We’ve got a food emergency on this planet right now and it revolves around energy. The US produces a quarter of the worlds food and our ability to produce that food has been crippled by high energy costs and low availability. High energy costs have also diverted a portion of food production into biofuel production.
The value of the dollar has taken a large dive because of the high cost of the war in Iraq, and because of the huge amount of oil that we import without sufficient exports to balance those imports.
Because until recently the dollar was also to a large degree the worlds currency, many nations around the world held many dollars, and as they see the value falling they’ve looked for other places to invest, and commodities have been the big winner. Unfortunately, those commodities include things like corn, wheat, and rice, and the result has been a increase in the price of food above and beyond the energy costs involved in foods production.
World demand for oil has exceeded current production capacity. The price of oil now exceeds $100 / barrel and it appears to be headed towards $200 in the not too distant future.
While the high prices of oil has resulted in increased discovery activity and increased discovery, and now we know to look for oil in places we wouldn’t have considered in the past; and that very much oil remains, there are real problems with tapping that oil.
Specifically, abiotic oil exists and in large quantities. The larger of the two Brazilian super-giant fields recently discovered gives all indications of not being biotic in nature, based upon carbon isotope ratios. To those of us who have been paying attention this is not surprising. Most of the oil we’ve tapped to date has been biological in nature because we’ve drilled where we expect to find it, in sedimentary deposits.
But now we know, drill through the granite or basalt basement rock in locations where that rock forms a cap, and we will find oil that has seeped up from the Earth’s mantle. Generally on land, the crust is too thick, most of this oil is out of our reach with current drilling technology, but the crust is thinner in the oceans and there we can drill through and find this oil, and hence the most recent super giant fields in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Brazil.
So that abiotic oil requires drilling in deep ocean, or very deep through land in a few locations where the crust is thin enough or where geological upheavals have allowed oil to get past that barrier and still be trapped by something above it, such as in over thrust zones.
There is a world-wide shortage of rigs capable of tapping these deposits and in the case of deep ocean deposits it will take 5-10 years from discovery to production.
Then we have heavy oil near the surface. Most of the oil near the surface is heavy crude because without non-porous material covering it, the lighter elements evaporate leaving only the heavier elements. We lack the refinery capacity to utilize this heavier oil. Getting at it is also often difficult because it’s high viscosity does not allow it to flow like lighter oils thus requiring technologies like steam injection or outright mining.
Ordinarily, if oil were to stay over $100 / barrel for any period of time, that would rapidly drive investments necessary to increase production. However, with the worlds eyes on global warming, investors are afraid that they will not be able to recoup their investments and thus we are not seeing the investments necessary to address this shortage.
Ideally, we’d all switch to renewable energy sources and be done with the whole oil and global warming issues, but this is not something that can happen immediately, infrastructure needs to be built and this takes time and capital investment.
Here in the United States, this is a big problem because with our economy already wrecked, the capital necessary to make this conversion, an estimated 200-400 trillion dollars, does not exist.
It is my belief that we need to do whatever we need to do to stop the outflow of capital from this country immediately. We have to stop importing oil and depend only upon our own resources, and we have large amounts of resources domestically.
T. Boone Pickens is investing up to 10 billion to build a 4000 megawatt wind farm in the Texas panhandle, not because he has gone green but because he expects to make money on it.
But we can only build wind farms and solar so fast and those will address much of our electricity needs, but until we have more electric vehicles, until we electrify our railways, and until we have some method of producing high-density liquid fuels from electricity or other energy sources, we will still need hydrocarbon fuels.
To that end, I think we should be depending upon our own resources instead of importing oil from Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. We have more coal than any other country in the world; at current usage enough for another 300-400 years. In my view, we should be building coal to liquids plants and using that rather than imported oil. The reason for this is that it removes the incentives for wars on foreign soil which are far more environmentally devastating than coal production and because it will keep the capital from flowing out of the country so that it will be available to invest in clean renewable technology.
I believe we should build wind and solar as absolutely fast as we can and we should put windmills and solar farms where they will produce the most energy first, and then as we displace the need for coal and natural gas fired plants, we should divert that coal and natural gas into liquid fuels for transportation.
I also believe we should be building at least a dozen or so forth generation helium cooled actinide burning fast flux nuclear fission plants with integral pyrolytic fuel reprocessing, and I believe we should put a complex of these plants in the area that is presently intended to be the Yucca mountain repository.
The reason is this; no civilization lasts the 50,000 to 100,000 years that is required for existing waste to decay. If we bury that stuff, we leave a huge burden for future human populations. We owe it to future generations not to do it. Further; in that existing waste, we’ve extracted less than 1% of natural uraniums energy capacity.
These 4th generation nuclear fission plants can burn those long lived actinides, extract 60x as much energy from them as the original nuclear reactors did producing them, and eliminate a 50,000 to 100,000 year storage problem, leaving waste that will only need to be stored for 300 years, which can reasonably be done at Yucca. By placing the reactors inside the repository, if any accident does happen, the radiation will be contained at least as good as the waste would have. And when the reactors have done their jobs and need to be decommissioned, they will already be in their final resting place.
Such a facility could contribute tens of gigawatts to the electrical grid and the electricity generated can pay for it’s operation rather than having waste disposal being a burden on tax payers. And with everything in that facility including integral reprocessing, the existing waste only needs to be shipped there and after that no waste will be transported providing no opportunities for terrorists. The pyrolytic recycling process does not separate the actinides from each other, so at no point is any material produced that would be useful for making bombs.
I think though right now, we need to pull all the stops out on domestic energy production and get completely free from any reliance on imported energy. A massive program to do this will create jobs and fix the economy. Discontinuing the importation of oil will do wonderful things for the value of the dollar. And ending our reliance upon middle eastern oil will eliminate our incentive for wars there.