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Thursday, September 22, 2005

How to make Katrina and Rita work for the U.S. of A.

1. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will damage our oil-refining capacity - a serious blow, but a temporary one, and one from which we will be able to recover with the help of our dear friends at Halliburton and Bechtel.
2. Fuel prices will spike in the near-term as domestic supplies suddenly contract and increased pressure is placed on an essentially fixed import market.
3. Americans will get fed up with pumping more and more money into their bloated SUV status symbols, and will begin to abandon them in favor of smart and sexy hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles. Demand for refined petroleum will continue, but at a sharply declining rate.
4. The rest of the world will continue to expand its use of gasoline-powered vehicles, placing a growing demand on oil supplies and putting more and more pressure on foreign suppliers, who will have to increase their output.
5. As prices continue to rise, Americans will gradually wean themselves almost entirely from gasoline and other petroleum products. Alternative raw material sources for products made from petroleum (like, say, plastics) will be developed.
6. Overseas oil fields will begin to pass the point where it is no longer economically viable to extract crude oil. Oil shortages and increasing demand will cause prices to spiral higher. In the meantime, the effect of the rising costs will be blunted in the U.S. by declining demand and increasing use of alternatives.
7. Gulf oil refineries finally come back online, and the money comes pouring in to U.S. refiners from oil-hungry consumers in the rest of the world - until they wise up.
Yeah, right. It'll probably happen in China first.

UPDATE (9/25/2005, 11:21 PM): Where Katrina was nearly a worst-case-scenario storm, Rita was far closer to a best-case-scenario: major population centers were spared (except for New Orleans, which wound up getting flooded again), loss of life was minimal (I have not heard reports of any storm-caused fatalities; most of the deaths I have heard of were actually evacuation-related), and damage to refining capacity was less devastating than expected. So we have been spared - for now - the horror of being forced to switch to alternative fuel sources and reduced consumption of oil.

The thing that sucks so much about oil is that it is such a good fuel source. Oil, like all fossil fuels, represents a concentrated distillation of hundreds of millions of years of solar energy which was processed by photosynthesizing plants which then either directly entered the fossil fuel cycle or were in turn consumed by other plants (as decomposing matter absorbed through roots) or by animals (by being eaten), which in turn either entered the fossil fuel cycle directly or after being consumed by other living things.

I recently read that someone has done a calculation of how much energy we could extract from solar energy incident on our planet's surface. I don't know the particulars; I don't know if the calculation assumed that we would use photosynthesizing plants (which would then have to have the sunbeams extracted from them, in the manner of the character in Gulliver's Travels who had developed a way of doing this for cucumbers) or photovoltaic cells (which are expensive to manufacture and have other technical limitations), or if it simply assumed that we could use x% of the total energy. But the point is, the energy available isn't enough. Not enough now, not enough for the future. If that doesn't scare you, you need to study science and mathematics a bit more. And possibly sociolology, to understand the very limited long-term options available.

But that's a topic for another post.


Teigra said...

Nice thought, but I don't think it'll work that way. It would be really kickass if it did, though.

anne said...

8. I open my eyes and Hunk and Hickory and Zeke are there with Uncle Henry and Auntie Em and I try to tell them "...and we weren't dependent on other countires! And we had alternative fuel sources! But...oh, you don't believe me, do you?" And then Toto will jump into my lap and I'll say "Oh, but anyway, Toto, we're home! Home! And this is my room --and you're all here! And I'm not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And -- Oh, Auntie Em -- there's no place like home!

Betz said...

well put anne.
nice article harold. let us see which of your forecasts come true.