Includes thoughts and comments about energy needs, resources, conservation and their relationship to politics at home and around the world.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Forcing Research and Development

The Obama administration continues to act as though research and development of alternative sources of energy can be forced and ordered up on demand. There are several things wrong with that idea. First and foremost is the fact the creative mind doesn't work very well with a gun to its head. There is also the fact that R&D effort has been devoted over many years to alternatives such as hydroelectricity, wind, solar, geothermal, fuel cell, fission and fusion nuclear, and tidal energy. A good bit of the R&D work has been done by members of the oil industry one of which I worked for over 30 years. The Obama administration has wasted billions on solar energy projects that have gone bust.

Government v. Private Sector R&D

The only government managed research project that has ever really succeeded was the Manhattan Project of WWII.  Even then, it took innovative thinking and effort by private sector companies and personnel to get the job done.  Government employees may mean well but sooner or later most of them get all wrapped up in bureaucracy and lose their way as individuals.  General Leslie Groves, an Army Corps of Engineers officer, was in charge of the Manhattan Project, and did everything he could to avoid bureaucratic delays because he never lost sight of the objective. It didn't matter what the problem was, Groves didn't hesitate to step in to help settle it to keep the project on its target time line. The same kind of management prevailed in my private industry experience after the war in building oil refineries around the world.

The Future of Energy

In the real world it will be some time before energy derived from fossil fuels will give way to alternates in most  historic applications.  Nuclear power could supplant fossil fuels in the production of electricity if it weren't for resistance from those who unreasonably fear nuclear power.  Hybrid automobiles are growing in popularity but are not popular with drivers who enjoy size and comfort especially in long distance driving.  The same limitations apply to all-electric vehicles now struggling to gain market acceptance.  Meanwhile, R&D into alternative energy sources should continue in the private sector and it should be allowed to do so with minimum interference from government.      

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Coal-fired Power Plants

The latest restraint on "greenhouse gas" release to be imposed on coal-fired power plants will all but rule out any new coal-fired plants in the USA. The restraint is being imposed by the EPA, not the Energy Department. Ignored completely is greenhouse gas sequestration technology now available which can handle virtually all such gases produced by power plants. But, I guess that's to be expected from an administration bent on destroying the country we have known for the last 230 years.

Green Energy

Florida Power & Light Co.'s solar power plant near Indiantown, FL was constructed at a cost of
$ 467 million and an estimated savings of $ 178 million in natural gas associated with the combined project leaving a net cost of $ 298 million excluding operating and maintenance costs. FP&L estimates the cost of producing electricity in the combined plant at $0.16/kwh v. $0.05/kwh in the gas powered plant. So much for the cost of forced "green energy".

Crude Oil and Product Pricing

Until the formation of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), crude oil production and price at the wellhead was controlled by the oil companies doing the drilling and producing of the oil. When I went to work in the industry in 1951, the market price of crude f.o.b. NY Harbor averaged about $3.50-$ 4.00/barrel depending on oil quality. At the time, the price of regular gasoline at the pump was averaging about $ 0.20-$0.25/gal. Over the next twenty years, demand for fuel products (gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel etc.), home heating oil, lubricants, specialty products (synthetic rubber, plastics, pharmaceuticals, etc.), heavy fuels and asphalt grew as more applications for petroleum derivatives were discovered. It didn't take long for the petroleum exporting countries to realize the real value of their resources. By the time the Arab countries decided to place an embargo on their oil exports to the USA in 1973, they had already begun talks leading first to nationalization of their oilfields, then to forming OPEC. The market price for oil began to climb as speculators began to push the price ever higher and their ranks expanded to include major petroleum product consumers such as airlines and power companies. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

As I write this in March 2012, the market price for crude is averaging upwards of $ 105/barrel and regular gasoline at the pump is averaging $ 3.90 +/gal. Relative to the price of crude, the price of gasoline at the pump today would exceed $ 6.00/gal were it comparable to the price structure of the two elements 60 years ago.

Some pundits blame the oil companies and speculators fo the price of gasoline at the pump because they would rather place blame than to understand the facts.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Keystone Pipeline

The Obama administration continues to resist expansion of oil production here at home and elsewhere on and offshore of the North American continent. A joint Canadian/USA proposal to build a pipeline to carry oil from the large tar sands area in Western Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas has been ruled against by Obama until "further evaluation" is completed. The latter is his excuse for doing nothing effective to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. That pipeline would also be a way to move oil out of the Baaken Field and the Williston Basin area where there's enough oil and gas tied up in shale to meet the nation's needs for many decades to come. The delay is ostensibly due to environmental concerns in Nebraska. Hundreds of thousand miles of pipelines have been built and are operating throughout the country. Breaks in those lines have been few and those that have occurred have been repaired and returned to service quickly with minimum damage to the environment.

