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Fracking and the Oil Crisis

February 24, 2015

Efforts to prevent fracking are threatening all Americans.

Fracking has created an abundant supply of inexpensive natural gas, creating a surplus where an emerging shortage a few years ago was dictating the need to import natural gas from the Mideast.

Unlike the mental image projected by environmental organizations of oil spewing over the country side, fracking has been proven safe, with no contamination of water supplies, and very few spills of any kind.

Spindletop January 10, 1901

Spindletop January 10, 1901

Henry Hub prices are now below $3.00 per million BTU, while they were above $11.00 per million BTU only 7 years ago.

Lower prices have benefitted consumers who use natural gas for heating (22% of total U.S. usage), industry that uses natural gas as feedstock and for processes (30% of total U.S. usage), and power generation for producing electricity (26% of total U.S. usage).

Lower prices for natural gas have meant more jobs for Americans with the revival of the chemical industry, and lower costs for American consumers.
Fracking has also put the United States on the pathway leading to independence from foreign oil.

Total U.S. oil production in 2015 will be around 9.3 million barrels per day (mb/d), essentially the same as in 2014. Of this, approximately 4.5 mb/d will be shale oil, and the result of fracking.

Oil output from fracking has resulted in a large drop in the trade deficit, from over $40 billion for oil in 2009, to around $15 billion for oil in 2014.

This administration, together with environmental groups, have consistently proposed policies that would prevent or curtail fracking, which would kill the goose that has laid the golden egg.

The Saudis have undertaken a policy of maintaining oil output regardless of the price of oil, in, what some believe, is an attempt to kill shale oil production in the United States.

This would put this administration and environmental organizations in pursuit of the same objective as Saudi Arabia.

One measure of the effect of low oil prices will be the number of drill rigs operating in the United States during 2015.

The largest number of oil and natural gas drill rigs operating in the united States during 2014 were 1,582 oil, and 369 natural gas.

As of February 13, there were 1,056 oil rigs and 300 gas rigs in operation, a drop of 526 oil rigs and 69 natural gas rigs.

By one estimate, the number of oil rigs will need to fall below 1,100 before the output of oil begins to fall by the end of 2015. Currently, total oil production in the United State is still increasing.

We are still fracking, and it will be a simple matter to increase drilling once the price of oil is in balance with supply.

Perhaps the best weapon the United States has against the oil cartel is fracking.

Some cartel members, especially Saudi Arabia, can produce oil at around $20 per barrel, but these countries get fewer dollars when prices are low which threatens their stability. Many cartel members must get a much higher price for their oil.

The Gulf oil states may be able to recycle petrodollars to bolster their economies and provide support for their populations, but their bank accounts will eventually be depleted and they will need to raise their prices.

Whether they raise their prices this year or next, or the year after, the frackers will be able to quickly go to work and increase oil production in the United States. It requires only two months to drill a new shale oil well and large numbers of rigs are waiting to be put back to work drilling for oil.

Fracking is strategically and economically important to the United States, and efforts to kill fracking, in the name of stopping global warming, will harm all Americans.

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Buying RINs Cheaper than Ethanol

February 20, 2015

Congress mandated the amount of biofuels that must be included in gasoline and diesel fuel.

RIN Requirements from EPA 2015

“Refiners, blenders, and importers can meet their obligations by either selling required biofuel volumes or purchasing RINs from parties that exceed their requirements.”

This year, 15 billion gallons of ethanol from corn must be included in gasoline. See chart.

In addition, during 2015, about 3 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol must also be included.

This has created two problems. Three, if you include the huge bureaucracy that has been created to account for whether the prescribed amounts of biofuels have been included in gasoline and diesel fuel, and also account for the number of RINs created and sold.

The first problem is that cellulosic ethanol doesn’t exist in anything more than tiny quantities, since it’s essentially still experimental. Therefore, refiners are required to buy a product that doesn’t exist.

Looking at the chart, it’s alarmingly obvious that refiners are required to add huge quantities of cellulosic ethanol in 2022, specifically 16 billion gallons of an imaginary product.

The second problem? Not enough gasoline is always being sold to use all the ethanol being produced.

This has led to the EPA’s bizarre proposal to increase the concentration of ethanol in gasoline from 10% to 15%.

Cars built before 2004 will be damaged if ethanol requirements exceed 10%.

Whether newer cars can use gasoline with 15% is debatable.

