Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will not rejoin a regional pact to regulate greenhouse gases despite the urging of the state's congressional delegation, a spokesman said on Tuesday. Massachusetts helped form the pact, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, with governors from states in the U.S. Northeast, in the absence of federal policy to regulate the gases scientists link to global warming. But late last year Romney, a Republican, pulled out of the agreement which seeks to cut carbon dioxide emissions at power plants 20 percent by 2019. Romney, who is expected to run for U.S. president in 2008, said the pact would boost power prices for consumers and businesses.

Interest in regional regulation of greenhouse gases has grown after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and the state legislature passed a bill recently seeking to cut greenhouse emissions by about 25 percent by 2020.

The Massachusetts congressional delegation wrote a letter to Romney on Tuesday asking him to rejoin the pact. Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesman for Gov. Romney, said in a telephone interview, "Massachusetts' energy bills are high and going higher. RGGI would have exposed our consumers and businesses to even higher energy costs." Romney, who is not running for reelection, is set to leave office in the first week of January.

Seven states including New York, whose Republican Governor George Pataki initiated RGGI, agreed on a model rule last summer and hope to start freezing emissions at power plants beginning in 2009. The states say that the agreement could push power prices up a very small amount initially, but would eventually cut power prices as plants became more efficient. Rhode Island also left the agreement late last year.


Deepwater Drilling May Open New Oil Frontiers

Oil companies are buzzing after Chevron, Devon Energy, and Norway-based Statoil ASA last week announced the successful discovery of oil at a staggering depth beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Jack 2, as the new test well is called, extends downward for more than five miles (eight kilometers). The well delves through 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) of seawater and more than 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) of seafloor to strike oil in the lower tertiary formation-a layer of rock laid down between 65 million and 24 million years ago.

The find, potentially the United States' largest in four decades, could yield from 3 to 15 billion barrels of crude oil. Even though the top estimate would not do much to slake the nation's growing thirst for fuel, it could boost existing U.S. reserves by 50 percent. But experts suggest that the cutting-edge technologies used to create and operate the well are far more important than any single oil find. Such technologies could open access to previously unattainable oil across the globe. And high oil prices are making the enormous startup costs worth the gamble. "It's giving folks greater confidence to explore in the deepwater Gulf region," said Judson Jacobs, director of upstream technology for Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) in Boston, Massachusetts. The Gulf is hardly unique, he adds. Other promising deepwater locations await exploration off the coasts of Brazil, the United Kingdom, West Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Deepwater oil exploration begins on the ocean surface with a fleet of seismic vessels. The boats use long cables to send sound waves through the water and sea bottom. Different layers of sedimentary rock reflect unique parts of the sound waves back to shipboard receptors. The data are then analyzed by software to produce a 3-D image of the underground environment. "The real success of the find is the improvement in seismic technology that allowed them to visualize what's happening far underground and recognize the structures [that may hold oil]," Jacobs said. "I think you've seen great advancements in that area in the last five years."

The Jack 2 well, created using a rig called Cajun Express, faced a problem that may not affect other deepwater locations. Thin layers of salt, called salt canopies, overlay the oil-holding structures. "Salt creates havoc for seismic imaging," Jacobs said. The salt alters how sound waves reflect off the rock layers. Yet the drilling team was able to create accurate images of structures below the salt in three dimensions-a huge advance over technological predecessors using 2-D imaging. "Geology is in 3-D," said Steve Hadden, senior vice president of exploration and production at Devon Energy in Oklahoma City. "When you're looking at where in the Gulf of Mexico to drill an 80- to 100-million-dollar [U.S.] well that will ultimately be the size of a dinner plate [on the seafloor], having that 3-D look is very helpful."

New drilling ships and semi-submersible drilling rigs such as Cajun Express allow drillers to work at far greater depths than more conventional platforms that rest on the ocean floor. The existing technology may be able to go even deeper than Jack 2. Cajun Express, created by the drilling company Transocean Inc., may be able to drill to 35,000 feet (10,670 meters). But drilling to such depths provides many daunting engineering challenges. Such equipment, for example, must be built to handle tremendous weight. "The way the drilling process works is that you put sections of pipe together one at a time as you run [the pipe] through the water and down into the earth," Hadden said. "You keep adding to the drill string until you reach the total depth of the well. So [in this case] you've got a 30,000-foot-long [9,144-meter-long] string of pipe hanging off a floating rig," he added. "You can imagine the weight requirements, and you have to have the ability to lift it to the surface to change the drill bit." Twenty thousand feet (6,096 meters) of the large diameter pipe that encases the drill hole tops the scales at over a million pounds (453,000 kilograms).

The enormous pressures found in deep wells are another major hazard. Too much pressure can make it difficult to control the drill bit. Or the pressure could collapse the hole altogether. Drillers must therefore use seismic readings while drilling to predict how high pressures will be at future depths in order to keep the hole viable. And striking oil is only the first step. The find must then be brought to market. This creates challenges for wells such as Jack 2, which is located far from the platform and pipeline infrastructure that already exists in the Gulf of Mexico. To market oil from the new field, its owners are considering building a deepwater pipeline that would connect Jack 2 to existing infrastructure on the Gulf's Outer Continental Shelf.

The owners could also employ floating production, storage, and offloading vessels, or FPSOs. FPSOs resemble giant oil tankers, but they are instead equipped with separation equipment that can remove water and gas from crude oil. The massive vessels can then hold the oil until shuttling tankers arrive to offload the product.

