Thermodynamics? It's Not Just For Breakfast Anymore!

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For millennia mankind relied upon energy sources that were diffuse. We burned wood, which grows in energy-concentrating organisms called trees. We could only gather the wood if it had fallen, or if we could use our stone-based tools to break wood apart. Some folks were fortunate in that their environment held a form of turf that would burn, one we call peat. And once we domesticated animals, we discovered that we could burn their feces, if we could stomach the smell. But that was it. We could not leverage our power by harnessing energy sources to supplant muscle power.

 

Over time, we mastered the manufacture of metals. This made it easier to harvest wood, and made it easier to use it for heating and cooking. But only after we recognized as a species that we could use energy to create steam, and then harness the steam to do work, only then did we gain the possibility to advance society through the use of machines. Since that time, we have worked diligently to use ever more concentrated sources of energy in order to do our bidding. Coal was the first concentrated source of energy used to leverage man's muscles, and entire regions rich in coal soon were honeycombed with tunnels where coal had been extracted.

 

Coal has its own problems, though. It is dirty, dusty, and burning it causes a sulfur stink to cling to the landscape where it is used. It also bears a human toil in the death and disabilities of those who work to mine coal. Oil has long been used by man for lighting, but the sources of oil were either vegetable in nature, or for a short time, based on blubber. This type of oil is a concentrated source of energy, but it is gathered by diffuse energy sources. It was only when man discovered how to extract virgin pools of petroleum oil from below the surface of the earth that it became possible to create a liquid fuel that could propel individual transportation vehicles. Once the miracles of fuel oil and gasoline were unleashed, the automobile age was enabled.

 

Concentrated sources of energy were viewed as inexhaustible in the earth, and man grew to believe it was his birthright to exploit these sources in perpetuity. Indeed, man even harnessed the second most concentrated source of energy known, that of atomic fission, and controlled it to convert mass into electricity. That source of energy creates its own problems, with long-lived radioactive waste, and with the narrow line separating safe operation from catastrophe. Still, the energy future for man looked bright.

 

But after centuries of exploiting concentrated energy sources, the problems resulting from their use have grown exponentially. In Appalachia, we no longer delve under the ground for rich veins of organic rock. The best veins are gone. Instead, we blow the top off of mountainsides in order to free up the 2' and 3' veins of coal that were left in bygone geological times. Excess dirt and rock is pushed over the sides of the former mountain, leaving behind a scar on the land where ground cover is grown to regenerate the soil that is long gone.

 

Standard oil wells have gone dry in many regions. The decline in oil production in the US, coupled with the expanding use of oil, led to over dependence upon foreign oil sources, particularly from the Arabian Gulf. In the 1970's, this dependence led to the use of oil as a political weapon, as the Arab countries withheld oil from the US to protest Israel's seizure of Arab lands after a failed Arab war on Israel. It was only with the advent of enhanced oil recovery through fracking that the long decline in US oil production was reversed.

 

But even with the impressive increase in oil and natural gas generated through fracking, there are other issues that need to be dealt with. This does not concern fracking wastes or earthquakes from waste fluid injection. No, it has to do with the depletion rates of wells drilled using fracking. Whereas a conventional petroleum reservoir has a depletion rate measured over decades, with fracking wells, the rate of production from a fracking well may decrease by over 50% in the first year. The depletion rate of a fracking well shows an exponential decrease in production, and the economic lifetime of a well may be less than 10 years. Thus it is necessary to keep drilling, inserting pipe into the ground, and dealing with all of the fluid handling for any oil or gas fracking well.

 

The net result is that it takes more and more energy to extract fossil fuels through fracking than the old method of production. Fewer and fewer BTU's of useful energy is available from the well once all of the energy inputs of the well are subtracted. Subtract the energy used to make the steel pipe, the energy used to move all of the fluids and sand for fracking, the energy used to separate the fossil fuel from the comingled water, and the energy costs for pipelines and compressor stations for natural gas. One begins to come up against thermodynamic limits for obtaining useful energy out of fossil fuel extraction. For a link that you may find useful in pursuing this further, please check out http://peakoil.com/geology This website has many different perspectives on oil - either we are swimming in it, or the last big discoveries have already been made.

 

Note that this discussion has not mentioned carbon dioxide's role as a greenhouse gas. Any solution to humanity's energy issues needs to take greenhouse gases into account, but the underlying demise of the oil economy may happen despite all of the efforts to keep the oil flowing. No, what is needed is that we must realize that we need to go back to the older methods of harvesting diffuse energy sources. And all of the diffuse energy sources we have are tied to the sun. Whether it is solar electricity, or wind power, or biomaterials generating hydrocarbon liquids, all of them use the sun as the ultimate energy source. If we are to avoid a crisis over the next decade due to depletion of fossil fuel sources, we must commit to harvesting diffuse sources of solar energy to keep our society running.

 

Much of the blowback against global warming refers to the "globalists" imposing their control agenda upon the brave and valiant people who fly the fossil fuel flag. They are insistent that it is their right to live as their (most recent) forefathers lived, and keep buying the biggest SUV or pickup that they may ever need to have, simply because oil is cheap, and will always stay that way. Those people will be the first to be blindsided when oil prices keep climbing inexorably, year after year, and they will not understand that even though more oil is being harvested, only a small fraction of that oil is truly available to keep their profligate lifestyle afloat. If we truly do enter a world where it takes more energy to extract a barrel of oil than that oil will release during combustion, then the end for our life of ease will come, and we will retreat back into the life of the past, where all of our energy was consumed just in order to survive.

 

Posted first on my site https://evenabrokenclock.blog

Comments

Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 10:13am
Pardero, I'll be interested in your thoughts on this. You certainly are in the midst of what it takes to bring in wells in the fracking age. I saw the activity at my father-in-law's back at the start of the fracking boom. The wells drilled then are just about played out.
Tubularsock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 11:07am
Well Broken Clock, Tubularsock has noticed that intelligent use of any energy source hasn't been one of man's strong suits on the planet of the remedials.
 
THAT is why we are smarter than the animals and will kill everyone of them to run this place over. We'll even ruin the water and air supply and that will show ........ THEM who's the king of the jungle happens to be.
 
Survive? We are made in God's image! What could go wrong?
Steve Bull Added Apr 17, 2018 - 11:12am
Wonderful summary of one of the many dilemmas we face as a species. Peak Oil has happened, as much as detractors would suggest otherwise, if one looks at the production of conventional crude. The slide down the Hubbert Curve has begun, particularly in terms of energy-return-on-energy-invested (EROEI).
 
Those of us in 'advanced' economies are ill-prepared for the reckoning we are in all likelihood going to experience as our cheap and easily-accessible energy stores begin to disappear because we can't afford to extricate them (except through unsustainable debt, for the moment).
 
I am not convinced we can replace our fossil fuels adequately with alternative energies that have a significantly lower EROEI. The impact this will have on our financialised economic system that requires exponential growth to keep from collapsing is unprecedented.
 
You can't say we dont live in interesting times.
Dave Volek Added Apr 17, 2018 - 11:37am
EABC
I'm not sure of your experience in the petroleum industry; I certainly hadn't gotten the impression that you were an oilman in any way. If you are indeed an amateur, you certainly got the issues of fracking down quite well. Congrats.
 
Unfortunately many anti-fracking activists don't have this understanding. They continuously spread falsehoods about this industrial process that more or less allows the petroleum industry to its own way. 
 
I have it in the back of my mind to write a long essay on fracking, giving non-petroleum with some mechanical and scientific background an understanding of this issue. Unfortunately, it likely won't get much audience beyond WB, so I can't justify the time.
Leroy Added Apr 17, 2018 - 11:42am
We've heard peak oil so many times since the early 70s that no one believes it now.  It is like the boy who cried wolf.  I don't see it happening in my lifetime.  There is one theory that says it is renewable.  I'm skeptical, but I am also open to the idea.
Dave Volek Added Apr 17, 2018 - 11:46am
I should just add that I believe the wells fracked with the "new way" also have a long life to them, maybe 50 years. But it won't be continuous production. Wells and fields will to shut in for several years, mostly likely when prices are low. During this period of non-production, the wells will be naturally recharged with fresh stock. They might be able to run a year or two until production rates fall too low.
 
This economic factor--and a few others--would be part of my essay.
Bill Kamps Added Apr 17, 2018 - 12:12pm
All forms of energy have pros and cons.  For the most part, we have moved from one source of energy to the next, because of advantages of the new source, not because the old source has been exhausted.
 
