Saturday, January 31, 2009

California Drought - now and the MWP

California is in a period of severe drought, and this may lead to mandatory water rationing, since even preparations established in better times may well be inadequate this year. But this is not a new discovery. The water that California uses comes from snow melt in the Sierras, and Duffy has found that for longer than the past 100 years there has been a steady trend downwards in the flow of major rivers in CA.

Water flows from the 8 major rivers in the Sierra Nevada – after Duffy

This can be traced back to smaller snowfalls that Stewart has found now melt earlier and with lower volume.

However it is wrong to call this unprecedented. Since back in the Medieval Warming Period, a thousand years ago, things were much worse.
Results indicate an effectively dry climate between A.D. 950 and 1220, corresponding to the Medieval Climatic Anomaly (a warm period in northern Europe), during which Owens Lake approached playa conditions. Wet climates prevailed during A.D. 1220–1480, producing relatively large and deep lakes. Beginning about A.D. 1550, the regional climate turned colder but had frequently oscillating precipitation. Six wet/dry cycles with similar 50-yr duration occurred between A.D. 1480 and 1760, during the later half of which Owens Lake became a playa. Since A.D. 1880, the lake level has steadily dropped from its historic high stand under strong impact of human activity.
A playa is the sort of structure that is often shown on TV where the correspondent is standing on the dried bottom of a lake that has disappeared.

The conditions that caused these droughts, and the evidence for them have been investigated by Scott Stine. If you have the time it is worth watching his video presentation at the California Water Colloquium Series. It is written up by Davis .
Until Los Angeles built the aqueduct and cut off Owens Lake's supply of fresh water, the 112-square-mile lake was the southern terminus of the Owens River, which drains the eastern watershed of the Sierra Nevada. (It dried up in the mid-1920s.) “We now have compelling proof,” says Stine, “that Owens Lake dried up and became a desert playa in the early medieval period. The finding has ominous implications for the future security of Los Angeles' water supply.”

Two years ago, Stine caused a sensation in the science press with his claim that California had endured two epic droughts in the Middle Ages, one of 220 years (from 892 to 1112) and the other of 140 years (from 1209 to 1350). By contrast, the most severe recent drought— which created an unprecedented statewide water emergency— lasted only six years, from 1987 to 1992.

Stine's primary evidence, now broadly accepted, consists of ancient tree stumps that were exposed to view when the 1980s drought and DWP greed reduced water levels by more than 50 feet in Mono Lake (the northernmost catchment of the Los Angeles Aqueduct) and other Sierran lakes and streams.
Boxt has further expounded in this:
A variety of evidence from the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific Ocean suggests that the late Holocene California droughts were particularly acute in the interval between about A.D. 900 to 1300, variously labeled as the Little Climatic Optimum, Medieval Warming Period, and Medieval Climatic Anomaly (or MCA, the term used in this discussion). Graumlich (1993) for example, reports a 1,000-year tree-ring record which indicates more severe and prolonged droughts during the MCA in the Southern Sierra Nevada than during the present century (A.D. 1020 =-1070, 1197-1217, 1249-1365).
Interestingly in her paper Graumich also says
The warmth of the 20th century was exceeded for an extended period of time during the 12th century. This warmth occurred under conditions of preindustrial carbon dioxide concentrations and demonstrates that external climate forcings (e.g. volcanic aerosols, solar variability) may interact with internal oscillations associated with changes in ocean circulation to produce widespread warmth.
Her temperature assessment from tree rings differs considerably from that of Professor Mann et al.
California temperatures over the past Millennium (after Graumlich)

Man came to California at least 13,000 years ago. About 9,000 years ago they migrated to the coast.
Gallegos (1991) suggests that about 9000 years ago people left the desiccating lakes of the Great Basin and moved to the newly formed coastal estuaries (created by the inundation of rivers during post-Pleistocene sea-level rise) along the San Diego coast. His inferences are based largely on similarities in tools and the means by which various species were exploited in the interior desert and coastal estuary areas. Although the evidence is fairly compelling, many questions remain about this early phase in San Diego, particularly because some early coastal Millingstone sites in San Diego and on the central coast now seem to predate the onset of marked Early Holocene aridity.
Even back then changes in climate and the onset of drought were causing problems.

Moving back to the Medieval time
Yatsko clearly documents periods of persistent and severe drought in San Clemente Island prehistory. Using a series of radiocarbon dates from his extensive survey programs, he closely links population trends to these climatic changes, noting especially the very xeric Medieval Climatic Anomaly at AD 1050–1250 and the sharp residential shifts associated with use of the island’s most reliable fresh water.
The drought often led to conflict, and disease.
Jones et al. (1999) broaden the scope of this analysis, providing data on paleoclimatic declines (especially drought) and cultural changes from three areas of California and the Colorado Plateau during AD 800–1350 (the Medieval Climatic Anomaly). They suggest that populations were relatively high and locked into territories, so when severe droughts struck across the west, problems arose that could not be solved by intensification or smaller-scale adjustments. In some areas, major population movements occurred (Southwest, California’s central coast); in others (Santa Barbara) there was a short period of violence and declining health but also increased regional trade and rapid political centralization.

The droughts back in the MWP were longer than we are anticipating and much more severe. If we are, as seems quite likely, returning to the temperatures and climate of the MWP then California may anticipate seeing those conditions again, with droughts that extend for decades. As this one is already carrying us beyond the capacity of the system to cope, it would appear that considerable more planning and preparation is required, since blaming the whole drought scenario on Global Warming is likely neither correct nor helpful in today's circumstance.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Overhead or Underground Power lines

There are thousands still without power in Kentucky and there are some who may remain that way for a week or more yet. This has been the largest outage in State history, slightly worse than that imposed by Hurricane Ike in numbers, more severe in terms of problems. And, on a smaller scale, a vehicle crashing into a power line knocked out power in Oakland this morning. So I thought it timely to make a suggestion that was beaten down after Hurricane Katrina, but is still worth reconsidering. Especially if there are any Federal dollars floating around for construction/reconstruction.

The suggestion, though expensive, is a simple one – bury the power lines, especially those in the urban area. That way they are out of the way of cars, falling trees, and not subject to the weight of accumulated ice. They are still there, undisturbed, after typical hurricanes or tornadoes, and even if disrupted in an earthquake they are still out of the way, and not likely to leave a trail of burnt ground, as I saw in the Mississipi delta after Katrina. (which, had there been any houses still standing would have left them alight).

