and made a life peer (crossbench) in 1999

"The one thing that is clear is that oil is getting harder to find, and as more obvious resources are discovered and exploited it's going to get progressively more difficult."

What does he know anyway.

Clogging the Funnel

Iraq has a very short coastline along the Gulf. Not surprising then that with the recent sabotage of a significant pipeline, this is enough to shut off the flow of oil.

How fast does oil get transported through a pipeline that hypothetically supplies 1 million barrels of crude per day (about 1/20 of the US daily consumption)?

It comes out to approximately 12 barrels of oil per second in flow rate. To compare this to a river's flow, which are usually measured in m3/sec, this is equivalent to 2 m3/sec. Note that this is a typical flow rate of a creek. And remember from nature films how a busy beaver can dam up a creek in short order? Well, that is what they are dealing with, in trying to protect the pipelines. Basically, monitoring a bunch of busy beavers spread out along 100's of miles of pipeline.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Collected comments from an Atrios thread, which got started with a mobjective assertion.

I would approve torture of the WH crew to see who potentially endangered millions by outing Plame.
veritas | Email | Homepage | 06.16.04 - 1:05 am | #

The Plame operation appears to be more of a con game, set up to get deep cover in Saudi oil company Aramco. The idea was to get detailed info on oil reserves, rather than WMD's.

more on Aram-con, here
Webster Hubble Telescope | Email | Homepage | 06.16.04 - 1:32 am | #


Was Plame wasn't outed to punish Amb. Wilson for the revelations re: Niger, or was that was just a fortunate (or ultimately unfortunate depending on your prespective) consequence.

How far would Bushco go to protect their Saudi Royal friends? Would they out a CIA opetative, who got to close to the "End of Oil" question, to protect the Saudi's from the inevitable revolution lead by osama when he learns that the last barrel will be sold for $40 when he thinks he should go for $100.

how ironic that Bush's devotion to oil and Bandar Bush et al will be his demise.
freshface | Email | Homepage | 06.16.04 - 2:38 am | #

i read the coup d'etat story last week, but i had a problem with the conclusion that bushco shot themselves in the foot by outing plame....until you just explained to me why it was indeed advantageous. thanks
sedna | Email | Homepage | 06.16.04 - 2:57 am | #


Glad to see your interested. the pieces fall together like this:

Plame, via Brewster, Jennings' association with ARAMCO, gets to close to the Saudi's closely guarded secret regarding their oil production peak.

The country is already in a prerevolutionary state, and the royal family could not survive if this informantion is revealed. Osama has a "gentleman's agreement" with the Saudi's not to attack them, but the agreement won't hold when he learns the oil spicket is about to go dry since he believes oil should be @ $100.

Meanwhile, Bush has agreed to protect the Saudi royals in exchange for oil at a reasonable price, and in return the Saudi family won't dump their shares in the US stock market, which would lead to a major financial calamity.

The timeing of Plame's outing is initially seen as a lucky coincidence, i.e. killing two birds with one stone. Unfortunately for Bush (read Rove-Cheney), his arrogant ignorance didn't forsee the ire of Amb. Wilson, or the tenacity of AG Fitzgerald
freshface | Email | Homepage | 06.16.04 - 3:46 am | #

Meanwhile, Bush has agreed to protect the Saudi royals in exchange for oil at
a reasonable price, and in return the Saudi family won't dump their shares in
the US stock market, which would lead to a major financial calamity.

They've been dumping their shares for awhile now. A few on the extreme edges of the financial markets believe 9-11 was payback for losses.
Anonymous | Email | Homepage | 06.16.04 - 4:14 am | #

Meanwhile, Bush has agreed to protect the Saudi royals in exchange for oil at a reasonable price, and in return the Saudi family won't dump their shares in
the US stock market, which would lead to a major financial calamity.

Anonymous 4:14AM was thinking along the same lines. If this is the line of reasoning it would make a lot more sense to torture Saudis with lots of money than it would to torture the people swept up in the CPA drag net. It would make a lot more sense to torture the Saudis who were airlifted to safety after 911.
Better throw in those involved with US intellegence going back to the Reagan years since they were the wet nurses of the infant Al Q. And maybe throw in Pakistan's establishment too.

About the only people who we know didn't support Osama bin Ladin were the anti-war crowd and the Soviet government.

Hell, just torture everyone and see what they spill.
EPT | Email | Homepage | 06.16.04 - 8:31 am | #

As for Plame, the ARAMACO link was like oh hellll. No wonder she was outed.

Mr.Murder | Email | Homepage | 06.16.04 - 11:13 am | #

Updated: Fixed Atrios link at top.

Suffice to say, there is a story (concerning oil machinations) within a story (outing Plame) here.

Other science blogs

These are some general-science blogs which feature good discussion.
Quark Soup
Chris C. Mooney

and a more environmental-specific blog:
Howling at a Waning Moon
which is the best antitode to occasionally perusing the following:
EviroSpin Watch

DarkSyde provided this interesting link:
Culture Wars


Compare and contrast.

The story so far ..
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Weapons of Financial Deception
PretenseEnergy manipulationEnergy manipulation
Think TanksProject of the New American Century (Perle, et al)Tech Central Station (Glassman, et al)
Willing PartnerGreat BritainGreat Britain (wrote the books on energy deregulation)
IncubatorPost 9-11 frenzyDot-com boom frenzy
FortunesEnergy bonanzaEnergy on paper
Windfall RacketeeringCronyism, Kickbacks, Cost-overrunsCreative bookkeeping, Profit inflation, Subsidiary partnerships
Worker BeesSoldiersOffice drones
InvestorsPatriots, military familiesRetirees, pensioners
LeadershipSupport the troops, democracy takes timeStocks are long term, wait till next quarter
DeceptionInflated press reportsInflated stock price
Teflon FigureheadGeorge BushKen Lay
Tipping PointNo WMD'sNo real profits
DownfallAngry votersAngry stockholders
Rallying CryYou're either for us or against usYour stock options are dependent on our success
Slippery slopeMorale plummetsStock price plummets
Framing the Issue"Unpatriotic!""Anti-business!"
Tricked Early AdoptersJohn KerryCalifornians, Paul Krugman
MisdirectionValerie PlameMartha Stewart
Pure EvilTortureEnron Tapes
Reputation GoneN.Y. TimesArthur Andersen
Share the blameBeltway journalists, SCLMStock analysts
Signs of "Vinnie the Chin"The reporter started with,"Sir, in regard to...", to which Bush responded, "Who are you talking to?"Skilling was taken to a hospital after several people called police saying he was pulling on their clothes and accusing them of being FBI agents
Final Verdict??????

