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By Robert Rapier on Aug 12, 2010 with 26 responses

Aftermath in the Gulf

Signs of Recovery

While it will only be with years of hindsight that we can determine the total environmental impact of the Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, there are encouraging signs that the environmental devastation will be less severe than many had feared. Today a reader sent me this encouraging story:

Oil spill area coming back to life

More than a dozen scientists interviewed by The Associated Press say the marsh here and across the Louisiana coast is healing itself, giving them hope delicate wetlands might weather the worst offshore spill in US history better than they had feared.

Some marshland could be lost, but the amount appears to be small compared with what the coast loses every year through human development.

Irving A. Mendelssohn, a coastal plant ecologist at Louisiana State University, said the wetlands data so far is good news for fishermen who depend on the ecosystem to produce shrimp, menhaden and other seafood.

“My gut feeling, based on what I have seen, based on the recovery people have observed, I doubt that the impact to the wetlands is going to create a significant problem for our coastal fisheries,” Mendelssohn said.

Good news indeed, but let us not let our guard down. Just because the worst case may have been avoided doesn’t mean the risk of a worst case isn’t still there. The industry will need to remain diligent in identifying and addressing root causes, and in coming up with better response plans. (I previously noted the $1 billion investment in a containment system to mitigate against this possibility in the future: New Oil Spill Containment System to Protect Gulf of Mexico Planned by Major Oil Companies).

Signs of Higher Prices

On the other hand, I have maintained from the beginning that beyond the environmental impact, there would be a very real impact on future oil supplies as a result of this incident. The International Energy Agency has now estimated that the loss in 2011 may be 100,000 barrels per day:

IEA Raises Gulf of Mexico Output Loss to 100,000 Barrels a Day

Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) — The International Energy Agency raised its forecast for Gulf of Mexico oil production loss to as much as 100,000 barrels a day in 2011 because of BP Plc’s crude spill and subsequent deepwater drilling ban.

The Macondo spill will curb Gulf output by 60,000 barrels a day this year, Paris-based IEA said today in its monthly report. The agency has doubled its estimate from last month, when it also said the reduction may increase to 100,000 barrels to 300,000 barrels a day in 2015.

With oil supplies still tight, this will put additional pressure on prices. The likelihood that we will continue into the Long Recession scenario remains high in my view.

  1. By Charles Powars on August 12, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    This has nothing to do with the GOM spill recovery, but I thought you and perhaps your readers would find this recent announcement of California Energy Commission “Biofuel Production Plant” solicitation winers and losers ($15M total awards) to be of interest:
    http://www.energy.ca.gov/contr…..4_NOPA.pdf

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  2. By Hehee on August 13, 2010 at 2:18 am

    Oil is one thing but how about the chemicals that were used to make the oil “disappear”? Any negative side-effects on health? I bet that as with the depleted uranium in Iraq, various stuff used in Vietnam, etc. etc., the effects on health of people who were and will be exposed to that stuff will only be truly known years from now.

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  3. By Bob Schmidt on August 13, 2010 at 8:11 am

    This link is also not about the spill, but it is about our future energy resources. I couldn’t resist, since it is a special moment when one can find information that isn’t just pro or anti big oil or big agriculture propaganda. It deals with the important issues (my favorite broken records) of sustainability, local resources, and low energy input. And it points the way to the future beyond mono-culture corn.

    http://www.agrimarketing.com/s…..p?id=62068

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  4. By Al Fin on August 13, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Yes, it’s amazing how quickly an ecosystem that is accustomed to massive natural seeps of oil can recover from an unnatural oil seep.

    For a few weeks there I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was reading Robert Rapier’s website instead of Matthew Simmons. Catastrophe prediction can be tough on a person, if maintained for too long.

    All the groups of people throughout history who gathered to wait for the end of the world that never came. Some of them literally drank the koolaid, which made the prophecy self-fulfilling.

    Best to avoid that instinct, no matter how strong.

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  5. By Kit P on August 13, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    “The industry will need to remain diligent in identifying and addressing root causes, and in coming up with better response plans.”

     

    Darn right!  Human beings were killed.  While I have spent a significant part of my career protecting the environment, a certain perspective must be maintained.   

     

    The ignorant fear mongering of insignificant risk does not help.

     

    depleted uranium in Iraq

     

    If you happen to be in a tank hit with depleted uranium shells, the expect result is immediate death which precludes long term health effects.  

     

    “Yes, it’s amazing how quickly an ecosystem that is accustomed to massive natural seeps of oil can recover from an unnatural oil seep.”

     

    Not so amazing really, it is what you would expect if you study the topic.  

     

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  6. By rrapier on August 13, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    For a few weeks there I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was reading
    Robert Rapier’s website instead of Matthew Simmons. Catastrophe
    prediction can be tough on a person, if maintained for too long.