I am not, at the moment discussing the major power lines that one sees dangling from pylons as the power grid brings the high voltage lines into the local sub-stations and transforms it down for local use. It is, initially those smaller cables, that run alongside roads, through the trees, and over the bushes, to the pole-mounted transformers near your house (and from there in) that seem to make the most, initial, sense to change. Very often the choice is forced by limited availability of land for overhead cables. But once installed they can easily outlast overhead lines, with lower operating and maintenance costs (outside of the advantages in extreme weather).

It is not, admittedly, something that is always without significant cost, but on the other hand there are neighborhoods that require that it be done. After the Hurricanes of 2005, Florida Power and Light became committed to increasing their undergound faciities. With, at that time, some 37% of its system underground, FLP were looking to move another 25% underground and to encourage developers to follow suit. There are land acquisition cost reductions that offset some of the underground supplement. In Connecticut putting the cables underground eliminated the need to buy 100 acres of land and condemn 29 homes and businesses.

It is a process that is being adopted in countries like Mexico where, in the more expensive neighborhoods, burying the cables makes the environment more attractive. There have been over 3 million km of cables buried at medium voltage alone.

It can be an expensive undertaking, one utility calculated that for a 5-mile 230 kV line it would cost around $40 million for burial, as opposed to $5 million on the surface. A significant part of that comes from the much more expensive cable that must be used. Utility companies strongly prefer installing lines overhead and only a small percentage of lines is located underground, falling in percentage as voltage rises. The percentage also varies by country, with those that are more urban burying cables more frequently.

2007 Percentage of total ac circuit length underground in the 220 – 314 kV range.

The three factors that influence the greater cost are the need for better insulation, the need to dissipate heat that build up in the cable and surroundings from the passage of current, and the installation cost to install the cables. Part of the heat problem comes because the insulation required to isolate the power also acts to contain the heat build-up. Some of this can be overcome by using copper as the cable material. Overhead lines are often of aluminum since this is much lighter, the use of buried copper, particularly in larger diameters, would lower the resistance to the current, and therefore the heat generated. But the cable would be heavier. Not that the idea is new, the first cables were placed underground in Berlin, Germany in 1880.

There is a slow move towards the practice, and FPL is now offering incentives to local utilities.
Under FPL’s previous operating tariff, the company required local governments requesting a conversion project to pay the full cost of moving overhead power lines underground. FPL’s revised tariff now credits the sponsoring local government 25 percent of the total expense. 

An analysis by FPL indicates the 25 percent undergrounding credit represents the average savings in storm restoration costs the utility’s entire customer base would share following a major weather event.
It is not, however, a step that all utilities would like to embrace.


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Thursday, January 29, 2009

P27. Pick Points

Half-a-dozen or so stories of interest:

Somewhere in Washington they are looking for incentives for us to buy a new car. The Germans have seen it work by providing 2,500 euros to everyone who replaces a car at least nine years old with a new one. The need for this can be seen by the continued decline in sales, even as industry incentives have risen to an average $2,902. Well maybe we should hold-off on a replacement until they decide ?

Having set some of the standards for automobiles that will likely soon impact the rest of the country, it is now California’s turn to go after energy inefficient appliances, such as TV’s, which can account for 10% of a home electricity bill. The Department of Energy is running a campaign to improve residential water heaters. Yet the amount set aside in the stimulus package is relatively quite small. Though that has not stopped some entrepreneurs. There are the standard steps that one can take to save energy but if the economy is to rebound, then the scale of increase that California has achieved needs to be applied, even perhaps in Italy.

One of the features of the Medieval Warming Period was the extensive and long-lasting droughts that hit Southern California. Trees grew where now lakes and rivers run, it was so dry. Now California is again facing severe drought. There are already campaigns to reduce water usage . With the snow pack only 61% of normal this could be the third year in a row where water runs short, and this is beginning to have serious consequences for agriculture . While the snow situation is a little better in Nevada, it too is facing problems. On the other hand Utah’s nine-year drought came to an end last June, and Arizona is seeing a moderate drought in Navajo County.

Following the Russia:Ukraine dispute over natural gas the relatively small volumes that could be sent around Ukraine through the North and South Stream pipelines is getting another look. In the South Gazprom is considering increasing capacity by 50% to 47 bcm. Coming the day after the meeting on the Nabucco pipeline, its major competitor, the response is quite quick. Germany points out that one can support both. But it may be Prime Minister Putin who makes the next move.

MidWestern Senators are urging a reconsideration of the FutureGen project. This plan to build a demonstration coal-fired power plant that would capture and sequester carbon dioxide was “restructured” by the last DOE Administration, and thus killed. This could not, perhaps have had anything to do with it being proposed for Illinois, where the junior Senator at the time had announced his support.

In order to help provide more electricity to Nepal, the price is to be raised and in this way load shedding can drop to 12 hours a day “soon” and to 6 hours a day by the end of February. There is s Singaporean there blogging about the problems.

For more stories see The Energy Bulletin or Drumbeat at The Oil Drum

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Looking for Bovanenkovo

Sometimes it is hard to understand just how difficult it might be to get new supplies of natural gas to the market. When we talk of additional gas supplies to the Eastern half of the United States, for example through the new Rockies Express Pipeline, the line runs through relatively flat country. There was not a lot of problem laying the pipe through the farmlands from Wyoming, to Audrain County, MO – where the Western leg terminated, and which was in operation carrying up to 1.5 billion cfd through the 42-inch line last year. The line is on schedule to arrive in Lebanon, Ohio this Spring. Following the line of the pipe over Google Earth the cultivated land over which it travels, and it is clear why it will only take a few months to complete the 638 mile second leg.

Contrast that with the problems that face the Russians in bringing in the new pipelines from the Yamal Peninsula., and in particular the Bovanenkovo Field. I have taken a leaf out of JoulesBurn’s book who, with Satellite o’er the Desert, looked down on Saudi Arabia, and was able to see where the current wells were being drilled. And so I took the same merry carrier (Google Earth) to help me take a drive up to the Yamal woods.

One could begin at Nadym, on the pipeline that heads West (65 32 06 N 72 32 36 E) and select some of the local transport to head North.

(Igor V. Nelaev on Google Earth)

But mainly we first have to head East, though Pravokhettinskiy to cross the rivers by the available bridges. And so one comes to Pangody. (One of the interesting symbols of modern technology is not just that one can follow along this route, but those that live there have uploaded photos of the town, and the things they find of interest. Schools and Hospitals however are not that that exciting to the rest of us - but then we have more of them).

Alternately one can continue down the river a short way and will come to the path through the taiga that is being driven for the pipelines North. It also passes through Pravokhettinskiy but runs more directly North, with branches off to fields on either side as it progresses.

