23 May 2008

Political Peak Oil; Biome Under Seafloor; Roasting Biomass Like Coffee Beans

Politicians in Washington DC have been grandstanding for the camera, to demonstrate their "deep concern" about high oil prices. The only problem with that political posture is that it is the politicians themselves who are directly to blame. We are experiencing political peak oil.
Of natural crude, we have large reserves off the coasts of California and Florida. However, no drilling in these areas has been permitted by law since the late 1960’s. China, however, by using agreements with Cuba to drill in this area, will begin doing so shortly.

America also has additional reserves in the Gulf areas, from Florida to Texas. However, no drilling is permitted in most of these areas. Mexico, however, has no such restrictions.

In Alaska, both onshore and offshore, we have large areas of proven reserves, which are not allowed to be developed by law. Canada has no laws prohibiting such development.

In the mountain Western states, large amounts of oil are available in the shale rock formations. However, EPA regulations prohibit their development.

In the far West, vast areas of tar sands remain undeveloped due to environmental restrictions. As with the geographic areas noted above, most of the land is owned or controlled by the federal government. Canadian use of tar sands is a major source of their oil exports.

The conversion of coal to oil, a technology available for over 100 years, remains another untapped resource, due to legislative and environmental restrictions.

The bottom line is that America could have become energy independent with regard to crude oil by the mid 1980’s. In the area of electricity, the addition of more coal fired generating plants, nuclear power plants, and additional hydro electric plants could have made the need for gas and oil fueled electrical plants unnecessary by 1990. That would have freed up more crude for other purposes, and reduced our overall consumption of oil. In addition, our electrical generation capacity would substantially exceed our present needs, rather than the sporadic shortages we now experience.

Some analysts have estimated that if all of these options had been initiated in the immediate aftermath of the OPEC embargo, crude oil today would have a domestic price of 40-45 dollars per barrel, with secure supplies, and uninfluenced by foreign costs or international speculators. Why didn’t this happen?

It is popular to blame the oil companies, oil cartels, or greedy speculators. But in truth, we are in a bed of our own making. It is not the usual suspects who have passed laws based on bad science, radical environmental lobbies, self interest, political agendas or ignorance of technological advances and free enterprise economics. It is the result of our own government, mainly through the ineptness of Congress. __Source
The biggest comedians on television recently were not David Letterman or Jay Leno. No, the biggest jokers were Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Dick Durbin of Illinois. Maxine Waters, California Representative, was something of the joker herself--promising to socialize nationalize American oil production. Congress is an ass. We knew California was in a self-inflicted energy deprived tailspin. Now Boxer, Waters, Durbin et al want to do the same thing to the entire US.

Of course, we can substitute biomass for much of the oil and coal that we burn. In fact, by roasting the biomass in a manner similar to coffee roasting, we can increase the amount of energy in the biomass--making it burn hotter and cleaner. We can turn waste biomass into gas, and use that gas to fire conventional gas turbines to generate electricity, or convert the gas into liquid fuels to power transportation vehicles such as trucks, farm tractors, heavy equipment, buses, automobiles, ships, and planes.

But the most intriguing news about biomass in the past week comes from studies of the deep ocean floor--bizarre life forms buried deep beneath the ocean floor. In fact, there may be more living biomass buried under the seafloor than in all the plants on Earth's surface.
...the rocks beneath the sea appear to be teeming with life.

John Parkes, a geobiologist at the University of Cardiff, UK, hopes his team's discovery might one day help find life on other planets. He says it might even redefine what we understand as life, and, bizarrely, what we understand by "age".

Parkes has been hunting for deep life for over 20 years. Recently, he and his colleagues examined samples of a mud core extracted from between 860 metres and 1626 metres beneath the sea floor off the coast of Newfoundland.

They found simple organisms known as prokaryotes in every sample. Prokaryotes are organisms that often have just one cell. Their peculiarity is that, unlike any other form of life, their DNA is not neatly packed into a nucleus. __Source
It is too early to say how the under-the-seafloor prokaryotes relate to early life on Earth, or perhaps even life on other planetary bodies in space. Prokaryotes are more primitive than eukaryotes (cells with a nucleus), and given the relatedness of under the seafloor prokaryotes to deep ocean vent prokaryotes, this form of life appears quite ancient.

Life on Earth is ubiquitous. It exists high in the atmosphere, deep under the Earth's surface and seafloor, within its oceans and polar ice, and virtually everywhere on the surface. But as much life as exists already, there is room for orders of magnitude more life. Energy from the sun and the Earth's heat and chemistry is virtually limitless, for human purposes.

As Craig Venter and his merry band of synthetic biologists devise ever newer forms of life, custom-made to serve human needs, we will discover even more ways that life can exist on this planet.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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