Fracking is dramatically increasing the recoverable reserves of America carbon-based energy supplies. but yesterday I just paid $4.15 to fill up my car at the USA gas station in Cardiff, Calif. There is a huge disconnect between supply and the price at the pump.
Bottom-up solutions need to scale to make an impact. Top-down solutions in energy have left us under control of OPEC since the Arab oil boycott of 1973. Applying well-established technology nearly a century old to cutting-edge advances in expectation maximization can lead us out of the wilderness and make us 100% energy independent in less than a decade. ECN readers can play a role. We can succeed in a bottom-up solution positioned for huge growth that hammers down gasoline and electricity prices where Vinod Khosla and T. Boone Pickens have both failed.
Rounding up popular support is necessary to raise the dollars to employ new technology to generate alternatives to OPEC's fading control of the energy market and its ability to set the world price for oil. Any solution that scale needs access to large amounts of cash as well as remaining financially viable into the future. The goal is American energy independence at low affordable cost regardless of what others do outside our borders.
Past efforts to use significant amounts of OPM (other people's money)
In 2006, Vinod Khosla, the VC behind Sun Microsystems, tried to pass an initiative here in California that would have had the voters give him $4 billion to pursue research in ethanol. Big Oil did a heavy marketing campaign that pointed out the money was going to personally benefit Khosla so it narrowly lost ... my feeling is that resentment by a lot of not-so-wealthy people of increasing the wealth of an already rich individual was the main reason for the defeat. Plus, the whole idea of taking lots of land off the market to create ethanol is a loser economically, as well. You don't try to fund an entirely new distribution system at the same time you develop a new alternative energy source. The key is that any new source of energy has to 'drop in' to existing systems.
Undeterred, Khosla has learned from his failure on the California ethanol R&D ballot initiative and now supports the drop-in fuel concept. While he is still wedded to the biofuels approach, he is now more realistic by pursing alternative sources of energy that 'drop in' to existing distribution systems and no need for ideas like flex fuel.
Khosla is tapping the people of Mississippi (OPM) for $75 million while bringing his own additional funding to the table to fund the KIOR startup.
It is also worth noting that Khosla's Kior project is similar to the Fischer-Tropsch process in that it involves rearranging and linking carbon atoms to make gasoline that can drop right into the tank of the car you are currently driving rather than forcing a radical conversion to new ways for your car to burn energy. Of course, if the first political convention in presidential election campaigns was not held in Iowa, we could get all the ethanol we need at low cost from Brazil, and Iowa farmers could go back to producing food. We all pay more at the pump because of Iowa.
How science got involved with politics and vice versa
Clean tech has a hold over many minds in the Silicon Valley venture community and supposedly is a solution to global warming over and above outright scams like Solyndra teal. The idea of man-made CO2 causing global warming is a questionable science proposition. "Clean tech" ventures chasing the goal of saving us all from the ills of global warming have largely not borne fruit. It appears that due-diligence and reliance on evidence (science) have been thrown out the window based on political influence. Imagine if all that money, time, and effort had been invested elsewhere.
How we got there
Al Gore was taught the idea that CO2 causes global warming at Harvard from a visiting professor named Roger Revelle. Revelle was the first scientist of note to link a potential threat of global climate change to increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Before he died, Revelle rethought his position on CO2 causing global warming and called for great caution before adopting radical changes in human behavior. In addition. Revelle also repudiated the "science" in Al Gore's "Earth in the Balance". (In this book, pages 4-6, Gore personally credits Revelle as his mentor for the idea that CO2 causes global warming.)
Points of view:
In 2008, T. Boone Pickens placed a natural-gas initiative on the ballot for a vote by Californians, and it was defeated by a 60/40 margin. Pickens asked voters to give him $5 billion dollars to build an infrastructure through which he could sell his natural gas. This vote took place before the huge pulse of natural gas hit the market resulting from fracking, and again, I think the defeat was, in part, due to the initiative so blatantly enriching T. Boone along with fears of carbon-based energy sources (placed into the culture by Al Gore).
I am not sure California voters would support this measure if it were on the ballot today since Hollywood has taught us to fear fracking. The odd thing is that damage to ground water is minimal, and when natural gas is burned instead of coal, the amount of CO2 released into the air is cut in half, and burning coal releases a lot of pollution into the air beyond CO2. Natural gas is largely methane - CH4. The 4 hydrogen atoms in the methane molecule combine with 2 oxygen atoms to form two molecules of water. This produces heat along with the carbon atom combining with oxygen to form a molecule of CO2. Burn coal and mercury plus other nasty pollutants like SO2 get released into the air.
The significant expansion of natural gas on the market via fracking has caused a number of operators of power plants to convert over splay based on the fact of cost. Thus, CO2 emissions have fallen significantly based on economic forces and not from top-down edicts from the EPA.
Consider that natural gas might rise based on new demand, and the industry wants to export it to keep prices high. Consider that the state of New York has massive supplies of shale gas trapped deep under the earth in the Marcellus Formation. Consider Sarah Palin once had an 85% popularity rating in the state of Alaska because she sent Republicans to jail for accepting bribes from energy companies to keep Alaskan natural gas off the market. I am not aware of any source reporting that the chemicals used in fracking Marcellus shale have entered ground water.
In Fracknation, producer Phellim McAleer asserts that Vladimir Putin is financing the effort to keep fracked natural gas out of Europe and suppressing its production here in America, as well. Matt Damon's anti-fracking movie, "Promised Land", was financed in part by the United Arab Emirates via Image Nation, wholly owned by the royal family.
The new (unproven at scale) process that will be used is along the lines of the Fischer-Tropsch process.
Sasol has used coal through the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) to produce almost all of country of South Africa's liquid fuels of gasoline and diesel since they they were hit by the Arab oil boycott along with the USA and Israel. Currently Sasol and Cheniere are developing a $16 billion dollar FT plant in Louisiana to turn tight sands natural gas produced from fracking in sites in Texas and Louisana into diesel fuel.
At 96,000 barrels, this production is a drop in the bucket against demand, so we should scale it up and make America fully energy independent. It means more fracking, more conversion of natural gas to gasoline, and a lot more money.
How to raise the money is the subject of the next article. I will also show how a slight VOLUNTARY tax (could also be a crowd-funded investment) on these low-cost FT fuels could create a worldwide source of renewable energy from the sun so electricity would become virtually free and always on 24/7/365.