GAO recommends federal strategy for peak oil

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Government Accounting Office recently issued a report titled Crude Oil: Uncertainty about Future Oil Supply Makes It Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in Oil Production

The report notes that "Most studies estimate that oil production will peak sometime between now and 2040, although many of these projections cover a wide range of time, including two studies for which the range extends into the next century."

In assessing the federal government's effort to mitigate the effects of peak oil, the GOA report says:

Federal agency efforts that could reduce uncertainty about the timing of peak oil production or mitigate its consequences are spread across multiple agencies and generally are not focused explicitly on peak oil. For example, efforts that could be used to reduce uncertainty about the timing of a peak include USGS activities to estimate oil resources and DOE efforts to monitor current supply and demand conditions in global oil markets and to make future projections. Similarly, DOE, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) all have programs and activities that oversee or promote alternative transportation technologies that could mitigate the consequences of apeak. However, officials of key agencies we spoke with acknowledge that their efforts—with the exception of some studies—are not specifically designed to address peak oil.

The study calls for a more focused effort from the federal government:

While the consequences of a peak would be felt globally, the United States, as the largest consumer of oil and one of the nations most heavily dependent on oil for transportation, may be particularly vulnerable. Therefore, to better prepare the United States for a peak and decline in oil production, we are recommending that the Secretary of Energy take the lead, in coordination with other relevant federal agencies, to establish a peak oil strategy. Such a strategy should include efforts to reduce uncertainty about the timing of a peak in oil production and provide timely advice to Congress about cost-effective measures to mitigate the potential consequences of a peak. In commenting on a draft of the report, the Departments of Energy and the Interior generally agreed with the report and recommendations.

Access an abstract and the full report here.

Mercury in Energy-Saving Bulbs Worries Scientists

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Planet Ark carries a story on mercury in compact florescent bulbs:

NEW YORK - There's an old joke about the number of people it takes to change a light bulb. But because the newer energy-efficient kinds contain tiny amounts of mercury, the hard part is getting rid of them when they burn out.

Mercury is poisonous, but it's also a necessary part of most compact fluorescent bulbs, the kind that environmentalists and some governments are pushing as a way to cut energy use.

With an estimated 150 million CFLs sold in the United States in 2006 and with Wal-Mart alone hoping to sell 100 million this year, some scientists and environmentalists are worried that most are ending up in garbage dumps.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gina Duwe of the Janesville Gazette reports on the groundbreaking for the North Prairie biodiesel production facility:

EVANSVILLE-"Evansville loves this project."

Mayor Sandy Decker's words at Monday's groundbreaking for the $60 million biodiesel plant summed up a year of planning and fund-raising for the project.

While biofuel plants in cities as near as Milton have spawned lawsuits and filled city council meetings with angry residents, that hasn't been the case in Evansville.

"It is a perfect fit for our community," Decker said during a ceremony Monday near where the biodiesel plant will be built on the Evansville's east side.

Electranet to replace power grid?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Al Gore ponders the future of electric power generation through small, diversified and renewable sources of energy:

Taking a page from the early development of ARPANET, which ultimately became the Internet, we will rely on new kinds of distribution networks for electricity and liquid fuels. We will be less dependent on large, centralized coal-generating plants and massive oil refineries. Societies of the future will rely on small, diversified and renewable sources of energy, ranging from windmills and solar photovoltaics to second-generation ethanol- and biodiesel-production facilities. Widely dispersed throughout the countryside, these streamlined facilities will make the industrialized world more secure and less dependent on unstable and threatening oil-producing nations. Off-grid applications of renewable power sources can provide energy for the 3 billion people now stuck in poverty.

WPPI on-track to fulfill renewable requirement six years early

Monday, March 26, 2007

For a media release issued by Wisconsin Public Power Incorporated:

More than 150 MW of wind and biomass projects currently underway

SUN PRAIRIE, WIS., March 26 – Wisconsin Public Power Inc. expects to be six years ahead of schedule in meeting the state of Wisconsin requirement that at least 10 percent of electricity purchased by retail customers in the state be supplied from renewable sources by 2015. Based on its current renewable energy portfolio expansion plans, the Sun Prairie, Wis.-based utility anticipates that it will exceed the 10-percent requirement in 2009.

“WPPI and its members have directed considerable funding and effort toward meeting and exceeding Wisconsin’s renewable energy requirement,” said Roy Thilly, president and CEO. “We are committed to providing a diverse, cost-effective and reliable power supply – one that includes clean, renewable energy and substantially increased conservation and efficiency programs – to our members and their customers.”

Ethanol fumes are affecting leaders’ brains

Friday, March 23, 2007

Without question, biomass for transportation fuels holds pros and cons. Alan Guebert, whose column runs in The Country Today, sees more minuses than pluses.