    Al, not sure if you are referring to anything I wrote, or what some commenters said. I don’t believe I made any catastrophic predictions. My predictions are more along the lines of what the long-term fallout will be, and we are already seeing that. BP is already selling off assets, and Gulf oil production will almost certainly be down (my two primary predictions were the long-term future of BP and of offshore oil production).

    RR

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  7. By Wendell Mercantile on August 13, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    …it’s amazing how quickly an ecosystem that is accustomed to massive natural seeps of oil can recover from an unnatural oil seep.

    Al,

    Why is that amazing? Do you think the organisms that make up an ecosystem know whether the oil comes from a natural or an unnatural seep? I suspect that in their itty-bitty brains, those organisms know only they are faced with oil, and have no idea of the source.

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  8. By Rufus on August 13, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    It should be easy to bring an end to “mono-crop” corn. Just convince me, and about a billion other people that tough as shoe-leather, stringy, grass-fed beef is more desirable than corn-fed beef.

    And convince us it’s worth the money to eat bacon, and chicken raised on apples, rutabaga, chick-peas, and what the heck ever else you want us to raise.

    We’ll hear the opening argument, now. 3 . . . . .2 . . … .1 . . .. … . .

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  9. By Wendell Mercantile on August 13, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    Rufus~

    I was raised on beef that came from dairy cows my Grandparents and uncle butchered once or twice a year — dairy cows that spent all the time they weren’t in the barn being milked in a pasture — a pasture with real grass. That beef tasted fine.

    We also ate eggs from the chickens my Grandparents and uncle raised — chickens that my Grandmother would throw a pail of grain to once or twice a day, but that also got much of their nutrition from being allowed to roam around the farmyard scratching for bugs and insects; eating the kernels of corn and grains of oats that had fallen out of a wagon; and the fallen apples from their apple orchard*. Those eggs were fine, as were the chickens when my Grandparents decided to make a meal of one, or when they gave us one to take home. (I was cutting the heads off chickens with a hatchet in our backyard when I was eight years old.)

    They also raised hogs, and we ate bacon and pork chops from the one or two hogs they would send to the meat locker each year.

    I will admit that we’re not going to be able to feed 7 billion people beef by letting all cattle run around free in pastures, but eating grass-fed beef is perfectly fine — I actually prefer it.

    For a retired insurance salesman, you have a mighty keen interest in defending mono-culture corn factory farms, whether the corn is used for ethanol or at a CAFO.

    _______________
    * How many mono-culture factory farms any longer have an apple orchard next to their barn or farm house?

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  10. By Rufus on August 14, 2010 at 1:20 am

    I just recognize the argument as being silly, Wendell. We raise all that corn because people WANT all that corn. People Like steaks from beef that has been finished off with corn. Poultry farmers feed corn because it’s the cheapest, most efficient feed they can buy. Same with hog farmers. People Like Corn Flakes, and Coca Cola.

    And, not just Americans. We will export, I guess, somewhere around 2.5 to 3 Billion Bushels of corn this year.

    An apple tree in the back yard is nice, but it’s hard to make a living off it if you live in Iowa, or Illinois.

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  11. By Wendell Mercantile on August 14, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Rufus~

    Most actual family farms in the Midwest didn’t raise apples as a cash crop, they raised apples in order to eat the fruit and to make cider for their own consumption. They also used the ground falls and rotting fruit as animal feed — especially for their hogs. (Nothing finer than a pork chop from a hog that has been finished on apples.)

    There was a time — before factory mono-culture farms — when virtually every family farm in the Midwest had an orchard. It was just part of what farmers did.

    I bet you didn’t know this: Back in the days of Johnny Appleseed, the apple trees he started all across the eastern U.S. were not to make fruit for eating — in fact, many of those apples were inedible by today’s standards, but were used mainly for making cider. Before the big wave of German immigrants into the U.S. in the mid-1800s who brought with them their beer-brewing skills (thank goodness), apple cider was both the number one soft and hard drink in our country.

    WRT corn-raised beef. People do like it, no question, but that’s a result of a marketing campaign, not because of its intrinsic taste. For how many decades have we been hearing about “Corn-fed hogs from Iowa” and “Corn-raised beef,” or even “rosy-cheeked, corn-fed Iowa farm girls?” Just goes to show what marketing can do.

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  12. By Kit P on August 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    “For
    a retired insurance salesman, you have a mighty keen interest in
    defending mono-culture corn factory farms, whether the corn is used
    for ethanol or at a CAFO.”

     

    Yet
    Wendell has a ‘mighty keen interest’ in denigrating productive
    people. Most of the time Wendell presents arguments based on some
    anecdotal experience he has had. If Wendell happens to have a LCA
    that shows ‘factory’ farms or ‘big’ whatever is better than his
    anecdotal experience, I would be interested in a link.

