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By Robert Rapier on Dec 29, 2011 with 38 responses

Top 10 Energy Related Stories of 2011

Here are my choices for the Top 10 energy related stories of 2011. Don’t get too hung up on the relative rankings. They are mostly in no particular order, although I think the top story is pretty obvious.

1. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster

On March 11, 2011 the tsunami that flooded Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant resulted in the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. The tragedy spurred heated debates over whether nuclear power could ever be totally risk-free. Several countries decided that the potential consequences were just too great, and reversed their plans for new nuclear plants and in some cases shuttered existing plants. The incident will likely slow the global development of nuclear power for years, just as the Chernobyl accident did in the late 80′s and early 90′s.

2. The Keystone Pipeline debate

Environmentalists scored a major victory when the Obama Administration announced a delay in approving the controversial Keystone Pipeline that would have delivered oil from Canada’s Athabasca oil sands deposits to refineries in the U.S. But the issue is still very much alive, and promises to be an important energy news story to follow in 2012.

3. Brent and WTI prices soar; price spread blows out

For the first time since 2008, Brent and West Texas Intermediate headed back above $100 a barrel. Brent in fact spent much of the year above $100 as a historic spread in price relative to WTI opened up. Eventually Brent traded at a $25 premium to WTI, primarily due to two factors: WTI prices moderated because of growing production in North Dakota and from Canada’s oil sands, and Brent prices were higher due to the conflict in Libya. But globally, Brent is the more important benchmark, and gasoline prices in 2011 were mostly dictated by the price of Brent.

4. US import dependence falls on surge in US product exports

U.S. refiners exported a lot of jet fuel, heating oil, and gasoline this year; so much so that they actually exported more finished products than the country imported for the first time since 1949. However, this development also highlighted the energy illiteracy among some in the media, who incorrectly reported that the U.S. had become a net exporter of oil. This was not remotely true; the U.S. is still highly dependent on oil imports. They have just been using more of that oil to make finished products for export.

5. Solar prices plummet

The price of solar panels fell dramatically in 2011; down an estimated 50% from 2010 levels. While this was good news for consumers, it put intense pressure on U.S. solar panel manufacturers, causing some — like Solyndra — to declare bankruptcy.

6. Ethanol tariffs and tax credit expire; EPA approves 15% ethanol blends

More than three decades of ethanol tax credits came to an end at the end of 2011. Also expiring was the tariff on imported ethanol, but unlike the tax credit, this one may come back to life in 2012. Ethanol producers needn’t fear the expiration, however, as they are still well-protected by the mandates in the Renewable Fuel Standard. The EPA also approved 15% ethanol blends in some car models, but this was mostly a non-story as there was very little demand for the product.

7. Electric Cars Slow Sales

Electric cars began hitting the roads for real, but sales were disappointing. Not only were sales of GM’s Volt lower than expected, but electric car sales were disappointing in the U.K. and in China. If this trend continues, then we won’t need conspiracy theories to determine who killed the electric car.

8. U.S. oil and gas output grow strongly

Aided by rapidly growing output from North Dakota’s Bakken field, oil production in the U.S. rose for the third year in a row. Natural gas production also continued the growth trend that started in 2005, and in 2011 was on the verge of breaking the U.S. Dry Natural Gas Production record set in 1973.

9. Fracking revolution expands

Natural gas from fracking continued to make up an increasing portion of U.S. natural gas supplies, even as battles raged about the possible environmental implications. China — believed to have the world’s largest reserves of shale gas — is preparing to begin shale gas development soon, and is being assisted with technology sharing from the U.S.

10. IEA orders release of oil from inventories to counter tight market brought on by Libya

In response to Libyan oil being removed from the world oil markets due to the conflict there, the U.S. released oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in conjunction with a release from IEA member countries. At the time the release was announced, world oil prices were above $100/bbl. They initially fell a bit, but then within a week were higher than they were before the release was announced, and six months later are still above $100/bbl.

Honorable Mentions

There were a number of stories that arguably could have been in the Top 10. These include the failure of Solyndra and Range Fuels, the Obama Administration’s decision to delay implementation of new ozone standards (among other decisions to delay new rules and regulations), China’s continued insatiable appetite for energy, another year of cellulosic ethanol failing to deliver, or the Obama Administration’s continued evolution of their stance on the expansion of domestic and offshore drilling.