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Bush's Eleven

Michael Ruppert, known in Peak Oil circles as the chief nemesis of Thomas "Dry Hole" Gold, has a new circumstantially disturbing piece. He tries to piece together some of the broken U.S. intelligence strategies in the Middle East.

I did not realize that the CIA and in particular Plame, had deep cover in the Saudi oil company Aramco. I suggest the tag line Aram-con for what they were trying to do, a variant of the Big Store con described in this previous post.

If this is true, and the fact that the administration blew the cover of Plame, and apparently dissolved the con-game in mid-stream, means that the administration got conned themselves (ala Chalabi) while bungling a con operated by their own people.
Skip Bittman (loudly): "Whaddaya, nervous? You guys look like you're gonna PULL A HEIST!!!"

Monday, June 14, 2004

Bicycling on the Freeway

Since someone else is talking about this, I thought I would give my first-hand experiences.

So I decided to cross the big muddy a few weeks ago through a non-traditional route. I talked to a fellow pedaling bicyclist, who suggested that the Cedar bridge was passable, but there was a fence that you had to negotiate. Well I got there OK, did not see a fence, but did see the sign Prohibited use of highway by bicycles, pedestrians or non- motorized vehicles. I must say these signs are fairly clear on entrance ramps, and it would seem suspicious to claim not to have seen it, but I gave it a go. No problems, as the shoulders are fairly wide.

I see as unresolved problems in urban areas especially, the interchanges and buses using shoulders during rush hour.

My insanity defense: I have heard that equivalent Canadian freeways and western states like Montana allow bicyclists.

I am not this insane: Flash News Story!

The Big Store Con

But today, to justify multibillion-dollar investments in politically or technologically risky fields, companies have become much more aggressive, he said.

... thus quoting Matt Simmons. Subjectively, we wonder what this statement really means. Technically speaking, being aggressive would involve taking more chances on unknown-quantity drilling locations. Ok, I can understand that. But political risk? Short of risking war, I have no idea. So what exactly were the secret energy task force meetings all about? Maybe meetings on how to con or not be conned?

Spam con. Internet denizens routinely get hit by spam. We can try to fight this with things like Bayes filtering techniques. Bayes applied to the oil business means constantly updating new predictions with current data. Oil spam is the consistent noise about greater volume of reserves, mixed in with lower production amounts and refinery limitations. Applying Bayes, production decreases have to be mixed in with legacy predictions. Perhaps the decrease may mean that we can no longer extract the oil as easily as before.
Lesson: put your filters on.

Dumb Guy con. The people of the Middle East have had centuries of experience dealing with politics. Despite their seeming lack of technical infrastructure (in comparison to western nations), they can make up for it in political savvy. I recently overheard somebody (Tony Judt?) say, in comparison, ancient Middle Eastern societies make the U.S. look like amateurs in wheeling-dealing. Next time, look at stated national oil reserve estimates from Saudi Arabia, et al, with a jaundiced eye.
Lesson: don't be taken as a rube.

Double Talk con. What is the difference between proven, probable, and possible oil reserves.
Lesson: listen carefully.

The Big Store con. Recall the movie The Sting. Create a realistic book-making operation (i.e. a war, battlefield, Chalabic two-timers, backroom neo-cons), set up elaborate stage directions, and then have a quick exit strategy (???). We will call this particular instance, the Neo con.
Lesson: enjoy the movie and wait for the climax.

Enron con. The big store with computers, kind of like the movie, Trading Places.
Lesson: Say no more, we'd be had.

"One unusual attendee was Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency, who gave a speech saying that everything is fine, before admitting afterwards to a BBC reporter that everything is not. "This is not for the press," he said, after blurting out that the Saudis need to increase supply by 3m barrels a day to avert an oil crisis by the end of the year."


Sunday, June 13, 2004


Majority Report radio spent a chunk of time discussing the greasel inititiative to encourage the use of waste vegetable oil as diesel fuel.
Original story by guest Joshua Bearman here.
The one note of universal agreement is that the country’s 3 billion annual gallons of waste vegetable oil and 60,000,000 acres of fallow fields that could grow soybeans or rapeseed or other vegetable-oil crops represent a wide open opportunity for renewable energy use.

I don't really buy the claimed bad blood between the biodiesel and waste vegetable oil proponents. Even if we can recover 3 billion gallons of waste vegetable oil (on average, 10 gallons wasted per person per year, or 1/2 a cup per day), this amounts to 1% of the amount of oil we currently use. At some point, the bio-fuel with the best net energy advantage will win.

Aside: AirAmerica news reader is named Lamont Cranston. Apparently, the shadow knows.

Energy Efficient Politicos

Jim Oberstar, U.S. representative from northern Minnesota and R.T. Rybak, mayor of Minneapolis demonstrate support for bicycling initiatives at the national and local levels.
Stories here

A couple of little things:
  • Oberstar apparently initiated the national Safe Routes to Schools program (encouraging biking/walking).
  • Rybak pushing for dedicated bikeways to a new baseball stadium.

