peaky oil & damned water

In this volatile land of exploding oil & gas recovery, a new truth seeks out a blame. The reality of Peak Oil, trumpeted as the gas station marquees (before the experts even had time to line up over Hubbert’s equation), appears to be settling over us like smothering tenor.

First we attacked biofuels. Then the gas-price spike was prosperity’s child. Rarely do we hear anyone lamenting our own short-sightedness, the fact that for 40 years we collectively lambasted those who dared criticized our gluttonous domestic energy practices.

Now we are forced to reckon.

In the Wall Street Journal:

The world’s premier energy monitor is preparing a sharp downward revision of its oil-supply forecast, a shift that reflects deepening pessimism over whether oil companies can keep abreast of booming demand.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency is in the middle of its first attempt to comprehensively assess the condition of the world’s top 400 oil fields. Its findings won’t be released until November, but the bottom line is already clear: Future crude supplies could be far tighter than previously thought …

For several years, the IEA has predicted that supplies of crude and other liquid fuels will arc gently upward to keep pace with rising demand, topping 116 million barrels a day by 2030, up from around 87 million barrels a day currently. Now, the agency is worried that aging oil fields and diminished investment mean that companies could struggle to surpass 100 million barrels a day over the next two decades.

The response of out-of-shape energy pundits struck with short-term memory sways too often to nukes, moderately tempering their enthusiasm with nibblish comments about waste solutions.

This past week saw two governmental solutions to the “waste problem.”

TCEQ Commissioners sided against their staff and approved a nuke dump in West Texas where trenches are settled only 14 feet over groundwater. It’s not clear if that groundwater is tied into the Ogallala Aquifer, but we know it’s uncomfortably close. By denying a contested case hearing by 2-1, our commissioners have decided that’s not so important.

Meanwhile up in Washington State, the feds have ruled that just because a dump is a contaminated Superfund doesn’t mean you can stop the dumping.

The Seattle P-I, reports:

Washington voters don’t have the authority to stop the dumping of radioactive waste in the state, according to a ruling Wednesday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2004, nearly 70 percent of voters approved Initiative 297, which banned the import and disposal of hazardous waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation until the massive, polluted site was cleaned up.

The federal government, which is overseeing the multibillion dollar cleanup, immediately challenged I-297 in court …

Heart of America Northwest was the lead watchdog group promoting I-297.

“The sponsors are united in vowing that Hanford will not be used as a hazardous-waste dump site,” said Gerry Pollet, executive director of the group. “We plan on continuing that effort on legislative, congressional, presidential campaign and court fronts.”

All this comes as yet another company confesses it “may have” dumped uranium, arsenic, and flourides into Lake Ontario. How long has this maybe been going on? “For some time,” says company flack.

Still – hold onto your irradiated giggles – the company does not expect potential pollution confirmation to delay the aging plant’s scheduled reopening.

But the hits just keep coming…

I’ve been critical of plans to bring a massive germ lab to San Antonio. To date, my reservations, admittedly, have not caught on in this sleepy little town, where the daily’s editorials have been of the “Let’s Roll” variety.

I wonder if this will catch anyone’s interest:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration relied on a flawed study to conclude that research on a highly infectious animal disease could safely be moved from an isolated island laboratory to sites on the mainland near livestock, congressional investigators concluded in findings obtained by The Associated Press.

The Homeland Security Department “does not have evidence” that foot-and-mouth disease research can be conducted on the U.S. mainland without significant risk of an animal epidemic, Congress’ Government Accountability Office said …

There are five finalist mainland sites: Athens, Ga.; Flora, Miss.; Manhattan, Kan.; Butner, N.C.; and San Antonio. One Homeland Security study found the numbers of livestock in the counties and surrounding areas of the finalists ranged from 542,507 in Kansas to 132,900 in Georgia.

Plum Island [off Long Island, hoe] also is a finalist, although Homeland Security officials are spending considerable time and money holding forums at the mainland locations to convince residents the new lab would be safe.

“We found that DHS has not conducted or commissioned any study to determine whether FMD (foot-and-mouth disease) work can be done safely on the U.S. mainland,” according to testimony prepared for the committee by Nancy Kingsbury, the GAO’s managing director for applied research and methods.

[edited, 5/26] An inquiring call from New Mexico today regarding WCS reminded me of a few things: 1. Laura Paskus wasn’t kidding about pulling the plug on her blog, it hasn’t come back. 2. She reports she’s much happier hiking with her pooch. 3. I would be happier hiking with a pooch, too, instead of obsessing on these essentially eternal waste streams.

Can’t influence 1 and wouldn’t touch number 2. However, to avoid burnout, I make time to enjoy the world, not just write about it (as she encourages me to). So, I primp my patio garden with butterfly habitat and watch as my sun-worshipping feline breaking into aerials over the fluttering sunshine I’ve attracted. I explore rivers more and float in the Gulf. But I soon enough return to the wires and circuit boards.

