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By Robert Rapier on Dec 18, 2008 with no responses

The Next Secretary of Energy: Will He Flinch & Cave to the Fossil Fuel Culture?

The following guest submission is from a poster who wishes to be identified as ‘Silverthorne-Cebes’, and describes himself as: “Economist, retired; passionate about; ocean energy, development of eco-batteries for transportation, global debt repudiation, and research on oil culture created environmental disasters.”

The bulk of this essay was initially posted as a comment following one of my essays, but I felt that it was extensive enough that it warranted a stand alone post. There are some very controverserial and debatable points in the essay, so let the debate begin. Actually, I will let the rest of you begin the debate, because if all goes according to plan I should be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean – heading West – when this posts.

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The Next Secretary of Energy: Will He Flinch & Cave to the Fossil Fuel Culture?

Robert, I share most of your views regarding Obama’s Energy Plan, there is, in my view however, a glaring absence of any sense of National urgency. This planet faces a critical need to implement alternatives that force the shutdown of technologies that produce CO2 emissions, period!

The objective to achieve energy efficiency is clear, given what is known about global warming and its negative impact on everything. There are alternatives to cheap oil, coal and natural gas as well as nuclear. The 65 year old constraint on fixing the energy system has been the suppression of information by the fossil fuel, nuclear industries and the government it controls. It has been and continues to be the Federal government’s refusal to fund demonstration and deployment programs for ocean kinetics/hydrology (not dams) which are the more efficient energy producing alternatives, because they pose serious threats to fossil fuel and nuclear profits.

You stated in your blog, “Thus I believe a sound energy policy should focus on: 1). Minimizing per capita energy usage; 2). Finding sustainable, affordable alternatives; 3). Managing the down side of the production peak such that severe shortages are avoided. 4). Communicating to the public the nature of the problem, and explaining why sacrifice is needed.”

These are all on the mark. I would only add, 5). A Presidential mandate which requires the allocation of resources to the most efficient technologies, i.e. those that eliminate CO2 emissions the most per dollar of public funding.

Absent that mandate, politicians will have free reign to support their special interests. Moreover, if there is no statement of “urgency” based upon irrefutable scientific evidence, there will only emerge a continuation of the “Oil Cultures” —- “In Due Time” approach to energy efficiency.

What drives the emergency/urgency to eliminate CO2 emissions is the following:

1. Oil drilling and Enhanced Oil Recovery EOR reduces water available for agriculture and household use. When we ask, where did all the water go, it’s mostly in the wells, polluted and acidic eating away the sandstone and any basalt.

2. Increases the instability of geologic formations due to the “soup” injected into wells. Look at what’s happening in the Maldives, and the explosions in the Arctic.

3. Spurs the formation of “Mud Volcanoes” which when destabilized explode, destroying vast areas of the ocean’s floor.

4. Increases atmospheric methane which contributes to global warming because it is 20 times more dense than CO2 and holds more heat.

The oil and gas industry have been drilling for oil using fresh water, carbonated, fresh water- to pressurize their wells, since the mid 1800′s; they also use phosphoric acid, the ingredient needed for RNA and DNA formation. They only use fresh water. Salt water will not do; if you see it mentioned it is the rare case of desalinization.

As a consequence, they have used up as much fresh water from our planet as they have produced oil (approx. barrel for barrel) since the beginning, which is now a little over 150 years ago. Unlike other industrial use of H2O, the depth they put the water means it is never coming back to the water table, and it is polluted, because the acid brew has been dissolving the crust of the earth slowly -but surely, chewing up metals dissolving them into their sulfides and even forming methane gas, a simple chemical reaction when you have CO2 and H2O way down there in the earth where there is a lot of fully decayed carbon. We are a closed system. We are not making any new water at this point in our planet’s history. What they are making is volatile methane hydrate.

Methane gas likes water; with fresh water, and fresh water only, it can form its hydrate. It does this by compressing itself about 170 times into an ice lattice. Methane in all but one case on Earth needs low temperature and high pressure to form as it does deep in the earth where the industry finds oil and gas.

The one exception to the rule is the Arctic; it is the only place that methane can form its hydrate at atmospheric pressure, because it gets cold enough to put it in the hydrate stability zone without high pressure. In fact, that is where methane hydrates were first discovered on modern day Earth, in the late 1930′s, and they were discovered by the oil and gas industry forming in their pipe line, which was only buried a few feet deep in the Arctic permafrost, and which the industry had built from Norman Wells in Canada’s North West Territories to Alaska’s Pacific coat to serve the needs of World War II for the allies.

Now you would think that it would have made the cover of Time magazine, something new- never seen on earth before, and you would think that the oil and gas industry might have figured out, or at least had a passing thought that what they were doing in the Arctic, draining all the summer permafrost lakes, ponds and puddles and the Mackenzie river to use for oil well pressurization, had something to do with this new “thing.”

You will see online when you research the Canol pipeline (at least the last time I looked), that they say they had to shut the pipe line down, because it had problems, but they do not say what the problems were. The oil and gas industry grabbed Groucho Marx’s flying duck, and had it fly away with this new secret phrase, “methane hydrate.”