Predictions for 2012

I will offer up four energy predictions for 2012′s top stories:

  • President Obama will easily win reelection, which means that energy policies will likely continue along the current trajectory.
  • The Keystone Pipeline project will be approved (although that decision may still slide into 2013).
  • Natural gas prices will remain low, averaging below $5/MMBTU for the year.
  • Oil prices — both West Texas Intermediate and Brent — will average above $100/barrel in 2012.

And one political prediction: We will look back on the fact that Newt Gingrich was once the leading Republican contender for president and have a good laugh about it.

In closing, I hope 2011 was a good year for readers, and that you will have much success and happiness in 2012.

Link to Original Article: Top 10 Energy Stories of 2011

By Robert Rapier

  1. By fg on December 29, 2011 at 4:05 am

    Obama winning reelection and oil prices hovering aroung $100/bbl seem likely.

    Also agree with the Keystone pipeline gaining approval … in 2013.No way it happens in 2012 if it’s up to the White House. May be Congress will force approval though, assuming the proper amount of money flows in their pocket^H^H^H^H^H campaign accounts but I don’t see that happening. There is just no point for the pipeline promoters to caugh up for something that will happen anyway. One year earlier or later, who cares for a project that will run for 50 years at least?

    I’m less convinced about the price of nat gas. I’d agree that the overall trend is down but the market is notoriously cyclical and seems to have those “oh sh*t” panic spikes every 30 or 42 months. Dec 2000, Feb 2003, Oct 2005, Jun 2008. We are overdue, probably thanks to the continuing Long Recession. Even with the on-going economic weakness, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big spike late 2012 after 3 years of low and falling prices (and investments?), albeit from a lower base than the last one in 2008.

    With the Henry Hub prices barely above $3/MMBTU, I just can’t see much money and drilling capacity flowing into new production. And given the growing share of shale gas (those wells have very short useful production lives), any letdown in drilling could translate very quickly into constrained supply and much higher prices. It’s really going to play on the number of rigs in operation, particularly with competition for oil drilling (and may be, on acceptance/rejection of new shale gas developments).

     

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  2. By robert on December 29, 2011 at 5:47 am

    Does the $7500 tax credit for electric cars just mean chevy dealers will jack up their price by $7500? Just because a $40K chevy ran into turburance doesn’t spoil the whole electric car industry.

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  3. By robert on December 29, 2011 at 5:49 am

    We will look back on the fact that Newt Gingrich was once the leading Republican contender for president and have a good laugh about it.

    He got his fifteen minutes like everyone else. How did Mr. Cain become a leading contender?

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  4. By moiety on December 29, 2011 at 10:19 am

    From the European view the list would be very similar. Obviously number two would not be there and that point would essentially be an extention of point 1; the German move and the reaction to various countries in the aftermath.

     

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  5. By Greg on December 29, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    And one political prediction: We will look back on the fact that Newt Gingrich was once the leading Republican contender for president and have a good laugh about it.

    Robert,
    I consider myself an intelligent, thoughtful person and believe that Newt brings a pragmatic approach to problem solving that is lacking in most all politicians. So I’m curios why you single out Newt in for your ‘good laugh’? Has he been on the wrong side of energy policy in your view? It would seem by listening to him that he is very focused on reducing foreign dependency which I thought was one of your goals as well…

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  6. By rrapier on December 29, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Greg said:

    And one political prediction: We will look back on the fact that Newt Gingrich was once the leading Republican contender for president and have a good laugh about it.

    Robert,

    I consider myself an intelligent, thoughtful person and believe that Newt brings a pragmatic approach to problem solving that is lacking in most all politicians. So I’m curios why you single out Newt in for your ‘good laugh’?


     

    Newt’s list of shortcomings is very long. In fact, one story I read yesterday called them “almost comical shortcomings.” I don’t think “almost” belongs in that sentence; I think the guy is a clown. He is pompous, arrogant, condescending, hypocritical, self-aggrandizing, and ethically challenged — to name a few. He has a history of putting his self-interests first. I also don’t want the First Lady of the U.S. to be (at minimum) his 2nd mistress. It is trashy, and unworthy of the office of the presidency.