It appears that they understand that any fundamental change begins with the kids.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Sniffing for Peak Helium

I have been subscribed to the American Physical Society's FYI mailing list newsletter for probably over 10 years now. I faintly recall picking up info on potential helium depletion warnings from the FYI long ago.
Dr. Bob Park, 1995
At its 19 Nov 1995 meeting, the elected Council of the American Physical Society adopted a strongly worded statement calling for measures to "conserve and enhance the nation's helium reserves." The action was prompted by pending legislation that would require the nation's helium reserves to be sold off by 2015. In the rush to downsize government, the helium program has become a metaphor for "boondoggle" among politicians who associate it with blimps and party balloons. There is scant awareness of helium's growing cryogenic uses -- or its rapid depletion. It's a constituent of natural gas from a few "helium-rich" fields in the US. Less than half of the helium is needed to meet current demand; the rest is wasted. These fields are expected to be depleted in 20 years -- or about when the selloff of the federal reserve is completed.
Dr. Bob Park, 1998
The Helium Privatization Act of 1996 calls for the government to get out of the helium business (good idea) and sell off the reserve (really bad idea). However, an amendment added to the bill at the urging of the APS says the National Academy of Sciences must first study what the consequences would be. A panel headed by physicist John Reppy of Cornell is doing that right now. This week, they heard from researchers and the message was clear: Don't even think of selling the reserve -- enlarge it! Otherwise, helium depletion will remain completely independent of whether it's carefully husbanded or recklessly squandered -- it's extracted from natural gas, and the gas gets burned whether the helium is extracted or not. One researcher described helium as a "gift," without which modern science and technology would not have been possible. Does this generation have a right to waste it?

Implicit in this is the tie-in between natural gas reserves and helium reserves. Helium depletion issues act as a microcosm for the larger energy depletion issues.
Tracking the state of helium allows us to understand or at least filter the noise in different political terms. Face it, apart from party balloons and scuba divers, ordinary citizens don't come into contact with helium too often. Science remains the province of helium use. As an example, for NMR operators helium is their single biggest expense. As part of my past duties, I used to order helium to recharge cryopumps periodically, and wouldn't doubt the expense in other scientific applications.
"If you want technology to work miracles for you, you should at least listen to the tech people when they say something's important.".

The U.S.A. was once the leader for helium "production",
Rusia to Pump Helium
MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Rusia Petroleum, which is controlled by TNK-BP, plans to extract helium gas in eastern Siberia, Prime-Tass reported Tuesday, citing Rusia's general director Valery Pak.
Rusia plans to set up a venture with NPO Geliimash and Sayanskkhimplast to pump helium at the Kovykta gas field, developed by Rusia, Prime-Tass said. The partners will invest $40 million to extract seven billion cubic meters of helium gas per year.
Rusia, in which TNK-BP holds a 62.42 percent stake, is developing the field near the town of Irkutsk, which holds as much as 2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, enough to supply Asia with gas for 10 years.
Kovykta holds a quarter of the world's helium reserves, the news service said.
The gas is used in manufacturing of high- technology equipment and is considered a strategic resource under Russian law. The partners plan to sell helium domestically and for exports.

The helium depletion debate has periodically resurfaced in the media over the years. The earlier reference was in regards to selling off the United States reserves in a few years. In 2001, Wired reported again, and got certain futurists excited by the potential for vast helium reserves on the moon, and even Uranus (no Homer jokes this time).

More recently, the Houston Geological Society featured a talk on challenges for 21st century helium extraction. Interestingly enough, the challenges look much the same as for oil. Look at this graph and notice how we have started to recently dip into the helium reserves (shades of the Kerry and Bush debating on using our oil reserves)

Apparently, recycling helium hasn't resulted in long term savings. As natural gas refiners collect helium only on demand, if we recycled more, they collected less.
Helium prices from one of the suppliers, BOC Gases, have increased 15%, 15-20%, and 10-15% in the years 2001, 2002, and 2003.

All you have to know about helium is that it is a slippery creature. The reason balloons filled up with helium don't last as long as air-filled balloons is that the small size of the He2 molecule allows it to escape through the tiniest openings (including the balloon material itself). It is actually so slippery that I as well as a host of other scientists know the trick of using helium in very small quantities along with a mass spectrometer to detect leaks in vacuum systems (aka helium sniffing).

Clearly, in a global context, any helium extracted along with natural gas that goes unused, escapes straight up and out of the atmosphere into the vacuum of outer space, never to be seen again, just like a child accidentally letting go of his balloon.

World Nut Daily

Dateline May 25, 2004: Laughs galore here.

Apparently an oft-quoted reference:
(Dr. J.F.Kenney) was quoted as stating that "competent physicists, chemists, chemical engineers and men knowledgeable of thermodynamics have known that natural petroleum does not evolve from biological materials since the last quarter of the 19th century."

almost as credible as:
H. Simpson: In this house, we OBEY the laws of thermodynamics!

And to put the kibosh on the lunacy:
If Dr. Gold and Dr. Kenney are correct, this "the end of the world as we know it" scenario simply won't happen. Think about it ... while not inexhaustible, deep Earth reserves of inorganic crude oil and commercially feasible extraction would provide the world with generations of low-cost fuel. Dr. Gold has been quoted saying that current worldwide reserves of crude oil could be off by a factor of over 100.
A Hedberg Conference, sponsored by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, was scheduled to discuss and publicly debate this issue. Papers were solicited from interested academics and professionals. The conference was scheduled to begin June 9, 2003, but was canceled at the last minute. A new date has yet to be set.

Yea, I remember when the special conference sessions were cancelled regarding High-Tc Superconductivity, Scanning Tunneling Microscopy, Buckyballs, and other important scientific discoveries in the past 20 years. (sarcasm intended)

Theory or Consequence?

Do we believe that the "thing" we call Peak Oil is best described as a theory? In a mathematical sense, the Peak Oil concept does depend on numbers, has predictive value, and various empirical formulas have been attached to it. But just because we can involve math, does not make it a theory; this actually makes it sound a tad pretentious. And fundamentally, is it even fair to call it a theory? Fair in the sense that Peak Oil has occurred in several countries (in the sense of easily extractable oil) and thus is provably correct in cases.

Take, for example, some analogies to Peak Oil and try to call them theories.
  • Species Extinction: Extinction has occurred in the past, scientists can predict more extinctions will occur in the future. So is extinction a theory?

