Feed on

In the year 2000 there were 8,354 oil and petroleum based product spills in US navigable waters. 5 years later? 4,073.  In 2008? 3,633. In 2009? 3,492.

How much oil has been spilled?

2000: 1.43 million gallons

2005: 2.36 million gallons

2008: 777,000 gallons

2009: 196,000 gallons

While 10x less oil spilled in waters since 2005, spills from (water-located) pipelines have sent out 64 times less oil and constitute less than 1% of oil that spills into US waterways. Now, that’s not exactly the data you’d need me to cite for pipeline safety (really you want to know how likely it is, at the margin, for the next gallon of oil to spill from various sources), but it’s not like all of our oil spills from pipelines. Take a look at the data for yourself. Now, I also do not care about whether building pipelines creates jobs and I also do not care about the politics of this. What I DO care about is cheap energy. And yes, I do worry about what may happen to the climate, but the more I study, the more energy data I look at, the more macro data I look at, the more climate science I look at, the more I am convinced that the best thing for the entire planet is extremely abundant and cheap energy. If it has to come from fossil fuels, then so be it. If it comes from carbon-free sources, that’s all the better. Keep a few thoughts in mind:

(1) It is virtually impossible to think that we can transition to any meaningful amount of carbon-free energy production in the next 25-40 years, and certainly not for any reasonable cost. This is both because of chemical/physical reasons but also for political reasons.

(2) Cheap energy has been a boom to human health and well-being for a very long time, and energy crises are serious, serious, serious drags on economic well-being.

(3) Our energy production seems to be decarbonizing all on its own.

(4) If you take climate models seriously, then a lot of warming is already baked into the cake, and there is a reasonably good probability that we cannot do much to prevent it.

(5) Getting CO2 reduction in any meaningful way is going to require a very concerted global effort to do so. That will not happen.

(6) Having cheap and abundant energy better equips us to deal with any problem that may arise.

(7) The energy intensity of our economy, and the world economy (not as much as ours by a longshot) has improved dramatically.

(8) It’s not clear that “doing something” is going to help. That idea includes with it an entirely panglossian assumption that doing something is the same as doing something right. And that idea is simply wrong. It is entirely plausible that some/much/all of the spending we are doing now on green energy initiatives is making things worse. Extra credit to anyone who can identify what that is the case, why it should be obvious to anyone who has stopped to think about it, and why pronouncing such a thing will have you removed from polite company.

There can be more to be added to this list, but I’m running low on laptop power and I don’t have an Eco-bench nearby to charge it up.

3 Responses to “Some Perspective for the Keystone Crowd”

  1. Michael says:

    Often left out of fuel discussion is “opportunity cost;” it’s not like I’m going to forgo heating my house in the winter to my own comfort level, but whether I do it with electric, natural gas, wood, or other. Some of these fuels are more clean than others, but I guess it depends on what factors you are considering and how you weigh the importance of it.

  2. Harry says:

    Mike, I have some direct experience with two large natural gas pipeline companies (what I know about petroleum product pipelines comes indirectly). The first thing that comes to mind is that both were and I assume still are obsessed with safety, down to the smallest detail. For example, they all back their personal and company vehicles into all parking spaces (if there are parking spaces) not just in the company lot but everywhere else. The reason for doing this is that when parking one has the big picture of what is going on, and you are less likely to dent anything, not just on arrival but also when leaving, since you are pointed out.

    This is just how they park their cars.

    Their practices in operating their vast network of pipes, compressors, and other facilities go far beyond that. They fight corrosion with a variety of methods, including cleaning the gas near the source, and running pigs (they look like pigs), some of which clean, and some that measure the soundness of the pipe’s interior. If the pipe is unsound, they dig it up and replace it at great expense, but hardly ever, because their pipes are maintained.

    All of these practices were perfected before OSHA was even thought of.

    There have been accidents. One story my client told me about was when a Dresser coupling failed in Iowa, and the pipe came out of the ground in a field, like a huge snake, waving in the air.

    The companies operate fleets of two-engine light aircraft that fly patrol over the pipeline, checking for problem situations. In populated areas, a big threat might be a backhoe parked a mile away.

    I would expect pipeline companies that transport liquids to have similar operating standards, and the Keystone pipeline will be safe. When I looked at the maps, the first one looked like it followed a route where it might share right-of-way with existing pipelines, and the latest looks like it is routed through a more western part of Nebraska.

    Whether any of this enterprise makes business sense is not my concern, since it is not my money that is at stake.
    It is not an automatic bonanza, though, to extract liquid from tar sands in Canada, send it to Port Arthur,TX, and refine it into something. If this were a DOE project, I would question whether they had double-checked their numbers.

    None of this matters to the radical enviros, who want all fossil energy kept in the ground forever. They wish the rest of us would live more humbly, weaving our clothes, while they enjoy uncrowded national parks.

  3. Rod says:

    It does not matter at all to the folks at the United Nations that global climate science is sound or that those capitalists who build and maintain pipelines are sticklers for safety. The whole exercise is aimed at transferring wealth from the United States to the many tinhorn dictatorships around the world and to making the Friends of the United Nations rich, in return.

    Wintercow is right to observe that efforts to reduce carbon usage is generally destructive of wealth, just like broken windows.

    Meanwhile, the tables at the finest New York restaurants are full, thanks to those out-of-towner UN folks. Cheers!

Leave a Reply