/“False Humility Will Not Save the Planet”

“False Humility Will Not Save the Planet”

Guest post by David Middleton

When I first saw this headline, I thought I was going to have fun ridiculing it… But once I started reading it, I realized that it was a polite version of the classic George Carlin routine

Published on January 2, 2020
False Humility Will Not Save the Planet
written by Maarten Boudry

At the root of our climate problem, writes Pope Francis in his ecological encyclical Laudato Si, lies our human pride and arrogance: “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.” Coming from a Catholic Pope, such sentiments are hardly surprising. For centuries, Christians thinkers have railed against pride as the first and worst among the seven deadly sins. But Francis is far from alone in his view. Many climate activists today, even though they don’t necessarily believe in a personal deity, share Francis’ diagnosis of our environmental worries. They too believe that our climate crisis is the result of human overreach and arrogance, of overstepping natural boundaries. Indeed, this secular environmentalist worldview comes with its own account of the fall of man from an original state of harmony with Nature. Once upon a time, humans lived as an animal alongside other animals, keenly aware of our proper place within a larger ecosystem. We enjoyed nature’s bountiful resources, but we were respectful of her limits. But then along came the scientific revolution and, soon after that, the industrial revolution. By unravelling Nature’s mysteries we gained mastery over her, and we began to treat her as an object to be mercilessly exploited. We turned, as a species, into planetary plunderers.

It’s a compelling narrative but, much like the Genesis story of original sin, it’s hogwash. When we were still living as hunter-gatherers, our ecological footprint was substantially higher, per capita, than today. Our ancestors laid a larger claim on the ecosystem, in return for a much lower standard of living. With a population of no more than a few million, humans managed to wipe out all of the large land animals almost everywhere they set foot. It was the same story with deforestation: relatively small human populations brought about large-scale destruction. Today our planet hosts 7.7 billion people, and our lives are wealthier and healthier than ever before, but if we all lived like our hunter-gatherer forebears, the planet could support about 100 million of us at most. The main reason why our ancestors didn’t wreak even greater ecological havoc is that they numbered too few and died too young.

The right way to look at anthropogenic climate change is as an unexpected side-effect of something that, by and large, proved an immense blessing to humanity. Sure, if we had left all those fossilized remains of ancient animals and plants under the ground, we would not now be stuck with rising global temperatures. But then our lives would also have remained solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, as they had been for the better part of world history until around 1800.

[…] 

Here’s the nub of the problem. Fossil fuels deliver a range of important services to humanity, which have historically been responsible for the unprecedented levels of wealth and prosperity we are enjoying today. So the challenge before us is to find carbon-neutral alternatives for all these services, which deliver all the benefits but not the costs.

[…]

Alas, despite huge investments in solar and wind, both energy sources jointly account for about one percent of global energy production. We can expect their share to grow in the coming years and decades, but eventually the technology will run up against the laws of physics. 

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It gets worse, because the technological solutions that are truly effective for tackling our climate crisis are often exactly the ones that are denounced and opposed by climate activists. Take electricity production again, which accounts for 25 percent of global emissions (and potentially much more if we start electrifying cars and other things). If our goal is “deep decarbonization,” by far the most effective way to get there is nuclear energy…

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The only countries that have thus far managed to decarbonize their electricity sector, such as France and Sweden, did so by relying heavily on nuclear power (and they weren’t even doing it on purpose, as climate change was not on the agenda back then).

Quillette

Gotta love this line: “The right way to look at anthropogenic climate change is as an unexpected side-effect of something that, by and large, proved an immense blessing to humanity.”

The author also linked to an interesting essay by Ted Nordhaus:

The Empty Radicalism of the Climate Apocalypse

France and Sweden respectively generate about 72% and 40% of their electricity from nuclear power. While I agree with Dr. Boudry and Mr. Nordhaus on the merits of nuclear power and the counterproductive nature of the climate apocalypse crowd, I doubt our agreement would extend much further.

Dr. Boudry failed to mention two other essential components of “deep decarbonization,” natural gas and carbon carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS). Fortunately, there is no urgent need for “deep decarbonization.”

That said, the US is leading the world in both of these areas. The primary reason that US COemissions have declined over the past decade or so has been the transition from coal-fired to natural gas-fired electricity generation.

Figure 1. “Natural gas and wind forecast to be fastest growing sources of U.S. electricity generation.” US EIA
Figure 2. Global, Red China and US carbon dioxide emissions (BP Statistical Review of World Energy)

And the US is currently leading the world in CCUS efforts.

US leads new wave of carbon capture and storage deployment
BY BRAD PAGE, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 01/05/20

As we ring in the new decade, it has become ever more apparent that the next ten years will be crucial to leaping on decarbonization efforts. Time is not on our side. We cannot favor one technology over another. An all-of-the-above approach is necessary. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies must be part of the portfolio of solutions to decrease emissions from energy-intensive sectors and existing infrastructure, as well as remove CO2 already present in the atmosphere.