And so one comes to the current well operations (at around 68 07'23.46 N 75 44 20 E ) which are near Yamburg (67 54 18 N 74 51 15 E) But here, where the land is covered with lakes and streams, and the permafrost lies just below the surface, the paths of the pipeline are not as easily hidden. And though it is easy and interesting to “drive” along the road from Yamburg down to Novy Urengoy passing the wells at Urengoy along the way, the pictures that are also up on Google Earth show how grim the life must be there at this time of year.

The Road North (Cyress78 on Google Earth)

This part of the world, while the terrain is difficult, is still sufficiently developed that one can see the paths of the pipes and there are a number of towns and villages already established.

It is a little different when one goes looking for the next major field to be developed, which is Boyanenko. First we have to cross the Ob Bay, and then continue West until we reach the Kara Sea.

If we head North along the coast it is seems very flat, and again the ground is striated with water, in lakes and winding rivers.

(by gidroms on Google Earth)

And then we come to a small village by the sea, where there seem to be no connecting roads out that go much more than ten kilometers or so, but whuch has an airport and a sign that says it is 100 km from Bovanenkovo, if I read my Russian right. But there is no development around that is visible.

(Sergey81 on Google Earth)

And so one suspects, just looking at this terrain, and the likely working conditions, that it will be quite considerably longer before the field starts producing gas and sending it south and west. Working conditions don’t look that exciting.

(At 66 57 21 N 76 10 26 E on Goggle Earth)

It looks colder even than here, and yet a place where it is easier to work in the winter than the summer - which is a good cue to go stoke the fire.


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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

P26. Pick Points

Half-a-dozen or so stories of interest:

Former Vice-President Gore has given his support to the Administration’s Stimulus package. He supported the cap and trade process for dealing with CO2 emissions, and the need to enter the Copenhagen treaty talks, something the Europeans are also suggesting. Not everybody, however agrees. And despite the comments around the blogsphere the news that Dr Hansen’s supervisor is now skeptical of the whole Global Warming argument, is not making any waves, or even riding above them, in the MSM. Of course the darkness could also be because of power outages from the storm that has a million folk without power.

In Davos, at the World Economic Forum, the theme is also that investing in “green” energy projects will fix the economies of the world and bring us back to good times, although the need for investments in current fuel sources, such as oil, should not be forgotten as the IEA executive director pointed out. They will be needed for the new off-shore oil tracts that the Interior Department is now looking into opening up. And the story of Prime Minister Putin’s painting won’t go away. He can’t be excited by the news that after the Ukraine debacle Germany is now considering importing LNG. They are also forming an International Renewable Energy Agency to match the IEA.

Chinese energy imports were down to a growth rate of only 3.7% last year and while coal was down, oil was up. However the amount that they expected from Venezuela did not all arrive . Some of the oil sent from Venezuela is to pay off on a Chinese loan, but Venezuela is hoping that the world price will get back up to around $80 a barrel, and is trimming production.

Colorado is tightening the rules on natural gas, while Utah is committing to more investment in renewable energy. The sort of energy savings that the new Administration may have in mind by adopting energy efficiency standards may be epitomized by Glenborough LLC who saved 1.5 billion kilowatt hours. Cisco is coming out with business software to monitor and manage energy use.

Five utility companies are joining EPRI to study ways of conducting CCS as a retrofit to existing power plants. Trying to stimulate plankton to absorb CO2 doesn’t appear to work as well as hoped so there goes the idea of dumping iron particles into the sea. Which is good given the questions about its legality.

Further to the note the other day about Bangladesh moving to install surface coal mines, the government is now going to prepare a law governing compensation for those that will be displaced.

The Russian city of Arkhangelsk is thinking of changing its power station from oil to gas, as a way of saving money, but given that Gazprom is talking to Norway about possibly using some of its pipelines to supply Britain, though that may be a problem, since, according to a detailed article in Der Speigel on the Nord Stream pipeline, Russia only has 20-years of natural gas left.

For more stories go to The Energy Bulletin, or Drumbeat at The Oil Drum

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"The Myth of the Oil Crisis" - Part 2

Well if yesterday was all misty ice, today was the snow cover that makes getting out of the drive a real challenge. So back to the book, and, today a little Welsh folk (music that is). If you remember yesterday I had got about half-way through “The Myth of the Oil Crisis,” the book by Robin Mills – which gives a petroleum economist’s view of the industry. But we had reached the point yesterday that I was bemoaning his inability to include either a realistic decline rate or depletion of reserve in his discussion of some of the major oil fields.

At the same time, while the book has significant value as a source for the different areas of the world from which we can anticipate getting the second half of the world’s conventional oil production, the factors of time and practicality in getting these reserves to the refinery are not mentioned. The $5 million it may cost to drive a slick-water fracked horizontal well to recover gas from a shale deposit is not given any consideration in the determination of what is still available out there, and that, for an economist is a bit of a lapse.

The second half of the book deals more with the unconventional sources of oil, with the nod given to the heavy oils and tar sands of the world. The book implies that these can be brought into massive production with relative ease, if only the Canadians would run a decent railroad up to Fort McMurray. Well yes they do need one, and a high speed commuter rail would solve a lot of the issues that the town has now with limited space and too many folk with lots of money. But that is not the only reason that production from that large hydrocarbon deposit hasn’t swamped the rest of the world with oil over the past five years. Getting parts for 400-ton trucks up to the site is not something that rail can always achieve, but the greater constraints involve things such as refinery capacity and adequate return on investment, as well as a very conscious effort to work on the environment. And this is a pity, because there is a case to be made for the increasing production that we will need to start seeing from these heavy oils, and from the oil shales of the world. This is not unrecognized (Total just made such an investment this month) but again progress and production is likely, at any significant level to be decades away. Listing and summing up the volumes of oil that might be produced from all these deposits is a useful catalog, but does not really give an honest perception of the volumes that will come into play in the next decade.

Production of biofuels is a whole aspect of fuel production that is likely to have some impact in the future, witness the mention of support that it is getting from the members of the new Administration, and so I cannot resist another quote from the book on this.
Much of biofuels policy revolves less around technology and more on providing sensible incentives that do not distort the market excessively or lead to negative social and environmental impacts.
One of the major factors constraining the advance of the biofuels industry is a current lack of technology that will yield an adequate return on investment, whether in terms of energy or cash. Cellulosic ethanol (as you will likely tire of hearing me explain) is a long way from being an economic or practical fuel source in volume.

