natural gas

Mark Jones Jones_M at
Wed Sep 2 01:13:19 PDT 1998

Greg Nowell wrote:

> there
> is enough natural gas to fuel a methanol fuel cell
> economy for several decades (at a minimum)

No, there isn't. Conventional natural gas (CNG, ie methane) is presently forecast by the US government's Energy Information Agency to deplete by the second half of the next century. That means CNG will start to decline just at the time when the big auto makers are gearing up for mass production of fuel cell cars powered by methanol, a methane derivative. I admit there is a lot of gas being flared. There certainly will be new discoveries. But the idea that CNG can replace oil as it declines, which you now concede it will, is not proven, on the contrary. What I see is vast new infrastructural investments ($700 for each fuel cell vehicle sold in the States, to pay for new production, sotrage and distribution facilities for methanol and/or other fuel cell fuels -- if I understood your own figures correctly). This is on top of the billions of dollars now being spent by govt and auto makers on fuel cell R&D and on the billions more they are already planning to spend to gear up for mass production. They are doing this on essentially unproven technology, partly because of global warming fears (fuel cells give off a lot of co2 but not as much as conventional systems), partly to satisfy clean air lobbies, and most of all bec ause THEY KNOW THE OIL IS RUNNING OUT.

This is desperation, Greg. Not the kind of think Rockefeller was into when hen invented Standard Oil, ie a completely standardised mineral oil commodity. Then, the oil age was in the future.It coincided with the huge upswing this century of US imperialism and monopoly capitalism. Gasoline engines reduced transportation costs by orders of magnitude and transformed everyday life. Fuel cells won't do either. They are not cheap and they are not qualititavely different in the way a car is from a horse and buggy or a railway. But cars are essential: not to people, but to the survival of monopoly capiotalism.

BMW, GM, Ford, Toyota and Daimler-Benze are into this in a frenzy. They're betting the farm on it. That'show desperate they are.

> and that
> (since resource depletion theorists want everything
> planned 200 years in advance) there are other sources
> available. You can consult sources in the bibliography
> (hydrogen and methane hydrate stuff is on the web).

I may post on this if anyone's interested. I have posted before, tho, and my conclusion is what it was: just as the oil is now running out, and quickly, so will the gas. You haven'tproved me wrong, have you?

> The ECO fisk drilling platforms in the North Sea are
> the largest manufactured objects moved in one time in
> one place in human history (see the Scientific American
> article, way back when, late 70s, early 80s). If I
> had written North Sea offshore oil as a "possibility"
> back in 1950, Mark would have said: are you nuts?

No, Greg, because in 1950 I was playing with Dinky toys and plastic six-guns. What I would say now is that this is the usual crappy argument that goes: OK, so capityalism has fucked the planet and put us all in jeopardy, but Hey! technology will fix everything! The point about building those giant offshore rigs which seems to have escaped you is that they, too, were driven by desperation, because even then it was clear that oil was finite, and it was necessary at the time to do something about OPEC. Today, even more heroic investments are being made, but the fundamental energy imbalances which result from capitalism being based on the consumption of highly finite and non-renewable fossil fuels, is getting worse not better.

This, BTW, underlies the current financial and economic crises. And I want to ask you and Doug this: if you're all correct, and this meltdown is just a hiccup, and the boom resumes, and the nutter from Ford's who dreams of selling 600m cars in Asia is right: will that help matters or make them worse IN THE LONG RUN? Will a new upswing bring the end of oil closer or not? What do you think?Morris Adelman, who you term 'oil patch maven' is another nutter who thinks oil is so plentiful it is really a 'renewable'. I gather he may have seen the light recently, as you have. But your idea that gas can replace oil is well, wrong.

> I see nothing improbable about the drilling of methane
> hydrates in the 30-60 year time horizon, if
> conventional methan resrouces are such that they're
> needed.