How to measure personal refreshment with this urgent call to report?

And so back to Andrews County, Waste Control, and dump water. It’s instructive to check our reliance on the Ogallala with the Texas Water Development Board’s newsletter, which reads in part:

We estimate that about 1,000,000 acre-feet of water recharges the Ogallala Aquifer every year (for comparison, the Edwards Aquifer of south-central Texas receives, on average, about 640,000 acre-feet per year).

Now compare the amount of recharge – 1,000,000 acre-feet per year – to how much is pumped: 6,300,000 acre-feet per year.

No wonder the water levels are going down! That is an exceptional amount of water. The Ogallala Aquifer provides about 67 percent of all the groundwater pumped in Texas and 40 percent of all the water (surface water and groundwater) used in the state each year.

In short, the Ogallala Aquifer – as a whole – is getting recharged. It may not be more than we are pumping and it may not be as high as we want it be, but water is slowly trickling down to this valuable groundwater resource.

Of course, waste doesn’t have to be directly above an aquifer to pillage it with radionuclides. There are plenty of fissures and fractures in this subterranean landscape to keep us all guessing for years on end – and that’s without quaking.

From WISE:

In the 1980s, Andrews County was rejected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in screenings for siting a high-level radioactive waste repository, due to the presence of the Ogallala. The state’s now-defunct Disposal Authority additionally had rejected the County in 1987 for siting a “low-level” radioactive waste dump for nuclear energy waste (7).

The area is also seismically active with 18 seismic events counted within a 30 mile radius (48 kilometers). Of these, the latest occurred on 2 June 2001 at a depth of 5 km, with a 3.3 magnitude, and the largest occurred on 2 January 1992, approximately 15 miles from the site with a 5.5 magnitude. Eight of these events happened in 1976 alone.

What’s there to understand? the majority still broods. We’ve got $4 gasoline.

Leave it for some other sucker’s generation.

You, on the other hand, you special creature, are animately googling “renewable energy” and drawing back tens of thousands of hits.

Funniest thing, I’ve never heard anyone worry about a solar array falling into the wrong hands or rattle a saber over a Middle Eastern wind turbine.

Image at top is King Hubbert Vicious. Hanford graphic courtesy of the International Campaign for Justice. That swirly jigger, that’s foot-and-mouth.

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9 responses to “peaky oil & damned water

  1. Good reporting. But like all the other sites reporting this horror, you aren’t saying what we can do about this.

    TCEQ are unregulated regulators, right? We the People of Texas have no real recourse, yes?

    In my prior dealings with the TCEQ they seemed immovable and totally unconcerned with public opinion or public health. They’ve already decided.

    If there is some sort of grassroots movement to fight this, point me to it and I’ll join on up. It’s going to take an equal amount of big money to fight this in some sort of civil court, correct? The same sort of big money that allowed this to happen in the first place has to be met with equal pressure from opponents, right?

    I wish someone would tell us what can be done legally to stop this from happening.

    Menopausal Mick

  2. The Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club are the champions on this issue (WCS) and need all the help they can get . If you are not a member, I would suggest you join. Then I would contact them and offer whatever skills you have to assisting them on this fight.

    I’m sure they could use money and legal assistance, as well as simply increased light being cast on this fight in your neighborhood and city.

    http://lonestar.sierraclub.org/

    Last year, Texans turned out en masse to cut down Perry plans for a slew of fast-tracked coal plants and won. For Texas, it was a tipping point. We can keep up the pressure and drive out the bastards that appoint the TCEQ Commissioners in favor of someone who will appoint leaders that public public health and the welfare of Texas before business interests.

    Of course, we need better-informed and motivated lawmakers in the Lege, too. We need a revolution in our value system.

    This will take a larger campaign. I’m sure any number of progressive and environmentally-minded non-profs would be happy for another foot soldier or middle manager to help raise voter awareness and lead the charge.

    Broadly speaking, there is no one shop that can convert the state to sanity. It takes everyone being active and spreading the word. Each of us should be asking ourselves, ‘What do I enjoy? What issues do I care about?’ and then plug in with like-minded folks and plug away.

  3. Reading the very beginning of your post got me to thinking about Jimmy Carter (Uh, yeah, I may be the only woman in America who fantasizes about the Carter presidency on a regular basis. Not sure if it’s the lust in my own heart or what…)

    Now, I know that there’s no use asking “what if?” But for a moment, indulge me: What if we’d all donned some sweaters, as Carter asked more than two decades ago, and remained committed to funding solar research and design? (Here in my own state, Carter had tasked one of the national labs to get serious about solar; they were on their way and then Reagan helped cut that funding.) But enough longing for the past and lost opportunities.

