Thursday, 24 October 2013

Offshore oil drilling opponents blow up their case [updated]

POPULAR OPPOSITION TO OFFSHORE oil drilling continues in NZ, even as oil continues to be the world’s most abundantly used energy source—including by its opponents, recognising perhaps in their own ongoing use of energy and products derived from oil that fossil fuels actually improve the planet for human life.

The importance of oil for energy production can easily be seen in Germany and Japan, where their shutdown of nuclear power stations has made it abundantly clear that so-called “renewable energy” sources just can’t cope with the energy demands of our industrial civilisation.

The energy system which currently sustains the 7.1 billion people on earth is powered by 87 percent fossil fuels; 11 percent nuclear and hydro electric; with the remainder consisting of “renewables” i.e., wind, geothermal, solar, biomass, and waste. Is this a case of an upstart on the verge of a breakthrough, or a perennial loser that can’t make the cut? […]
    [I]n May of 2012 when Japan, previously the world’s largest consumer of nuclear-derived electricity, shut down all of its nuclear reactors: a loss of 27 percent of its electrical generation… Thus, the stage was set to demonstrate all of green energy’s alleged potential; a wealthy country, a demonstrated willingness to pass environmentalist policies, and a level playing field. What happened?
    While popular media championed the idea that massive wind power and solar generation projects were soon to be installed, ‘greening’ Japanese power generation, and fulfilling viable green energy tenets—a different reality unfolded in the country.
    With nuclear offline, fossil fuels flowed into the nation. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA),
As a result of the nuclear outages, fossil-fueled generation of electricity rose to 90% of Japan’s
        total electricity output during 2012, with 8% from hydro and only 2% from nuclear.
    In 2012 “the combined amount of electricity generated from natural gas, oil and coal” increased by 21 percent…
    During this tragic and perilous time, green energy did very little to alleviate Japanese suffering. Renewables went from contributing around 1.6 percent of primary energy in 2011 to 1.7 percent in 2012, hardly a demonstration of energy sources capable of powering the planet.
    This was not because the Japanese have an ideological preference for fossil fuels—as their anti-nuclear stance shows, they are on the extreme end of environmentalists. But they are environmentalists who were forced to grapple with the reality that if they tried to rebuild primarily using solar and wind, technologies perennially plagued by unreliability and high infrastructure costs, they would fail at rebuilding.
    The Japanese disaster demonstrates the truly life saving value of fossil fuels.

The failure of “renewables” to do the job is made more manifest by the Euro-subsidies given to wind and solar which, rather than building up an economically sustainable industry, has instead simply increased Europe’s energy costs by 17% for consumers and 21% for industry in the last four years.

OFFSHORE OIL DRILLING CAN certainly be perilous, but even to make their case about the perils, in the latest example of local opposition to offshore drilling its opponents have to overstate them.

First, while the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is clearly their poster child for their picture of New Zealand oil doom, the holes drilled into New Zealand’s oil fields harbour nothing like the pressure of the Deepwater Horizon oil field, that pressure causing uncontrollable blowout. In New Zealand, pressures are so slight that in many holes the oil needs to be pumped in order to extract it. Without pumps, there can be no spill.

Second, there are over 4000 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. And

since 1975, offshore drilling has had a 99.999 percent safety record [source: EIA]. The amount spilled has decreased from 3.6 million barrels in the 1970s to less than 500,000 in the ’90s.

As David Farrar reflects, “$2.2 billion is being spent in NZ on exploration. Do we want to turn that down for worry about the 0.001%?”  Further,

Believe it or not, more oil actually spills into U.S. waters from natural sources and municipal and industrial waste than it does than from offshore oil and gas drilling.

(This last fact allows some folk to argue that, since “most oil spills are not due to drilling but from natural seepage from the sea floor, and studies have shown that oil drilling reduces the pressure on those seeps and results in less oil pollution,” so offshore drilling might be seen as environmentally beneficial!)

Third, even the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill had lasting impact on the deep-sea ecosystem only to a radius of 16km, “with the most severe reduction of biological abundance and biodiversity impacting a [radius of 3km]  around the wellhead, and moderate effects seen [to a radius of 7km] around the wellhead.”

And, since oil itself is a naturally-occurring substance, it’s only natural there are natural processes for its dispersement, which very rapidly kicked in.  Indeed, “the bottom line from [recent] research may be that the Gulf of Mexico [and, by extension elsewhere, is more resilient and better able to recover from oil spills than anyone thought,” an expert in bioremediation said on April 8 in New Orleans at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Terry C. Hazen, Ph.D., said that conclusion has emerged from research … [using] a powerful new approach for identifying microbes in the environment to discover previously unknown bacteria, naturally present in the Gulf water, that consume and break down crude oil.
    "The Deepwater Horizon oil provided a new source of nutrients in the deepest waters," explained Hazen, who is with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. "With more food present in the water, there was a population explosion among those bacteria already adapted to using oil as a food source. It was surprising how fast they consumed the oil. In some locations, it took only one day for them to reduce a gallon of oil to a half gallon.

Understanding these natural processes might suggest that a lot of the effort to clean up after the spill was worse than counter-productive, in that it impeded the full effect of the natural processes

Fourth, the opponents of oil drilling argue that it’s only the selfishness of oil companies that drives their anti-social desire to pollute our beaches. This is bogus nonsense on every level. Not only are they acting to meet the  demand for what powers industrial civilisation, it’s easy to make the case that the disasters that do happen, like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, are caused not by companies being selfish but precisely the reverse—by not being selfish enough.

Frankly, in the end, none of the opponents’ claims stack up. They have some lurid pictures, without the science they claim backs them up. And when you have to lie and fabricate your evidence in order to make your case, it suggests you haven’t really got one.

UPDATE: 2:32pm, Discussion expanded, and new links added.

1 comment:

  1. The Greens scream about oil drilling and mining but a week later will be bemoaning the lack of "high paying jobs" in the NZ economy.

    What really worries me is the inability or unwillingness of most of the media - specifically TV3 and the Herald - to ask them awkward questions about this obvious disconnect.

    Working on the assumption that the average voter is an uninformed idiot, they will unwittingly vote in a govt with Green influence which will inevitably be an economic disaster for the country.


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