Bush just keeps on ignoring railroads

Monday, July 31, 2006

Dave Zweifel writes in The Capital Times on the importance of railroads, but lack of federal attention in transportation plans:

The federal government's Transportation Department has just issued a "white paper" on reducing traffic congestion in the country and guess what? It doesn't include a word about how improvement of either passenger or freight rail in America might be able to help.

Once more, the powers-that-be in Washington are determined to put all the nation's transportation eggs essentially in one basket more and bigger highways with a small sop to improving some airport traffic control systems.

Second largest oil field in decline

Thursday, July 27, 2006

By G.R. Morton from the Web site of DMD Publishing Company:

The second largest producing field in the world is the Cantarell complex in Mexico. It lies 85 kim from Ciudad del Carmen. The field was discovered in 1976 and put on production in 1979. . . .

The implications of this upcoming decline are tremendous to the world. This field produces half of what Ghawar [in Saudi Arabia] does and it won't be doing that much longer. The effect on the energy supply will be felt and there is no way for that not to happen. On Aug. 3, 2004, the OPEC president stated that OPEC has no more spare capacity. They are pumping all out and can't satisfy the demand for oil. If fields like Cantarell begin declining, the problem of supplying the world with oil will only get worse.

PSC energy assessment flunks reality check

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

RENEW Executive Director Michael Vickerman delivered the following statement to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin on July 26 on behalf of the Madison Peak Energy Group and RENEW.

Petroleum and Natural Gas Watch, Vol. 5, Number 3
July 25, 2006
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin

The draft Strategic Energy Assessment issued by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission is a particularly fine example of a government report that is interesting only for what it leaves out. Covering the years 2006 through 2012, the SEA purports to bring to light “issues that may need to be addressed to ensure the availability and reliability of Wisconsin’s electric energy supply.” Unfortunately, from a planning perspective, what the report does not address is far more critical to Wisconsin’s electricity future than what is presented in the report.

Take, for instance, the impending global Oil Peak, which many respected petroleum geologists believe will occur between 2006 and 2012. One searches in vain for any reference to a phenomenon that promises to subject the nations of the world to a profoundly wrenching and traumatic transition as supplies of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel become less available and more expensive. How should Wisconsin, which is bereft of any fossil fuel reserves and therefore must import all its coal, oil and natural gas, go about preparing for an energy-constrained future? It’s a question worthy of public discussion and debate, but one the PSC, notwithstanding the first word in its name, lacks the stomach for, or so it would appear.

Read the full commentary at RENEW News and Views.

Peak Oil Group Educates at Hybridfest 2006

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ethan Johnson of the Madison Peak Oil Group points to the peak on a peak oil curve as he talks to a visitor at Hybridfest 2006, a celebration of hybrid cars in Madison on July 22.

Bloomington, Indiana passes peak oil resolution

Monday, July 24, 2006

Should Madison and other cities in Wisconsin follow the example of Bloomington?

On July 19, the Bloomington, Indiana City Council passed a resolution acknowledging that the global peak of petroleum production is “an unprecedented challenge” for society, and recognizes that the city must prepare for its inevitability. Bloomington is the 7th largest city in Indiana, home to Indiana University, and has a population of 70,000 residents plus a 40,000 student population. The resolution supports a global depletion protocol, such as the one drafted by Colin Campbell and Richard Heinberg.

Read the full story at Energy Bulletin.

Come to Hybridfest, Saturday, July 22

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Madison Peak Oil Group and RENEW Wisconsin will have a display at Hybridfest, held at the Alliant Energy Center. According to a story in the Capital Times by Jeff Richgels:

Hybridfest will feature more than 100 hybrid cars with participants registered from more than 20 states and Canada, Robbins said. Details are available at www.hybridfest.com for the event that runs in conjunction with the Dane County Fair from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday. Parking and admission are free.

Test drives will be available, hybrid owners will be on hand to talk about what it's really like to drive a hybrid, and there will be speakers talking on a variety of topics.

Dolan said Toyota also is sending a "real expensive" exhibit piece - a cross-section of a Toyota Highlander hybrid cut in half showing how its hybrid synergy drive works.