Though the Jack 2 find is promising, its success is no slam-dunk. Even conventional oil estimates are notoriously fickle. And unknown subsurface challenges may await to frustrate the area's production. Such variables keep deepwater drilling costs high, but so does the hardware involved. Equipment that can function at high pressure is expensive, as are surface facilities such as FPSOs, which can cost $500 million or more. Costs for the Jack 2 test well alone approached $100 million. "The upfront investments and the risks are not for the faint of heart," Hadden of Devon Energy warns. "It's a very big risk, but there can be a big reward." High oil prices, however, may make developing expensive, unconventional oil sources-and the technology needed to exploit them-more feasible than in the past. "What technology does for us is to help us to understand the geological risks a bit better, so that we're more comfortable taking the financial risk to find these structures," Hadden said.


California retro

For nearly a century, Californians have fashioned themselves the innovators the United States and the world follow. Not so on global warming. The California Legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger have just passed and signed global warming legislation that looks an awful lot like a watered-down version of the failed Kyoto Protocol. That's soooo 1990s. Kyoto was supposed to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, the main human-generated global warming gas, to 7% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. Nationally, carbon dioxide emissions have risen about 18% since then. California legislation cuts state's emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a much larger effective cut than Kyoto because of expected population growth in the next fifteen years. Why on earth did they do this, and what will it accomplish?

California's global warming legislation is all politics. Arnold is up for re-election, and California is (and has always been) politically green. Hint: "Sierra Club" stands for Sierra Nevada Mountain Club. While everyone back east pretty much yawns over its antics, people in California pay attention to it much the same way Euros worship Greenpeace (another organization simply ignored here). Greens are in record high dudgeon over global warming. Al Gore's movie has them pumped. The California public is alarmed, and scientists don't see any incentive to quell the hysteria -- after all, it's quite a living. So it's totally logical that there has been a political response.

Specifically, the current clamor revolves around a scientific absurdity: that unless we drastically cut our emissions of carbon dioxide in the next nine years, there will be an irreversible climate catastrophe caused by the rapid shedding of Greenland and Antarctic ice. (While climate populists still say "ten years," they've been making this claim for a year now. Time marches on.) It's science fiction. The slight loss of Greenland ice in the last few years is hardly unprecedented. Its cause is thought to be a reversal of a fifty-year cooling trend that ended in the late 1990s over the southern (melting) part of the landmass. For several decades in the early 20th century -- before humans could be considered a factor in climate change -- Greenland was much warmer than it has averaged in the last decade. Look for yourself. The UN's climate history is at this site.

In the early 20th century, Greenland had to have been shedding ice at a much higher rate than it is today (or, God forbid, today's loss isn't being driven by warmer temperatures!), and indeed this is documented. Check out "The Present Climate Fluctuation," published in 1948 by Hans Ahlmann, in Geographic Journal, a peer-reviewed periodical of the Royal Geographical Society. Antarctica? Suffice it to say that every recent climate model for the 21st century predicts that it will gain, not lose, ice.

Another big driver of the current hysteria is the notion that hurricanes are getting worse because of global warming. Again, there's little that's unprecedented. Today's frequency of Category 4 and 5 storms, the worst kind, is mathematically indistinguishable in the Atlantic and Western Pacific (the world's most active hurricane regions) from what it was a half-century ago...right around the time Ahlmann published his paper. The idea is simple. Warmer water yields more energy for stronger storms. But that notion is simplistic, as other factors that correlate with warmer water serve to mitigate storms. Further, the oceans just haven't been cooperating recently. An upcoming paper by John Lyman in Geophysical Research Letters has the scientific cheerleaders for Gore's apocalypse worried. It shows, inexplicably, that in the last two years the world's oceans lost 20% of the heat they had gained in the last half century.

It's easy to say that California's global warming bill rests on nonsensical overkill. But if people insist that all of these horrible things are being caused by global warming, what will California's leadership do about it? The answer, in the rosiest of policy scenarios, is easy: absolutely nothing. Further, if global warming is bad on the whole (a debatable hypothesis), California's law could easily make things worse. Let's be really rosy, and say that California does lead the nation, and Congress passes a similar law. Further, let's say that California leads the world, and every nation that has to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol -- quotas that virtually no one has met -- indeed adopts and meets the California mandates. According to scientists from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, the amount of global warming the law would prevent by 2060 is .05 degrees Celsius. That's right, one-twentieth of a degree.

That's a reasonable estimate, because Kyoto is predicted to prevent .07 degrees of warming along this timeframe, and California's law doesn't reduce emissions quite as much as Kyoto. But in any case, there's no network of global thermometers or satellites that will ever be able to detect such a change, because global surface temperature fluctuates about .15 degrees Celsius from year to year.

Will California itself meet its own legally imposed emissions limits? Doubtful, unless there will be some chicanery whereby carbon dioxide is fobbed off on, say, power plants in neighboring states. California would have to reduce its emissions substantially while, thanks to immigration, its population rises rapidly. The entry-level car for entry-level Californians will not be a $30,000 hybrid. While the chi-chi may buy them, they will sell their existing cars to the newcomers. Thanks to California's climate, those beaters will live long lives in the Golden State.

If people think that current hurricanes are being juiced by global warming, if they think that the calving of Greenland is unprecedented (despite decades of warmer temperatures in the early 20th century), then they will expect some return for their grief. But hurricanes will continue, and more people will be exposed to them. The earth's temperature trajectory won't be altered a measurable iota. Despite their efforts to lower emissions, people will see absolutely no current weather change that could possibly be ascribed to this policy.

Basing policies on hysterical exaggerations is a sure recipe for failure, particularly when the policies will do nothing but sour people on carbon dioxide emission restrictions. So much for Californian leadership. Sounds much more like politics as usual: full of sound and fury, accomplishing nothing. How retro.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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