Energy Supply Worries Are Over! Natural Gas Resource Estimate Increased by 3%!
I am in a snarky mood this morning. Please forgive me while I try to explain the sources of my wry amusement – and my continuing worries that keep me…
In a break from its historical tactic of quietly enabling surrogates, the US petroleum industry has started to openly engage in battles to suppress use of atomic fission.
The Ohio division of the American Petroleum Institute (API Ohio) recently issued a press release urging members of the “Ohio legislature to reject legislation that would subsidize nuclear power companies, and called on corporate supporters of the legislation to stop misleading Ohio consumers with false information on the economic and environmental consequences of shuttering nuclear power plants in the state.”
The Wall Street Journal (see Oil-Gas Lobby Opposes State Subsidies for Nuclear Power Producers) and Environmental Progress (see Big Oil is trying to kill clean energy in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Here’s who will pay the price.) have taken note of the API’s activities in Ohio.
This is one more example of what might be an important trend in the long running conversation about energy supply and consumption. It appears that at least part of the oil and gas industry has decided it’s time to openly battle nuclear energy so that it can capture additional energy market share.
They seem to believe more Americans like them than hate them. They might have been confused by our continued willingness to purchase their useful products.
When Americans learn that there are better, cleaner, more reliable, and more abundant alternatives, their dislike of major multinational petroleum companies will come roaring back.
The emotional response will be even stronger when energy customers realize how many actions the hydrocarbon industry has taken to suppress and delay improved energy options.
There’s some history here that hasn’t made it into many published books. After all, it’s the victors that generally get the opportunity to write battle histories.
Hydrocarbon interests – a purposely broad term that encompasses a significant portion of what is often called the Hydrocarbon Economy – were officially notified about the power of “sub-atomic energy” as early as 1930.
They heard President Eisenhower offer a vision for peaceful uses of fission that sounded enormously hopeful for most of the world. That vision sounded really scary to those whose portfolios included assets like coal mines, rail cars, tankers, storage tanks and pipelines.
The startup and reliable operation of the Shippingport nuclear power plant in the late 1950s captured the attention of the coal industry, especially since the federal government was helping the new technology get rolling.
The coal industry, never very skilled at public relations, invested resources throughout the 1960s in a lobby group called the National Coal Policy Council (NCPC) . That group, an uneasy alignment that included coal mining companies, coal miner unions, railroad companies, coal mine equipment companies and coal burning utility companies, directly challenged the federal government’s programs designed to make the peaceful atom an economically viable competitor.
Unsurprisingly, NCPC’s efforts didn’t work very well. It wasn’t easy to convince Americans and their elected officials to stop investing in the new thing – atomic energy – to protect King Coal, the railroads that carried the coal and the unions that occasionally held the entire country hostage during strikes. By 1970, perhaps partly as a result of acquisitions of coal companies by the more PR savvy oil and gas industry, investments in the NCPC fell off. The organization was disbanded in 1971.
Though it’s not easy to find meeting minutes or to point to a specific strategy document with clear talking points, it’s reasonable to assume that there were numerous thoughtful discussions in the 1960s among skilled propagandists about the best way to respond to the rapidly growing threat from nuclear energy.
The results of those discussions can be discerned by looking at that actions that are a matter of historical record.
Since the late 1960s and early 1970s, most of the voices associated with what I generally refer to as “fossil fuel interests” have been notably quiet about nuclear energy. If possible, they have avoided the subject entirely, neither voicing support or opposition in public. Instead of actively engaging in the almost-expected business behavior of criticizing and opposing market competitors, they have followed a strategy of allowing surrogates to be the public faces of the opposition to nuclear energy.
As antinuclear surrogates successfully waged battles over safety, nuclear waste, siting, financing, regulations, radiation protection and exports constraints justified by carefully stoked fears of nuclear weapons proliferation, the fossil fuel industry took advantage of a slowing competitor. It gladly supplied replacement fuels and power plants whenever and wherever nuclear growth was stymied. It enjoyed several periods of substantial market pricing power that stocked its coffers with enormous financial and political resources.
The industry did not just seek to slow the introduction of atomic fission power systems. It also invested substantial resources in technological improvements that improved its ability to produce higher quality products in ever increasing quantity.
The nuclear industry, started by engineers, scientists and business executives who were used to working on government or monopoly utility projects, didn’t recognize the competitive landscape. It was poorly equipped to fend off the accumulating burdens, partially because it was used to the customers picking up any additional costs imposed by changing rules and requirements.
During several periods of time, the nuclear industry accepted so many burdens that nearly all of its capital was expended in reacting to criticism by adding complex systems that were often designed to be idle nearly 100% of the time. Browns Ferry, Three Mile Island, 911 and Fukushima were all used to justify efforts that interfered with numerous improvement initiatives that would have lowered costs and increased production capacity.
Now that groups like API Ohio, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association and Marcellus Shale Coalition have decided to openly engage in opposition to nuclear energy, perhaps the industry will take the steps necessary to mature and prosper.
Here is a partial list of suggestions. Feel free to add more in the comment section.
I understand what Alex Epstein calls “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.” I am an unabashed and unashamed consumer who enjoys the good things that abundant availability of hydrocarbon power gives to society. Fossil fuels can be extracted, transported, refined, distributed and consumed in ways that harm the environment less than most non-nuclear alternative for producing an equal amount of power.
Since our current world population has so many people who have cannot access or afford the reliable energy that enables the kind of comfortable lifestyle taken for granted in the mid to upper echelons of developed countries, there is a lot more room for increased energy consumption than most current models predict.
If energy suppliers would invest more effort in growing the overall size of the pie they would have less reason to kneecap each other.
Instead, they now fight over a slowly growing market that is full of customers that might be interested in buying more power to improve their lives and control their living conditions. Unfortunately, the energy industry has invested a big chunk of its communications resources convincing people to feel guilty about using its valuable and lifestyle enabling products.
– Recognize that American nuclear industry is not unique, that nuclear industries in other countries may have faced similiar problems and may have valuable experiences to share.
I’ve heard that blaming the Russians is popular these days.
You can’t blame the fossil industry for looking for greater market share. That is what wise businesses do. Does the nuclear industry do much to expand market share? I have seen no plugs for the clean energy that nuclear provides. Indeed, conventional nuclear seems to be like a quiet old man sitting in a corner waiting to die. This old man has no original thoughts. Alzheimer’s has long taken hold. It’s too bad. When he was young it was proclaimed that he had the vigor to rule the world.
There is still hope for his grandchildren such as the Molten Salt Reactor, but outside forces may leave them as crippled children unable to mature.
I hope you realize that I am not blaming businesses for seeking to increase sales. On the other hand, I am not a big fan of the B-school stimulated goal of seeking to dominate markets. One of my favorite companies and the most successful investment I’ve ever made had a goal of producing products that amazed its customers while also carefully protecting its profit margins.
I live in the Pacific Northwest so I am fully aware of the harms that massive hydropower dams do. Nonetheless, the epidemiology is clear: burning coal is the worst source of electricity.
Has this “clear epidemiology” been updated to include emission reductions like at TVA’s Bull Run plant?
( http://www.tva.gov/Environment/Environmental-Stewardship/Air-Quality/Bull-Run-Fossil-Plant-Emissions )
I don’t know but the studies are national in scope and more recent than 2008.
So, you have no evidence to support your claim. In fact, burning coal with best technology, may even be less harmful than hydro, as far as you know, and depending how we measure the harms.
I don’t have the time to do your searches for you. Look for deaths per terrawatt-hour by generation type.
Most of what you find on the internet is pushing biased agendas, but even a relatively pro-nuke’s summary says both oil and biofuel/biomass are significantly worse, in terms of hypothetical future deaths, than US coal.(36,000 24,000 and 10,000 hypothetical future deaths per Trillion kWh for oil, biofuel and US coal). The comparisons are difficult to make “fairly,” but your simple claim is clearly wrong.
( http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/ )
True, I left out such minor sources as the two you mention.
You could try looking into the IEA, International Energy Agency, website. The equivalent figure worldwide to US coal is about 33,333.