Everything ethanol touches seems to get giddy on either the grain alcohol’s future or its fumes. For example, early last winter several farm groups endorsed a controversial Congressional plan to open America’s outer continental shelf for energy exploration. What dog could groups like the National Corn Growers Association have in the hunt for Gulf of Mexico natural gas?

A big one: More exploration may lead to more natural gas. More natural gas may mean more and cheaper gas-based anhydrous ammonia, corn’s chief fertilizer. More and cheaper fertilizer means more corn and more corn means more ethanol. So, in the circular logic that drives much of the U.S. ethanol industry, more tax-break driven, environmentally- questionable coastal drilling for a natural, clean-burning fuel now will power additional production of a subsidized grain that then will be converted into another, heavier-subsidized fuel.

The legislation passed, and on Dec. 11, NCGA announced its members were “very happy with the legislative victories securing more domestic development of natural gas, continuing our positive push for better trade and extending significant tax incentives for the ever-growing ethanol industry.”

If that recipe — a “positive push for better trade and significant tax incentives” — appears at odds with free market policies promoted by groups like NCGA, keep in mind the Kool-Aid being mixed here includes ethanol. Indeed, the offshore drilling legislation backed by NCGA also extended America’s 54-cents-pergallon tariff on imported ethanol through Jan. 1, 2009, thus protecting domestic producers from cheaper, chiefly Brazilian, ethanol imports for another year.

America’s biggest ethanol backer, Pres. George W. Bush, however, had a hard time swallowing the extension. He wanted — and still wants — an unencumbered U.S. biofuel market. It was a point he again made clear in his March 9 meeting (at an ethanol plant near Sao Paulo) with Brazilian President Luiz Incacio Lula da Silva.

When reporters asked Pres. Lula da Silva if he was going to push the American to cut or eliminate the U.S. tariff on ethanol, Pres. Bush interrupted to say Pres. Lula da Silva, like him, was stuck with the tariff “through the end of my term. It’s not going to happen.’” It’s not going to happen now, but pressure is building for it to happen from three already-apparent directions.

First, even though ethanol is an economically strong 30-year-old, it remains an almost purely political baby. If Latin and South American nations need to export ethanol to create jobs, strengthen their economies and stave off anti-American leaders like Venezuela’s oil-rich populist Hugo Chavez, ethanol’s domestic protection will be dropped like a bad habit. Second, pressure is building within the U.S. to make changes.

On Dec. 18, Pres. Bush’s brother, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, along with several prominent South American business and government officials, launched the Interamerican Ethanol Commission. The IEC’s mission is clear: make ethanol a global commodity and create a free, uninhibited international market for it. Pres. Bush, perhaps proving for the first time that ethanol, like blood, is thicker than water, took an enormous step in that direction March 9 with Brazil’s Pres. Lula da Silva when they agreed to share ethanol-making technology and expand its production across the hemisphere.

The third reason is Brazil itself. The nation that dealt U.S. farmers their biggest global trade defeat ever, the World Trade Organization’s ruling to kill U.S. cotton subsidies, possesses abundant land, cheap labor and a clear will to supply gas-guzzling American and European drivers with the fuel all believe is their birthright.

And like America drilling for more natural gas to make more ethanol, Brazil will burn its remaining rain forests to grow more sugar cane to make more ethanol to make it happen.

© 2007 ag comm
Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published
weekly in more than 75 newspapers in
North America. He lives in Delavan, Ill., and may
be contacted at

Cow manure for furniture and flooring

Thursday, March 22, 2007

From an Associated Press article by David N. Goodman as it appeared in the York Dispatch (York County, Pennsylvania):

Under pressure from regulators and the public, more large livestock operations are installing expensive manure treatment systems known as anaerobic digesters.

The digesters use heat to deodorize and sterilize manure, while capturing and using the methane gas it produces to generate electricity. The systems also separate phosphorus-laden liquid fertilizer from semisolid plant residue.

The solids have some known uses, including animal bedding and potting soil, and agricultural scientists would like to find more.

"We really need to think outside the box on what uses for manure are," said Wendy Powers, a professor of agriculture at Michigan State University.

Scientists at Michigan State in East Lansing and at the USDA's Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., are conducting tests on various types of fiberboard made with the "digester solids."

'Better than wood': As with the wood-based original, the manure-based product is made by combining fibers with a chemical resin, then subjecting the mixture to heat and pressure.

So far, fiberboard made with digester solids seems to match or beat the quality of wood-based products.

"It appears that the fibers interlock with each other better than wood," said Charles Gould at Michigan State's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Associations issue biodiesel proposals

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

From a media release issued by the Wisconsin Soybean
Association and Wisconsin Biofuels Association:

Arlington, WI—At hearings across the state, Wisconsin farmers, biodiesel producers, high tech companies, and environmentalists will call on the Joint Finance Committee to expand state purchases of biodiesel, ensure quality standards, and testing. Members of these groups are holding a Biodiesel Information Workshop at 9 am before the hearing to be held in Arlington on Wednesday at the research station headquarters. . . .

