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Monday, 12 October 2009

Breaking with convention

I don’t consider myself a total anthropogenic-global-warming-sceptic, but I do object when I hear politicians, particularly non-scientists, saying that the science is clear, because apart from the basic science that demonstrates that CO2 is a factor in the higher temperatures caused by so-called greenhouse gases, there has been no convincing evidence that CO2 should be such a dominant factor, nor that slight increases in temperature due to CO2 will lead to tipping points.

Tipping points may be commonly observed in chemistry and biology but in thermodynamics and other physical phenomena, particularly energy related they are rare. It is hard enough to keep energy in one place, but if energy is to accumulate (i.e. heat the earth more than before) it needs a damn good reason to do so.

Anyway enough of that, and I will hardly pause to pour scorn on George Soros’ weekend announcement that he will invest up to $1 billion (note the upper limit but no lower limit) in renewable energy and fund $10 million a year to “help” lawmakers. In other words he is going to put money into the industry, but he is also going to lobby for beneficial treatment for his investments. Some philanthropist.

But my main scorn for the politicians has stemmed from a wariness that they may have been told by scientific advisers that the world’s stocks of conventional oil and gas are finite, and that it was therefore wise to plan for a world without hydrocarbons. The supply of oil and gas that we have been able to access easily has come from organic matter that has rotted down, been heated at the right temperature to make the right sort of oil which has accumulated in the right sort of geological formations to trap it in easily recoverable forms.

But for every easily recoverable barrel of oil or cubic metre of gas, there are many more in less accessible forms, the wrong sort of oil or embedded in rocks. The general wisdom has been that there was no point in trying to recover these oils and gases while there was plenty of cheap oil produced in the Middle East or gas from Serbia and Qatar, but with the recent $100 a barrel oils and similar gas price peaks, the oil exploration and production companies have gone looking for unconventional oils, and their progress was discussed last week at the World Gas Conference in Buenos Aires.

According to various speakers, advances in technology for extracting gas from shale and methane beds have happened faster than expected. Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive, said proven natural gas reserves around the world have risen to 1.2 trillion barrels of oil equivalent, enough for 60 years' supply and are rising fast.

Rune Bjornson from StatoilHydro says exploitable reserves are much greater than supposed only three years ago and may meet global gas needs for generations. "The common wisdom was that unconventional gas was too difficult, too expensive and too demanding, This has changed. If we ever doubted that gas was the fuel of the future – in many ways there's the answer."

Now please excuse me a little cynicism, but I won’t be too surprised if governments start to be a little more circumspect about the science of global warming. Expect them to apply more rigour to some of the statistics that have been used to justify global warming claims by UN and IPCC funded scientists, and the same rigour to climate models that seem to be able to predict and particular level of temperature change the scientists might like without giving any convincing reason for why the earth’s temperature should rise by 2% if that implies an implausibly high 8% increase in average heat loss from the surface of the earth.


Martin Katz said...

Hehe - very nicely said and you make some excellent points too - I especially like you comment on Mr Soros's special style of philanthropy !

Steven_L said...

Didn't some of the former governments in south east Asia have a few things to say about Soros. I seem to recall 'economic terrorist' rather than 'philanthropist'.

I'm 29 now, and I first remember teachers telling me the oil was all going to have run out 20 years ago and I've heard it ever since.

How much oil do you reckon there is left then Alex?

Alex said...

I remember stories Soros when he had only been in business on his own for a few years, and that was yonks ago.

I don't know how much recoverable oil or gas, economic or otherwise, there is but the total amount of oil and gas in the ground is many, many times the amounts that are usually quoted. The issue is always how much can be recovered and at what cost. BP say it is getting cheaper and easier.