Sunday, September 04, 2005

Energy and economics

Rand Simberg reminds us of why the market system is especially important in a crisis such as Hurricane Katrina:
Price "gouging" is purely in the mind of the beholder, and there's no way to distinguish between it and the necessary signals that the market must have to ensure the most efficient use of resources. The price "gougers" are (often, if not always) the people who will have incentives to satisfy market needs as quickly as possible, and ensure that the economic recovery will occur. That some people may "unfairly" take advantage of this is a price we have to pay, and it's a small one compared to the alternative.
There has been much discussion recently (much of it foolish) of how this disaster was a result of "fooling mother nature," whether in the absurdity of asking whether or not it's a result of not acquiescing to the unjustifiable damage to our economy that would have resulted from the Kyoto Treaty, to the more sensible questions of how much effort we should expend to continue to divert the natural course of the greatest river on our continent. To whatever degree that's true, let us not compound the damage, and slow the recovery from it, by attempting to fool mother economics.
And here is an interesting editorial (via Instapundit) about oil shale extraction, which seems to be much more advanced than I realized:
Remember the Carter-era Synfuels Corp. debacle? It was a response to the '70s energy shortages, closed down in 1985 after accomplishing essentially nothing at great expense, which is pretty much a description of what usually happens when the government tries to take over something that the private sector can do better. Private actors are, after all, spending their own money.
Since 1981, Shell researchers at the company's division of "unconventional resources" have been spending their own money trying to figure out how to get usable energy out of oil shale. Judging by the presentation the Rocky Mountain News heard this week, they think they've got it.
Shell's method, which it calls "in situ conversion," is simplicity itself in concept but exquisitely ingenious in execution. Terry O'Connor, a vice president for external and regulatory affairs at Shell Exploration and Production, explained how it's done (and they have done it, in several test projects):
Drill shafts into the oil-bearing rock. Drop heaters down the shaft. Cook the rock until the hydrocarbons boil off, the lightest and most desirable first. Collect them.
Please note, you don't have to go looking for oil fields when you're brewing your own.
On one small test plot about 20 feet by 35 feet, on land Shell owns, they started heating the rock in early 2004. "Product" - about one-third natural gas, two-thirds light crude - began to appear in September 2004. They turned the heaters off about a month ago, after harvesting about 1,500 barrels of oil.
While we were trying to do the math, O'Connor told us the answers. Upwards of a million barrels an acre, a billion barrels a square mile. And the oil shale formation in the Green River Basin, most of which is in Colorado, covers more than a thousand square miles - the largest fossil fuel deposits in the world.
Je dirais même plus: Wow!

No comments: