Natural gas is much in the news today. It is being promoted by some as a clean burning fuel that could be used more broadly in transportation lessening U.S. dependence on imported oil. America is nearly self sufficient in natural gas and recent technological innovations have opened up new targets for gas development formerly beyond reach. Natural gas is also the focus of environmental challenges in its recovery from “tight” sand and shale formations where hydraulic fracturing, required to set it free from its rocky entombment, may lead to ground water contamination in some areas.
Fossil fuels (coal, oil & natural gas) consist of a series of increasingly complex hydrogen and carbon compounds ranging in composition from the lightest of gases (Methane) through a sequence of increasingly heavier gases and oils to tar and even asphalt. Coal is, of course, always solid, but also exhibits a range of increasingly complex hydrocarbons. Natural gas is the lighter end of the hydrocarbon series that typically consist of 80 – 95% Methane (CH4), and a few to fractional percentages of Ethane (C2H6), Propane (C3H8), Butane (C4H10), Isobutane (C4H10), Pentane (C5H12), Hexanes (C6H14), Cyclohexane (C6H12), Heptane (C7H16), and Octane (C8H18). The heavier the hydrocarbon molecule, ie, larger number of carbon and hydrogen atoms, the more readily the gas liquefies under pressure.
Methane, being the most abundant gas, is used principally for home heating and as a fuel for industrial production and electricity generation. It is also used as a feed stock for chemicals such as agricultural fertilizers. Propane, somewhat heavier, is sold in the liquefied state as bottled gas for domestic use. Butane, limited in quantity and easily liquefied, is used in small applications such as a propellant in pressurized spray cans and in cigarette lighters where it immediately returns to the gaseous state for easy ignition when the pressure is released. .
A number of contaminants may be present in natural gas such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, hydrogen, helium, argon, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, water, and sometimes oil. These must be separated from the gas and utilized separately or disposed of in an environmentally appropriate manner.
Interestingly, carbon and hydrogen atoms bond easily into many different molecular arrangements and combine readily with other elements such as nitrogen and oxygen. This makes possible the building of complex molecules in nature to form amino acids that provide the basic building blocks of proteins, the stuff of life! Hence, we too, along with all other life forms, are made of hydrocarbons.
Natural gas is derived predominantly from formerly living plants, both terrestrial and marine, thus its common reference as a “fossil” fuel along with its close relatives, coal and oil. The organic matter that served as the source for natural gas accumulated with fine grained sediments (silt and clay) deposited by rivers in low lying coastal depressions and in marine basins off the mouths of rivers. The organic matter was buried quickly, protected from decay and gradually, through long periods of time and under the influence of geothermal heat and overburden pressure, degraded to the residual hydrogen and carbon compounds that became natural gas.
Coal was formed almost entirely from terrestrial plants, pollens and spores that accumulated in stagnant swamps and preserved from decay under anaerobic (oxygen starved) conditions. While coal is the solid, in situ, remains of plant material, the more fluid and mobile hydrocarbon gas by-products of organic decomposition were driven off in the coal forming process to become entrapped in nearby rocks. The Appalachian basin that extends parallel to the east coast of the U.S. from northern Alabama to Canada is an excellent example of the association of coal and natural gas. During the Pennsylvanian period of the Paleozoic era, 286 to 320 million years ago, this region was characterized by a series of lush tropical swamps that hosted thick accumulations of dead plants and sediments buried and compressed into layers of coal and rocks. The sequence of rocks and coal were subsequently crumpled and folded into vast mountain ranges by tectonic forces within the earth that have since been carved into scenic ridges and valleys by the erosive force of running water (click on Charles Holbrook in the left sidebar to review the article on Earthquakes for an understanding of this process). Coal is mined, augured and stripped today in West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania from these rocks interspersed with numerous producing gas fields throughout the region.
Natural gas is also found in association with oil which owes its origin predominantly to marine algae buried with sediments in the marine environment. Many oil reservoirs have a “gas cap”, an accumulation of gas in the top of the oil trap (see figure at left from the U.S. Energy Information Administration). Gas, being lighter than oil, rises to the highest region of a trap. Additionally, depending upon the pressure conditions in the reservoir, there may be substantial amounts of gas dissolved in the oil that comes out of solution when the pressure is released upon rising to the surface during production. Gas produced in association with light oil is referred to as wet gas. If no oil is produced with the gas, it is referred to as dry. Light oil that exists in a gaseous state under reservoir pressure conditions in the subsurface, but condenses to liquid upon being brought to the surface is referred to as condensate. Natural gas found trapped in “tight” sand and shale formations may not obey the law of gravity and rise to the highest region of a trap if its movement is blocked by surrounding rocks that are impermeable.
Natural gas may also be formed in the process of thermal cracking of oil under conditions of high heat and pressure when oil bearing rocks are buried deeply. The depth at which this takes place is dependent upon the geothermal gradient in the area of the oil accumulation. The complex oil molecules are believed to be broken down or reduced to simpler hydrocarbon compounds, such as methane gas, during this process.
