There’s more to “more energy” than drilling for more energy

Bush: U.S. needs smarter energy strategy

Sent in by a reader (as mailed):

WASHINGTON – Under pressure over rising gasoline prices, President Bush said Saturday that energy legislation to be debated on Capitol Hill must encourage conservation and increased production of energy at home.

…and then, later…

The Republican-controlled Congress appears poised to open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Giving oil companies access to the refuge’s 1.5-million-acre coastal plain and billions of barrels of crude oil is a key part of the Bush administration’s national energy plan to help reduce U.S. oil imports.

Despite objections from Democratic lawmakers, the House Resources Committee voted Wednesday to allow oil companies to drill there.

…and finally…

But lawmakers Wednesday blocked an effort to improve U.S. vehicle fuel efficiency.

Makes me mad.

For the record, Murdoc:

  • Thinks that drilling the ANWR is probably a good (though not great) thing to do
  • That noticable (if not significant) hikes in automobile mileage requirements should be tied to ANWR drilling rights
  • That nuclear power is probably the best near-term solution to electricity production problems
  • Can’t understand why so many green-types are so opposed to nuclear power production
  • Wishes that ethanol and/or bio-deisel were the answer but isn’t convinced that they are
  • Thinks that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER should the Strategic Petroleum Reserve be touched except in the case of a massive, widespread war emergency
  • Supports continued expansion of the SPR despite high prices


  1. I pretty much agree with you. From what I’ve read, I’m more concerned that when drilling occurs, there is careful attention paid to not causing problems with the wildlife, than whether it happens at all. Ideally biologists should be involved and should monitor any changes in animal habits, numbers, etc. As long as they’re doing that, and the sites are well cleaned up at the end, it should hopefully be fine. If they notice problems after some drilling starts, further drilling could be postponed until a proper solution can be worked out. In short, do it slowly and use common sense. I agree that fuel efficiency is a serious concern. For a start, I’m sick of people driving vehicles with unnecessarily large engines. People around here drive like jerks, if they didn’t, I wouldnt’t feel like I needed heaps of power to get me out of trouble when someone does something stupid. Even so, I find a good 2 litre normally aspirated engine perfectly adequate. Modern engines of that class can be made very efficient. Also, there are plenty of good strategies for increasing power while decreasing emissions, like using turbos so that you can get by with a smaller engine. Also, total vehicle weight is an issue. We need lighter vehicles for city driving. Even if they’re physically large, they should be made of lighter materials so that they don’t require so much fuel to accelerate. I also think aerodynamics should be more of a concern than looks. That’s probably going to be difficult considering how shallow some automobile owners seem to be. I think it’s also critical that we move automobiles away from fossil fuel soon, because we need that fuel to power aircraft. If we run out of fuel for automobiles, we’ll be OK – we can use nuclear power to generate electricity to power electric cars and trains, which is at least adequate. However, think about what will happen to air travel. Imagine trying to power a 747 with electricity. Even if you could fit it with sufficiently powerful electric motors with propellers. how are you going to store all that energy? Batteries? It wouldn’t be able to lift them, I think. Plus, regular propellers put a serious speed limit on aircraft. (Ducted fans/propfans might solve that but there isn’t a lot of research going into that area as far as I can tell). So in short I think: * Fossil fuel needs to be reserved for aircraft and some rockets, where we don’t have the technology to replace it and maybe won’t for a long time. * Fuel and electricity usage should go down, through a combination of increasingly efficient power usage (e.g. subsidies on efficient computer power supplies, subsidies on home insulation, more efficient motors), less usage (more local shopping, home delivery, living closer to where you work) and anything else we can think of. It shouldn’t have to adversely affect quality of life. I think it’s well within our means. * Electricity generation should be nuclear or something environmentally friendly that’s actually visable (solar furnace, geothermal, maybe tidal). I really don’t think solar panels or wind power is going to work. Solar panels are too expensive and hard to make to be worthwhile and wind requires a lot of real estate, maintenance, is ugly, etc. I think it’s pretty dumb complaining about the price of fuel if you drive a car which is wasteful of it. You could lower your fuel costs by getting a more efficient car more easily than the supply problems can be solved. The next car I buy will probably have a small engine and CVT. I like the handling of small cars anyway. Of all the cars I’ve owned, the most maneuverable and easiest to drive was also the smallest (on the outside). It also had the smallest engine of any car I’ve owned, but because it was small and light, it responded nicely.