  • Dam Sedimentation: The fact that reservoirs will eventually fill with sediment. Engineers can predict when it will happen. So is this a theory?

  • Lunar Eclipse: These have happened in the past and will happen in the future. Theory?

Backing off a little on the rhetoric, maybe defining Peak Oil as a parametric model would fit better semantically than labelling it a theory.

Actually for the layman, Peak Oil is best defined as a predictable event and a set of consequences.
Professor Frink: Here is an ordinary square.
Chief Wiggum: Whoa, whoa ... slow down, egghead!

better -- Peak Oil, like a cheap battery running out of juice, will happen, the only question is when.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Voluntary regulations / Regulatory volunteerism

EPA proposals for cleaning up legacy diesel engines imply a long-term conundrum.

Diesels provide energy efficiencies -->Diesels pollute more
-->The process of reducing pollution decreases energy efficiency.

Unless the net energy output over regular gasoline is positive, diesel may not confer such a strong advantage.

And this point may well prove moot, as the proposed regulations are purely voluntary.

House Mix

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 74: June 10, 2004

FY 2005 DOE Appropriations Bill Completed by House Subcommittee

While the full details are not yet available, the House Energy and
Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee completed its work
yesterday on the FY 2005 Energy and Water Development Appropriations
Bill. The subcommittee released a statement summarizing the bill,
which is highlighted below. The all-important committee report
language will be covered in a future issue of FYI after the
legislation is considered by the full House Appropriations


High Energy Physics budget: The current budget is $733.6 million.
The Bush Administration requested $737.4 million. The subcommittee
bill would provide $753.4 million, an increase of $19.8 million or
2.7% over this year.

Nuclear Physics budget: The current budget is $389.6 million. The
Bush Administration requested $401.0 million. The subcommittee bill
would provide $415.0 million, an increase of $25.4 million or 6.5%
over this year.

Biological and Environmental Research budget: The current budget is
$641.5 million. The Bush Administration requested $501.6 million.
The subcommittee bill would provide $571.6 million, a decrease of
$69.9 million or 0.9% from this year.

Basic Energy Sciences budget: The current budget is $1,010.6
million. The Bush Administration requested $1,063.5 million. The
subcommittee bill would provide $1.1 billion, an increase of $89.4
million or 8.8% over this year. The committee provided the full
request for the Spallation Neutron Source.

Fusion Energy Sciences budget: The current budget is $262.6
million. The Bush Administration requested $264.1 million. The
subcommittee bill would provide $276.1 million, an increase of $13.5
million or 5.1% over this year.

Advanced Scientific Computing Research budget: The current budget is
$202.3 million. The Bush Administration requested $204.3 million.
The subcommittee bill would provide $234.0 million, an increase of
$31.7 million or 15.7% over this year.


Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator: Funding was zeroed out by the
Advanced Concepts Research: Funding was zeroed out by the
Enhanced Test Readiness: Funding was zeroed out by the subcommittee.
Modern Pit Facility: Funding was zeroed out by the subcommittee.

Peanut and Jelly-bean Futures

From an Altercation contribution, an interesting non-verifiable observation.
Stupid says:
Take a look at a graph of crude oil prices from, oh, 1950 to the present. Do you see that huge (and biggest) spike between 1976 and 1979? Oil priced DOUBLED in that period - to about $80/barrel in current dollars. How surprising is it that the economy was sputtering with energy costs like that? Just as suddenly oil prices PLUMMETED during the Reagan years, to sub-Carter levels. By 1990 it was at $33/barrel. I'm willing to give Reagan a bit of credit for a supply-side effect on investment caused by lowering taxes on the rich (something that is not repeatable, despite subsequent attempts). But the drop in oil prices pumped far more money into the economy. Add to that Reagan's deficit spending and the natural turnings of the business cycle. And the myopic media doesn't ask how much better the nation would have been in the long run with Carter's conservation-based energy policy.

Add to that the loss of U.S.-produced oil during the early-to-mid 70's, which caused outflow of dollars.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

They were wrong before

The argument goes like this: Historical prognosticators who tried to predict a future oil crisis on a certain date, have been proved wrong time and time again. Therefore, any new prognostications should not be taken seriously.

Let me turn the tables and put this in the context of the previous MOBJ post; and of someone who has gotten it wrong many times before. A well-known scientist, Thomas Gold, pushes for a pet theory claiming inexhaustable oil supplies due to biochemical processes below the earth's surface. Gold is the someone who has gotten it wrong many times in the past.
  1. In the 1940s, early in his career, Gold developed the idea of a "steady-state universe"

  2. His suggestion that the moon might be deeply covered by very fine dust
Both of these theories are discredited, the dust one very objectively.

Gold has been around for awhile, and shares some eccentric traits with colleagues such as Fred Hoyle. Hoyle in fact pushes this one step further, getting something arguably correct, the "Big Bang" theory, but then dismissing it in his later years. (For a good read, Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything covers scientific personalities with lots of humor. Hoyle gets good coverage.)

Apparently Gold has gotten some theories right as well. In fact, getting something right could be due to luck and/or opportunism (see Bryson again). However, in my opinion, scientists must have a very high batting average to attain real credibility. In relative terms, it is easier to spout off lots of front-running wild ideas, many of them wrong, than to diligently pursue rigorously provable ideas, both in theoretical and experimental terms.
Gold has an absolutely ridiculously bad batting average in scientific terms. Many good scientists bat nearly 1.000. Thomas "Flunker" Gold, please throw in the towel, you strike out way too often.

Turning the tables back, scientists perhaps have gotten the dates wrong on Peak Oil in the past. Still, this has no bearing on the basic idea, and further refined analyses and historical data will provide better estimates each and every day.

