Skip to main content

The Macondo Well Anniversary

At noon today I was asked by the Austin Chapter of Sierra Club to do a joint interview on the first anniversary of the Macondo well tragedy.  This is what I said:

Tad Patzek, Remarks at the 4/20/2011 media event organized by Sierra Club
Noon Press Event at 11th & Congress in Austin. 

For full disclosure l need to tell you that I am Chairman of the first-ranked petroleum engineering department in the country, and I am very proud of it.  I have not come here to bash oil, because hydrocarbons, oil and natural gas, as well as coal, have underwritten both the industrial revolution and the scientific revolution that have produced the wind turbines and solar photovoltaics, as well as all components of the electric cars we all like so much.  Without fossil fuels, all modern renewable energy sources would be dead before arrival.

Because the real production rate of liquid petroleum is peaking and the imaginary additions are unlikely to make up for the rate deficit, the world, but especially the developed countries, and above all the U.S., will face the inevitable shortages of liquid transportation fuels. For the completely unprepared U.S., such shortages may be economically devastating. The U.S. is running out of time to move much of its transportation off the cars and trucks and onto rails that will guide electric trains of different kinds, not just the sexy and prohibitively costly "bullet trains."

Everybody gathered here - despite our own best personal efforts - will gulp today four gallons of hydrocarbons; and tomorrow another four gallons, and then four gallons each day thereafter.  Please try to drink four gallons of water in a day to see how much liquid this really is. We all need to go on a miracle hydrocarbon diet.

In my mind, it is irresponsible to bash hydrocarbons, while deriving from them most everything we are today.  It is also totally irresponsible to waste hydrocarbons wantonly as we do every day, here in Austin, and everywhere across our beautiful country.  These hydrocarbons are absolutely needed to underwrite moving to any other energy source to one degree or another.  They are also needed to underwrite an economic recovery, if there is to be one in the U.S., in the years to come.

Hopefully, I will not be disturb you if I tell you that wind power has delivered 6 days of electricity in the U.S.; biomass burning with electricity cogeneration, 5 days; geothermal sources, 1 day; and solar photovoltaics a little more than 1 hour.  The remaining 354 days of electricity that might one day charge our electric cars come from coal, natural gas, nuclear power, and hydropower (in that order).  In addition, our freedom from foreign and domestic crude oil, when satisfied by domestic biofuels, may last for up to 10 days per year of driving the U.S. transportation systems. Then we’ll all be walking for the remaining 355 days.

So the real question is not how many more wind turbines and solar cells we will install in order to change nothing in our lifestyles, but how we change our lifestyles for real.

Texas already leads the U.S. in wind power, with name plate capacity of almost 10 gigawatts, more than thrice that of California. On average, wind power generates in Texas over 3 gigawatts of electricity, twice the 1.6 gigawatts generated by the Fayette Power Project.  This is a huge achievement, but I do not see too many elected officials clamoring to build those transmission lines to deliver the much needed – and wasted - wind electricity to Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.  I also do not see mass demonstrations and outbursts of legislative fervor in favor of a train link between Dripping Springs, downtown and Georgetown.  While Austin has made a huge progress in building the more energy-efficient houses, most single family homes here are woefully inadequate when it comes to energy efficiency. Where are the requirements for each new home to have a rainwater tank?  Where do we think we will get all the water needed to keep Austin green and happy?  How about growing more local food and buying it as well?

My challenge to Austin and to Texas is to observe the first anniversary of the Macondo tragedy not by bashing crude oil we all gulp ad nauseam every day, but by striving to gulp a little less oil, and do more with the oil we gulp.  We need to wake up to the fact that we all are co-conspirators here and we all share blame for this horrific accident, not just the big bad oil companies. After all, it is we, who indulge in the crude oil drinking binges every day, not just the oil industry employees.

So what are the two main lessons from the Macondo well tragedy? One is that we need to be a lot more careful in how we drill and produce oil and gas reservoirs in the most difficult and inhospitable environment on Earth — the deep ocean. The second lesson is that we have to snap out of our stupor and realize that the time of cheap gasoline and sprawling suburbs accessible only by car is coming to an inevitable end, no matter what anyone says. This second lesson has not been learned yet.


  1. Great speech, I'll be sharing this with friends.



Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A Requiem for the Beautiful Earth

First, let me remind you that a pessimist is an optimist who shed his delusions and denial, and educated himself. Please keep this in mind, if you continue reading. If you don't, that's fine too. You will remain in your blissful bubble of denial and ignorance, which are the dominant genetic traits of most denizens of the fossil superorganism. Please understand that many democratically elected governments know very well about your truth aversion and are making best use of it.

Imagine now that your favorite airline offers a vacation package to a world-class city like the one shown below. That city is Beijing. China is the rising economic superpower that will collapse rather immediately, because there is not enough of the environment left to protect her 1.4 billion people from disease and death. But before China collapses, she will suck dry most of the world that remains. The brutal global competition for resources may precipitate a war between China and US.

By the way, a famous …

The New Improved 1984

Many people ask me how can I be happy writing and thinking about so many sad and desperate things? Well, let me explain. Happiness is the fleeting rush of dopamine I feel seeing my little grandson, my wife or children.  As good as it might feel, it comes and goes. Think, please, about the happiness you purchase by sharing with your "friends" on Facebook a picture of a new pair of pink sneakers. Or think of the happiness you bring to your partner by giving her/him a bouquet of roses on the Valentine day.

You probably never pay attention to over a billion roses which are imported that day for your bouquet.  They are flown refrigerated on transport flights from Columbia, Ecuador and Mexico.  Once these cold roses land in Miami, they are rushed to other refrigerated planes and trucks, so that you can get them from a store refrigerator anywhere in the US.  The energy cost of your bouquet is absolutely ginormous, but it is worth another minute or two of dopamine rush. Or is it?


All is well on our planet Earth, isn't it?

Please don't act with surprise when I say this: The global climate change is real; global warming is accelerating, especially in the northern hemisphere; and the positive feedbacks that will further exacerbate human condition are kicking in with vengeance.  I am stating the scientifically obvious, but I have not made it clear yet just how bad this climate change will be for us humans. For millennia, we have relied on the "free" environmental services that are going away.  These life-giving services are clean air to breathe, fertile soil, mild temperatures, healthy forests and savannas, healthy rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, sufficient rain, full aquifers, clean drinking water, and ample snowpacks.  When you are in China, in the Middle East, or in Central Valley in California, most or all of these services are either damaged or gone.

Let's fast forward to a recent article under this promising title: Climate report understates threat. This article was written by Dr.…