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"America will always rely on foreign oil"

by Chris Kulczycki Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 01:11:52 PM EST

Please excuse the American slant, but I think this affects us all.

"America will always rely on foreign oil." So says Exxon Mobil Senior Vice President Stuart McGill at a recent Houston energy conference. This is one of several belated responses to Bush's weak call for American energy independence, or at least less reliance on Middle Eastern oil.

Here's more from Reuters news:

"Realistically, it is simply not feasible in any time period relevant to our discussion today," Exxon Mobil Senior Vice President Stuart McGill said, referring to what he called the "misperception" that the United States can achieve energy independence. -snip-

"Americans depend upon imports to fill the gap," McGill said. "No combination of conservation measures, alternative energy sources and technological advances could realistically and economically provide a way to completely replace those imports in the short or medium term."

Instead of trying to achieve energy independence, importing nations like the U.S. should be promoting energy interdependence, McGill said.

"Because we are all contributing to and drawing from the same pool of oil, all nations -- exporting and importing -- are inextricably bound to one another in the energy marketplace," he said.


Promoted by Colman


Though Mr. McGill intentions may be questioned there is no denying that he is right, in a way. So long as we use oil, most of it will come from abroad. He is also right is saying that, "No combination of conservation measures, alternative energy sources and technological advances could realistically and economically provide a way to completely replace those imports in the short or medium term."

Even the Saudi's appear to be worried about Bush's statements. This is also from Reuters :

Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, plans to boost production capacity from 11 million barrels per day to 12.5 million bpd by 2009.

"We will continue to be a source of stability for world energy markets," Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi told an energy conference hosted by Cambridge Energy Research Associates. "We are addressing the problem of availability head-on."

But, when asked if there were plans to boost capacity beyond 12.5 million bpd, Naimi made a reference to President George W. Bush's State of the Union pledge to slash U.S. oil imports from Middle East suppliers by 75 percent by 2025.

"What concerns us is all the talk about not wanting our oil," Naimi said. "It's not a major bump; it's something to take into consideration." -snip-

The head of the International Energy Agency, the West's energy watchdog, said this week that Bush's call to cut Middle East oil imports would not help persuade OPEC to spend the huge amounts of cash needed to meet future oil demand.

"We are absolutely delighted that President Bush has recognized at last that his country is addicted to oil," IEA head Claude Mandil said. "But the way he said it -- to get rid of dependence on Middle East oil -- will not help us convince those countries that they will have to increase their investment."

Interesting, but since many oil experts doubt that the Saudis can actually expand production in fields that are likely past, or very near peak it is probably irrelevant. Nonetheless, the only remarkable thing about all this is that so many seem to take Bush's non-plan seriously. Or are they just acting?

Of course some are less worried about oil supply and energy independence. John Tierney's recent NYT column is entitled Burn, Baby, Burn.

The problem with Americans is not that we're addicted to oil. As soon as oil becomes more trouble than it's worth, we will sensibly stop putting it in our cars. -snip-

The well is running dry. Government planners have a long history of overestimating the future cost of oil and underestimating the cost of their pet alternatives -- which is why we keep burning oil. -snip-

Mandating fuel-economy standards saved gasoline and made Americans a little less vulnerable to a spike in oil prices, but the rules led to smaller cars and an additional 2,000 deaths per year in highway accidents from the mid-1970's to the mid-1990's, according to the National Research Council. -snip-

The only real oil weapon is the one that American politicians use to justify energy plans and Middle East adventures. It doesn't matter if our enemies in the Persian Gulf refuse to sell us oil directly. Once they sell it to anyone, it's in the global market and effectively available to us. -snip-

The United States spent decades propping up the shah of Iran only to see the country fall into the hands of our archenemies, but Iran is still exporting oil -- and it is a lot more reliable producer than Iraq, despite all the money and lives we've spent there. The best guarantee of future oil supplies is the sellers' greed, not our diplomatic and military efforts.

When something finally comes along that's cheaper and more reliable than oil, no national energy plan will be necessary. Capitalists will be ready to sell it to eager American drivers. For now, the best strategy is to buy gasoline and stop worrying that it's sinful or dangerous.


Umm, yes, that was in the New York Times. So, don't worry, be happy, technology and the markets will save us.

It is obvious to anyone who has kept up with energy news that in the post peak-oil era there is no single or even combination of alternative technologies that can give us the amount of energy that we now get from oil. Oil sands, coal based oil, bio-fuels, wind power, wave, more nuclear plants, and who knows what else will come on line. But even the combination of all those things will not provide us with the same amount of energy as we now get from oil. This is the one monumental fact about peak-oil that most people still don't want to grasp.

I once asked the owner of a country store if he thought it would stop raining. We were on holiday and couldn't wait to go hiking. He looked out the window at the sky and rubbed his chin sagely. "I recon it will" he said after some consideration, "It always has." This is the attitude many take toward peak oil. Technology will somehow solve this problem like it always has. But technology is not like rain; the outcome is far from inevitable.

As for the markets, what sort of market is there for something that does not exist? Or if there is so little of something that it's cost puts it beyond our means, is the market relevant?

I am beginning to think that the main energy issue today is not that we are running out of oil. It is that so many seem to think that we can substitute bullshit for oil.

Might as well get into the act; what do you think?

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I wrote about this on my own blog.  Imagine if McGill was a methamphetamines dealer instead of an oil exec.  What he said would go like this:

The United States will always rely on foreign imports of methamphetamine to feed its drug habit and should stop trying to become sober, a top narcotrafficker said on Tuesday.

"Americans depend upon imports to fill the gap," McGill said. "No combination of conservation measures, alternative methamphetamine sources and medical advances could realistically and economically provide a way to completely replace those imports in the short or medium term."

Instead of trying to achieve sobriety, importing nations like the U.S. should be promoting methamphetamine interdependence, McGill said.

"Because we are all contributing to and drawing from the same pool of methamphetamine, all nations -- exporting and importing -- are inextricably bound to one another in the illegal narcotics marketplace," he said.

Good analysis Chris.

Pax

Night and day you can find me Flogging the Simian

by soj on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 01:24:28 PM EST
i was going to do a story on this tonight, but you preempted me nicely Chris... but you missed this gem in the Breakfast:


Sweden plans to be world's first oil-free economy

Sweden is to take the biggest energy step of any advanced western economy by trying to wean itself off oil completely within 15 years - without building a new generation of nuclear power stations.

The attempt by the country of 9 million people to become the world's first practically oil-free economy is being planned by a committee of industrialists, academics, farmers, car makers, civil servants and others, who will report to parliament in several months.

The intention, the Swedish government said yesterday, is to replace all fossil fuels with renewables before climate change destroys economies and growing oil scarcity leads to huge new price rises.

"Our dependency on oil should be broken by 2020," said Mona Sahlin, minister of sustainable development. "There shall always be better alternatives to oil, which means no house should need oil for heating, and no driver should need to turn solely to gasoline."

According to the energy committee of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, there is growing concern that global oil supplies are peaking and will shortly dwindle, and that a global economic recession could result from high oil prices.

Ms Sahlin has described oil dependency as one of the greatest problems facing the world. "A Sweden free of fossil fuels would give us enormous advantages, not least by reducing the impact from fluctuations in oil prices," she said. "The price of oil has tripled since 1996."

A government official said: "We want to be both mentally and technically prepared for a world without oil. The plan is a response to global climate change, rising petroleum prices and warnings by some experts that the world may soon be running out of oil."



In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 01:41:48 PM EST
I fear even this doesn't go far enough. It's mostly my scepticism of biofuel that makes me say this - but also the use of such a qualifier as "no driver should need to turn solely to gasoline.".

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 01:51:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, speaking of firsts, what about Island's attempt to be the first oil-free economy by switching to hydrogen and total geothermal utilisation?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 01:53:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean Iceland, surely?
I get the geothermal part (plenty of this over there), but I'd like to understand the hydrogen part.
by Bernard on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 03:10:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, being multilingual comes through. (It is Island in my mother tongue and German.)

