Twisted Into Pretzels

A few weeks ago, Kevin Drum had a post on shale oil development, quoting from a speech by Congressman Ken Salazar.  It is hard to really excerpt the piece well, but my take on their argument against shale oil leasing is:

  • Shale oil technology is unproven
  • The government is leasing the shale oil rights too cheap
  • There is already plenty of shale oil land for development, so new leases won't increase development
  • This is just being done by the Bush Administration to enrich the oil companies
  • The administration is rushing so fast that Congress has not had the chance to put a regulatory regime in place

In many ways, the arguments are surprisingly similar to those against new offshore and Alaskan oil leasing.  Through it all, there is this sort of cognitive dissonance where half the arguments are that the oil won't be developed, and the other half seem to be based on an assumption that a lot of oil will be developed.  For example, how can the leases be "a fire sale" if shale oil technology is unproven and development is not likely to occur?  I would say that if these assumptions were true, then any money the government gets for a worthless lease is found money. 

Similarly, how are oil companies going to enrich themselves by paying for leases if the technology is not going to work and no development is going to occur?  This same bizarre argument became Nancy Pelosi's talking point on offshore oil leasing, by saying that oil companies were somehow already cheating us by not drilling in leases they already have.  Only the most twisted of logic could somehow come to the conclusion that oil companies were enriching themselves by paying for leases were they found no developable oil.

From the standpoint of Democratic Party goals, there is absolutely nothing bad that happens if the government leases land for oil shale or oil drilling and oil companies are unable to develop these leases  (there is some small danger of royalty loss if leases are not developed when they could be economically, but most private royalty agreements are written with sunset periods giving the lease-holder a fixed amount of time to develop the lease or lose it -- I don't know how the government does it).  The net result of "no drilling" or "oil shale technology turns out not to work" is that the government gets money for nothing. 

Here is the problem that smart Democrats like Drum face, and the reason behind this confusing logic:  They have adopted environmental goals, particularly the drastic reduction of CO2 in relatively short time frames, that they KNOW, like they know the sun rises in the east, will require fuel and energy prices substantially higher than they are today.  They know these goals require substantially increased pain and lifestyle dislocation from consumers who are already fed up with fuel-cost-related pain.  This is not because the Democrats are necessarily cruel, but because they are making the [faulty] assumption that the pain and dislocation some day from CO2-driven global warming outweighs the pain from higher priced, scarcer energy.

So, knowing that their policy goal is to have less oil at higher prices, and knowing that the average consumer would castrate them for espousing such a goal, smart Democrats like Drum find themselves twisted into pretzels when they oppose oil development.  They end up opposing oil development projects because in their hearts they want less oil around at higher prices, but (at least until their guy gets elected in November) they justify it with this bizarre logic that they oppose the plan because it would not get us oil fast enough.  The same folks who have criticized capitalism for years for being too short-term focused are now opposing plans that don't have a payoff for a decade or so.

At the end of the day, most Democrats do not want more oil developed, and they know that much higher prices will be necessary to meet their climate goals.  It sure would be refreshing to hear someone just say this. As I wrote at Climate Skeptic, the honest Democrat would say:

Yeah, I know that $4 gas is painful.  But do you know what?  Gas
prices are going to have to go a LOT higher for us to achieve the CO2
abatement targets I am proposing, so suck it up.  Just to give you a
sense of scale, the Europeans pay nearly twice as much as we do for
gas, and even at those levels, they are orders of magnitude short of
the CO2 abatement I have committed us to achieve.  Since late 2006, gas
prices in this country have doubled, and demand has fallen by perhaps
5%.  That will probably improve over time as people buy new cars and
change behaviors, but it may well require gasoline prices north of $20
a gallon before we meet the CO2 goal I have adopted.  So get ready.

Postscript:  By the way, oil companies have been trying to develop shale oil since the 1970s.  Their plans went on hold for several decades, with sustained lower oil prices, but the call by the industry to the government for a clarified regulatory regime has been there for thirty years.  The brief allusion in Salazar's speech to water availability is a valid one.  I saw some studies at Exxon 20+ years ago for their Labarge development that saw water availability as the #1 issue in making shale oil work.