  2. Nic, Wind turbines don’t require exclusive land. Ie Farmers and Ranchers can add wind turbines without impacting their usual operations…only the birds get it. Appearance is in the eye of the beholder, many like the look of windmills. Noise is the worst though for folks actually living next one. Solar power will be getting much cheaper real soon as non-glass/silicate based materials come to market. Ideally this: would be combined with common roofing tiles with a marginal increase in base and setup costs. Murdoc, Biodiesel likely won’t completely replace fossil fuel even soon after Hubbert’s Peak, but it will be a part of the future. I dunno about ethanol; it requires consumers to buy new cars. Either way, 7 of 8 arable acres in the U.S. goes to feed animals for the meat market. There is room for biofuels there (we eat too much meat anyway.) While I don’t count myself an ‘EnviroNazi’, this green minded voter/consumer dislikes nuke power because it is a centralised beaurocratic politically connected utility. *bleh* Other than that, the best way to deal with the waste is to recycle it into more fuel…but this possibly leads weapons proliferation. So I am wary on two counts. But for now I say, Go for it!

  3. I have to admit I’m not ‘up’ on the ins and outs of various types of ‘alternative’ (and I include nuclear power as an ‘alternative’)energy sources. Seems to me the hype surrounding the proposed drilling in the ANWR is as overblown and hysterical as that surrounding the original Alaska oil pipeleine. Most of the ‘end of the world’ eco propaganda about that just didn’t come true. Should we allow unrestrained drilling, or developement of ANWR? Heck no! There has to be, and is, a balance between energy needs, production, and ecological concerns. Striking a balance we can live with is what the discussion should be about it seems. Nuclear power is potentially quite dangerous; nothing that can’t be properly mitigated by rigorous industry safety standards, and monitoring by non industry groups or agencies though (maybe a rule all nuclear plant executives have to have their residences within 2 miles of the plant? LOL!). Air turbines are OK……….’BUT’ I read an interesting article in a British hiking magazine recently. Seems the UK has quite a few of these wind turbine farms (ranches?, preserves?). The eco guys (Hey! I wasn’t thinking of them as ‘freaks’!) are now complaining, and legislating against, current wind farms and further developement. Why? They’re UNSIGHTLY, and are killing large numbers of birds. How in God’s name can anyone have an enjoyable hike while looking at tall wind turbines blighting the view? Not to mention all those bird carcasses! Sheesh! Seems like people would just burn peat in the hearth for their personal energy needs. In fairness……the magazine presented a ‘pro’ wind farm view too. I restrained the urge to write a letter to the editor pointing out to the ‘extreme’ hikers that the nuclear power plant’s they likely were also opposed to would have prevented the unsightly wind farms!

  4. Well, my main problem with wind is I just can’t see it easily providing a substantial chunk of our power needs like I can several other technologies. It’s just not dense… sure, in really windy places, where cattle can also graze, it’s worth having a bit of it. But I think we need a better provider for the majority of our power than burning stuff. Nuclear can definitely do it with a reasonable number of quite safe sites. Solar.. maybe. At least you can make a solar site that isn’t too huge that can produce heaps of power (when the weather permits, anyway). It’d have to be a furnace type though I think – mirrors have to be cheaper per area than solar cells, and you get the efficiency of scale. Basically what I’m saying is I think it’s more reasonable to produce power from 100 largeish plants than millions of windmills. You have less to secure, less to maintain, less transmission lines. You have disadvantages of centralisation too but with a few hundred plants hopefully they can be placed near the centers of demand to minimise transmission losses. With wind, because you have less choices of where to place it, that could be limiting I think. I just read a story about how environmentalists refused to let the forestry service log an area because it was under high fire danger and the rangers thought thinning it out would help. They blocked it for years, and then it all burnt down in a huge fire, taking lots of residences with it. That’s a prime example of environmentalist meddling which backfires. I think the power issue is similar, especially in California. I read that because Californians won’t have power plants in their back-yard, it has to come from neighbouring states, with transmission losses in the order of 50% – meaning twice as much pollution/waste is generated, thanks to them. This issue is nothing common sense can’t solve, I think, unfortunately common sense is not so common.

