Via the Post Carbon Institute:
How will the future economy of the United States respond to rising oil prices or to $300-a-barrel oil? Under the Obama Administration and a Democratic majority, we’ve seen the federal government attempt to stimulate renewable energy by investing into it, by contributing to energy-storage technology, and by recognizing the utility of alternative-fuel vehicles.
Despite fossil fuels contributing to climate change, national security concerns, and the pollution of the human environment, the GOP embraces an economy dependent on dirty, nonrenewable fossil fuels. Fossil fuels may seem cheap, but they’re not. The cheap cost of fossil fuels, paid at the pump for example, doesn’t reflect the true cost of fossil fuels, because the price at the pump doesn’t include costs that are a consequence of the negative externalities associated with burning fossil fuels. For example, it has been estimated by numerous studies that the negative externalities associated with burning fossil fuels cost governments and the public billions of dollars each year. This means that while fossil-fuel companies receive record profits, they’re not responsible for the consequences of doing dirty business or for the billions of dollars that governments and the public are forced to pick up. Additionally, the fossil-fuel industry receives government subsidies to pollute the human environment. These fossil-fuel subsidies must be eliminated to “enhance energy security, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution, and bring economic benefits.”
Given the facts and consequences associated with a fossil fuel-based economy, it would seem that a prudent and progressive energy policy shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but the Republican Party isn’t exactly known for pushing clean, sustainable, or rational energy policy reforms. For example, the Republican Party’s energy policy focuses on “lifting restrictions on ANWR, the Outer Continental Shelf, and oil shale in the Mountain West.” Also, the Republican Party claims that “revenue generated by the sale of leases will be invested in renewable and alternative sources of energy.” However, what will the United States utilize after these nonrenewable resources are exhausted? Why drill here, drill now when these minerals are sold on an international market, so why is it necessary to invade protected wilderness areas to extract minerals, which aren’t necessarily consumed domestically. Also, considering greenhouse gases, global warming, and climate change, why is it necessary to add even more trapped carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere? Basically, the short-term benefits of extracting and using these minerals are outweighed by the long-term damage caused by climate change and a failure to implement a prudent or sustainable energy policy.
Furthermore, the Republican Party believes that “the best way for utility companies to reduce carbon emissions is to increase their supply of nuclear energy.” However, nuclear power isn’t cheap, and the costs associated with constructing new nuclear power plants have skyrocketed. There are also substantial costs associated with decommissioning nuclear power plants (“it may cost $300 million or more to shut down and decommission a plant“). Other negatives associated with nuclear power production include the fact that the nuclear power industry depends solely on a nonrenewable energy source, and there’s the well-known problem of storing nuclear waste. Also, “the process of thermoelectric generation from fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, as well as nuclear power, is water intensive. In fact, each kWh generated requires on average approximately 25 gallons of water to produce.” Therefore, drought could force nuclear power plants to shut down. What’s more, there are past and present safety concerns with nuclear power production. Recently, the nuclear power industry has been plagued by safety problems at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. Certainly, if the costs associated with decommissioning nuclear power plants, with the management of nuclear power plants, and with the disposal of nuclear waste are considered, then both solar and wind power are substantially cheaper than nuclear power.
The GOP’s talking points on energy also claim that Democrats tax energy, but the GOP makes no mention of the tax incentives and tax credits spurred under the Democratic majority and under the Obama Administration. Consequently, the Republican Party merely politicizes and trivializes the issue of energy. Why can’t the Republican Party aggressively pursue the development of renewables? Portugal is doing it. Denmark is doing it. Iceland is doing it. Even China understands the utility of developing its renewable energy sources.
Additionally, being a conservative political party, there are energy conservation strategies that the Republican Party should show open and strong support for but don’t. For example, there are the ideas of retrofitting buildings to conserve energy, adopting greener building standards to conserve energy, or even promoting the smart grid revolution to conserve energy. Also, instead of attacking it, the Republican Party should show strong support for science in order to spur innovation and technological development to meet our energy needs.
Given the Party’s energy policy positions, the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives threatens to stifle the progress made by the Democratic majority by resurrecting an energy policy focused too much on fossil fuels. For example, Representative Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas and BP apologist, is supposedly a contender for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Another contender for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee is John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois. Shimkus is a climate-change denier, and once declared that “global warming isn’t something to worry about because God said he wouldn’t destroy the Earth after Noah’s flood.”