The hybrid vehicles that will be on display include the Saturn VUE Green Line that hasn't hit the market yet and the new Toyota Camry, which Dolan said has been proving extremely popular since they started arriving at Smart in mid-May. The regular Camry has been the best-selling passenger car in the U.S. for eight of the last nine years.

Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century

Thursday, July 20, 2006

According to social critic James Howard Kunstler, the author of “The Long Emergency,” Americans are woefully unprepared for the end of the cheap oil era. Kunstler observes the American way of life—now virtually synonymous with suburbia---runs only on reliably cheap oil and gas. As oil gets more expensive Kunstler thinks we’re going to have to make other arrangements.

Nick Vander Puy from the Superior Broadcast Network caught up with James Howard Kunstler, near Stevens Point, Wisconsin after his keynote address at late June’s Midwest Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair.

Connect with Superior Broadcast to view and listen to Kunstler's speech.

Push bioenergy development beyond corn

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Marshfield News-Herald editorialized in support of initiatives to produce ethanol from cellulose:

A study by University of Minnesota researchers shows that only 12 percent of the nation's motor vehicle fuel could be supplied by corn-based ethanol -- if every kernel in the nation went into its production.

Because corn is a major feed source for beef and other animals, converting it all into fuel would make meat either more costly or less available, or both.

And ethanol adds to greenhouse gases, just as petroleum does.

But as Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, points out, ethanol isn't only from corn anymore.

The Governor's Consortium on Bio-Based Industry urges Wisconsin to be the first state in the nation to build an ethanol plant that uses wood products as its raw product, which Still notes "could be a natural fit for communities in northern Wisconsin."

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is developing a biofuels curriculum for its paper science students, and not only could ethanol made from wood fiber be a natural fit for northern Wisconsin, it could be a revenue-producer for papermakers.

Biofuels such as switchgrass and jatropha also show more promise to be energy-efficient than corn-based ethanol.

"It is already clear that large-scale use of ethanol for fuel will almost require cellulosic technology," said Steven Koonin, chief scientist for BP, the energy company whose gasoline is sold by Baltus Oil Co. stations in the Marshfield.

Cellulosic isn't an everyday word. Cellulosic biomass includes cellulose and hemicellulose, which make up about two-thirds of the dry mass. Most of the rest is lignin.

While converting grains to ethanol requires the use of petroleum, lignin -- a renewable resource and byproduct of the production process -- fuels the conversion in cellulosic technology.

The greenhouse gases produced by burning lignin are offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed as the tree or other switchgrass grows. One model shows an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases with the use of cellulosic ethanol compared to gasoline.

Production of ethanol from corn is a short-term answer to alternative fuels, because the plants can be built quickly to convert sugars to alcohol through fermentation. In a brewery state like Wisconsin, that's old technology.

Cellulosic technology is developing, so it's not ready to replace corn-based ethanol yet.

But pooh-poohing ethanol in the face of evidence that it's not the fuel, it's the source of the ethanol, that leads to greenhouse gas concerns and net-energy problems doesn't get us any farther down the road toward a more independent future.

The largest problem is that the "world's scientific and engineering skills have not yet been focused coherently on the challenges involved," BP's Koonin said, adding, "It is now time to do that through a coordination of government, university and industrial R&D efforts, facilitated by responsible public policies."

By 2025, one-fourth of the state's transportation fuels should be alternatives to petroleum, the Governor's Consortium on Bio-Based Industry recommends.

It'll take government/university/industry collaborations to develop the technology, as the BP scientist suggests. Setting an aggressive goal, as the consortium has done, is one of a series of responsible public policies required to achieve real progress.

Wisconsin is an ideal place to make that happen.

Entrust Our Energy Destiny to Big Oil?

Petroleum and Natural Gas Watch, July 17, 2006, Vol. 5, Number 2
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with a nagging question: What are Exxon Mobil and the other oil majors going to do with the Everests of cash that will pile up in their vaults when U.S. gasoline prices reach $5.00 a gallon?

Drill for more oil? Certainly a reasonable expectation, but unlikely given what happened a generation ago, when oil companies large and small plowed their profits back into finding new fields rivaling Prudhoe Bay or the North Sea in productivity. Though the sums they spent were impressive, the results weren’t.

