Showing posts from 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

Propane Fracking—Another Possible Step Toward Energy Revolution

Propane Fracking—Another Possible Step Toward Energy Revolution Hydrofracturing, fracking, is a revolutionary technique that is extracting increasing amounts of natural gas that was previously not obtainable from shales. two problems have been that the technique required large amounts of water to do the fracturing, and much of the water comes back highly salty and polluted in other ways. What if hydrofracturing could be done without … the hydro? One technique, still only used a few times in Canada, replaces water with propane refrigerated to liquid. As contract with the rock in the well warms the gelled propane, it expands back to a gas and generates the pressure to cause the needed fracturing. The propane is more expensive than water, but it has two major advantages. First, the tonnage of propane required is significantly less than water, so the infrastructure footprint of supply trucks is much less. Second, and more important, there is no stream of contaminated brine to deal

The New York Times Predicts American Wildcatter Redux

The New York Times Predicts American Wildcatter Redux “The New York Times (Finally) Discovers the Shale Age.” That was the headline in the EnerGeoPolotics website. Indeed, the article linked to a Times article entitled, “New Fields May Propel Americas to the Top of Oil Companies Lists.” Simon Romero’s September 18, 2011, article (print version Sept. 20) was optimistic about increased oil and gas available to both North and South American Countries. The article suggested that the Americas may return to the role of energy exporter, which was the state of things until the 1960s. What is more amazing about the article is that it comes from The New York Times, the premier bastion of politically correct peak oil, diminishing expectations, and alternative energy, while at the same

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch … Especially If It’s Running the Car

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch … Especially If It’s Running the Car The New York Times echoed a murmuring discontent about biofuels: diverting too many crops from food to fuel increases hunger Elizabeth Renthal’s April 6 article, “Rush to Use Crops as Fuel Raises Food Prices and Hunger Fears,” starts with cassava chips being exported to China for fuel. T Then, it zooms out to the bigger picture of not just cassava, but corn, sugar cane, and palm oil all going in larger measure to biofuel production. The exact correlation to prices is vague, but biofuel production has significantly raised food prices around the world. The index of food prices has never been higher, and there is a strong correlation with riots and overthrows of governments. Practical suggestions have been that biofuel targets be made flexible so that production would be decreased in response to spikes in food prices. In fact, China made such a response. Biofuel from corn caused such an alarming rise in the food p

Don’t Feel Bad about (All) White Elephants

Don’t Feel Bad about (All) White Elephants I rashly referred to a synfuels plant in North Dakota as one of Jimmy Carter’s white elephants. I say rashly because I said this to a member of Carter’s political party who immediately had to defend Jimmy (not James Earl) Carter against the perceived attack. It was impossible to get a word in saying that I actually liked that particular white elephant. The plant in question, in Beulah, North Dakota was called a big white elephant after petroleum and natural gas prices started declining instead rising to astronomical levels, which had been expected after the twin oil shocks of the Arab oil boycott in 1973 and the fall of the shah of Iran. But then, the price of oil collapsed, taking natural gas down with it. The government had less and less interest. Eventually, the plant was sold off to a private company and forgotten. But quietly, there were innovations. Canadian petroleum operations wanted to increase their extraction efficiency. Th

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

The Traveling Wave Reactor Gets Two New Friends

The Traveling Wave Reactor Gets Two New Friends An obscure concept in nuclear fission recently got a boost. Bill Gates (yes, that Bill Gates) signed on as a partner to help commercialize the traveling wave reactor. The traveling wave reactor (TWR) has only a central core of high-grade fuel. The balance is so-called “spent fuel” or “nuclear waste.” The terms are not totally correct because only a faction of the potential fission energy has been used from the fuel, and the material would not be waste if there were a reactor that could use it. The TWR might be such a device. In theory, the high-grade fuel sends enough neutrons into the lower-grade fuel that it breeds a layer of plutonium and various other radioactive species. These materials, in turn, generate neutrons to cause the active zone to travel further into the lower-grade material. The process might deliver byproduct heat for decades with no switching of fuel rods. Such a process might be harnessed for reactors that cou

Fracking Politics and Propaganda

Fracking Politics and Propaganda The Spiked web page often turns a suspicious gaze on media hype. Spiked deputy editor Rob Lyons does that again in Gasland: How to Turn Good News into Bad ( The background is that fracturing layers of shale in the ground could yield a couple centuries of affordable natural gas for heating homes and running industries. Of course, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” There may be some dangers of natural gas or other chemicals leaking into the water supplies above the shale deposits. Gasland makes that case. However, Lyons’ complaint is that Gasland is short on confirmable evidence and long on polemics. Some wells in the Pennsylvania area shown in the film have long had natural gas contamination that was, well, natural. What are the verifiable costs, and how do they compare with a potential game changer bigger than Col. Edwin Drake’s first well drilling rock oil? The stakes are high.