Archive for February, 2012

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Fracking documentary seeking financial support

February 28, 2012

The makers of the pro-fracking documentary FrackNation are seeking financial support to promote and distribute their film.  You can become an “executive producer” of the film for as little as one dollar.

On a side note, posting has been light the last few weeks as I have been quite busy with real work, but I anticipate returning to a daily posting schedule in 3 or 4 weeks.

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The staggering renewable power industry

February 22, 2012

One after another, large scale renewable energy firms are declaring bankruptcy – Solyndra, Evergreen Solar, and RangeFuels are among the highest profile casualties.  In December, BP, which had been an industry leader for decades, declared that it was dropping its solar power division, which had once been envisioned as a future profit center.  The fact of the matter is that alternative energy sources are not technologically advanced enough to survive in a marketplace without large government subsidies, and the current global financial climate cannot support such subsidies.  The overall energy profile of fossil fuels remains superior to any alternative, as they hold unsurpassed superiority in what I call the 3 Ps:  Price, Portability, and Potency.  A ton of coal or its equivalent in petroleum or natural gas can bring more energy to bear with more versatility than any existing competitor.  Nuclear can bring more potency, but the regulatory hurdles surrounding nuclear have prevented construction of a new plant in the US in decades.

The demand for energy is only growing, and there is no feasible recourse except fossil fuels to meet that demand.  We can either be serious about finding environmental mitigation for fossil fuel use, or we can freeze in the dark.  You know we aren’t going to choose the latter, so let’s drop the ideological stances (on both sides) and finally get serious about energy.

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Despite environmental concerns, shale gas looks like the future of energy

February 21, 2012

While other nations take a wait and see approach, the shale gas boom is zooming forward in the US.  If we combine the abundance of the resource with the proper policy choices (for example, the Zubrin plan for an open transportation fuel mandate), shale gas can completely change the energy landscape.  However, we must be sensitive to the environmental concerns of others and make wise policy choices on the environmental front as well.  Some are wondering whether shale is a false boon and really just a disaster waiting to happen – but it doesn’t have to be that way.  We can serve both the energy and the environmental constituencies if both are willing to give a little to get a little.    This is a time for leadership; unfortunately, in an election year, we are receiving too much demagoguery on both sides.

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Fracking causes collapse in gas prices, decline in energy profits

February 21, 2012

Profits for energy companies are down across the spectrum, due to the gas glut caused by the fracking revolution.

 

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2012 Outlook for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology

February 16, 2012

A rare free report from Pike Research (login required) on the outlook for hydrogen fuel cells in 2012.  While it remains an approach with much promise, the technological hurdles to a hydrogen economy are as great today as they were when the National Academy of Science produce it’s much-commented-upon report back in 2004.  Personally, I remain convinced that carbon fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) will continue to dominate the global energy picture for at least the first half of this century.  The global financial situation will constrain governments for years to come, and alternative energies are going to have to earn their market share without resort to government subsidies.

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Europeans find their high cost sustainable energy policies are fiscally unsustainable

February 15, 2012

European nations have been leaders in developing “green energy” technologies, and European politicians were for years leaders in promoting policies that subsidized green energy in the belief that they could create economies of scale that would force prices to come down to levels competitive with fossil fuels.  However, in the face of the ongoing financial crisis, governments are being forced to cancel their green energy subsidies and the true cost of these programs can no longer be hidden from consumers.  Across the continent, sustainable energy programs are failing.  This European approach, and in particular the “Spanish Model,” was the foundation of President Obama’s own energy policy.   The failure of government backed green energy programs is playing out a bit differently on this side of the Atlantic, where it often plays out as cronyism and scandal.

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Economic strength and naval power

February 14, 2012

The theoretical foundation for this blog lie in World System Analysis in general and in Modelski’s Long Cycle Theory in particular.  From this perspective, the world is best understood as a unitary economic system that relies on a single, powerful leader (hegemon) to set the rules and to maintain order.  Throughout the ~500  year existence of the current Modern World System, that leading nation has always been a maritime power with a relatively open society and a trading economy.   That nation is currently the US and there is no obvious successor state (I think India could fill the role in the long term, but that nation probably needs a few more decades of political, economic and especially naval development to fully take up the mantle).