To summarize, the Republican energy policy lacks innovation and forward-thinking, and their energy policy merely utilizes old ideas, which don’t promote energy security. To put it another way, the Republican Party’s answer to our current energy crisis is to stick their heads in the sand. Also, the failure of the Republican Party to embrace prudent energy policies is the failure to recognize the connection between population growth, rising energy demand, natural resource unavailability, and rising energy and mineral prices. More on the future price of oil via Peak Oil News and Message Boards:
Ludwig: What is your oil price outlook as this whole new world order begins to take shape?
Maxwell: The supply and demand of oil in the world today are pretty close to each other, and there shouldn’t be too much deviation in 2010 and 2011. We think prices will stay within a band roughly between $67-$87 a barrel. When it gets up toward $87, it seems to retreat, and when it gets down toward $67, it seems to take off again. That’s because supply and demand are in rough balance.
But as the economic recovery continues, as more people use oil because there are more people in the world, and China and India continue to progress with rapid expansion of cars and the roads they are offering their people, demand for oil will continue to climb between 1 and 1.5 percent per year. That, combined with the depletion of these mature oil fields we’ve talked about, will bring us to a plateau by 2015-2017, where the rising production of newer oil fields will equal the falling production of old fields.
At that stage, prices will break through this $87 boundary—in about 2013, I’m thinking. And by 2015 we’ll be up to around $130-$150 a barrel. And then by 2020, when we have 1.5 percent increases in demand each year and 0.5 percent declines on the downside, then we’ll really be in a fix. At that time, I’m looking at $300 a barrel in money of the day. But remember, by then we will have the full effects of inflation over the prior 10 years, so it would probably be something like $200 a barrel in today’s terms, but it will have a nominal price of about $300 a barrel.
Image via Jennifer Aitken
BP used at least “1.9 million gallons of widely banned toxic dispersants” to treat the 4.9 million barrels of oil that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon drilling-rig disaster, and the consequences of treating the oil with dispersants has the potential to make both people and wildlife sick. Via Dahr Jamail at Aljazeera.net:
Naman, who works at the Analytical Chemical Testing Lab in Mobile, Alabama, has been carrying out studies to search for the chemical markers of the dispersants BP used to both sink and break up its oil.
According to Naman, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from this toxic mix are making people sick. PAHs contain compounds that have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic.
Fisherman across the four states most heavily affected by the oil disaster - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida - have reported seeing BP spray dispersants from aircraft and boats offshore.
“The dispersants are being added to the water and are causing chemical compounds to become water soluble, which is then given off into the air, so it is coming down as rain, in addition to being in the water and beaches of these areas of the Gulf,” Naman added.
“I’m scared of what I’m finding. These cyclic compounds intermingle with the Corexit [dispersants] and generate other cyclic compounds that aren’t good. Many have double bonds, and many are on the EPA’s danger list. This is an unprecedented environmental catastrophe.”
. . .
“I started to vomit brown, and my pee was brown also,” Matsler, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Dauphin Island, said. “I kept that up all day. Then I had a night of sweating and non-stop diarrhea unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
He was also suffering from skin rashes, nausea, and a sore throat.
At roughly the same time Matsler was exposed, local television station WKRG News 5 took a water sample from his area to test for dispersants. The sample literally exploded when it was mixed with an organic solvent separating the oil from the water.
Naman, the chemist who analyzed the sample, said: “We think that it most likely happened due to the presence of either methanol or methane gas or the presence of the dispersant Corexit.”
“I’m still feeling terrible,” Matsler told Al Jazeera recently. “I’m about to go to the doctor again right now. I’m short of breathe, the diarrhea has been real bad, I still have discoloration in my urine, and the day before yesterday, I was coughing up white foam with brown spots in it.”
As for Matsler’s physical reaction to his exposure, Hugh Kaufman, an EPA whistleblower and analyst, has reported this of the effects of the toxic dispersants:
“We have dolphins that are hemorrhaging. People who work near it are hemorrhaging internally. And that’s what dispersants are supposed to do…”
By the middle of last summer, the Alabama Department of Public Health said that 56 people in Mobile and Baldwin counties had sought treatment for what they believed were oil disaster-related illnesses.
“The dispersants used in BP’s draconian experiment contain solvents such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol,” Dr. Riki Ott, a toxicologist, marine biologist, and Exxon Valdez survivor, told Al Jazeera.
“Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber,” she continued, “Spill responders have told me that the hard rubber impellors in their engines and the soft rubber bushings on their outboard motor pumps are falling apart and need frequent replacement.”
“Given this evidence, it should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known,” Dr. Ott added.
