From ASPO-USA to MinExpo - a Study in Contrasts

It seems as though I have inhabited two different worlds in the past 24 hours. I went from the relatively small (500 folk) meeting in Sacramento where Peak Oil is viewed as imminent, to the halls of the Convention Center in Las Vegas, where the Quadrennial MinExpo is showcasing the latest machines to over 41,000 folk involved in the Mining Industry. It overflows that very large (600,000 sq. ft) building and extends out into the parking lot. Here, with an industry in considerable profit, the displays were large and much more optimistic than I have seen them in previous years. The two meetings were, however, joined by a common complaint that the human resource, the engineers and scientists needed by both communities, are in critically short supply.

Wandering the booths, with only one day to catch all the new and different products, I did come across a couple of items that are, I believe, worth a brief comment before I write a concluding post to wrap ASPO-USA 4. In that post, I will give some of my own interpretation of the conference.

One of the first things that I noted going into one of the halls was the display by Bucyrus, a company that I have long associated with making equipment that is used to mine coal and minerals at the surface. The display now includes a significant amount of equipment for underground mining, perhaps a recognition on their part of the changing future of the industry.

At the same time it was hard to miss the number of training simulators that dot the floor of the different halls. There is a lot of concern about training new employees and management, and the loss of the knowledge base of the industry, but in displays such as this, and the computer generated pictures of the ore in the deposit, there are some answers that technology can give to help.

However, more to the topic of this site I saw that Coal India Ltd (CIL) had a booth, and with all the emphasis that was placed on China at the ASPO Conference, it is perhaps useful to give some statistics, from their brochure, on the other country anticipating considerable increased coal use. India uses coal to meet around 55% of its industrial power needs, and has estimated reserves of 264 billion tons, with a proven reserve of 102 billion tons, 80 years at current rates of consumption. CIL mines 84% of India’s coal feeding 72 of the 75 thermal power stations in the country (64,285 MW) with the 380 million tons they mine. Their sales brought in $9.69 billion of which $1 billion went in tax.

Because of increasing total demand, which is expected to rise to 730 million tons by 2011-2012, CIL will increase its production to 520 million tons, rising to 664 million tons by 2016-2017. At present 84% of the coal is mined at the surface, though this may only last some 30 more years. They recognize that mining will thus have to focus more in the future on underground production. Indian coal needs to be cleaned to meet international standards at higher prices, and so the company will also invest in larger coal washeries. It has planted 69 million trees as part of land reclamation after mining. With 473 mines and 424,000 employees, CIL claims to be the largest coal producing company in the world.

Wandering around the rest of the exhibition, I discovered that EPA has a Coalbed Methane Outreach Program, which it uses to encourage mines to collect and use the methane that is found with the coal, rather than just venting it to atmosphere (the historic practice). Herewith are some facts from their material. In 2005, for example, some 388 million metric tons of CO2E of coal mine methane (CMM) was vented, with China leading at 34%, the US second at 13% and Russia, North Korea and Ukraine third at 7% each. This is about 6 - 10% of the methane generated by human activity. Methane is considered to be a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (about 20 times by weight) in trapping heat. The Methane to Markets program is an international program to make use of this resource.

One illustrative example comes from the Jincheng Anthracite Mining Group in China, which started feeding methane to a 1.6 MW power plant in 1995, and a second plant, raising total power to 4 MW was added in 2002. A third unit bringing power produced up to 120 MW is planned for this year. A total of more than 166 million cu.m. of gas will then be used. It is worth noting that this is also the site of Chinese CTL plant. The methane capture program is part of an effort in China to clean up its air.

China has set a goal of reducing the emissions of major pollutants by 10 percent during this five-year period. As part of the second Strategic Economic Dialogue, the United States and China have agreed to develop up to 15 large-scale coal mine methane capture and utilization projects in China in the next five years.

One of the problems with the conventional capture of CMM is that it is released from the coal as it is mined, and becomes dangerous as air concentration increases (since it can ignite and cause a coal mine explosion). To stop this from happening, mines increase the ventilation current to keep the concentrations at safe and low levels. This makes it difficult to capture and then use the gas. It also vents large quantities into the atmosphere. To most effectively capture the gas requires that the coal bed be drained of methane before mining occurs. This can be done by either drilling horizontal holes from within the mine forward into the coal, or by drilling down from the surface into undeveloped sections of the mine (or even before the mining has occurred). This is known as degasification.

Methane also migrates into the broken rock over the mining operation and can again build up concentrations over time. By putting pipes or boreholes into these areas, methane can still be recovered from the abandoned regions of a mine, or even after the mine has closed.

The greatest volume of methane is, however, still emitted as part of the ventilation of the mine at about 46% of the volume, with only 25% being captured and used. It is thus an area where there is a continued need for research and results that will allow total capture of the resource. Looking at the brochure, however it is from 2002, more recent values (from the website) show the US CMM Emissions for 2006 (in billions of cubic ft):

By the way, and just to prove to those I told at ASPO that I was going to kick some tires that were a whole lot bigger than I, this is a snapshot of one of the haul trucks in the main hall. There were several parked, one beside the other down the room. They may each hold up to 400 tons of rock.