    As far as energy policy — I think he has made some pretty ignorant statements on the subject: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8646

    This is why many conservative publications have come out strongly against him. I personally loathe him, and do not believe he is the type of person who should lead this country.

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  7. By Ralph Hayes on December 29, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    I personally loathe him, and do not believe he is the type of person who should lead this country.

    RR: Good, concise answer on Newt. I don’t need to add much to what you’ve said in reply therein: Except to say ‘that I agree with you.”

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  8. By takchess on December 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    RE: This is why many conservative publications have come out strongly against him. I personally loathe him, and do not believe he is the type of person who should lead this country

    agreed: I’m not voting for him for NH Rep primary or for him if he wins the national primary.

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  9. By Benny BND Cole on December 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    OT, but Newt advocates we imprison judges who render decisions we do not like. Including the Supreme Court? Just exactly where does this line of thinking stop? So, if we disagree with the Supreme Court for putting Bush jr. into office in 2001, we throw them in jail?

    What next, tarring and feathering police chiefs and sheriffs who step out of line?

    Back on topic, oil prices are high now, but we have Libya, Iran etc. Maybe that will be the way of the world for the next several years. Who knows.

    But natural gas is proving a low-cost alternative, as is conservation. China going into shale could mean huge global supplies for generations.

    I suspect we see gluts in five to 10 years in fossil fuels, just as we saw gluts in 2008-9. We may have seen Peak Demand (for crude oil) already, yet there is tremendous incentive to drill for oil now. At $100 a barrel, everything makes sense.

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  10. By rrapier on December 29, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Benny BND Cole said:

    I suspect we see gluts in five to 10 years in fossil fuels, just as we saw gluts in 2008-9. We may have seen Peak Demand (for crude oil) already, yet there is tremendous incentive to drill for oil now. At $100 a barrel, everything makes sense.


     

    Peak demand has not occurred globally. Demand in emerging countries is growing faster than it is falling in developed countries, leading to an overal increase in global demand.

    RR

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  11. By Benny BND Cole on December 29, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    It is true 2010 was a record year for oil demand, although BP adds in ethanol and biodiesel to its demand figs—but really oil demand growth is glacial, sinking in recession years and budging up in good years. Big picture, we have hit a wall since 2007-8.

    The rise in oil demand will surely stall at $100 oil. That is enough to encourage conservation and alternatives. CNG and LPG could come on, it just takes some sort of catalyst. I imagine any fleet operator is switching to CNG now, or considering it.

    I sense we are hitting a ceiling on crude oil around $80 to $100. The NYMEX can gyrate (speculators), as short-term demand for oil is inelastic. But longer term, demand will falter at these prices. This may be an artificial price, a speculative price. If so, we may see another oil price collapse as we did in 2009-10—another period when people were predicting ever-higher oil prices, as in $200 a barrel.

    Oil today is still cheaper than the $45 a a barrel it cost back in 1979.

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  12. By mac on December 29, 2011 at 10:54 pm
    Point 7. Electric Car Sales Slow
    This may be a case of the glass is half full or half empty depending on your perspective. 
    ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-


    1,000 Mitsubishi i-Miev delivered in Norway

    Since the Mitsubishi i-Miev’s launch in Norway in January 2011,
    it’s maintained top spot in total sales volume of any compact vehicle,
    including gasoline vehicles!

    Norwegian Mitsubishi i-Miev

    The Mitsubishi i-Miev is the first fully electric car available in
    Norway, and with it’s top speed of 140 km/h and range of over 145
    kilometers, the Mitsubishi i-Miev has been selling faster than any other
    compact vehicle.

    On December 5th, in the presence of Norway’s Minister of Environment
    and Development, Mitsubishi held a ceremony to celebrate the delivery of
    the 1,000th Mitsubishi i-Miev in Oslo. With a population of almost 5
    million, that brings the total to 1 Mitsubishi i-Miev per every 5000
    people. For the USA to match that percentage, there would need to be
    60000 electric vehicles in the country.

    99 percent of electric power in Norway comes from hydropower, and
    electric car buyers can receive substantial incentives while
    installation of charging infrastructure is spreading fast.