Natural Gas Energy Equivalency to Oil:
The relationship of oil to natural gas on an energy equivalency basis is about 6:1. Energy output is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs) and is used as a standard comparison for the heat value of different fuels. A 6:1 ratio means that 6000 cubic feet of natural gas will produce the same amount of heat energy as one barrel (42 U.S. gallons) of oil. Given the current price of natural gas at about $3.80 per mcf (thousand cubic feet) and the price of oil near $82.00 per barrel, natural gas is an energy bargain. At today’s prices, one could purchase 21.6 mcf of gas for the cost of one barrel of oil that would yield 3.6 times more energy. It is also a clean burning fuel.
In the mid-1960s: before the Arab – Israeli wars; before the mid-East oil producing nations nationalized their oil resources; and, before the Arab oil embargoes; oil was priced at about $3.00 per barrel and natural gas was $0.20 per mcf. The price ratio between oil and natural gas then was 2.5:1 on a BTU basis. Back then, 45 years ago, one could buy only 15 mcf of gas for the price of a barrel of oil compared to 21.6 mcf at today’s prices. So, not only is natural gas a significantly better energy bargain than oil, it is also less expensive today than it was 45 years ago compared to the price of oil. The U.S. is nearly self-sufficient in natural gas whereas more than 60% of our daily consumption of oil must be imported from foreign countries, aggravating an already bloated trade deficit.
Infrastructure and Logistical Considerations:
A friend, fellow geologist and former colleague in the petroleum industry, Jim Brown, illuminates a number of contrasts between natural gas and the other fossil fuels that bear on price differences, energy yields and the logistical and infrastructure requirements for production, transportation and marketing:
• Natural gas development requires enough reserves to economically support the building of expensive infrastructure such as pipelines, compression stations, etc. to transport the gas to point of sale. Gas must be compressed every so many miles and oil must be pumped. Gas transportation is very inflexible, being dependent on pipelines, and that limits marketing options. Small reserves without access to an existing pipeline may be left behind.
• Oil and coal, on the other hand, can be trucked, barged, shipped or transported by pipeline optimizing market flexibility. Additionally, both oil and coal, unlike natural gas, can be stored at the site of the producing well or mine and trucked out periodically when sufficient volume has accumulated for optimum transportation efficiency.
• Transporting oil by tankers is substantially cheaper than liquefying and transporting natural gas (LNG). Transporting coal from foreign markets is not an issue since the U.S. is self sufficient in coal reserves.
• The price of natural gas will be suppressed relative to the price of oil so long as it remains in competition with coal for industrial and power generating customers. Many of these customers can readily shift back and forth between the gas and coal depending on which is more cost effective at any given time. Coal is extremely cheap and will influence the price of gas as long as coal is allowed to be used to generate electricity.
• Oil is inherently more valuable than gas because it can be used as a transportation fuel as well as many other applications including the feedstock for more than 3000 petrochemical and synthetic products. Gasoline is an extremely concentrated form of energy and is most cheaply made from oil. If natural gas could compete as a viable transportation fuel, its price/value would rise accordingly.
• Wet gas is more valuable than dry because the liquids can be stripped out and refined into a broad array of end products. It is an interesting tidbit that the word “gasoline” originated with natural gasoline (gas condensate), but was replaced by cracking technology that allowed the efficient refining of crude oil into gasoline.
• One of the new technological innovations in fossil fuels is the creation of syndiesel from natural gas. It can be transported and distributed by trucks and has a higher BTU value than traditional diesel with few or no pollutants. Exxon is pursuing such a venture in Qatar capitalizing on the Eurasian market where a higher percentage of cars are designed to run on diesel.
• A renowned authority on oil prices, Henry Groppe, once used a coffee cup as a prop to illustrate just how much energy is stored in gasoline and how efficient and cheap it is. “At $3.00/gallon, much of it tax, a cup of gasoline that costs less than 19 cents will transport 5 people and some luggage over 2 miles at 35mpg. This illustrates the extreme difficulty in finding an alternative to gasoline as a vehicle fuel.”
The Need for a Comprehensive National Energy Policy:
If the promoters of natural gas as the solution to American’s reliance on foreign oil succeed, increasing demand will certainly lead to rising natural gas prices. The price gap between oil and natural gas will narrow, leading to higher prices for consumers across the board for home heating, electricity generation, industrial production, etc.
The ultimate solution to lessening America’s dependence on foreign sources of energy must include increasing domestic production of oil, coal and natural gas to improve the supply/demand balance and expand the use of nuclear energy for electricity generation.
America can only move in the direction of less reliance on foreign energy imports and stem the huge outflow of American trade dollars with an enlightened National Energy Policy that simplifies the regulatory nightmare and encourages domestic energy development by opening up new areas for exploration combined with realistic, achievable and cost effective environmental safeguards.