This is same with oil and gas.  We have plenty of oil and gas at reasonable prices.  However, there are drawbacks, as with any source of energy.  All forms of energy create pollution, in the creation, burning, or disposal of the remnants after the creation.  Even solar and wind, are based on on some kind of manufacturing process which itself causes some pollution. Batteries certainly cause pollution in the mining, creation and recycling process.
 
The "renewable" forms of energy have drawbacks in terms of flexibility.  They cant be generated just anywhere, and they  cant be generated on demand whenever needed.  Storage is a problem so far.
 
For the near term, the energy supply will be a mix.  Demand for coal is dropping because it has the most drawbacks.  Oil and gas are still going to be important, but new generating capability, will rely less and less on natural gas, and transportation will rely less on oil as a percentage of the mix.
 
Despite all the claims, predictions and rants, this is how it will work out.  We arent just going to change fundamental energy sources in a couple of decades.
Steve Bull Added Apr 17, 2018 - 1:43pm
Bill Kamps
You are absolutely correct in your comments. Whether we will fnd an energy source that can replace fossil fuels and the edifice that has been built upon them is yet to be seen. I'm not convinced the transition will be as 'smooth' as those to date. Of course, only time will tell.
Bill Kamps Added Apr 17, 2018 - 2:03pm
Steve, it will be smooth if we have the time.  No one knows how much time we have.  No one is certain of the consequences of taking longer.  
 
I tend to be optimistic because I do see a lot of progress in technology, which has to improve first before a large scale build out can happen.  We havent reached the point where we just need to build more of what we have, for "renewables" to replace fossil fuels at large percentages.   When we reach that point, then things can move quickly if there is some time urgency. 
 
I put renewables in quotes, because fossil fuels are renewable as well, as least in the sense that their supply is not the issue.  We are not running out of coal, oil and gas.  We just dont care for all the consequences of using them. 
Dave Volek Added Apr 17, 2018 - 2:21pm
Bill Kamps
Many years ago, I had an idea for storing electricity: hydrogen plants.
 
Nobody seems to have picked up on this idea yet. I'm wondering if the loss in energy from the conversion is the reason.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 2:32pm
Tube, it amazes me when I hear about those who believe in an absolute property right to overwhelm the natural world with no regard for anything that currently lives on that space. I've heard Houston extolled as a magnificent urban center where zoning is not required. How did that work for Houston during last year's flooding?
 
Certainly the Interior Department and the EPA are behaving as if only man's economic concerns are the only thing that we ever need to be liberating from regulations.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 2:37pm
Steve, last month in Science magazine there was a story about Vaclav Smil. I was unfamiliar with him but now will be looking to check out some of his books from our local library. The story in Science formed some of my thinking about dense and diffuse sources of energy in my post. Your point on EROEI is nothing more than thermodynamics writ large. Once the ratio goes below 1, we're screwed. Incidentally, has anyone calculated the amount of incremental economic activity created per unit of government debt recently? Seems like we're pushing on strings now a days.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 2:42pm
Dave, I am not an oil person, but as a chemical engineer in my career, and as a long-time science enthusiast, I try to learn about a lot of science fields. It is fun to be able to share some of that knowledge with an audience - we all love audiences. On your point about well recharge after letting the well lie fallow for a few years - I had wondered about that. I guess as long as the microfracture channels stay propped open, you may very well build up pressure again in the bearing layer. I'm always impressed by how thin the layers are that are able to produce.
 
Since for several years I had an indirect economic interest in fracking gas wells, I probably learned more about them than most.
Neil Lock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 2:42pm
Broken Clock: Atomic fission is a far more concentrated source of energy than fossil fuels. Nuclear reactions give much more bang for the buck (well, for the mole) than chemical! As to fusion...
 
But I think the problems with nuclear power are political, not technical. For example, why all the delays on Yucca Mountain? Somebody (and that's the ruling class, of course) wants us not to have nuclear energy - or, indeed, anything much else. That's the root of all the energy problems.
 
Bill Kamps: Spot on with your summary. I'd add that increasing the use of "renewables" creates shortages of its own (e.g. rare earths).
 
Dave: I think you understate the importance of the essay you'd like to write. What matters isn't just reaching the - admittedly few - people who would read it at the first time of asking. It's how it would help them get the facts straight in their own messages to others. It's a compound-interest thing, not a simple-interest one. But I can't force you to write it :-)
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 2:46pm
Leroy, are you referring to the abiogenesis theory of oil and gas production? I'm of the opinion that it is possible, especially in exceptionally deep environments, for organic materials to be created through non-biological means, but I'm thinking that the rate of generation is not enough to keep civilization powered up.
 
It is obvious that we are still living in a world where oil can be economically extracted. But once we get to the point where more energy is consumed in getting the oil into a useful form than it provides, it won't matter any more. We won't be able to get new net energy from the fossil fuels. It'd be like a store that loses money on each sale, but decides to go all in and make up the loss on sales volume. It don't work.
Bill Kamps Added Apr 17, 2018 - 2:49pm
I've heard Houston extolled as a magnificent urban center where zoning is not required.
 
Clock, we DO have zoning in Houston, it is just given a different name, call deed restrictions.  You CANNOT build any  building you want anywhere.  You CANNOT put business in a residential neighborhood.  You CANNOT build lot line to lot line.  We DO have areas designated for flood control.  We have a reservoir of many 10s of square miles dedicated for flood control.   "Zoning" by another name is much the same here as any other city.
 
I think it is doubtful that if 50 inches of rain fell on any other  major city in the US, in three days,  they would have fared much better.  That is like blaming the flooding in NYC during Sandy Hook on inappropriate zoning. 
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 2:53pm
Bill, I also think that the decline of peak energy (I like that term better than peak oil) may be far off in our future. At least long enough so I don't have to worry about it. But it is time for us to seriously consider how we are to structure ourselves away from our current concentrated liquid fuels that we use to move around with. One thing I've written about is a fission reactor with much fewer risks and no transuranium long-lived radioactive isotopes by using the thorium fuel cycle - Nuclear-Power-Doesn-t-Need-To-Be-Scary
 
The key question is how much time is left. As we move to exploit more and more exotic energy resources, the risk of something going wrong increases. Remember Deepwater Horizon?
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 2:58pm
Neil, as I note, fission is the second most concentrated source of energy we've harnessed. Actually, we've harnessed nuclear fusion as well, but only for extremely brief bursts. Everything I've read about reaching energy breakeven with fusion makes me realize that it will be decades before any viable means to extract energy will come out of it. After all, the entire setup for fusion involves extremely complex geometric spaces containing ultra-hot plasmas. The energy density of such an enclosure will be low. And then you have to figure out a way to extract the extra energy out of that space without causing the extinguishment of the fusion. I just don't see how they will make it work. I wish them luck, but ......
Bill Kamps Added Apr 17, 2018 - 3:12pm
The key question is how much time is left. As we move to exploit more and more exotic energy resources, the risk of something going wrong increases. Remember Deepwater Horizon?
 
Well some things like fission or fusion are exotic, some forms of storage are exotic since batteries have a habit of catching fire.  Some are just not always convenient like solar and wind.  No only was there Deepwater Horizon, but also the coal tailings pond that erupted in Tennessee, and Fukishima.  So yes potential problems.  Some forms of energy have larger potential problems than others.
 
If no one were working on the technology challenges I would be more concerned than I am. 
 
Yes peak energy is off in the future.  The developing world is going to want a lot more energy than it is using today.  That doesnt mean they will achieve the energy density of the USA, but it will be higher than now.  It is not difficult to believe that world energy consumption will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.  Until the standard of living in the world reaches a more or less steady state, energy consumption will continue to grow.
Neil Lock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 3:34pm
Broken Clock: Yes, thorium does seem to be a possibility. And like you, I don't have much hope for fusion, at least in the next century or so.
 
