– Different Peak Oil Denial Nonsense Is Still Nonsense

image02I began the first post in this series* with this observation: “Some day (soon, I hope) audiences for whom peak oil denial nonsense is intended will ask themselves: what are the reasons—and supporting evidence—for these kinds of assertions?” *[Links below]

Earlier this year, I made this observation:

We certainly respect that the vast majority of citizens cannot make or do not have the time or interest or inclination to understand what’s at stake. There is an ongoing, determined effort by too many to at best muddle the issues enough to draw little or no attention from the public to the challenges we face. ‘Public interest’ does not appear to factor into their motivations. Too few are benefiting at the expense of too many. Sound familiar? (It’s not a coincidence.)
Being prepared, understanding the issues, knowing both the positive and the negative aspects of energy supply and production affords citizens their best opportunity to either contribute meaningfully as we address and adapt to the looming problems, or to engage their leaders in more substantive dialogue in order to direct more specific actions. Not knowing there are any problems makes it a wee bit difficult to accomplish any of this. The consequences will thus only be worse. Not a good option.
If nothing else, citizens should easily appreciate that there are two sides to most stories. Too many are telling too many others only one side of the story—and facts tend not to play much of a role.

And on that note: Another straight-from-the-playbook performance by a spokesperson for the fossil fuel industry came courtesy of this interview with Chris Faulkner, CEO of Breitling Energy Companies, described as “a key player in Bakken with a penchant for leading the new technology charge.” This is the second post discussing the interview [first here].

To his credit, Mr. Faulkner duly noted “the substantial technical challenges and complicated geology and petrophysics” limitations in the production potential of California’s Monterey Shale formation—a resource frequently cited for its size. As Mr. Faulkner implies, the size of the energy source isn’t nearly as important as whether or not the supply can be extracted profitably or with current technology (among other essential factors).

Convenient Villains

However, the pivot away from the factual reality arrived quickly. Notwithstanding the significant technical and financial challenges, in Mr. Faulkner’s opinion the “bigger hurdle would be the widespread and entrenched anti-oil development attitudes industry faces in California….”

Seriously? Good to have a scapegoat, Right? Perhaps factors such as these might also pose a problem?:

Because of the San Andreas fault, the shale formations are not flat like other shale formations in the country. In the Monterey, the formations are, as CNNMoney described them, ‘folded like an accordion rather than stacked on top of each other.’This geology makes the use of technology such as horizontal drilling very tricky. Oil companies will have to know the exact geology of each location. Brittle shale is good for drilling, while ductile shale is not.To get oil from the Monterey Shale, oil companies may have to employ more intensive fracking and at deeper levels than elsewhere. [1]

A question was then posed about natural gas’s prospects as “a feasible bridge to the US’ renewable energy future” along with this inquiry: “will the Obama administration’s plan to fund clean energy projects with oil and gas revenues work?”

Pointing out that coal-fired power plants have been converting to “low-cost natural gas” as his reply to that first question (along with his observation that liquid natural gas export projects demonstrate our “abundant gas resources”), Mr. Faulkner ignored only a few of those inconvenient facts, which had been duly noted several days earlier:

The price for natural gas has begun to rise — and partially in response, utilities have begun switching back to burning polluting coal. Since January, utilities have been burning less gas, and coal now provides about 40% of U.S. electricity. That’s still a much smaller share than coal demanded a few years ago, but it’s a sign that pricier natural gas, which is significantly cleaner-burning than coal, will likely mean more carbon emissions. Export more natural gas, and that’s just what you might get. [2] [Links in original quote]

True to form, “Solyndra”—a standard right-wing talking point, facts-be-damned—was the reply to that second question. “How do you think Americans will react to their energy bills spiking so that more of their tax dollars can be flung down that rat hole?”

A Dose of Truth

Nothing like gliding over the truth to create a phony villain while also discounting the legitimacy of the contrary arguments. For instance:

Then there’s the Solyndra thing
The 2009 stimulus funding designed to give a boost to alternative energy companies through loans and loan guarantees and grants is an easy target. Yep, investments in the failed Solyndra and the like didn’t pan out. Just as investments in R&D projects at universities and in the private sector don’t always pan out. That’s the nature of pushing innovation. But how about a little perspective here?
First, as has been pointed out before (such as here***and here), in the venture capital world, a failure rate of 50 percent to 70 percent is normal. DOE’s failure rate? Currently, somewhere around eight percent. (And by the way the failed green energy projects received lots of private funding too, and, as this New York Times editorial points out, the government’s “biggest bet to date” is on a nuclear project.) [3] [Links in original quote]

Solyndra just got a loan, not a welfare check. And so it could go bankrupt.
And Solyndra was not a ‘favored company’ getting a sweetheart deal. It was not a lucky recipient in a game of government ‘picking winners and losers.’ Micheal Grunwald explained the real underpinning of the Obama administration’s clean energy strategy in the book The New New Deal:
‘…as [energy “stimulus czar” Matt] Rogers liked to say, the [Energy] department wasn’t really picking winners and losers. It was picking the game: clean energy. So it wouldn’t just support one advanced battery maker; it would support thirty promising firms in the battery space, all with unique technological and entrepreneurial approaches. And it wouldn’t assume that advanced batteries and electric vehicles were the only path to green transportation; it would also support a variety of advanced biofuels, and several strategies to promote more fuel-efficient combustion of fossil fuels … Then the market would sort out the winners and losers … the department focused on technologies that seemed to be on the cusp of a breakthrough, and let the various companies in its portfolio fight amongst themselves.’ [4] [Links in original quote]

With just 1.4% of its Recovery Act clean tech investments in ‘losers’, it looks like the Obama administration is batting a much better average in ‘picking winners and losers’ than the private Venture Capital (VC) market itself.
The US government guarantee of a private loan to Solyndra, at $535 million, represented a minuscule 1.4% of the Department of Energy investment in all renewable technologies. By contrast – VCs (who were out $1 billion to Solyndra, for example) expect much higher failure rates. Richard Stuebi, who advises VCs on expected green energy failure rates, says that just 3 in 10 successes represents a successful VC investment strategy. That is 70% losers – not 1.4%. [5] [Links in original quote]

Facts suck, don’t they?

I’ll have a few more comments on this interview in an upcoming post.