Biodiesels are not advancing at the rate that they should, and while I consider algae, for example, to be a very likely future source, the reality is, as Robert Rapier has also concluded, that it remains for the moment more of a research initiative and set of projects. The biofuels industry still needs the heavy investment in development of new technology that the government and industry are making, in order to find viable answers. To project, as he does, a biofuel production rate of 4 mbd by 2020 is, as I have explained in an earlier post not realistic, given that date is only 11 years away. His planned excuse when we reach that time and the fuel isn’t there, will be that we did not make the required investment. This is the same excuse that we have been hearing from CERA for years as their forecasts fell flat, and it is disappointing to find that this book also falls into that mantra.

And yet he looks at the Hirsch Report, and finds that it is too conservative, feeling that it is possible to reduce the lead time for change by at least five years, from the twenty of that report. Unfortunately while this may well work as a theoretical exercise, as I have said before, the practical realities, the steps that must be gone through before, for example, there is a large switch from gasoline powered to diesel powered cars in this country will delay the program back to the more realistic time-frame that the report suggests.

And as a mischievous point I do note that he says
Norway maintains its environmental virtue by importing electricity from its Nordic neighbors to satisfy the shortfall of hydropower rather than building “polluting” gas-fired plants, but this imported electricity is generated largely by Danish coal plants.
Thus while recognizing the demands of those seeking to arrest global warming, he also adds some reality to that discussion. He does provide an estimate of CCS costs, which, at this stage, may be a bit more of a guess than reality, since we arre still waiting for more definite regulation, but the options are outlined.

So, in the end, if you are a cornucopian then this is definitely a book you would appreciate. It provides all the information to justify that position, and discusses the energy situation from that point of view in a way that, were this the only book you read on the subject, would leave you very comfortable about the future.

Unfortunately to do so it has had to gloss over the real problems with that approach. It does not really address the factor of time as it relates to when declining field production combines to swamp the increases in production from new fields. And many of the problems that those of us who anticipate the peaking of oil production can see happening already, the politics, the delays in starting production, the lack of new employees as the older ones retire, and the disappearance of the industrial memory not to mention the myriad others that impose practical limits, have been barely recognized. Had they been otherwise, then this book could not have come to the conclusions that it has.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

P25. Pick Points

Half-a-dozen or so stories of interest:

What to do about the contradiction that rising commuter traffic is moving to metro train and bus lines as a falling tax revenue reduces support to the systems, and they reduce service? There is not a lot of stimulus for renewables in the new package going through Washington. Much of the money is going for new transmission lines and $1 billion for a smart meter program. And the pressure mounts for more efficient cars.

Not to be outdone European leaders are writing letters to the President asking for climate change legislation, since without it, Europe is at a disadvantage. Although the UK may not be able to keep to the pace of the rest of Europe. Oh, and apropos the tidal system that was in Pick Points yesterday, there is an explanation of how it works. On the other hand they are putting $27 million into the next generation of biofuels, that includes a cellulosic ethanol project that relies on the gribble (I’m glad you asked - it is a marine woodlouse), as well as starting to build houses out of straw - no this is serious, but I do remember a certain rhyme . .

China will get six LNG plants. Given that they are projecting an increase of 16-18% in gas production, but that is from abroad. The success of the first coal liquefaction plant in Mongolia, it ran for 300 hours, is leading to plans for expansion. Chinese coal mine deaths dropped 15% last year. And they are planning to introduce more efficient and energy conscious vehicles. Even as China’s oil demand tanks.

In order to start providing gas for the proposed new gas line from the North Slope, Alaska has given permission for Exxon to start drilling at Point Thomson. Previously the State had cancelled the leases, but they have now temporarily been reinstated. At the same time the weakened economy is not seen as slowing the progress forward of the pipeline, though that is not what BP thinks.

The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline continues to face problems relating to the price of gas to be paid . Meanwhile Iran’s objections to the pipeline under the Caspian (part of the Nabucco network) are seen as being objections to the loss of monopoly. Politicians from the countries that would receive the gas are urging support at their Budapest meeting. Bulgaria has signed an agreement with Azerbaijan to receive a billion cu m per year through the pipeline. However it is not clear whether Azerbaijan would merely act as a conduit, or whether it would supply the gas itself. And Turkey is thinking of holding the pipeline hostage to its treatment by the EU. Poland will be joining the Nabucco project. All this fuss about alternatives has led to some recriminations against Prime Minister Putin.

The turndown in the economy is hurting rig operations, and Baker Hughes will cut 1500 jobs. On the other hand Petrobras is hiring though reducing costs elsewhere to allow production efforts to continue.

And in the “Haven’t we been here before,” section I see that Libya is talking about nationalizing its oil industry.

For more stories see The Energy Bulletin or Drumbeat at The Oil Drum.

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"The Myth of the Oil Crisis" - A Review (Part 1)

The Actress and I are at home today, sitting out a Winter Storm over the Mid West. It is very slick outside as a thin misty icefall glazes the roads and pathways. A good time, therefore to turn up the music (Portuguese folk) and to sit down with Robin Mills “The Myth of the Oil Crisis.” For those of you not familiar with the title, it is written by an “oil industry professional”, Robin is currently the Petroleum Economics Manager for the Emirates National Oil Company in Dubai. He begins by dividing the world of those of who debate Peak Oil into Geologists, Economists, Militarists, Environmentalists and Neo-Luddites. Ah, me! Where to classify myself? I probably had bits of the first four stuck to various parts of me, so let’s press on.

Well the mission of the book is obviously to dispel the concerns that many of us have over future supplies of oil. To counter these concerns, the first step is to have the audience recognize that there is lots of oil still out there. That divides itself into two parts. The first is to look at reserves, both that are known, and that are yet to find. He makes the case that you only really look for new oil when you start running out of existing reserves, and thus, as long as there was a significant surplus of oil in known reserves relative to production, then it would not have been prudent to spend too much money looking for further amounts.

The world having gone through that phase, and now needing to have the larger reserves to meet the increased production rates of recent years, he does acknowledge that there is a downside to that philosophy. We no longer have the trained engineers, drilling rigs or investors to achieve the levels of exploration that are needed to sustain the reserve base that we need for the higher levels of production that the world has been demanding. (Though he sees some of the lack of talent being made up from the producing countries, rather than Europe and America where he feels – contrary to my experience – that petroleum engineers have a bad reputation.) Thus all we need to ensure that the amount of oil that we need is available is to put the necessary amount of folk to work drilling and exploring, on the right number of rigs and with the proper investment, and all will be well for future security. Unfortunately in the current climate it is unlikely that we will see any of those three conditions met, so let’s demur on that and move on.