One possibility you don't mention is solar power collected in space and beamed down. Lots (lots!) of technology required, and lots of safety issues. Would need enormous political change before it could even be considered. But... would it cause "global warming?"
Steve Bull Added Apr 17, 2018 - 3:39pm
Even a Broken Clock
Smil's work is worth the read. I have a couple of his texts (Prime Movers of Globalization, Energy Myths and Realities), the second is most enlightening. I would recommemd these as well if you find the time: Howard Odum, Environment, Power, and Society; Joseph Tainter and Tadeusz Patzek, Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma; Jeff Rubin, Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller; Richard Heinberg, The End of Growth and Peak Everything; Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down; and Nafeez Ahmed, Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence.
Doug Plumb Added Apr 17, 2018 - 4:29pm
If our "elites" in this case, the oil companies actually believed in peak oil, they would manage the greenies a little better. Green energy sources such as windmills and solar cells need research and innovation. They would be paying out R&D grants all the time instead of building farms for energy collection.
The oil companies, at the top, with big chemical, are the Fed chairmen. They are the Green movement. They make more money selling barrels of oil for $120.00 with no objection rather than $35.00 as a non greenie population would demand. There no political cost in raising oil prices. The Green movement could be said to be created by the oil companies to raise the price of fuel.
The way that energy is being managed leaves little doubt as to whether the energy companies or governments of Fed actually believe that the problem of peak oil exists. If it did we would not be driving around in big trucks, we would be programmed to want small cars. All the Brad Pitts of the world be be seen driving little tiny cars on the Big Screen.
Bill Kamps Added Apr 17, 2018 - 5:52pm
The US and its oil companies do not set the price of oil and it is true that we are not running out of oil.
 
An over production of oil is what drove the price down to $30 / barrel.  The Russians and Saudis had to cut production to get it back up into the $60 range.  The US oil companies, like Exxon, and Chevron were not able to manipulate the price.
 
The major public oil companies control very little of the world's oil reserves or production. The oil companies of the US produce as much profitable oil as they can. 
 
If the Russians and Saudi's produced as much as they could, the price would be back to $30/barrel.  So yes the price is controlled, just like in the US the price of milk, cheese, sugar, tobacco and a number of other things are controlled. 
 
 
Doug Plumb Added Apr 17, 2018 - 6:28pm
re "The US and its oil companies do not set the price of oil and it is true that we are not running out of oil."
 
The demand is static. Who sets the prices ? OPEC right?
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 6:56pm
Bill, thanks for the update on Houston. I was under the impression that there was a lot less regulation for land use in that area as compared to most major metropolitan areas.
 
On the issues with energy, I agree that any form of energy requires trade-offs. And any place where there is mass storage of energy, there is risk that the energy will be discharged in an uncontrolled manner. I think back to my time in the chemical plant. There was a lot more invested in protective clothing and in training for anyone who dealt with electric switchgear. Just the potential for arc creation with a 440 V source is enough to fry someone who is within the danger zone. And our current standard for portable devices, lithium ion batteries, have caused some serious accidents. Shoot, my Prius have both significant battery storage and high voltage lines running through the frame. Yet I accept the risk of sudden discharge due to the increased mileage, and the low frequency of accidents to date. I wouldn't want to apply the jaws of life to a hybrid, though.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 7:02pm
Neil, I've sometimes wondered if anyone has calculated the urban heat island effect caused by combustion of fuels. There may be a significant heat effect due to gas engines turning, waste heat being rejected by air conditioners, etc. That would not have a global effect, but could cause some of the heat island effect.
 
Let me know the efficiency of conversion of space-beamed power back to earth, and we can see if the rejected heat would be greater than the effects of burning fossil fuels to provide the equivalent energy. Then I can answer your question of whether space-born solar power would add to global warming.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 7:02pm
Steve - thanks for the reading list. I'll have to see if I get to it, but I will start with Smil.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 17, 2018 - 7:10pm
Bill and Doug - I would argue that the true cost of oil is the cost that the market is willing to pay for an incremental barrel. That is the cost that the energy companies are looking at in terms of making investment decisions. And in order to be meaningful, projects that increase the supply of oil must show a positive IRR under a significant range of market conditions. I'd hate to try  to model the economic cases that would mimic the fluctuations that we see in world energy prices today. Right now, I'd say the determining factor in price is the short-term accumulation / depletion of inventories.
 
By the way - the old saying that an optimist sees a storage vessel  as half full, a pessimist sees it as half empty. My wife says that an engineer would see the vessel as being twice as big as needed. I've not been able to convince her that she needs to use differential calculus in order to determine whether the vessel is big enough to either not overflow, or run out of liquid under various conditions of supply and withdrawal. That just doesn't quite register to a non-engineering mind. But it all depends upon the intended function of a storage vessel (or glass).
A. Jones Added Apr 17, 2018 - 7:49pm
Whether it is solar electricity, or wind power, or biomaterials generating hydrocarbon liquids, all of them use the sun as the ultimate energy source.
 
Wood, coal, oil, and natural gas are also ultimately derived from the sun. So what. That doesn't mean attempts to harness sunlight directly — via inefficient, expensive, and unreliable technologies like solar panels and wind turbines — are a wise choice. Additionally, the manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels is resource-intensive and highly damaging to the environment. As usual, you haven't done any homework on this.
 
Regarding fossil fuel reserves, see:
 
It's amazing how fast forecasts for U.S. crude oil production are rising. From 2014-2016, EIA's Annual Energy Outlook boomed its projection for U.S. crude output in 2030 by over 20% (see Figure on page 2). These increases are remarkable because they continually come amid lower forecasted prices . . . The U.S. Geological Survey, for instance, once predicted that the Bakken contained just 150 million barrels of oil, but the play is now producing that amount every five months, and the Bakken could still have 25 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The more we drill, the more we develop...the more we realize how much we have.
 
The US holds more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia and Russia, the first time it has surpassed those held by the world's biggest exporting nations, according to a new study . . . Rystad Energy estimates recoverable oil in the US from existing fields, discoveries and yet undiscovered areas amounts to 264bn barrels. The figure surpasses Saudi Arabia's 212bn and Russia's 256bn in reserves.
 
A shale gas drilling boom over the last decade has propelled the United States from energy importer to exporter, taking the country a giant leap toward the goal of energy independence declared by presidents for half a century.  Now the upheaval of the domestic energy sector is going global. A swell of gas in liquefied form shipped from Texas and Louisiana is descending on global markets, producing a broader glut and lower energy prices.
 
Regarding CO2 and supposed "greenhouse warming", consider this:
 
The atmosphere of Mars is over 95% carbon dioxide yet there's no greenhouse warming: it's far colder than on Earth. So much CO2 being any sort of efficient greenhouse gas. Earth's atmosphere is 0.3% CO2. If 95% CO2 on Mars isn't doing any warming, it's pretty doubtful that 0.3% on Earth is doing so, either.
 
At high noon on a cloudless day in mid-summer, and at a hypothetical 100% conversion of sunlight into electricity, the maximum output you'd get would be 1 kilowatt per meter^2. To construct a standard 1 Gigawatt power generating station using such hypothetically efficient solar panels, you'd need a million square meters, or about 250 acres, rather than just a few acres for a typical fossil-fuel plant. Just from the point of view of land use, it's grossly inefficient: why not use a fossil-fuel plant requiring a small footprint of just a few acres and reserve the rest of the land use as living space -- for people (it seems you forgot about them).
 
Regarding the "Peak Oil" myth, see:
 
MIT Technology Review Peak Oil Debunked
"The peak oil theory embodies an ‘end of technology/end of opportunity’ perspective, that there will be no more significant innovation in oil production, nor significant new resources that can be developed." Such a perspective is to [the author of this book] almost blasphemous, and he gleefully recounts how the world has worried that it was about to run out of oil at least five times, dating back to the 1880s when geologists fretted that the "amazing exhibition of oil" found in Pennsylvania was only temporary."
Dale Murrish Added Apr 17, 2018 - 10:09pm
Good article! Doesn't have the usual hysteria about global warming (er, climate change).
 
I remember reading that wind energy is the least expensive form of energy for new construction of power plants, plus it provides another source of income for farmers. Still, I don't know if it's really cheaper since Detroit Edison charges a premium for it.
 
Companies like GM and others who want the PR benefits of using renewable energy for their factories are willing to pay extra for it.
 
I remember going to a Jackson Browne concert at Indianapolis Square Garden (now no longer exists) in the early 1980s when he was talking about solar energy. I thought, right, and you want to pay 4 times the going rate for electricity.
 
Thermodynamics is near and dear to my heart. I was tutoring fellow students in Thermo when the professor I was sitting with asked me if I had considered grad school.  I am really glad I stayed at Purdue to get my Master's Degree. I had more interesting job offers when I graduated than with my BSME.
A. Jones Added Apr 17, 2018 - 10:20pm
I remember reading that wind energy is the least expensive form of energy for new construction of power plants,
 
I doubt you read that anywhere except at a propaganda site promoting "alternative" energy. Wind turbines are expensive to manufacture and highly polluting of the environment, as well as extremely unreliable (they only generate electricity when the wind blows; not when it doesn't). Like solar power, wind-turbine power generation is always subsidized by government to make the end-user cost "competitive" with fossils and nukes. Channeling tax revenues into wind-turbine power generating doesn't make it the "least expensive."
 
plus it provides another source of income for farmers.
 
