Thursday, March 18, 2010

Your Petrochemical Arms

Read and Go (Haunted Bookshop, Iowa City, Yo!) Hi-vis Book

If you recognize the title phrase of this post without usage of a popular search engine, you passed the first question. My plans for today revolved around taking a book with me to read on the way home with a stop at the Lafayette Parkway. I have a rack, I have a book, I have amazing weather, the air is redolent of citrus blossoms, let's do this thing!!

So I started to wrap James Howard Kunstler's "The Long Emergency" in a plastic bag for protection on my rack, recognized the small sad irony of that, and put the bag back in the "recycle these bags" drawer along with its petrochemical brethren. I'll be riding sans sac today. The book will show the wear and tear of a life on the road unprotected by a product which it predicts will cease to be produced in this century when we run out of economically viable oil. I'm only about a third of the way through the book, but I happened to get to a section about the possible alternatives to oil just before strapping it in, above. James Howard is pretty harsh on the battery component of rechargeable alternatives, but I was surprised that he didn't mention the nasty and short story of the EV-95 NiMH rechargeable battery. If I reported it here you'd think I was paranoid or making it up; instead just go search for EV-95 Chevron. After cycling through most of the obvious alternatives to oil and the problems of each, James Howard lands on "Zero Point Energy." I thought he might mention HL2. If you got the first question right, above, and understand zero point + HL2, I think I may love you. I also bought James Howard Kunstler's "World Made by Hand", along with a book about eating local called "Coming Home to Eat." Further reviews ahead of these if warranted. And now for the bonus question. Get this one right and you demonstrate an unusual degree of geopolitical awareness. Where is Athabasca, what is it, and what is it's significance? Answer and rant below the picture of the three ladies walking dogs from today's commute.

No Petrochemicals Were Directly Burned in the Making of this Photo

The Athabascan Oil Sands are a ginormous deposit of heavy oil integrated with sands, clays, water and junk in Alberta, Canada. Before the price of oil skyrocketed, it was way too expensive to separate the oil and transport it anywhere useful, even though oil people realized that Athabasca has what must be called a shitload of oil locked up in it. How much of it will be extracted and sold before the oil sands run dry economically, well that's the $64 trillion question. Then we passed the historic peak of world oil production, oil prices went haywire, and it became economically viable to extract the oil out of the Athabascan sands. As you might imagine, it's messy, expensive, and energy-intensive to separate oil from sand and stuff. (wikipedia says they burned a billion cubic feet of natural gas per day in 2007 to extract the oil, but I'm not sure that's true) But since we've reached the "Uh oh, this stuff won't last forever" price range, the oil men have started dumping and pumping. That wikipedia link will show you that they are at about 700,000 barrels a day headed toward 4 million. Another aspect of it that you may not know is that they are going to build a $12 billion pipeline from Alberta to Texas to move the black gold from point A to the Gulf refineries. That's the Keystone XL pipeline, and that's right, $12 billion. There's also a pipeline going to Superior, Wisconsin, to move the stuff to tankers through the Great Lakes. So the essential geopolitical significance of Athabasca is that it it probably this planet's last large source for oil. When will it run out? Still probably in this century, at the rate we're burning through it. So my guess is that we'll all know a lot more about Athabasca soon. What wars will be fought over Alberta? Some, if history is any indicator. What will become of us in the process? I'm going to keep riding my bike and reading these books to think about it more. Get up. Go ride. 

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