PPS:  I mention above that the pain of fuel prices not only hits the wallet, but hits in term of painful lifestyle changes.  One of the things the media crows about as "good news" is the switch to mass transit from driving by a number of people due to higher oil prices.  This is kind of funny, since I would venture to guess that about zero of those people who actually switched and gave up their car for the bus consider it good news from their own personal life-perspective.  Further, most of the reduction in driving has been the elimination of trips altogether, and not via a switch to mass transit.  Yes, transit trips are up, but on a small base.  95%+ of reduced driving trips are just an elimination of the trip.  Which is another form of lifestyle pain, as presumably there was some good reason to make the trip before.

Update: Updated on Canadian Oil Sands production here.  Funny quote:

Fourth, and potentially most important, the U.S. "green" lobby is
pushing legislation that could limit purchases of oil sands products by
U.S. government agencies based on its GHG footprint.  It would be well
beyond stupid for Congress to prohibit our buying oil from Canada while
we increase buying it from countries that threaten our security.  But
just because something is stupid certainly does not mean Congress may
not do it.


  1. Corky Boyd:

    Read these two articles and see if you don't change your mind about shale:

    The first is about a 5 minute read, the latter longer and more detailed.

    Trying Shell's technology is worth a try, with restraints of course. But to put another moratorium on shale leases is sheer idiocy. Yet this is exactly what the Democrats did on May 15 as supply problems drove prices higher.

  2. kreiz:

    One comment to date? Ya gotta be kindin' me. Outstanding piece; spot on. It does seem the Dems are on the verge of being rewarded for 3 decades of obstructionism in domestic energy production, be it offshore, nuclear or shale- an odd turn of events. Probably explained simply because it happened on GWB's watch. Nevertheless, my questions are- at some point, won't this obstructionism become apparent? If so, will political pressure (i.e. losing elections) cause Dems to become more proactive in domestic exploration/production?

  3. Solar Lad:


    It depends on whether the American people are willing to put up with European-level gas prices. If they will, then no, obstructionists won't lose many elections, and things will go on as they do now.

    However, my guess is that they won't, because Americans have differing transportation needs than do Europeans, and so there will eventually be extreme political pressure to do the sensible thing, and open up ANWR/offshore/shale.

  4. brotio:

    Senator Salazar's column on his anti-shale stance was published in today's Pueblo (CO) Chieftain:

  5. Leonard Huff III:

    The one theme in these comments that I see on "A LOT OF BLOGS" about the oil & gas business always follow the same line of thought. First, is that I have a accounting degree from a college in Texas. Spent a few years in Midland, Texas durning 1980-1990 reading & analysing financial statements for small & medium size oil & gas companies for Banks & Investors standpoints for loans & investments opportunties.
    First, oil & gas leases when brought are classifed as a "UPROVEN ASSEST" until proven! That means in simple terms - Turn to Right? - In simple Terms ----- DRILL! Spend alot of Money! In South Texas --- A 15,000' (FOOT) Well GAS well in today prices will cost $6,000,000 To $7,000,000 PER WELL!NOT Mexican Dollars, But United States Dollars! Anybody got some change to spare? I have a two well prospect that will traget Frio Formation in South Texas in a proven area for a total of $12,453,000 deliverd to the tanks! Any Gamblers? Easy Money ! If you cannot afford to burn a $100 Bill, do not waste my Time! As the old WESTERN Oil Services oil service company said in the old TV commericals in the Late 1970, If you have a oil & gas well, call us and we can fix (cemment, frac , acidize ect. ) YOUR well. I Think everyone should get just 1 oil or gas well. It like getting a BOAT! Everyone knows that Story!

  6. jerryflower:

    Definitely,Bush adminstration trying to enrich the shale oil companies. It is a pre-determined deal to enrich the share oil companies. They will get a huge amount in this deal. There is a smell of corruption too.
    Addiction Recovery Ohio

  7. Solar Lad:

    Definitely,Bush adminstration trying to enrich the shale oil companies. It is a pre-determined deal to enrich the share oil companies.