Continue reading on Renew-Energy-Blog.org.

Ethanol industry deserves support

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Wisconsin State Journal editorialized in response to the study below that found that ethanol wasn't a cure all:

Wisconsin should proceed full speed ahead with plans to boost production of ethanol and other fuels made from renewable sources.

Ethanol may not be a cure-all for America's energy problems, but its benefits more than justify the Doyle administration's plans for more state incentives to encourage production and use of ethanol, expand the fledgling biodeisel industry and support further biofuel development.

A thriving ethanol industry can enhance the state's and nation's energy security and independence from foreign oil, it can provide a renewable supply of fuel, and it can create jobs and income in Wisconsin.

Two events in the past week have ignited an ethanol debate - again. On Friday, Gov. Jim Doyle fueled support for ethanol when he endorsed a report from the Governor's Consortium on Bio-based Industry calling for 25 percent of the state's transportation fuel to be alternative fuel, including ethanol, by 2025.

Doyle also outlined plans to reach the 25 percent goal by encouraging ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels.

But on Monday, opponents of ethanol were energized by national news coverage of an alternative fuels analysis from the University of Minnesota. The analysis warned that ethanol cannot solve all the nation's energy problems.

The analysis, however, was far from a condemnation of ethanol. In fact, the lead author of the Minnesota study declared that biofuels, including ethanol, "have a significant potential."

Nothing in the analysis should dissuade Wisconsin lawmakers from pursuing the course laid out by the Governor's Consortium. The plan does not expect ethanol to be a cure-all. But it recognizes ethanol's significant potential as a home-grown alternative to gasoline made from foreign oil.

The plan also supports biodiesel, which the Minnesota analysis said is preferable to corn ethanol. And the plan calls for Wisconsin to become the first state in the nation to build a plant to produce ethanol from wood, which the Minnesota researchers concluded is a better source of ethanol than is corn.

In addition, Wisconsin lawmakers should revisit a proposal, supported by Doyle, to require that most gasoline in Wisconsin be blended with ethanol to produce E10, a fuel that is 10 percent ethanol. That proposal failed to pass the Legislature earlier this year.

No, the United States will not be able to replace all its gasoline with corn ethanol. But ethanol, produced from corn and other sources, can make an important contribution to weaning the nation from foreign oil while boosting Wisconsin's economy.

Ethanol should be part of Wisconsin's energy future.

Ethanol isn't cure-all

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Several newspapers carry a story by AP writer H. Josef Hebert on a report to be released soon in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science:

Ethanol is far from a cure-all for the nation's energy problems. It's not as environmentally friendly as some supporters claim and would supply only 12 percent of U.S. motoring fuel - even if every acre of corn were used.

A number of researchers, the latest in a report Monday, are warning about exaggerated expectations that ethanol could dramatically change America's dependence on foreign oil by shifting motorists away from gasoline.

As far as alternative fuels are concerned, biodiesel from soybeans is the better choice compared with corn-produced ethanol, University of Minnesota researchers concluded in an analysis Monday.

But "neither can replace much petroleum without impacting food supplies," the researchers concluded in the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So We Drive On

Monday, July 10, 2006

Petroleum and Natural Gas Watch, Vol. 5, Number 1
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
July 10, 2006

Every week (usually on Wednesdays) the U.S. Energy Information Agency releases a status report of the nation’s fuel inventories. These weekly updates are rich in detail: refinery inputs and outputs, crude oil inventories, gasoline inventories, net imports (crude and finished products), and fuel prices (wholesale and retail). Without doubt the EIA’s weekly report is the most meaningful indicator of energy price movement in the days ahead.

In addition to the week-by-week fluctuations in fuel supplies, the report also tabulates a four-week moving average of demand for finished products, broken down by fuel type. In recent weeks, energy markets have been keying on those numbers, which show that energy demand in 2006 is running ahead of the same four-week average in 2005. Small wonder, then, that fuel prices are also trending upward.

