Saturday, June 19, 2010

extraordinary claims

Casting about for more information on some of the Gulf oil disaster analysis provided by Matt Simmons, I came across a recent thread on the Oil Drum, perhaps the best clearinghouse for information on the technical aspects of peak oil, or at least tied with the overall breadth of the Energy Bulletin.

This doesn't mean the Oil Drum, or the Energy Bulletin, are respected in the mainstream of thought. Far from it. A handful of savvy journalists use these sites as valuable sources of information. A source, not an oracle. Those of us who surf the margins would be well to remember this - and I think perhaps the good professors might chafe at this sea of marginality, leading to the following instruction to the class to be proper scientists,

Matt Simmons on Dylan Ratigan Today, Closing the Relief Ports, and Open Thread 2
"We would like to hear what you think--please avoid the conspiracy theory talk and assess the veracity of the claims that Simmons is making from a scientific point of view. We can find no other industry professional making the claims made in this interview, but we wanted to throw it open to the experts that lurk here to hear what the best and brightest thought about this instead of dancing around it--I'd rather have a thread, tear it apart, and put it to bed. So, if these claims need to be debunked, then let's tear them apart on the scientific merits for the record so that folks can be disabused of these ideas. So, is the situation MS describes possible/plausible? If so, how? If not, why not?"

Most of the people on The Oil Drum are smart enough, which lead to the forum mostly getting a passing grade. Dutifully, a majority of responses described Matt Simmons as a senile old fool. Grandstanding for unknown reasons, completely off the reservation and devilishly shorting BP all the while. (Him and everybody else, I guess.)

Now, I like the Oil Drum. I read the Oil Drum. I support the Oil Drum. I support everyone who signs up for the thankless task of tacking upwind against the risks and blind spots endemic to our carbon energy civilization. Perhaps I also appealed overmuch to authority in the previous post. I've got to remember why my blog is on hiatus anyways, repetitive bitter satire has the half life of Chinese take out. I should aspire to something a little higher.

Unfortunately there is a crux to this. It is an oil soaked ghost turtle. An explosive shrimp. It is surreal and real. A surface slick of light oil (refined by the Gulf) and visible from space. A rig the size of an aircraft carrier and framed in steel has melted and sunk. A claim or two has been made. But who is making the extraordinary claim?

There is limited basis for skepticism of Matt Simmons analysis. In fact, pseudo skepticism of same generates several extraordinary claims that fly in the face of the actual evidence we have at hand. The burden of proof is not just on Matt Simmons. He has made falsifiable claims. It is on those who think that machine gun pace of debunked lies, emitting from the government and Beyond Petroleum SPIN MONKEYS are anything but garbage. Perhaps we need a peer reviewed study just to make sure? Come now. Who is even allowed to visit the site of the spill, or fly over it, without threat of arrest? Scientific observations are quasi legal in the Gulf at this time.

So let's review Simmons claims.

Huge blowout. I don't think this part is controversial. Biggest ever, arguable.

Well Casing damaged or destroyed. This is a major concern. Nothing "conspiratorial" here. Many commentators have focused on this issue. Simmons suggests it is gone, because that is common in blowouts. Ancillary to this is his suggestion that a nuke is required to close the breach, a suggestion that pisses many people off, and certainly carries major risk in and of itself. This prediction is falsifiable.

The primary controversial claim made by Simmons relates to the volume of oil emitted in this disaster. He says 120,000 barrels a day. The official estimate is (for now) 30,000 barrels to 60,000 barrels a day. The original PUBLIC estimates were off by an order of magnitude, and Simmons says merely double that again. What a crazy person! This guy has either lost it, or we need to wait two more weeks for someone to pull their other thumb out. Simmons bases his claim on the vast amount of oil visibly spinning out around the gulf like a Catherine wheel and anonymous sources. This prediction is falsifiable.

As to the volume, and the potential for a massive slurry of tar and heavy oil slinking along the ocean floor, I suggest some of the analysts out there can try making stacks of fruit loops to test for plausibility. These difficult abstractions must be modeled scientifically, after all. I used cheerios. (They usually float, but not after I got through with them.)

This whole thing is just a tragedy. Now the methane is apparently going to kill the bacteria that were supposed to eat the oil. One can't cover up something that is visible from space. It is weird, and surreal. I wish it had never happened.

A postscript is that Matt Simmons apparently met with Stephen Chu a few days after his appearance on MSNBC. I can't help but wonder what he told him. Maybe he doubled down.

BP: Simmons Still Sees Bankruptcy; Massive Hole at the Well Bore? (Updated)
Yesterday, (Simmons) entertained Republican Senator Susan Collins and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu at the Institute. [...] Turning to the spill, Simmons reiterated the rather surprising conclusion that the current “top kill” effort by BP, as well as the planned relief wells, will not stop the Gulf spill. He says he talked over the weekend with scientists on board the Thomas Jefferson, a research boat used by the National Oceanographic Administration.
The riser leak is a deception,” says Simmons. “The hole is in the well head — it’s the well bore.” [...] Simmons sees further ripple effects from what he considers the massive size of the leak.
“When they [the Thomas Jefferson] finally got the permission to circle the three-mile radius,” of the well, “once they got up wind [of the blast], within 20 minutes all the crew [of the boat] were nauseous, and several people are still in the hospital. There is benzene coming out of that stuff. If a hurricane finally blows up the Gulf, we could have millions of people die,” on the Gulf coast.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

paint it black

Alternate Link for below video here,

As people drive about in their cars, vroom vroom, they call into talk radio shows to complain about BP. Meanwhile what is leaking into the gulf is oil. BP is irrelevant. To that end, it is stomach churning to listen to Matt Simmons discuss the problem as he thinks it is, rather than as it is described by the White House or the public relations arm of Beyond/British Petroleum.

Simmons is one of the good guys in the indelibly marginal field of Peak Oil. Peak Oil is a reasonably accurate model of reality, so that doesn't explain it's marginality. It is marginal because it lies outside the boundary of how western culture conceives of itself. This is why cloning Dolly the sheep was a shock in the nineties for many - yet a reader of the marginal literature of science fiction yawned at the news. C'mon - cloning - a fifties idea. From the last century now.

Simmons has taken grief from the right of the political spectrum - from technocratic twits who believe money plus technology energizes the world. The lefties pick on him because OBVIOUSLY he is trying to run up oil prices to LINE HIS POCKETS with this peak oil scare-mongering.

But of all the commentators, Simmons was never a scare monger, and went towards the sensible path of suggesting conservation and wind power.

Yet here he is, talking at the end of this video about a massive pool of oil painting the gulf coast black. He a sensible guy. A rational player. He didn't trade in his bona-fides or shred his scientific integrity to work for MMS.

Random thoughts pop into my head - like Obama will lose his job over this, and no one will really care. BP might go bankrupt, and no one will really care.

The Gulf is dying and people care.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


One thing I've been thinking about lately is the zeitgeist of the United States.

At some point, shortly, people are going to realize that the system is failing, and the very myths of our technocratic culture will begin to break down. Such as, perpetual growth of concrete sprawl and attendant ballooning of property values. Etc. This doesn't work so well when the banks are failing, the fish disappear and the corn or rice is a genetically modified vector for poisonous pesticides.

How will the culture react when the pile of glittering rewards shrink? Detroit is where is starts. Every day that city shrinks, as does morale. Now one hears stories of 60% of homes in Las Vegas underwater (mortgage) because people have nothing left to gamble.

The termites are in the foundation.