Gail in China Report #3

Greetings Finite Worlders!  Gail is on her 1 month lecture tour of China. She’s unable to access WordPress from China, but does have access to email, so she’s sending me updates to publish here on OFW.  My Byline/About appears at the bottom here, but the China Travelogue articles are authored by her. -RE

From Gail below:

Greetings from China again!

As I mentioned previously, it was Prof. Feng at China University of Petroleum in Beijing who invited me to come to China for the first two weeks. In the second two weeks I would be doing a variety of other things. I am now in the “other things” part of the visit.
One thing we did during the first two weeks is make video recordings of the talks I gave during the first two weeks. I also I have the PDF slides. After I get back I will work on putting those things up on OurFiniteWorld.com.
One thing that Prof. Feng has talked to me about is that he would like to host a “Finite World” conference in Beijing in 2016, if he can get the details worked out (and if the financial system stays together well enough, and if I would help with the endeavor). Because of the cost of transport and other details involved, he expects that the vast majority of the attendees would be from China–perhaps 80 Chinese attendees and 20 attendees from elsewhere in the world. Given the way Prof. Feng does things, I expect the plan would be to make videos of those talks available on line, to the many people who would not be able to travel to China.
I have been working on a number of other things. Together with Prof. Feng and a graduate student, I wrote an article called, “The Myth of Everlasting Oil from Shale Formations,” which we are hoping will run in the “People’s Daily.” The graduate student translated it into Chinese.
One morning, I gave a talk to a group of about 20 people doing research related to energy and the economy at an institute in Beijing. This is a photo of Prof. Feng, the director of the research group (Prof. Fan), and myself, standing in front of their buildings. They seemed to be interested in what I had to say. This talk was videotaped as well.
Gail-China-3
One evening, I met with the vice president in charge of international operations for BGP, which is the subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) that does the initial geological assessment of proposed new locations. He told us that the work of his staff is down by 50%, but that the company has held off in laying off workers, because they are hopeful that prices will rise in the next few months. He is also hopeful that technological innovation will solve our other problems. He said that he is hesitant to lay off staff, because if he loses his staff, he loses the heart of his operations. It is very hard to build the expertise back up again.
I visited Ordos, Inner Mongolia for a short time. I received a very warm welcome there, from the extended family of the graduate student who invited me to visit the area. This is a photo of me shaking hands (in a symbolic handshake of friendship) with the graduate student’s father, while the graduate student looks on.
Gail-China-4
Ordos is the gateway to many of China’s coal operations. One of the things we noticed was how few cars were on the road. The road was a new four lane highway, but we drove for miles without seeing another car or other vehicle. The Ordos airport had few patrons, and many spaces available for stores were not rented. The airport had been built at the time the growth in coal operations was at its highest, but growth has not continued as hoped. Another thing we noticed is that while apartments seem still to be being built in Ordos, many of the apartments seem to be unoccupied.
I am now in Daqing (pronounced Daching), China, the home of China’s largest oil field, Daqing Oil Field. The city is a very modern city that grew up after Daqing oil field began production in 1960. It now has about 2.5 million inhabitants. The economy is very much tied to oil–I have been told that there are something like 300,000 CNPC employees living in Daqing, and many more indirectly tied to the oil field. The production of Daqing Oil Field is now in decline. We (I am here with others from Petroleum University of China, Beijing) visited some of the oil field operations today. The question a person might ask is whether low oil prices will adversely affect Daqing operations. When we attempted to ask CNPC employees questions along this line, we were told that the oil field is profitable at $40 barrel. We were also told that the company is testing the use of fracking and long horizontal wells, in the hope of increasing production (or slowing the decline).
When I asked how long oil prices would have to stay low before Daqing employment would be affected, the CNBC employee I asked (who may not be knowledgeable about this) said “one to two years.” When I talk to people at Petroleum University of China in Beijing, the point is made that the Chinese government realizes that there is a need for employment for a huge number of people–laying off a large number of employees would simply turn one problem into a different one. That is probably the reason why employment at CNPC is as high as it is–300,000 employees is a huge number for a field producing less than 1 million barrels a day. A large number of people are involved with monitoring well production. This part of the operation could probably be significantly mechanized, reducing the needed number of workers–but then what would all of the laid-off workers do? We will be meeting with some of the folks at the Daqing branch of Petroleum University of China tomorrow–perhaps they will have some additional insights. If the numbers I quoted above are right, the employees are not earning very much a piece–or the story about being profitable at $40 barrel is not true.

187 thoughts on “Gail in China Report #3

  1. Fukushima Chiefs: The Technology Needed To Decommission 3 China-Syndromed Reactors Doesn’t Exist … Maybe In 200 Years?

    The chief of the Fukushima nuclear power station has admitted that the technology needed to decommission three melted-down reactors does not exist, and he has no idea how it will be developed.

