Archive for March, 2010

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Obama’s Oil Exploration Gambit: A Shell Game?

March 31, 2010

Utah Senator Robert Bennett charges that President Obama’s bold claim to open vast areas to energy exploration is just a form of three card monte.  Speaking to the National Review this afternoon, Bennett claimed that buried within the proposal are myriad new rules and regulations that will, in effect, make actual exploration and drilling in these newly “opened” areas impossible.  “Just drawing a new line on the map means nothing unless those areas are actually opened, and not burdened or blocked by new taxes, fees, and red tape,” Bennett said.  Instead of moving to unlock the nation’s energy potential, the Senator claims that “they’re clearly moving as strongly as they can in the opposite direction.”

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Air Force continues its quest for alternative fuel

March 31, 2010

When Barack Obama announced today he was lifting the ban on some offshore oil drilling, he did so standing before a Navy F-18.  “This navy fighter jet,” Obama announced, “appropriately called the Green Hornet, will be flown for the first time in just a few days, on Earth Day. If tests go as planned, it will be the first plane ever to fly faster than the speed of sound on a fuel mix that is half biomass.”

Although this test will be with a Navy plane, it has been the Air Force leading the way in the alternative fuel search.  In an op-ed that led me to begin this site in the first place, I wrote about the Air Force effort to create jet fuel (specifically, JP-8) from a mix containing half liquefied coal (Coal to Liquid, or CTL).   Later that year, the USAF worked with the Energy & Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota to create a 100% renewable form of JP-8 made from crop oil and waste greases.   Last week, an Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt flew a test mission using a 100% synthetic fuel manufactured from camelina oil.

The US Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of petroleum in the world, and the Air Force is the single largest customer within the DoD.  Through a combination of CTL and renewable sources, the Air Force hopes to fly half its missions using alternative fuels by mid-decade.    This would provide a significant downward price pressure on petroleum worldwide.    I would like to see the goal extended.  While it might be decades before our nation as a whole can relieve its dependence on foreign oil, we can realistically set a goal of having our military free of dependence on oil imports from outside of North America by no later than 2020.

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Economic downturn creates decline in petroleum usage

March 31, 2010

March Monthly Energy Report from the EIA:  Overall energy use in 2009 down 4.6% from 2008, fossil fuels down 5.9%, renewables up 5.5%.  Fossil fuel use – both total and petroleum – at the lowest level since 1995.

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Do oil exports fuel defense spending?

March 31, 2010

President Obama is making a strong push for additional sanctions against Iran.  Speaking with the press yesterday beside French President Sarkozy, Obama predicted a new sanction regime “within weeks.”

The goal of the sanctions is to force the Iranians to abandon their nuclear ambitions.  The question, as always, is will they work?

A recent monograph published by the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College indicates that the likely answer is “no.”

Dr. Clayton K.S. Chun conducted a longitudinal analysis of the defense spending of five oil producing and exporting nations – Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Venezuala and Iran.    What he discovered is that the defense spending/oil revenue relationship in all five nations tends to be inelastic – meaning that the rulers of these nations choose to keep defense revenues the same, cut them at a lower rate, or even increase them in the face of falling revenues.  It is possible that a sanction regime is a signal of external threat, and therefore an impetus for further, rather than reduced, spending.

In the case of Iran, 70% of the nation’s revenues come from oil and gas exports.  At the same time that there is reliance on this trade for funding, there is an increasing internal demand for energy usage.  In order to maintain its export volume and still meet its internal needs, the Iranian regime has chosen to pursue nuclear power.  While it’s nuclear ambitions are also military, the creation of a nuclear power segment is crucial to Iranian stability.  Dr. Chun believes they will cut back on everything else before they give up their nuclear goal.  This makes any sanction regime unlikely to succeed and, in fact, may make it counter productive.  Which is why there is such hesitancy among our allies to join Obama in this project.

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Obama to deliver speech on energy security tomorrow AM

March 31, 2010

Early word is that he will make an announcement about offshore drilling policy

fingers crossed . . . . a move in the affirmative direction would be the best thing his administration has accomplished, IMO.

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Arctic Energy Summit Final Report

March 30, 2010

The International Polar Year was actually two years – it ran from March 2007 through March 2009.  Among the many activities of the IPY was the Arctic Energy Summit, hosted by the Institute of the North (you can find a link to the Institute among the Research links in the bar to the right).  The final report of that summit was published last month and can be downloaded from this page.

The US Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic is home to 20% of the world’s  fossil fuel energy resources, and that the vast majority of these resources is completely untapped.  The Arctic also holds vast potential for generating wind, hydro, tidal and geothermal energy.  There are 8 nations (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States) with claims on lands in the Arctic, and the geopolitical struggle to either dominate these resources or simply to bring them to market will be of increasing importance as the century matures.

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Mobility is Freedom

March 29, 2010

In a self-described “major policy revision,” the Transportation Department last week announced that it would no longer focus on automobiles in road and highway design, and would begin giving equal consideration to bicycle and pedestrian use.

This is a notable aspect of the New Urbanism movement that has been fully embraced by many politicians, particularly Democrats, and, most importantly, by many key domestic policy advisers in the White House.

The stated goal of the New Urbanists is to make cities cleaner, more efficient, more “livable” and to attract those who have fled to the suburbs and exurbs back into the urban core.  This, we are assured, will have the added benefit of fewer cars, less driving, and better use of resources (including but not limited to energy).

There are, of course, other effects which the New Urbanists do not publicize.  An urbanized population is more likely to vote for Democrats, so there is a profound political rationale for enacting New Urbanist policies that go beyond any actual beneficial impact.   An urbanized population also becomes more like a client base that must be served rather than a citizenry to which one will be held accountable.

For me, the most troubling aspect of New Urbanism is the hatred of the automobile and its virtual war on cars.   Certainly, our automobile culture is open to critique.  But, the goal of replacing our vast fleet of privately owned vehicles with high density urban centers that rely on biking and walking, a public network of trains, and a relatively few vehicles for hire is, to me, one of the most odious ideas ever to come from a social engineering set that has a history of horrible ideas.

There is one simple, inescapable fact of American history:  Mobility is freedom.

From the early Pilgrims crossing the Atlantic on their privately owned or hired sailing ships (or the even earlier settlers making their way across the Bering Land Bridge)  to the 19th century 49ers , 89ers, and all other various and sundry pioneers, to today’s restless and peripatetic generations, America has always been defined by the ability to pack up your belongings and light out for the frontier.

Personal mobility is as much an American birthright as anything codified in the Bill of Rights.  It is a defining characteristic of our culture.

I am not going to go so far as to say that our mobility is under assault, but I do want to sound the alarm on this.  We need to tread very carefully and think long and hard before we embrace policies that will lead to centrally planned, high density urban living.  There are other solutions to the problems of the automobile that are more in character with American culture.