The second point that he makes is that those who advocate peak oil do not properly consider reserve additions from existing fields as, once they start to be exploited, the range of the reservoir becomes extended through subsequent evaluation and production. There are several ways that this increase in yield can come about (he lists a dozen) one of the more productive being an increase in the recovery factor. When first developed he points out that the assumed amount of oil that could be recovered from the fields in the North Sea lay between 20% and 40% of the oil. As technologies, such as horizontal wells, 3-D seismic and dynamic 3-D reservoir modeling and knowledge of the fields has grown this has increased, for fields in the North Sea to up to 65%. (He appears to discount that the awareness of these gains influences current estimates of recovery from new fields as they are found).

His list of future technologies that will continue these advances includes: biotechnology; seismic monitoring; ultra-slim-hole drilling; remediation for contaminated oil and gas; carbon dioxide separation; nanotechnology; distributed computation and automation. (I work on one of these and his projection for its future is optimistic). Certainly when he talks of EOR technology he displays a level of optimism that only works theoretically. Carbon dioxide injection to enhance overall oil yield is a recognized technique and will likely be implemented on a broader scale with time. But studies have already revealed the high costs of capturing and compressing the gas, and then transporting it, prior to injection. For maximum effect the geological conditions are somewhat limited (due to the pressure and temperatures ranges required for most effective interaction) and the impact is most likely to occur after the carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) legislation is implemented and the additional cost benefits of that offset some of the high process costs that are not mentioned here.

There is a line, however, in the middle of the book, that I suspect, epitomizes the author's view of the oil industry.
a field that has been producing for seventy years with a conservative depletion policy and reasonable reservoir management can continue for decades more without decline; these are not warhorses that get old and die.
Because, unfortunately, he is wrong. Any field contains a finite amount of oil. Particularly when, as he espouses, you go in - maximize production and then get out, it also has a finite life. Not recognizing that the accumulated data over the finite life of fields that are now in decline or closing tells us that current levels of production are not sustainable, means that he is ignoring – by concentrating on how much oil could conceivably be extracted from the ground – how fast we can produce it, and in how timely a manner. Just listing fields that will come on stream in the future, without recognizing the level of current declines in production from existing wells and fields, means that the book does not understand the relevance of timing in sustaining deliverable levels of oil. Without that understanding, the arguments posed weaken sadly towards irrelevance.

Well I am now half-way through the book – the snow is now falling heavily, perhaps I will have time to finish the text tomorrow – stay tuned!

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Monday, January 26, 2009

P24 Pick Points

Half-a-dozen or so stories of interest:

One of the anticipated changes coming down the pike were that LED’s would be the next replacement light source. It appears that, at present, LEDs aren’t as good as at first thought However “green” jobs have been leading the economy in California, matching those in the biotech industry. But the old image of the west is changing, with horse farms and stables disappearing in Southern California.

An interesting web site from Lawrence Berkeley (where Dr Chu is from) shows current electricity demand too bad it doesn’t work.

Alaska is looking at putting in dams as a way of generating hydroelectric power ( but there are problems.) They are also discussing wind farms as a means of providing for those villages that have been having problems. Where they have been installed power costs have dropped. A pioneer project near Nome has already started to 10% of the local power needs. Bear in mind that the economics are a little different up there, where they currently pay $0.38 per kWh.

Britain is seeking comments on the selection of different ways of extracting energy from the tides. It is a topic for which there are arguments on both sides.

And if you have ever flown. particularly to India, you might enjoy this letter.

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Coal in South Asia

Over at Salon, Joseph Romm has a column today explaining the deep credentials of the current Administration team that will be addressing the global warming issue, and more particularly the controls on coal-powered electricity generation that they can expect to bring with them. This post is not however about the arguments that make up that decision, but rather to suggest that if the Administration is going to address this as a global problem, then they need to talk to many more countries than just China.

Consider, if you will, just two parts of the world – Southern Asia (and I will include India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in this) and Southern Africa. For these countries, none of whom yet have full rural electrification, the rising price of oil and gas is already causing serious impacts on their ability to function. When load shedding is more common than load supply then running a plant/factory/restaurant that relies on electricity becomes more difficult and more expensive, and the entire economy suffers in consequence. If fuel is not available for the irrigation pumps needed for the rice harvest, then the national ability to feed itself becomes threatened. But if the cost of importing fuel exceeds the ability of the country to pay, then domestic alternatives, and in these cases that means coal, become more attractive.

It is becoming grimly clear to the three Asian countries that I listed above that they can no longer afford the rising prices the world is being asked to pay for oil and natural gas. Bangladesh is facing a 30% shortfall in electricity as it goes into the growing season for rice, Pakistan can no longer pay the bills to provide oil for its power stations, and India is looking at a shortfall of 25% between electricity demand and affordable supply. India and Pakistan are hoping for pipelines to bring natural gas from Iran and Turkmenistan, since India can only produce 60% of the natural gas that it needs, but the tensions with Pakistan, through which both pipelines would have to run, are making their viability less certain.

The problem only gets worse as those nations that are exporting natural gas, such as Turkmenistan, have now persuaded the Russian government to pay the “going price” for their product. This is, in part to stop competing pipelines, such as Nabucco, that bypass Russia, from cutting the Russians out of their deal with the West. But in the process this price rise is making it harder and harder for other countries to compete in this marketplace for a viable quantity of fuel. There is no pipeline as yet to carry Turkmen gas into South Asia, and while talks still continue, the price for the product, in the end, may be more than the recipients can afford.

Domestic supplies of natural gas are insufficient to meet demand, and what then is left? Certainly nuclear energy can play a part, but the remaining cheap alternative (and these are generally poor countries) is increasingly seen to be coal. And so Bangladesh is biting the bullet, and going forward with a national policy on coal. It is also building coal-fired power stations, since at present it only has one mine and one power station and gets less than 5% of its energy from coal. The problem now comes for the mines that are planned on the surface, since while the existing underground mine has little surface impact, surface mines can be expected to displace all those currently living on the site. This has previously led to riots but in the need for fuel politicians are changing to see coal as being something, perhaps the only something, that can meet their needs. The coal that they have is of good quality, and production is planned to increase to over 20 million tons/year within the decade.

India already gets some 53% of its electrical energy from coal , and has estimated reserves of 264 billion tons, with a proven reserve of 102 billion tons, 80 years at current rates of consumption. Coal India Limited (CIL) mines 84% of India’s coal feeding 72 of the 75 thermal power stations in the country (64,285 MW) with the 380 million tons they mine. Their sales brought in $9.69 billion of which $1 billion went in tax.