Green Energy

Anyone who worked in the oil industry after 1945 is aware of the fact that the major oil companies have poured a lot of research money into alternative energy sources. Included in their efforts have been solar energy, nuclear energy, gas turbine technology, wind power, and fuel cells. They've also done a lot of work to improve the internal combustion process and minimize greenhouse gas and nitrogen oxides release to the atmosphere. Much work has also been done in hybrid power systems such as those found today on a number of car makes on the road today. Each of these alternatives offers promise with certain limitations that prevents any one of them from solving all of our energy problems. Depending on climate conditions and other variables, alternative sources combined with conventional fossil fuel energy sources can significantly reduce our dependency on OPEC oil if government will get out of the way.

"Green energy" is a term pushed by the Obama administration to hold favor with environmental activists most of whom know very little about the technologies and economics involved. The activists could care less about the economics involved so long as tax money continues to come in and the Treasury continues printing money. The idea of so-called "green energy" stems from the mistaken idea that CO2 is a "greenhouse gas" that causes global warming. The fact is global warming results from cyclical changes in the sun which moves the problem out of man's control. One cycle results in warming, the next results in cooling and the change between the two occurs about once every 200 years or so. We are now entering a cooling cycle if the research is accurate. Man's contribution is miniscule compared to the influence of the sun. That is not to say we shouldn't do what we can to further minimize our contribution so long as it doesn't adversely impact our economy.

While much of the research has found its way into public and commercial application, all of the proven practical alternatives combined do not come anywhere near to meeting the power generated in conventional fossil fuel driven systems. Will it ever happen ? Probably not in my lifetime (I'm 84 as this is being written), but I believe the day will come when fossil fuel energy production will be a thing of the past. Petroleum will still be used in its many non-energy applications existing today.

Energy and Politics

The current sdministration in Washington, DC seems to be doing everything it can to keep us on a sure road to a collectivist political system ending in something not much different than Orwell's 1984. Look in any direction and you will find examples of the administration's efforts to block measures to right the ship and put it back on the road intended by the founders in creating the Constitution of the United States of America. The examples are legion: Use of the BP oil spill as an excuse to stop expansion of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and block further drilling off the continental shelf...refuse approval of the Keystone Pipeline (see above)...expand the number of non-federal income tax payers to nearly half the current population...create increased dependency on the government for food, housing and unemployment compensation...and the list goes on ad nauseum.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Organized Labor Disenchanted With Obama ?

It's been reported that the AFL-CIO is drawing back from all-out support of the President in his quest for re-election next year. At issue is failure of the administration to get "card check" through Congress and the Boeing plant scheduled for Charleston, SC, a "right-to-work state". No doubt the government union worker fiasco in Wisconsin has further exascerbated the situation. One would think labor leaders would see the light by now, that the American public no longer supports their strong-arm tactics. I believe we are witnessing the death knell of organized labor as we have known it the past 60 years or more.

I further believe it is time for labor and management to come together to cooperate in rebuilding American industry into a profitable enterprize that benefits everyone involved. I would like to see all private businesses become profit-sharing enterprizes. I believe that would lead to mutual trust and end the urge or perceived need to form unions.

Occupy Wall Street

What began as a disjointed and seemingly aimless demonstration has taken on a more serious tone not only in the area of Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, NYC but in cities around the country. Support for the demonstrations is now coming from organized labor (SEIU, et al) and one can see the deft hand of George Soros as well. In some locations Red communist banners are being openly displayed, thus no longer leaving any doubt about the motivation of the political left in this country. Obama is all for the unions and that says a lot about his political leanings which, in my view, have always been suspect. It makes his defeat in the general election next year imperative if we are to prevent this nation from becoming another European-type failed institution.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Debt, Deficits and The Economy

As the battle continues over raising the national debt ceiling and deficit spending, those who provide jobs are waiting with baited breath for the outcome. Job providers are that way, they need confidence in the future else they will not hire more people or risk losing their money on new ventures. It is especially difficult now because payments on the national debt are increasing rapidly as a percentage of GDP and getting to the point where a collapse of the economy is likely if we don't cap it off. When 40% of every dollar spent by the Feds is borrowed money, something has got to change and change quickly.

If we continue raising the debt ceiling, we are simply delaying the day of reckoning and passing the problem to future generations. I would much prefer we bite the bullet now and even face a total economic collapse if necessary. If that happens, close down all government agencies except the military and homeland defense and rebuild the nation from scratch along the lines envisioned by the founding fathers. A total collapse is unlikely, however, because no one in Congress has got the guts to do it, but we must start the process of reducing government spending. Here's how:

Balanced Budget Amendment

There is no reason why the federal government can't tighten its belt just as many states and the hard working private citizens among us have learned to do. The feds will not do it short of a constitutional amendment requiring it. It usually takes a awhile to get an amendment ratified by the states, so the process must not be delayed any further.

Term Limits

Career politicians are a major part of the problem, not the solution. They get too comfortable and complacent the longer they remain in office. With that comfort and complacency too often comes fraudulent activity of one sort or another at worse, or inflexibility in the least. Many states already have term limit laws and there is no reason why the federal government can't do the same. If it takes another constitutional amendment to do it, so be it.