     

     

     

     

    In the first six months of 2011 an additional 100 i-Miev were sold as the Citroen C-Zero and 76 re-badged i-Miev sold as the Peugeot ION. Incidentally, 18 Tesla Roadsters were also sold in the first six months of 2011. (rich little country, huh ?)  Oil wealth…..of course.

     

    The fact that in Norway the I-Miev outsold all ICE in its class might be significant.

    The fact that the Prius is the best selling car in Japan might also have some significance, but not for Rush Limbaugh of course.

     

    It’s amazing how  a little acorn into a mighty oak doth grow. Toyota only sold 5.600 Prius the first year in the U.S.
    Perhaps let’s wait a bit and see how the electric car will do, wait perhaps until the end of 2012. Mitsu and Nissan have each sold about 20,000 cars worldwide this year despite being in limited markets. In fact,  Nissan didn’t even sell the Leaf in Norway in 2011, a country that appears to be a halfway decent market for electric vehicles.
    Interestingly, Nissan has only allocated 600 Leaf for all of Canada in 2012.  These all sold out in a hurry. (about 2 hours).  Why such limited production ?  Pehaps it’s because the Yen has been at historic highs in relation to the dollar amd other currencies lately.  Nissan CEO Ghosin has been hammering the Japanese politicians to do something about it or perhaps see Japanese auto manufacturing move off-shore.   Nissan is already building a factory in Smyrna, Tennessee (2013) and another one in England to produce the Leaf for the European market. 
    Then again why worry, these electric cars might all dry up and blow away just like the Prius did.  Rush Limbaugh certainly hopes so.

     

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  13. By rufus on December 29, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    The only interesting thing that “could” happen this year would be the complete meltdown of Europe.

    That, or a war in the Persian Gulf/Straits of Hormuz, of course.

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  14. By OD on December 30, 2011 at 1:04 am

    Robert, I question #7. Of course sales are down, but what % are they down compared to slowing ICE sales? It seems like all the big car makers are releasing, or have already released, electrics. I don’t see that slowing down sans a full blown economic depression.

    I’m also not sure the Keystone Pipeline will go through. The 2 month tax extension had a condition that the decision must be made within 60 days and Obama has already said that’s not enough time and he would not approve it. Whether they’ll figure a way to work around that time limit, I do not know. 

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  15. By OD on December 30, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Since the Mitsubishi i-Miev’s launch in Norway in January 2011,
    it’s maintained top spot in total sales volume of any compact vehicle,
    including gasoline vehicles!

    Norway is a fairly cold country. I wonder what the performance of these electric cars will be like, since I’ve always heard they don’t do well in the cold and that is one of their major downfalls. 

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  16. By Wendell Mercantile on December 30, 2011 at 11:52 am

    …since I’ve always heard they don’t do well in the cold and that is one of their major downfalls.

    OD~

    True. There is a reason GM didn’t begin selling the Volt in Fergus Falls, MN or Fargo, ND. Pulling out of a garage on a morning when it’s -25 ^F and you need to use lights, defroster, heater, etc. would bring an entirely new meaning to the term “range anxiety.” I would not want to depend on a single-charge in a Leaf to drive daily during a MInnesota winter from Little Falls to Brainerd — even though it’s only 39 miles. (And those ever pragmatic Minnesotans know about driving in the winter. You’ll find few that don’t carry blankets, candles, emergency rations, etc. in their cars in the winter — all of which increase the weight the car must car.)

    I pretty much consider the Volt and Leaf to be “Sunbelt Cars,” although continual use of A/C will also limit the nominal battery range GM and Nissan enthusiastically market.

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  17. By rrapier on December 30, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    OD said:

    Robert, I question #7. Of course sales are down, but what % are they down compared to slowing ICE sales? It seems like all the big car makers are releasing, or have already released, electrics. I don’t see that slowing down sans a full blown economic depression.


     

    Globally, this was a bit story because they were released to so much fanfare and some really high sales expectations. Failure to meet those expectations — not just in the U.S. — is a pretty big story. It doesn’t mean the end for electric cars, but sales are going to have to pick up or automakers will likely abandon efforts.