Coming at an “inconvenient” time, the recent revelations from thousands of hacked emails from a computer server used by the prestigious Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, have exposed communications between leading climate scientists that provide a window into the depth of the conspiracy by Anthropogenic (human-caused) Global Warming (AGW) promoters to obfuscate climate related issues and silence contrarian voices. Already, this scientific scandal has taken on the moniker “climategate”. Following is but a tiny sampling of expressions, exchanged guidance and comments lifted from the emails of these “climate scientists”. See the web site below for more:
- How to “destroy a scientific journal” that dared print articles skeptical of AGW.
- How to “truncate” data to hide an apparent cooling trend.
- Proclaiming the death of a prominent AGW skeptic as “cheering news”.
- Discussions of “tricks” to hide temperature declines.
- Pressuring BBC for allowing publication of skeptical articles.
- Fretting over their inability to account for “lack of recent warming”.
Since the exposure of this conspiracy, there have been frantic damage control efforts by these scientists and related environmental interests leading up to the recently held Copenhagen Climate Summit and the pending vote in the U.S. Senate on Carbon Cap-and-Trade Legislation. The House has already passed the legislation by a narrow margin. The stakes are high! The AGW leadership must prevent the complete unraveling of their carefully woven scheme to promote climate warming as human caused, even though the climate has been cooling for a dozen years, in order to see laws passed that would regulate the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The potential financial gain is enormous for those who can insert themselves into that process and profit, at the expense of consumers and taxpayers, from the trade in carbon credits and the sequestration (storage) of carbon dioxide. In desperation, they have ratcheted up the alarm quotient by, among other things, producing a film showing dead Polar Bears raining from the sky onto the streets of Manhattan to drive home their alarmist message of impending environmental catastrophe.
The reputation of the entire scientific community has suffered in the eyes of the public based on the fraudulent behavior of those “climate scientists” who have politicized and dishonored their science and their reputations to promote the Anthropogenic Global Warming hoax.
How could this happen? Science is supposed to be the most objective of all human endeavors. The legacy of science is a proud one. Virtually all modern medicine and modern technology have evolved from objective, peer reviewed scientific research that provided a fundamental understanding of nature. Scientists have stoically suffered persecution and societal marginalization throughout the ages in the quest for truth and for discoveries and revelations that went against conventional wisdom or that threatened entrenched bureaucracies. So, how have these “climate scientists” been turned to the “dark side”?
There are, apparently, many government and academic scientists, both domestic and international, who have bowed to political pressure and climbed onto the AGW “steamroller” in order to protect or advance careers, achieve academic tenure, attract research funding, etc. If they truly believe in AGW, then, at a minimum, they demonstrate little understanding of the earth’s dynamism, its history, natural processes, cycles, systems and rhythms and its relationship to and dependency on the SUN.
Environmental activism evolved from the social turmoil of the 1960s. These self-appointed environmental organizations, some more radical than others, exist largely through public contributions from individuals, like-minded organizations and, perhaps, taxpayer funding by virtue of their political influence. They attract attention to themselves through outrageous actions, alarmist tactics and self-serving positions on issues. They do so with impunity, because there is no policing authority or standard of conduct to hold them accountable, even for complete falsehoods and flagrant misrepresentations. How many times over the years has one heard the superlative expression by some activist in front of a TV camera with a carefully choreographed backdrop proclaiming, “this is the worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl”? They have blamed hundreds of natural phenomena on AGW. The pace at which responsible science progresses is tortoise-like compared to how quickly a radical environmentalist can grab a headline. A lie can be told in a nanosecond, but it can take weeks, months, years or even decades for responsible scientific research to reveal truth provided that funding and motivation exist to support the effort. In the meantime, carefully crafted environmental images and messages have already become embedded in the public consciousness.
Environmental activists have skillfully demonized carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and manipulated public opinion sufficient to dictate public policy, even in the face of their own predictions that failed to materialize, without so much as a credible scientific debate. The AGW advocates exploit a compliant media, elect politicians, suppress contrarian voices, pressure respected scientific journal staffs to wave requirements for authors to make their data available, avoid objective peer review and influenced the United Nations to produce a politically motivated environmental report, published in 2007, entitled: United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
, hailed by their supporters as settled and irrefutable science.
The IPCC report was supposedly based on the work of thousands of scientists, but “… The IPCC’s key personnel and lead authors were appointed by governments, and its Summaries for Policymakers (SPM) have been subject to approval by member governments of the UN. The scientists involved with the IPCC are almost all supported by government contracts, which pay not only for their research but for their IPCC activities. .… It was an activist enterprise from the very beginning. Its agenda was to justify control of the emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. Consequently, its scientific reports have focused solely on evidence that might point toward human-induced climate change. .…the vast majority of these scientists had no direct influence on the conclusions expressed by the IPCC. Those policy summaries were produced by an inner core of scientists, and the SPMs (Summary for Policymakers) were revised and agreed to, line-by-line, by representatives of member governments. This obviously is not how real scientific research is reviewed and published”. Craig Idso & S. Fred Singer, Lead Authors, Climate Change Reconsidered, Published for the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC)
by The Heartland Institute, Chicago, IL, June 2009, Preface, p. iv.
