Resource limits are invisible, so most people don’t realize that we could possibility be approaching them. In fact, my analysis indicates resource limits are really financial limits, and in fact, we seem to be approaching those limits right now.
Many analysts discussing resource limits are talking about a very different concern than I am talking about. Many from the “peak oil” community say that what we should worry about is a decline in world oil supply. In my view, the danger is quite different: The real danger is financial collapse, coming much earlier than a decline in oil supply. This collapse is related to high oil price, and also to higher costs for other resources as we approach limits (for example, desalination of water where water supply is a problem, and higher natural gas prices in much of the world).
The financial collapse is related to Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) that is already too low. I don’t see any particular EROEI target as being a threshold–the calculations for individual energy sources are not on a system-wide basis, so are not always helpful. The issue is not precisely low EROEI. Instead, the issue is the loss of cheap fossil fuel energy to subsidize the rest of society.
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If an energy source, such as oil back when the cost was $20 or $30 barrel, can produce a large amount of energy in the form it is needed with low inputs, it is likely to be a very profitable endeavor. Governments can tax it heavily (with severance taxes, royalties, rental for drilling rights, and other fees that are not necessarily called taxes). In many oil exporting countries, these oil-based revenues provide a large share of government revenues. The availability of cheap energy also allows inexpensive roads, bridges, pipelines, and schools to be built. ( Continue… )
In the energy sector, there are few topics that generate more debate today than the relative merits/demerits of fracking. To see just how strongly-held yet evenly-divided opinion is, check out this online debate moderated by The Economist and sponsored by Statoil (NYSE: STO).
The question is framed simply: “Do the benefits derived from shale gas outweigh the drawbacks of fracking?” Writing in defense of the “pro” position was Amy Myers Jaffe, the Executive Director for Energy and Sustainability at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California Davis. Writing in opposition was Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club.
The final tally of the debate: 51% voted “No”, while 49% voted “Yes”.
Honestly, I lean more towards the “Yes” side of the ledger. While fracking raises significant concerns, I believe that they can be managed — though it’s up to us as engaged citizens to ensure that the powers-that-be fully hold accountable those who participate in fracking activities to the highest standards. ( Continue… )
The federal government proposed new standards Friday that further limit the amount of sulfur in gasoline. Compared with previous reductions, Friday's proposal is slight. But many say it's enough to increase the price Americans pay at the pump.
"New requirements, new regulations are going to drive prices up," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, a gas price analysis website. "This isn’t the biggest change but it will cost motorists."
The jump could be as high as 9 cents in some places, according to the American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade association for the oil and gas industry.
"Consumers care about the price of fuel, and our government should not be adding unnecessary regulations that raise manufacturing costs, especially when there are no proven environmental benefits," Bob Greco, director of API's downstream group, said in a statement Friday. "We should not pile on new regulations when existing regulations are working.” ( Continue… )
The production of oil from Western Canada is expanding to the point that existing pipeline capacity is overwhelmed. Canadian pipeline company Enbridge aims to get its Northern Gateway project built for exports from Canada's west coast. TransCanada, meanwhile, anticipates crude oil deliveries will expand from Canada to southern U.S. refineries by way of the Keystone XL pipeline. Expanding oil production from North America, however, may be too much for pipelines to handle and suppliers will need to look to more-expensive rail to get their oil to markets.
New York-based brokerage company ITG estimates that Western Canadian oil production should by 2025 reach 5.7 million barrels per day. The Bakken formation in North Dakota, meanwhile, is producing record-levels of oil, hitting the 770,000 bpd mark on average for December. Production there has doubled between 2010 and 2012 and the state is behind only Texas in terms of oil. ITG says that Canadian oil developments alone should double by the middle half of the next decade and oil sands should about for the bulk of the overall growth. (Related article: Go to the Source - How to profit from Gazprom’s Crumbling Hegemony)
The Association of American Railroads states that nearly a quarter of a million carloads of crude oil traveled on the U.S. rail system in 2012. For the week ending March 16, AAR said deliveries by rail of petroleum products in the United States was up 58.3 percent when compared to the same week in 2012. That’s because, in the United States, there's not enough pipeline capacity to get oil to refineries. In part to accommodate the boom, the state just recently broke ground on a new 20,000 bpd refinery, which should take less than two years to complete. (Related article: Why the High Oil Prices if Supplies Really are Abundant?)
A U.S. State Department draft review of the planned Keystone XL found that rail deliveries should be able to "transport all incremental Western Canadian and Bakken crude oil production to markets if there were no additional pipeline projects approved." AAR, for its part, said it expects crude oil deliveries to pass 600,000 bpd yet this year. While historically rail transport is more expensive, it takes a train about 90 hours round trip from Bakken to the southern U.S. coast versus 40 days by pipeline. ( Continue… )
The world spent $1.9 trillion in energy subsidies in 2011. It was not money well spent, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The subsidies reinforce inequality by disproportionately benefiting the wealthiest, largest consumers of energy, according to a report released Wednesday by the global economic organization. Eliminating them would ease budgetary pressures on cash-strapped governments and slow global carbon emissions, the report finds.