     

    Every
    CAFO I have been on has a zero discharge NPDES permit and a manure
    management plan. Productivity allows even the city poor to enjoy a
    safe, health diet while protecting the environment.

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  13. By Al Fin on August 14, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    You’re right, Robert. A portion of your facetious treatment of Simmons’ catastrophism fooled me initially into thinking that those were your own thoughts. Most of the actual doom-to-be of BP and Gulf of Mexico oil drilling has a lot to do with Obama – Salazar over-reaction and antipathy to the fossil fuel industries.

    Kit and Wendell: You convinced me. Perhaps it is not so amazing that the Gulf of Mexico is recovering so quickly.

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  14. By Rufus on August 14, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    I got news for you, Wendell; when you have a product This Good –

    “rosy-cheeked, corn-fed Iowa farm girls”

    Marketing is Easy.

    :)

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  15. By Wendell Mercantile on August 14, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    Rufus~

    Actually, it’s a marketing miracle. Have you ever been in Iowa?

    “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”

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  16. By little wally on August 14, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    If the government is going to mandate low carbon fuels, why not low carbon food? If there is the potential for significant carbon savings, is there any reason why it should not make a similar effort in another GHG sector? And of course, I’ve been a fan of a low carbon fertilizer for a long time.
    I’m not expecting all of it to change right away, maybe just an initial 5-10% mandate with a 5 year phase-in to stimulate eco-preneurs who can prove that you can grow tasty beef without much corn, or produce nitrogen fertilizers without much fossil fuel input. . . .
    Regarding the GoM ‘aftermath’, I’m waiting for someone to show that the moratorium is going to have a greater negative effect on the regional economy than the BP spill? If GoM production is down by 200,000 bbls / day in 2015, at $100/bbl, that would be a ‘loss’ of over $20 mil per day. And BP was serving as a ‘deep pocket’ in funding all of the cleanup activity, serving as a major stimulus.

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  17. By Wendell Mercantile on August 14, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    If the government is going to mandate low carbon fuels, why not low carbon food?

    Can you give me some examples of “low carbon” food? I can think of few foods that are not made of organic compounds which means they contain carbon atoms.

    Carbon atoms are a key building block of the sugars, starches, lipids, and proteins that are in our food — take out the carbon, and it wouldn’t be food.

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  18. By Kit P on August 14, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    If
    the government is going to mandate low carbon fuels

     

    Governments
    are made up of people. No government has dome anything to reduce
    ghg emissions other than talk about it. We happen to live in a
    country where the people fire the people who run the country on a
    periodic basis.

     

    “eco-preneurs”

     

    Why
    would I want to pay more for something from a BS artists? I am in
    favor of mandates when it can show a benefit to society even at a
    slightly higher cost. One of the problems with renewable energy is
    the number of snake oil salesmen that take advantage of well meaning
    people. Talking about mono cultures and carbon foot print is not the
    same as showing that your alternative has less environmental impact.

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  19. By russ on August 15, 2010 at 12:50 am

    Grain/corn fed beef is only for the convenience or business practices of feed lots. My father raised beef for home consumption differently than what  he was going to sell. It took a little longer and more area for the calf to forage for grass but the beef was excellent.

    “eco-preneurs” – I always get a good laugh at the term as it normally means someone performing a function poorly in a backwards manner and wanting paid more for it in order to survive. Darwin would let that group of people fall by the wayside – no big loss.

    Low carbon food is just a term the poster has seen on some green site and is parroting without understanding. His statements about beef and nitrogen fertilizers show he hasn’t the foggiest.

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  20. By Benny BND Cole on August 15, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Rufus–What do you think about Monsanto products and corn? Are they still up to snuff? The company Monsanto seems to be of dubious character. More farmers are getting turned off by their practices.

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  21. By Benny BND Cole on August 15, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    I have to say, I completely disagree that energy, or the price of energy, will cause a “long recession.”  Energy is but a small portion of any GDP cost structure.  And liquid fuels are just a part of that.

     

    We are in an awful recession now, due to terrible credit extension problems.  A couple trillion dollars in property loans went bust.  Banks get killed in property depressions, and we are in one now.  Investors are leery.  It is a bad time.  Financial wrangles, as those who lived through the Great Depression will attest, can take years to resolve–and oddity as debt is a physical fiction, while oil is real.  Yet the destruction caused by debt failures vastly exceeds any damage done by higher oil prices. 

     

    Happy would be the day that the only threat to our economy is higher oil prices.  Such threats lead to better and cleaner technologies, and ultimately higher standards of living. 