Car manufacturers have said their warranties will be cancelled if gasoline, used in other than E85 vehicles, contains more than 10% ethanol. Prudent car owners will by-pass any gasoline pump that says 15% ethanol.

RINs have created an ancillary problem affecting the price of gasoline.

Over the past few years, we have seen where the price of RINs has been as high as $1.46 per gallon, increasing the cost of gasoline at the pump, or where, as has been the case this year, it’s below the cost of producing ethanol.

  • Bloomberg recently reported that refiners are buying less expensive RINs to avoid buying ethanol from ethanol producers. Two years ago the high price of RINs was increasing the price of gasoline at the pump. See High Gasoline Prices and RINs.

A major reason for using ethanol was to cut CO2 emissions, but it’s subsequently been determined that ethanol won’t cut CO2 emissions.

Ethanol was also supposed to cut oil imports, but with oil production increasing in the United States, there is no need to use ethanol.

It’s obvious that the entire process is quixotic, expensive and, probably, immoral. Specifically:

  • Mandating the use of a product that doesn’t exist, i.e., cellulosic ethanol, is absurd.
  • Requiring ethanol concentrations to increase to 15%, from 10%, which can damage cars, is definitely not in the interest of consumers.
  • Increased volatility in the price of RINs affects the price of gasoline at the pump.
  • Increased bureaucracy to oversee the production and use of ethanol and RINs is costly.
  • Using food to create a fuel to be burned in a car has been called immoral.
  • Using tax payer money to subsidize the development and production of unneeded biofuels places a burden on tax payers.

Eliminating the biofuel mandates, i.e., cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel and other such biofuels, other than corn-based ethanol, should be one of the first priorities of Congress when addressing energy issues.

While it may not be fair to farmers to suddenly and drastically cut the use of corn-based ethanol, it should be possible to establish gradual cuts in ethanol produced from corn.

Senators Feinstein and Toomey have proposed legislation to eliminate the mandate to use ethanol. How this proposal evolves will be interesting watch.

We don’t need ethanol, of any variety, to reduce oil imports, and we certainly don’t need ethanol to cut CO2 emissions.

The ethanol mandates have been another example of bad legislation that’s not in America’s interest.

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Fossil Fuel Hysteria

February 17, 2015

When the Sierra Club declared war on natural gas, they might just have well declared war on humanity.

Fossil fuels have been targeted by environmental groups who say, oil is bad, coal is bad and natural gas is bad. Drilling must be stopped, fracking must be stopped, coal mines must be shut down, pipelines must not be built.

Environmental groups consistently malign natural gas, coal and oil, yet these fossil fuels are hugely beneficial to mankind.

Here are some of the ways that fossil fuels contribute to society.

Airplanes could not exist without jet fuel and gasoline derived from oil. There would be no travel by air, and companies such as Boeing would not exist.

Railroads could not exist without diesel fuel, coal or natural gas (LNG). The entire industry, including railroad companies, such as Union Pacific, and locomotive and car manufacturers, such as General Electric and Trinity Industries would not exist, including all the associated jobs.

Steel could not be made without coal. Without steel, sky scrapers and suspension bridges could not be built. Jet engines and gas turbines couldn’t be built.

Depiction of Modern City Benefitting from Fossil Fuels

Depiction of Modern City Benefitting from Fossil Fuels

Roads capable of withstanding the heavy traffic of speeding cars and heavy trucks couldn’t be built without asphalt or cement. Asphalt is derived from oil. Producing cement requires the use of oil, natural gas or coal.

Many plastics and other chemicals couldn’t be produced without oil, natural gas or coal. Some plastics, such as PVC pipe, and some textiles, such as nylon, and some solvents, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals couldn’t be made without oil, natural gas or coal. CDs, DVDs and vinyl records are made from oil.

Refrigerators and air conditioning units require steel or aluminum and a chemical refrigerant. Oil, natural gas or coal are required at some point in the manufacture of these products.

Glass for windows, bottles, cars and everyday glassware require the use of oil, natural gas or coal.

Heating of homes and buildings require oil, natural gas or coal.

Other products that require oil, natural gas or coal at some point during their manufacture include cans, for canned food, the manufacture of copper wire, essential for the electrical industry, the manufacture of automobiles, trucks, earthmoving equipment and even toilets.

For a few of these items it might be possible to substitute wood, but it’s doubtful there would be enough trees to meet all these requirements.

Mountainsides are being denuded in Africa by people using wood to heat their homes and cook their food.