    For the sake of argument, let's assume that that's true.

    If so, then GOOD FOR THE BUSH ADMIN. Well done.

    I say that the U.S. ought to enrich the shale oil co's since, as pointed out earlier, the only way that cheap leases can enrich shale oil co's is if they PRODUCE A LOT OF OIL - which would be very, very welcome in today's world.

    For the U.S. gov't to spend a little seed money to produce a bonanza of energy for America is A GOOD THING, and would be well-supported by the electorate.

  8. BlacquesJacquesShellacqes:

    I am an Albertan. Every single stupid counter-development argument you cite was used against the various oil-sands projects. By 2017 we'll be producing 3.23 million barrels per day. Compare this to current Saudi production of about 9.5 million per day.

    You should research the field of objections made up here over the last 40 years, because the same idiocies will be raised by Democrats down there.

    And don't for one minute think that any success in your oil shale projects will help. It just seems to intensify the level of hatred from the quasi-Luddites, inspiring them into ever crazier arguments.

    jerryflower, man, it's good to hear that old chestnut, hasn't drifted into my ears since the 70s when our corrupt government corruptly let corrupt Shell and corrupt others corruptly risk billions of dollars on unproven technology on what was then moose pasture. Peace, man, and what companies are these that will benefit so much? I'll buy some stock. You could too, so could any American, assuming of course you're not dumber than a sack of hammers. You're not are you jerry?

  9. E. Nigma:

    I like Canadians, mostly. They are nice people. It doesn't bother me to send a lot of our dollars out of the country to buy their oil. Ditto Mexico.

    But sending a huge number of dollars to the KSA and those other folks in the ME that frankly think we are all vulgar, dirty kaffirs bothers me to no end. It isn't so much the pain at the pump. It's the knowledge that we are steadily becoming poorer as a country because so much of our money is going "over there" to buy their oil.

    Drill now. Drill here.

  10. Yoshidad:

    Ah, how can we tell it's the silly season? By the sound of "conservatives" (what are they conserving?) waxing apoplectic about those darned Democrats and enviros keeping them from their (precious) oil wealth.

    Never mind that ANWR couldn't produce oil for at least a decade, or that offshore rigs are booked for at least the next decade, or that such drilling wouldn't make a significant difference in the price of gasoline at the pump, and the American Petroleum Institute's (the oil lobby) saying that domestic drilling wouldn't return the U.S. to its 1971 peak in oil production.

    Never mind that increasing fuel economy in autos (CAFE standards) would deliver more oil more quickly and more sustainably than ANWR! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Oil offshore and ANWR is the real thing! And it's just around the corner! (My precious!)

    Warning, actual reality may be a little different than it appears when reflected in this kind of thinking. What kind of thinking? Why the thinking of the addicts -- oil addicts, that is. It's junkie logic. There's no other way to make any sense of it.

    "Sure, I can quit drinking! I've done it a thousand times!" -- W.C. Fields.

    Let's consider oil shale, the orphan stepchild of the oil industry. People have been trying to produce this stuff for at least 30 years now because the U.S. has more oil entrapped in that shale than the Saudis have sweet, light crude. The only problem is that it's darned difficult to get out. And the difficulty makes all the difference. After all, we could assemble hydrogens and carbons individually in some laboratory, but would it be economic?

    Here is a quote from the article referred to in the post above from pro-oil-shaler Corky Boyd. It describes the technology to produce oil from oil shale: "In a nutshell, [oil extraction from shale] works like this: [the oil company] drills 1,800-foot wells and into them inserts heating rods that raise the temperature of the oil shale to 650 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep the oil from escaping into the ground water, the heater wells are ringed by freeze walls created by coolant piped deep into the ground; this freezes the rock and water on the perimeter of the drill site. Eventually the heat begins to transform the kerogen (the fossil fuel embedded in the shale) into oil and natural gas. After the natural gas is separated, the oil is piped to a refinery to be converted into gasoline and other products"

    But what about Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI). What does all that drilling, heating, "ringing" a drill hole with refrigeration and "extracting" cost, in energy, 1800 feet underground? Ya think it might be a *lot*?

