April 25, 2011

A fuelish solution?

That disturbing "drill baby, drill" mantra appeals to some Americans as gasoline prices continue to soar. Rumors of $5 and even $6 per gallon prices by summer don't help. Have we already forgotten what BP taught us about blowouts?

What most folks do not realize, however, is that increased offshore drilling for oil off our East and West coasts, as well as western Florida, is unlikely to have much effect on gasoline prices. The latest figures estmate that opening up these new oil-drilling areas could generate an extra half million barrels daily by 2030. Perhaps that sounds like a lot while you're pumping 20 gallons into your car's gas tank. But the world is consuming 89 million barrels per day. So any new domestic oil would really be a drop in the proverbial bucket.

The U.S. is already producing about 9.7 million barrels of oil per day, the most in 20 years and about a million and a half more barrels today than it did six years ago. But we import about 11 million gallons of oil per day. We need to understand that both deepwater drilling and shale-rock extraction (through fracking) are neither cheap nor without threat to our environment.

Shell Oil folks are asking to drill up to ten new wells off Alaskan waters. They claim there's potentially enough oil there (maybe 27 billion barrels of the stuff)  to fuel 25 million cars for 35 years. I've also seen that's an extra 2.8 million barrels per day by 2025. Might wanna ask the residents of the Louisiana coast if that's worth it.

So what's a viable solution? President Obama is calling for a variety of energy efficiency and renewable energy measures to reduce U.S. oil imports by one-third by 2025. Conservation can't make more than a dent in our consumption. Public transit just isn't there for many of us. Solar and wind-driven cars are a pipe dream. Natural gas is being pushed by T. Boone for buses, although he's not saying much about the dangers of fracking. But what's going to propel our cars? Maybe it's time to put down a deposit to reserve an electric car and hope that charging stations will be there if you need one.

Or better yet, giant algae farms could produce enough biofuel to produce 21 billion gallons of algae oil and replace 17 percent of our imported petroleum, according to researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Lab. Both ODU and VCU are turning algae into biofuel in their labs, and William and Mary is part of ChAP (Chesapeake Algae Project). Exxon Mobil just committed $600 million to develep algae-based fuel too. I'm hoping to hear more from these folks soon!

Growing algae requires a LOT of water, sunshine, and humidity. Duh. Sounds like Tidewater Virginia to me!  Now that would really create green jobs--slimy green jobs. Algae doubles their mass in a few hours and produce 30 times as much oil per acre as sunflowers do. The stuff thrives in sewage and brackish water too.

Any suggestions for a marketable name for "algae oil"? "Slimy slime" perhaps????