World electricity production, 2014 (TWh)
Oil 1.068 5%
Other 1.520 7% (presumably biofuels, wind, solar, etc.)
Nuclear 2.4217 11%
Hydro 3.769 17%
Gas 4.933 22%
Coal 8.726 39%
( tsp-data-portal.org, any typos are mine )
Biofuel and oil are significant sources, together nearly as significant as nuclear.
The data is clear. Burning coal is the world’s best source of electricity. It is the largest source for good reasons.
While ~30,000+ (US) estimated hypothetical deaths a year is a lot, we accept a similar number of definite, real, motor vehicle deaths each year, plus any additional pollution-caused, hypothetical deaths. If best available coal pollution mitigation technologies were more widely used, similar to how we’ve used more safety features in vehicles, then the numbers of estimated hypothetical deaths would be lower. In my opinion, the present real benefits of the electricity outweigh the highly uncertain, estimated, hypothetical future deaths.
It’s ironic how some nukes think tobacco smoke and radiation exposures are not significant, and those estimates are bogus, but somehow coal emissions are truly harmful.
There was a time when I fell into the category of claiming that coal emissions were killing people. I’ve recently learned that I was wrong and that the figures are computed using exactly the same kind of “no-threshold” linear model that has been so damaging to people’s acceptance of nuclear energy as a safe and clean power source.
There are some hazards from old, grandfathered coal plants, especially locally during periods of poor atmospheric circulation. Doses can exceed safe levels and affect particularly vulnerable people. In general, however, the harm from low dose particulate exposure has been vastly exaggerated.
“I live in the Pacific Northwest so I am fully aware of the harms that massive hydropower dams do”
Like what, providing flood control, irrigation to a massive agricultural region and producing an incredible amount of clean energy?
That was an ungracious way to state the question. The harms are to the the fisheries and the river ecology. In other parts of the world add forced relocation from the impoundment area.
@David B. Benson
And if you quantify the benefits and the harms, would you say that hydro has been an overall positive or negative influence on the region’s ability to support a vibrant human population?
I have no doubt that it has been beneficial, but then I like people better than fish. Even with the negative effects on fish, I’ve seen evidence at various dams with visitors’ centers that a seemingly large quantity of fish have adapted to the presence of the hydropower infrastructure. Of course, I have no way of comparing the populations that I saw in recent years with the populations that might have existed before the dams were built.
Before the dams were built the salmon runs spanned from bank to bank so thick that it seemed one could walk across on the backs. — That was before my time.
Not only are salmon good food and still an important fishery, but a link in the health of the forests in the Pacific Northwest. As it is, Bonneville Power Administration spends about a quarter of the income from the power sold towards attempting to improve the salmon habitat and at least not cause the runs to further decline.
Some balance is required and the lower Snake River dams are 4 dams too far… Removing those would only eliminate about 5% of BPA’s generating capacity, still leaving ample reserve. If more is needed, doubtful given energy efficiency measures, more wind farms would work. My choice is the Energy Northwest idea to put a Nuscale 12-pack or two next to the Columbia Generating Station.
When I moved back to Washington state in 1970 the population was about 5 million, same as Scotland and also Norway. Those populations remain the same but Washington state seems crowded at over 7 million people.
The harms are to fisheries and river ecology generally. In other parts of the world add forced relocation from the impoundment area.
I also like the Energy Northwest idea of SMR’s located next to Columbia……since I’m employed by Energy Northwest at Columbia. My point is….the dams do A LOT more than supply power and sometimes I think people are blinded by how important they “think” massive salmon runs are. Salmon runs are back to being historical…..yet people are still calling for dam removal without even thinking about the real effects that would cause. Also, the LAST thing this area needs is more scenic pollution via massive wind turbines (which as last winter showed can sometimes stand still for over a week straight producing ZERO megawatts to the grid) I may be crazy, but I’d rather the power that cools and heats my home be reliable, kind of like the power that comes from regional dams……or even better, my baby, a GE BWR 5.
Salmon runs will never be as big as before the dams. Even the most robust are not doing that well; see what the Northwest Power & Conservation Council has to say about this.
Most people fail to understand the importance of the salmon runs to health of the forests in the Pacific Northwest. You may care to educate yourself.