Because of growing demand, expected to rise to 730 million tons by 2011-2012, CIL will increase its production to 520 million tons, rising to 664 million tons by 2016-2017. At present 84% of the coal is mined at the surface, though this may only last some 30 more years. It is not of very high quality. CIL recognize that mining will thus have to focus more in the future on underground production. Indian coal needs to be cleaned to meet international standards at higher prices, and so the company will also invest in larger coal washeries. It has planted 69 million trees as part of land reclamation after mining. With 473 mines and 424,000 employees, CIL claims to be the largest coal producing company in the world. However because it currently can’t meet demand, India is increasing coal imports to more than 8 million tons.

As for Pakistan, coal has fallen considerably in grace from earlier years, and now only supplies 7% of the fuel, and 0.2% of the electricity to the country from a single power plant. Natural gas has largely come from Balochistan, but increasingly unrest in that region of the country, the poorest region in the country, is making the supply less reliable, and demand is outstripping supply, leading to load shedding. Pakistan has very large deposits of coal (it claims the fourth largest reserves) and the Chinese are interested in helping them exploit these.

Space limits my comments on Southern Africa today, but it should be noted that the Chinese are helping Botswana exploit their coal deposits and build new power plants, and, after the debacle over power shortages last year Eskom in South Africa is expanding their coal and power production to try and catch up with demand, and the new power stations may be coal-fired, rather than the original plan for a nuclear plant.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

P23. Pick Points

Half-a-dozen, or so, stories of interest.

Time was when the word Audit would strike fear, since it was (and perhaps still is) associated with a Tax Audit. But, as part of the move to reduce the demand for fossil fuels, the lowest hanging fruit (to follow on Dr Chu’s lead) is conservation and energy efficiency, and to know how to save, one must first know where energy currently goes, particularly in a home. And thus the new emphasis on Energy Audits. It is a term that is now coming to Washington, and last week A WP reporter had one done.

At the end of lat year I wrote about the experience of hiring a professional, but it is possible to do it yourself, though Austin Energy has a web site that might be useful.

Unfortunately this will not help those indigenous villages in Alaska that are currently running out of money after having had to pay the costs of fuel. Because the early onset of winter froze the rivers before the barges could deliver fuel it now must be flown in. Prices have risen to more than $8 a gallon for fuel oil. This was known last August , and by October the Coast Guard was helping get barges in to deliver although in that particular case the problem was low tides. But the price meant that many villages did not get enough, and now they have been calling for help. While there has been a significant response, the State government is considering fuel vouchers as a solution. Alaska is also looking to use some of the stimulus package to put in roads to help with the gas pipeline from the North Slope.

Prices of gas and fuel oil have slowed purchases in Pakistan which now only has 6 days of gasoline, and nine days of fuel oil in storage, though a fresh boatload of fuel (good for five more days) is due on Tuesday. However, because the government is not paying its bill, fuel oil supplies to some power plants, refineries and distributors are being shut off. One consequence is that electricity prices will have to go up, and coal is getting another look.

Over in Bangladesh, recognizing their problems, electricity for farm irrigation is being given priority. The season runs from mid-February until April and irrigation is needed even as the supply of electricity is likely to be about 30% short of demand. Perhaps they can follow India’s lead and use more local solar power. Certainly it got a better press at the Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, despite the worsening news on funding.

The President of Turkmenistan now feels strong enough to “go it alone”, as demand for the natural gas with which his country is endowed continues to grow. Now the Russians have been happy to buy as much as possible to ship to the West, thereby reducing the supply that will be available for the Nabucco pipeline, and have just had the Uzbek’s fall in line. Yet the shortage of energy sources for India and Pakistan mean that there is an increased urgency in getting a pipeline into Turkmenistan completed. If they can then pay for the gas it will carry. On the other hand not only Prime Minister Tymoshenko, but now President Yushchenko is also calling for the Russia:Ukraine deal to be re-negotiated. meanwhile the head of the Ukrainian gas company is in hospital, and the post mortem continues.

Hmm, maybe I should have been a geologist, with average salaries increasing over 50% last year though costs are now diminishing as demand fades, and oil company earnings also suffer, perhaps cut as much as 50%. Yet smaller companies are continuing to recruit .

Norway is joining IRENA, the international renewable energy agency – at the same time that the Norwegian coal company Store Norske made a large profit as coal moved from $80 to $160 a ton, before falling back to $75. Meanwhile a Russian company is planning on putting a wind farm on the Norwegian:Russian border.

More stories can be found at The Energy Bulletin and at Drumbeats on The Oil Drum

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Saturday Pick Points - but mainly Antarctica

Given that it is a common topic to all four of the climate change web sites that I look at on Saturday evenings, let’s start with the paper that made the cover of Nature this week. Two of the contributors to Real Climate are among the authors, and it has led to some debate.

Real Climate gives some explanation as to what is in the paper (which is good for those of us too cheap to pay $32 for a copy of the actual paper). However we can see the abstract, which says, inter alia:
Here we show that significant warming extends well beyond the Antarctic Peninsula to cover most of West Antarctica, an area of warming much larger than previously reported. West Antarctic warming exceeds 0.1 °C per decade over the past 50 years, and is strongest in winter and spring. Although this is partly offset by autumn cooling in East Antarctica, the continent-wide average near-surface temperature trend is positive. Simulations using a general circulation model reproduce the essential features of the spatial pattern and the long-term trend, and we suggest that neither can be attributed directly to increases in the strength of the westerlies. Instead, regional changes in atmospheric circulation and associated changes in sea surface temperature and sea ice are required to explain the enhanced warming in West Antarctica.

Now the cooling in the Eastern Antarctic has previously been explained as having been due to the loss of ozone (as I first heard from one of Dr Hansen’s team at the Houston ASPO meeting). Most of the work on monitoring climate effects has focused on the activities around the Antarctic Peninsula, with the inference of GHG effects coming from the retreat of glaciers in that region. Earlier this was said to have occurred only over the past 50 years, but in the current piece it recognizes that it has been going on longer.
It is well known that it has been warming on the Antarctic Peninsula, probably for the last 100 years (measurements begin at the sub-Antarctic Island of Orcadas in 1901 and show a nearly monotonic warming trend).
The plot does not show that warming started at that point, but only that it has been relatively consistent since.
Average temperatures recorded at the Orcades station near Antarctica over the past hundred years.
What the paper discusses is that, while Eastern Antarctica may have been cooling, Western Antarctica has been warming, and that this is due to warmer air circulation. They also note that while the overall Antarctic ice pack has been growing, that on the Western edge has been reducing.