The list of benefits derived from fossil fuels is endless, including low-cost electricity that can’t be reliably produced in large quantities by wind or solar.

In short, fossil fuels are essential to modern day living and to maintaining our standard of living.

A war on fossil fuels is a war on humanity.

It is simply another reason why attempts to cut CO2 emissions is a fool’s errand.

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Sun Power, Part 2

February 13, 2015

It was Galileo, using his newly invented telescope, who, around 1600, saw sunspots for the first time in western history. From that point forward, sunspot observations were made on a regular basis by astronomers throughout Europe.

Sunspot observations had also been made by the Chinese around 800 AD.

In 1800, an astronomer, Herschel, was struck by the eleven-year sunspot cycle, and the perceived variation in commerce every ten years. Turning to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, he found data about the price of wheat that varied with the sunspot cycle. When sunspots were few in number, the price of wheat was high, and when sunspots were plentiful, there were abundant harvests and the price of wheat was low.

With this rudimentary idea that sunspots were related to climate, other astronomers, often sustaining criticism from their peers, searched for more data that could establish a stronger link between sunspots and climate.

Dramatic evidence of a strong linkage was provided by another astronomer, Walter Maunder, who at the age of 70, in 1922, linked the lack of sunspots between 1645 and 1715, to the bitter cold of that period.

It wasn’t until the 1970s, when Dr. Jack Eddy focused attention on Maunder’s work, that the significance of the Maunder Minimum became understood.

Sun Spot chart from NASA

Sun Spot chart from NASA

The Maunder Minimum is believed to have been the cause of the Little Ice Age. The Dalton Minimum is the period during the first two cycles beginning around 1800.

The 20th century seems to have been a period where sunspots were more frequent, especially from 1950 to 2000, while the most recent cycles in the 21st century have had fewer sunspots.

The forecast is for cycle 25 to be smaller in number than cycle 24, shown to the right of this photo, which is the smallest number of sunspots since cycle 14 that reached its peak around 1912.

Sun Spot Cycle 24 as of January 2015

Sun Spot Cycle 24 as of January 2015

Even if there is a causal relationship between sunspots and climate, it has only been recently that a mechanism for the linkage has been proposed.

In 1997, Dr. Svensmark, a Danish scientist at the Danish National Space Institute, proposed that sunspot eruptions affected the strength of the sun’s magnetic field, which in turn, affected the earth’s magnetic field.

When the magnetic fields surrounding the earth were strong, during periods of high sunspot activity, cosmic rays were deflected away from the earth. When there were few sunspots, during periods of low sunspot activity, cosmic rays could enter the earth’s atmosphere and affect the earth’s climate.

Svensmark suggested that cosmic rays could affect low level cloud formation, with more cosmic rays creating more low level clouds. He proposed that an increase in low level cloud coverage would result in lower temperatures as they acted like a shade over the earth, while also reflecting more sunlight away from the earth’s surface.

The major controversy surrounding Svensmark’s hypothesis was whether cosmic rays could induce cloud formation.

In 2007, Svensmark conducted a laboratory experiment that seemed to confirm that cosmic rays could induce cloud formation.

The debate then resulted in the Cloud experiment at CERN, Europe’s premiere research center.

The Cloud experiment proved, with little doubt, that cosmic rays can induce cloud formation.

Professor Nir Shaviv, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, explains all of this, plus the results of computer projections using the effects of low level clouds on temperatures, in a 37 minute presentation. The presentation is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QtnueIJGjc

Svensmark has provided an explanation for how the sun, or more specifically sunspots, can affect climate change.

While this is admittedly only a hypothesis, it has substantial scientific underpinning going back several hundred years, and perhaps longer.

This is in contrast with the CO2 hypothesis that’s based on data going back only a hundred years or so.

In addition, the sunspot hypothesis is consistent for hundreds of years, at least back to 1600, while the data supporting the CO2 hypothesis is not consistent.

From the mid 1800s throughout the 20th century, temperatures increased as atmospheric CO2 increased, but prior to 1860 atmospheric CO2 remained virtually constant while temperatures varied, up and down, including the medieval warm period and the little ice age.

If temperatures varied while atmospheric CO2 remained constant, there must not have been a very strong linkage between temperatures and atmospheric levels of CO2.

The Carrington event demonstrated the power of the sun, while Svensmark has shown how its power could affect climate change.

Couldn’t the sun be a more reasonable answer for climate change than atmospheric CO2?

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Sun Power, Part 1

February 10, 2015

How does the enormous power of the sun affect the earth?