In particular, the long runs up the Snake River and then the Salmon River are in a declining state. The only sure way to preserve these runs is to remove the 4 dams on the lower Snake River. Ask your local Sierra Club branch for more information, including the economic benefits of this dam removal.
“Ask your local Sierra Club branch for more information, including the economic benefits of this dam removal”
Yeah sure, right after I ask them about the economic and environmental benefits of shutting down the Columbia Generating Station and replacing us with wind and solar.
The Sierra Club takes no position on nuclear power plants.
Yeah, right. Liar.
“The Sierra Club takes no position on nuclear power plants”
Hahaha…..spoken like a true anti-nuke lier.
News to me about the Sierra Club. Thank you.
I see no opposition to nuclear power plants from the Washington state chapter but considerable concern for the Snake River salmon runs. But I am sure that you can find the information from other conservation organizations.
We may have it backwards: the energy business would love an economy of higher growth, but it no longer exists. The same automation that has changed the jobs picture in the US has reshaped the economy and huge numbers of folks working in factories bringing home the paychecks that would spur energy growth.
The nuclear power industry should be engaging in a public relations campaign through advertising, just like their competitors do. Look at how BP managed and recovered from their Deepwater accident in the minds of the public.
One good nuke example: I think nearly everyone liked that AREVA animated commercial with a catchy tune playing. Future ads should be simple, easy going; no math/physics/engineering arguments – appeal to the happy, pleasant, safe emotions of a typical viewer.
Though I tend to agree with you, I don’t think you understand the vast gulf between the resources available to the fossil fuel industry and those available to the nuclear industry. Consider the fact that the largest nuclear related company in the US – Exelon – has a market capitalization of less than $33 billion. It owns/operates more than 20% of the nuclear plants in the US.
Exxon-Mobil has a market cap that is ten times larger – more than $330 billion. It’s a global energy company whose oil products have perhaps a 2-3% share of the world’s petroleum market (roughly 2.5 million barrels of oil equivalent/day out of >90 MBOE/day) and whose natural gas sales a 2-4% of that global market.
Making ads might be fairly inexpensive, but airing ads costs real money.
Maybe it would have been better if Exxon had remained in the nuclear fuel business? That’s a weird thought…
I’ve been working on synthesizing and documenting some even stranger thoughts.
Here is a brief teaser.
I think the world would be in a far better place if Exxon-Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Gulf, Getty and all of the rest of the multinational petroleum companies that dipped their toes in the nuclear energy and uranium businesses had remaining invested and developed the new power source with some of the same skills that they brought to the petroleum discovery, extraction, transportation, refinement, distribution and marketing business.
I am amazed that the “Big Oil” companies haven’t decided to become “Big Energy” companies and guarantee their future for the next hundred years or so. I wouldn’t think that they would waste their $$$ on wind and PV.
They are certainly not bashful about telling us how much they have improved our lives, They have the logistic expertise to handle nuclear fuel refinement and delivery. They know how to handle public opinion. They know how to handle accidents. But most of all, they know how to handle Politicians.
And it’s not even clear that generation companies like Exelon should be included as a “nuclear company” (i.e., a company whose fortunes are specifically tied to nuclear’s success). Strictly speaking, generation/utility companies are agnostic about generation methods. They’re happy to build whatever the public wants them to, as long as they can pass along the costs. Bellying up to the govt. trough to build renewables? Even better. True, once they build (or own) a nuke, they will lobby for policies that make those assets more profitable, but they don’t care one whit about building new ones.
As one poignant example, consider the tremendous support given to the nuclear enterprise by *Exelon* chairman John Rowe (sarcasm). He toured the country talking about how expensive and uncompetitive (new) nuclear is and how wonderful gas generation is. This from the head of the country’s number one nuclear operator.
I’m afraid that all we really have are companies like Westinghouse, and a few uranium mining companies, as true “nuclear” companies. It may be more appropriate to compare Westinghouse’s market cap (if it even has one right now) to that of the oil/gas majors. 1000-to-1? Even worse?