The NIPCC, “…an international panel of nongovernment scientists and scholars” “…was set up to examine the same climate data used by the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).” Idso & Singer, p.iii, vi. They “…describe and reference thousands of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles that document scientific or historical facts that contradict the IPCC’s central claims, that global warming is man-made and that its effects will be catastrophic”. Idso & Singer, Preface, p. iii. They found numerous omissions and misrepresentations by the IPCC that skewed the findings to conform to their preconceived political agenda.
This NIPCC organization also initiated a petition project, accessible at: http://www.petitionproject.org/index.php
that generated responses from 31,486 American scientists (9029 with PhDs), including this writer, who voluntarily provided their technical / scientific qualifications and endorsed the following statement: “We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.
There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”
Ten times more scientists signed the above NIPCC statement as contributed to or participated in the production of the last IPCC (UN) report including 9,029 PhD’s compared to fewer than 100 for the IPCC (UN) report. The NIPCC report was presented to Congress and the White House without apparent effect.
This paper is not intended to condemn efforts to create a cleaner and more healthful environment or to promote conservation. Rather, this is a condemnation of bad science
, conspiratorial environmental influences and misdirected government efforts to ram legislation through Congress based on bad science that would hamstring American business and industry through over regulation and taxation and the imposition of onerous taxes and hardship on the shoulders of taxpayers and consumers in the name of “saving the planet” from a non-existent carbon dioxide enemy.
Craig Idso is Chairman of the Board, founder and former President of the Arizona based Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.
S. Fred Singer is Professor Emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia and specializes in planetary science, global warming, ozone depletion, and other global environmental issues.
Much of society, including the media and our political leadership, have been conditioned by a relative few “climate scientists” and their agents to the concept of man-made, runaway, global warming with dire future consequences for the planet. There is a virtual blizzard of information and misinformation in the mass media creating a daunting task to sort through the articles, books, videos and reports to synthesize reality. Most any stand alone article can present a convincing argument. It is only through comparative analysis and sorting facts from interpretation, bias and opinions that a rational story emerges. This article examines the fundamental issues that relate to carbon dioxide as the principal causative agent in climate change. The protagonists for human-caused global warming base their arguments on the role of carbon dioxide in the greenhouse effect specifically related to the burning of fossil fuels – oil, natural gas and coal. Fossil fuels are carbon based because they are derived from formerly living things. Oil, and natural gas to a large extent, was derived from cyanobacteria or blue-green algae that has flourished in the oceans for about 3 billion years extracting copious quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the process of photosynthesis and producing oxygen as a waste product that all animal life finds useful. The story for coal is very similar, except that it had its origin in land plants.
Carbon dioxide is a gas, although it can exist in the solid state as dry ice at low temperature. It is composed of one atom of carbon chemically bonded to two atoms of oxygen (CO2) that makes up 0.038% of our atmosphere. For scale, think of carbon dioxide as 380 parts per million or 3.8 parts in 10,000. It may be helpful to imagine a very large gold fish bowl filled with 10,000 white beads. Now, place 4 black beads on top to model the relative ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Three components make up 99.96% of our atmosphere: Nitrogen 78.08%, Oxygen 20.95%, & Argon 0.93%. Next in abundance is Carbon Dioxide at 0.038%, followed by trace amounts of Neon, Helium, Methane, Hydrogen, Nitrous Oxide and Ozone. Water vapor is a variable component that ranges between 0 and 4%. Some of the other components vary through time as well. Although a tiny fraction of one percent of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide plays a vital role in our environment, in our bodies and in all life processes. It is as essential to life as oxygen and water. All living things, whether animal or plant, are composed predominantly of complex, chemically bonded combinations of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and a few other elements. The fundamental “stuff” of life has been demonized! Carbon is a key component of all living things because it has the unique quality of being able to bond chemically in multiple and complex ways with various other naturally occurring elements. That quality lends itself to very practical applications in modern life as it enables the synthetic chemical fabrication from fossil fuel (carbon based) feed stocks of more than 3000 consumer, industrial and agricultural products that make their way into essential components of the standard of living we have grown to rely upon and to love.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by about 100 parts per million (285 to 385) since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution that began around 1750 with the advent of mechanized manufacturing. This is based on analyses of tiny air bubbles trapped in glacial ice. Although that represents an increase of 35%, it is only one part in 10,000 or one black bead in the gold fish bowl. But, what are the natural sources of carbon dioxide?
