Sunday, September 9, 2012

How Shale Gas Will Rock the World: A Belated Second Chorus

How Shale Gas Will Rock the World: A Belated Second Chorus

“Shale Gas Will Rock the World: Huge discoveries of natural gas promise to shake up the energy markets and geopolitics. And that's just for starters. That was a May 10, 2010, Wall Stree Journal post at by by Amy Myers Jaffe was also talking about about a subject of discussed in earlier posts on this blog—massive increases in natural gas reserves because of new drilling techniques to develop gas from shale. But, being a business newspaper it noted several key additions.

Besides repeating much already said in other articles, the Journal author considered “game-changing” implications. First, there is a generally good implication that large amounts of cheap domestic natural gas will bring more affordable prices for users of natural gas.

Furthermore, the domestic may slow or reverse the rise of energy imports for some time, possibly decades. There had been fears of an OPEC-like cartel of gas producers, but domestic supplies can make imports redundant and more costly than domestic supplies. Better still, increased supplies are also in Europe and elsewhere.

Lastly, in the good, natural gas is four hydrogen atoms and only one carbon atom. Thus, a greater part of energy use coming from gas would slow the rise of possible global warming.

However, the article had some possibly bothersome implications. Many alternative energy developments (such as wind and solar) are predicated on rising energy costs. Long-term supplies of natural gas mean that that alternatives become a poorer choice for business investors … and for voters who are the ultimate investors in government research.


My note: Several years ago there was an entertaining movie called, “Who Killed the Electric Automobile.” If natural gas supplies continue rising and prices keep falling, ther may be a movie entitled, “Who Killed the Electric Windmill.”

Coal Rising Again in Germany

Coal Rising Again in Germany

“Merkel’s Green Shift Forces Germany to Burn More Coal.” That was the Blomberg headline at on August 20, 2012. Prime Minister Angela Merkel shied away from nuclear fission after the earthquake-driven fission-reactor disaster in Japan. However, Germany needed power from somewhere, so coal it is.

Part of the rush to coal apparently came from the collapse of the carbon trading market for various reasons.

However, another issue was that coal power plants have become more efficient. The article keyed on 2,200-megawatt station near Cologne that is 43% efficient. Also, it can vary its electricity out put by 500 megawatts within a quarter hour.   That is important because the coal plant is backing up notoriously undependable wind generation facilities.

Bottom line: coal burned “last year” (presumably that means 2011) rose 5.4 percent.

Coralloary: If you think carbon dioxide will lead to a major increase in the greenhouse effect and sea-level rise, this might be a good time to snap up beach front property in Modesto, California … before it becomes beachfront property.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Physical and Economic Reasons for Noticeable Warming of Planet Earth

The Physical and Economic Reasons for Noticeable Warming

There a number of reasons to expect at least moderate warming in the 21st and 22nd Centuries. First, as the warmers will tell us (whether we are listening or not) there are increased levels of CO2, methane, and other of global warming agents.

More importantly, we are in only the second century of upswing from the end of the Little Ice Age in the late 1800s or early 1900s. The roughly fifteen hundred year cycle moves up on average gradually for six or seven centuries before the shuddering drop, like a roller coaster, into cold weather; therefore, continuation of the natural cycle would be a gradual warming.

Possibly most important, there are ongoing industrial revolutions in what were called the Second World and the Third World in the Twentieth Century. The cliché is BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), but many counties are in a rapidly industrializing phase with economic growth rates of averaging 5% or more each year. That growth makes increases in greenhouse agents inevitable. Because coal-fired energy is a half or a third that of alternate energies, the developing economies will continue using coal first, as well as alternative energies.

We saw it first with China, which started producing more CO2 each year than the United States in about 2005. Barring some calamity, India, Brazil, and other developing countries will follow China in exceeding the U.S. in CO2 emissions because they are growing faster and because coal is presently the cheapest energy source.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) could theoretically allow unlimited coal use without any climate affects, but CCS is still mostly a theoretical concept. Carbon dioxide has been separated out from oil production and put back into permeable strata underground. However, CCS from coal combustion has not been done commercially. The only large-scale use has been pumping CO2 into oil and gas fields to increase production, which of course would contribute to more hydrocarbons for burning.

Even if the world careens into a heavily natural gas economy with one-fifth the CO2 emissions per unit of energy production as compared with a largely coal economy, a tenfold growth in energy use would still double CO2 emissions. History suggests that the world economy will do just that. There was a several-fold economic growth in the Twentieth Century, and energy use increased faster than economic growth.

Think of it in terms of the Rule of 72. Compounding interest or compounding growth can be estimated by dividing the average growth into 72. If the world maintains its historical average, 72 divided by 4 is 24 years for a double; therefore, 48 years is a quadruple, and 72 years is an eightfold increase. A more conservative 2 percent growth would see the eightfold increase in 108 years.

More likely, coal will remain a major part of the expanding energy mix, world growth in CO2 emissions would be more like 5 or 6 percent.

Furthermore, there are other societal inputs that may be small but which make their contributions:

· More intensive agriculture with plowing and grazing to near ground level (as opposed to trees or tall grass) increases absorption of solar radiation.

· Urbanization with rooftops, paved roads, paved parking lots increase absorption of solar radiation.