In addition, the release included four key areas for legislative action:

1. Establish a uniform definition of biodiesel fuel and adopt fuel quality standards per ASTM D6751-07 to enhance quality assurance of the product and to
encourage statewide use. . . .

2. Establish a state regulatory program within the Department of Agriculture, Trade
and Consumer Protection (“DATCP”), and/or Department of Commerce
(“Commerce”) to ensure the quality of the biodiesel fuel product offered for retail
sale in the state. . . .

3. Establish tax incentives for wholesalers, retailers and bulk users (private fleets) of biodiesel that promote an expansion of biodiesel fuel consumption and
distribution network in Wisconsin. . . .

4. Establish that the Department of Administration, through its fleet management
policy, require all state agencies increase the use of biodiesel (B5 or higher) by
twenty percent (20%) by 2010 and by fifty percent (50%) by 2015.

For more information, contact David Crass, 608-283-2267, or
Brett Hulsey, 608-238-6070, Brett@BetterEnvironmentalSolutions.Com

Poultry litter to fuel Minnesota power plant

Friday, March 16, 2007

In a story on, Ted Olsen reports on a Minnesota project:

Biomass -- in this case in the form of hundreds of thousands of pounds of turkey litter with woodchips and sawdust blended in -- soon will be fueling a 55 megawatt [MW] power plant producing enough electricity to supply 50,000 homes in the Minnesota community of Benson.
"[The] facility will burn 700,000 tons of turkey litter per year and can operate on 100 percent litter but we'll also be using other biomass, including woodchips and sawdust." -- Terry Walmsley, Fibrominn, VP for environmental and public affairs
The first large-scale facility of its kind in the U.S., the plant is being completed in an industrial park on the edge of town by Fibrominn, whose parent company Fibrowatt already operates three litter-fueled facilities in the United Kingdom. The project, started in May 2005, is expected to begin operations in June.

Rural "Defenders"

Thursday, March 15, 2007

From the irrepressible Hans Noeldner:

Residents in the townships adjacent to metropolitan Madison are fond of proclaiming their determination to remain rural in character; they see themselves engaged in an epic struggle against annexation-obsessed cities and villages.

But it is delusional to think that such areas can REMAIN rural. Demographically, these townships can best be described as ultra-low-density suburbia; economically, ethnically, and racially segregated; and totally dependent on the private motor vehicle for movement. The townships themselves lack significant employment, retail, and services; and their residents are disproportionately dependent upon the motoring infrastructure for which they fail to pay anything approaching their fair share. Indeed, exurbanites have an essentially parasitical relationship with the rest of society; without nearby urban centers their way of life would collapse. The reverse is not true.

Very few exurbanites are conscious that their way of life presumes an open-ended entitlement to ever-expanding highways and abundant free parking at their every destination: such niceties are, like air, taken for granted. But the day is rapidly approaching when motor fuel (and the results of its combustion) shall be far too expensive for eight and twelve motor vehicle trips per household per day. Will exurbanites abandon their "rural” sleeping quarters, or take up the fork and hoe to become real country dwellers?

California: the energy miser?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

From a story by Steven Mufson of The Washington Post as it appeared in the The Seattle Times:

. . .Since 1974, California has held its per-capita energy consumption essentially constant, while energy use per person for the United States overall has jumped 50 percent.

California has managed that feat through a mixture of mandates, regulations and high prices. The state has been able to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, keep utility companies happy and maintain economic growth. Now California is pushing further in its effort to cut automobile pollution, spur use of solar energy and cap greenhouse gases. . . .

Co-Dependency: The U.S., Russia, and energy security

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A presentation by
David Knuti, U.S. Commercial Service (retired)
Tuesday, March 13, 7:00 PM
UW Menorial Union

Russia is the world’s second largest oil exporter and largest natural gas exporter. Although only a minor supplier to the U.S., Russia plays a vital role in U.S. energy security by maintaining the precarious balance of world energy supplies without shortages or punishing price increases. No country other than the U.S. is such an important producer, refiner, long distance transporter, and consumer of energy. It also a key factor as a transit country for the oil and gas of other countries. For better or worse, world energy security depends on Russia’s future performance in these roles.

David Knuti was involved in energy development issues as a Washington analyst and commercial diplomat for the CIA and Commerce Department for 15 years, and continues to study these issues in retirement.

For more information contact Ed Blume, or 608.819.0748.

A Nosedive into the Desert

Monday, March 12, 2007

In a lengthy analysis on The Oil Drum, Stuart Staniford agures that "since late 2004, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has entered rapid decline of their oil production, at least for the time being."

