Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category


Graham Threatens Pullback

April 24, 2010

In an unbelievable move of political cowardice and logical hubris, Lindsey Graham has threatened to pull out of proposed climate and energy legislation (scheduled to be released on Monday) unless Obama backs off on his criticism of the recent Arizona immigration legislation and his possible shift to focus on moving immigration legislation forward. PostCarbon breaks the story.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) threatened to abandon his effort to push a climate and energy bill Saturday, saying he will only continue if Democratic leaders promise to relinquish plans to bring up immigration legislation first.

Graham’s departure, if he follows through on his ultimatum, would likely doom any chance of passing a climate bill this year. He is the sole Republican working with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a compromise proposal which they had planned to unveil Monday.

Because, you know, permission to erode civil liberties should certainly be a determining factor in how serious we are about addressing climate change and our energy future.


No Suspenders

April 9, 2010

Following in Revkin’s fingersteps, I’ll comment a bit on the comments that he’s cribbed and clipped for his column today. As he rightly notes, his commentators have made some really fantastic points. What’s interesting about these points is the evident balance, but also the deficiency, in the arc of reasoning. That deficiency is really only evident when all three comments are taken together — one is left without much support for any given course of action.

Namely, all three comments seem to emphasize the apparent virtues or vices of energy. So, for instance, we get Hugh Whalan’s nice comment on energy poverty, Mike Barrett’s important observation about energy gluttony, and Rohit Parikh’s refreshing anecdote about the irrelevance of energy to the flourishing life. It all fits neatly in a tidy Aristotelian package.

All three of these comments don’t actually contradict one another, even though it may appear that they do. Instead they point out how difficult it is to guide our actions according to strikes for or against a given set of actions or things in the world. It can obviously be the case that energy is essential in some instances, but that use of it in others is manifestly unjustified. Plainly, the fact that there are people in dire need of heat in one part of the world doesn’t authorize me to festoon my house with 100 gigawatt lightbulbs simply because I am afraid of the dark or because I like the blistering feel of sunbeams on my skin.

From the Aristotelian vantage, we ought to cut a middle path, avoiding mama bear’s and papa bear’s beds in favor of baby bear’s bed. That’s not the view I favor, frankly, precisely because I don’t know what any of those beds are like until I’ve napped in them. Also, beds are too “lumpy.” What’s good for a little girl isn’t good for a grown man. Far better to deliberate and justify our individual decisions and policies by way of appeals to the reasons for their deployment — in terms of the things we need and can use, as well as things we don’t need and can’t use.

To be sure, there’s some room for such deliberation even in the Aristotelian bedroom — baby bear’s bed was “just right” for Goldilocks — but it can get mighty confusing if one thinks that one is well advised to set policy according to whether something is too hard, too soft, or just right. Better, instead, to emphasize what the beds will be used for and to focus on the reasons, on the purposes. Sometimes a hard bed is required. Sometimes a soft bed. Sometimes no bed.

To decryptify my silly Goldilocks example, the use of energy is neither a virtue nor a vice, and it’s not clear that it helps to think of it in terms of gluttony, deprivation, or the good life. Rather, we need to have a serious discussion about how to direct and steer our resources — resources with uses that can sometimes be justified and sometimes cannot. All of this will depend on the purposes to which the resources are put. Yes, it is reasonable to steer our resources toward the impoverished and needy, and at the same time, we can do some of this steering by finding methods within our own lives to cut back on inefficiencies and the satisfaction of ridiculous desires. Moreover, it is not clear that in order to enrich the lives of the needy, we need to create the conditions that make possible their future purchase of a new iPad.


Plane Geometry

March 11, 2010

It is said that all one needs to stabilize (or to form) a plane are three discrete points: one, two, three. Completely unrelated to that, Greenwire has three discrete points in three discrete articles today. Put these in your tailpipes and smoke them:

1) Shale plays create ‘new world’ for energy industry:

Talk of vast new reserves in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale and Louisiana’s Haynesville Shale has filled the corridors and even the keynote speech Tuesday on what had been billed as “oil day.”

ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva used that keynote to tout shale gas as “nature’s gift to the people of the world.” He praised the ingenuity of an industry that learned how to employ horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to open up shale, a rock that had long been considered too difficult to drill.

Now the gas-laced rock has doubled the discovered gas resources of North America, providing 100 years of supply to a country that a few years ago was planning a host of new terminals to import liquefied natural gas, or LNG. Shale gas now accounts for 20 percent of the country’s gas supply, up from 1 percent in 2000.

2) Pairing oil recovery with carbon capture a win-win for U.S.

Enhanced oil recovery — a technique that stimulates aging wells — combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) could slash U.S. petroleum imports if there is a strong price on carbon, according to a report commissioned by an environmental group and released yesterday.

The Natural Resources Defense Council backed the report that says combining CCS with enhanced oil recovery could boost U.S. production by 3 million to 3.6 million barrels a day.

“Significant growth is dependent on sourcing affordable carbon dioxide,” said Mike Godec, vice president of Advanced Resources International, which prepared the report. “Climate legislation obviously would give enhanced oil recovery a kick start and allow the technology to grow most rapidly.”

Oil companies for years have wrung as much oil as they could from maturing wells. And for the past 35 years or so, they have been pumping CO2 into aging reservoirs to displace oil and enhance production.

3) Injection well is ‘plausible cause’ of Texas earthquakes:

Researcher Brian Stump of Southern Methodist University, one of four researchers who worked on a study published in the magazine Leading Edge, said the injection well at the airport was a “plausible cause” of the earthquakes that started seven weeks after the well began operating in 2008 and stopped when the well was closed.

The last article is basically on hydraulic fracking, though there are similar concerns about CCS too. If true, I think it raises questions about the stability of this plane.



March 4, 2010

I saw Moon last night. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourselves a favor and head to the video store to rent it. Fortunately for me, I had the full cinematic experience of the movie, sans spoilers. I was literally awestruck. One of the best science fiction films I’ve seen in a long time, and one self-consciously aware of the great films from which it draws. Doing a bit of research, I’ve come to learn that the director, Duncan Jones, dropped out of his PhD program in philosophy to study filmmaking. Normally I might feel bad about such a thing, but I think this just goes to show other possible interesting careers for philosophers. (Don’t watch the trailers if you prefer the full cinematic experience. Trust me on this film recommendation. It’s worth your time.)


That Sinking Feeling

November 11, 2009

Carlsbad, NM evidently faces a mighty difficult challenge in the years ahead. A massive sinkhole threatens to gobble up the town. MSNBC also has the scoop.

The cause of the sinkhole? Decades of oil and gas extraction in the region.

To accomplish the herculean task of positioning a sinkhole smack in the middle of a populated area, ambitious extractors “pumped fresh water into a salt layer more than 400 feet below the surface and extracted several million barrels of brine to help with drilling.” How thoughtful. Fortunately, the local government has set up alarms to notify residents if the cavern collapses.

If it collapses, the unnatural cavern is likely to take with it a church, a highway, several businesses and a trailer park. Massive fissures currently cleave through town, and one business owner has said that structural cracks have even formed in his store.

“It would be like a bomb going off in the middle of town,” said Jim Griswold, a hydrologist with the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division. The problem is so severe that the Eddy County Commission declared a state of emergency last Thursday, and they hope that state and federal funds will arrive in time to fill the cavern before it collapses.

Wanna know more about best management practices for oil and gas extraction in your area? My colleagues at the Natural Resources Law Center have pulled together a phenomenal database on Intermountain Oil and Gas Drilling.