Public Energy Opinions

Written By Nick Hodge

Posted July 22, 2009

I grow more and more convinced each day that our energy problem is, in fact, a people problem.  

The fact is, a wide variety of technologies exist today that, were they applied correctly, could do much to bail us out of the energy corner we’ve painted ourself into. 

And in many ways, this is already happening.

If you haven’t noticed, natural selection is occurring rapidly in the energy markets, and it’s turned Wall Street into our own Galapagos laboratory.  Energy evolution is happening as you read this.

Of course, the energy stalwarts will continue to be the energy stalwarts.  Oil, gas, and coal will have a solid foothold—and provide much of the baseload power — for years to come.

But other technologies are proving their worthiness, as well.  Renewable energy, for example, was the only electricity-producing technology to increase production last year.  Coal was down 13%. .  . Nuclear energy was down 12%. . . Natural gas was down 1.5%.  This all comes right from the EIA’s most recent "Electric Power Monthly" report.

And if hydro-electricity is included in this group, renewables generated 13% of the U.S.’s electricity last year.

That said, it’s no longer kosher simply to spout off at the mouth about renewables’ inadequacies, or about any other energy misconceptions for that matter.  Misinformation and misconceptions are a large part of the problem here.

Recognizing that all technologies have a seat at the table is paramount, as is accepting that no single technology is an energy savior.  I’m talking to you, oil junkies.

As I see it, one of the biggest problems standing in the way of legitimate energy development is inaccurate energy opinions, which seem to be rampant, even in these pages.

Here are comments we’ve received in the last quarter:

Misinformed Energy Comments (in their original, non-spell-checked forms)

  • The last I heard, we have maybe 10 billion barrels in Alaska, 85 offshore, 300 in the Baaken formation in North Dakota, and more than 1 trillion in oil shale. Much of this is off limits by the Democrats and a few turncoat Republicans.  Chuck S.
  • Dream on – the technology is not here on a commercial scale. Oil & gas will be our primary source of energy for many years to come.  Ed L.
  • The only reason GE, Duke Energy, P&G & Goldman Sacks et.el. are investing or supporting so called green energy is so they can trade carbon credits and make millions!90% of all wind turbines & solar panels are made over seas! Indiana just bought all their turbines from Denmark.  Banish
  • Are you stupid if this energy bill passes. It is the first step to a comunis county. If you dont like or want your freedom then support the bill. If you do like your freedom then dont support the bill.  Jason
  • 4 nuclear plants have just been approved. We need 200. A coal fired plan puts out about 800 kilowats. A nuclear plant puts out 2000 megawats with no carbon output. Solar and wind generators are a joke! Don
  • Let’s start with what we already have…natural gas for eternity. Renewables won’t make a dent. Obama and friends are negative on any kind of drilling. Get ready. Rob S.
  • When price is right, oil from the arctic and offshore will provide all we will ever need.   Even if Congress locks up those sources, Bakken by itself could replace OPEC oil.   The key is to look at "provable" or "probable" reserves and the true extent of our vast supply will reveal itself. PEAK oil theory fails again. Wes.
  • Nuclear plants are continuing to get operating extensions. They are heading to 60-80 year operating lives. Brian W.
  • the greens will destroy the jobs,,alt energy will not supply the us needs. Roger L.
  • Ships loaded with crude are circling the earth with no onshore storage available. Eventually some of this crude will be "dumped" and prices will drop. Between Oil Shale, Bakken and offshore, USA can become a net oil exporter. Do not underestimate human innovation. Even Malthus recanted. Provable oil reserves have increased since the 70s and have discredited Hubbard’s "theory". Try to be intellectually honest and you will have more subscribers. Wes
  • It is with much concern I read about government "reaching" into my home forcing me to lower my thermostat against my will because some government flunky refuses to build clean nuclear plants or drill for the trillions of barrels of oil spread around the country and off shore. I read the prediction of the smart grid as 1984. I’ll bet the elite will not have their homes "reached" into. I will not allow a "smart meter" to be installed on my meter base.  William M.

My Response

At first, I was going to respond brazenly and deconstruct each ill-fated statement one by one.  Instead, I think I’ll offer a few broad rebuttals, and leave the rest of the chastising to our more informed readers.

For those of you who think ANWR, or the Bakken, or offsore drilling is the answer. . . you need to have a conversation with Chris Nelder about flow rates.  Having all the oil in the world (which some of the authors of the above comments feel the U.S. has) doesn’t do a bit of good unless you can bring it to market — quickly and economically.  That is simply not the case with unconventional shale and sand plays.  Chris likes to use the analogy of having an ocean made up of oil, but only one straw through which to attract it.

Will we need it?  Yes.  Is it even remotely a panacea?  Not in the slightest.

Start now (and we should, if the economics are right) and you may be bringing on a negligible amount of oil in a year or two.  

In the interest of remaining objective, here’s what Reuters says about energy in the future:

Bush said opening federal lands off the U.S. coast — where oil drilling has been banned by both a presidential executive order and a congressional moratorium — could yield about 18 billion barrels of oil. That would meet current U.S. consumption for about 2 1/2 years, but it would likely take a decade or more to find the oil and produce it. The prospect of more energy supply down the road could calm nervous traders who see a looming global oil crunch, but any actual supply would be years away even if Congress acted quickly.

With respect to ANWR, here’s Reuters again:

The government estimates up to 16 billion barrels of oil in ANWR are technically recoverable, although much of that would be too expensive to produce at today’s prices. With prices at or above $35 a barrel, energy companies could economically recover an estimated 6 billion barrels of oil from ANWR.

If leasing is permitted on ANWR and commercial exploration and development begins, it could take up to 12 years before any oil reaches the market, according to government and industry estimates.

And concerning nuclear, the same situation applies.  Indeed, building 200 new reactors would do much to alleviate our energy concerns.  But when was the last time we built just one?  It was called "Watts Bar," and construction began in 1973.  It came online in 1996, after a construction halt in 1988.  

Currently, 26 applications have been filed to build new reactors.  Only 6 have been approved.  That’s a far cry from 200.  And it seems an even further cry when you consider the intense oppositions, immense red tape, long approval times, long equipment lead times, and general lack of qualified engineers to build them.

We’ve had one in the past three decades. . . let’s not hold our breath for 200 new ones.

Those are just my initial thoughts on some of the misguided concepts identified above, but I want to hear what you have to say.

Is it just me, or is it crazy to think that "we can drill our way out of this?" 

Does anyone rationally think we can get nukes built in time?

And who, pray tell, can dismiss renewables as a joke, or deem them as "not being able to make a dent," when not only are they being turned to as a major catalyst for economic recovery. . . but they also have the fastest growth rates of any energy-producing technology and were the only segment to increase electricity production over the last year.  

I await your thoughts.

Call it like you see it,

Nick Hodge


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