UPDATE: Thomas Gold is more a cretin than I initially thought. Here, described is his "experiment".
That's right. I arrived on a Saturday in Mallorca with the sample and I was alone in the apartment. So first of all I looked around in the neighborhood and there was not a single shop open. I knew the sample was oily - I could feel that - so I thought that maybe there would be some nail polish remover to use as a solvent. I looked through all the cupboards for nail polish remover but couldn't find any. Eventually I decided hot water and kitchen detergent would be my best bet. The sludge was like quite thick putty so I tried to dissolve it - it took a lot of doing. In the end I had a clear liquid, light gray, and I thought it was particulate. The grain size was so small that kitchen paper could serve as a chromatogram - diffusion would take the black stuff some way out through the paper, while the liquid went much farther. In such a case you think first of a metal. So I thought, Well, iron is common - is there a magnet in the house? There were magnetic door latches on the cabinets, so I unscrewed those and put some of my liquid on aluminum foil and immediately it made sharp lines between the poles. So it was most likely magnetite.

Poor, poor Mr. Scientist. He probably has no money for a mass spectrometer. Get out of the way, and let the professionals do the work. Heck, let the actors from C.S.I. get involved, at least they have an idea of the technology available.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Our more or less insane quasi-market system

The master of the off-hand comment, Noam Chomsky blogs on oil prices.

He accurately recalls that current inflation-adjusted prices were half the late 70's prices.

He sums up the rest of the issues in his typical short and concise manner.

The comments section includes the contrarian talking-points viewpoints:

  1. Argument 1 (they have been wrong before)

  2. Argument 2 (enormous amounts available)

Argument 3: that market forces can help is addressed by Chomsky,

"It might also be worth noting that there would be great advantages to a much higher price. In our more or less insane quasi-market system, the only means of something like rational planning is market forces."

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

"Campaigning against the passage of time"

Monbiot describes the elitist advertising coming out of both Bush and Kerry presidential campaign advertising.

I suppose Bush's commercial depicting Kerry-oil-taxed bicycle riders, could have been meaner. He could have had fez-wearing shriners, wheeling around on tricycles.

In the remainder of the piece, George "Quote Machine" Monbiot continues to do his homework.

I am especially intrigued by the forecasts for supply and demand. Even through the past recession, demand and consumption of oil barely made a dent in its monotonically increasing trend. As the spare capacity shrinks, the theoretical demand elasticity curves will be put to the test.

Number of Major oil finds (of over 500 million barrels)
2000 *************
2001 ******
2002 **
2003 (none)
2004 ?

Which quote is more clever?

Wrong Foot

Most new model home and gated communities start off on tracts of land that have undergone an initial clear-cutting of all trees. Nothing that we (you or I) can do about this; it's the developers' money and land and there may be some rationale reasons for doing this. Still, subconciously the sight of familiar eco-scenes decimated has had the unintended effect of promoting bad first impressions and a sense of loss. Since I don't really know the logical arguments that would clear my mind, this tends to stick with me.

So even years later, after I see a few new native Kazhakstan apple trees or stinky Russian olive trees sprouting, I still say to myself "Where's the rest of me?"

Which brings me to this item from Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest:
I remember that Reagan's first week in office involved taking down the solar panels that President Carter had installed on the White House roof, and pardoning the FBI agents who had been convicted of illegal activities involving spying on, intimidating and breaking into the houses of Nixon's political opponents.

What a way to be introduced to your new first family neighbors, and form lasting impressions.

Closing the Circle: What's with the favorite past-time of chopping wood (Reagan) and hauling rocks and clearing cedar (Bush)? Actually clearing shrub cedar by hand is the most hopeless activity imaginable. It's like trying to eradicate (the likewise imported) carp by bow-hunting.
- IMO, what a waste of energy .... but, then again, .. Man must control nature!

Just overheard Al Franken quote (6/8/2004) on AirAmerica radio: "It may be time to clear brush at the White House"

Updated: "He seems to be just fixated with clearing cedar because he's been told the cedar strangles other plants and drains water away from them," Mr. Walsh said. "They're trying to restore the place to its natural state with native plants." The Bushes also like to show off the energy-saving features at the ranch, including a geothermal heat pump.

Pumper Nickel

Not much in this article except to report that the USA subsidizes cheap oil for Iraqis. A bit of an allusion to drug addiction as well -- hooking the addict through low prices, later on jacking up prices, and then "The minute the aid goes out, the party is over. And there's going to be a hell of a hangover."

Monday, June 07, 2004


SPIKED (via PeakOil) publishes a contrarian article. Be forewarned, Spiked (as in drugged) is a shadowy British outfit according to George Monbiot with questionable geopolitical agendas.

This is my favorite absurd line from the article:
A far more sensible approach would be to see potentially declining oil supplies as simply a practical problem.

The only correct statement:
Like most other oil fields, on its own ANWR would only provide a relatively small amount of oil.

The next two quotes show a revealing connection:
Today's less dynamic economy is a cause of less rapidly growing oil consumption, rather than its consequence.

Notice the similarity to the Quote of the Day:
"We need an energy policy that encourages consumption." - George Bush II (via weaseldog)

Therefore George Bush is clearly a swivel-eyed neolibertarian technoenthusiast

More discussion from PeakOil blog:

At 11:39 PM, MrExcessive said...

I found this particularly amusing (half-way through the article) :
The second argument, that we can predict a peak by projecting from past production, is even more problematic. It relies on the idea that production is determined by the amount of oil available, rather than by broader economic or political considerations.

This misses the point I think. The Hubbert and Campbell work and the Deffeyes book use past total _discoveries_ as a basis for predicting future production. With a finite resource it seems sensible to do this - after all, where else will production come from if not sources of supply which have been discovered.

The overall assumption which Kaplinsky makes, that the world can produce oil for 30-40 years is evidently wrong. This is the Reserves/Production, or R/P, ratio fallacy.
(from the article) "
Looking at accepted figures for known reserves of oil, at first it is hard to see any basis for pessimism. At present rates of consumption there are 30 or 40 years' worth of oil known to be retrievable using present methods.

The reason that this is a fallacy is that the production-time-remaining figure is calculated by dividing reserves by current or projected consumption. Unfortunately this doesn't work with oil (it might with gas...) because oil wells do not behave like gas-tanks.

