December 2007

Drilling advances

Energy rationing?

Vol. 228 No. 12  

Energy rationing? I have tried to stay out of the CO2 debate in this column for the last several years, but I’ve just about had a bellyful. Is there no end to the lunacy of politicians? As energy supplies become more constricted due to their interference, I suspect we will see a growing global conspiracy by governments to limit energy consumption simply by making it unavailable to certain portions of the population. One attempt that has been tried so far, and failed, is the Kyoto Protocol (or as we in West Texas would say, the “Coyote” Protocol).

The Coyote Protocol essentially penalizes industrialized nations for consuming energy and forces them to pay underdeveloped nations for CO2 credits. These underdeveloped nations include China and India, who seem determined to tie up a huge portion of the available reserves for their own use. I suppose they’re storing their oil in some Strategic Petroleum Reserve. If they burned their oil, they would have no CO2 credits to sell, right? Well, not exactly.

Apparently, the Coyote Protocol exempts these and other nations from having to comply with “greenhouse gas” reductions, specifically CO2. Well, I have visited India in the summer, and there seems to be no end to the production of methane and CO2, especially in urban areas. China is building an average of two huge coal-burning electrical generating plants per week. The land masses of these “developing” countries and their populations are huge. It is only logical that they would produce considerable volumes of CO2 as they abandon bicycles for cars.

Recently, the Russians decided to stop supporting the Coyote Protocol. Their reason? Global warming is no longer an issue. In fact, the earth’s temperature has gone over the hump and has started cooling. Besides that, their energy industry has recently experienced a resurgence, due to high worldwide oil prices, and they see the Coyote Protocol limiting their ability to make money. Not surprising. Most of the governments whose economies are linked to oil production and exportation feel the same way.

If one cannot control emissions to meet some kind of goofy formula advanced by a group of politicians, how can the world possibly survive? After all, everyone knows that global warming is caused by CO2 in the atmosphere. So what’s the obvious solution-limit energy consumption by rationing fuel, thereby controlling CO2 emissions.

What does this mean to the drilling industry? Simple, if there is limited fuel available, we will not be able to fire-up the engines and operate. Drilling rigs, as a rule, use a lot of fuel. There are no fuel efficiency standards on rigs (yet). As a large industrial user in a fuel-limited age, the rig would probably be in the first cut.

Rationing has only occurred once in the US since World War II. In the early 1970s, we could only fill our tanks on even- or odd- numbered days based on a license plate’s ending number. Oilfield operations, however, were exempt from rationing. If the entire country is fuel constrained, why should we imagine that rig operations would be more important than fuel for fire engines, ambulances and police cars. How about the hospital emergency generator? Nope, the rigs will be starved.

What about transport to and from the rigs for crews, service companies and supervisors? Would you rather spend your monthly fuel allotment getting to and from the rig, rather than leaving a few gallons for the wife while you’re on duty? Will rig crews be housed in tent cities near the oilfields? Can we expect to go back to living in “company camps,” so all of us can walk to work instead of driving? It’s not too far-fetched to imagine that scenario, assuming the rigs are running at all. Will all this affect the world economy? You bet it will.

I can easily imagine that they’ll give Al Gore another Nobel prize for destroying the world economy in the interest of keeping a few parts per million of CO2 out of the atmosphere. Maybe he’ll come up with a new Internet, so all of us can stay home in our unheated, uncooled homes operating the rigs remotely, until the batteries in our computers go flat.

Have you noticed that the emphasis is not just on global warming anymore? Now the hot button is “climate change.” If the Russians are right, we are going into a stretch of global cooling. Polar ice will return to its normal range; the humpback and fin whales will stay out of the Beaufort Sea leaving it to the bowheads; snow will return to Greenland and there will be a return to the ski slopes (on foot). However, if “climate change” is the issue, then Big Oil can be blamed for future global cooling as well as global warming. Anytime there is an extra cloud in the sky or some hapless fish washes up on the beach, there will be a new tax on drilling.

It looks to me like “climate change” will be the issue that triggers energy rationing. Oil shipments will be curtailed to developed nations and sent to developing nations. Who decides whether a country is one or the other will be left to a group of economists who will get their funding from some new climate protocol (How about the Three-toed Sloth Protocol this time?). As long as there is a hobgoblin-like “climate change” around, there will be a continuing need for the politicians to rescue us from it.

Well, guess what. There has always been climate change. It’s as old as the earth itself. In fact, it’s probably what keeps us going. All of the puny, arrogant efforts of all the human beings on the planet combined cannot prevent climate change from occurring, but don’t tell the politicians that. They still think we can control rainfall, prevent tornadoes, limit the power of typhoons and keep snow from falling in the mountains, if they can just craft legislation elegantly enough.

I have another solution for CO2 in the atmosphere-plant trees. A tree considers CO2 food. It takes CO2 in through its leaves, converts it into complex sugars and expels oxygen. It is the most effective means available for removing low concentration CO2 from the air. I read recently that a large tree can remove all the CO2 from the atmosphere emitted by an entire family each day. So, why not plant trees if CO2 is really the culprit? At least we’ll have wood to build standard derricks for our cable tool rigs.

Well enough about CO2. Next month I may just tackle the worst greenhouse gas of them all, water vapor. WO

Les Skinner, a Houston-based consultant and a chemical engineering graduate from Texas Tech University, has 35 years' of experience in drilling and well control with major and independent operators and well-control companies.

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