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Other energy - May 24

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Mayor opposes Thames salt water plant

Matt Weaver and agencies, The Guardian
An "energy guzzling" proposal to build Britain's biggest sea water treatment plant was vehemently opposed today by London mayor Ken Livingstone at a public inquiry.

Defending his decision to block Thames Water's attempts to build a £200m desalination plant, which would turn salt water into drinking water, Mr Livingstone said the company should focus instead on improving its "lamentable" record on preventing leaks.

...The plant has been put forward as a way of coping with London's increasing population and predictions of more droughts as a result of global warming.

In a strongly worded statement to the inquiry, Mr Livingstone argued that the plant would worsen water shortages by contributing to global warming. It would pump out an estimated 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, he said.
(23 May 2006)
Livingstone's novel concept: solving the underlying problem (waste) rather than installing an high-energy techno-fix. -BA


Squeezing Oil Out of Stones in the Rocky Mountains

Scott Horsley, National Public Radio
The high cost of crude oil has many people looking for new sources of energy -- and taking a second look at some old ideas. Oil shale is an idea that was tested a generation ago, then abandoned when the price of crude oil plunged. Now, a self-taught inventor is once again eyeing the vast shale deposits of the Rocky Mountains.

Byron Merrell steers his Chevy pickup along Highway 40 in eastern Utah, past the fiberglass dinosaurs that welcome tourists from the nearby national monument. Just outside the city of Vernal, he turns onto the "Bonanza Highway."

The highway is a remnant of the bonanza that was expected here a quarter-century ago. Back then, the nation was in the grips of another Iran-related oil crisis, and to many, this highway through the Utah desert seemed like the road to energy security.

...Merrell spent five years "mentally" designing an oil shale "retort," in which pulverized rock is baked, and vaporized oil extracted. He built his first prototype in 1993, buying shale from an abandoned mine to experiment with. Getting oil out of the rocks is not the problem. Any junior-high school kid can do that with a Bunsen burner.

"Every retort that's ever been built has made oil. To make it economically is another trick," Merrell says.

...If the price of oil stays high enough, if the retorting process can be made cheap enough, and if environmental concerns can be satisfied, there's a lot of oil to be had here.

A study by the Rand Corporation estimates the sedimentary rock in the corner where Utah borders Colorado and Wyoming holds about 800 billion barrels. That's three times the size of Saudi Arabia's oil reserves.

"If the planets line up right and everyone supports it, this could be the oil capital of the world. Because there's enough to last us for a long, long time," Merrell says. "This is the most exciting entrepreneurial adventure in the nation right now.

..."An entrepreneur works a lot like an artist," Merrell says. "They say that a sculptor can see the finished product inside the rock before he starts chipping away. And an artist that's painting with oils can see the finished picture before they start mixing the paint. And I think all entrepreneurs are that way. They can see the end. But sometimes getting to the end doesn't have paydays for a long time."
(23 May 2006)

Why do the NPR pieces on energy increasingly remind me of old Soviet propaganda? Perhaps it's their rah-rah tone and lack of critical thinking (a discussion of EROEI for oil shale would be welcome, for example). Perhaps it's their concentration on a romantic figure battling nature for the good of society. For the Soviets, the hero was Olga, the tractor driver who brings in the harvest for the Red Spring Collective Farm. For NPR, the hero is the rock-jawed entrepeneur, silhouetted against the six-story oil shale retort he built. The issue isn't whether Olga and the entrepeneur are admirable figures -- it's the media's concentration on irrelevancies that obscure the real issues. -BA


A skeptic's view of nuclear energy

DeAnander, Daily Kos via Jerome a Paris
Since this is a contentious topic, maybe it would be best to begin with a quick reconnoitre of the disputed territory -- a little rough demography of the disputants - and the talking points "each side" (though there are more than two, of course) traditionally upholds. Sometimes it helps to have an approximate agreement about what one is disagreeing about.

The Case for the Defense ...
The Case for the Prosecution ...

The usual disclaimers apply: not everyone who is pronuke will agree with every one of the "pro" talking points, and vice versa for the contranuke position; ideological mappings are always fuzzy in detail. But published literature from both points of view seems to bear out the rough clustering in meme-space that I've tried to map here.

In addition to a polarisation of risk assessment and beliefs as detailed above, there is an approximate conventional-political polarisation: support for nuclear power is more common and firmer among people of right and centre-right ideology and/or strong adherence to neoliberal received ideas; it seems to be more common and firmer among high-level technocrats as well. Again this is not a hard and fast correlation, but a perceptible tendency. Firm opposition to nuclear power is more common among people of left/liberal, anti-war, "green," anti-capitalist, sustainable/eco-activist, "hippie" leanings. Support for nuclear power also appears to be significantly stronger among males than females, something I'll return to in a later installment.

I'd be interested to find out how readers feel about this meme-map... how it reflects -- or doesn't reflect -- their own experience of the nuclear power debate.
(23 May 2006)
Energy Bulletin recently collected some criticisms of nuclear power.
Some issues not mentioned by DeAnander:

  • Thorough energy accounting of nuclear would show that the EROEI is lower than claimed.

  • Nuclear power produces more CO2 than claimed (see David Kimble's photo essay).
  • A centralized energy production leads to a more centralized and hierarchical political system.


Still Bullish on Oil

Steve Belmont, Energy and Capital (Angel Publishing)
We are pretty sure you've heard most of the bullish arguments for crude oil by now. We know we have. And yes, our contrarian instincts make us want to short this market in the worst sort of way.

High prices have made new sources of energy profitable. These new sources will eventually start cutting into demand with enough oomph to cause the price of crude oil to fall.

Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi predicted as much four days ago. This is, after all, the way markets work. Nevertheless, we doubt that this is going to happen tomorrow or the next day.

New technologies take time to develop. Lots of things could go wrong in the interim. Consequently, we cannot ignore the continued compelling evidence for higher prices.

China is home to 1.2 billion people. India is home to another billion. Both these economies are growing fast - China at just below 10% and India at slightly below 7.

Global production capacity is roughly 85 million barrels per day, when hitting on all cylinders. Just last week the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) reduced its estimate of global demand by 15%.

Even with this substantial reduction, the IEA estimated total global demand at 84.8 million barrels per day. High prices may have reduced demand, but even so, supply can barely keep pace. There is still very little room for supply disruptions bought about by weather, geopolitics, equipment failure or any combination thereof.
(19 May 2006)
The bull's case for oil from an investment newsletter.

UPDATE: comment from reader LH:

The article summary includes the following:
"Global production capacity is roughly 85 million barrels per day, when hitting on all cylinders. Just last week the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) reduced its estimate of global demand by 15%."

Although true, this is misleading, as it suggests a much greater drop in demand. A visit to the IEA MOR website for May, clears things up:

"Despite underlying economic strength, global oil demand growth for 2006 has been revised down from 1.47 mb/d to 1.25 mb/d with mild first quarter temperatures and sustained high oil prices."

The IEA's estimates for demand have declined by 15% [1.47 Mb/d to 1.25 Mb/d] -- but the trend is still increasing.

The full piece paints a much bleaker picture.
-LH

So it's not the estimate of demand that's been revised downward, but of demand growth
-BA.

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