Anyone who udnerstands the ecological significance of this cheerful, bland remark, will have their hair on end. It's bad enough to think of getting CNG out of Russia's northenmost Yamal Peninsula: the effect will be not just to alter the local ecology but to sink the whole Peninsula beneath the Arctic Ocean! What effect that will have on the remaining ice-caps remains to be seen: Chernomyrdin, another nutter, was always banging on about Yamal and managed to persuade western interests to stump up $100bn for a pipelines to bring Yamal natural gas to the Euro-grids (this is the kind of numbers we're talking here, when it comes to saving capitalism's energy bacon). Anyone who knew anything about the subject knew that the chances of every actually bringing Yamal gas to market were about nil to 5% (and the reserves are truly prodigious, around 1/3 of total world projected reserves: altho what constitutes reserves is by itself a hot topic. When is a reserve a reserve? People blather on about 'proven' and 'probables' but there are no agreed definitions even now). This year, as usual, Yamal gas was promised but has not been delivered. I hope to God it never is. I hope they NEVER overcome the enviornmental difficulties of getting the gas out from under the Karsk Sea. It is bad enough that the N Sea has been sterilised of life by the N Sea oil industry. Tampering with the Arctic is a million times mroe dangerous. As for hydrates, dream on baby. But if global warming continues to accelerate, you won't have to worry about digging out frozen methan/ice from the seabed in 20-30 years: it'll melt all by itself (Greenpeace recently predicted this, and so have IPCC experts). And the release of the colossal quantities of gas frozen in the subsea ice will indeed bring on the feared runaway warming, because methane, the fuel beloved by Greg Nowell, is also the most powerful greenhouse gas, trapping 20x as much heat as co2. Think about the true price you'll be asked to pay for those nice shiny new 'pollution free' fuel cell Fords.

> (Assuming, and this is a different literature,
> that global warming doesn't cause methane hydrates to
> evaporate very rapidly causing a methane-driven
> acceleration of the heating effect).

Ah, I only just read it: glad to see you're on the right wave length Greg, but why not abandon this PR for methanol and join us green/reds in fighting it?

> One of the
> hydrogen journals (see bibliog) reported recently on
> sun-powered dissociation of hydrogen from water using a
> thermally driven process rather than an electrolytic
> one. And so it goes.

Yeah, but as things stand this is just a hidden cross-subsidy from cheap conventional oil (which powers the industrial processes required to create the gigantic infrastructrure needed to get hydrogen from seawater) and the result of that? Why, we use up the oil even faster, and release even more greenhouse. That's the kind of knot capitalism has tied itself into: a fatal, looming energy impasse.

I have yet to see any credible proposals for getting sufficient solar-powered hyrdogen from seawater, to replace conventional oil. It's equivalent to relying on cold fusion power to save capitalism. It's another perpetual motion fantasy -- like PVs, despite all the alleged recent improvements in energy efficiency.

> I don't know which of these if
> any will pay off, nor exactly, when. But I think it is
> more naive to use static technological and resource
> based assumptions than it is to factor change into the
> scenario. On this Mark and I will simply have to
> agree to disagree.

Well, this is simply nonsense, Greg. What you seem to be saying is that I believe the only way forward is to remain where we are, ie 'static'. But capitalism is like a person running across a quicksand. It cannot stand still, that would be fatal. I'm saying that you're alternatives to oil actually aren't alternatives; you answer by saying, 'well we have to do SOMETHING.' Well, we all agree about THAT. I think what we need to do is to get rid of capitalism. But like I say, I'm glad you've come this far: from saying there is no problem and oil willlast forever, to saying that oil is running out and we need to do soemthing, is alreayd a big step.

> But it does not change the fact
> that the fundamental critique of MJ's position is that
> it relies heavily on more or less linear extrapolations
> of current technologies and their associated needs.

No, I don't think this way at all. What I think is that a much more radical technological revolution and qualitive paradigm shift is needed, than anything you are suggesting, which is just more of the same old same old.

> The capitalist system is defined by the continuing
> clash of old and new technologies and their business
> class advocates.

No, the capitalist system is defined by the continuing clash of different social classes.

