We Can't Drill Our Way Out

A blog about US politics has this comment:

The time for talk is over. We can't drill our way out of this and both his and Gore's plan point us in the right direction. We need to just do it.
I got news for him. If we can't drill our way out of our immediate problems, there is no immediate solution. Why? It is a matter of logistics and infrastructure. Our experience with the transition from wood to coal and coal to oil is instructive. Those transitions took about 75 to 100 years. Why? Whole new methods of production and infrastructure had to be developed. It is a problem of capital and logistics. Take our automotive fleet. It turns over at the rate of about 6% a year. That means a 15 or so year transition period if ALL the new vehicles embody the new energy technology. Add in another 4 to 10 years for the design of the new vehicles and the development of the support infrastructure. Say the new technology is electric of some sort. We need to be able to produce 15 million automotive qualified electric motors a year. So before we can even get up to full scale production of the transition vehicle we need quite a few new electric motor factories. How about power electronics to control the motors? Say the typical motor had a peak rating of 50 KW. That would require 750 megawatts of control electronics a year. Which is no small amount. We don't have the capacity for it. It takes 3 to 5 years to raise the capital and build a new semiconductor plant. Just to get a 15 year transition we would have to build all the support industry all at once. That will take around 5 years provided we know exactly what we want.

Which just goes to show that nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it.

And this all assumes we know what supporting industries we should invest in. Now what happens if during this all out production effort some one comes up with something new that completely changes the direction we ought to head in? A lot of the capital invested in the ramp up will have been wasted.

Sadly we have gone from Scientific Socialism to Hope and Change Socialism. The original Scientific Socialism was bad enough. Hope and Change Socialism is definitely not an improvement.

There is no magic bullet. We are going to have to muddle our way through. Slowly. For as long as it takes.

There are a couple of things to do while working towards change:

1. Do not panic
2. Drill for more oil

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon on 07.20.08 at 10:11 AM


I lost a friend about thirty years ago.

He'd taken his inheritance and invested it in "alternative" energy companies. I had advised him to get his money out as quickly as possible. Within a few years his entire investment was worthless.

After 30 years alternative energy schemes still have more value as "good ideas" than as practical ideas. I'm sure you've read recent reports about Vice-President Gore's call for a 5-trillion dollar investment into "good ideas". From my experience there is yet to be any demonstration of a practical nature as to the worthiness of any of these good ideas.

You've been kind enough to keep us updated on developments in fusion power. A friend of mine, who is in town this week for some golf, spent a couple of weeks recently at CERN. We'll be getting together for some cocktails and some chat and I'm looking forward to hearing his take on all the "good ideas" that are taking up oxygen. I don't think this physicist friend of mine will go the way of the friend mentioned at the beginning of this post. The English major.

For my English major friend, the narrative was more important than the reality of living in this world. For my physicist friend, if the narrative doesn't lead to greater understanding of the world, the value of the narrative is questioned. And, in my opinion, rightly so.

The joke about economists--"assume a can opener"--is still a valid joke. But, yet and until the actual costs of inputs are compared to the alternatives, assumptions are just assumptions. Perhaps, simply good ideas.

How far out in the future lies the promised return on these good ideas? Obviously, they aren't there in the short run. Otherwise, how to you exlain our largest energy companies not jumping on exploitation of these new "technologies"? Why is government offering billions--and talking about trillions--of dollars in subsidies to get these "good ideas" to market?

Do solar panels make sense? Sure, if you want to heat a swimming pool. They really do help keep the pool water warm. But why bother when a 400,000 btu natural gas heater cost $1900.00? What are the marginal cost savings, versus installation and maintenance of a solar panel system? Summer and winter?

Good ideas versus practical ideas. Why is that too much for our "leaders" to understand?

OregonGuy   ·  July 20, 2008 12:48 PM

What do you mean by all this negative talk? All we need is an Absolute Ruler to sign the order, and it is done. Having just seen the Mikado performed yesterday, perhaps I am looking a this from a distorted perspective. "If Your Majesty says to kill a man, that man is as good as dead, and if he's as good as dead, then why not say so?"

I recall a Beetle Baily strip from many years ago, where the Major says to General Halftrack "We need some new warehouses."

The General responds, "Then build them."

The Major says "But we need money, men, and materials to do it," to which the General replies "Then get them."

In the final panel the General sits alone in his office scowling, saying "If it weren't for me nothing would ever get done around here."

Steve Skubinna   ·  July 20, 2008 1:19 PM

Let me get this straight, the problem according to the "we can't drill our way out" people is that speculators are driving the price up based on future demand outstripping supply, but at the same time, they believe that doing things that will expand the future supply will have no effect on the current prices.

Phelps   ·  July 20, 2008 7:21 PM

Let me get this straight, the problem according to the "we can't drill our way out" people is that speculators are driving the price up based on future demand outstripping supply, but at the same time, they believe that doing things that will expand the future supply will have no effect on the current prices.


Phelps   ·  July 20, 2008 7:21 PM

Well said, Simon. Reminds me of Jay Leno's joke about how new drilling won't help for ten years--and the people opposed to drilling have been saying this for ten years. The free market, if not meddled to death, will produce solutions undreamed of today, but only when high demand makes new technologies profitable.

Here in Tennessee, our state university is working on biofuel from switchgrass, and there's talk of using kudzu, our local curse. Once we can produce a viable fuel from kudzu, we rednecks will live like Saudi sheikhs. Wait for it.

notaclue   ·  July 20, 2008 8:30 PM

Reminds me of the IBM commercial where the roomful of employees are lying on the floor ideafying.

Who will do the work?

dr kill   ·  July 20, 2008 8:32 PM

As a libertarian-conservative, my single biggest "meta" issue with various stripes of socialist masquerading (consciously or not) as "progressives" is this: they treat every policy issue as if it were simply a matter of changing the priorities of government, getting the right leaders, raising "consciousness".
The fact that there are underlying principles of human nature borne out by thousands of years of human history, governing economics and politics, as well as underlying physical laws constraining engineering, manufacturing, and logistics are utterly lost on them. That's what a few decades of po-mo subjectivism and "culturally constructed" nonsense have wrought.

newscaper   ·  July 20, 2008 9:31 PM

Hey! Maybe someone with ACTUAL vision will
come up with innovative solutions to the existing "mining" technology, like...say...
using that hard nasty mining dross as a cutting abrasive, or say...using "softer" resilient sacrificial bearings for drill heads.

There MIGHT be some money in it!

CaptDMO   ·  July 20, 2008 10:51 PM

It really is quite funny when the opposition keeps stalling to drill. In just a few more years we'll have documentatin that they can stall off drilling for 15 years and still we can't improve the situation for at least 10. They will still be elected.
One of my campaign issues is the Hydrogen Rodeo. We need to have some good 'ol American competition. Cowboy up! A hydrogen powered car race, electricity generation from hydrogen in the back of a pickup, and hydrogen generation off the back of a couple of semis. American's love a loud race and the monthly competitions would be a free market example of what might be accomplished with the most common element in the universe. The water byproduct should clue everyone that G-d is whispering to us.
I get really tired of people saying there are too many hurdles to hydrogen generation. When you visit a rodeo do you wonder about how much feed the stock requires? Let's buck out some contestants adn see what's out there! Another MIT professor requesting another $300K/hr for the next 10 years just don't get it for me!

SenatorMark4   ·  July 21, 2008 8:15 AM

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