    Here's from Wikipedia: "A 1984 study estimated the EROEI of the various known oil shale deposits as varying between 0.7–13.3.[65] Royal Dutch Shell has reported an EROEI of three to four on its in situ development, Mahogany Research Project.[56][66][67] The water needed in the oil shale retorting process offers an additional economic consideration: this may pose a problem in areas with water scarcity." (

    Wind energy gets 4 EROEI without any need for the water unaccounted for in the above 0.7 - 13.3 (or 3-4) EROEI. And the environmental impacts of oil shale production are immense...Just like the impacts of mining oil sands in Canada.

    For oil shale, says Wikipedia, environmental impacts "include acid drainage induced by the sudden rapid exposure and subsequent oxidation of formerly buried materials, the introduction of metals into surface-water and groundwater, increased erosion, sulfur-gas emissions, and air pollution caused by the production of particulates during processing, transport, and support activities.[9][10] In 2002, about 97% of air pollution, 86% of total waste and 23% of water pollution in Estonia came from the power industry, which uses oil shale as the main resource for its power production.[68]")

    Just for reference, the old East Texas oilfields probably got an EROEI of 100 (100 units of energy retrieved for each one used to extract and refine the oil), and the newer deep gulf production probably is in the neighborhood of 6 to 7.

    And there are lots of oil sands fanatics too (people love that black tar, I mean abathasca oil, ya know). They get paid huge amounts of money to extract it, and will defend their right to get money no matter how much damage it causes. And, as everyone knows, getting money immediately justifies any activity, even mugging grandmothers.

    They had better get some money too, because distilling tar from Cananda only makes economic sense, I'm told, at $58/bbl or more (OK, that used to be a lot).

    People in the conventional oil business will tell you that what the Canucks are refining is just like the stuff they used to scrape out of their refineries' tanks to discard. There's only one refinery in the world that can handle the Canadian oil sand product. It's very, very expensive to extract and refine, and, per usual, the environmental impacts are completely unpaid for... How generous we are with the oil people, eh?

    IMHO, Producing this stuff is the equivalent of snorting the carpet where you've spilled the cocaine.

    Anyway, I don't have much hope of converting the addicts by writing here. Never mind the EROEI, or the environmental impacts, never mind climate change! Why sure, only 0.01% of climate scientists say it's unreal, guys like Al Gore are just in it for the many swell prizes they'll get for bucking the oil shale junkies! They get toasters, and free checking, I tell you!

    Meanwhile, an interesting interview with Amory Lovins here ( describes similar attempts to make nuclear power the substitute for coal. What's most fascinating is that he says the market has already decided about this. Except for some bureaucrats who have access to the public purse, the market is investing zero in nuclear, despite 100% or larger subsidies. Price-Anderson, anyone? (The Price-Anderson act is the most outrageous nuclear subsidy. It makes the public the insurer of last resort if something goes wrong in a nuclear plant. None would be built without this because no private insurer is willing to take the risk.)

    So here's the public policy choice we have: 1) Get another fix of petroleum (or nukes), even though it may cost us as much as renewables, huge environmental damage (OK, we know climate instability is overblown bullshit, promulgated by some rapacious environmentalists attempting to win the Stalin prize, but the acid in the groundwater is not BS), and it will eventually run out.


    2) Renewables. They're as efficient as "conventional" sources like oil shale or nuclear without the environmental damage. They don't produce as much money for the petroleum companies, but didn't Exxon just report the largest profits of any company in history?

    Probably the rapacious environmentalists will promote #2, but that's only because they're so greedy. #1 is the obvious public policy choice that serves the public rather than private interests....

    ...and that's the kind of thinking you'll get if you elected a junkie to power. Whoops! Too late!

  11. socialism_is_error:


    It's easy to say "Renewables".

    Try reading about them.

  12. Leonard Huff III:

    To Ms Or Mr. yoshidad or et al ?

    I am concern at the eniviroment every day even THROUGH I am in the evil oil & gas BUSSINESS -aka THE EVIL BUSH ADMININSTRATION - MR. President Bush & Mr. CHENNEY Vice- President of the UNITED STATES!

    When will your type of bloggers LISTEN! The USA & the rest of the WHOLE EARTH runs on dinosuars! Simple terms - LISTEN PLEASE - There are 6 + Or - BILLION PEOPLE ON THE EARTHSHIP CALLED EARTH.

    I refused to go back to the Horse & Buggy days and burning & chopping wood for ELECTRICTY FOR MY VERY SURVICAL AND LET A ENDANGER FROGS ECT. GET IN THE WAY OF PROGRESS!

    BTY - YOSHIDAD - If you are every in South Texas , looked me up and I will personally show you how a 19,000' (FOOT) rated drilling rig & Halliburton fracing a massive sand formation shaking the ground you are standing on feels like. Its feels like a formation of F-14 Fighter Jets buzzing a 100 feet over your head for four or five hours straight!

    But you will probably not leave the safe compounds of NYC! Moral of the true story! Don't spend all of your TRUSTFUNDS IN ONE STORE ON SHOES IN ONE WEEK!

    The TRUR is the True: Have a good DAY.

  13. Leonard Huff III:

    P>S> Follow up to my last post.

    People understand what a car, house , food, utilites cost per month.






  14. Yoshidad:

    From socialism_is_error's link:

    "In order for "alternate energy" to become feasible, it has to satisfy all of the following criteria:

    1. It has to be huge (in terms of both energy and power)
    2. It has to be reliable (not intermittent or unschedulable)
    3. It has to be concentrated (not diffuse)
    4. It has to be possible to utilize it efficiently
    5. The capital investment and operating cost to utilize it has to be comparable to existing energy sources (per gigawatt, and per terajoule).

    "If it fails to satisfy any of those, then it can't scale enough to make any difference. Solar power fails #3, and currently it also fails #5. (It also partially fails #2, but there are ways to work around that.)

    "The only sources of energy available to us now that satisfy all five are petroleum, coal, hydro, and nuclear.

    "My rule of thumb is that I'm not interested in any "alternate energy" until someone shows me how to scale it to produce at least 1% of our current energy usage. America right now uses about 3.6 terawatts average, so 1% of that is about 36 gigawatts average.

    "Show me a plan to produce 36 gigawatts (average, not peak) using solar power, at a price no more than 30% greater than coal generation of comparable capacity, which can be implemented at that scale in 10-15 years. Then I'll pay attention."

    Yoshidad says: First of all, when you make up the frame for the debate as you have, you'll always win. And there's no mention of conservation at all in your post... Significant? I wonder... would that make you not win?

    And why say "3. It has to be concentrated (not diffuse)", for example? Is conservation concentrated? Does not being concentrated mean it wouldn't work? And why is Amory Lovins ( still promoting conservation so heavily? He says cogeneration, commercially available now, just utilizes the waste heat often thrown away by conventional sources, and cuts energy input requirements in half.

    For that matter, the entire economies of Japan and Europe produce first-world economic results by spending roughly half the energy per dollar of GDP that the U.S. spends. How is this possible if all your debate frames are true? Could they be [gasp!] socialistic in their approach?! Well, then we can dismiss them out of hand as erroneous. Thank goodness! (But who's the religious one now?)

    socialism_is_error: "Since solar power installations can only produce power for about 10 hours per day on average, that means that peak power production would need to be in the range of about 85 gigawatts to reach that 1%."

    Yoshidad: Not true with current technologies, heating mineral salts or fluids all day long, generating power with the stored heat at night, BTW.

    socialism_is_error: "Without that, it's just religion, like all the people fascinated with wind and with biomass. And even if it did reach 1%, that still leaves the other 99% of our energy production to petroleum, coal, hydro, and nuclear."

    Yoshidad says: I'm not suggesting this stuff would be easy, but the religious are just as frequently found in those determined to remain wedded to conventional energy sources. They'll tell you how renewables are subsidized so heavily that they couldn't make sense if they were "real" energy sources. They won't mention the orders-of-magnitude larger subsidies for those conventional sources, however.

    For example: The World Resource Institute ( said in 1989 that the U.S. subsidized petroleum $300 billion annually (this includes no amount for pollution, BTW). There's really no figure to account for the Price-Anderson act's subsidy for nuclear. And are the coal mine owners charged for the damages caused by mercury pollution? (Hint: no.)

    And would renewables make sense if the real price of gasoline were $10 a gallon? How about $20? Should we wait until then to start ramping up an alternative technology?

    So let's leave the "your-religion-is-worse-than-my-religion" out of this discussion, shall we? Unreasonable people can disagree disagreeably....8^)

    Meanwhile, let's say your premise that society would have to expend huge amounts of capital to gear up for solar or wind power is correct, and it wouldn't be nearly as profitable (short term) as conventional sources of power.

    But what happens when a civilization that relies exclusively on non-renewables (including big hydro) hits peak oil?...or is that idea that oil supplies, particularly cheap oil supplies are finite just another "religion"?

    Is there no long term incentive to pursue renewables, even if they do as T. Boone Pickens predicts and save conventional sources more conveniently burned elsewhere? Pickens is an oilman who is funding a large wind farm so he can use the saved natural gas elsewhere (promoted as an investment here:

    The final bit to answer is how realistic are your expectations from renewables ("Don't talk to me until you've perfected them! Harummph!").

    Of course oil, storing the millenia of ancient sunlight it does, is going to be a more concentrated source of energy than one day's solar or wind power. And the infant technologies of renewables (excluding conservation) are obviously going to be more expensive and less elegant than what we've been developing for centuries now.

    Do you also expect an infant to be able to beat up a heavyweight boxer? Is that religious, or at least unreasonable?

    What you have to ignore in this bit of oil-addict junkie logic that *sounds* perfectly reasonable is how much it's whistling past the graveyard. Being cognizant of peak oil or climate change might make reasonable people pool their efforts so they might not return to cave dwelling when the conventional sources run out.

    And yes, there were those on Easter Island who felled the last tree (thereby leading to the extinction of the people because they couldn't build boats to fish). But you see *that* was religion.

    Question: Did the Easter Islanders say "Don't tell me not to fell this tree until you can successfully demonstrate some deity exists as effective as our current one in providing the necessities of civilization."?

  15. Leonard Huff III:

    Just got a DAILY DRILLING REPORT ( Monies spent & what they ( drilling companies, HALLIBURTON, SCHUMLBLER SPENT THAT DAY!) CANT SPELL ! BUT the total for Sunday on a 19,0000' call Sarita K. East Foundation Well #22 targeting the 25,0000' WILDCAT formation 25 southeast of the town of Sarita Texas. Cum. Cost as today = $10,150,125.83. WE RUN INTO LITTE PROBLEM @ 22,450' (WILDCAT FIELD - UNKOWN PRESSURE - ALMOST LOST WELL TO BLOWOUT! GUESS WHAT! HALLIBURTON CO. ( THE BEST) WAS THERE IN TWO HOURS! KILL THE WELL! SAVE THE WELL ! ($10,000,000.)







    THAT IS TRYING TO SURVIRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Yoshidad:

    Leonard Huff III, my brother, I can't tell you how great it is to hear from a *real* Texan! Dang!

    You're mistaken thinking I'm from New York. I really and truly know what it's like to look out from a rig floor, over a six-foot-tall stack of Hughes tool bits to see a lagoon full of drilling mud. I know the difference between a "spudder" and a rotary drill. My grandpa built pipelines from Oklahoma and East Texas to the East, and my Dad was a land man. I know the difference between a working interest and an overriding royalty.

    So don't take your worries about me too seriously. I'm on your side -- just a little longer term than you're thinking.

    And nobody -- and I mean *no* body -- respects oilfield work more than me. And if you think that deep well on land is fancy, imagine going down six miles below the ocean floor in the Gulf. Now that is some deep shit!

    And have you seen the seismic stuff they've got now! Three-dimensional under-the-ocean subsurface maps. Man! That's some serious technology!