> I'm not trying to be rosy. What I'm saying is that
> "the system" is supple, powerful, resourceful, and
> adaptive, ruthless brutal here (Chile, Viet Nam,
> Indonesia, WWI and II, &c. &c.), and creative there
> (some things capitalism has made are just plain neat,
> like the Golden Gate Bridge; and the Apollo program was
> ultra cool, as is Hubble telescope).

And I'm saying the system is fucked, as brutally as I know how.

> We won't be
> handed a neat crisis on a platter that will do it in.
> I think it quite likely that the evolution from
> capitalism-to-something else will occur in a gradual,
> uneven manner that we cannot anticipate, in much the
> same way that today's society would have been
> inconceivable based on any extrapolations from current
> trends in the 12th century. Here's a weird idea: we
> move from cell phones to ear-plug phones to ear implant
> phones (for convenience). You ahve to do this "to keep
> up" with what business colleagues are doing (don't want
> to be at a meeting without access to your back up
> advisors via the ear implant). Someone gets theidea
> that web access via a biogenic visualization chip in
> the brain would be useful. Bingo we're
> techno-organic. Through selective piping in of muzak
> and sexual stimuli, etc., via the ear phones we are
> made to feel "good" or "bad" and spending and savings
> are adjusted accordingly. Greenspan gets on the world
> net and makes us all spend to the oligarchs' desired
> wage/price/employment level. (And maybe this stuff is
> just nonsense like the pills instead of food that the
> Jetsons forecast for us back in the 60s)

I'd rather die, frankly than live in that kind of capitalist dystopia. The fact that such technoliogies are powerfully advancing (and before you came on this list, I have been writing much about these matters) is another and totally compelling reason why such a future cannot be left to capitalism: such a future invites, even begs for, socialism.

> What I'm saying here is, that even without going "far
> out into weirdness" to see that 50 years out things can
> be VERY different, and that possibilities for
> technological mutation are INCREASING, not decreasing
> or stable.
> Final point: I share Mark Jones' concerns about the
> environment's carrying capacity as a potential
> fundamental limiting factor. I think this is of much
> graver concern than resource depletion. However, even
> here, there may be surprises. A straight-line linear
> extrapolation of the smog problem in California based
> on automobile emissions in 1950 would have made the
> current population and pollution carrying level of
> California impossible. Flat out impossible. Mortality
> would be too high. Nowadays $300 per vehicle gets you
> a catalytic converter that pushes the carrying capacity
> of the California environment from 3 million (or
> whatever) in 1950 to 30 million today. There was no
> push for the "perfect solution" because the sloppy one
> (a "cat" on your basic IC engine) worked sufficiently
> well to get us to this point.

Julian Simons used to talk like this: if the rate of increase of horses went on then by 1890 London would be knee deep in horse shit, etc. Did the car solve London's pollution problem? No, it just made it worse -- in the end. Did the catalyser solve LA's problem with the car? I dunno, I've never been to LA. Don't you have a problem with urban anomie, ghettoes, 'burbs, enclaves and stuff? Hasn't the wilderness around LA been wrecked totally? Isn't there a small problem about future water supplies? Hasn't the catalyst just given the LA horrorshow a new and unnecessary lien on life? You tell me.

> to
> the extent that mandated investment on environmental
> projects occurs in a less than full employment
> environment, it makes the capitalist economy that much
> stronger, not weaker (as the right would suggest),

This is an interesting argument and Blair Sandler also made it. But I don't agree with it. As Wojtek said brilliantly here just the other day, capitalism survives by dumping its externalities on the poor and unfortunate. There is a lot of rethinking of 'tap and tailpipe' capitalism: do a search on industrial ecology and you get a million webpages mostly crafted by earnest and conscientious nordic academics and greens. But, as Daly and many others have pointed out (let alone we shamefaced, ridiculed marxists, who are always wrong about everything of course) there ain't no such thing as sustainable capitalism.

Mark Have no time to proofread, sorry if it makes no more sense than usual.

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