The hydrogen part is to turn every motorised vehicle, from fisherboats through buses and cars to sawmills and backup generators, into fuel cell-driven units. Having energy in plenty and a low population, this would be viable in Iceland (but not transferable to the rest of the world).

I don't know what the state of things is, though - haven't read up for a year.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 03:15:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also Iceland has massive geothermal resources, a little lava in the center of town, is a pretty good trade off for lots of acessible heat.
by btower on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 04:08:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The hope of hydogren is that it is a fungible medium for energy in the way that petroeum is.  In a liquid state you can make hydrogen fit into a container of any size, and it can come from a diversity of sources.

Right now almost all renewable energy as to be used at the time that it's made, there's not an efficient way to store the energy (biomass and hydropower.  And with techologies like wind and solar, you have to have a diversified sourcing of electricity and a fossil fuel backup. There's an expensive duplication of infrastructure.

Nonetheless, as I expect Jerome will point out, the bottleneck in a hydrogen economy would be the platinum used in fuel cells.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 04:56:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The other bottleneck in a hydrogen economy is the small, or large, matter of making enough. It is nice to talk about using solar and wind to generate the power for this. But when we calculate just how much power would need to be generated to replace all that oil things get,well, impossible.

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
Czeslaw Milosz
by Chris Kulczycki on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 05:24:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
70% of the planet is water.  Windmills have just started to venture onto the continental shelf.

One of the princpal limitation to mega windmills on land is that the neighbors get nervous when you say that you're planning to put a 100 meter monster in their backyard.  If you take them out onto the continental shelf you can find strong reliable offshore winds, and make real monsters that are 400-500 meters tall.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 09:57:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
70% of the planet is water.  Windmills have just started to venture onto the continental shelf.

Do you think swimming windmills will be viable some day?

If not, and only the continental shelves can be utilised, they won't add that much in the case of the USA (unlike in the case of Europe). Consider this: utilising the entire continent (not taking into account limitations in zoning laws) and shallow waters, the US total capacity with present technology was estimated at three times the current consumption a few years ago. Incidentally, another study estimating the electricity need if all US cars go fuel cell also put the need at three times the current usage (i.e. the new need would be four times of today's in total).

There is not much benefit from size: you have to place larger wind turbines further apart. As both the power of a wind turbine is proportional to the swept area (hence the square of its rotor diameter) and the required distance between rotors is proportional to the rotor diameter (hence the number of rotors on a given area is inversely proportional to the square of the rotor diameter), the two factors cancel out. What you can win with size is some economies of scale (less maintenance or installation costs), but it can break down with further increase in size.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 05:06:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Larger wind turbines operate farther away from the ground to take advantage of higher wind speeds - the "laminar boundary layer"

In this sense, the size of the turbines does matter, and bigger is better. I suppose if you get farther away from the ground the wind speeds get so large that you get into the "turbulent boundary layer"

so there is indeed a limit to how high you can go with wind turbines of this type

but maybe other turbine designs will be better suited to operating in turbulent conditions?

This is a semi-educated guess - I know hydrodynamics but little about turbine engineering

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 06:04:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Larger wind turbines operate farther away from the ground to take advantage of higher wind speeds

That is (a) a function of turbine height, not rotor diameter, which can (and is) increased independently, (b) it is a strong factor only on land - on water, in fact, the same type of turbines stand on typically lower towers (the lower limit is not even turbulence-related: it is a height for safe passage of smaller yachts).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 07:19:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I mentioned turbulence for the upper limit. As land is rougher than water you have to climb higher in order for the boundary layer to set in. The lower limit on water should be a function of typical wave height in rough weather.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 07:30:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I admit to having been cursory in my reading, and now being confused. Aren't both the laminar and turbulent boundary layers lower limits - and the turbulent one being lower? I would expect the flow to be laminar or turbulent depending on weather (on water, this includes the waves) and the surrounding surface, and the laminar boundary layer as the lower limit.

On the other hand, larger-scale turbulence and differing wind speeds might be a limit on rotor diameter indepentently of height.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 07:46:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The flow is laminar at low Reynolds numbers, and turbulent at high Reynolds numbers. For our purposes, the Reynolds number is proportional to wind speed and distance to the ground.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 08:04:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed that's why I wrote that Iceland can do this but this is not transferable to the rest of the world.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 05:07:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem will play out in different ways in different parts of the country and different parts of the economy.