And another burden of costs for taxpayers and other end-user consumers of electrical power. I don't even understand the relevance of your point: why is it so important that farmers have another source of income aside from farming?
Bill H. Added Apr 17, 2018 - 10:34pm
 
Bottom line, we should continue to venture into alternative energy sources when at the same time applying earth-friendly techniques and materials to do so.
If we continue to use "B.A.U." energy sources while ignoring the sources that we were really meant to utilize, we will be digging our own graves in the end.
How stupid we really are as the supposed "masters of the earth".
Katharine Otto Added Apr 17, 2018 - 11:09pm
Clock,
Good article.  Several thoughts:
 
You don't mention hydroelectric power.  I don't propose building more dams, but they already provide significant power, 15-20% of Georgia's now.  There is the possibility of tapping tidal currents, though.
 
Methane (natural gas) recapture from landfill.  As our waste problem grows, so does the energy potential of landfill.  This is already being done in some places. 
 
Waste-to-energy plants, which produce both electricity and steam.  Plastic, especially, has lots of BTUs that can be converted to usable energy.  Germany is now importing waste to burn in its WTE plants.  China has built over 400 WTE plants in the last few years.  New technology has reduced toxic emissions to negligible amounts.  I can imagine those plastic gyres in the oceans being converted to energy.  Wouldn't that be nice?
 
Mass effect of pavement and cities.  It's easy to see the thermal radiation from cities on hot days, and it does affect weather, at least locally.  Passive solar from mass heat storage (in cold climates) and heat absorption in hot ones (think adobe in the Southwest) are energy-efficient building techniques that reduce need for heating and air conditioning.
 
The idea of wind and solar farms doesn't make as much sense as stand-alone solar or wind installations for individuals, for specific uses and circumstances.  The roads and distribution systems needed for large installations probably negate many of their advantages.  We need less dependence on the electrical grid, not more, in cases of power outages, overloading, sabotage, and acts of nature.  Also, individual generation reduces the need for long-distance transmission.
 
Solar water heating (or pre-heating) does not require the use of solar panels and probably provides the best ROI of all.  The rate-limiting step is lack of knowledge, dearth of quality products on the market, and expertise in their installation and maintenance.  Also, with any home energy upgrade or design, each situation is unique, and designs must be tailored to suit the circumstances.
 
Obviously, the situation is complex, and we need many approaches.  These are just a few that haven't been mentioned above.
 
A. Jones Added Apr 17, 2018 - 11:53pm
applying earth-friendly techniques and materials to do so.
 
Can you site an example of an "earth-friendly" technique using "earth-friendly" materials? I claim no such thing exists, and no such thing can ever exist.
 
Those who believe in the fantasy of "earth-friendly" techniques using "earth-friendly" materials are the ones displaying the hubris of believing we can be "masters of the earth."
Flying Junior Added Apr 18, 2018 - 3:58am
Clock,
 
It's too much information for one post.  I'm not sure if there is a character limit for articles on the WB.  But you bring up multiple issues without the time or space to address them adequately.
 
Don't get me wrong.  I support your efforts.
 
Is the hypothesis of your paper simply to decry the viability and sustainability of nuclear energy?
 
You will not get any argument from me.  Nuclear power is by far the most costly and dangerous form of concentrated energy.  In my own County of San Diego there is a continuing controversy and indisputable betrayal of trust associated with the demise of the Grand Tetons of San Onofre, the twin concrete containment domes of the off-line Nuclear Power Plant at San Onofre.  Then two great titties have always been visible from I-5 between Oceanside and San Clemente.
 
The great happenstance and blessing was that a minor leakage of dangerous radioactivity occurred in the form of small leaks which contaminated the salt water used to cool the nuclear reactors.
 
The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant has provided relatively safe nuclear power to all of the greater San Diego area for forty years.  But the problem now is how to get rid of the spent fuel.  Nuclear waste.  SDG&E has sixty-five years by contract in which to get rid of the spent fuel rods.  To move them off-site.  Recently, after the decommission of the power plant, the energy company had been believed to have promised to move the spent fuel waste off-site.  Problem is that they were only moving the nuclear waste a few hundred feet from the coastal site of the defunct power plant.
 
And you did not even begin to expound on the dangers and very real negative environmental impacts of coal.
 
Wood burning is actually one of the more potent sources of air pollution.  Witness the efforts of NGOs to provide education and viable alternatives over the last twenty years.
Steve Bull Added Apr 18, 2018 - 8:42am
A. Jones
You mischaracterize the Peak Oil 'Theory' in an attempt to 'debunk' it, just as the article you cite does (e.g. "...If you’re a believer in “peak oil”—the idea that the world is on the verge of running out of oil...").
 
Peak Oil Theory (a theory that has gone through various iterations as it has evolved, just as all theories do when new evidence arises) is not about running out of oil; at least not the arguments I've read. While M.K. Hubbert may have suggested in his initial arguments about the finiteness of oil that it would eventually run out, the theory is not primarily about that at all. In fact, most Peak Oil theorists have stated that we will never run out of the stuff; there will always be some in the ground. In fact, if you read M.K. Hubbert's original work, he was quite optimistic that we would replace the declining energy derived from finite oil/gas reserves with nuclear and avoid any potential energy decline. 
 
One of the very significant factors that concerns Peak Oilers is that of energy-return-on-energy-invested (EROEI), the main thesis of this article. When the energy return approaches 1.0 (that is, 1 barrel's equivalent of oil energy is extracted for every 1 barrel invested in extracting it), there is no longer any point in extracting the oil. 
 
Hyperbole aside (and, yes, many have mischaracterized it to predict doom), Peak Oil Theory is not a myth. It is a valid theory in the sense that it is a set of ideas that attempts to explain observed facts and phenomena. In fact, depending on one's perspective (i.e. just focusing on conventional crude oil production and eliminating non-conventional sources such as bitumen and shale), peak oil production occurred around 2005.
 
It could be argued that we have indeed extracted all the easy-to-retrieve and easy-to-transport resources and are left having to 'scrape the barrel', as it were, via bitumen, shale, deep-sea drilling, etc.. These non-conventional sources are more costly and more difficult to sustain, resulting in the energy return falling sharply from the conventional sources we use to depend upon. And it is this quickly declining EROEI that is very problematic for the house of cards, financialized economic system of the world.
 
As for the US becoming energy independent, that is a long way off if on the horizon at all. Unless of course energy demand plummets since the US continues to depend significantly on imports despite arguments to the contrary. I would argue that the main impetus for US interference in the Middle East, its chummy relationship with one of the most despotic regimes there (Saudi Arabia), and keeping its eye on 'regime change' (again) in Iran, has almost everything to do with maintaining its finger in the pie of oil/gas resources there (and to keep everyone from straying from the Petrodollar). One can almost guarantee if there were no such reserves located there, the US Empire would not be so involved.
 
Finally, the other aspect not discussed much in this thread is the capital necessary to fund all of this continuing chase for energy to try and sustain our complex systems, let alone grow them. Not only are American shale oil/gas companies heavily indebted to sustain their production, but the globe in general is so heavily in hawk that I have to wonder how any of us will afford to make the transition to the very costly alternatives suggested. When our debt (government, corporate, household) is multiple times higher than GDP, there is surely trouble lurking just below the surface; particularly as interest rates begin to creep up towards historic norms and debt-servicing costs begin to overwhelm the ability to pay the loans back.
 
This is an exceedingly complex situation with no easy solutions on the horizon. 
Dino Manalis Added Apr 18, 2018 - 8:53am
Thermodynamics is constant, but we have to use the Earth's energy effectively and efficiently without harming the environment!
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 18, 2018 - 9:57am
Steve, thank you for your response to A. Jones. As usual, he had not done any significant research on the topic he was commenting on, he was merely exercising his visceral disgust reflex at any post that differed from his philosophical perspective.
 
Steve, your comments on the relation of needing to invest massive amounts to reconfigure energy sources is spot on. And, again, the concept of energy return on investment is at the heart of the discussion about whether we can sustain our economy by relying upon fossil fuels. When the ratio goes below 1 for investment in new fuel extraction, the economics may still be favorable but it's a losing battle to keep throwing away energy to get less energy back.
 
A. Jones, as usual you misconstrued the intent of the post.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 18, 2018 - 10:02am
Dale, you brought up a point that is important, that of farmers being able to reap an income stream for use of their air space to generate electricity. That is a critical factor in enabling local support for wind projects, because they are intrusive. Conceptually, there is no difference between being paid to extract the energy above the ground, with the royalties paid mineral rights owners for energy extracted from below the ground. But with farm commodity prices running near the production price, this added income is important to the farming community.
 