    Anyway, my brother, we disagree about some of this stuff, but don't let the turkeys get you down!

    BTW, I just read Jim Webb's "Fields of Fire" -- You'd like it. He knows what it is to be a man. (Lots of kids around nowadays, not too many men.)

  17. skh.pcola:

    This comment thread is becoming surreal in its inanity.

  18. Leonard Huff III:

    Mr. shh.pcola,



    yosihidah: I have two more HALLIBURTION (VICE - PRIESIDENT OF UNITED STATES) Frac Jobs next week>

    Moral of story! You tell me

    Peace & Love in South Texas! My Older sister taught me this pharse!

  19. Leonard Huff III:


    If any one wants to call me, feel free!

    Cell number 361-230-9839

    I did pay my cell bill last month.

    Also , use your REAL name on blogs or HIDE!

    your CHOICE!

  20. John Moore:

    The post mentions the cognitive dissonance of the anti-shale oil crowd.

    Part of my operand definition of a modern "progressive" is someone who can keep two contradictory ideas in their mind at the same time, believe both of them, and argue for both of them - all without noticing the obvious conflict.

    In other words, modern progressives are psychotic.

  21. socialism_is_error:


    Actually, I'm not the "true believer" type on either side; I simply thought you might like to see what actual engineers think about the issue. After all, they are the people who have to turn the theories into machinery. Mr. den Beste's tone results, I think, from having to answer too many ferocious "true believers" incapable of dispassionate analysis.

    I thought the commentary was fully as interesting as the original entry, e.g.:

    "...Third was that he linked to a Scientific American article. Time was when I thought the world of SciAm but about fifteen years ago the editorial slant of the place changed and now it's mostly a worthless rag. That said, the front of that article contained a claim that it was possible to produce 35% of our energy with solar by 2050.

    As mentioned, average energy usage in the US today is about 3.6 terawatts. If our energy usage remains flat level for 40 years, then 35% of that is 1.26 terawatts.

    24-hour-365-day average solar power density in Albequerque is 240 watts per square meter. If our hero's proposed solar farms are 25% efficient at converting that to useful energy, then to produce 1.26 terawatts he'd have to pave 21,000 square kilometers with high tech. That's larger than the dry area of New Jersey.

    Of course, if the efficiency is more like 10%, which is far more likely, then he needs to high-tech pave more than 50,000 square kilometers. You believe that'll happen?

    And if our energy consumption continues to increase along historical norms, then by 2050 our power consumption will be 2.85 times what it is now, and our 10%-efficient solar farms would have to cover an area comparable to the dry area of Michigan."

    Just a simple line of thought about the numbers involved. Not a rant, denying the utility of taking advantage of local advantages for particular systems; just a cautionary about some folks' tendency to get starry-eyed about comprehensive world solutions. If you can estimate the percentage reduction of energy usage likely to be obtained from conservation as you envision it, the land-area consumption result can be reduced, but I think it's likely to still be considerable. The same sorts of considerations apply to other renewables; once again, not a rejection, just a cautionary.

    The ultimate point being that seeking increased production of "non-renewables" is necessary at present and the obstructionism cited in the post above is wrong.

    By the way, the price mechanism is apparently already producing conservation. The media seem loathe to recognize this overtly, expressing it as "a reduction in traffic fatalities due to less travel".

    One last note: AGW is BS. Measurements show that many of our neighboring planetary bodies are warming up lately and to my best knowledge the Mars rover has yet to encounter even a Toyota Prius, let alone a Ford Excursion or a Hummer. ;)

  22. Les:

    So basically the big effort of closing-off local oil production is to force the majority of Americans to accept a lifestyle similar to those of citizens in Asimov's 'Cities'.

    I also notice that biggest big-deal about AGW and what huge cut-backs in consumption need to be made have started in a day and age when not only millions of brown and yellow people in the world stand to claw their way out of poverty for the first time in millenia but also when the middle and lower classes in This country began having access to luxuries once reserved for the elite. You can find imported wine and fillet mignon in a podunk town of less than a thousand people out here.

