Monday, May 31, 2010

As we move away from oil, let's return to land-based production as far as we still need any oil

The fifth or sixth (I've lost count) attempt to stop or control the oil gusher a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico has officially been abandoned today.

With the trend towards renewable energy continuing (people may debate about the rate, but nobody is suggesting that we stop moving in that direction) it becomes a legitimate question to ask how much oil we will still need and where to get it from. The assumption that people were operating under even as recently as five years ago (before we had $4 a gallon oil and foreign policy setbacks made it clear that international oil consumption was enabling dictators like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) that mankind would sooner or later drain all the oil on the planet before switching to something that was supposed to cost more is no longer even a remotely valid point of view.

Germany (hardly the land of sunshine) already derives as much as 20% of its electricity from solar power. And anyone who lives here in Navajo County can attest to the fact that wind energy would be a plentiful resource here (there is already a wind farm near Snowflake and more are being proposed.)

Certainly even if we plunged full bore into the development and replacement of the fleet of cars now clogging our fuel pumps with hybrid and electric vehicles we would still need oil in the short term. But a finite amount.

And if a finite amount then it becomes fair to ask what the best source is. And the answer is pretty plain:

Oil taken from dry land on the North American continent. While there are certainly issues around, for example, the development of oil sands in Alberta, the fact is that oil that is produced and can be pumped over dry land is far less hazardous to the environment than anything in the water (forget the current spill, just remember past episodes like the 1979 Mexican spill or the Exxon Valdez, where oil in the water just could not be cleaned up or contained until it slimed and smeared miles of beaches.)

Bet you didn't know that just last week there was a major oil spill from the Alaska pipeline, did you? But there was. And certainly it did cause some local damage to the environment. But that's the key-- local damage. It was contained and the pipeline will be restarted precisely because the damage is local. There is no current to carry it hundreds of miles away like there is in the sea. And British Petroleum-- which ironically also is the main owner of the pipeline right now, is waiting for the green light to reopen it.

Here is a key paragraph from the linked article:

The pipeline is technically ready to begin pumping oil again, but is awaiting a review of the repair process by the Department of Transportation, Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan said. Alyeska had hoped to begin operations at noon local time (4 p.m. EDT). Egan said she didn't know how long it would take for regulators to finish their review.

Egan said the amount of time before Alyeska would have to ask producers to cut their pumping rate further below 8% is "measured in hours, not days," and that the company is hopeful it will get regulatory approval to restart operations before then.

In other words it's under far better control than the Gulf oil spill. Even if you have a worst-case scenario-- a blowout-- on land, you call Red Adair and he comes and caps it off quickly.

Oil shipped between continents may be drilled on land but there is always the possibility of a tanker spill like the Exxon Valdez. That is why I believe that we may need to build pipelines on land-- just keep it away from the water.

The first step is indeed to commit to moving away from oil. Once we do that, we have the luxury of deciding which oil we will continue to use during the transition, and it is clear that it should be land-based oil


sandyh said...


Easier said than done.

Big Oil is not going to give up those profits without a fight even if it means polluting the very last sources of fresh water on this planet.

The forces that gambled with our credit markets, started a war in Iraq, and outsourced our jobs don't care about the future only short-term profits. Politicians on both sides of the aisle seem far to easy to bribe.

dorsano said...

part of the problem is that the industry has invested heavily in technology to drill at deep water depths and presures and has not invested a commenserate amount in risk mitigation and clean up technologies - this is an industry that's been allow to self certify its equipment and plans for the at least the last decade (if not more). All this is human hubris and dysfunctional politics.

dorsano said...

Off topic but AZ Governor Brewer seems to be engaged in rewriting history.