  5. Nic, one of the really annoying things about these discussions is that when some person suggests development of one method, another person blasts the idea as having no chance of supplying all of our power needs on its own. The real solution is to have a variety of efficient sources of energy dispersed as much as possible…yet placed as close as possible to users. Midwest farmers/ranchers (and elsewhere) may not be able to provide all of America’s energy in a consistent manner, but they can provide some in an apprantly profitable manner (more profitable than the crops they grow…subsidies may be involved) Much the same with solar; little here, little there; as long as it pays for itself, then it doesn’t matter if doesn’t provide for /all/ of one’s needs. Even so, here: is a scalable mirror based solar collector for your viewing…though it wont fit on your roof, careful idisperssion of these throughout the U.S. could help meet (profitably) our energy needs. Efficiency of Scale is a deceptive term, implying that ‘the bigger the better’. Sometimes bigger is worse. Technology improvements have resulted in much smaller quieter conventional power plants whose ‘efficiency of scale’ is maximized despite being smaller. In fact it was always better (if noisier and smokier) to have the old power plants close to users as the waste heated steam could be used to provide hot air or AC to nearby buildings (aka Co-Generation). However the monopolistic utility structure found it harder to make absurd amounts of money by being efficient (good ol ‘Cost-Plus’ payment structures).

  6. I definatley agree 100% on the Strategic Oil Reserve staying un touched and at needed levels. The whole reason is in case of major war we can tap the oil reserve in a EMERGENCY not to control price. Not to mention even if the gov taps it for price control the gov will have to replace all of the oil at a higher price at some point anyway Tax Money cost. I believe the oil reserve very important with todays world climate I fully agree that the Soviet fall made a more dangerous world not safer. Not that it was a great thing for the Soveit union to crumble but that the Clinton slash and burn on the Military was a major major mistake. Besides with the Arab world on edge Iran and syria on the verge of having to be checked by the US in a war that will have a very possible dangerous impact on the world oil transit lines. Then we have the wild card China/Tiawan China knows straight up we would crush them but if I was a Chineese general I would be sereously considering making a move on Tiawan on the first day of a US strike on Iran this would put our forces on a serous disadvatage momemtarily commited to war with Iran and aslo in need of emergency redeploy at the same time to the Tiawan area. China is already really pushing anti-Japaneese rallying and at the same time using it to promote nationalism not good signs. I believe those first couple of weeks when we go to blows with Iran will be the window and I hope before we make the move we redeploy heavy our carriers and to the Pacific as many as possible to still allow the Iran strike to go sucessfull and fast. Not to mention the N. Koreans who have a mutual defence treaty with Iran but I believe N. Korea wont do anything without China. At the same time even thou risky to do nothing about Iran sets us in a even more perilous situation in the future were we wont even have the advantage of picking the time and pre-positioning our forces. Not to mention a Nuclear Iran would have to be crushed we couldnt just go defensive and shift to the China front stabalize then shift back to Iran.

  7. To respond point by point to your points: * ANWR should be treated as though it were *part* of our SPR. It’s not like we’re sitting on top of Saudi Arabia’s reserves. * Hikes in automobile mileage requirements should be tied to our *common sense*, not just ANWR. * Nuclear power has gotten far, far too bad of a rap, and we should be investing in it now. * The green types that are opposed to nuclear are opposed to anything that is not water, wind, or sun. * Agree on ethanol and bio-diesel. * Completely agree on SPR. (And see ANWR comment above.) * Agree on expansion of SPR. Our dependence on foreign supplies for energy needs to be curbed, and by drilling in ANWR, we’re actually DECREASING our capability to supply our own energy if the time comes when we have no other choice. The CAFE standards are also in need of overhaul, as are other regulations around the automobile industry. The Europeans are way ahead of us in nuclear power, we need to get over our fear and realize that a few strategically placed nuclear power plants are critical in helping us ween ourselves off of fossil fuel, something that’s going to happen sooner or later.

  8. Since the last US nuke plant was built, there has been a lot of improvement in the technology in terms of safety and efficiency. New nuke plants could also be used to convert water to Hydrogen fuel on site if we want to go that way. It wouldn’t make much sense to use oil or gas generated electricity to convert water to hydrogen fuel to save gas!