The man-made global warming supporters, particularly those with political agendas, attribute the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide solely to the use of fossil fuels. They have done so with evangelical fervor because it is a known greenhouse gas easy to demonize and can be packaged into simplistic sound bites for delivery to a largely unaware public. However, there is a bit more to it than that! Carbon dioxide is a by-product of all biological processes that include decay, fermentation and respiration. It is produced by combustion of organic materials, the chemical weathering and dissolution of carbonate rocks and gases emitted in volcanic eruptions, including the continuous gaseous effluents from the submarine upwelling of magma from the earth’s mantle along the 36,000 mile long mid-ocean ridge system that encircles the earth like the seams on a baseball cover. The carbon cycle is one of continuous rotation between the atmosphere, the oceans, plants, animals, carbonate rocks, etc. It is now documented that forests and other plants are growing about 15% faster in an atmosphere enriched in carbon dioxide, fortunate in view of the rapidly growing human population. One rarely hears mention of the fact that more than 4 billion people, together with their agricultural activities and domesticated animals, have been added to the planet within the past century. This has been made possible by a climate accommodative to vastly expanded agricultural crop production capable of supporting a human population closing in on 6.5 billion together with their livestock. If one wishes to contemplate dire consequences, consider what will happen to the few billion people living on the margins of existence when the earth’s climate tips over into another prolonged cooling period as it has about 20 times during the past 2 million years – a humanitarian disaster beyond imagination!
Two aspects of atmospheric carbon dioxide argue strongly against a measurable influence on climate change at current and projected future levels. Although a well established greenhouse gas, the effect of carbon dioxide is not linear. It is actually logarithmic and the effect is most pronounced at low concentrations. For example, the first 20 parts per million in the atmosphere has a greater greenhouse influence on temperature than the next 400 parts per million. Remember that the current level is 385 parts per million and increasing between 1 and 2 parts per million per year. Each incremental increase of 100 parts per million will produce only about 0.1 degree of warming, absent any other climatic influences, which, by the way, are numerous. At that rate, one could expect to see only about 0.1 degree temperature increase every 50 to 100 years – hardly cataclysmic!
The second salient quality of carbon dioxide that relates to its role in global warming is that it is retained in solution in cold ocean water at higher concentrations than in warmer water. One can test this fact by observing the more vigorous effervescence from an agitated bottle of warm soda compared to a cold one. As the atmosphere warms coming out of an ice age, as now and as it has repeatedly over the past two million years and beyond, the oceans warm more slowly due to their greater volume and density. So, the carbon dioxide released from solution in the warming oceans lags atmospheric warming by as much as 800 years. The atmospheric enrichment in carbon dioxide during a warming epoch is, therefore, more an effect of warming than a cause. Carbon dioxide could not be convicted in a court of law for causing global warming, because it arrived belatedly at the scene of the alleged crime. Perhaps that is the ultimate solution to this controversy, a court trial requiring the global warming alarmists to present their data under cross examination before an impartial jury of knowledgeable people. It would be awkward for them to explain how the earth managed to warm its way out of nearly two dozen glacial epochs in the past without the help of ethnocentric man.
Ah, but there is more! Regarding greenhouse gases, the largest contributors of all, water vapor and cloud droplets, are often ignored by the proponents of man-made global warming; preferring to compare only the relative contributions of carbon dioxide to the other minor greenhouse gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. Estimates vary somewhat and there is still much to learn about the effects of water vapor in the lower atmosphere, including cloud cover, as it varies both seasonally and by latitude from near zero to about 4%, but it appears that the combination of water vapor and cloud droplets account for about 95% of the greenhouse effect. All the other greenhouse gases combined make up only about 5% of the effect. With all the uncertainties regarding water vapor and the extra-terrestrial variables that influence earth’s climate such as solar irradiance and orbital eccentricities, the effect of carbon dioxide on earth’s climate is not meaningfully measurable.
Different departments of our very own government are in disarray on the subject of carbon dioxide. While the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has declared carbon dioxide a toxic gas to be regulated to very strict standards, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) sets workplace carbon dioxide concentrations at 0.5% CO2 or 5,000 parts per million averaged over a 40 hour work week. Now, that is 1300% higher than the current atmospheric concentration of 385 parts per million or 0.038%. Yet, we as a nation seem eager to sally forth to hamstring business, industry, consumers and taxpayers alike to slay an imaginary dragon with Carbon Cap–and–Trade legislation.
Around 19,000 years ago, what is now New York City was crushed beneath the burden of a mile and a half of ice. Sea level was more than 400 feet lower than today so the beach was several tens of miles east of present day, a consequence of so much water being bound up in ice and stored on the continents. The hydrologic cycle saw to that as water evaporated from the oceans it was carried inland by prevailing winds and deposited there as frozen precipitation waiting for the earth to warm and send it cascading as melt water down swollen streams to replenish the oceans once again. Human inhabitants at that time clung tenaciously to life, existing in small, nomadic, hunter-gatherer bands of family and extended family units. But, for some reason, in response to natural forces or combinations of climatic influences still not fully understood, the ice began to melt and the frontal edges of the vast continental ice sheets began to recede. This did not happen quickly or in a smooth and continuous fashion. Rather, there were fits and starts to the ice withdrawal – advances and retreats – as the earth struggled to re-establish some natural equilibrium.