Obviously, life on earth depends on the sun, but does the sun affect the earth in unique, perhaps not well understood, ways.

Light from the sun, i.e., photons, being converted to electricity, is understood, and widely accepted as being beneficial.

The aurora borealis, a thing of beauty, is caused by the sun.

But the aurora borealis is also a manifestation of the sun’s power.

The aurora borealis is caused by sun spots that produce huge changes in the magnetic fields around the sun and earth.

Image os Sun from NASA

Image of Sun from NASA

The largest known geomagnetic storm occurred in1859, and is known as the Carrington event. The 1859 storm was three times more intense than the most severe geomagnetic storm of the past thirty years.

The Carrington event took 17 hours, 40 minutes to reach the Earth, and it produced auroras seen around the world.

It is vividly described in the book, The Sun Kings, by Stuart Clark, with highlights mentioned here.

Telegraph operators in Boston and Pittsburg found their equipment arcing, and were just barely able to disconnect the telegraph equipment from the lines. Immediately after being disconnected the metal frames of the equipment were too hot to touch. The operator in Washington DC, was stunned, and nearly killed, by an electric arc from the telegraph equipment that struck his forehead.

The current in the telegraph lines surged from nothing, to being so powerful that the telegraph keys were locked in a magnetic grip.

The aurora itself, in vivid displays of red and white, could be seen as far south as Key West, Florida. While intense streamers in the sky stretched from the South Pole far north into Chile.

The aurora came in two phases spread over two nights, and could even be seen in some areas during the daytime.

The Carrington event is significant because it occurred in 1859 when the only lines carrying electricity were telegraph lines.

Today, power lines are stretched across the United States, and across other countries, such as in Europe.

Could a sun spot 93 million miles from the earth affect the electrical grid, and all the people connected to it?

The answer became clear in 1989, when a geomagnetic storm caused the grid in Quebec, Canada to fail.

The 1989 storm was one-third the size of the Carrington event.

The reason for the grid failure in Canada was, quoting from the government’s report: “Ground induced currents (GICs) can overload the grid, causing severe voltage regulation problems and, potentially, widespread power outages. Moreover, GICs can cause intense internal heating in extra-high-voltage transformers, putting them at risk of failure or even permanent damage.” And, there are “300 EHV transformers in the United States” that are at risk.

A geomagnetic storm the size of a Carrington event could cause the grid to collapse if the EHV transformers fail, as they did in Canada, so that all the people in the northern part of the United States, and in Canada, would be without electricity for months, if not for over a year.

This would mean that all the people living in Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland and New York, and all those living between these cities, could be without electricity for a year or more. The same would be true in other northern areas, such as Europe.

It should be noted that all services that depend on electricity, such as lighting, elevators, gasoline station pumps, refrigeration, and home heating, etc., won’t function when the grid goes down.

Failure of the grid for over a year could end civilization as we know it. See A Carrington Catastrophe.

If sun spots are so powerful that they can bring an end to our civilization, why can’t they also affect our climate?

Have sun spots been linked to climate in the past?

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The $100,000 Pickup Truck

February 6, 2015
tags: , , ,

What marvel of technological improvements and comfort will command such a high price tag in 2025 for the common pickup truck?

Actually nothing new, just the same truck that’s being sold today for around $35,000.

Why the higher price in 2025?

Think about Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandates, or the miles per gallon that each auto manufacturer must achieve.

Fuel Standards

Manufacturers have two options under the law:

  1. Pay a fine for the amount they miss achieving the CAFE standards
  2. Reduce the number of high mileage vehicles sold

They will, of course, also try to build smaller vehicles, reduce the weight of vehicles, use smaller engines with less horsepower, or build electric or fuel cell vehicles.

Electric and fuel cell vehicles are zero emission vehicles (ZEV) that supposedly reduce CO2 emissions.

These actions either increase cost or lower the value proposition, i.e., less car for more money, all because of CAFE standards.

Consumers vote by buying the cars they want, and many consumers prefer larger, high horsepower vehicles, or pickup trucks and SUVs that get fewer miles per gallon.

This preference has been demonstrated whenever the price of gasoline has varied. With high priced gasoline consumers tend to buy smaller cars, but seem to always buy larger, so-called gas guzzlers, when the price of gasoline is low.

So what could happen in 2025?

Not wanting to pay the fine, and having no control over what consumers want to buy, manufacturers can be certain to avoid paying the fine by reducing the number of pickup trucks they build.