The leading nation has always been challenged by a land based power operating in system that is relatively more closed both politically and economically.  If the US allows its naval power to decay or otherwise declines to maintain leadership, then the world system will undergo substantial change.  Either a continental power (China) will assume leadership and assert a new set of rules, or the system will devolve into relative anarchy.  Therefore, if the US wishes to ensure that its primary interests of liberty and prosperity are maintained, it must maintain its strategic power.  To me, that means both naval and air power, even at the expense of a large army and standing forces deployed around the globe.  Gordon England, former Secretary of the Navy and Deputy Secretary of Defense, made the case for the linkage of naval power and national economic success from a less theoretical but more grounded perspective in last month’s edition of Proceedings, the journal of the Naval Institute.

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Classical geopolitics and energy geopolitics: a state of play

February 2, 2012

One of the earliest theoretical disputes in classical geopolitics was the relative value of sea power vs. land power.  Alfred T. Mahan was a proponent of the primacy of sea power, while Halford MacKinder believed that if any nation was able to obtain primacy in the Eurasion heartland, then the corresponding landpower would overwhelm the advantages of seapower.

From the perspective of Long Cycle Theory, the conflicts of the modern world system have always been between a sea power and a land power – and the dominant power has always been the nation that can rule the waves.

Nor is this dichotomy is not limited to Anglo American perspectives on geopolitics and hegemonic power.   Russian geopolitical theorist Aleksander Dugin argues that it is the core of international conflict (he uses the terms “thalassocracy” for sea power and “telluocracy” for land power) and, in a geographically deterministic conclusion, contends that the two different positions create profound cultural differences that will always be in conflict.

In the original dispute between Mahan and MacKinder, the latter feared that the connecting of the Eurasion Heartland via a network of railroads would give the land power a mobility equal to or surpassing that of the naval powers; that a land power would be able to project power as efficiently as formerly only sea power could, and that would allow a nation to dominate all of Asia and bring its vast resources to bear in creating an inexorable global empire.

Today, the Eurasian Heartland and its vast resources are once again the field of contest among great powers.  The technology brought to bear has changed, however.  Whereas a century ago, it was railroads pitted against battleships, today it is pipelines vs. super tankers.  The resource of primary interest in Central Asia is energy – oil and natural gas resources that the energy-dependent economies of the world hunger and thirst for.  The pipelines would seem to have the upper hand, as described in the purple prose of Pepe Escobar, who foresees a MacKinderian nightmare of an Asia integrated on energy trading that he dubs “Pipelineistan.”

Escobar’s vision would be a nightmare development for the West.  Europe would be dependent on Russia for energy and the United States would be marginalized.  It is through this lens that Escobar understands US military and foreign policy, and he may be correct.  But, the shale revolution may completely reshuffle the deck.  The gas bonanza that hydraulic fracturing promises would collapse the price structure on which the intricate network of pipelines depends; it is conceivable that, within 25 years, the United States could at once become the world’s greatest consumer, producer and exporter of energy.  The Pipelineistan behemoth would be stillborne, and the US would remain the world’s greatest power.  All that such an outcome requires are the proper policy decisions in Washington, DC over the next decade.

 

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Shockingly bad Anti-fracking hatchet piece at EER

February 1, 2012

The European Energy Review is one of my favorite sources for information and updates on energy related matters.  I was shocked to see that they re-published a factually challenged, fear-based, eco-baiting piece attacking hydraulic fracturing.   As we have noted in the past, fracking definitely needs to be carefully monitored and regulated, but the claims that fracking is a threat to groundwater contamination are overblown and, at times, largely fraudulent.

The data on groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing are clear and overwhelming:  over 20,000 wells have been drilled in the past 10 years, and there have been just 20 cases of groundwater contamination.  That is less than a 1/10 of one percent occurrence rate.

The article that the EER ran was originally published at TomDispatch.org.  On the TopDispatch version of the article, they are hawking a book by their founder titled The United States of Fear, which argues that forces in the nation are using fear (of terrorism, national decline, etc) to boost profits and erode rights.  It is ironic that such a fear-based piece is being used to sell a book warning people about those who would profiteer from fear.

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