(The other entry at Real Climate this week deals with the problems that the Sami (the reindeer herders of Northern Scandinavia) are having with, among other things, climate change. Since I spent 3 months up there and woke in the mornings to reindeer feeding outside my window, I would have liked chasing that down – perhaps another day).

Over at Gristmill the story is picked up as evidence of warming, although it notes that the ice in the region is melting from underneath (which would suggest a water cause rather than an air one), And interestingly the one comment on the story includes this quote from a NASA site .
Because the satellite is observing energy radiated from the Earth’s surface, the image shows trends in skin temperatures—temperatures from roughly the top millimeter of the land, sea ice, or sea surface—not air temperatures. Making a long-term record out of data from different sensors is challenging because each sensor has its own quirks and may measure temperatures a bit differently. None of the sensors were in orbit at the same time, so scientists could not compare simultaneous observations from different sensors to make sure each was recording temperatures exactly the same. Instead, the team checked the satellite records against ground-based weather station data to inter-calibrate them and make the 26-year satellite record. The scientists estimate the level of uncertainty in the measurements is between 2-3 degrees Celsius.
It is this correlation between surface instrumentation and the satellite data that is the subject of the paper in question. (But the uncertainty in the data is an interesting number).

Over at Climate Audit they draw attention to an earlier post at Real Climate that states that the Antarctic and the waters around it would stay cold, according to the models. That post was in February 2008. That, in turn has led to discussion not only at CA but also at Science Policy. They then have a bit of fun talking about the way in which the authors of the paper are trying to remain consistent with themselves. They also provide sites that give the full text of the letter in Nature.

Which brings me back to Watt’s Up with That which began coverage of the story by pointing out that there are a significant number of volcanoes in the area that is warming, and then also points out the problems where the change in data is smaller than the error bars in the measurements. In regard to the presence of the volcanoes, the NYT followed up with a question to the author about this and got the following answer:
In addition to coming up with my own answer, I did ask the study’s authors. Eric Steig of the University of Washington replied:
Wow. Strange question.
Volcanoes under the ice can’t affect climate on the surface, 2 miles above!
To amplify that a little bit: The ice sheet covering West Antarctica, including its volcanoes, is about two miles thick. Also, Antarctica’s volcanoes do not appear particularly active at present.
Geothermal heat could be contributing to another phenomenon, the thinning of glaciers. And last year, scientists did report an active volcano in West Antarctica.
The latter reference leads to an earlier paper in Nature, reporting on a volcano that actually did punch its way up to the surface (though 2300 years ago), that contains the following:
Heat from a volcano could still be melting ice and contributing to the thinning and speeding up of the Pine Island Glacier, which passes nearby, but Dr. Vaughan doubted that it could be affecting other glaciers in West Antarctica, which have also thinned in recent years. Most glaciologists, including Dr. Vaughan, say that warmer ocean water is the primary cause.

In a follow-up post Anthony quotes a letter that he received from Ross Hays who works for NASA and has extensive experience in the Antarctic. Ross states that the conclusions drawn in the paper are wrong, and gives some anecdotal information on the cooling that he has seen. (Vehicles able to drive on ice sheets that didn’t previously exist as an example).

At the end of the week he notes that snow has fallen in the United Arab Emirates.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

From the Little Ice Age to today -rates of climate change

Much of the media coverage of the changing climate relates to the changes in glacier size, and their relative retreat over the past four decades. In the last Saturday post, I quoted the overwhelming scientific evidence for the presence of a global Little Ice Age (LIA) as documented by Jean Grove.

What I would now like to do is show, through the work of Syun-Ichi Akosafu, of the International Arctic Research Center, that the transition from the LIA to today began long before the considerations of Global Warming and carbon dioxide forcings were much thought of, and, with the backing of the solid science that has documented these changes, that these changes have very little sensitivity to the purported effects of increased carbon dioxide levels. Further I would underline his comment that it is not possible to study climate change without long-term data – considering long term to be not 60 years or even 600, but rather the periodicity of climate changes over the last 3000 years. And that requires archaeological information as well as that of proxies alone, particularly as it relates to those that live in the Arctic regions.

In beginning let me note that as the global temperature, over the last decade, has refused to follow the predicted path of those who espouse global warming, so the period over which average temperatures are defined to denote the trend in climate has been extended, from three, to five, to ten, to the latest fifteen year averages. Let us, for the sake of scientific honesty, decide that five years is a reasonable period over which to define a mean, and then move into the discussion.

Akosafu begins by showing that, if we plot this 5-year mean over the past 140 years, then the trend can be divided into a steadily increasing part (the black line) with, superimposed upon it variations that he calls natural, but that will be examined and discussed as we work through the paper.

Figure 1. Global temperature change, shown as a 5-year average and defined by the overall trend, and the variations thereon. (Akosafu Fig 1e).

Given the whole debate about global warming and carbon dioxide levels, it is appropriate to also include his figure 2, which shows the change in both over the last 150 odd years,
Figure 2. Global temperature (5-year smoothing) plotted with CO2 levels

By comparing temperature records from Vardo, in Norway, with the ice core data from Severnaya Zemlya, he shows that the two can be correlated, and then uses the ice core data to show that the temperature it records has been rising since about 1780. This is then correlated with data from coral studies on the island of Guam that similarly show a temperature rise, which started around 1800. The paper ties this date to changes in the time that ice freezes over lakes and rivers, and when it melts. The conclusion is visibly evident that there has been a change, and that it dates back to around 1800.

However much of the response to mention of both an MWP and an LIA has suggested that the events were localized to Western Europe. Now Grove showed through quotations from numerous papers that this was not true, and Akosafu equally strongly refutes that argument with data from both Peru and China,
Figure 3. Oxygen isotope values translated into temperature variations for both China and Peru over the past 400 years (Akosafu Fig 4c)

While many folk seem to prefer to rely purely on the scientific numbers derived from proxy values, I feel that information from contemporary historical documents can be equally or more valid. Thus the reports of cooler summers between 1550 and 1750, which led to deaths because of the poor harvests, and thus famine, provide information that should not be ignored.

The generality of that condition, and the global evidence of a change to a warming trend after about 1800 is well documented. It is this evidence, and the timing of the start of global warming, that shows that it is a natural, rather than an anthropomorphic change. Anecdotal information, such as the fact that Permafrost formed during the LIA around Fairbanks is only now starting to thaw, does not define the depths of the cold that many places saw and he points out (Figure 6a) that for those many places around the globe, the average temperature in the 1700s was considerably below that modeled by Mann et al, in their famous “hockey stick” paper that formed such a central theme to the IPCC report of 2001. In fact he quotes a table from the NRC 2006 report on global temperatures that confirms, with half-a-dozen plots, that temperature started rising somewhere around 1800. He rightly asks the question that, if CO2 levels did not start rising significantly until 1946, what was the cause of the earlier rise?

