Sunday, July 11, 2010

Shut-up Stupid Sunday: Problems of Scale

If you are new to this blog, you most likely found it looking for “Peak Oil” or “Abiotic Oil” as I have written about both using my experience as a former securities broker in the oil industry. The disaster in the Gulf has increased awareness of both these topics, and helped spread a lot of misinformation about these topics around the web.

Before the Gulf tragedy my most popular series on this blog was my “Shut-up Stupid Sunday” Series, were I debunk popular misinformation being spread about the world, it’s only natural at some point the two would meet. So here is a look from a former industry insider on some of the misinformation being spread about this tragedy.

Myth #1: The amount of oil coming out of BP’s well proves America (and the world) has plenty of oil.

This is a problem of scale, most people who haven’t spent years studying oil consumption (and many who have) can’t wrap their heads around just how much oil our civilization consumes. I will try and put this in a scale that people can use.

We consume roughly 85 million barrels of oil a day. If this oil was actually put into barrels and the barrels were laid end to end they would wrap around the Earth one and a half times.

Compare that to the BP oil disaster. It is currently gushing out between 100,000 to 150,000 gallons of fluid a day all of it is deadly but not all of it is crude oil. Of this fluid roughly half is natural gas condensate, natural gas compressed into a liquid and 15% to 20% is liquefied sand, so roughly a third is crude oil. For ease of math let’s say one-third is crude oil or 42,000 gallons. Which seems huge, and it is until you compare it with the amount of oil we consume.

A 42,000 gallon a day well is 1,000 barrels a day, or the same as the top 5 producing oil wells in the oil fields I worked and if BP hadn’t cut corners and built the well properly it would be a very, very profitable well, but how much would it effect the world’s oil supply? Not much.

The 42-gallon oil barrel is based on dimensions of 1.5 ft by 3 ft by 1.5 ft. So putting the 1,000 barrels of oil into barrels and laying them end-to-end they would stretch 3,000 ft, or a little over half a mile.

In other words it is the difference between what would take the record holder for a round the world flight 12 days, compared to what I casually stroll in 10 minutes every morning.

In order to have the US achieve oil independence we would need 20,000 wells the size of BP’s broken well.

Myth #2: The ocean will absorb the oil.

This is the other end of the spectrum the people who look at how small the amount of oil coming out of the broken well compared to the size of the ocean. It is a drop in the bucket, however it doesn’t take many drops of oil in water to be lethal.

Oil in water is lethal to most life at 11 parts per million, so every day the oil from the BP spill is making 4 billion gallons of water lethal. So the oil spill kills off most life around where it touches. The life that remains is the oil-eating bacteria, which uses all the oxygen around it to eat the oil. Making the water unable to support life.

To make it worse, the natural gas that is flowing out of the well reacts with oxygen in the water combining to drain the gulf of oxygen in a process known as marine dysoxia.

Finally, the natural gas that is coming from the gulf is never pure natural gas and has large quantities of hydrogen sulfide, which also drains the ocean of oxygen.

It was a combination of the build up of Hydrogen Sulfide and Methane that drained the oceans of oxygen leading to the Great Dying 250 million years ago that killed 95% of marine life.

So although the amount of oil and natural gas released by the well is small relative to the ocean it is incredibly lethal to marine life.

Myth # 3: We need to continue to support deep sea drilling.

The Federal Government supports the Oil Industry with over $30 Billion in subsidies to drill new wells. The reason given for this is to maintain oil domestic oil production at 5 million barrels a day and not have it be reduced by 1% a year. This isn’t true but lets pretend it is.

The $3 Billion dollar “Cash for Clunkers” program saved roughly 730,000 barrels per day or 0.2% of our consumption. So if similar conservation programs were given the money we give the Oil Industry in order to reduce consumption we could hypothetically reduce our consumption by 2% a year. Even if they are only half as successful as the “Cash for Clunkers” program that would give us the same results as subsidizing the oil companies without the environmental risk.

Normally I end these little debunking rants by telling the people who spread these myths to “Shut-up Stupid” hence the name of the series. However this time I am going to end it with a little story about when I was confronted by something that I just couldn’t grasp the scale of.

I was driving through Indiana in a rainstorm and up a head a saw a huge black object. I thought the middle of hundreds of miles of cornfields was a silly place to put a skyscraper. I asked my wife if she knew of any skyscrapers that were built in the middle of nowhere, Indiana, she did not.

I drove straight into a category 3 tornado because my mind could not accept the scale of what it was seeing.

The people who look at the Gulf Disaster and say it shows we can drill our way to energy independence are going through the exact same thing that I went through as I drove a Chevette into one of the deadliest forces of nature. Their minds are rejecting the sheer scale of the amount of oil we consume.

By Darrell B. Nelson author of Invasive Thoughts

1 comment:

Stephanie Barr said...

And I learn even more.

Thank you for taking the time to share your information for the rest of us.