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Oil in the Arctic

Picture a vast gray ocean that dissolves into gray sky pregnant with heavy dark clouds, and a gray flat sandy shore that slowly oozes up from the Chukchi Sea.  This is what our Ocean Energy Advisory Committee saw from the Coast Guard C130 plane, chartered by BSEE's Director, Admiral James Watson.

In summer, the Arctic ocean is dotted with white ice floes. In winter all is frozen.




This vast empty space is the neighborhood of Point Barrow, the settlement closest to the Burger Prospect in the Chukchi Sea. Here, Shell will attempt again to drill their first wells in 2013.  Despite Shell's valiant efforts in 2012, and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on preparations, not a single well was drilled and completed.




Here are some of the difficulties with drilling and operating offshore oil and gas wells in the Arctic, west and north of Alaska: 
Gas vs. oil. Natural gas is not oil.  Gas price and remoteness of the Arctic make offshore gas production and transport unprofitable. Let…

When Denial of Reality Fails

To my relief, Dr. Paul Krugman has published yet another sermon, When Prophecy Fails.  For months, I have been fascinated by Dr. Krugman's blithe, unwavering insistence on the superiority of his arguments over those of differently clueless economists.  Today, I decided to compose my reply.

Back in the old days, in Poland, I often listened to a lovely satirical radio program on an FM station with a short range and not much attention from censors.  Among others, each week brought an installment of a philosophical discourse, entitled "On the Superiority of Easter over Christmas." The author, Jan Tadeusz StanisÅ‚awski, a self-proclaimed Professor of Applied Presumptology, would explain in short, exquisitely absurd monologs the utter stupidity of the various pseudo-scientific arguments about economics and society. This episode, "Greed for Gold," is as good as any.  It ends with the following summary:
Why are we talking about gold, someone might ask? They also ask a…

The Global Oil Peak or a Plateau?

I am about to cover a very serious subject, so please forgive my somewhat formal and unduly precise language.  Since I am talking here about the future of our crude oil-powered civilization, I do not feel too guilty. Besides, you can always stop reading...

The six categories of liquid and solid hydrocarbons in Figure 1 are lumped together into three different combinations in the reports of global liquid fuel production maintained by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

These combinations are:
Natural gas plant liquids (NGPLs). NGPLs are those hydrocarbons in natural gas that are separated as liquids at natural gas processing plants, fractionating and cycling plants, and in some instances, field facilities. Lease condensate is excluded. Products obtained include liquefied petroleum gases (ethane, propane, and butanes), pentanes plus, and isopentane. Lease condensate and crude oil. Lease condensate is a mixture consisting primarily of hydrocarbons heavier than pentanes that is re…

Delusions of Grandeur

In the last few days, two top newspapers in the U.S., The New York times on the left and The Wall Street Journal on the right, have come up with unusual predictions of the future oil might of our fair United States of America.  I tried to link to the "Report Predicts U.S. as No. 1 Oil Producer in a Few Years," by Elisabeth Rosenthal, published on page B1 of The New York Times on 11/13/2012, but this link did not exist. I guess, Ms. Rosenthal's article belongs to the category of All News Fit to Sweep Under the Rug. The unsigned agitprop piece in The Wall Street Journal: "Saudi America - The U.S. will be the world's leading energy producer, if we allow it,"  dated 11/12/2012, still adorns the Web.

At best, the authors of these two articles have shown a lack of rudimentary understanding of what is needed to increase oil production in the U.S. to the short-term levels implied by their narratives. At worst, they purposefully misled readers. Even the already bias…

Sir Francis Bacon's Warnings

In 1620, in his Novum Organum,  Sir Francis Bacon classified the intellectual fallacies of the human kind as idols of the Tribe,  the Cave,  the Marketplace and  the Theater. An idol is a mental image which receives veneration but is devoid of substance. Bacon did not regard idols as symbols, but rather as human fixations.  His model of human perceptions is as true today as it was in the 17th century. Some things never change but - because of the mindless and loud media drumbeat - consequences of the common human fallacies are far more damaging today. 
Idols of the Tribeare deceptive beliefs inherent in the minds of all humans. They are abstractions of error arising from common human tendencies of exaggeration, distortion, and disproportion. Thus people gazing at the production of crude oil over the last century perceive endless growth, and ar…

Peak, What Peak?

Before I discuss the logic behind negating a peak of production of anything, let me sum up where we are in the U.S. in terms of crude oil production.  According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA):

"The United States consumed 18.8 million barrels per day (MMbd) of petroleum products during 2011, making us the world's largest petroleum consumer. The United States was third in crude oil production at 5.7 MMbd. But crude oil alone does not constitute all U.S. petroleum supplies. Significant gains occur, because crude oil expands in the refining process, liquid fuel is captured in the processing of natural gas, and we have other sources of liquid fuel, including biofuels. These additional supplies totaled 4.6 MMbd in 2011."


Let me parse this quote.  First, let's look at the history of oil production in the U.S., shown in the chart below.  The vertical axis is scaled with a unit of power, exajoules (EJ) per year, very close to quadrillion BTUs (quads) p…

Education Reform and All That Noise

This blog follows two closely related posts that are 15 months old:
Why Good Engineering Education and Research Are Inseparable? Part I - Teaching Why Good Engineering Education and Research Are Inseparable? Part II - Research and Technology Now that I am a little more knowledgeable on the subject of secondary and higher education, a few more remarks are in order.

First, Church and Academia (read Universities) are the only two institutions that span over 2000 years of history of our Roman and Catholic civilization.  As I focus on education, I will leave Church alone.  I will also omit the epochal contributions of the early Arab Caliphate universities and Indian schools.  Both contributed invaluably to the rise of Academia in Europe. In particular, Arab schools preserved most of what we know today about ancient Greek philosophy, mathematics and medicine, and greatly added to this knowledge.

Empires, states, emperors, kings, princes, presidents, and governors came and disappeared into th…

The Discrete Charm of Drilling in America

This blog is a companion to "The Discrete Charm of Living at the Peak."

If you follow national media, you are probably convinced by now that in 10-15 years from today, the United States will be producing enough oil to become independent of foreign oil suppliers.  (In most predictions of energy independence, Canada and Mexico are treated as the almost domestic oil suppliers.)

So can the United States of America be dependent only on domestic crude oil production and imports from Canada augmented by Mexico? This scenario is not as nonsensical as it may sound, if (1) the United States continues to destroy demand for petroleum just as it has in the last four years; and (2) crude oil imports from Canada increase dramatically, because Mexico will not be able to export much crude oil in 5-10 years from now.  Since 2008, the U.S. has destroyed demand for 2 million barrels of crude oil per day, which translates into an average annual destruction rate of about 0.5 million barrels of oi…

Fossil Fuels and U.S.

Modern societies run on power, not mere energy.  Power is energy per unit time, or force times speed.  We aren't interested in driving as fast as we run, or in phone calls that take a day to go through.  We also don't like sitting in the dark, while food is getting warm in the refrigerator, only because our outlets ran out of juice.  In short, we crave for power that is just there, waiting for us to be used at will.  And, yes, most environmentalists have similar sentiments.

But, there is a price to pay for our cravings. No, I am not speaking about carbon dioxide emissions or mercury in the fish we eat.  Hardly anyone cares about such things anymore.  I am talking about our utter, total reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear energy, with large dams providing a thin icing on a huge power cake.  You see, renewables can produce a lot of energy, but never enough power, 24/7, and when we want it.  This is the discovery the impatient people and their governments are making in 2012.

E…