    I’m also not sure the Keystone Pipeline will go through. The 2 month tax
    extension had a condition that the decision must be made within 60 days
    and Obama has already said that’s not enough time and he would not
    approve it. Whether they’ll figure a way to work around that time limit,
    I do not know.

    I think it just depends on the politics, but whether the decisions ends up sliding past the election, I do think it gets approved.

    RR

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  18. By Wendell Mercantile on December 30, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    I think it just depends on the politics, but whether the decisions ends up sliding past the election, I do think it gets approved.

    Same here. At it’s heart, Keystone XL is an engineering project we’ve wrongly allowed to be become politicized. (1)

    Right now there is no good choice for Obama: Say “Yes,” and disappoint his environmental backers whom are already pissed at him; or say “No,” and piss-off labor and the unions who want to build the pipeline.

    My take is that Obama has forgotten his primary job as our chief executive is to run the country and make decisions that will benefit us all — instead of playing politics with them. How long would it have taken a true chief executive to make decision about and engineering project such as Kelstone?
    _______
    (1) Three years ago, a company from Houston called Enbridge built exactly the same type pipeline from Duluth, MN to the Chicago refineries, crossing 400 miles of Wisconsin. No politicly fuss, it just happened and Alberta oil is flowing into Chicago.

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  19. By Ben on December 30, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Three quick points: (a) Gingrich is a shameless hypocrite who is more a demogogue than an ideologue (as that might actually require a measure of philosophical consistency and intellectual honesty–perish the thought);
    (b) With the exception of 2008, the price of oil has been without fail been higher at year-end for the past decade; (c) The politics of the Keystone pipeline have hardly been the exclusive handiwork of the president or even
    his party, as the Republican senator and governor have been advocates of
    the go-slow approach given expressions of concern in Nebraska notwithstanding national dynamics. All politics remain local. I tend to agree with RR; the decision will not be made until after the election but it will be approved (or the supply heads to Far East–where it may go anyaway).

    I did have a news item I thought worthy of the list: Germany’s fateful decision on nuclear energy. Germany is key to European (Euro) stability and its energy policy must accommodate reality. Perhaps its views on Ng supply and prospects for clean coal since the numbers don’t appear to add up without
    an alternative strategy.

    Looking forward to the book. Happy New Year to all.

    Ben

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  20. By rrapier on December 30, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Ben said:

     

    I did have a news item I thought worthy of the list: Germany’s fateful decision on nuclear energy. Germany is key to European (Euro) stability and its energy policy must accommodate reality. Perhaps its views on Ng supply and prospects for clean coal since the numbers don’t appear to add up without an alternative strategy.


     

    I originally had this as a separate item on the list, but just decided to lump it in with the overall Fukushima impacts. But the decisions made by Germany, Italy, and Japan in the wake of Fukushima are all newsworthy, and will be interesting to watch over the next few years.

    RR

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  21. By Stephen Foster on December 30, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    On March 11, 2011 the tsunami that flooded Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant resulted in the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

    The fact that not a single fatality has occurred as a result of radiation exposure from Fukushima, nor is there ever likely to be, belies the near-apocalyptic inferences one may make from the above quote (see Prof. Wade Alison, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and expert in nuclear medicine). When considered against cumulative fatalities and environmental disasters from the competing global fossil fuel enterprise over the decades since Chernobyl, an alternative reading of Fukushima might gain currency.

    The conventional wisdom that nuclear power poses exceptional and intolerable risks, “proven” by Fukushima, is something the esteemed environmentalist George Monbiot has attacked as a gross (and dangerous) falsehood in various articles such as Going Critical, Seven Double Standards, Evidence Meltdown, and A Waste of Waste. Much of this stems from the fact that radiation exposure standards, currently based on the ALARA principle (as-low-as-reasonably achievable), are approximately 1000 times smaller than what would measurably add to risk of pathology. In short we have been conditioned to regard radiation, no matter how small, as a singularly dangerous threat. Why these standards and attitudes prevail in complete absence of scientific evidence is something that I find troubling and more likely to be a product of international power-politics rather than sound public policy.