If, in fact, one examines the trend of temperature rise from 1800 to 1900 and then from 1900 to 2000 and subtracts the rate of change in existence before carbon dioxide effects are postulated to have occurred, then one finds the pre-existing rate to have been 0.5 degC/100 years following 1800. With the IPCC claim of a temperature rise of 0.6 degC/100 years, then the difference due to CO2 initially appears to be 0.1degC/100 years.

Now if the drop in temperature during the LIA was a total of 1.5degC, such a rate would bring us “back” to date only 1degC. And there are records that suggest that the MWP was, in fact, warmer than today’s temperatures. This, however, only deals with the “black line” portion of Figure 1. Akasofu now looks at the variations around that trend, namely what is referred to as the “multi-decadal oscillation.” This can be seen, in Figure 1, to be an oscillation, but to those anxious to prove Global Warming, it is this oscillation above the underlying trend, coincident with the rise in CO2 levels, that is the marker to our future doom.

However, as an initial point, it should be noted that the nature of oscillations is that, after swinging one way in periodic mode, they then start to swing back. And the phase of the oscillation, as seen from Figure 1, is such as to suggest that the return should begin around 2000 – as it did. This variation is around 0.15degC /10 years, and cycles, as shown, around the mean growth.

Studying the changes that this warming is inducing, Akasofu looks in more detail at the actual specificity of occurrences, rather than the generality. Consider, for example, the reduction in the Arctic ice cap. This is not a uniform contraction, which one might anticipate if the cause were a universal warming, but rather is maximized along the Siberian coast, where the currents from the North Atlantic – under the driving force of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)- have accelerated the melt. The characteristics of that melt – the ice is melting from the bottom, rather than the top, confim that it is a water current related phenomenon, rather than a surface temperature caused result.

In earlier posts I have commented on the retreat of the glacier at Glacier Bay in Alaska, and will take the opportunity of pasting his illustration of this, so that I can refer back to it later. You will note that it shows the glacier retreating to its greatest extent, before 1860.
Figure 4. Glacial retreat at Glacier Park

Similar plots are presented for the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand, and the Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas, as well as the advance and retreat of the glaciers in the west-central Alps.

As I pointed out, when discussing Bangladesh, Akasofu also does an evaluation of the rise in sea levels over the last hundred years, and notes that while the average has been some 1.7 mm/year in recent years, rather than increasing, as one would expect with the glaciers melting, and the ocean warming, in fact the rate has dropped below 1.4 mm/year.

Hidden now, in the heart of the paper, lies some of the more damaging evidence against the modeling of Climate Change that is presumed by so many to be accurately predicting our future.

In the post that induced my departure from The Oil Drum, and as Akasofu confirms, Greenland, as a whole has not been warming in the same mode as the majority of the Arctic regions. When, however, the IPCC Arctic group were asked to run their models to hindcast the behavior of the Arctic regions over the past fifty years, the IPCC models were nowhere near accurate in their predictions of what actually occurred.
Figure 5. IPCC prediction vs reality (on the left)

Further, because the IPCC only focuses on the period following 1975 they neglect the changes in the Greenland ice sheet that occurred during the 1920-1940 period which were substantially greater in magnitude than those now occurring, but which could not have been caused by GHG. And, this after all being an Arctic Research Center, they also point out, contrary to MSM reports that the actual temperature of the permafrost has stopped rising, and in fact the methane levels “off-gassed” have decreased, since about 2000.

I will forego discussion of what might cause the larger cyclic variation (the MWP – LIA cycle) to another time.

So there you have it, to those willing to do "due diligence" on the changes in climate over the past two centuries, the evidence is substantial that the fears so assiduously heightened in the media, are not, in fact, based on fact. We'll get into the MWP and earlier parts of the cycle, in future posts.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

More on Lithium production

This started out as a Pick Points and just sort of grew. We were talking in the office today about the new emphasis on lithium batteries (being an Explosives Lab inter all we found that they can blow up if handled wrongly - in a series of experiments a long time ago). And so, since we also look at processing, I became curious about where and how the lithium is mined. It turns out that most of it comes from salt lake deposits such as those in Bolivia.

The biggest deposit in the world lies in the Salar de Uyini, which is also the world’s largest salt flat. A quick look through Google Earth,gives the location, with the white in the picture being the salt flat, and not snow. La Paz, the capital of Bolivia is at the top.

The world’s largest lithium deposit is at Salar di Uyuni (Google Earth)

Tthe lithium is found in the crystallized salt, and in the brine that underlies the crust. As the world gears up to demand more, Bolivia is determined to keep as much of the “value added” part of the processing to itself. Thus the intent is that, this year, the state which has already started construction of a plant that will produce around 1,200 tons a year. (The cornerstone was laid in May). This can be expanded to produce some 30,000 tons by 2012.

Unfortunately for those who are expecting electric cars to spring out of the woodwork in the next few years (remembering that the President’s plan calls for 1 million plug-in hybrids by 2015) Mitsubishi estimates that the world will need 500,000 tons per year. The deposit itself holds at least 9 million tons, although the country has, in total, around 73 million tons. To put the current progress in perspective the pilot plant should produce some 40 tons by the end of the year, as it gears up to full production, with the product coming from brine processing. The world supply of lithium itself is considered to be 28.4 million tons, equivalent to 150 million tons of lithium carbonate. In December the price of a ton of lithium had risen from $350 to $3,000, with current consumption of around 84,000 tons of lithium carbonate a year.

There is, however work going on to find alternate minerals to use in the batteries, both to extend the range on one charge (which might get up to 150 miles – depending on the vehicle) and to lower the cost. Of course, if you want a greater range at lower cost, there are always electric motorcycles.

Lithium is also produced from coarse grained igneous rocks called pegmatites, with spodumene being the most common. American mines were in the Carolinas, but closed since brine processing is cheaper than the mining and processing of the hard rock.

Geothermal power plants draw hot brine from underground as a power source, and these brines can contain dissolved minerals. Thus, for example the seven Geothermal plants at the Salton Sea are reported to be able to produce up to 16,000 tons of lithium per year. The facilities are better known as a source of zinc (pdf). However the potential as a source of lithium is becoming increasingly recognized. The process will include the use of nano-filters.

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