[…]

The U.S., already home to 10 large-scale facilities capturing more than 25 mtpa of CO2, is the global leader on CCS deployment. The Global CCS Institute recently added 10 facilities to its database, eight of which are in the U.S., and were driven by sustained government support. Notably by the 45Q tax credit — the most progressive CCS specific incentive globally — and further supportive mechanisms on the state level.

The U.S. Department of Energy also selected nine facilities for Front-End Engineering Design (FEED) study support. Industry sources say that more than two dozen facilities could potentially be announced once the Internal Revenue Service finalizes the guidance and rule for the 45Q tax credit. 

[…]

The Department of Energy’s Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise Initiative — also known as CarbonSAFE — which focuses on developing geologic storage for 50 million tonnes and more, is already showing the first signs of success. In the U.S., six of the eight facilities added to the Global CCS Institute’s database are part of the program.

[…]

Innovators are also working on the next generation of technologies. The Allam Cycle aims to be cost-competitive with conventional combined-cycle natural gas plants while also capturing 99 percent of CO2. Several of the facilities selected within DOE’s FEED-study support include retrofitting natural gas-fired power plants with CCS. With natural gas being the fastest-growing fuel in 2018, and not a single natural gas power plant equipped with CCS globally, this is a welcome development. 

[…]

Brad Page is the CEO of the Global CCS Institute, a think tank backed by governments and businesses.

The Hill

While CCS makes no economic sense, absent the 45Q tax credit, CCUS makes enormous economic sense.

Enhanced Oil Recovery
Carbon Capture Boosting Oil Recovery

September 2018

By J. Greg Schnacke, John Harju, John Hamling, James Sorensen and Neil Wildgust

PLANO, TX.–Chevron Corp. initiated the first large-scale enhanced oil recovery project in the world to use carbon dioxide as the working fluid in 1972 in the Texas Permian Basin. Four decades later in 2013, CO2 EOR contributed nearly 280,000 barrels a day of U.S. oil production from more than 100 sites. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that by 2017, U.S. CO2 EOR production had grown to 300,000 bbl/d.

In 2010, approximately 22 percent of the CO2 used in U.S. EOR operations was obtained from industrial sources. Additional EOR projects initiated since 2013 in Montana, Wyoming and Texas that also use captured CO2 confirm that the supply of anthropogenic CO2 is growing and suggest an increasing proportion in the total supply of CO2 for EOR.

The potential to deploy carbon capture technology at greater scale across power generation and other industrial sectors may provide an opportunity to proliferate both the number and geographical distribution of CO2 EOR operations, which could boost domestic oil production. Several oil producers such as Denbury Onshore LLC are expanding EOR operations already to capitalize on the use of these new anthropogenic CO2 sources as they become available.

[…]

Studies show that virtually all the CO2 supplied to (or purchased for) an EOR project remains safely and securely stored within the geologic formation. Using anthropogenic CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, such as from a coal-fired power plant, is considered a form of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).

The CO2 storage inherent in EOR also is referred to as “associated storage.” Associated storage is considered by many environmental and energy policymakers to be a technically and economically viable means by which greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.

An EOR project at the Denbury-operated Bell Creek oil field in southeastern Montana provides an example of how applying anthropogenic CO2 can result in incremental oil recovery and associated CO2 storage. The anthropogenic CO2 for the field is sourced from the Lost Cabin and Shute Creek natural gas processing facilities in Wyoming, and is transported to the Bell Creek oil field by pipeline.

Between the beginning of CO2 injection in May 2013 and December 2017, more than 4.8 million barrels of incremental oil have been produced from the field, resulting in more than 4.8 million metric tons (tonnes) of associated CO2 storage (Figure 2).

[…]

Size Of The Prize

EIA’s 2018 Annual Energy Outlook forecasts U.S. production from CO2 EOR will grow to 390,000 bbl/d by 2025. Literature suggests the potential for CO2 EOR from conventional oil fields in the United States is substantially larger than that projected by EIA.

A U.S. Department of Energy-funded study by Kuuskra and others (2013) concluded that, assuming an oil price of $85 a barrel and a CO2 price of $40 a tonne, applying “next generation” CO2 EOR technology could yield 100 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil. That study also estimates the volume of CO2 required to recover 100 billion barrels of oil is 30 billion tonnes, which is equal to 35 years of CO2 emissions from 140 gigawatts of coal-fired power.

To date, commercial CO2 EOR has been applied almost exclusively to conventional oil reservoirs. Unconventional reservoirs, including tight oil systems such as the Bakken in North Dakota or residual oil zones, offer considerable increased potential to use CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, subject to developing the appropriate advancements in technology.

Studies conducted by the EERC, including field trials, have shown initial promise and underline the potential of these future EOR applications. EERC results suggest the size of the prize for CO2 EOR in the North Dakota portion of the unconventional Bakken petroleum system ranges from 1.8 billion to 16.0 billion barrels of oil.

[…]

American Oil & Gas Reporter

Figure 3. “Cumulative oil production and associated carbon dioxide storage are shown since the start of CO2 EOR at the Bell Creek oil field.” American Oil & Gas Reporter

The reduction in COemissions should be viewed as lagniappe and another “side-effect of something that, by and large, proved an immense blessing to humanity” and will continue to do so for decades to come.