You may have seen the duck recently, without fanfare, dropping in and quickly out again with this now decades old cloistered phrase; most recently on the top left hand corner of page three in big newspapers in a story about this thing called gas hydrate. The duck uses the Associated Press for its delivery, and the duck is fibbing. It says that there may be some new technology that will allow the hydrates on the North Slope of Alaska to be harvested; the duck then tells us that the oil companies are skeptical. Of course the duck really knows just what the oil men know: You cannot harvest an explosion. So this story is really a prelude to either the implosion or the explosion of Alaska’s North Slope because:

Methane gas likes its hydrate bride better than anything else and when it gets threatened by something say like the Arctic summer heat and thinks it is going to have to return to its gaseous form( destabilize), it counters this with a cleaver little attribute; It takes up heat into its methane molecule, a lot of heat, a very lot of heat; it can hold up to 400 degree F- in every molecule of methane – without – and I repeat – without melting the ice that encircles it. Pretty nifty, huh?

Well alas at some point in time it cannot hold on to its water bride any longer, and it destabilizes, first fizzling and then exploding, and it releases the gas and the heat. That is why for the first time, in 1941, after two years of geared up production for the war you had a 101 degree F day in the Sub Arctic. All winds originate from the Arctic. You cannot normally get Palm Springs weather in the Sub Arctic, without an artificial stimulus, and the coldest places on earth cannot warm faster than the hottest places – without a outside stimulus also.

So you see the reason the Arctic ice is melting faster than everyone thought is because it is warm enough now to start chain reactions every summer and leak tons of released hydrate (gas), into the atmosphere and the Beaufort Sea, and it is chock full of heat, tremendous heat from up to 85 Arctic summers.

Smoke and Mirrors

Irrespective of what the oil companies would love to have everyone believe, [that carbon sequestration is the best way to remove billions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere], sequestration promotes the production of more CO2 by giving coal, oil and ethanol producers an excuse to produce dirty energy. The first drilling of these wells extracts ten percent of the oil.

The second infusion/extraction involves high pressurization with water and CO2 and recovers 2/3 of the remainder. The third infusion/extraction with H2O, phosphoric acid and CO2 and/or carbonated water flushes the last of the oil residing in deep pockets, etc. However the H2O remains in the well. There is no profit in retrieving polluted water. Oil industry efforts to use Enhanced Oil Recovery methods like these only exacerbates Global Warming.

There is nothing wrong in drilling for methane; it is when they use EOR and actually make methane gas which forms hydrate with the fresh water in the deep Earth- that we get a disaster scenario. Methane gas holds up the earth until, it destabilizes. You cannot harvest an explosion, and why they (DOE) took five years to figure out that logic, I do not know.

What the fossil fuel industry is trying to do is retain the very lucrative refueling option at the expense of true progress toward reducing carbon which would stop more hydrates from forming. The industry is so confident in its power that it makes remarks like saying to the DOE when they wanted them to pay for studies on how to harvest hydrates,… “…that there were now, more methane in hydrates than all the methane that had ever existed on earth . . .” a big clue to the fact they knew they had made them.

The thing that does us in, is human nature- when it comes to money and power. I am sure the oil and gas industry did not intend to destroy Earth, but they have managed to do so in a very short time, 160 years, and I assure you they have destroyed it, it is just playing out- like our depression. They did not know the full extent of methane gas’s characteristics in hydrate form until 2006, although they knew enough to have been a lot more cautious. I think they are thinking that global cooling from the hydrates in the permafrost is going to save us. But you are talking about global cooling in the northern half of earth to the point that we will be in the same category as Mars- to cold to sustain life.

Hydrate can suck up to 400 degrees F into every molecule to maintain its stability once it gets going without melting the ice around it and I do not think we have 50 years before it happens and meanwhile in non polar regions it is getting hotter and hotter in the summer as hydrates dump heat in the poles and CO2 makes it warmer everywhere else and that breaks hydrates which break mostly in the water and are making it very acidic because it ultimately degrades to CO2, killing sea life that the Dinoflagellates do not eat.

Urgent National Priority

FDR told the auto industry, “…look you are going to produce tanks and other military transport, not cars.” He told the scientific community to build the atomic bomb, not play with theories of their choice.

I continue to believe that a Manhattan type project for distributive renewable energy based on ocean energy, solar and wind, not oil, coal, and nuclear, can be placed on a “War Time” footing, along with the emergency production and deployment of, turbines to capture wind and water energy, solar cells, and biofuels not ethanol in three years or less. We need as you say to eliminate coal as a source of energy. It would take enormous political awareness and will power to achieve, but so did the war effort when it was clear that money could be made to lift us out of the depression. We are on our way there now. Deja vue all over again.

A powerful and persuasive argument needs to be presented by the President with priority emphasis on the exploitation of tidal, wave and ocean currents rather than passing through the ocean’s energy to retrieve oil and gas. There’s something terribly stupid about the latter process.

The Technology Exists and is Proven

We have the technology but not the wisdom or fortitude to employ it. Alexander Gorlov’s technology Gorlov Helical Turbine, along with Verdant’s rotors and government financed tidal barges in five or six locations around the East and West coast could create the spark for a serious effort to reduce coal fired plants in the East and Pacific Northwest. These technologies could be in place by the middle of 2010. Experts have calculated that 1% of the energy from the oceans can power the entire planet. And, 1% of the energy from the Gulf Stream can power the Northern Hemisphere.

There is no doubt that CO2 is the enemy, we need to find solutions that will not take five to ten years to implement. Nor can we afford a shotgun approach in the allocation of resources in an effort to please all of the energy alternatives.

Knowing the dangers of methane hydrate disassociation, and an overly acidic ocean is critical to initiating immediate actions designed to stem and reverse the chemical dissolution of the planet.