“In ‘Generations at Risk’, medical doctor Ted Schettler and others warn that solvents can rapidly enter the human body. They evaporate in air and are easily inhaled, they penetrate skin easily, and they cross the placenta into fetuses. For example, 2- butoxyethanol (in Corexit) is a human health hazard substance; it is a fetal toxin and it breaks down blood cells, causing blood and kidney disorders.”
Pathways of exposure to the dispersants are inhalation, ingestion, skin, and eye contact. Health impacts include headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, chest pains, respiratory system damage, skin sensitization, hypertension, central nervous system depression, neurotoxic effects, genetic mutations, cardiac arrhythmia, and cardiovascular damage.
Even the federal government has taken precautions for its employees. US military officials decided to reroute training flights in the Gulf region in order to avoid oil and dispersant tainted-areas.
Corexit 9527 is some nasty stuff. Via Wikipedia:
Corexit 9527, considered by the EPA to be an acute health hazard, is stated by its manufacturer to be potentially harmful to red blood cells, the kidneys and the liver, and may irritate eyes and skin. The chemical 2-butoxyethanol, found in Corexit 9527, was identified as having caused lasting health problems in workers involved in the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. According to the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the use of Corexit during the Exxon Valdez oil spill caused people “respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders”. Like 9527, 9500 can cause hemolysis (rupture of blood cells) and may also cause internal bleeding.
According to the EPA, Corexit is more toxic than dispersants made by several competitors and less effective in handling southern Louisiana crude. On May 20, 2010, the EPA ordered BP to look for less toxic alternatives to Corexit, and later ordered BP to stop spraying dispersants, but BP responded that it thought that Corexit was the best alternative and continued to spray it.
Reportedly Corexit may be toxic to marine life and helps keep spilled oil submerged. There is concern that the quantities used in the Gulf will create ‘unprecedented underwater damage to organisms.’ Nalco spokesman Charlie Pajor said that oil mixed with Corexit is “more toxic to marine life, but less toxic to life along the shore and animals at the surface” because the dispersant allows the oil to stay submerged below the surface of the water. Corexit 9500 causes oil to form into small droplets in the water; fish may be harmed when they eat these droplets. According to its Material safety data sheet, Corexit may also bioaccumulate, remaining in the flesh and building up over time. Thus predators who eat smaller fish with the toxin in their systems may end up with much higher levels in their flesh.
A “presidential commission tasked with investigating the causes of the Deepwater Horizon accident” has determined that there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to guide governmental agencies in making their decisions to use dispersants. Via Science Now:
According to the working paper, a lack of studies on dispersant toxicity meant that the Coast Guard’s Thad Allen, EPA’s Lisa Jackson, and NOAA’s Jane Lubchenco were “seriously handicapped” when deciding whether the chemicals should be used. “Because federal agencies had failed to plan adequately, they did not possess the scientific information that officials most certainly would have wanted to guide their choices.” But the paper concludes that their decision to use dispersants was reasonable under the circumstances, noting that the trio quickly consulted with a group of 50 experts. So far, the use of dispersants appears to have had greater benefit than cost.
The appeal of dispersants is that they break up oil into small droplets, which are less harmful to birds and other wildlife. The droplets are also thought to break down faster. And releasing dispersants at the gushing wellhead was intended to help protect workers on the surface by reducing the amount of oil and associated volatile organic compounds. The problem was the lack of adequate toxicity data on the dispersants themselves. Officials didn’t know the possible impacts on marine life, given the hundreds of thousands of gallons being used over several months (more than 2.5 million in all). They also didn’t know the relative toxicity of the various dispersants.
The commission staff members also concluded that the lack of planning led to delays in response; according to interviews with Coast Guard responders, EPA field staff hadn’t been delegated the authority to grant permission for dispersants to be used and were inexperienced with dispersants, thus delaying the response. The Coast Guard sources also felt that “EPA scientists with such experience were not being adequately consulted in EPA’s decision-making process.”
Infographic by Carrentals – Peak Oil Consumption
An oil rig, owned by Mariner Energy Inc., exploded in the Gulf of Mexico today. The Coast Guard previously reported a mile-long oil sheen from the burning platform, but the Coast Guard is now “unable to confirm its earlier report that a mile-long oil sheen was spreading from the platform, [but] . . . the platform fire has been extinguished.” The most recent report says the fire “‘wasn’t a blowout, [and] it’s not an explosion.’” Also, the “platform’s seven wells were ‘shut in’ at the time.”