Federal Department Review

The need for each federal department must be reviewed objectively. Those not needed should be closed down. Two candidate departments come to mind immediately---Education and Energy. Those for which there is a continuing need should be reviewed with an eye to reducing staff and streamlining the organization for greater operating efficiency.

Federal Reserve

The GAO's shocking report on their findings in the first ever audit of the Federal Reserve ought to insense anyone who cares about the future of this country. Reportedly during the period of December 2007 through June of 2010, the Reserve doled out $ 16 TRILLION to major banks here as well as international banks at 0% interest ! This shocking information alone is evidence enough that the Reserve should be closed down.

Late News

The bill to raise the debt limit was signed into law by Obama on August 2. Initially most observers saw it as a minor victory for Tea Party Republicans and a defeat for the Democrats. Further analysis indicates that the only winner is Obama, which is testimony to his talents in deception. He avoided immediate cuts in any of the nation's wasteful programs with any cuts that were in the bill all slated for the out years when he and most of his cronies are not likely to be in office. He also avoided another battle over the debt ceiling limit until after the 2012 general election.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Global Warming

Now the guy who gave us the "hockey stick" graph showing rapid global warming over recent decades and claiming it is caused by increased burning of coal and other fossil fuels has apparentlyreversed himself. He now says more recent cooling is the result of China burning more coal ! How can he have it both ways ? In my opinion, those who preach "warming" caused by human endeavor are alarmists of the first order. Our contribution is minor in comparison to the contribution of nature including the sun, and can't be controlled by man. We must work to develop alternate energy sources, but for a different reason---we will one day run out of fossil fuels.

Fuel Prices

The price of gasoline and diesel fuel is heavily dependent on the price of crude oil which in turn depends on supply and commodity speculators. Supply in the world marketplace is largely controlled by the OPEC countries because as a group they produce the most oil. We import oil from both the OPEC countries and non-OPEC sources like Canada and Mexico and we still produce a lot of our own, but not enough to gain our independence from foreign oil. We need to produce more of our own oil and that means from places like ANWR, the Gulf of Mexico, western USA shale deposits and off the Continental Shelf. Obama has blocked added production, another reason why he must be defeated for re-election in 2012.

Energy Conservation

The automakers have done a good job of improving the fuel economy of their products in recent years. Most of them are offering hybrid vehicles capable of reaching 50 mpg of fuel. Working against that trend, however, are the supporters of ethanol blended gasoline. Ethanol produces less power than conventional gasoline and therefore reduces fuel economy. Corn product producers sold the nation a bill of goods on that one and forced increased prices on corn product food prices as well.

Mass Transit

Trains that can move at 200+mph are being touted by some as a solution to our energy concerns. It's interesting to note that such systems are mostly promoted by
big government enthusiasts who don't care a damn about the burden they place on the taxpaying public. There isn't a rapid transit system anywhere in the world that has ever paid it's own way.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ethanol and Gasoline

It's been awhile since we've talked much about energy, so let's get back into the issue of ethanol/gasoline blends and their impact on fuel economy and certain fuel systems. There are several problems with ethanol blends: (1) they reduce fuel efficiency; (2) they raise the price of all corn food products; (3) they damage marine and aviation gasoline engine fuel systems; and (4) they add to the cost of storing and transporting blend components. Why environmental activists and political progressives continue pushing ethanol escapes me. They keep talking it up and totally ignore reality in the process.

Future Motor Vehicle Power

The internal combustion engine will continue being the primary source of power for motor vehicles, small aircraft, boats, and off-highway equipment. Augmentation of those engines with alternative energy systems is desireable to the extent of current and future technological development provided workable alternatives yield positive benefit/cost ratios. Autos relying 100% on electric power are limited in their usefulness due to the need for frequent recharging of the batteries. They can also pose a serious hazard in bad weather if the vehicle and its operator should become stuck and isolated from help and must rely on heat produced by the vehicle's electric motor to keep from freezing. This became a concern during recent storms that produced record snowfalls throughout much of the nation.

Mass Transit

It's a known fact that mass transit systems are the most energy efficient people movers, but the manner in which our country developed was not conducive to the adoption of such systems. In recent years, such systems have been built here in major population centers, but many have fallen on bad economic times. High operating expenses dominated by high cost union labor and their legacy benefits is a primary factor along with lower than projected ridership. Awareness of such economic factors is one reason why many taxpayers are opposed to new rapid transit proposals.

Foreign Oil Dependency

Middle East political termoil poses a growing concern over our dependency on oil from that corner of the World. The situation in Egypt is the most recent example. Couple that with the spread of Islamic uprisings in several other continental African nations and it is no wonder concern over our dependency on oil from that region is at an all time high. When we first began drawing oil from that region, some in this country urged us to draw even more from foreign sources to preserve what we knew to exist here and in other friendly areas. That reasoning no longer holds water if, indeed, it ever did and we now must get busy producing more oil from off our continental shelf, Gulf of Mexico, ANWR, and the Williston Basin. Of course, that means getting Obama to cancel moratoria now preventing such drilling.