What wil take the place of oil based energy for transportation in the great basin of the west and the rocky mt. region?  There is nowhere near the population base to have public transportation fill the gap.  I cannot forsee electric vehicles that will adequately provide transportation across driving ranges of 5-600 miles per day.

What kind of power will provide the desert southwest and the deep south with air conditioning, without which it will be very difficult to maintain its current population and growth?

What will fuel the tractors and combines of the midwest and the California central valley?

The landing could be abrupt.  I do not believe that the "market" will suffice to get us through this, and I don't see the political will to drive the research and production of alternatives.  Remember Jimmy Carters "malaise" speech, well, the 30 years have passed and now we are in a fix.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 02:32:53 PM EST
How many people drive 600 Miles a day on a normal day?
by btower on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 04:09:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems to me that there are two or three different ways of looking at it. Technologically you could "solve" the transportation problem, but it would be expensive and people might not be happy. Or, you could solve the CO2 problem. Or both. But political realism is probably what the Exxon guy is talking about, and eons of history show that politicians are followers, not leaders. So until there are several repeats of New Orleans-scale flooding, and a change in the Gulf Stream that freezes out Europe, getting the political will to actually do anything will be very tough.

Looking at the problem from the viewpoint of a technologist, though, I think you're too pessimistic.

  • Wind power, at a oil-equivalent price in the neighborhood of $75 a barrel, will provide electricity for fixed-location appliances like air conditioning and heating. Or, nukes.
  • Tractors. Well, you must have missed my proposal for extension cords for tractors. Seriously, this is not a big problem as the diameter of the problem is severely constrained.
  • Electric cars going 100 miles between recharges, and five minute recharges? On the horizon, it seems to me, but let's not get into that argument again.

The point is that if the political community could ever get its act together to say clearly what problems to solve, the engineers could go off into their corners and work on solutions. This is the problem that engineers face every day: Poorly defined, unstable requirements, stated by people who have an axe to grind on every subject.
by asdf on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 10:30:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For centuries and centuries..

Por los siglos de los siglos.

Amen

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 04:01:39 PM EST
As America relies on oil import and is obviously dependent on OPEC, so is OPEC dependent on oil export
(quite a trivial statement but it is the reality of demand/supply economics.) The Arab countries actually
develop their economies on oil export in order to earn foreign currency. They will be doomed to poverty if they do not find market for the oil. The black gold according to me will be the leading energy source in short and middle term. By the way, I recommend the book "The Seven
Sisters" by  the British journalist Anthony Sampson about the history of the oil industry, published in 1975.
It will elucidate the opinion that not only OPEC will lose if oil is replaced by other sources of energy...

I'm not ugly,but my beauty is a total creation.Hegel
by Chris on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 04:28:18 PM EST
You speak as if there's a choice in the matter. The world is going to run out of cheap oil.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 05:25:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not a whole lot, but more than you might think drive it on a pretty regular basis.  The absolute population is low, and very widely dispersed.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 06:14:36 PM EST
It is obvious to anyone who has kept up with energy news that in the post peak-oil era there is no single or even combination of alternative technologies that can give us the amount of energy that we now get from oil.

The thing to remember, though, is that our current energy consumption patterns are very wasteful. We wind up spending a lot of energy for very little effect because the energy's so cheap that, in a simple-minded economic analysis, efficiency isn't economical. Focus more on efficiency and stop being so wasteful about energy use, and from the look of things, you can achieve a society that is sustainable and more pleasant to live in.

by Egarwaen on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 06:31:59 PM EST
i think it'll slow things way down physically, which will lead to more life of the mind.

a world where travel will return to rhythms of an older time, but with regions connected by the web enabling people to learn and travel virtually.

so much modern urban activity is superfluous and frenzied, rather than calm and grounded.

this syndrome i have named: 'hurrying up to get to the rest stop'TM

in the sahara they say: 'to hurry is to die..'

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 06:51:04 PM EST


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