Drive through any proposed project in the Mid-west and you will see opposition to projects. I have driven US-36 through northern Missouri for many years, and have seen the development of a wind project in northwest Missouri. The signs opposing the project are starting to fade now, as the development is fully in service.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 18, 2018 - 10:13am
Katharine, you make good points about the other various sources of energy that should be considered. But for most of the techniques for converting wastes to energy, the percentage of energy generated is a small fraction of the overall energy needs. It helps, but only a little.
 
One thing you touch on in your response is the effectiveness of smart building techniques. Indeed, the best source of energy that we have right now is to conserve more. It is counter-intuitive to consider that utilities find it worthwhile to pay consumers to upgrade old appliances, but when that effort reduces the need to increase generation capacity and update transmission capability, then it is an excellent use of funds. I took advantage of our utilities program about a year ago to replace a 30+ year old refrigerator that we used as a spare and I could see the difference in the bill.
 
Your point about needing to enable avoidance of the distribution network will be very evident the next time we have a significant solar flare disruption event. It isn't if such a thing will happen, it is when and where does it occur. Since the last flare event hit Canada in 1989, our lives have grown ever more dependent upon the distribution network. That is civilization's Achilles heel.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 18, 2018 - 10:24am
FJ, thanks for your comments. It's always better to have more issues to discuss later rather than to go on too long about too small of a topic.
 
I mentioned nuclear energy more in passing in this post than as the main point. With the current fission cycle, and the transuranium elements that get generated with extremely long radioactive lifetimes, it becomes nearly impossible to come up with a containment / confinement system that will prevent inadvertent contact with and release of this radioactive material for geological periods of time. Especially when options for subterranean disposal is squashed by NIMBY protests (Yucca Mountain).
 
Coal is coal. Living in West Virginia, I only have to drive about 20 miles to see the scars of mountaintop removal in my region. That has been the story for other posts I've made to my blog like this one:  Entropy and Energy
I see that one was done before I came onto Writerbeat, so I may resurrect that soon on this platform.
 
You are exactly correct on wood burning causing pollution, particularly particulate pollution. I have two Buck stoves, and there are several others in my hilly neighborhood who use wood at least occasionally to heat in winter, and the pall over the neighborhood is significant at that time.
John Minehan Added Apr 18, 2018 - 6:08pm
Peak oil is (as I understand it) more "peak cheap and easily extracted oil."
Steve Bull Added Apr 18, 2018 - 6:10pm
Even A Broken Clock
Not sure if you ever read Gail Tverberg's blog: Our Finite World, but this is her latest post regarding comments she received from Dr. Charles Hall on EROEI. 
A. Jones Added Apr 18, 2018 - 6:14pm
Peak oil is the theorized point in time when the maximum rate of extraction of petroleum is reached, after which it is expected to enter terminal decline.
 
Peak Oil debunked:
 
"The basic assumption of peak oil analysis is that you have prior knowledge of what the available reserves are, and in fact we do not," . . .
Reserves are the known amount of oil that can be extracted given present-day prices and present-day technology . . . But peak oil also depends on oil prices and available technology. For example, hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, has opened up numerous oil fields in areas that were once considered played out or too costly to develop.
 
As a result of expanded fracking production, places like North Dakota — home of the Bakken formation of oil-bearing shale rock — are now experiencing an oil boom, and are likely to shift the global energy picture in dramatic ways over the next decade . . . Thanks to fracking, instead of resembling a bell curve, U.S. oil production is back on the rise. Through the first half of 2014, the United States produced an average 8.3 million barrels a day."
 
One of the very significant factors that concerns Peak Oilers is that of energy-return-on-energy-invested (EROEI), the main thesis of this article. When the energy return approaches 1.0 (that is, 1 barrel's equivalent of oil energy is extracted for every 1 barrel invested in extracting it), there is no longer any point in extracting the oil.
 
1. Numbers, please? You haven't shown that the ERoEI for oil actually is less-than-or-equal-to 1.0, or is expected to be so in the near future.
 
2. And Hubbert's original 1956 paper mentions nothing about EROEI. 
 
3. That ERoEI "concerns" Peak Oilers in no way means that ERoEI was ever a central part of the Peak Oil hypothesis; ERoEI expresses nothing more than the mainstream economic insight that the value (however measured) of an economic output should exceed the value (however measured) of its economic inputs lest resources be wasted through misdirection and the business firm experience loss instead of profit. That values might be measured in BTUs rather than dollars doesn't change the basic logic concerning inputs and outputs.
 
Finally, see:
 
What Hubbert Got Really Wrong About Oil
"Hubbert's fame in peak oil circles comes primarily from the assertion that he accurately predicted the 1970 U.S. peak. Because of this prediction, Hubbert is widely-regarded among peak oil adherents as a visionary. He has been called an oracle and a prophet . . . The truth, however, is much more nuanced. Hubbert got a lot of things tremendously wrong, and his much-heralded 1970 prediction contains a large caveat of which most people are entirely unaware."
A. Jones Added Apr 18, 2018 - 6:16pm
as usual you misconstrued the intent of the post.
 
I paid attention to your assertions, not your intentions.
 
As usual, you do not grasp the difference between the two.
Steve Bull Added Apr 18, 2018 - 7:28pm
A. Jones
You continue to use the strawman fallacy. 
 
First, I never said that the EROEI for oil is at 1 or close to 1. I stated that when it approaches 1 there is no point in extracting it any longer--there is nothing in that statement that suggest it is at or near 1. There is, however, plenty of evidence that the EROEI has been declining steadily for oil from the conventional sources of 50-100 years ago, to the shale and bitumen of the past couple of decades (see this). Should sources become more difficult to access and more and more technology be needed to access it, there is the future possibility that an EROEI of 1 could be neared. In fact, there are some who argue we could never approach 1 as things would break down long before that.
 
Second, you assert Hubbert never mentions EROEI in his original paper. No, he didn't and no one suggested he did. I stated that his original theory has been revised with additional evidence as all theories attempting to explain phenomena are when new data arises. 
 
Third, you seem to suggest that because EROEI was never part of the original thesis, it should be discounted as part of it now. I don't know how much scientific background you have or if you ever practised it in any capacity, but my own experience and practising of it saw theories 'revised' repeatedly when new data/evidence was 'discovered' and necessitated a revision or new theory altogether. Current iterations of the Theory of Evolution have 'evolved' enormously since Darwin and Wallace first proposed it more than a century ago, for example. This is how science and theorizing works. 
Pardero Added Apr 18, 2018 - 7:41pm
Even A Broken Clock,
You give me way too much credit.
I am just a layman trying to keep a roof over my head.
Fortunately, you have collected a vast amount of knowledge, with this valuable article and commentary.
 
My personal experience is similar to Dave Volek's. The fracks are occurring at shorter intervals. This area has few new wells, but fracking is steady or growing. I expect to be able to finish my working life in the industry.
 
Although it is likely that we have considerable ideological differences, in other areas, I am pleased at the environmental stewardship displayed by the industry, in my area. Energy workers tend to be outdoor enthusiasts, and are intolerant of damage.
I make a buck in the industry, but it is not what I am all about. I own two small economical vehicles, and try to adhere to the old Boy Scout saying,'leave no trace,' or the smallest footprint possible.
Congratulations to you, on the article, and the erudite writers who added their knowledge to yours.
A. Jones Added Apr 18, 2018 - 11:27pm
A. Jones - You continue to use the strawman fallacy.
Actually, I continue to extrapolate your implausible scenarios in the light of two things you glaringly omit in your models: incentives and innovation. Clearly, you have little knowledge of economics.
 
First, I never said that the EROEI for oil is at 1 or close to 1.
Ah, so it was scaremongering? Got it. Anyway, there was no point in mentioning it.
 
I stated that when it approaches 1 there is no point in extracting it any longer
Even that's incorrect in the light of incentives and innovation. When it approaches "1" — that is, if it approaches "1" — it's more plausible that it would spur innovation via new technologies to lower the cost of the inputs so the ratio of output : input increases. That's the more likely scenario, and not, "whoops, our ERoEI is approaching unity so we'll just stop producing because it's no longer economical." That might happen in econometric models (or in a command economy lacking genuine prices of outputs and inputs) but not in real life.
 
there is nothing in that statement that suggest it is at or near 1. There is, however, plenty of evidence that the EROEI has been declining steadily for oil from the conventional sources of 50-100 years ago, to the shale and bitumen of the past couple of decades (see this).
 