Put simply, the amount of work which must be done to lift a barrel of oil from a particular well will start off small, when the well is first installed. As the well ages more and more energy must be put into lifting a barrel's volume, separating the oil from the various extracting agents which have been added to maintain production volumes. In other words the oil gets more expensive to lift AND uses more energy to lift. Economics determines when it is too expensive to lift - but physics determines when the well changes from being an energy source into an energy sink (takes more energy to lift a barrel than will eventually be obtained from that barrel - so production couldn't sustain itself and produce a surplus without external input of energy)

There has been a well known large scale experiment to demonstrate that the R/P calculation leads to bad results: The US hit production peak in oil sometime between 1969 and 1971; Since then it has had to use imported oil in an increasing proportion; Nonetheless the reserves remaining in 1970 were approximately 60% of the estimated total volume present. Conclusion, the R/P ratio is not a valid way to calculate the production time remaining.

Re. Low Investment:
I agree that no new refineries have been built in US in 3 decades. This is because
a) they are very expensive to build and
b) the oil companies knew when peak would arrive 3 decades ago - once Hubbert was proved correct about the 1970 US production peak - and did not see any point in investing in capacity which would never be used.

In comparison to the Spiked-ones, Mr. Excessive is actually quite the tea-totaler.

Black Gold

lays out the playing field for global competition for oil.

The interview with Jim Paul struck me once again that the arguments for a free market modulation of oil production and consumption may mislead people into believing that capitalism will sort things out. So many countries are in the mix, including UK and USA (the tech kingpins), France (& Europe as shady? opportunists), China (increasing demands), Russia, India, OPEC, .. and so on, that we should never think of USA-style economics as a model.
Not all these countries practice unfettered capitalism. Many have nationalist leanings. (Aside: note how many extemporaneous speakers trip up and pronounce country when they mean to say company and vice versa. My theory is that we all have subliminal thoughts that corporatism should mean nationalism before it turns into globalism).

Listen to the audio (mp3 download of show is 28 MB typically) or read the transcript. DN is probably the best audio radio news archives out there.

Anti-commercial: The seamy (pork) underbelly of radio, Rush Limbaugh apparently is ranting about Oil during his daily screeds. Choice boasts include: "Oil is the fuel of freedom" and "Our people have expectations". You guessed it, conservation will never get mentioned.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Energy in Agriculture

An article that only became available non-subscription recently called Eating Fossil Fuels has a number of interesting facts.

This piece covers some of the same ground as the recent Harper's article reviewed here. Both equally bleak, I desk-checked many of the numbers for consistency. I could find no misleading computations.
Particulary alarming were these numbers that I factored out :
  • 6 million equivalent oil barrels/day used per day in producing USA food (apparently not including transportation and a few other post-production factors)

  • 400 gallons of oil equivalent annually to feed each American

  • Current USA daily diet would require 3 weeks of (slave)1 labor capita to produce (this desk-checks with energy usage assuming 22% efficiency converting fuel to mechanical energy)

  • We use 400x more water daily than oil

One area that I did not get a good handle on is the difference in energy usage for exported food versus USA consumed food. USA is a huge exporter of food, so this may make us look more gluttonous in energy usage than we appear to be. Natural gas also is important and I did not get a good feel on how much more it is used (especially for fertilizer) than oil.

1That is my reading

Mid-Life Crisis Magazine

The radio show Unfiltered had the editor for Car&Driver, Csaba Csere, on this week talking hybrids. They asked him: why, if you put a new turtle-neck design on the cover of Vogue nagazine, you will guarantee lots of sales, but would the same hold true if a hybrid car was placed on Car&Driver?
The editor said if he were to actually place a hybrid on the cover, the readers would not buy the magazine. The implicit understanding is that covers are reserved for muscle cars and their ilk.

Liz Winstead said the magazine should be renamed Mid-Life-Crisis Magazine. Right, and in more ways than one.

I happened to catch sight of a used Brigestone RB-3 road bike for $99 today. Since my RB-T was hit by a car last year (with me riding it), I decided to snap it up. Bridgestone no longer makes bikes, but they were solidly made, this one was no exception. Moral to the story, I asked for like $800 on the insurance claim (with statements from local bike shops), the responsible party would only pay $250 for a used bike (as if they have a blue book for bikes). But ha!, I was able to get nearly a mint bike for $99. Small victory.

From what I experienced and what I have read, auto insurance companies treat bikers and pedestrians who get hit by cars like dirt. You can get property damage no sweat, but if you happen to want to claim medical (in this particular instance), you have to give out your own auto policy. Fat chance of that happening. This accident caused a dislocated finger; seeing enough Mel Gibson movies (see MOBJ: Road Warriors), I knew it was important to reset the finger on the scene. I lost $100 in medical by later having the finger x-rayed, taking a calculated risk that my auto insurance rates would have gone up that much if I had claimed medical.

(Almost) Closing the Circle: From what I understand Mad Mel has had dislocated shoulders as a recurring theme in several movies, from Lethal Weapon to Passion; see this quote from TruthNews
Jim Caviezel, who suffered a dislocated shoulder as he carried the heavy cross,

Now, that is some macho acting.

Awareness vs Blinders

I hereby declare that the beginning of June 2004 marks the reawakening of peak oil issues in the mainstream media. For the near term it will be hard to keep up with news reports. Krugman was probably the trickle before the dam burst.

Latest editorial in the Washington Post

With the awareness-raising news items, we will also see the contrarians raise their voices. Examples of naysaying to oil issues:
Look at this passage in the Telegraph piece.
Impending disaster
Is this much too sanguine? Many people believe that before too long we will simply run out of oil, prompting economic disaster. Such thinking continues a long - and erroneous - tradition. In the mid-19th century, the then celebrated economist Jevons predicted the end of industrial progress because the world would run out of coal. In 1939, official bodies predicted that oil would last only 13 more years. As Professor Frank Noterstein said in his later years: "We've been running out of oil ever since I was a boy."

