Energy Issues

by John Speir

Introduction

Fossil fuels such as liquid petroleum, natural gas and coal provide virtually all fuels used for US transportation, approximately one-half of US electricity, and more than 85% of all other energy consumed in the United States. Additionally, it is predicted that the US’s reliance on these finite, non-renewable resources will increase over the next 20 years despite aggressive development and use of nuclear energy and renewable energy resources.

In terms of energy consumption, the South is not materially different from the rest of the US. As manufacturing returns to a newly independent South, those energy needs will increase significantly. It is therefore imperative that the South utilize all sources of energy, and in such a manner that they do not contribute to the environmental degradation of the South. For this reason, renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, etc. should be developed to their ultimate potential to minimize the use of polluting energy sources and to supplement current mainline sources of energy.

Liquid Petroleum or Oil Resources

For more than three-quarters of a century, US (Yankee) petroleum companies have extracted oil, gas, and condensate from Texas, Louisiana and other parts of the South, both onshore and offshore. They have bled the lifeblood of the South’s most potent energy resource to make themselves rich and run their industries, leaving us energy poor.

Now those aging fields have begun to sputter and run dry. By 2001, the production of petroleum from all US wells was down 41 percent from the 1972 peak, while consumption hit an all-time high. This explains the large amount of petroleum products currently imported from Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico, Nigeria and other countries. In order for the South to achieve as much petroleum independence as possible, it must vigorously pursue both oil and gas exploration, plus oil and gas development.

Exploring for new hydrocarbon fields has been pursued in the US since the early 1900's. In recent decades, this exploration has included extremely sophisticated technologies. As a result, many if not most, commercially viable oil fields have already been discovered and exploited. In order for any remaining fields to be found, all existing exploration technologies must be enhanced while new technologies are brought on-line.

In order to develop existing oil fields we must employ those oil recovery techniques that extract whatever is left in the old reservoirs. This means employing tertiary (or enhanced) recovery methods since primary and secondary techniques have largely been exhausted. The down side to these tertiary techniques is that they are more expensive than primary or secondary methods, and they are also uneconomical when oil prices are relatively low. Additionally, these technologies are not fully developed. In order for the revived South to take advantage of tertiary recovery methods it must invest the necessary money and talent in them. This should be done because tertiary oil recovery techniques hold considerable promise for extracting enormous amounts of oil left behind in Southern oil fields.

Because liquid petroleum resources will eventually run out, the South must begin to wean itself from this diminishing and polluting resource as soon as possible. This will protect its economy and environment.

Solid Petroleum Resources

Tar sands (bitumen) and oil shales (kerogen) are energy resources where the hydrocarbons are essentially solid not liquid. Because of this, the hydrocarbons are harder and more expensive to extract and refine. Additionally, most tar sands and oil shales have a high sulfur content, and other pollutants. Worldwide, these hydrocarbons are important because their abundance rivals total world liquid petroleum reserves.

In the South, tar sands are found in Kentucky and Alabama. In western Kentucky approximately three billion barrels of heavy oil and tar are estimated to be in the shallow subsurface. Alabama’s tar sands are estimated to hold 7.5 billion barrels. While US oil shales hold enormous reserves of hydrocarbons, most are in the western states. Of those resources in the eastern half of the US (some 400 billion barrels), most are north of the Mason-Dixon line. Potential oil shale resources (Devonian black shales) in the South are found in Kentucky.

As the price of oil and gas increase, these solid petroleum resources should become commercially viable.

Coal Resources

In the past, the US was so rich in coal that it was able to easily supply all foreign coal needs as well as its own. Even though US coal exports have slipped dramatically in recent years, the US still has approximately one-quarter of the world’s coal reserves. This exceeds the known world supply of recoverable liquid petroleum, and is estimated to be enough coal to last 250 years at current rates of use. Energy from coal generates approximately half of the electricity consumed in the US.

The South is a major player in coal reserves. Western Kentucky coal fields contain approximately 35 billion tons of remaining resources, while eastern Kentucky coal fields contain more than 50 billion tons of remaining resources. And this does not count coal reserves in Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Virginia, and Texas. The South has enough energy in the form of coal to provide its needs well into the future. But at what price?

Burning coal is the largest single source of air pollution in the US. Additionally, strip mining coal has destroyed enough hardwood forests in just West Virginia to equal half the state of Rhode Island, and destroyed more than 1,000 miles of streams in West Virginia. The list of environmental damage from mining, transporting, processing and burning coal is long simply because coal often contains a wide range and high percentage of contaminants. For a re-emergent South to properly and safely utilize this valuable natural resource, both money and talent will have to be dedicated to developing the technology necessary to use it without destroying the Southland itself.

Nuclear Energy

There are two sources of nuclear power: fission and fusion.

Fission is used in nuclear power plants to generate approximately 15% of the electricity used in the US. In terms of energy production, an atom of uranium is estimated to produce ten million times as much energy as an atom of coal. At the 2001 price of $9 per pound of ore, the cost of fission-generated electricity is only 0.04 cents per kilowatt-hour. Current US reserves of uranium ore are expected to last hundreds of years.

Another benefit of nuclear fission is that well-constructed nuclear power plants are extremely clean environmentally. Coal fired power plants release large amounts of air pollutants in the form of carbon, sulfur and nitrogen compounds. In fact, properly operated nuclear fission power plants release less radioactivity into the environment than coal-fired plants. The only environmental smear on nuclear power’s history has been poor mining and uranium processing.