The blog article to which you linked doesn't mention shale or bitumen, and spends much screen real-estate on the "uncertainties" of ERoEI modeling. The author constructs hypothetical models w/o empirical data; so contrary to your assertion, there is not "plenty of evidence that ERoEI has been declining steadily", at least, not in your article. I remain underwhelmed.
 
Should sources become more difficult to access and more and more technology be needed to access it, there is the future possibility that an EROEI of 1 could be neared.
Or, there's a future possibility — in fact, a future probability, based on historical certainties — that innovation would be spurred, either in the direction of existing sources, or in the direction of sources as yet untapped. So contrary to your scaremongering, it's not matter of piling on "more and more [existing] technology" but a matter of applying new technologies (usually incentivized by higher prices) that make the "more and more technology" scenario simply unnecessary.
 
In fact, there are some who argue we could never approach 1 as things would break down long before that.
Scary. Still others argue the sky is falling because of cow flatulence, or that millions of species are suddenly going extinct. Proof? Numbers? Empirical evidence? No. (Yawn)
 
you assert Hubbert never mentions EROEI in his original paper. No, he didn't and no one suggested he did. I stated that his original theory has been revised with additional evidence as all theories attempting to explain phenomena are when new data arises.
The ratio of output-to-input is not new and was doubtless known to Hubbert. He doesn't mention it in his paper because it was irrelevant to his thesis.
 
Third, you seem to suggest that because EROEI was never part of the original thesis, it should be discounted as part of it now.
Actually, I pointed out that ERoEI is just a restatement of an important, if commonplace, truism in economics: the value of outputs should be greater than the value of inputs. The ultimate metric is market value — relative prices — which is ultimately rooted in subjective evaluations of individuals who consume the product. Hypothetical: you expend 10,000 BTUs of energy to extract one unit of oil that only has 1,000 BTUs . . . everyone says "What a waste!" . . . except an article in JAMA claims recent medical research suggests coating your skin with the stuff prevents cancers. Go know! Do people rush to buy it? Probably. Does the price jump? Most likely. Does it matter a rusty goddamn that the input is 10K BTUs but the output only 1BTU? No. No one is interested in the 1BTU, and it's irrelevant that the ERoEI ratio is 0.1. Big deal.
 
I don't know how much scientific background you have or if you ever practised it in any capacity, but my own experience and practising of it saw theories 'revised' repeatedly when new data/evidence was 'discovered' and necessitated a revision or new theory altogether.
So one ought to furrow one's brow over ERoEI and Peak Oil because, who knows? They might, maybe, perhaps, one day (we surmise) be true. Then, again, they
A. Jones Added Apr 18, 2018 - 11:28pm
I don't know how much scientific background you have or if you ever practised it in any capacity, but my own experience and practising of it saw theories 'revised' repeatedly when new data/evidence was 'discovered' and necessitated a revision or new theory altogether.
So one ought to furrow one's brow over ERoEI and Peak Oil because, who knows? They might, maybe, perhaps, one day (we surmise) be true. Then, again, they might, maybe, perhaps, one day (we believe based on past examples of incentives and innovation vastly increasing productivity in some area) be irrelevant. Historical evidence points to the latter possibility, not the former.

Current iterations of the Theory of Evolution have 'evolved' enormously since Darwin and Wallace first proposed it more than a century ago, for example.
Actually, current iterations of Darwin's hypothesis of descent with modification by means of randomly-caused, incremental changes over geologically long periods time and then chosen by natural selection for the sake of "reproductive success" have pretty much discarded those original package of assumptions by Darwin, especially in light of current ideas from biochemistry, molecular biology, and (last but not least) ideas from information theory. See the works of biochemist James Shapiro, University of Chicago, for just one example ("Evolution: A View from the 21st Century"). Cells are no longer passive playthings at the mercy of random environmental mutagens or DNA replication errors: they are literally biological computers running according to algorithms complete with "start codes", "stop codes", "error-correcting codes", etc. He's not alone in holding these ideas. Don't judge by reactionary popularizers  of "Selfish Gene" nonsense like Richard Dawkins: he's a crank.
 
 
This is how science and theorizing works.
I've heard that often, mainly from those proselytizing on behalf of "Science" as a kind of edifice — sort of like Stanley Kubrick's monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey": pure, incorruptible, aiming at nothing but Truth With A Capital "T". That might be the stated ideal (as well as the self-image of some in the profession) but it's hardly the reality. "Science" is practiced by people called "scientists" who exhibit exactly the same herd mentality as everyone else in any other profession: reputations, tenure, fame, possibly fortune, but certainly grants, are always at stake.
Fat Bastardo Added Apr 19, 2018 - 4:40am
All of this will be mute when we have cold fusion.
Steve Bull Added Apr 19, 2018 - 7:11am
A. Jones
"...you continue to use the strawman fallacy.
Actually, I continue to extrapolate your implausible scenarios..."
This is, in fact, an almost perfect example of the use of the logical fallacy known as the strawman fallacy where one substitutes "a person’s actual position or argument with a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of the position of the argument." And, you continue to do it in your subsequent rejoinder.
While none of us can predict the future with much accuracy, we will have to agree to disagree on the import of Peak Oil.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 19, 2018 - 11:24am
Steve - thanks for the links you have provided. I didn't realize when I wrote this that it was an immense rabbit hole. It seems like it is one of these issues that is bubbling up to the surface, which means it is ripe and ready to be discussed in the public space. 
 
Also thanks for doing the heavy lifting in your responses to A. Jones. I sense that your knowledge base in this area is much more extensive than mine, so I am glad for your input.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 19, 2018 - 11:26am
A. Jones - It is obvious that you have strong beliefs and good writing skills. I would be interested in reading an article by you, which describes these beliefs, instead of having your leaving your reactions to others posts. I think you would find that more satisfying, being able to defend your own beliefs and thoughts, instead of just providing criticism of other's works.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 19, 2018 - 11:30am
Pardero - thanks for the followup. Looking at the other responses and links that were provided, it would appear that the work you do would rightly be considered as input to the energy input equation. The work to get the fuel out, either via trucking or via pipeline, may not be included. It looks like there is a lot of work to be done to standardize the definition of energy input / energy output. What I do know, is that there is a lot of trucking activity associated with fracking that is not needed for conventional oil fields. That raises the amount of energy input to gain the energy output.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 19, 2018 - 11:30am
Fat Bastardo - I've got some palladium to sell to you. LOL
Nicholas Schroeder Added Apr 19, 2018 - 10:51pm
Another clueless blowhard tossing around terms like thermodynamics or entropy to sound smart and zero idea where energy comes from or how it is used.
Flying Junior Added Apr 20, 2018 - 2:42am
Clock,
 
It was the massive coal sludge spill in the waterways of Tennessee that convinced me.  No such thing as clean coal in any stage.  Mining with its inherent dangers.  Processing with the extinction producing byproducts.  The actual burning with soot and high CO2 release.  Coal should be left in the ground as soon as economically feasible.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 20, 2018 - 11:01am
Nicholas, LOL. I may not descend into the jargon you use in your posts, but rest assured, I can read and comprehend your posts. What I am trying to do in my posts is do a bit of science translation for a less scientifically educated audience. Something that I would recommend you do with your posts.
 
If you noticed, I did not delve into the issue of greenhouse gases and AGW, which seems to be your animus. But have it your way.
Katharine Otto Added Apr 20, 2018 - 11:08am
Clock,
The other side of extraction/production of energy, especially fossil fuel, is how that energy is used (or wasted).  That the DOD is the world's largest energy hog needs to be considered and provides yet another reason to withdraw from all these wars.
 
I would add that international shipping is probably another huge drain on oil supplies.  While other people believe the import-export industry is good for the world's "economy" (whatever that is), I would contend that it's far in excess of what's needed.  For instance, Georgia exports $2 billion worth of chickens, yet the waste remains here, and chickens can be raised anywhere.  Not only do the ships use a lot of oil, but the refrigerated containers use more.  
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 20, 2018 - 11:13am
FJ - you'll not find any debate from me about the detrimental effects of coal, which puts me in a minority here in West Virginia. Seeing the political ads for Congressional candidates, most are still fighting the Obama war on coal and believe that economic renaissance is at hand, if only we freed up the market for coal. I see that Trump in his wisdom is trying to use a national security law to require that power plants keep running on coal in order to ensure adequate electricity supply in times of national emergency.
 
