Obama's Real Energy Policy
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann recently promised $2/gallon gas at one of her campaign functions, and a researcher affiliated with NASA reported that aliens may destroy humanity to save the planet. Which statement is farther off the wall? Let's set the stage with the facts.
Last week, the Obama administration found itself in a legal battle with Exxon over the largest find in the company's history, a field of over 1 billion barrels off the coast of Louisiana. This represents 5% of total U.S. oil reserves and there's supposed to be a lot more out there. The Marcellus Shale field in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland contains between 160 and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Out in North Dakota, Montana, and Saskatchewan, the Bakken deposit is estimated to contain from 10-40 billion barrels of oil equivalent according to industry experts. This doesn't include large deposits in Colorado, Wyoming, and elsewhere. Even if Bakken comes in at the low end it, represents another 40-50% increase in onshore American oil reserves.
In the meantime, the oil companies drilling in the Gulf of Mexico are still reporting incredible delays in re-opening even the inshore oil rigs. Offshore fields have become almost impossible to develop despite the incredible size of some of these discoveries. The government shut down even the inshore oil fields in the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon disaster last year. The Department of the Interior just announced the first auction of oil leases since the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in April of last year, to be held in December. The Gulf provides 29% of America's oil and 13% of our natural gas.
A report released in July by LA Senator David Vitter noted the departure of 10 deep-water rigs, the imminent departure of several more, and the diversion of 8 more since the moratorium was declared in May 2010. Each of these projects ranged from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars in investment. Many of those rigs are on their way to the vast 50- to 80-billion-bbl Lula oil field off the Brazilian coast. It is interesting to note that the Export-Import Bank is loaning $10 billion to Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company, to invest in their offshore oil industry. Funny timing.
The administration has also done its best to stall drilling both on the North Slope and in the Cook Inlet in Alaska. While talking about exploration, new pipelines, and improved practices, the reality is that every roadblock possible is being placed in the way of increased production. Last year, Fenton Associates, the public relations agency for many environmental groups, boasted that they had shut down drilling in Alaska.
"Drill, baby, Drill" has been replaced by "Chill, baby, Chill."
While having approved several nuclear power projects, all of them additional reactors at existing sites, the government has adroitly avoided offering the necessary licensing guarantees necessary to obtain funding to build them. Another catch-22 engineered by the bureaucracy.
Ezra Klein in the Washington Post reports that the EPA is moving forward with its plans to shutter 20% of the nation's coal-fired power plants. While many are grandfathered in, the power will still go offline starting in the next 18 months. The president has clearly stated on the record that he wants to put the coal industry out of business.
The real battle is being fought under the radar. The administration is using regulatory power and permitting to choke off conventional power. Last year, I sat in a packed conference center at China's largest solar power conference as I listened to one of Europe's leading solar power executives state that the industry needed to work to make conventional power so expensive that alternative energy sources can compete. This has been a part of the plan all along and the current administration seems to be working along those lines.
This is economic and engineering Luddism at its worst. After the farce of the carbon offset scam and many of the issues facing the industry, administrators, systems operators, and users would be well-advised to look upon many alternative energy technology providers with a gimlet eye. Objectivity is critical to the long-term health of the energy industry.
Let's look at the alternatives. Test data on solar modules indicates a failure rate of between 3-7% within seven years of installation. Failures of inverters are exceeding 10%. None of this data is reflected in the current economic models for solar power. The assumption is 25 years, but there is very limited data. The business model for solar panels is becoming ever more challenging with rising materials costs globally and that of labor in China. In North America Solyndra has gone through over $535 million in government funding and is on the edge. Evergreen Solar, another poster child for solar power in this country, filed for bankruptcy last week.
Globally, the solar module industry will install 11-12 gigawatts of power this year, or the equivalent of 4-5 nuclear power plants. This certainly does not keep up with demand. As Germany and Japan have announced the phase-out of nuclear power, the great mystery is how it will be replaced.
As GM, Nissan, Toyota, and other car companies have ramped up production of electric vehicles, General Motors reported that the company had sold only 125 Chevy Volts in July. Costco announced that the company was removing electric vehicle charging stations from most of its locations because the stations are never used.
Wind power has received a lot of press, but even there, the largest project planned for the country was canceled because of obstruction and a poor financial outlook. Wind power is subsidized at up to 10 times the cost of conventional energy and is unpredictable. In studies of the over 6,000 turbines in Denmark, it has been found that without heavy subsidies, wind power would rapidly fail. Germany and Spain have withdrawn subsidies for wind power installations not because the industry has grown more viable, but rather because the difficulties and costs associated with this source of power outweigh the benefits.
And yet nowhere have I seen a coherent and objective study of the energy needs and policy of the United States, the world's largest consumer. As American consumption of energy stands at 27,000 terawatts, with $85-bbl oil, an economy on the verge of recession, and significant capacity going offline, it would be nice to have a policy that is not based upon smoke and mirrors, or even some kind of sensible policy at all.
Maybe Congresswoman Bachmann isn't so crazy after all. Judge for yourself. In the meantime I'll be watching the skies for alien invaders.