The home page features a really excellent short film, “Welcome to the Anthropocene.” It is a 3-minute journey through the last 250 years of our history, from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the Rio+20 Summit. The film charts the growth of humanity into a global force on an equivalent scale to major geological processes.
Last week I attended an excellent monthly breakfast program of the Washington Clean Tech Alliance. The April program featured a panel on the future of natural gas. I attended because I am very interested in whether the energy picture has changed as much as it appears, in the past three years.
In 2006 when I wrote my last book, Turning the Future Into Revenue, I began the energy chapter with the following words, “The world is running out of oil. Just in time.â€ At that time, two years before oil prices hit their (so far) historical high of $147 a barrel, investors and institutions were catching up to peak oil, the knowledge that at some point we will have used up half the oil in the world and started down the back side of the supply curve. The only question is when. It seemed to many observers, circa 2006-2009, that the halfway point had been reached. It is still safe to say that the cheap and easy oil days are mostly behind us, but the energy picture has become more complex recently.
Hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas bearing shale rock, or fracking, when combined with improved horizontal drilling has begun to push the peaks forward in time. The biggest change in the energy picture, we learned last week, comes from shale gas. At the same time I was writing about energy in 2006, the natural gas industry was warning utility commissions that big price increases were on the horizon, because of short supplies, increases that would take the price per million BTU’s to $14. The U.S. and Canada were gearing up to build port facilities to import liquefied natural gas. Today the price hovers a bit below $2, because there is a glut of gas being developed in the shale oil fields in North America, and instead of anticipating import facilities, the focus is on the need for export facilities.
This chart, from the Energy Information Agency, illustrates how much more natural gas is anticipated by 2035, and how much of that comes from shale fields. At the WCTA session that I attended, there was confidence expressed that the gas is there and recoverable. The larger concerns focused on how to develop sufficient demand for all the gas by switching much electricity production and transportation to natural gas. In addition there is concern that the price has been driven so low that exploration and development will slow, having become uneconomical.
On the risk side there are concerns about water supply, as it takes a lot of water to produce a barrel equivalent of natural gas. While gas is cleaner than coal or diesel at the point of combustion, there is concern that gas leakage at the well head can make it actually a dirtier fuel in terms of green house gases, although the industry assures us that this is a technical issue that can be fixed by best practices. And of course there is concern about long run contamination of ground water from fracking chemicals used to force the gas from the shale rock. Again, the industry assures everyone that the shale is so much deeper than ground water there is little chance of contamination through migration. However, since the fracking pipes are left behind when a well plays out, leaving a long term channel between layers of rock, it seems reasonable to predict that some migration will occur in the very long run.
Regardless of the long-term risks, it is pretty safe to assume that an energy hungry world will continue to develop these resources. Whether there is really a 100-year supply, as industry advertising insists, is open to conjecture. But, on the whole, natural gas appears to offer a cleaner and cheaper bridge to the long-term energy future.
It was nice to be warm here, for the first time this year. The day finally put a long, unusually cool and wet winter and early spring behind us. I will use the occasion for one last memory from the winter, a day of snow shoeing with David on the one of more gorgeous winter days of the year. Enjoy some highlights.
Popular Science recently featured the 100 Best Innovations of the Year. Here are 10 of the most exciting and interesting ones. Recreation: Lifesaving Wetsuit
The Billabong V1 is more than just a wetsuit. This suit inflates a bladder in the back of the suit once an attached ripcord is pulled, helping the wearer float in case of an emergency. Learn more from Billabong.
Engineering: Versabar VB10000
This rig remover can unearth an entire oil rig from under water in a few short hours and for a quarter of the price. The Versabar VB10000 is extremely necessary, as the U.S. has identified 1,800 rigs that have to be excavated within 10 years.
The world’s first transparent photovoltaic film. Wysips turn almost anything into a power source. This film has thin strips filled with solar cells alternating with transparent areas, so it appears transparent has thousands of potential applications.
Health: Diagnostics for All
All it takes is a drop of blood on a stamp-size paper chip and in 15 minutes a color will appear that indicates liver health. Diagnostics for All’s “chip lab” costs less than a penny to make and allows patients to pay about a nickel for treatment.
ReCell Spray-On-Skin grows cells quickly and applies new skin to a bad burn, helping it heal more quickly.
Aviation and Space: Messenger
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab’s Messenger probe was the first spacecraft to enter Mercury’s orbit. The probe sent back the first close-up photos taken of Mercury since 1975.
Security: Recon Scout XT
This bot is tough enough to be thrown into any environment, even through a window, beaming back to its handler live video footage.
Gadgets: Eye-Fi Direct Mode
Eye-Fi SD cards do not need Wi-Fi to share photos and video from a camera on the Web. All you need is a location with cell service and you can download, upload and share through e-mail any photos you want.
Here is our list of six global destinations to see before they likely disappear beneath the waves of climate change. It is probable, say experts, that these places must be seen in the next 50-100 years or it will be too late. Even aggressive action to limit carbon and other emissions is unlikely to change the current momentum of climate change in this century. We’ll not get into whether this is a false alarm, or what the causes for climate change might be. We’ll just say if you have the time and the resources, these are very cool places to visit; if they are still there a hundred years from now, all the better, but if not, you will have seen them when you were able to.
This is one of my personal favorite places. My wife and have spent many wonderful days over several trips exploring the city and its surrounding environs. On one visit we went down the hotel stairs the first morning into a lobby under 2 feet of water and spent that trip walking raised boardwalks around the city. It was charming and beautiful in its own way. But now these floods happen up to 100 times a year, native Venetians continue to vacate the city (more because of its tourist driven economy than flooding, so far), and there are predictions that the city may be essentially abandoned by 2050.
Glacier Park Glaciers
One of the great visual wonders of the U.S. natural world, Glacier Park is majestic not just because of its glaciers, but also because of the grand scale of its mountains. Still, if the glaciers were gone, it would not be the same. While Glacier is getting more precipitation due to climate change, its glaciers continue to shrink rapidly. The latest forecast have them mostly gone as soon as 2020, so get busy on this one.
Great Barrier Reef
Australia Great Barrier Reef Islands
When we visited the Reef a few years ago and went diving, I was actually most impressed not by the color and or the sea life variety. I was most impressed by how much of the reef that we saw was not colorful at all, but a dusty brown, as it died. Very sensitive to changes in both ocean temperature and acidity as well as other disturbances, the Reef is well known to be threatened. So get there while you can, and join efforts to save the Reef as well. You are warned that you may have 30-50 years to make this visit.
Snows of Kilimanjaro
Climbing Kilimanjaro has long been on the bucket list of things to do for many people, me included, though I’ve not gotten to this one. I’d like to do it before the famous “snows of Kilimanjaro” disappear, and so it looks like I have until 2022.