Sunday, July 06, 2008

Ruminations on Oil Megaprojects and More

If you have not visited the Oil Megaprojects wiki page, then at least bookmark it. It is an ongoing work in progress to identify and categorize upcoming oil projects. The Oil Drum has posted an update from the project itself and it isn't too grim to say that we are in deep s---. And I mean up to your eyeballs dear reader. Kashagan in the Caspian Sea, the biggest find under development, continues to slip, apparently to 2013 for first oil. The Caspian is not real friendly to oil drillers. Google it yourself and check it out.

Right now, based on all available information, it appears that permanent depletion may set in as early as 2010. Now for all you folks who will happily point out to me that we have BILLIONS of barrels of oil, or oil equivalent, socked all over this planet, let me remind you that it is no longer about the size of the tank, it's the size of the tap. Those taps are getting smaller all the time due to the technical and economic variables that underlie our ability and willingness to pursue oil that is no longer easy or cheap to extract.

Having billions of barrels of synthetic oil tied up in bitumen laced sands under a boreal forest in the Great White North may sound attracitve, until you go after it. The same is true for the kerogen trapped in the Wyoming shale. Shell and others have been in Wyoming for years working that issue. They haven't got it right yet. Let us not forget that the current baseline for developing shallow-water wells in the Gulf is 100M$ US, and 1B$ US for the deep-water sites. Got any loose pocket change you care to contribute to the cause?

One other point of enlightenment, courtesy of the denizens at the Drum. Gasoline prices should be higher than they are. They aren't because the refineries are busy trying to make diesel. You can't refine diesel without creating gasoline, as diesel is considered a "middle of the barrel" product and arrives in conjunction with gasoline, although in a much lower quantity. Ergo, we have a lot of gas, and not enough diesel to meet the demand. Diesel prices are way high, ask any long haul trucker. The Europeans, who value diesel, are shipping their excess gasoline to us. Gasoline prices may be high, but it could be much worse, and I suspect that eventually it will be. In the meantime, those diesel guzzling trucks and trains are feeling the heat, along with the airlines who use a version of kerosene to fuel their jets.

I confess to visiting automaker sites and building cars that meet my dreams, my wants, and my desires, even though they are not really needed and, at this point, totally a waste of dollars. To paraphrase President Carter: I lust in my heart after those vehicles, even as I recognize the foolhardiness of buying one now. I am sure there is a penance for that.

It hurts to know that I grew up in what may have been the best of human times, which may never be exceeded if our so-called political leaders, beginning with our foie-gras focused alderman and reaching to the Presidential wanna-bes, don't grow a pair and real quick. Many Americans are going to be dragged kicking and screaming, perhaps worse, into a new reality. The rest of us are planning, and trying to educate our friends and families, without sounding too much like Chicken Little or the Boy Who Cried Wolf. If our leadership would stand up and tell the truth, and advocate for policies that will help us make the transition to an energy constrained world, however painful it might be, they would go down as heroes. Instead, they will be seen as the avaricious, self serving leeches, slurping at the public trough that they act like.

1 comment:

The North Coast said...

This is a wonderful post.

I too, grieve for the times past and am grateful to have lived a life of great comfort and a fair amount of luxury in what will probably turn out to have been the best hour in the best place in human history.

It hurts to look at children and know that their lives will be so much more a struggle.

It also hurts to look at some scintillating piece of automotive art, and know that this is one of the fair things that will pass. Suddenly, I'm looking at cars with lust, like the BMW roadsters that seem to be allover Uptown these days, or the sweet Jaguar S Type I saw sitting at the curb by my office. Or even the gemlike Honda Accord that just rolled down the street.

Maybe I should buy one just to have it to look at down the road, for I sense it will be purely decorative in ages to come. But who could look at it without being awash in memories of an age of incredible luxury, ease, and, yes, hope for everyone on the planet who still lives in brutal, primitive cultures where you can scarcely find a meal or clean water.

You think, this is what is possible for human beings, this is how human life ought to be.
I really, really hope that we can develop elegant new technologies that will mitigate our current situation, and make it possible to live with basic technological amenity while conserving resources. The new nuclear technologies are very exciting, such as the new fission technology being employed in a small, closed-system reactor that will be used to power Galena, Alaska.

And someone in Japan, using a new and highly experimental fusion technology, managed to keep a real fusion reaction going for an hour, which represents a milestone, that we've been trying to reach for 40 years with no success.

I don't expect these extremely experimental technologies to be "the answer", some kind of Magi Bullet that will solve all our problems, especially if our species continues to breed like rodents and waste its way through whatever resources are available. But they can help mitigate the current situation, and they can point the path to what Dr. John Miller calls an "eco-technique" society.

Our policy makers are not helping to foster such advances because they really can't, because the massive government research programs that keep going up the same dead-end streets for 50 years on end do that because they are sponsored by huge, densely layered, cumbersome, bureacratic, hamfisted, money guzzling agencies that are completely allergic to the kind of independent, 'out of the box' thought that makes breakthroughs possible. As long as we are tossing our resources at these agencies and programs, we're going to keep doing the same lame things that don't work.