The official bodies reference is humourous. Otherwise, not much to argue in the last quote. He could have also said "time is monotonically advancing" and he would prove correct now and forever. At least the other pieces mention Hubbert.

The most common rhetorical arguments that I have seen are:

  1. They have been demonstrated wrong before

  2. It's simply a supply and demand issue

  3. Geez, look at the huge numbers we're forecasting. Aren't these numbers large?

The last point needs some explaining. The Minerals and Energy piece has this passage:
And indeed, when the 2001 discovery of the giant Buzzard field, estimated at 500 million barrels (Dafter 2003) or 70 million tones, is added to the UK curve, the new asymptote will be even less obvious. (my emphasis added) .

You notice the mention of 500 million barrels? They get you excited because the number looks big and they use the adjective giant to describe it. Well, 500 million barrels is enough for a liitle over 6 days of world-wide consumption, if we can get to all of it.

Just remember the three talking points ("wrong before", "market forces", "enormous amount")

Saturday, June 05, 2004

The Air Car

The Air Car has gotten the press excited on and off over the years.

The French design, which has received the most publicity, uses compressed air as an energy delivery mechanism. It has the potential for providing a clean-burning solution, but as usual it takes net energy to compress the air. No free lunch, unless wind or solar energy are involved to run the air compressors. And even there, we require energy to make the windmills and solar conversion devices.

As a sanity check here are two ways to calculate the energy value of 1 liter of compressed air. Remember that the gold standard is 1 GJ/30 liters for gasoline (or 33,000,000 joules/liter).
First, if you compress air completely you actually get liquid. So we take the energy value of liquid nitrogen (air consists of 70% nitrogen by volume).

  1. Energy Density/Specific Energy of liquid nitrogen = 320 KJ/l or 320,000 joules/liter

  2. Heat of Vaporization of liquid nitrogen = 161 KJ/l or 161,000 joules/liter
  3. (to double-check the above value)

Looking at specific energy, this is at best 100 times less energy content than gasoline. On the plus side, the transfer to mechanical power is better than for gasoline (burning gas generates much wasted heat). Granted that advantage, we still have to generate the compressed air by using energy, and to top it off, we also have much worse energy density (i.e. energy per volume) than gasoline. You understand why consumers and corporation like gasoline (little energy overhead to extract a free lunch).

This is not all bad; after all, humans on bicycles and battery powered vehicles can get around prestty good right now. The bottom line: compressed air or liquid nitrogen power is similar to battery power, very good for light-weight vehicles and short excursions.

Specific Energy of various storage devices1 :

1from U.Washington cryogenic auto lab.

added: Fixed up some of the numbers. Some of my initial skepticism over the Air Car or cryogenic-based cars was due to being a consumer of many liquid nitrogen cannisters/day during my basic research days. As anyone who has used these before, the cannisters were big and heavy enough to need special carts to haul them around. And then they were only used to cryogenically pump out semiconductor vacuum systems. Thinking that the energy I wasted was enough to drive over a 100 miles (as The Air Car claims go) initially raised my suspicions. But then again, I usually rode in on a bike and could do a century bike ride no problem on energy formed out of carbohydrates and fat. Ergo, we will always find creative ways to get around with an energy source at our disposal.


The economist Brad De Long has posted a link to an Economist article on the oil market.

Some discussion on ANWR possibilities in the comments, which jives with what Goodstein thinks. I have to learn not to post to right-wing sites, the outsidethebeltway blog erased my comment on the same topic. Oh well.

previous ANWR post

also SW pointed out "2003 was the first year that absolutely NO major oil fields were discovered."

Daily Kos aboard

The Daily Kos with contributor Meteor Blades has a long meticulous post on peak oil effects.

They have the DOE inflation-adjusted gasoline price graph here


Cursor pointed out this Strib article on the possible declining interest in hummers among consumers. I work building the software and simulating virtual designs for big diesel rigs everyday and these humvees do not impress me in the least. Show me a cool road or mountain bike to get me excited.

Another more important potential interest is in hybrid diesels. I know for a fact that diesel ground vehicles up to 20-tons are being designed right now using hybrid-electric drives. What my colleagues and myself are finding is the huge space savings within the vehicle; because of the efficiencies in the powerplant, you get a counter-intuitive reduction in size.

Dark Side of the Moon

From the Billmon thread, the commenter ~DS~ has a host of enteresting observations:
Interesting thread. Some points to ponder: About 80 % plus of global oil comes from less than two dozen large fields.
Oil in most major fields sits on top of water in sandy formations. When a well is established, one of the first tasks of the resovior engineers and managers is to determine the max production rate which will not over pull the well.

Over pulling happens when you basically pump too hard and suck water through the oil/sand. Once this happens, that well is ruined, and if done in just a few wells in a large field, the entire reservior can be compromised, forever, or at least on human time scales.
Understand this; the field will never give the performance it was capable of once it's been over pulled.

Note-the two main fields in Iraq, Rumulia and Kirkuk appear to have been ravaged in this manner. Saddam, likely esperate for cash, short of expertise and hardware, over pulled those fields and now they're essentially ruined. They can still produce some oil, but they will never produce the quantity promised by the Bush admin to pay for the invasion and reconstruction.
(You'd think an ex CEO of Haliburton and a multi-generational millionaire power family that ran Dresser Industry's would know that huh? And of course, they did, they simply lied about Iraqi oil producing capacity.)

The largest field in operation is Ghawar. It produces about 6% of world oil production. I believe the next largest is Awaz in Iran.
Both fields are being poorly managed. Partly because terrorist concderns have chased out much of the western expertise required for proper management.
My understanding is the 'water cut' in Ghawar is 30%, meaning 30% of the fluid coming up is water.

This is a bad sign, it means the field is watering out and could be over pulled already.
Ghawer is already pretty old. It will likely cease significant production within a decade. Same for Awaz, that's almost 10 % of global production. We currently have only a 3 % slack built in. Loosing 10 % would leave a deficit of 7 % which could be catastrophic. Although this would happen over a period of several years, so there might be time to bring other smaller fields online.