    So what are some of the simple solutions we can embrace right now? There are plenty of them. And there are plenty of ways to get involved, Menopausal Mick.

    Talk to your friends and family members about what’s going on in your neighborhood, county, state, nation. Seek out local grassroots groups and find out what they know about what’s happening in your neck of the woods. They can help you; you can help them.

    Call up your elected officials. Or better yet, drop by the office. That shocks the shit out of them. And they’ll pay closer attention to what you’re saying if you’re saying it in person. Promise you’ll be back to the office again. And again. (Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to say to that official about an issue, ask that s/he sit down with you and explain the issue to you.)

    Use your tax rebate, if you’re getting one this year, toward something like a solar water heater. Eat homegrown tomatoes or support local agriculture, bike to work or a party, read a book in the sun. Become vigilant about bad policies–related to waste, water, energy, growth, etc.– in your own municipality. Again, talk to the people close to you. The national scene is overwhelming…peak oil, nuclear policies, ridiculous energy policy. It’s too easy to decide that all that is too much for one person to tackle. So start at the local level. You’ll see results. I promise. And once you start to see the effect one person can have, it will inspire you to keep working toward even more positive changes.

    As for me, yeah, I hung up the ol’ blog. But don’t worry, I’m still full of piss and vinegar. And I’m still keeping busy–though with a head that’s perhaps a bit more clear than it has been in a long while. Right now, I’m obsessing over why the prediction that the the North Pole may “melt out” this summer is blog news rather than news-news, and I have two climate change stories in the works.

    Here’s the link to that North Pole blog post for anyone interested:

    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/07/science-on-shrinking-north-pole-ice/index.html?ref=science

    At any rate, Greg, keep up the good work — you rock my world and give me great hope.

  4. Thanks for your eloquent and on-target post, Laura, especially the encouragement for folks to just start showing up at the offices of elected reps and regulators with their questions, concerns, and outrage.

    Look forward to your future climate reporting.

    And pps – I share your emoticon distain. Note new settings… ;)

  5. Thank you both. If you don’t mind, I’m going to link these comments and the harmon post to my site. This is the first good advice I’ve seen anywhere on what Texans can do about about the scheduled nuclear waste site.

    So many times, we “lefty” bloggers report and/or grouse about a problem and offer no practical advice on what the average citizen can do to make a difference.

    I’m still a little miffed at the Sierra folks. When I was desperate for some help with a forest devastation problem in western Bexar county I called to see if they had anyone who could help us tree-sit or get in front of bulldozers. They told me that it wasn’t the sort of thing they did. Greenpeace told me the same thing, though, so it wasn’t just the Sierra Club.

    I’ll have to get over being miffed. They do good on the whole and my own private battle is long ago lost and over.

    Anyway, thanks again you two.

    Menopausal Mick….The Llama Ate My Flipflops/blog

  6. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t always have the answers, but I do know change is possible. It happens every day.

    I also know that whenever the forces of destruction disarm us of our hope, they’ve won.

    Keep on truckin’, Mick.

  7. Few additions to Greg and Laura’s comments.

    Regarding the coal fired plants, the decisive blow in that battle came from the Austin office of Environmental Defense Fund who filed suit. Settlement of the suit led the LBO buyers of TXU to scale back – for now.

    Sierra Club and other large, national organizations play critical roles but so do home grown groups like Hill Country Alliance and Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (of which Lone Star Sierra is an affiliate), the Hill Country Planning Association or Preserve Our Water.

    The cure for the TCEQ, LCRA and GBRA (among many others) lies in the Guv’s office. So long as “Good Hair” continues to rule that roost, assume pro-development, short-sighted appointees to agencies charged with environmental oversight.

    Along with being in deep denial about Peak Oil and the hazards of nuclear waste disposal, public officials in the Hill Country are in equally deep denial about drought. In Texas, all water planning uses the drought of the 50s as the “drought of record”. You know, that was the time the Colorado River could be crossed by simply taking a single, normal step and the Blanco and Guadalupe went dry. Well, in current planning for groundwater for the next 50 years, area Groundwater Conservation Districts (Groundwater Management Area 9) are modeling how far to allow the various aquifers (not including the Edwards) to fall due to growing demand. However, in that process they are currently refusing to include a period of reduced rainfall to match that of the drought of record. That such a drought will occur in the next 50 years is as close to certain as anything gets in climate and water modeling. But, with fingers in ears, the Groundwater Directors say nana. nana, nana and proceed down the path of a plan the assumes we will not experience such a drought.

    Maybe a call to your Groundwater District Director is in order.

    Dave Collins
    President, Preserve Our Water

  8. Good points, Dave.

    Thanks for sounding off on the old h.o.e.

    I’m out of town picking up my little girl, but I’m looking forward to some more water talk in the near future.

    Best to you,
    g

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