According to economics 101, the lower supply of pickup tricks will result in a higher price for pickup trucks. The increased margin from this very high price will partially satisfy the manufacturers’ need for profits, though the price of smaller cars will also have to increase for manufacturers to remain profitable.

It will also increase the resale value of pickup trucks sold in prior years.

But why are we pursuing such an absurd increase in CAFE standards?

When CAFE standards were first established, shortly after the Arab oil embargo, their intent was to reduce oil imports.

Today, the United States has enough oil to begin exporting it, and there is no need for any law requiring Americans to cut their usage of oil.

Market forces alone will achieve the proper balance between small and large vehicles.

The only possible reason for reducing oil usage is to cut CO2 emissions.

CAFE standards once again demonstrate how extreme environmentalists are imposing their view on all Americans, when it’s very doubtful that CO2 emissions are the primary cause of global warming.

Why not eliminate CAFE standards, allow those who want to buy small cars to do so, while allowing other Americans to buy whatever type of car that best suits their needs?

Let’s avoid the $100,000 pickup truck.

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Small Modular Reactors

February 3, 2015

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) have been seen as possibly rescuing the U.S. nuclear power industry.

B&W, NuScale and others have sought grants from the Department of Energy for developing SMRs. SMRs were a hot concept three years ago as possible alternatives for large nuclear power plants, but interest in SMRs in the United States has cooled.

It’s very likely that all existing nuclear reactors in the United States will be shut down by the end of this century, and many people thought SMRs could take their place. See U.S. Nuclear Demise Amid Increases Elsewhere.

Most U.S. reactors are rated around 1,000 MW, while SMRs would range in size from 25 MW to 300 MW.

SMRs have the advantage of being installed underground and located near where power is needed. They would also be built in factories in modular units to reduce construction time and help lower cost.

NuScale SMR

NuScale SMR

It now appears as though their cost, at $6,000 per KW, will be no better than the cost of building new large reactors, such as the four being built in Georgia and South Carolina.

A major advantage of SMRs may be their ability to obtain funding because their smaller size results in lower total cost for building each reactor.

Giorgio Locatelli, University of Lincoln, United Kingdom, has studied SMRs and concluded they are best suited for use in developing countries.

Smaller size suits the initially smaller demand for electricity in dispersed areas in developing countries, coupled with the ability to secure international funding with less money needed to build each SMR.

SMRs are being built in several countries.

Argentina is building a 25 MW SMR, about 60 miles north of Buenos Aires, at a cost of over $400 million, which equates to around $17,000 per KW, a huge sum, but justified because of its being the first unit, experimental in nature.

China is building two experimental SMRs. Russia is continuing to pursue SMRs, and was an early adopter. Russia has an SMR on a barge that can be moved to where power is needed, and also an SMR powering an ice breaker.

South Korea is probably the farthest ahead in developing SMRs for commercial use, and are nearly ready to export their design to other countries.

SMRs, of course, were first developed for use in submarines, so SMRs are actually not a new concept.

While nuclear power will likely grow in China, India and elsewhere, it’s very likely that growth of nuclear power in the United States will be nonexistent, with decline already setting in.

Environmental organizations have generated an irrational fear of radiation and have been against nuclear power of any kind, even though it emits zero CO2.

It makes little sense to be against nuclear power if global warming is an existential threat to mankind, but this contradiction persists. See Destruction of America’s Nuclear Industry.

This contradiction now manifests itself in Europe where cutting CO2 emissions has been institutionalized, and where Germany is eliminating nuclear power and France is beginning to cut its growth.

This contradiction has important implications.

Billions of people lack adequate access to electricity, such as these:

  • India: Average consumption 600 kilowatt-hours per year (kWh/year)
  • Indonesia: Average consumption 629 kWh/year
  • Central African Republic: Average consumption 29 kWh/year
  • Chad: Average consumption 8 kWh/year.

Energy access is defined by the International Energy Agency (IEA) as 250 kWh/year and 500 kWh/year, for rural and urban areas respectively.

For comparison, the average American consumes over 14,000 kWh/year.

If nuclear power, using MSRs, is not acceptable to environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace, the alternative for supplying the world’s poor with electricity is coal, but these same groups also oppose coal.

Preventing billions of people from having access to electricity must be a crime against humanity.

In the United States, SMRs are not likely to be coming to a city near you, but could be an important factor for producing electricity in developing countries if it weren’t for those who oppose nuclear power.

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