Friday, June 27, 2008

What Would You Name After Our Current Disaster- I mean, Preznit?

San Francisco has a petition underway to rename their sewage plant. "The Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco is engaged in an effort to rename the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant the 'George W. Bush Sewage Plant.'"

From Alternet. According to the article they have about 1300 more signatures than they need to get it on the ballot. Looks like it's headed to the general election. The main argument against the proposed renaming is that unlike our current disaster- I mean preznit- the sewage facility not only does its job, it does its job well.

I can't really argue with either position. But in discussing this with other folks here at my favorite coffee shop, the following have come up as alternatives:

  • pretty much anything in Iraq
  • our intercity bus and train system
  • feedlot waste lagoons

What do you think we should rename after our outgoing dingaling-in-chief?

Gulf Coast oil

"Studies" left a comment in my last post, saying: "I am still unsure as to why we do not attempt to drill in the exploration areas we own in the gulf of mexico. I am pretty positive that there is SOME amount of oil there. " I was going to simply comment back, but realized there is enough to say to justify an extended post.

Of course, we are drilling in the Gulf- this is why gas spiked after Katrina. The storm damaged not only many of the rigs, but also the ports where the oil is unloaded and refineries where it is processed. A great deal of our domestic production comes from the Texas/Louisiana coastal area.

By International law, each country controls the first 200 miles out. The petroleum industry has developed technologies over the last decade or two that allow drilling to be feasible in deeper water. The problems are, first, drilling even on land is a tremendously expensive proposition. Deep water drilling is many times more expensive- $100 million just to drill the hole is a number I've seen. And that does not include the extraction infrastructure if oil is found. This means that (problem 2) companies want to be as certain as they can they're going to hit something that will pay back their up front investment. So there's a great deal of time invested in geophysical surveys, particularly seismic, and analysis of whatever other geologic information is available, such as correlation of the stratigraphy from other wells in the area. Furthermore (problem 3) at this particular point in time, there is a shortage of the drill ships necessary. According to the linked article, quite a few will be launched in the next few years, which should loosen that particular bottleneck, but for the time being, the existing drill ships are booked a year or more in advance.

Finally, an exploration group may finally decide to drill and end up with a dry hole. In my undergrad classes these were referred to as "scientific successes, but economic failures." There are a slew of well-logging techniques wherein instruments are lowered down the hole and a variety of rock characteristics are recorded. Schlumberger is the biggest and best-known well services provider; here is the table of contents for the various logging services they provide (77 Kb pdf). So even if the well is dry (and most are), more information is acquired allowing better targeting for the next hole. But this requires still more time for re-analysis of the available data.

So even in the best-case situation, the time from leasing to production is going to be years, and not uncommonly more than a decade. While the issue has been raised in the news that oil companies have not utilized existing leases, appropriate time has not been given to the idea that drilling for oil demands a great deal of time and capital investment. An oil company does not just go out and drill holes all aver the place- at least the ones that do go bankrupt pretty quick. After they lease an area, many millions are spent to try to get a sense of how the rocks are distributed miles underground, and where various fluids (oil, gas, brine) would reside given that distribution.

The upshot of all this is that if we opened our coastal areas for exploration and drilling at the beginning of February next year, it would likely be 2020 before any significant portion of whatever oil exists in those areas begins to flow into the market. In addition, as long as we simply burn 2/3 of our petroleum to move vehicles around, the estimated amount and extraction rate of offshore oil is not going to make any substantive difference in price at the pump. A best-case analysis of the ANWAR reserves suggested that peak production there would lower the cost of a barrel of oil by 75 cents (the price per barrel went past $140 for the first time yesterday), and no more than six cents per gallon at the pump- probably less. Estimated offshore reserves are larger than ANWAR, but are unlikely to be able to make a big dent in the prices people are paying.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I have been a little surprised at the glut of coverage on oil this past week. Bush's speech on Tuesday, advocating drilling in ANWAR and opening up the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts for exploration and drilling is probably the proximal reason for all the coverage. Still, my mindset has been that we are in the midst of an energy crisis since the mid 1970's. The low prices of petroleum through the 90's upset and scared me. The popularity of SUV's made me very nervous. I had read the figures on the potential for oil in ANWAR, and it was clear that any reserves there would make no practical difference even in the best case scenario. I found this graph at Hullabaloo a few days ago, and it drives home the insignificance of ANWAR reserves in a way no list of numbers can:

Now I am NOT opposed to oil drilling in principle; we have used most of the oil that originally existed in this country, but there is a substantial amount left. Oil is a precious resource that we need, and we should go after sources that are practical, and will not cause harm to the environment as extraction takes place. But the purpose of creating a wildlife refuge is to give, well, refuge to wildlife. A drilling rig does not qualify as a refuge. One pundit pointed out that if you mapped ANWAR to the scale of an envelope, the footprint of the drilling operation would be the size of a postage stamp. First, I would also like to know about the footprint of the exploration process, which would almost certainly involve a network of seismic lines and setting off a large number of explosives. It's possible that during the winter vibroseis trucks might be feasable, but it doesn't seem very likely to me. Second, if you were to map me to the size of an envelope, a thirty caliber bullet would have a footprint only the size of a period. That doesn't make the idea of being shot any more appealing to me.

I am much more amenable to the idea of opening up the coasts for exploration and extraction- not excited, but amenable. The proviso to keep in mind is that there will almost certainly be accidents and spills. I would prefer that didn't happen (and I'm sure everyone agrees) but it's impossible to eliminate all risks. Are we as a country willing to accept those risks to feed our addiction? I'm sorry to say that I believe the answer to that question is "yes." It utimately makes no difference to me personally: I don't own and have no interest in owning a car. My total energy usage amounts to 3-4 kilowatt hours per day, or a little less than an average of $20 per month. But again, I've been in the energy crisis mindset for more than thirty years, not just the last few months. I do not expect others to tolerate wintertime household temperatures in the mid fifties. I do not expect the typical family to be able to function without a car. I do not expect people in much of the US to do without air conditioning. I do not expect a multi-person household to turn off their water heater and plan to do all their "hot water tasks" at one time. But I'll bet almost everyone, if they thought about it, could find at least a few relatively painless ways to reduce the energy they consume. Much of that energy is not produced from petroleum, but energy usage is such a rat's-nest of intertwined causes and effects that any reduction ends up being a good thing.

I've been accumulating notes and links to point out pros and cons of various options we as a country and culture have available to us as we move forward into an era of $4.oo/gallon gasoline. I suppose this may sound (and may even be) insensitive, but I believe that current prices of oil are the best thing that could happen. Not only will it force us to find alternatives, but it will make those alternatives much more competetive.

Roving Mars

The first video is a very cool computer animation of the Mars rovers project from launch to examination of a rock on the Martian surface. I presume this was created to help explain the project and secure funding.

The second video is clearly pirated and edited from the end of the first. This was circulating by late spring after the rovers had landed, but I lost the link. Yesterday I did the google thing and found the clip on U-tube. Classic.

Boy With an Ass for a Face

Thought this was pretty damned funny. Via Monkeymucker

You know, I don't think it would be as amusing if it didn't do such a good job of representing what is actually on the tube 24/7.