    Apparently GCC members missed the memo from Japan, with Saudi Arabia alone announcing after Fukushima plans to build 16 reactors over the next 18 years. Plans for nuclear power continue apace for countries that see it vital to their future national interest.

    Japan cannot afford to take nuclear power off the table given its lack of indigenous energy resources. If SA is going nuclear although it holds the world’s largest oil and gas deposits, then what of Japan? The legacy of Fukushima, therefore, may be to force Japan, and the rest of the world, to have a long hard think using the truth and rationality with regard to relative risks and benefits. A solid re-examination of the facts can only make the case FOR nuclear power stronger rather than weaker should commonly held misconceptions and outright lies be finally retired after having served fossil fuel interests so well for so long.

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  22. By rrapier on December 30, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Stephen Foster said:

    On March 11, 2011 the tsunami that flooded Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant resulted in the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

    The fact that not a single fatality has occurred as a result of radiation exposure from Fukushima, nor is there ever likely to be, belies the near-apocalyptic inferences one may make from the above quote (see Prof. Wade Alison, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and expert in nuclear medicine). When considered against cumulative fatalities and environmental disasters from the competing global fossil fuel enterprise over the decades since Chernobyl, an alternative reading of Fukushima might gain currency.


     

    OK, I will bite. Which nuclear crisis has been worse since Chernobyl? The fact that Fukushima displaced thousands from their homes and rendered a large area uninhabitable would be seen by most as a pretty severe crisis — fatalities or not. I stand by that quote 100% — unless you can demonstrate that 1). Permanently displacing thousands from their homes is not a crisis; or 2). That there has been a more serious incident since Chernobyl.

    I am not anti-nuclear, by the way, but what I wrote is a fact.

    RR

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  23. By john on December 30, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Your prediction of Obama easily winning reelection is a joke. You so sure of that?? Considering the disaster that the Obama administration has been, I would say the only route will be how bad will our socialist president lose by.

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  24. By rrapier on December 30, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    john said:

    Your prediction of Obama easily winning reelection is a joke. You so sure of that?? Considering the disaster that the Obama administration has been, I would say the only route will be how bad will our socialist president lose by.


     

    Be sure to drop back by after the election. Name a Republican contender, and I will tell you why he won’t beat Obama — no matter what the status of the country. I think Romney is the only person who has a chance, and a good portion of Republicans won’t even vote for him.

    There is a very big difference between “Obama has been a good president” and “Obama easily wins reelection.” One doesn’t necessarily imply the other.

    RR

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  25. By Wendell Mercantile on December 30, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    When considered against cumulative fatalities and environmental disasters from the competing global fossil fuel enterprise over the decades since Chernobyl, an alternative reading of Fukushima might gain currency.

    The isolation zone around Fukashima has a 20 km radius. The Chernobyl isolation zone has a radius of 30 km. There are other isolations zones I can’t think of right now, but include the nuke testing sites in Nevada, Bikini Atoll, and unknown sites in Russia, Korea, etc.

    The area of the Fukashima and Chernobyl and isolation zones is ~ 4084 km-sq.

    The amount of land on the earth now used for farming and pasture is ~ 4.7 × 10^7 km-sq.

    You do the math. 4084 km-sq vs. 4.7 x 10^7 km-sq. (We “exclude” more land than that every year just to development and condominiums. In fact, I’d wager the casinos in Rufus’s beloved Tunica County have excluded more acres than Fukashima and Chernobyl combined.)

    Obviously, it would be better to not have another Chernobyl or Fukashima, but I’ll submit that what nuclear power can give us, may be worth the loss of a hand-full of sq-km every 25 years or so.

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  26. By Optimist on December 30, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    I did have a news item I thought worthy of the list: Germany’s fateful decision on nuclear energy. Germany is key to European (Euro) stability and its energy policy must accommodate reality. Perhaps its views on Ng supply and prospects for clean coal since the numbers don’t appear to add up without an alternative strategy.

    Be that as it may – life often don’t allow you to plan that far ahead. Strategy is great, but it does not take unknowns into account.

    Sometimes a big challenge from the top can deliver big results, like when Kennedy undertook to land on the moon before the decade was out.

    It does, of course, require leadership, dedication, application, hard work, etc. All those old fashioned values that are so out of fashion lately.

