Monday, June 28, 2010
People of Salem: Gaze upon your future and despair, for your City Council lacks the courage to honestly assess our prospects and act accordingly. Thus, we will put into this creek, without paddles. Image via WikipediaYou probably thought that all the pool closings and library hours and services cutbacks and the dismantlement of the Parks Dept. meant that Salem had a budget problem.
Oh Contrare, Mon Sewer, Salem's got money to burn. Remember, nothing's too good for the Consulting Class:
Every day, the Gusher in the Gulf spews millions more barrels of oil into the world ocean and the daemon powered by our addiction to oil grows more powerful and more vengeful. Every week, our capacity to maintain the carburban living arrangement declines yet further. And every month, the inescapable reality that we can't rely on reviving an oil-powered economy grows ever more unavoidable . . . except in Salem, where a powerful clique with representatives from the Oregon Highway Department (Motto: Cars Rule), Salem, Marion and Polk Counties, and the local council of governments get together to stick their fingers in their ears and shout "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!" at anyone who points out the manifold absurdities of planning for a third auto bridge even as usage of the other two is heading for a steep decline.
-Councilors are expected to approve an amendment to the existing Salem Willamette River Crossing intergovernmental agreement with the Oregon Department of Transportation. The purpose of modifying the agreement is to establish a cooperative effort to prepare an environmental impact statement that would help pinpoint a location for a third bridge over the Willamette River in Salem and to obligate funds to the project. The City initially contributed $200,000 to the project. That figure has since increased to $390,000.Read more: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20100628/NEWS/6280315/1103#ixzz0sAJF2w7Y
Alas, we're at the monumental stage now, that phase that collapsing societies pass through on their way to extinction. Just as the Mayans and Egyptians and countless other cultures did, we've reached the point where the folks in charge would rather see the whole thing come crashing down than change the habits that are leading to the collapse. After WWII ended, some South Pacific Islanders built airplanes and control towers out of bamboo, hoping that this absurd behavior would lure back the wealth of cargo that the war brought (hence, "cargo cults"). So too, large engineering contracting firms constantly whisper in officials' ears that that, if we just pour pavement like we did in the good old days, the good old days will return.
UPDATE: Today's Peak Oil Review (POR) has the second half of a good interview with Jeff Rubin that sheds some light on whether Salem needs a third auto bridge:
POR: Is there a growing number of economists who are getting the resource depletion story, or is it still business as usual?Rubin: I think more economists are coming around. I can just see that from the number of economists who respond to my blog. I think what’s happening is that economists are beginning to realize that, yes, the supply curve—meaning, the higher the price of oil, the more oil we’ll find—has a big problem in that much of the new oil that we’ll find, like tar sands or deep water, we won’t be able to afford to burn. Economists’ responses will be that $150 oil will give us new forms of supply but that those prices will send a lot of motorists to the sidelines. Sure, we can produce 4 or 5 million barrels a day out of the Athabasca tar sands or Venezuela’s heavy oil, but the prices to produce it translate into $7-a-gallon gasoline. Can we really afford to burn that? They are starting to understand that depletion is more an economic term than a geologic term because we not going to hit the absolute limit of oil supply; as we’re keep drilling towards the bottom of the barrel, it’s going to get too expensive to bring out what’s left.POR: Who in the oil industry gets peak oil?Rubin: I think everybody gets peak oil in some sense because, you know, what’s BP doing drilling in a mile of water at the Macondo well, or planning to develop the Tiber field which is much deeper below the ocean floor? Or for that matter, what’s Suncor doing in the tar sands? We’re there because that’s all that’s left. They may not want to articulate it as peak oil, but their actions speak louder than their words. When you’re spending billions of dollars on new tar sands production where you need $90 to $100 a barrel to provide adequate economic returns on your investment, you can call it whatever you want but I call it peak oil.POR: Speaking of CERA, Daniel Yergin wouldn’t call anything peak oil. If you had to pick the four horsemen of false oil optimism, the list would include Cambridge Energy Research Associates, the US EIA, OPEC, and a voice or two from industry — maybe BP and ExxonMobil. What’s going to make them change their tune so they don’t postpone acknowledgement of this looming reality?
They had a pilot project in Fort McMurray (Alberta) in 1920, so this is not a new discovery. Neither is the Orinoco. The only thing that’s new is that, not only are these seen as commercially viable sources of supply, but now a recent CERA report says these are going to be the single largest source of supply of US imports. What do you call that if it’s not peak oil?Rubin: I’m not sure that it’s really going to matter what those folks think or say any more because those folks, especially CERA and the International Energy Agency, have lost so much credibility on this issue that I don’t think people are going to be terribly concerned about their view on oil supply.POR: Any comment on the Pickens plan and shale gas?
They’ve been so patently out to lunch in the last five years about oil supply that I don’t think that’s where people are looking for such information.
I think that what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico is bringing things into focus. Once Americans get over their initial rage at BP, they’re going to ask themselves the more fundamental question which is “why are we drilling a mile below the ocean floor?” The answer they’re going to get may not be called peak oil but for all intents and purposes that’s the answer they’re going to get. If the deepwater Gulf of Mexico was Plan A, and Plan A is now off the table, Plan B can only be one thing: consume less oil. You can call it peak oil, or you can call it $150 to $200 oil prices, but it basically all takes you to the same place—we’re to consume less. . . .Rubin: Two comments. First of all, I think what’s happening in the Gulf is going to raise the environmental bar, not just for deep water but also for shale gas. There are a number of environmental issues surrounding shale gas drilling and we’re going to find that many jurisdictions may not be as open to shale gas development as the industry believes, particularly when it comes to contamination of ground water.
Secondly, we can substitute natural gas for oil for a whole lot of things, and we have. For furnaces, for power generation, as a feedstock for petrochemicals—we can make that substitution. But oil packs four times the energy density of natural gas and that’s why oil is our transport fuel. Yeah, there’s 130,000 natural-gas-powered vehicles in the United States, but out of a vehicle stock of 245 million, that’s not going to do the trick. So the Pickens plan doesn’t mean anything until we can use natural gas as a widespread transportation fuel, and we’re a long way off from doing that.
What I say about the Pickens plan is the same thing I say about growing corn to feed our gas tanks and a lot of other stuff; instead of learning how to turn cow shit into high-octane fuel, we have to learn how to get off the ropes. In other words, the adjustment has to be more on the demand side than on the supply side. I’m sure that’s not a message that North Americans want to hear, but it’s the message that $7-a-gallon gasoline will deliver loud and clear in the near future.