With coal slurry, it is amazing what solving one problem did to create another problem. Here in West Virginia, coal slurry first referred to the water / dirt mixture that came from cleaning the coal initially. That's what led to the Buffalo Creek slurry dam failure in 1972 that killed 125 people when a wall of sludge roared down a valley.
 
The slurry in Tennessee came from the flue gas desulfurization sludge, where the fly ash from combustion is combined with water and lime to absorb the sulfur dioxide from the coal combustion. The glop that results (I don't know how many cycles this stuff runs through the system before they discard it) is water rich, but it would take too much energy to dry the material into solid form, so for now it is kept in impoundments. Cleaner air (haven't heard nearly as much about acid rain lately), but potential for massive slurry spills like the one that happened 10 years ago in Tennessee.
Thomas Napers Added Apr 21, 2018 - 6:48pm
Let’s assume you’re right in everything you say and that one day large SUVs will become cost prohibitive due to the cost of energy.  Should that happen, people will stop buying them.  It certainly won’t happen overnight.  So if I bought a gas guzzler right now, I would still have plenty of time to adjust to your prediction.  The point of my comment is that nothing you wrote matters.  People like you have predicting we’d run out of fossil fuels for decades, you were wrong then and you remain wrong today.  To the extent you’re ever right, we’ll adjust.  So what’s the point of this article?
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 21, 2018 - 9:01pm
The point of the article is to highlight that we may need to take a longer view at the needs for energy production in the intermediate term future - say 20 years out. If the trends I am seeing are correct, then it will become clear that we must shift our sources for energy. If we wait till everyone in the world sees it, we may not be able to shift swiftly enough to avoid severe disruption in the way of life we have become accustomed to.
 
It's like the old Fram filter ads - you can pay me now, or pay me later (with the unspoken knowledge that if you paid later, you would pay a lot more). Really, all we can do is point out potential issues for humanity to deal with, and hope to alter the trajectory of our civilization by a photon's worth of momentum.
Thomas Napers Added Apr 21, 2018 - 9:39pm
Whatever we may or may not need in the future, should be the product of market forces and not government intrusion.  That was another way of saying, we don’t need to do anything.  As fossil fuels becomes more expensive, alternatives to fossil fuels will be developed.  As far as trajectory is concerned, fossil fuels are actually getting cheaper to extract.  So again, all I read here is false alarm and unnecessary angst. 
Steve Bull Added Apr 22, 2018 - 8:21am
Thomas Napers
I have to challenge you on the idea that "fossil fuels are actually getting cheaper to extract".  While the past decade or so has been somewhat anomalous, the fact is that a barrel of oil costs multiple times higher today than it did prior to 10-15 years ago. Even if we set aside the 'creative' accounting (non-GAAP especially), huge debt loads, and central bank monetary policy (especially QE, historically-suppressed interest rates, and equity purchases) that have distorted our view of the world's finances, the extraction costs of oil/gas have seen a significant increase from historical costs. 
 
And while none of us can predict the future, I'll leave you with a quote from a German Army research study (Peak Oil: Security Policy Implications of Scarce Resources, 2010):
"It is a fact, however, that oil is finite and that there is a peak oil. Since this study is mainly focused on understanding cause-effect relations following such a peak oil situation, it is not necessary to specify a precise point in time... 
 
[We look] into a special possible peak oil scenario in which a so-called 'tipping point' is exceeded where linear developments become chaotic and finally result in a worst-case scenario in terms of security policy. For example, if the global economy shrinks for an indeterminate period of time, a chain reaction that might destabalise the global economic system is imaginable...In the short term, the global economy would respond proportionately to the decline in oil supply...In the medium term, the global economic system and all market-oriented economies would collapse... 
 
An oil supply conversion will not be possible to an equal extent in all the world regions before peak oil occurs. It is likely that a large number of countries will not be able to make the necessary investments in good time and to the required extent...In complex systems, an energy withdrawal will not necessarily lead to proportional reduction in complexity alone but, in extreme cases, to a collapse."
 
If everything was fine and dandy, the world's central banks would not be interfering to the extent they have and various nation-state militaries would not be 'intervening' in the Middle East as they have been since the discovery of vast fossil fuel resources there. 
 
 
 
Fat Bastardo Added Apr 22, 2018 - 3:21pm
Myth No. 1: Because oil is finite, it will inevitably run out and destroy our economy.
 
Reality: There's a lot more oil than you think--and a truly free market would enable us to find superior substitutes long before we run out.
 
Myth No. 2: Curbing consumption of foreign oil would help stop terrorism.
 
 
Reality: Terrorist threats must be addressed through direct, decisive action--not by starving ourselves of vital foreign oil.
 
How Much Fossil Fuel is Left
Bill H. Added Apr 22, 2018 - 6:32pm
Bastardo
Great! Then we can continue to alter the climate, along with other fun things like acidifying the ocean and destroying even more coral reefs and fish life!
Trump and his gang will be sooooooo happy!!
A. Jones Added Apr 22, 2018 - 6:58pm
Annual average price of oil per barrel since 1946 (adjusted for inflation using the purchasing power of a U.S. dollar in 2017).
 
1946: $20.12
2017: $42.63
That's an increase in price of 112%.
 
However . . .
 
1946: worldwide demand for oil was about 10 million barrels per day;
2017: worldwide demand for oil was about 96 million barrels per day;
That's an increase in demand of 860%.
 
Average increase in price has lagged far behind the increase in demand.
 
The only thing that might "peak" going forward is the worldwide demand for oil, as consumers find alternatives that they prefer (natural gas, for example). There is no expected "peak" in worldwide extraction of oil.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 22, 2018 - 9:33pm
May I just add today my wish for a meaningful Earth day. I remember the first one when I was in high school. We went around picking up trash in alleys in Lincoln, and felt good about it, but had no conception that we were making any sort of a meaningful contribution towards changing the world to be less destructive to the environment.
 
Since that time, I've realized that I only can affect my own consumption, and do not have the right to insist that others consume less. I can believe that those who bought Hummers were being foolish, but to a large extent, the purchase of a Hummer does not affect me at all.
 
We've obviously been able to squeeze out a lot more oil from the ground than we expected back in the 1970's when the first logistical energy crunch appeared. And while in some reservoirs that are not yet tapped out (thank you Ghawar) where the incremental price per barrel is still low, for any new field development, the incremental price to support development is just about where the global price is now. So even though in the future the price of oil will both soar and crash, depending upon short-term inventory fluctuations, expect to see higher lows in the cycle swings as the true value of oil in the economy plays out.
 
And remember, the price of oil in the marketplace does not equal the value of oil in the economy. The difference in the price is where arbitrage can play out.
Thomas Napers Added Apr 23, 2018 - 9:48am
Steve – As you can see by this link, the cost for a barrel of oil today is far less than it was 10 years ago.  With the premise of your opinion now thoroughly debunked, would you like to revise your comment to me?
 
Even A Broken Clock – Ditto on the Earth Day wishes.  I will cross my fingers the Left doesn’t politicize another one with talk about Climate Change and what to do about it.  For whatever it’s worth, I have no idea what you’re trying to say about the price of oil in the marketplace. 
Steve Bull Added Apr 23, 2018 - 10:43am
Thomas Napers
As Mark Twain is credited with saying: There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Cherry-picking data points/evidence to buttress an argument has a long tradition, that's why it's one of many logical fallacies. 
 
Depending on where one looks, the argument for oil prices could go one way or the other. If we look at the almost ten year period from 1998 to 2008, prices went from $17.31/barrel (Nov.) to $146.71 (May). That's a bit of a jump...Yes, prices have fallen since the high point of 2008 (as you have conveniently chosen as your starting point), but there have been times when they have soared astronomically--and then fallen because of demand destruction. Add to this conundrum the fact that many oil companies have taken on exorbitant amounts of debt to finance their operations and keep prices suppressed.
 
What the future holds is anyone's guess. This is an experiment that is still ongoing. And with all the central bank interference in the world's economy (QE, suppressed interest rates, equity purchases, etc.), it's getting increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to determine true prices/values of assets, including commodities. 
 
One things seems certain, we have increasingly had to rely upon novel technologies and environmentally-questionable techniques to sustain oil production. This appears to be a clear case of diminishing returns, something that some argue leads just one place: eventual collapse (see Joseph Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies). Will this be the case here? I have no idea, but it certainly concerns me. 
A. Jones Added Apr 23, 2018 - 8:17pm
we have increasingly had to rely upon novel technologies
 
For example?
 
and environmentally-questionable techniques
 
For example?
 