Saudi production can be divided into two eras. In the first, prior to the third quarter of 2004, KSA had spare capacity and acted as the swing producer, making large voluntary changes in their production to stabilize the market. . . .

Since late 2004, KSA has entered a new era where they cannot raise production in response to demand side needs, and instead the major features of the production curve correspond to supply side events.

Green advocates see contradiction in coal-fired ethanol plants

Thursday, March 08, 2007

From an Associated Press story by Tom Webb in the LaCrosse Tribune:

HERON LAKE, Minn. — The latest trend in the green world of ethanol is a surprising one: coal.

Minnesota’s first coal-fired ethanol plant soon will begin operation in Heron Lake, and it won’t be the last. The high price of natural gas is enticing new plant owners to embrace coal power. But while it may make economic sense, the choice of this fossil fuel to make a renewable one has some people shaking their heads.

Madison Peak Oil Group meeting, Feb. 8

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Everyone is welcome to join the discussion.
Peak Oil Discussion Group
March 8, 2007

Meeting Date and Time: February 8, 2007, 12:00 – 1:00 pm
Location: RENEW Wisconsin Conference Room, 222 S. Hamilton Street

DRAFT Agenda

1. Introductions

2. Announcements/miscellaneous
a. Biofuels conference, April 20

3. Activities
a. Presentation on Russia
b. Participation in West Waubesa Preservation Coalition event
c. Tour of Jeff Riggert’s renewable energy installations

4. Other/discussion

5. Next meeting: April 5

Investor Pickens says peak at hand

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

From The Energy Bulletin:

Texas oilman Pickens says global oil production at its peak
Jim Krane, Associated Press

Legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens sees today's stubbornly high oil price as evidence that daily global production capacity is at - or very near - its peak.

If demand for crude oil rises beyond the current global output of roughly 85 million barrels per day, Pickens told The Associated Press, prices will rise to compensate and alternative sources of energy will begin to replace petroleum.

...Forbes publisher Steve Forbes challenged Pickens' assumptions during an exchange in the conference, saying political - not technological, or geological - roadblocks stood in the way of increasing the world's oil output. With the right incentives in places such as Mexico more oil could be brought to market and prices could drop, Forbes said.

Pickens responded by saying that Mexico is a declining producer of oil, as are most other countries, naming the United States, Norway, Britain, Canada and soon, Russia.

Recent ruminations

Monday, March 05, 2007

Wonderful Hans Noeldner provided the following thoughts:

If conservation is the cheapest form of energy, then proximity is the cheapest form of transportation. Which is to say, nothing beats being there already.
The problem of America’s profligate resource usage is remarkably simple: a great excess of nonessential and often detrimental employment for fossil-fuel consuming machines, and a great shortage of meaningful, useful work for human beings.
Our attitude towards our twin addictions to oil and the automobile resembles nothing so much as the habit of alcoholics to vociferously deny that intoxicants are the vehicle of their demise.

Distorting Space & Time
By collapsing a mile into one or two minutes, the automobile in motion has so profoundly distorted our sense of space and time that few living Americans comprehend the nature of a truly walkable community. And the automobile further warps reality when at rest. The amount of real estate “consumed” by only four or five off-street surface parking stalls would suffice for a modest-sized retail business and several floors of residential units. Multiplied by hundreds and thousands in a community, the resulting patchwork of surface parking scatters day-to-day and week-to-week destinations over miles rather than blocks, thereby establishing a ceiling on density well below practical thresholds for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit users. Multiplied by a billion and more, accommodations for the automobile have rendered the greater portion of modern-day “developed” America unfit habitation for the non-motorist. The species homo automobilicus dominates the field.

No Madison Airport?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Petroleum and Natural Gas Watch
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
February 27, 2007, Vol. 6, Number 4

Over the weekend I came across a web site ( that advocates shutting down Dane County’s airport and moving it outside Madison city limits. The people behind the web site, mainly east side residents fed up with the increasingly obtrusive levels of jet noise in their back yards, envision a New Urbanist community springing up from the acres of tarmac where jets once taxied to and from the gates. Deriding the neighborhood surrounding the current airport as a “ghetto”, the web site states that the new airport could be situated in a greenfield location far from town, presumably in an area populated by half-deaf farmers too busy plowing and fertilizing their fields to notice the increase in jet traffic.

To airport relocation supporters—no doubt all Madison residents--this proposal is pure win-win. The skies become quieter above Madison, while its property tax revenues swell from the mixed-use developments rising up on what had been county-owned property. That Madison’s gain would come at the expense of an outlying township not yet overrun by commuter households is of little concern to the proponents. The objective here is simple: to find a place outside of Madison where noisy jets can ferry travelers to and from the metro area without disturbing Madison residents.

Continued here.