The report issued for the week ending June 30 follows the pattern that’s been in place since May. Demand for motor gasoline is up 1.4% relative to last year, and the same holds true for both distillate fuels (1.8%) and jet fuel (3.3%). Yet at the same time the report reveals bulging inventories of crude oil and ample supplies of gasoline. So why do energy traders and speculators fixate on the demand figures and disregard the supply numbers?

The answer is simple: the world has virtually no spare capacity left to meet any growth in demand for liquid hydrocarbons. Even though the volume of liquid fuels (including ethanol and biodiesel) produced worldwide has never been higher, it is not enough to slake our prodigious thirst for these wondrously energetic substances. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that world’s leading exporters of crude oil and refined fuels will not be able to ratchet up the number of barrels they now sell to importing nations.

What this means is that unless the demand for transportation fuels actually changes direction and heads downward, prices have nowhere to go up. But is the U.S. leadership class talking about demand reduction, as measured in barrels of oil and motor gasoline? Why no, that would be unthinkable.

Instead, we are told via the mainstream media that high price of energy is the greater scourge. Unfortunately, there seems to be an endless supply of officials and commentators on tap to inveigh against the high cost of motoring and pitch their latest cure-all, whether it’s more drilling on federal lands and over federal waters, bigger tax credits for hybrid cars, or rolling back state gasoline taxes. As long as we Americans remain hung up on energy prices and not on the larger issues of energy sustainability and security, the policy remedies and infrastructure improvements that might actually make a dent in our supersized energy appetite will never leave the drawing board.

In the current political environment, the only thing that can bring about a more serious discussion of our energy predicament and--dare I dream it--a forward-looking set of federal policies is the economic pain that will come with gasoline prices breaching the $5.00 per gallon mark. Absent that stimulus, the likelihood that American motorists will somehow summon the self-discipline necessary to limit fuel consumption is extremely low, while the odds of discovering new and vast energy reserves to bail us out of our impending date with the global energy bottleneck are slimmer yet.

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald’s closing line in The Great Gatsby: So we drive on, fuel tanks running low, sucking dry the wealth of the past.


Energy Information Agency: Weekly Petroleum Status Report (week of June 30, 2006)

Petroleum and Natural Gas Watch is a RENEW Wisconsin initiative tracking the supply demand equation for these fossil fuels, and analyzing its effects on prices, consumption levels, and the development of energy conservation strategies and renewable energy alternatives. For more information on the global and national petroleum and natural gas supply picture, visit "The End of Cheap Oil" section in RENEW Wisconsin's web site.

High speed rail needed

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Capital Times editorialized in support of Interstate II -- a nationwide system of high-speed rail:

Today, a drive to Chicago from Madison can take as long as it did in the pre-interstate days on the old two-lane U.S. 12 and U.S. 14.

Unfortunately, like in most of the country, there is no rail alternative. Amtrak, which Congress continually squeezes almost to death, serves a small piece of the country and then only with one train per day, often at inconvenient times.

All of this is leading to a new movement that proclaims it is time for "Interstate II," a nationwide system of high-speed rail that can connect with urban light rail and bus systems to make travel easier and quicker without having to rely on cars hopelessly caught in traffic backups.

A piece of the Interstate II has long been proposed for the Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison-Minneapolis corridor to connect the most vibrant pieces of the Midwest's economy.

What in the world are we waiting for?

Doyle leads declaration for energy independence

Friday, July 07, 2006

At press conferences in Green Bay and Madison, Governor Jim Doyle and others signed a declaration of energy independence with the following broad goals:
The Declaration calls for a joint public-private effort by the State of Wisconsin, including the University of Wisconsin, to achieve the following goals:

* To generate 25 percent of our electricity and 25 percent of our transportation fuel from renewable fuels by 2025.
* To capture 10 percent of the market share for the production of renewable energy sources by 2030, helping America kick its addiction to foreign fossil fuels and bringing tens of thousands of new jobs to our citizens. Achieving this goal would bring $13.5 billion annually to Wisconsin’s economy by 2030.
* To become a national leader in groundbreaking research that will make alternative energies more affordable and available to all – and to turn those discoveries into new, high paying jobs right here in Wisconsin.
Executive Director Michael Vickerman signed the declaration on behalf of RENEW Wisconsin.