Now on top of watering out and [erhaps being over pulled already, the Saudi's plan to increase production to help Bush out. They will do this by...over pulling existing wells.
BAD idea.

This will result in a short term production increase and reduce price pressure, short term meaning over the next 6 months ... but down the road, it means major shortfalls and an earlier end to the largest most productive oil fields on earth.
It also means that at some point down the road, a large oil infrastructure production contractor will have to come in and try to salvage the field.

Combine this with the fact that global production is growing more slowly than consumption, and that these two lines will cross in the next ~10 years, and you have a recipe for absolute disaster.
Worse than the 70's.
The uniformed will tell you we have 4 trillion barrels of proven reserves in the Oronico Belt. And they'd be right, except that most of that reserve is road tar to viscuos to pump up a pipe and too deep to mine. It can produce at most 250,000 bbl/day.


In the long view, most petro-geologist feel oil will essentially run out in about 30-50 years or so. The timeline is highly logged to the industrial growth rates of China and India. As an example of how hard it is to extrapolate those rates, during SARS scare, Chinese gasoline consumption went up noticibly, because those who could afford cars bought them to avoid riding public transportation fearing infection.

Production in a field peaks when that field is about half emptied. That seems to already be happening, or near happening, in most major fields. It is estimated that global oil production will peak around 2020. And this assumes some kind of half decent resovior management. See my previous post.

If accurate, from 2020 on, global oil production will fall no. The consequences of this will be apocolyptic if measures are not taken now. A number of things could stave this off.
First, we could learn how to recover extremely viscous oil reserves such as the four trillion barrels in the Orinico Tar Belt. But we're talking about finding a way to move road tar up a thin pipe for miles. Current recovery techniques would produce perhaps 250,000 b/d.
Secondly, we could utilize more natural gas. NG is about 100 times as common as oil. It has a much larger temp/pressure window for formation, and we have a great deal of it in the Americas. We could conserve in a number of ways, mostly with more gas efficient cars in the US and western Europe. Our love affair with SUV's will likely be viewed with resentment in a few decades.
And of course there are alternative fuels, but there are no alternative even on the horizin. Just to give oyu an idea, to replace the portion of our power grid which uses fuel oil with nuclear plants would cost something like 10 trillion dollars. That's our entire GDP in this country for one year. It might take 40 years, and it might take 10 million workers.
Solar cells and fuel cells produce toxic by products in their manufacture. Hazardous waste which must be desposed of down injection wells. It would cost billions just to construct and maintian the injection wells to get rid of the waste from mass solar cell and mass fuel cell production.
Posted by: ~DS~ at June 4, 2004 12:45 PM

and in repsonse to my comment :
~DS~ you certainly describe with a good eye for detail.
This oil situation is actually a problem that a rational person can make headway with by just understanding the numbers. Howver, the problem that most people have with the numbers, is that they are beyond their reach. For example, how much does the world consume daily? About 80 million barrels. This is meaningless unless put into some context. This is like filling up a 1000 acre lake with several feet of water per day. True, this won't cause the world to spin off its axis, but it is a lot. Visualize, world-wide production draining this lake every day and perhaps transporting it halfway across the world. Kind of mind-boggling.

George Monbiot had an interesting article where he quoted industry excitement over the largest North Sea oil find in several years. Monbiot rightly pointed out that this new find would provide world-wide consumption for a little over 5 days. The peak oil theory is all about working these numbers out.

We worked the numbers out for peak oil in the USA back in the 50's to have it come true in the 70's. We may be seeing a peak in natural gas as the next problem in this country. Following Krugman's lead in understanding economic and other matters, we just have to look at the cold, hard numbers.

The big difference between peak oil and economics, is in the complexity of understanding. Economics gets into human behavior. And apparently theoretical economists hate Peak Oil theory, because it runs smack dab into their assumptions of unlimited supply and (in)elastic demand curves.
Posted by: Webster Hubble Telescope at June 5, 2004 01:41 AM



Agreed, and thank you for your response. Your own eye for detail is quite precise.
re: The North Sea Field due to come on line. It's meaningless to world oil production, at least in the sense that even with it, the UK will still be a net importer of oil.
There's a fellow who does a pretty good job of explaining the bleak oil forecast by the name of Glenn Morton. A search under that name and 'oil' will locate him.
I also agree on how difficult it is to extrapolate such a complex system as out digitl-financial-resource based culture with respect to any one variable.
I think it might be reasonable though that modeling any complex system as metastable, with regions of chaos, is the best for getting on a handle of how unpredictable the future end state of any perturbed system can be, no matter how small of course.

It's a reasonable assumption (I think) to assume a huge perturbation to a complex system, such as I've poorly outlined, would knock it into another metastate or even into fully chaotic behavior quickly.
But we can predict the exact nature of the monster that will be unleashed.
And necessity I think will feel the need as far as oil goes. People won't sit around and forget how to read and write and think, because oil becomes expensive.

It's almost better if this oil crash happens as early as possible in a global industrial culture, before it gets too complex, and thus has much further to 'fall' phase-space wise.
Posted by: ~DS~ at June 5, 2004 11:39 AM

Here is link to an oil crisis article by the Glenn Morton fellow. He seems to be a bit of a rennaisance man, both oil man and biologist, publishing a scientific article called “Random Worms: Evidence of Random and Nonrandom Processes in the Chromosomal Structure of Archaea, Bacteria and Eukaryotes”. Strangely, these articles appear in the journal "Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith". (I usually can't help but checking out credentials and curriculum vitae) Be that as it may, he does have the facts and a reference1 to Hubbert Curves for various nations, something I was just thinking of looking up.
  1. Richard C. Duncan and Walter Youngquist, "Encircling the Peak of World Oil Production, National Resources Research Vo. 8(1999):3:219-232.

added: ~DS~ says the christian science writings of Morton are a part of his anti-creationist viewpoint. Makes perfect sense upon reading his frequent mention of geological times on the order of millions of years.