There was nothing unique about this seemingly catastrophic event. The episodic advance and retreat of continental glaciers re-occurred as many as twenty times over the past two million years for an average periodicity of one major glacial epoch every 100,000 years. The corollary to this is that every glacial epoch was punctuated by an interglacial epoch when the earth warmed, as now, and the ice retreated northward from covering about 30% of the land areas to covering only about 10% of the earth’s land surface.
Our species, Homo sapiens, can be traced back to a time of origin of somewhat more than 100,000 years ago in east Africa during the prior interglacial epoch. With the decoding of the human genome in recent years and the widespread collection and analysis of human genetic samples from around the world, genetic markers (mutations) that are unique to isolated breeding populations have enabled the mapping of human migration pathways across the globe. Spencer Wells, formerly head of the population genetics research group at Oxford University’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, tells this marvelous story in, “The Journey of Man”, published in the U.S. and Canada by Princeton University Press, © Spencer Wells, 2002. Our forebears left east Africa between 50 and 60,000 years ago reaching Australia as early as 45,000 years ago, possibly even earlier, and South America in the neighborhood of 13,000 years ago. The critical legs of this remarkable journey took place when about 30% of the earth’s land area was covered by continental ice. But, the ice worked to the benefit of our ancestors. It enabled early humans to reach new, more hospitable lands for settlement via exposed land bridges or narrowed channels due to sea level being lowered by the amount of water stored in continental ice. We owe everything to these hardy souls for it was through their toughness, hardship, resourcefulness and adaptability that we exist.
In the search for understanding in the natural world where processes are driven by fundamental forces unemotional and disrespectful of human convenience, where do we go for answers? The short answer is we go to the Scientific Method, a disciplined and objective process of observation, data collection and analysis, experimentation, and conclusions that are subjected to the scrutiny of knowledgeable peers. Climate change is a case in point.
In consideration of the driving climate influences, how do we sort out and assign relative importance to the plethora of possible factors that determine and define our climate? How do we measure and predict the variations in solar energy emitted by that churning thermonuclear cauldron that is our sun? How do even slight variations affect the amount of heat reaching the earth? How does one model that and make confident predictions for the future? How do we measure the slight variations in the amount of heat reaching the earth as its distance from the sun waxes and wanes over a 100,000 year cycle due to its elliptical orbit (eccentricity) around the sun? How do we measure variations in the amount of heat energy reaching the earth as the earth wobbles on its axis of rotation (precession) on a 26,000 year cycle? And, how do we measure the effect of variations in the earth’s axis of tilt (obliquity) relative to the sun that repeats on a 41,000 year cycle? To make the problem even more complicated, consider the summing and subtracting effects as these cycles converge and diverge through time like planets coming into alignment around the sun on occasion and then spinning off into divergent regions of the solar system. There are many other natural cycles that influence earth’s climate such as the oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle, the hydrologic cycle, the rock cycle, etc.
More questions that require a credible scientific and scholarly debate revolving around climate change include the following. If carbon dioxide produced by humans is the driving influence for climate change, why did the earth begin to warm 19,000 years ago when carbon dioxide was much lower than today and humans could not possibly have been an influence? How was 99.99% of the atmospheric warming and sea level rise in the past 19,000 years accomplished without the influence of industrial man? How did the earth warm its way out of 19 other glacial epochs over the past 2 million years and numerous additional times in the distant past? What caused the Medieval Warm Period that enabled the growing of vineyards in England and Viking settlements on the coast of Greenland? What caused the Little Ice Age that gripped the earth from about 1300 to 1850?
Aren’t we extraordinarily fortunate to be living in our time – an absolute climate sweet spot in the entirety of the human experience? Early in the past century, there were only about two billion people on earth. Now the world population is closing in on 6.5 billion and is projected to reach 9 or 10 billion this century. What will happen to the several billion people living on the margins of existence if ethnocentric man messes with the climate causing cooling, increased energy consumption and decreased food production?
Living in a state with little history of natural gas development, I sense a pall of uncertainty at the prospect of drilling for this natural resource. With a long background in petroleum exploration, I feel an obligation to try to add some perspective to this debate.
Natural gas development brings many positives. As the most environmentally friendly fossil fuel, its expanded use for transportation and power generation will help offset the amount of oil imported each year — about $500 billion worth and growing. It will also bring many economic benefits to local and state governments in the form of tax revenue, royalties, fees, etc.
The land/mineral owner will benefit from lease bonuses, rentals and royalties. For example, the mineral owner would receive about 12.5 percent of the value of any gas produced from his/her land — about $2,700 per day for a well producing five million cubic feet. The local area would benefit economically from infrastructure development, sales of equipment, supplies and services and from new job creation.