    In a stark reminder of the challenge facing the Japanese authorities, Akira Ono conceded that the stated goal of decommissioning the plant by 2051 may be impossible without a giant technological leap. “There are so many uncertainties involved. We need to develop many, many technologies,” Mr. Ono said.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-04-09/head-fukushima-technology-needed-decommission-3-china-syndromed-reactors-doesn%E2%80%99t-exi

    Throw in the thousands of spent fuel ponds that are going to blow sky high releasing massive amounts of radioactivity when civilization collapses and you have the makings of an extinction event.

    • Just need a way to pack it all up and dump it somewhere that no one will care about…any ideas?

    • But, of course, it’s all hoax and blown out of proportion to get government research grant monies.

    • TDG, what do you think is causing this? There is a “blob” of warm water in the Pacific off the California coast. What caused that? Is it in turn causing the drought? Can global warming reach that deep, 300 feet, into the ocean this fast? Why localized off California? Why not whole ocean?

      • I’ve heard it has a lot to do with changes in the “polar vortex” — in the antarctic, this blows clockwise around the South Pole — in the arctic,it’s more complicated, but now, western North America is generally getting warmer & dryer — maybe someone back east can give us an update on their weather, but it’s un-funny around here in Fremont, CA (“Silicon Valley”).

        • The winter here in the east, New York state, was long and hard. The roads are now a mess from deep frost heaves. Spring is late in coming. We had snow flurries on Easter day.

      • I’ve believed for a long time that volcanism is causing at least some of the warming of the Pacific. The weather scientists absolutely deny this however.

  2. I am finally back in the United States–actually replying from the Detroit airport. I expect to be home in a few hours. It may take me a little time to get back up to speed. For instance, I need to work on my income taxes (due April 15).

    • “Is this what collapse will look like?” No less police more shooting. WTF was wrong with those people? Police were very restrained by todays standard. If that was LA i guarantee you there would be a lot more than one dead, When the police show up they are going to take charge. Who doesnt know that? You brawl with them because …??? I will say one thing. Those hillbillys took more pepper spray and stun guns than I ever could.. What no tasers in Arizona? Good god.

      • As collapse happens there will be more “hillbillies”. It’s inevitable. The more people that there are with no means of a middle class living, the more people for the police to “take charge of”.

    • THIS is shocking??? Try being black any day of the week. No guns? No killings? Please!

  3. Keep it in the Ground

    The editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger calls the team to arms and challenges them: can they find a new way to report on climate change? He outlines why this is the most important story in the world and why most of the fossil fuels we already know about need to be kept in the ground. Given six months, can they succeed to engage readers in a new way?

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2015/mar/16/the-biggest-story-in-the-world

    Might as well be asking for the moon to crash into the Earth. The effect would be similar

    • The moon, or aliens:
      “some wishful thinkers say that if we stopped our fossil fuel binge cold turkey right now, then perhaps we could stabilize the damage to 2°-3.5°C warming which would be four to six times the warming the Earth has already experienced in the last century (0.5°C). Yet any prospect of pulling the plug on industrial civilization is more remote than aliens from outer space intervening to save humans from themselves.”
      from: http://collapseofindustrialcivilization.com/2014/02/04/undone-by-our-own-success/

      • Germany Proves Life With Less Fossil Fuel Getting Easier

        Going green works

        http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-12/germany-proves-life-with-less-fossil-fuel-getting-easier

        I guess the google people were wrong. Maybe they should drop another billion dollars into solar:

        Renewable energy ‘simply won’t work’: Top Google engineers

        http://techcrunch.com/2011/11/23/google-gives-up-on-green-tech-investment-initiative-rec/
        Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.

        Both men are Stanford PhDs, Ross Koningstein having trained in aerospace engineering and David Fork in applied physics. These aren’t guys who fiddle about with websites or data analytics or “technology” of that sort: they are real engineers who understand difficult maths and physics, and top-bracket even among that distinguished company. The duo were employed at Google on the RE<C project, which sought to enhance renewable technology to the point where it could produce energy more cheaply than coal.

        Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear.

        All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms – and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.

        In reality, well before any such stage was reached, energy would become horrifyingly expensive – which means that everything would become horrifyingly expensive (even the present well-under-one-per-cent renewables level in the UK has pushed up utility bills very considerably).