    But hey, Hanlon's razor and all that,I'm sure all those big decision-makers in the Democratic party... who also are among the social and financial elite and could still afford steak and red wine no matter how high gas-prices go.. all have the best intentions at heart.

  23. rxc:

    I hesitate to agree with one point by yoshidad, but I think he is correct that the limiting factors with oil shale are (1) water, and (2) where to put the waste rock, which takes up more space than the rock in the ground. Unfortunately, the rock is located in a place where water is not abundant, and the scenery is quite stunning, so these are real problems.

    On the other hand, although y may understand the oil business, he has no idea what he is talking about regarding nuclear. There is more energy in the uranium that comes out of the smokestack of a coal plant(!) than there was in the coal that was burned. It is thermodynamically efficient to extract one atom of uranium from the crust of the earth, given the EREI for nuclear energy. In the 1980s, the Japanese figured out how to extract uranium from seawater at prices that are not much higher than they were on the U spot market about a year ago, and there is a tremendous amount of thorium in India that could take over if the cost-benefit ratio flipped.

    And amount of waste is tiny, compared to the waste from wind and solar. It is also quite useful, and it drops in toxicity as it ages, unlike other waste. Has anyone figured out what they are going to do with all of these solar panels and fiberglass windmill blades when they have to be decommissioned? They are quite large, and composite plastics are notoriously difficult to recycle. Maybe they will just be dumped into landfills, to contaminate the water-table.

    The issue of subsidies for nuclear lumps all of the weapons work into the commercial business. And then the same people who critique commercial nuclear take the same numbers and complain about how expensive nuclear weapons are. Well, you can't have it both ways - ether you charge the work to the commercial business or the weapons, not to both at the same time. And if we are going to aportion costs, then the windmill people and the solar cell people need to take a charge for the entire space program and the military aeronautics industry, and maybe even the Navy in the days of sail, where we learned how to harness the power of the wind. Just to show that these arguments about "subsidies" are just a waste of time and effort.

    The Price-Anderson act does not contain any subsidies to nuclear insurance. It does not work that way. Each commercial plant buys real liability insurance from a private pool, and if an accident were to occur, the pool members could be assessed to provide additional coverage up to a particular figure. What P-A does, is to say that if a really bad accident occurs, the Congress will get to figure out how to cover excess losses, just like they did with losses from 9-11. The industry is on the hook to cover a certain amount of losses, but above that, it becomes a national issue that requires Congressional action. There is no subsidy, in the sense that people understand that term. And you could say that this is true about just about any modern technology, from chemicals to airplanes, to biotech, to computers, to nanoparticles, that has the potential for widespread impact. Everyone buys insurance, and if the really unexpected happens, the political process figures out what to do. P-A is a nuclear red herring thrown out by its opponents.

    Finally, regarding solar and wind systems, I actually have one of these providing power to me on my sailboat. I have several large battery banks, several large solar panels, a windmill, a standby generator with battery charger, a main engine that can also charge the batteries, shore-power connections, and an inverter to provide AC from the batteries. This system is not simple. My technically-minded wife cannot make it work, much less maintain it. What Mr. Gore wants is to install this same technology in every house in the US. Those of you who have parents beyond a certain age should ask yourself "Could my mother/father run/maintain such a system in their home?" I know that mine could not. It is likely that a LOT of people will be seriously injured/killed by these systems, as they get old, experience failures, cause fires, cause people to fall off of roofs while maintaining them, spill acid, cause lives to be lost in traffic accidents while maintenance people travel to service them, etc. Getting rid of the grid is really silly. But that is where the environmental community is pushing us. And when the grid finally starts to collapse, because it can't handle the loads that are growing steadily, we will finally see what is is like to live in a simpler society.

  24. Chas Clifton:

    "I saw some studies at Exxon 20+ years ago for their Labarge development that saw water availability as the #1 issue in making shale oil work."

    That's putting it mildly, when you consider that the oil shale formations are in the basin of the already used-up and over-appropriated Colorado River.

    If producing oil from shale is going to require lots of water -- at least that was a given a few years ago -- just where is it going to come from? Are you going to tell Las Vegas or Phoenix to give up their share?