Horizontal drilling and fracking are technologies that enable the production of oil and gas from compact rocks that would otherwise be unrecoverable. These technologies are being successfully employed in full compliance with a plethora of laws and regulations across more than a dozen states from south Texas to the Canadian border and east to the Appalachians. That benefits our nation as well as the local communities, landowners and states.
Fracking takes place a few to several thousand feet below the surface and involves pumping large amounts of water into the zone of interest under pressure sufficient to fracture the rock and free up the gas trapped within. The pressure required to fracture the rock is easy to calculate, and the risk of those fractures running amok to contaminate freshwater zones is highly unlikely. The entire purpose of fracking would be instantly defeated if the fractures extended into the mass of surrounding rock, providing an unwanted
escape route for the gas. The freshwater zones are protected behind multiple strings of steel casing securely cemented into place.
A small percentage, about 0.5 percent of total volume, of various chemicals are added to the injected water to prevent adverse reactions such as to suppress clay mineral swelling and iron scale buildup. Some of this water may return to the surface along with the produced gas, where it is then separated from the gas and disposed of according to established laws and regulations.
Coarse sand is usually injected into the fractured zone to “prop” open the fractures. Horizontal drilling opens up much more of the gas-bearing section to the well bore, dramatically increasing the recovery of gas from a single well, thereby limiting the operational footprint on the surface.
Our legislators, in developing the state’s oil and gas law, should adhere to the lesson I learned as a 10-year-old. Frustrated with a barrage of unwanted advice from a much less successful neighbor, my father looked down at me and said, “Son, if you ever want advice, go to someone who has been successful in that field.”
So I urge our legislators or their emissaries to go to those states such as Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma with well-established oil and gas laws to learn from them. Our state legislators, Sen. Harris Blake and Rep. Jamie Boles, have a golden opportunity to make a difference in the lives of North Carolinians should oil and gas development come to our state.
In the early part of the last century, the state of Texas, developing its oil and gas law, came up with a novel idea. It earmarked the oil and gas royalties from Section 16 of each township of state-owned land for education. Those became known as School Board Sections. Consequently, that royalty revenue allowed the state of Texas to develop one of the most advanced educational systems in the U.S. Additionally, oil and gas royalty revenue is the reason that the state of Texas has no state income tax today.
North Carolina should do something similar. In developing the state’s oil and gas law, set aside 20 percent of all oil- and gas-generated revenue for education without diminishing the percentage of the state budget for education derived from other revenue sources. This should have broad political appeal.
If you do it right, future generations will be forever grateful.
America currently imports about 62% of its daily oil requirements sending about half a trillion dollars per year to oil exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Canada, Mexico and Venezuela while placing many promising areas for oil exploration in the US off limits.
An observer need only look at the price difference between oil and two other fossil fuels – coal and natural gas – that America has in abundance, to gain a perspective on the cost of fossil fuels and realize the importance of developing domestic energy resources.
A barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil recently sold for about $112. An MCF (thousand cubic feet) of domestically produced
natural gas sells for about $4.36. It takes 6 MCF of gas (6 thousand cubic feet) to generate the same BTU energy output as one barrel of oil. So, one can purchase the energy output of a barrel of oil in natural gas for $26.16 (6X4.36) – a 77% savings. Coal is even more of an energy bargain, equating on an energy basis to oil at a cost of $14.04 per barrel.
Coal is the principal fuel used in electricity generation, but has been demonized by the environmental lobby and many politicians as dirty and causing dangerous climate change. Without it, the cost of electricity would be much greater. Coal is dirty relative to natural gas, although modern plants have cut back 90% or more of pollutants. Carbon dioxide, although a “greenhouse gas,” should not be called a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is essential to all life processes and is increasing in our atmosphere at a rate of 1 to 2 parts per million per year. It takes an increase of 100 parts per million to produce 0.1 degree of warming. At this rate, the “greenhouse effect” will cause only one-tenth of one degree temperature increase every 50 to 100 years – hardly cataclysmic!
In spite of Al Gore's loud proclamations, carbon dioxide simply does not constitute a threat that needs to be addressed.
Hello to Members of the West Knollwood Precinct. My name is Charlie Holbrook and our Precinct Chairman, Bill Cochrane, has asked me to be a blogger on his newly created website. I commend him on developing a great site for communicating with Precinct members.
I have been active in the Precinct as Vice-Chair under Paul Brodict for the past four years and served as Member at Large in the Moore County Republican Party for two years. I continue to be interested in promoting conservative values.
From time to time, I will contribute blogs on conservative political values and principles and data based perspectives on issues that pertain to energy and the environment. My qualification on these subjects are based on my education as an earth scientist, having worked in multiple phases of petroleum exploration with a major oil company for 32 years both domestically and foreign and having taught multiple college level geology courses through Campbell University over a four year period following retirement.
I welcome your feedback and alternative ideas you may have on subjects that I address in the coming months.
