Something besides oil

June 1, 2001
The environmental lobby's anti-oil message appears so basic to human wants that the oil industry's economic appeal for expanded access is far too limited.

Something besides oil

The environmental lobby's anti-oil message appears so basic to human wants that the oil industry's economic appeal for expanded access is far too limited. At the same time, the environmental actions and sensitivity exhibited by some major producers, because it's "the right thing to do," haven't received much recognition either.

The major problem in both instances appears to be - lo and behold - "oil." If the industry would just stop producing "oil" - why, we could become acceptable socially and environmentally. From a business point of view, that doesn't appear feasible - so let's look at other fashionable options:

  • We can odorize (scent has a nicer ring) oil at the well site - like natural gas. Maybe lavender or violet would take everyone's minds off the viscous material.
  • We could discover some new medicinal or dietary byproduct in hydrocarbons critical to human health (no - we can't call it snake oil).
  • We can crack the oil (seriously now) at the wellhead into hydrogen, re-inject the carbon or carbon products, and move the hydrogen by pipeline. A relieved automotive industry could bypass more fuel cell research, leaving motorists to deal with constantly wet roadways (you know - hydrogen plus oxygen).
  • We can mix wellhead oil with additives and convert it to a liquid with stronger surface tension (pumpable, with some inducement). If dropped on the ground or in water, it could be scooped out intact. Additionally, we could scent it, and call it something with an exotic name (Oil of xxxx is already taken, but you're on the right track).

Well - that's where lateral thinking will take you - sometimes not too far. Changing the chemistry of oil seems more do-able than changing perceptions of it, but failing the former, should we then convene an industry forum on how to change public perceptions? Ah - seems useless!

Maybe a long-term oil shortage could create the sort of business respect and public adoration that seems to surround diamonds, titanium, and other "rare" materials. Alas, when was the last time you heard about a diamond or titanium spill.

The hard reality is that the petroleum industry cannot get away from a product that has appearance, touch, and odor problems for anyone not making a living from it. We'll have to resign ourselves to living like the nuclear power and waste disposal folks - needed, but shunned.

Stability is not an option

Suppose the nations of the world spent the $315 billion per year the IEA suggests might be needed to battle anthropogenic carbon contributions to global warming, and the earth continued to warm up anyway. Would the environmental community insist that degradation was lessened by the expenditure? Or that the change is good for the world anyway?

The environmental community is depending upon recent (in geological terms) evidence and measurements to support global warming changes. Troubled with such a precarious data position that seems to disregard the history of global climate change, a number of geologists have published an aggregation of new research papers entitled "Geological Perspectives of Global Climate Change" (AAPG Studies in Geology #47). The collection lays out the range of past climate changes against which anthropogenic effects can be compared, and suggests that the Kyoto Protocol could be based on "flawed or selective consideration of scientific investigations."

The point being made by the geologists is that Earth's environment is in constant flux, or in the words of one of the AAPG authors: "Stability is not an option." Fixing Earth's temperature at some set point or range, as many environmentalists are convinced must be done, does not appear remotely possible, given Earth's geological history.

Yes, humanity may eventually suffer, or be radically displaced, as climate changes. It is a reality we may have to cope with, and no amount of climate engineering may alter that event.

This is not to suggest that measures shouldn't be taken - only that society should have no unrealistic expectations that any measures or expense may produce a significant or lasting global change, or that what has always taken place on Earth may actually be altered.