Friday, August 31, 2007

Can we find consensus on energy?

I attended a community forum last night in Tucson hosted by Shell Oil Co. president John Hofmeister to discuss energy in America. Hofmeister, aided by a group of senior Shell managers, asked three formal questions then threw it open for discussion. Tucson was stop 41 on a planned 50 city tour over 18 months. They’ve been to Phoenix earlier and spent yesterday afternoon at UA meeting with researchers. [right- John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil]

The answers they got last night did not always respond to the questions they raised. Hofmeister at one point paraphrased Donald Rumsfeld, by saying that we operate the energy system we have, not the one we wish we had.

And that was the dichotomy I saw at the forum. Shell asked where we envisioned our energy mix would be in 10 years. People responded about where it should be (lots of renewables, strong opposition by a couple of vocal participants that it NOT include nuclear).

When Shell asked what they could do to increase domestic oil (and gas) production, some people were vociferous that oil production has peaked, we won’t find enough new production to meet growing demands, so we have to restructure the entire U.S. energy system away from fossil fuels. Others raised concerns about global warming, CO2, and political stability.

That was the underlying challenge – do we maintain and improve the current system and trillion dollar investment in energy infrastructure or throw it out to build an entirely new one in the next 10- 40 years? Those concerned about CO2 and environmental issues want the latter, but how realistic is that? America has not reached any kind of tipping point to fundamentally restructure our energy system.

Hofmeister ran through their numbers on what it would take to meet the IPCC’s 80% reduction of CO2 below 1990 levels by 2050: conversion of most coal power plants to gasification, all new plants using gasification, conversion of the entire U.S. automobile and truck population to E85 or hydrogen/electric, and a number of other huge changes. To make that kind of radical change will require a crash program and the costs will be staggering. It wasn’t stated explicitly but there is no evidence that the nation is even seriously considering such an undertaking.

There was consensus last night in Tucson that energy is a critical and complex issue, but I heard no consensus on solutions. I doubt there was consensus in most of the other 40 cities visited. Shell is posting the results of these town hall meetings at

Monday, August 27, 2007

Catching up on the summer news

Kids are back in school, we're making plans for Labor Day. Between vacation and wrapping up the fiscal year, it's the Dog Days of August already and I didn't get to blog about so many things that happened this summer. So, here are a few quick observations -

The Weather Service tossed out the idea of dropping "monsoon" for the terminally bureaucratic moniker of "severe thunderstorm season." Mercifully, that lasted just long enough for everyone to shake their heads in bemusement or make a snide comment about it.

But there does seem to reason to instead call it the "earth fissure season." The heavy downpours opened up a fissure in the same neighborhood in Queen Creek south of Phoenix that got hit almost exactly two years earlier. Tragically, the fissure went through a corral and a horse fell in, was trapped by the mud in it and died from the stress and exertion despite heroic rescue efforts.
Not too far away, county workers laid steel plates across San Tan Highway where it crossed a fissure, to prevent the road from collapsing. Fissures opened up across properties, or grew by hundreds of feet in very short times. Reports of fissure activity are still coming in.

On another hot topic, the Arizona Daily Star columnist Ernesto Portillo Jr, said maybe it's time to say goodbye to mining in Arizona. He wrote, "Water is too precious to throw into a mine," because mines pollute and damage the environment and they compete for water that could be used for cities and agriculture. Regardless of your view of mining, this stance belies a couple of questions. When does water become too precious to throw at growing crops in the desert? And how much pollution and environmental impacts are we going to see from adding 10 million more people to Arizona in the next 25 years with their cars, RVs, demands for electricity, and land cleared for 4 million new houses? The question isn't mining or water; it's more likely to be unlimited growth or water.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

20,000+ earth fissure maps downloaded

We've passed a milestone with 20,755 copies of the AZGS' Earth Fissure Planning Maps downloaded since they were released publicly on June 4. Downloads, by county are:

Maricopa County 10,016

Pinal County 7,109

Cochise County 1,717

Pima County 1,913

OFR-07-01 Program Report 4,897

[above - Maricopa Co. Earth Fissure Planning Map]

The Planning Maps show all the known or reported earth fissures in Arizona, and identify 24 study areas that are being systematically mapped at high resolution by AZGS. Maps can be viewed and downloaded at

Sunday, August 05, 2007

ASU puts original Apollo flight films online

Arizona State University has teamed with NASA's Johnson Space Center and the Lunar & Planetary Institute to scan the high-resolution original Apollo flight films. The first examples are available to browse or download at:

There is a lot more at the site, including more than 6,000 lunar petrographic slides, and pictures of numerous extraterrestrial bodies.