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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Too bad they'll never let us do it

An old friend and colleague of mine Charlie Martin recently wrote one of his patented uber-science geek pieces about a new (well really a highly refined old) process called Gas To Liquid.
Seems Shell Oil has refined the coal-to-liquid process that dates back to World War II to be able to create diesel, kerosene (jet fuel) or gasoline from natural gas.
Without getting into the highly technical specifics, which I frankly don't completely understand anyway, this is huge for a number of reason.
First and foremost because as clean burning as natural gas is, it has a number of disadvantages which mostly have to do with shipping. To move natural gas you first have to turn it into a liquid. To do that you have to either put it under high pressure or make it very cold. Both are dangerous and difficult to transport, meaning that for the most part, it isn't shipped overseas. If a pipeline infrastructure isn't in place to move it, in most countries it's simply "flared off" — burned at the refineries as a waste gas.
This new process means it can easily be converted into a liquid which can be shipped where ever it's needed.
The best part is the price. Charlie tells me that so long as oil is over $20 a barrel this process is economically feasible. Since oil is currently hovering around $100 we're talking about a significant savings.
The problem of course, is actually political, not scientific.
The fuel produced by this process is actually cleaner burning than that which is produced from crude oil as natural gas (methane) has very little in the way of impurities. However, to the environmental movement, the goal is not low emissions, it's no emissions.
That this process could save millions, make countries which have hitherto depended on supplies of oil being shipped across oceans energy independent and help to reduce oil spills is irrelevant.
That there is far more natural gas in the world than oil is likewise irrelevant.
It's still burning something.
The environmental movement is so invested in this wind/solar fantasy that nothing else is considered an option.
The problem there is neither wind nor solar is technically or economically viable. The electricity to power the electric cars they so prize has to come from somewhere (and let us not even get into the pollution created in the production of lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries or the attendant recycling difficulties) but wind and solar simply will not work.
This new process could quickly free us from dependence on people who do not like us for our energy. Unfortunately it is more than a little unlikely Shell will ever be allowed to build one of those plants in the U.S. Those who worship at the altar of the Church of Global Warming and its prophet Al Gore cannot admit they are wrong or that anything but wind and solar are an answer. To do so would be to violate one of the basic commandments of their faith "Thou Shalt Not Allow Others to Burn Dead Dinosaurs (but it's OK if you do it since you're spreading the faith and that's what's important)."
I say it's unlikely, but that's not entirely true. I think people are getting tired of the environmental movement and their constant barrage of "no" to drilling, building, refining, mining and every other "ing" which would bring energy prices down. There's going to come a point, and I think fairly soon, when environmental activists are liable to get tarred, feathered and run out of town on a chuck of oil pipe and we'll finally get back down to the business of building this nation.
All IMHO, of course.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In Memoriam

As I write this it is Memorial Day 2011. It has so far been a year of triumphs and tragedies and both need to be remembered this day.
We've seen our service men finally bring Osama bin Laden to justice — but we've also seen the tragedies of the tornadoes which ripped across the south killing more than 300 and the EF-5 tornado which blasted a 14 mile swath of destruction across Joplin, killing more than 140 people and injuring at least 1,000.
On this day of remembrance let us remember the heroes of that day just over a week ago, as well as the victims. Let us take a little bit out of our day of grilling and swimming to remember the lost.
Let us remember those lives which were snuffed out too early in a few minutes of terror on that warm spring night in Joplin, Missouri.
Let us also remember the lives which have been spent over the years so that this great nation can remain free.
We always hear "freedom is not free," this is true, but we rarely think of the bill. As our military has become all volunteer and more and more professional it has also become more divorced from everyday life. We rarely think of the men and women who have given up years of their lives in order to protect us, those "rough men" who as George Orwell said "stand ready to do violence so we may sleep soundly."
We have spent blood and treasure many times over the years in order to defend not just this nation but freedom itself. It is a terrible price but one which must be paid.
In Joplin, the blood does not defend freedom but it is just as sacred as the blood of patriots who water the tree of liberty.
The dead in Joplin and the patriots who even as I write this labor to rebuild represent the best of America. The stories of Joplin are incredible. It is impossible, even with all the media who are in the area to tell all of them. I was there within a half hour or so of the tornado and already people had chainsaws and front-end loaders out trying to clear the streets. The entire Four States and indeed the entire nation responded. Some of those same patriots who were preparing to put their lives on the line in Afghanistan found themselves in Joplin risking their lives to find the missing.
Memorial Day should be a day, not to grill out or go to the lake — but a day to remember those who have gone before, not just in the service but all those we have lost.
Let us grieve for them, but only for a season, secure in the knowledge we will see them again.
I leave you with the words of Rudyard Kipling's "The Widower." He said so much so well and far better than I ever could.
For a season there must be pain
For a little, little space
I shall lose 'the sight of her face,
Take back the old life again
While She is at rest in her place.
For a season this pain must endure,
For a little, little while
I shall sigh more often than smile
Till Time shall work me a cure,
And the pitiful days beguile.
For that season we must be apart,
For a little length of years,
Till my life's last hour nears,
And, above the beat of my heart,
I hear Her voice in my ears.
But I shall not understand -
Being set on some later love,
Shall not know her for whom I strove,
Till she reach me forth her hand,
Saying, 'Who but I have the right?' .
And out of a troubled night
Shall draw me safe to the land.