To add insult to injury, the “nuclear industry’s” sole lobbying organization (NEI) is paid for by utilities that operate nuclear plants; most of them also operating fossil plants. Thus, NEI largely refuses to point out the negative impacts of fossil power generation. Even at ANS, advocates like me have been told not to trash fossil generation too much.
This is all problematic since nuclear’s main, valid selling point is its environmental superiority to fossil generation. Now, with Trump in office, nuclear promoters are shying away from making environmental arguments even more. It’s entertaining to watch them try to make weak arguments related to fuel diversity and grid reliability, neither of which are selling with grid operators, let alone the public.
Thereon lies the rub. After seeing this site tout the environment as sound cause to employ nuclear energy, and describe a vast conspiracy waged by the fossil fuel industry to stifle NE usage, suddenly Rod adapted a go along to get along attitude towards an administration manned by science deniers, oil industry insiders, and a blithering and dithering idiot trying to lie himself through boondoggle after boondoggle. The idea that such schizoprenic blather from an advocate such as Rod, coupled with the duplicitous, absurd, and oil soaked policies of this administration can somehow portend a positive future for NE is ludicrous on its face. The NE industry should grow some gonads, and get in the fight. And throw the science deniers, the Brietbart Pizzagate swilling wackos, and the oil soaked moles out of their camp. They ain’t your friends. And if Brian thinks Tillerson and Putin ain’t in league to boost oil at all costs, he’s a fool. And the game plan for boostin’ oil doesn’t include throwing NE a bone.
My position is too complex to be dismissed as simply “going along to get along.”
Many of the people I know and love have a roughly ordered set of top priorities that include some of the following considerations:
Very few of the people that I love or respect include “Party” on their list.
My attempts to point out the efforts of fossil fuel interests to kneecap their nuclear energy competitors isn’t meant to condemn the vast majority of the people who work in the hydrocarbon supply industry. It isn’t even meant to condemn coal, oil or gas as useful fuels that have have been – and continue to be – a fundamental ingredient in developing our modern society. I pay homage to the hard working people who recognize the importance of power and have devoted their lives to finding ways to supply it to their fellow humans.
That said, I also recognize that certain capitalists, politicians, aristocrats, oligarchs and dictators view control over vital resources to be a useful way to seek power and wealth – what Daniel Yergin called “The Prize” in his seminal work on the continuing quest for “Oil, Money and Power.”
At this point in my career as an energy advocate who deeply believes that humans benefit when they have access to power that is clean, safe, abundant, reliable and affordable, I think that there is a place for any fuel source that can satisfy most of all of those criteria in certain applications or market segments.
As a competitive swimmer, I learned the benefits of constructive competition governed by a clear, but relatively brief set of rules. Coed teams, engineered lane lines, multiple strokes, a variety of distances, age groups, minimal equipment and a variety of levels with clear criteria for moving from one to the next all make it a great sport for modeling a rather rose tinted view of how well ordered competition can be beneficial.
The altruistic tone of your comment is overshadowed by the complete lack of altruism exhibited by this administration. If in fact the values you attest to are held with conviction, you need to be fighting this administration tooth and nail, rather than seeking accomodation from a criminal and self serving administration that offers no such concession.
Doing my civic duty and questioning all questionable actions does not extend to blanket fighting of the duly elected government.
Please don’t repeat the overused story line of the “popular vote.” Our republic is not governed by rules in which the national popular vote counts matters.
Oh of course not. After all, he only lost the popular vote because of the “millions of illegal immigrants that voted illegally”, right? And any minute now, Pence is going to launch an investigation into that.
Doing your “civic duty” shouldn’t require vaseline, Rod. And you must be buying it by the case.
I’m not going to debate the election results or the utterances of the man who won based on the rules in place.
We have an opportunity to elect a new president every 4 years. In between, we have the responsibility to make the best of the selection.
WRT my use of Vaseline, don’t forget that I spent 33 years in the US military. BOHICA
Talk all you want about marketing strategies, “educating” the public, superior technology, or politics, but if you can’t deliver the goods even close to budget or schedule after the sale is made, then none of that matters.
( http://www.reuters.com/article/us-toshiba-accounting-westinghouse-nucle-idUSKBN17Y0CQ )
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