The question of nuclear power plant safety and the “China Syndrome” always come up. People point to the failed Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine, USSR as an example of what can go wrong. The Chernobyl plant was improperly designed, constructed and operated. Others point to the 1999 experimental nuclear power plant failure in Japan where two people died. This was caused by technicians violating safety protocols. And finally, Three Mile Island in the US is cited as a concern. But here, the accident only destroyed the reactor while the core itself remained confined. No harm came to the public. What is not mentioned is that the US Navy has been using nuclear fission to power ships for about 50 years with no nuclear mishaps.

A more relevant concern is what to do with nuclear waste. In one year a nuclear power plant generates about one cubic meter of waste. While this may sound like very little, it is not. This waste remains dangerously radioactive for centuries. Since no one wants the waste disposed of in their “backyard,” where to warehouse the waste becomes the critical issue. Most such waste is currently being stored in the western states.

nuclear energy is created when heavy isotopes of hydrogen are combined at about 100,000,000 degrees to form helium. Although this has been done in the laboratory, sustaining one hundred million degrees on a commercial scale is years away at best. Because there is an inexhaustible supply of readily available fuel for fusion, and because it does not generate a long-term nuclear waste like fission, it has great future potential. (Most scientists consider “cold fusion” a hoax.)

Solar Energy

Solar power comes in two forms: thermal power and photovoltaic power. The first form - thermal - is simply using the natural heat of the sun to warm houses, buildings, etc. No electricity is involved. With proper construction, this form of heating can be maximized for limited but significant gains. The second form - photovoltaic - converts sunlight to electricity using the photoelectric effect. It can be used for various low-power applications ranging from recharging batteries and garden lighting to powering satellites. In the sunny South, we must systematically construct houses, and other buildings to take advantage of this resource and limit our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

Wind Power

The South can generate some electricity from wind power to help defray our energy needs, but only if it accurately identifies optimal wind generating areas and then builds the appropriate small scale structures to harness this power. This is because wind power is not the South’s strong suit. While the best application of wind power may not be vast wind farms, the wind can be very viably used for individualized local applications such as homes and farms. For example, wind power has been often used to pump water from wells, charge batteries and sometimes sell excess electricity to a utility company.

Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power is a mixed bag in which some very strong positives are offset by some difficult negatives.

On the good side: (1) generating power via falling water does not create pollution like fossil fuels or nuclear waste, (2) this source of energy is essentially limitless so there is no concern about unstable prices, production strikes, or transportation issues, (3) hydroelectric power responds quickly to fluctuations in demand, (4) is relatively cheap, (5) the reservoirs created by dams provide increased opportunities for fishing and other water-based sports, and (6) stimulate local economies. The dams can be used for irrigation or flood control.

On the bad side: (1) the reservoirs created by dams flood family farms and displace people, (2) large areas once used for hunting, hiking and camping are destroyed, (3) when rivers are covered by these reservoirs, not only are canoeing and rafting eradicated, but (4) natural habitats in and near the river are destroyed, (5) silt collected by dams concentrates heavy metals and other pollutants, (6) removing this silt is expensive, (7) and if not done, the dam will silt up leaving a useless structure poised to fail in time.

Current hydroelectric dams should continue to produce electricity, but must be maintained. Any new dams built demand creative designs and implementation to properly utilize this valuable natural resource with minimized negative impacts.

Biomass

Biomass fuels are derived from wood wastes, agricultural crop wastes, aquatic plants, animal wastes, municipal wastes, and other organic waste materials. These materials can be used to generate electricity and produce liquid, solid, and gaseous fuels such as ethanol and renewable diesel. Bioenergy currently accounts for three percent of primary energy production in the US. The advantage of biomass fuels is that it is renewable, and non-polluting compared to nuclear and hydrocarbon fuels. However, over-reliance on this source can (and in third world countries has) lead to deforestation. Additionally, when wood and crop wastes are not returned to the soil, the soil is impoverished. The application of this readilyavailable energy resource is to implement it wisely on the county level where it can be used for local energy needs.

Other Energy Sources

Because of the South’s geology, geothermal energy is not a significant source of energy as it is in the Western States. Methane hydrates are of limited potential in the Southland because of its temperate location (latitude) on the Earth. Tidal energy is not a significant resource for the South due to its low tidal range. Other energy resources such as hydrogen, fuel cells, ocean thermal energy and methane from solid waste landfills can be developed as technology and opportunity avail themselves to us.

Solution

Renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind must be maximized on a county-by-county basis across the South. Hydroelectric power and biomass must be used with an Agrarian’s care for the land and its ecology. Once these resources are at full strength, then the South can fill in its energy needs with other forms of energy. Time, talent, and money must, of necessity, be poured into solving the problems of (1) increased Southern oil production, (2) the proper disposal of nuclear waste, and (3) making coal a clean source of energy. Other energy sources that are not commercially or technologically viable must be explored carefully and diligently.

The other side of the coin is to reduce demand. The techniques for this are widely known. Of equal importance here is to reduce demand by reducing population size. This is already accomplished amongst the indigenous Southern people. Instead, the proper direction here is to stop immigration 100 percent, deport illegal immigrants, and help Yankees find their way back north.

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John Speir is an advocate of sound energy policy and true environmental conservation. Mr. Speir lives in Georgia.

Worth Quoting

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace.  We ask not your counsels nor your arms.  Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you.  May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.

Samuel Adams

 

What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?   

Edmund Burke