     

    Ford has introduced a luxury car, the MKZ, that get more than 40 mpg. A luxury car!  And Ford is bring its Fusion PHEV to market next year.  A typical commuter would use no gasoline during the week. Zero!  Trucks can run on natural gas (I have seen many in Thailand), and we have gobs of gas.

     

    Europe uses less oil every year, has used less and less for decades, and yet living standards are continually rising there. Ditto Japan. 

     

    The much ballyhooed China may mandate PHEVs and BEVs in the years ahead.  Poof goes the huge expected ramp-up in Chinese oil demand. Meanwhile, Iraq is talking about 12 mbd (although I will believe it when I see it). 

     

    Right now, we need leadership to solve the debt problem.  The oil “problem,”  given the price mechanism, will likely solve itself. 

     

     

     

     

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  22. By Rufus on August 15, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    Benny, I grew up on a farm, but I left 40 years ago. And, I don’t have any family that farms. So, I probably don’t know any more about Monsanto than you do.

    I do remember one thing about farmers, though. They were Always bitching about “Something.” Too much rain, not enough rain. Rain at the wrong time. Rain at the right time but on the wrong field. Damned gummint in your hair all the time, followed up in the same breath with “there oughta be a law.”

    Some were red (IH,) some were green (John Deere.) Some would rather “push a Ford, than drive a Chevy,” and vice verse. Everyone thought “their” seed guy was okay, and didn’t trust the other one.

    I suspect, from what I’m reading, that Monsanto is about as “loved/hated” as they’ve always been. I know in 2008 when everyone got flooded out they gave the farmers a break on their seeds for the second planting. Said they would charge them for the seed, but would only charge once for the “technology.” I imagine that was pretty well received.

    That market is pretty competitive. I doubt they’d get too far out of line. Just some thoughts. Free. For what they’re worth. :)

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  23. By Rufus on August 15, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    As for ethanol; well, we won’t be arguing about that much for the next few years. The EPA just killed any plans for “Cellulosic” with their rules on burning biomass. That baby is “dead as a doornail.”

    So, now, we just open the last handful of “corn” plants, and wait and see. See if those Electrics really can make up for a 10 million barrel/day shortfall by 2015.

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  24. By Wendell Mercantile on August 16, 2010 at 9:56 am

    The EPA just killed any plans for “Cellulosic” with their rules on burning biomass.

    Is there any difference between the CO2 released from burning biomass and the CO2 released from burning coal? The molecules are identical — the only difference I see is a matter of several million years.

    Shouldn’t the CO2 molecules from both source be treated the same?

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  25. By paul-n on August 16, 2010 at 10:29 am

     

    The EPA just killed any plans for “Cellulosic” with their rules on burning biomass.

    Rufus, this may sound funny, but I thought the whole idea of “cellulosic ethanol” was to actually make ethanol from cellulose, not just use cellulose as fuel for distillation.

    Is this an admission that the fancy enzymes from Novozymes etc don’t work – as if they did, there would be no need to burn cellulose, it would be too valuable as a feedstock!

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  26. By carbonbridge on August 16, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Rufus said:

    The EPA just killed any plans for “Cellulosic” with their rules on burning biomass. That baby is “dead as a doornail.”


     

    Please:  Let’s not confuse the word ‘burning’ here.  I interpret that burning (more appropriately defined as combusting) of biomass in order to produce process heat — may be what you are referring to??? 

    Corn ethanol plants need to combust something (coal, natural gas – even biomass) to heat water as their 4-day batch cooking process is done at two different elevated temperatures.  One temp for the acidic enzymes to do their work in hydrolyzing corn starch into five and six carbon sugars – and then a reduced heat temp for the next few days of fermentation where yeasts are used to eat these sugars and then produce ethanol as their waste urine.  When the ethanol reaches a certain level, these yeasts cannot survive, then they die and the finishing processes of spinning the leftover DDG solids apart from dilute ethanol/hot water remainders begins.  This batch process finishes up with copious and expensive steam distillation (requiring a lot more “process” heat) and finally molecular sieving to dry the ethanol to 199.8 proof or anhydrous (dry) state.

    Another alternative to ‘burning’ are methods of very clean gasification.  Gasification should NOT be confused with burning or combustion – as it is 179 degrees opposite.  Gasification is an alternative method of isolating those same basic carbon building blocks in order to produce new biofuels.  And gasification is 24×7 continuous in comparison to 4-day batch fermentation of corn or 7-day ligno-cellulosic fermentation of biomass (corn stalks, cobs or wood chips) using extra expensive, extra acidic enzymes on the front-end.

    Rufus:  I’m not familiar with the new EPA rulings which you indicate effectively killing the ‘burning of biomass’ here.  Can you provide an URL or two to follow?  Thank you.  There continues to be a whole lot of disinformation floating around

    –Mark

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