"Subsidies cause overconsumption of petroleum products, coal, and natural gas, and reduce incentives for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy," the report reads. "This over-consumption in turn aggravates global warming and worsens local pollution."
Eliminating energy tax subsidies worldwide would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 4-1/2 billion tons – a 13 percent reduction, the IMF study found. ( Continue… )
Roads soak up a lot of heat energy from the sun. During the summer it can often be unbearable to walk along the road in sunny areas as the heat radiating upwards can lend a stifling quality to the atmosphere.
Scientists at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts have decided to develop a system that can put this heat energy to good use. By using special piping technology they can turn effectively turn the streets into giant solar energy collectors.
The idea is quite similar really. Water is pumped through pipes that are buried a few centimetres below the surface of the road. The heat absorbed by the asphalt then warms the water, which can then be used further up along the pipe to generate electricity. The transfer of the heat energy from the road to the water also helps to cool the road surface and prolong the lifespan of the asphalt. (Related article: Study Finds Libya has More Solar Resources than Oil)
Rajib Mallick, the associate professor leading the team of researchers, said that their “preliminary results provide a promising proof of concept for what could be a very important future source of renewable energy.” ( Continue… )
Oklahoma's largest recorded earthquake may have been the result of injection wells used for disposing wastewater from oil extraction, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University and the US Geological Survey. Their findings challenge the state's own geological survey, which concluded the 5.7 magnitude earthquake was likely "the result of natural causes."
It's the latest back-and-forth in a decades-long debate over the connection between fossil fuel recovery and seismic activity. To what extent does oil and gas production shift the ground beneath us? When does the risk of seismic activity outweigh the benefit of increased energy resources?
The 2011 event in Oklahoma is the largest earthquake linked to wastewater injection, according to the study, published Tuesday in the journal Geology.
“There’s something important about getting unexpectedly large earthquakes out of small systems that we have discovered here,” said study co-author Geoffrey Abers, a seismologist at Columbia University, in a press release. His conclusion is that “the risk of humans inducing large earthquakes from even small injection activities is probably higher” than previously thought. ( Continue… )
As U.S. natural gas prices flirt with the $4 mark, some skeptics of the so-called shale gas revolution think prices are headed much higher. Such a move would, not surprisingly, seriously undermine the official story that the United States has a century of cheap natural gas waiting for the drillbit.
Several years ago when natural gas began flowing in great quantities from deep shale deposits beneath American soil, it seemed to be the beginning of the end of America’s troubled journey into dependence on energy imports—a journey marked by frequent worry, occasional war and enormous expense.
But, to some people this supposed solution to America’s energy needs has begun to seem as costly to the environment and human health as the country’s dependence on imported energy has been in terms of mental distress, money and blood. It turns out that this new kind of natural gas requires the industrialization of the countryside in order to extract it. And that, say those closest to the action, risks tainting air, land, and drinking water and compromising the health of humans and animals alike.
Well, at least we can say that shale gas is plentiful, cheap, American, and much easier on the climate than coal or oil. It didn’t take too long before people started looking into whether shale gas really was that much easier on the climate. A Cornell University researcher came to the conclusion that shale gas was probably worse for climate change than coal. His conclusion hinged in part on what are called “fugitive emissions”—unintentional, but unavoidable releases of unburned methane into the atmosphere during the hydraulic fracturingoperations performed to extract the gas. Methane is some 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. ( Continue… )
A look at clean coal technology in the 21st century (Sponsor content)
Dry Sorbent Injection (DRI) achieves between 40 to 75% removal of Sulfur Dioxide and acid gases and is one of the numerous clean coal technologies that impact our daily lives. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, DSI systems remove hydrogen chloride (HCl) and other acid gases through two basic steps:
- Step one. A powdered sorbent is injected into the flue gas—combustion exhaust gas exiting a power plant—where it reacts with the HCl. The sorbents most commonly associated with DSI are trona (sodium sesquicarbonate, a naturally occurring mineral mined in Wyoming), sodium bicarbonate, and hydrated lime.
- Step two. The compound is removed by a downstream particulate matter control device such as an electrostatic precipitator (ESP) or a fabric filter (FF), also referred to as a baghouse. Fabric filters are generally more effective (when combined with DSI) than ESPs, with respect to overall HCl reduction. For modeling purposes, EPA estimate a DSI system with a fabric filter is expected to achieve 90% removal of HCl, while an ESP only achieves 60% removal, although actual performance will vary by individual plant.
Wires 1/10,000th the diameter of a human hair can absorb more of the sun's power than previously thought possible, a new study in Nature Photonics suggests.
Although still years away from production, nanowire solar cells could push the conversion efficiency of the sun's energy past the so-called Shockley-Queisser limit, which for decades has served as a fixed ceiling in solar energy research.
Such a breakthrough would be significant because the sun's power is wildly abundant, but diffuse, and difficult to harvest. Even increasing the limit by a few percent would go a long way in making solar a more viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Today's photovoltaics recover less than a third of the sun's power, but the unique light-absorbing characteristics of nanoscopic structures could "have a major impact on the development of solar cells, exploitation of nanowire solar rays and perhaps the extraction of energy at the international level," according to scientists at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, who wrote the study. ( Continue… )