"Environmentally questionable"? That's a new one. The phrase could mean anything to anybody. By itself, it means nothing: cultivating wheat in order to make bread could be viewed as "environmentally questionable", as could killing a deer with a bow and arrow.
 
In any case, I understand the reason you just won't let go of the Peak Oil myth. You've believed it and promoted it for so long, you just can't deal with the embarrassment of having to repudiate it publicly.
Steve Bull Added Apr 24, 2018 - 8:22am
A. Jones
Your charge that I am embarrassed to repudiate the Peak Oil theory is as off-base as your characterization of it as a myth.
 
First, your contention that Peak Oil is a myth as opposed to a theory demonstrates your own bias and a misunderstanding of what a theory is. A scientific theory is a framework for explaining observations and facts. See this. Marion King Hubbert suggested the idea of Peak Oil while a geophysicist working for Shell Oil Company and observing the production behaviour of various individual wells, and after observing similar characteristics of production with the mining of various metals; he then applied the behaviour more widely to oil production in general. His theory was an attempt to explain this set of production increases and decreases. Could this theory be wrong? Absolutely, just as any theory can; however, it has been a good predictor of individual oil/gas well production. Has the peak he predicted occurred? That is a matter of opinion and depends on many variables, not least of which is the ‘type’ of oil/gas considered and the use of newer technologies to expand production to previously inaccessible sources. This does not make his theory a myth. This is a real-time experiment that is ongoing and his theory is still very much in play.
 
As for novel technologies, I offer the fact that the recent expansion of hydraulic fracturing (yes, an approach with a long history) has been facilitated by such new approaches as 3D seismic imaging, horizontal wells, multi-stage fracturing, and ‘slick’ water fracturing. These techniques have only been around for the past couple of decades, and the oil & gas industry continues to experiment with its approach and technological ‘breakthroughs’ not available to past ‘drillers’. See this. And, off-shore drilling has similarly seen massive expansion since it’s early days due to mapping and other technologies that are also relatively recent.
 
And, as for environmentally-questionable consequences, I offer the observations that hydraulic fracturing has been linked to earthquakes and aquifer pollution, to say little about the tailing ponds of highly toxic sludge that have collapsed and destroyed ecosystems. And let’s not forget the consequences for the environment of off-shore drilling and the Deepwater Horizon disaster. See this.
 
Neither of us knows what the future holds and whether Hubbert’s theory is the best explanation for the production behaviour of oil/gas extraction is yet to be firmly determined. If you wish to believe it or not, fine. I believe we live on a planet with real biophysical limits to the expansion and growth of our species. Others don't hold such beliefs. We could on back and forth like this forever so I think we will just have to agree to disagree at this point.
A. Jones Added Apr 24, 2018 - 6:56pm
Premise 1:
If Peak Oil Theory is true, then predictions based on the theory are true;
 
Premise 2:
Predictions based on it are not true, but instead are "matters of opinion" (per Steve Bull's statement above);
 
Conclusion:
Ergo, Peak Oil Theory is not true, but at best, is simply a "matter of opinion."
 
There's no getting around logic.
 
The above conditional syllogism is known as "Modus Tollens", or "the method that denies by means of denying".
 
That, of course, is utterly different from your kind of denial, which consists simply of shutting out relevant empirical facts for the sake of preserving a pet idea on which one's pride depends.
 
hydraulic fracturing has been linked to earthquakes and aquifer pollution
 
With about as much solid empirical evidence as the "link" between high-tension power lines and cancer, or unexplained lights in the night sky and alien abductions. Some people — you, for example — will believe anything, especially if it makes their lives more exciting by giving them something big to worry about.
 
For a more complete explanation of what a "theory" actually is — and how it differs from "hypothesis" and "opinion" — see The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper; far better than the lazy description at the pop-science site to which you linked.
 
Speaking of "opinion", you wrote above:
 
"Has the peak he predicted occurred? That is a matter of opinion and depends on many variables,"
 
If it's a "matter of opinion" and "depends on many variables" (variables that you get to pick and choose according to bias and preference, I suppose?) then it lacks the necessary criterion of prediction — and also retrodiction — required of a true theory. So it's not a theory, nor was it ever a theory. It was (as you aptly put it) an "idea" that was "suggested" by Hubbert. That's it. No theory. Merely an "idea suggested". Period.
 
And it's an idea that has been empirically falsified many times since it was first suggested. To imply, as you do, "Yeah, but it was merely falsified yesterday and the day before yesterday; tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, (heck, who knows?) maybe, perhaps, someday in the future, it might be true", is hardly a statement that counts as a prediction; and if it doesn't count as a prediction, then the idea from which it derives is simply not a "theory."
 
Widen and deepen your reading a bit and you'll find I'm right about all of this.
Even A Broken Clock Added Apr 24, 2018 - 8:23pm
A. Jones - as I've said, please write an article of your own and provide for us your principles and beliefs for validation. It is a bit shrill to be a consistent nay-sayer who uses faulty logic of your own to provide refutation of other's posts.
 
Just one thing you said in your latest voluminous diatribe:
"With about as much solid empirical evidence as the "link" between high-tension power lines and cancer, or unexplained lights in the night sky and alien abductions."
This was in reference to Steve's comment about earthquakes being linked to fracking. Here's a link for you to peruse:
 
Oklahoma earthquakes caused by fracking waste injection
 
If you wish to pursue rigorous logic in your discussion chains, this is probably not the best forum in which to follow that interest.  
A. Jones Added Apr 24, 2018 - 9:08pm
Broken Clock posted a link to an article with the following paragraph:
 
For several years, researchers have shown a link between wastewater injection, a process that's used to dispose of waste fluids from a number of industrial activities and is similar to fracking, and the incidence of earthquakes in a region, but a new study highlights just how strong that connection is.
 
The issue is wastewater injection, not fracking. The article waffles a bit by claiming that the former "is similar" to the latter, but a little research at the target="_blank">US Geological Survey website puts that statement in perspective:
 
"US Geological Survey: Induced Earthquakes
Myths and Misconceptions
What you do and don’t know about induced seismicity
Fact 1: Fracking is NOT causing most of the induced earthquakes.
Wastewater disposal is the primary cause of the recent increase in earthquakes in the central United States.
 
Wastewater disposal wells typically operate for longer durations and inject much more fluid than hydraulic fracturing, making them more likely to induce earthquakes. In Oklahoma, which has the most induced earthquakes in US, only 1-2% of the earthquakes can be linked to hydraulic fracturing operations. The remaining earthquakes are induced by wastewater disposal.
 
Fact 2: Not all wastewater injection wells induce earthquakes.
Most injection wells are not associated with felt earthquakes. A combination of many factors is necessary for injection to induce felt earthquakes. These include: the injection rate and total volume injected; the presence of faults that are large enough to produce felt earthquakes; stresses that are large enough to produce earthquakes; and the presence of pathways for the fluid pressure to travel from the injection point to faults."
 
* * *
Conclusion:
Lots of industrial activities utilize wastewater injection.
Fracking can be linked to 1%-2% of induced earthquakes in Oklahoma, meaning 98% to 99% of all other induced earthquakes in Oklahoma CANNOT be linked to fracking.
 
Broken Clock should peruse his own linked articles to ascertain whether or not they actually support his argument.
A. Jones Added Apr 24, 2018 - 9:09pm
Apologies, Broken Clock.
 
Your posts are all so similar that I mistook your "Tumbleweed" article for your "Thermo" one.
A. Jones Added Apr 25, 2018 - 9:24pm
The wastewater injection in Oklahoma . . .  the water comes from fracking wastes.
 
Not according to the US Geological Survey:
 
https://earthquake.usgs.gov/research/induced/myths.php
Induced Earthquakes
Myths and Misconceptions
What you do and don’t know about induced seismicity
 
Fact 1: Fracking is NOT causing most of the induced earthquakes. Wastewater disposal is the primary cause of the recent increase in earthquakes in the central United States.
 
Wastewater disposal wells typically operate for longer durations and inject much more fluid than hydraulic fracturing, making them more likely to induce earthquakes. In Oklahoma, which has the most induced earthquakes in US, only 1-2% of the earthquakes can be linked to hydraulic fracturing operations. The remaining earthquakes are induced by wastewater disposal.
 
* * *
 
Broken Crock, you have a reading comprehension problem. 1-2% of induced earthquakes in Oklahoma can be linked to wastewater injection from fracking. 98-99% of induced earthquakes in Oklahoma are therefore linked to wastewater injection from activities other than fracking.
 
You're wrong. Embrace the suck.
 
(Don't worry. I'll cross-post this in your "Tumbleweeds" thread.)

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