· Melting of pack ice in the Arctic Ocean replaces reflective ice with radiation-absorbing open water (although the open water would also allow more evaporation of moisture leading to more light-reflecting clouds and light-reflecting snow on surrounding lands—both of which increase reflection.).

· Finally, even though the human energy combustion supplying energy to the Earth’s surface is small, those recurring doublings suggest that the human component will start having a noticeable affect in a few decades.

Conclusion: Get your beach towels ready, Montreal, Trondheim, and Point Barrow!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Nuclear Fission, Take 2: The Thorium–Hydrocarbon Economy (Part 1 of several)

Nuclear Fission, Take 2: The Thorium–Hydrocarbon Economy  (Part 1 of several)

Enrico Fermi was one of the key scientists in the Manhattan Project, the American project that developed the nuclear fission bombs used to end World War II. He led the team that built the pile and operated the first manmade self-sustaining fission reactor.

Fermi famously opined that there should only be nuclear fission power reactors if the technology were forgiving enough that workers would have time to discuss any breakdowns over a cup of coffee before taking action.

Thorium fission reactors (at least a few proposed designs) could be that more forgiving technology. They also have advantages in lower ore requirements, less processing required, hotter operation (hence potentially greater operating efficiency), less energetic neutrons, greater safety, considerably less waste storage mass, and considerably less waste storage time. In addition, the high temperatures possible for thorium reactors opens possibilities for synthetic fuels production. A major advantage and disadvantage of thorium is that a

Their greatest disadvantage is that they do not yet exist. Although, thorium reactors have many similarities to uranium and plutonium reactors, the differences are sufficient to require developments that are in many ways comparable to building that earlier industry. Moreover, thorium reactors will have the same anti-nuclear enemies as uranium–plutonium reactors.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

One Big Fracking Debate

One Big Fracking Debate

The on-line New Scientist included a January 11, 2012 post of Fracking Risk is Exaggerated,”

In brief, a British geologist said that the concerns about toxic leaks and induced earthquakes were overblown. The quoted geologist said that methane deposits are deep underground and the leaks into groundwater would usually be small. Furthermore, there is already natural methane contamination of a number of existing wells. As far as earthquakes, these would be minor shakes comparable to those caused by subterranean coal mining.

That led columnist John Ransom to opine, “Scientists Discover Gassy Liberal Pseudo-Science,” at

Ransom went on to comment on errors in Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth and in Gasland by Josh Fox. Ransom continues by suggesting that such polemics are distributed in an effort by progressives to get and hold political power.

Let the fireworks begin.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

An Elephant in the North Sea

An Elephant in the North Sea

Lundin Petroleum put out a press release on November 28, 2011:

The Oil Drum picked up the story on December 28, 2011 under the title “A Monster from the Deep”:

The story is about the largest oil deposit ever discovered in the North Sea. It is apparently one of those “elephant fields” that need to be discovered to hold off peak oil.

Granted, several more would be required to hold it off. Still, it was expected that the North Sea was a declining oil province. If the North Sea can be resuscitated, what’s next … the North Dakota oil cartel?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Alternate Energy Investments up, But May Go Way Down

Alternate Energy Investments up, But May Go Way Down

“Renewable Power Trumps Fossils for First Time as UN Talks Stall” headlined a article of November 24. (Alex Morales)

The good news for greens was that last year [presumably calendar year 2010] green energies of wind, sun, waves, and biomass received $187 billion in vestments while conventional energy sources of natural gas, oil, and coal only received $157 billion.

The bad news for greens is that green-energy investments may decline severely in 2012. The article noted two interlocking issues, economic crisis and stalled climate negotiations. One good economic crisis was that billions of dollars of green-energy subsidies drove prices down; good for consumers but tough on fledgling companies. However, economic problems in many countries may drastically lower energy investments in the next several years.

At the same time, a political issue is looming ever closer. The Kyoto Protocol, by which many countries agreed to reduce production of global warming gases, will expire at the end of December 2012. The Durban, South Africa climate conference starting November 28, 2011 (tomorrow) is the last feeble chance to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Chances of success at Durban are slim. The United States did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol under Republican President Bush. Even when the more internationalist Democrats of President Obama had a strong majority in the U.S. Congress, the United States did not ratify Kyoto. In the 2010 election the Republicans took back most of the majority, and they may get their own majority in 2012. Thus, American ratification is highly doubtful.

Meanwhile, treaty signers Russia, Canada, and Japan said that they will not agree to any new emission targets after 2012 unless there are limits on the three biggest warming sources, China, the United States, and India. As noted, the United States never ratified Kyoto. China and India ratified but had no emissions targets because they are developing countries.

These items of contention stymied the 2009 conference of great hopes in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009 and the fading hopes conference in Cancun, Mexico.

Even if the Durban conference succeeded in producing a treaty, there might not be enough time for a hundred plus nations to ratify it.

Consequently, the partial global climate regime may disappear after 2012; and, consequently, values in the various carbon credits markets are collapsing. As a November 25 Bloomberg article noted, “Pollution-Curb Wrangles Send Carbon Credits Slumping: CO2 Permits Slide,” (Ewa Krukowska).

The article noted that the European Union system of carbon credits dropped by one quarter in a single week. The United Nations emission credits dropped 16 percent.

The crucial connection the articles did not make was that the carbon/emission credits have been one of the subsidies advancing green energies. Without them, investments will tend to decline, particularly if Europe drifts back into recession.