Energy is elemental to our way of life. Our homes and commercial establishments, our places of work and recreation and our diverse modes of transportation literally hum with the various manifestations of energy consumption for essential activities and for pleasure and comfort. Commerce rides the rails; soars through the skies; plows the oceans, lakes and rivers; roars down the highways transporting people and goods; and, streams through the air waves at “warp” speed in support of our everyday lives. This defines a substantial part of our culture and enables the highest standard of living ever experienced by any other society.
As our nation works its way through the current economic downturn, energy related issues, particularly the volatility of fuel prices, have become frequent topics of discussion, speculation and concern. The price of oil has fallen from a high near $147 a barrel (42 U.S. gallons) in 2008 to the upper $30 range early in 2009 as a result of depressed demand before re-bounding to near $80 by late 2009 reflecting a degree of economic recovery and optimism as well as a weakened U.S. dollar relative to key international currencies. Reduced oil prices and consumption have significantly eased the current trade deficit and lowered energy costs for consumers. But, the bad news is that reduced economic activity negatively affects virtually every citizen in one way or another – high unemployment, decreased consumer spending, investment losses, depreciated home values and a serious tax revenue shortfall at all levels of government.
To achieve and sustain a high level of GDP output and to enjoy a vibrant economy and high standard of living for its citizens, any nation must pursue policies that ensure a reliable and adequate supply of cost effective energy. Our political leadership has struggled over the past several decades to come up with policies that reasonably address the plethora of stakeholder issues related to energy including the geopolitical, economic, consumer, national security, environmental and trade deficit concerns.
The “energy crises” of the 1970’s inspired the formation of The Department of Energy on October 1, 1977. This new federal agency brought together under one umbrella the formerly separate energy related functions of the Federal Energy Administration, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Federal Power Commission and portions of programs from several other agencies. Today, the Department of Energy focuses primarily on ensuring the nation’s energy security, the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile, cleaning up the environment and developing innovations in science and technology. In the meantime, our nation’s dependency on foreign imports of crude oil, now more than 60% of our daily consumption, continues to grow. The efforts of The Department of Energy have been largely ineffectual in achieving domestic energy independence or even in stemming the rate of increase in dependence on foreign sources of oil, much of it from unstable regions of the world. Today, 80% of the world’s proven oil reserves reside in 8 nations; many are not our friends – Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Russia. The U.S. has only about 2% of the world’s “officially” proven oil reserves and many promising areas remain off limits to exploration.
Recently, when the price of oil soared to $147 per barrel, America was transferring almost $700 billion per year to oil exporting nations to satisfy our energy requirements. One can project that, as the economy recovers, America will transfer $8 – $10 trillion to these nations over the next ten years assuming a return to normal growth in energy consumption, increasing cost of energy and decreasing domestic energy production. That represents almost the equivalent of the current annual Gross Domestic Product. This is the price that taxpayers and consumers will pay for self-imposed barriers to development of domestic fossil and nuclear energy resources while our government pours massive taxpayer subsidies into non-economic and unreliable energy alternatives.
Fossil fuels currently power 71% of all US electricity generation (coal – 49%, natural gas – 20%, and oil – 2%). Nuclear energy fuels the generation of 20% of all US electricity (much higher in France and Japan) and, hydroelectric dams account for another 7%. The total amount of electricity generated by all renewable energy sources including geothermal, wind, solar and bio-fuels is about 2%. Some experts predict that these ratios will change little over the next few decades. There is a simple explanation. The geothermal potential that is economic to develop has already been developed. Bio-fuels, especially those made from food crops, carry a heavy burden of unintended consequences including inflated food prices. Wind and Solar have never been cost competitive or reliable sources of energy, nor can they stand on their own. They can only exist with massive government subsidies and serve a supplemental role that requires a backup system. Electricity must be generated on demand and cannot be stored in large amounts with current technology. A back-up system powered by reliable fossil or nuclear fuels is required to supply the demand when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. And, our electricity demand is expected to increase by 50% between now and 2050.
The government has now demonized carbon dioxide produced in the combustion of fossil fuels, our most important source of energy, based on the false premise that it causes global warming. Their solution seems bent on penalizing all carbon based fuels by imposing massive tax burdens referred to as “carbon cap and trade” that will cascade onto the shoulders of consumers at every level of society. The federal government sees this as a mechanism to generate a huge revenue stream to help offset the massive national debt and budget deficit. But, the unintended consequence will be reduced economic activity and a lower standard of living for our citizens. Those who will reap the benefits from the proposed “cap and trade” bill will be the carbon traders and businesses involved with the capture and storage of carbon dioxide (sequestration). This will be a regressive tax of enormous proportions hurting most the poorest among us who must spend all their income on the necessities of life – food, fuel, power and retail goods. The likely outcome, if “carbon cap and trade” becomes a reality, will be that our government will then have to adopt another level of taxpayer funded entitlements to compensate the poor for poor government policy.