    Then again, if anybody can make renewables work, it would be the Germans…

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  27. By ben on December 30, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    The invocation of platitudes notwithstanding, I believe leadership is important.
    More to the point, the issue at hand is what kind of leadership and, more importantly, where?

    The decision by the chancellor and her government

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  28. By ben on December 30, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    As I was saying, the decsion by the chancellor and her government to recalibrate policy in a direction that may sow the seeds of innovation (necessity generally being the mother of invention) could also risk weakening the German economy at a time when fragility of European economies (and politics) is very much an international concern. The prospect of inviting even greater dependence on Russian supplies of energy at a time when the strategic interests of the Atlantic Alliance are routinely at odds with the explicit or implied aspirations of Europe’s neighbors who welcome a weakened Alliance as a strategic/generational opportunity to shift the post-Cold War balance of power
    a little further east. Blog readers will do well to keep examining the energy production equation in the days ahead ever mindful of the historically confirmed Golden (Energy) Rule: nation-states with the gold (energy) do rule. It is a lesson that RR has been encouraging his readers to take to heart. We would do well to temper any instincts for optimism with a healthy dose of reality. Like it or not, the world remains an unpredictable, tumultuous and dangerous place.
    Semper Paratus shoudl remain our watchwords.

    Ben

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  29. By russ-finley on December 30, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Just because a $40K chevy ran into turburance doesn’t spoil the whole electric car industry …Electric cars began hitting the roads for real, but sales were disappointing. Not only were sales of GM’s Volt lower than expected…

    Guys, the Volt is not an electric car. It’s a plug-in hybrid. Read Chevy Volt–Mechanical Engineer Perspective.

     

     

     

     

    Optimist said:

    Then again, if anybody can make renewables work, it would be the Germans…

    The same Germans who will be spending tens of billions to tear down all of the the nuclear power plants they spent hundreds of billions building? The German people have been known to make some of history’s worst collective decisions.

     

     

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  30. By Stephen Foster on December 31, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    OK, I will bite. Which nuclear crisis has been worse since Chernobyl? The fact that Fukushima displaced thousands from their homes and rendered a large area uninhabitable would be seen by most as a pretty severe crisis — fatalities or not.

    Robert, my intention wasn’t to get you to “bite!” I was simply adding a different perspective to the #1 item on your list to hopefully contribute to the public debate. That perspective includes: a) that this is indeed the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, needing one of the worlds largest natural disasters to cause it against a decades old plant at that, actually demonstrates how safe nuclear power is; and, b) that the exclusion zone and what defines “uninhabitable” are based on radiation standards that are orders of magnitude below what can be demonstrated to be a danger. If the standards employed were keyed to scientific evidence of truly harmful radiation levels, then the crisis dimension of this accident would not exist.

    Fukushima is still be a bloody mess and something no-one would ever want to see repeated, but not a crisis worthy of displacing thousands from their homes. The proximate cause of the crisis is the nuclear accident, but the ultimate cause is the misplaced fear of low-level radiation driven by extreme standards and our collective inability to properly assess relative risk. The cruel irony here is that more harm as been done by the forced evacuation than the radiation itself!

    Anyway, I enjoy visiting your blog. Your even-handedness, rationality and depth of knowledge on energy matters is much appreciated.

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  31. By Wendell Mercantile on December 31, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    The fact that Fukushima displaced thousands from their homes and rendered a large area uninhabitable would be seen by most as a pretty severe crisis — fatalities or not.

    Actually, not that large an area uninhabitable, and Muammar Muhammad and Bashar al-Assad killed far more than Fukushima. And that’s not counting the deaths in Africa due to poor sanitation, malnutrition, and diseases such as malaria (~ 655,000 people in 2010).

    If people want to get excited abut something, they should at least start allowing the use of banned pesticides in Africa.

    In fact, I’d wager that in 2011, more people died of malnutrition and lack of proper medical treatment in Tunica County, MS than radiation killed at Fukushima.

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  32. By Wendell Mercantile on December 31, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    And you can even look this up: In 2011, more American workers died in accidents at corn ethanol distilleries than radiation killed at Fukushima.