        • TDG,
          there’s a lot of noise at the moment in France about this report, supposedly “leaked”:
          FRENCH FEDERAL GOVERNMENT REPORT: 100% RENEWABLE ELECTRICITY BY 2050 IN FRANCE WOULD NOT COST MORE THAN 50% NUCLEAR
          http://www.go100percent.org/cms/index.php?id=45&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=395&cHash=c49d899dffe50003b28e67bc8ffa6655

          I haven’t digged into the report, but I’d bet there’s something flawed in the calculation. However, electricity is only 25% of the energy consumption, and the target is in 35 years… Let’s talk again in 2050 :-/

          • Renewable energy ‘simply won’t work’: Top Google engineers

            http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/11/21/renewable_energy_simply_wont_work_google_renewables_engineers/
            http://techcrunch.com/2011/11/23/google-gives-up-on-green-tech-investment-initiative-rec/

            Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.

            Both men are Stanford PhDs, Ross Koningstein having trained in aerospace engineering and David Fork in applied physics. These aren’t guys who fiddle about with websites or data analytics or “technology” of that sort: they are real engineers who understand difficult maths and physics, and top-bracket even among that distinguished company. The duo were employed at Google on the RE<C project, which sought to enhance renewable technology to the point where it could produce energy more cheaply than coal.

            Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear.

            All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms – and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.

            In reality, well before any such stage was reached, energy would become horrifyingly expensive – which means that everything would become horrifyingly expensive (even the present well-under-one-per-cent renewables level in the UK has pushed up utility bills very considerably).

        • TDG, thanks for the info on Google giving up on RE. That is disturbing, yes we already knew it would not workk but it still gave me some hope.

            • I wonder what the EROEI is for wood fired steam engines for trains, backhoes, etc? I wonder also for wood fired electric generation. This gives us a lower limit. Any proposed technology will have to do better.

            • I rode on steam trains the first 25 years of my life. They were fun and romantic. I didn’t mind the smoke or the smell. They were still being used in Quebec as late as 1958. One can assume that they were replaced by diesel (electric hybrids) due to a a better EROI. And that coal replaced wood for the same reason. I would guess that the electric trains used in the New York City underground lines had a lower EROI??

            • Thank you Robert,
              the responses (to criticisms) given by Pedro Prieto are interesting.
              3 quotes:
              “And an important part of the rest (excluding perhaps a part of biomass in underdeveloped countries) is also being produced because the energy subsidies given by fossil fuels to the other sources, like nuclear, or hydro, that we could not have dreamt of having them, if a well endowed fossil fueled society and its related machinery and technology wouldn’t have been available. Nuclear, hydro, solar PV, solar thermal or wind energies are underpinned (or absolutely underpinned) by a fossil fueled society, not the vice versa. The global society has been making its growing economic, industrial and technological life basically without those energy sources. But we could not imagine these sources working and feeding themselves in all the complex value chain, and besides giving an important net energy surplus to the global society. Not now, neither in a foreseeable horizon.
              (…)
              Of course, one has to accept that in this complex world, all energy sources are somehow interrelated, but, as Orwell said in The Animal Farm, ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’. This is exactly what is happening with the energy sources and its properties and qualities: they can all be measured in EJ or in TWh or whatever, but some are more equal than others. Meaning that there is an obvious ASYMMETRIC interdependence of energy sources, being in the last century, the fossil fuels (and oil in a very first place), the ones responsible for our present global status.
              (…)
              If we had included these financial (even just the additional money created and having to pay back in the form of interests by the requested credits or leasing) and labor energy input cost, the solar PV EROI would have probably plummeted to <1:1."

              I also notice there's a link to Gail's "8 pitfalls" article.

          • What I find astounding is that when I pass that Google article to anyone in the green brigade they reject the conclusions.

            That leads me to believe that renewable energy has a god-like status. People want to believe and retain hope so badly that they will throw all logic out the window.

        • The only use for renewable energy that I can see is that it could drastically lower our use of oil and possibly slow the inevitable collapse to a point where some of us can make the adjustment to a medieval lifestyle.

  4. Coal reserves
    U.S. 23%
    Russia 14%
    China 13%
    Australia 9%
    India 7%
    Germany 5%
    Kazakhstan 4%
    Ukraine 4%
    South Africa 4%
    The last nations standing due to their indigenous coal reserves.

    BRICS 38%
    U.S. and vassals 37%
    in play Kazakhstan and Ukraine 8%

  5. “Africa: the world’s poorest continent and, arguably, its richest. While accounting for just 2 percent of global GDP, it is home to 15 per cent of the planet’s crude oil, 40 per cent of its gold and 80 per cent of its platinum. A third of the earth’s mineral deposits lie beneath its soil. But far from being a salvation, this buried treasure has been a curse.”

    Tom Burgis atempts to explain why in his book “The Looting Machine”: http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780007523085/the-looting-machine

    “… will make you think twice about what goes into the mobile phone in your pocket and the tank of your car.”
    and… do nothing, because we’re all trapped.

    • We are all little mice scurrying to avoid being squished by the herd of elephants (corporations, governments, militaries). As they stripe the vegetation down to bare rock.

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