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  33. By Wendell Mercantile on January 2, 2012 at 11:26 am

    The area of the Fukashima and Chernobyl and isolation zones is ~ 4084 km-sq.

    Oops! Made a mistake there.

    The amount of land lost in the exclusion zones at Chernobyl (30 km radius) and Fukushima (20 km radius) is ~314 km-sq.

    Wouldn’t most agree that is insignificant compared to the ~ 4.7 × 10^7 km-sq of the planet now used for farming and pasture?

    As a reference point, the 47,000 miles of Interstate Highway in the U.S. moved about 3,500 km-sq of land into — if you will — a transportation “exclusion zone.” With some exceptions, I think most would agree that President Eisenhower deciding to cover over 3,500 km-sq of the U.S. to build the Interstate System was a sound decision and worthwhile investment of national lands.

    Perhaps losing a small portion of the earth’s surface to a nuclear exclusion zone every 20 -30 years is not that bad an investment either. Especially, when considering the benefit-cost ratio of what nuclear power can do to make our lives better.

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  34. By Optimist on January 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Optimist said: Then again, if anybody can make renewables work, it would be the Germans…

    The same Germans who will be spending tens of billions to tear down all of the the nuclear power plants they spent hundreds of billions building? The German people have been known to make some of history’s worst collective decisions.

    Exact same ones. Also, the same Germans who made gasification/Fischer-Tropsch a reality, in the middle of WWII.
    We’re a long way from knowing if it was a mistake to nix nuclear.

    The decsion by the chancellor and her government to recalibrate policy in a direction that may sow the seeds of innovation (necessity generally being the mother of invention) could also risk weakening the German economy at a time when fragility of European economies (and politics) is very much an international concern.

    You’re assuming non-nuclear costs more and is worse for the environment. I’m doubtfull of both assumptions.

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  35. By Optimist on January 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    And you can even look this up: In 2011, more American workers died in accidents at corn ethanol distilleries than radiation killed at Fukushima.

    Gotta love it: 5,000 year old (infant) industry with safety rules apparently just as old. In sharp contrast to Big Oil.

    Perhaps losing a small portion of the earth’s surface to a nuclear exclusion zone every 20 -30 years is not that bad an investment either. Especially, when considering the benefit-cost ratio of what nuclear power can do to make our lives better.

    Before you start adding up the benefits, make sure you a proper accounting of the problems. Be sure to include the risk that nuclear waste lands ends up in a dirty bomb. Or a peaceful nation, such as Iran, use the wonderful technology as a cover to develop weapons.

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  36. By rate-crimes on January 10, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    “I’ll submit that what nuclear power can give us, may be worth the loss of a hand-full of sq-km every 25 years or so.” – Wendell Mercantile

    Before you nonchalantly submit your enthusiasm to sacrifice others’ lands, perhaps you should include in your calculations the fact that the extant nuclear catastrophes have occurred with a fleet of reactors only now reaching the end of their original design life.  The likelihood of future nuclear disasters and the scope of any nuclear disaster will continue to increase with a fleet of aging reactors.

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  37. By Wendell Mercantile on January 10, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    The likelihood of future nuclear disasters and the scope of any nuclear disaster will continue to increase with a fleet of aging reactors.

    Point taken, but as you must be well aware other forms of energy use have cost us even more dearly than nuclear power.

    Just take a guess at the adverse effects and deaths extracting and using coal has caused the human race since only the 17th century. (Have you ever heard of the Great London Smog of 1952? Makes Fukushima look trivial in comparison.)

    And as I pointed out to my good buddy Rufus, more American workers were killed in accidents at U.S. corn ethanol distilleries in 2011 than radiation killed at Fukushima. (You’ll agree I hope, the deaths due to the tsunami were an Act of God.)

    Sure, there are risks with nuclear power, but considering the overall cost-benefit ratio, they are acceptable. The amount of land we’ve lost in the isolation zones at Chernoyby and Fukushima is indeed small, and I submit acceptable losses every 25 years or so.

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  38. By rate-crimes on January 19, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    “The amount of land we’ve lost [emphasis mine]” – Wendell Mercantile

    You may have a difficult time getting those Japanese, Ukranians, and others who have, or may lose land, to accept your generous offer of inclusion. 

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