There was one final booth that I wanted to comment on and this was the EcoShale booth , describing plans for mining the Utah oil shale. However because of the details of the process, and the complexity of my discussion of it, I will put that off until another post.

For now I am taking my weary feet and heading back home, and will there try and put together a summary report for the week, to appear soon.

I went from the ASPO meeting to a college convention here in Seatle since my older daughter is college bound next year. There were 400 colleges with booths at the show. As I watched the sea of seniors and parents I noticed the mining colleges and technical and engineering schools were very sparsely populated by visitors and that the vast majority of college catalogs were emphasizing sustainability but more in the soft sciences of general environmental science. College catalogs are full of green themes and overseas study opportunities with rock climbing and photos of adventure travel. The vast majority of students are looking for a summer camp experience and not interested in the tougher fields of engineering or geology where jobs really will be still around once they graduate.

Well, we will probably need a lot more agricultural workers. Perhaps the law school graduates could form agricultural working groups and discuss the finer points of contact law while they are picking lettuce.

I am amazed at the number of Peak Oil aware parents who assume that there will be cushy white collar "policy making" positions available for their little darlings--while someone else's kids do the real work of trying to provide food and energy supplies.

A quick question or two, then a comment. You state that India has 264 billion tons of estimated reserves. Is this the same as the USGS definition of resources? You also state that they have 102 billion tons of proven reserves. This is 80 years of production at current rates. So in essence, a child born today in India could with some probability outlive the production of coal from proven reserves in that county. You also state that demand is expected to rise pretty rapidly over the next half decade or so. This will decrease the number of years India can mine it's existing reserves prior to depletion.

I realize that as proven reserves are consumed, more and more of the estimated reserves/resources will become economically viable. but the cost and difficulty in production will also continue to rise. If the amount of estimated reserves is accurate, and with increase in demand based on increase in population inevitable, It appears that India has around two lifetimes +/- of coal as an energy resource left. In the course of human history that is a blink of the eye.

Peak oil, a decrease in energy, base and precious metal reserves, and continuing increase in human population and demands. What next?

As always, the years supply is (almost) always given as if there were no change in the consumption rate. It is starting to dawn on some people that the exponential consumption time very quickly shortens the "actual" reserves left if on considers growth.

For example, that 200-250 year US reserve that is often quoted lasts but 80-87 years if you consider a growth rate of ~2.2% per year. Throw in a dramatic coal-to-liquids program and it's easy to demonstrate that the US coal reserves quickly drop to a couple of decades.

Yes, it's all "a blink of the eye" in time.

When one considers that coal will be needed to replace shortfalls in oil and gas, the situation is far worse still.

Resource and reserve calculations for coal are somewhat different to those for oil. You are still constrained in how far from a known (as in mined or drilled) site one can project that the deposit extends out. If it extends out less than a quarter of a mile it can still be called a reserve. Beyond that point it is only an "inferred resource", and that only out for a distance of up to three miles (as my memory recalls). Because coal does not flow like oil or gas, it is much more likely to be in place all the way between two boreholes, than is the likely case if oil and gas are found. Thus the final reserves, as they are proved, may, in fact, be larger than the currently defined resource.

On the other hand the presence of faults, washouts and other geological features can make what might otherwise be a highly desirable site (see Glenrothes in Scotland) uneconomic to mine. Plus I don't know the other constraints on the definition or reserve and resource in India (and these are, I suspect, their numbers not the USGS ones) so these are likely more ballpark than reliable numbers.

I think our high school and college students have the view that oil and coal—but not natural gas—are a distasteful problem. They have been inundated with negative stories about pollution, excessive profits, "running out", and expense. Oil and coal are seen as old fashioned, ugly, dead end, and good riddance power sources. Our students lack a formal energy education and therefore believe that new, sexy, green, and inexpensive technology are the energy future. They want to be part of this future, and who can blame them given our inability to properly educate them.

Many young adults between 16 and 22 can't conceive that it will take a quarter century or more to make a substantial transition from oil and coal to other energy sources. In their minds, the solution is just around the corner so why bother with oil and coal.

I've said it before. If we do not create a new energy course in grades one through twelve, a course that tells our children the truth about energy, a truth that replaces the one minute news channel sound bites and 15 second television adds; we are doomed.

These energy courses are needed not just in the US, they are needed in countries throughout the world. Because global warming and energy use are intertwined, the energy courses should have a global warming component. Energy courses would not be a subset of the science course. They need to be a full course just as we have english, science, history, and math courses.

From this article it is obvious the oil, coal, and natural gas companies have a vested interest in supporting these energy courses. TOD readers, researchers at the forefront of peak energy, those involved in developing new energy sources or expanding the use of renewable energy sources, advocates of changes required to counter global warming, etc., etc., etc., would all support energy courses.

Energy courses are now just as important as math and science courses. Right now, I'm afraid our children are ill prepared to live in the 21st century. It reminds me of the late 60's and 70's when a generation broke away from the norm, tried it their way, and most returned to norm after years of trial and error. I don't want to imply the norm was the best way or that some people did not made an important difference. I'm saying we don't have time to repeat that experiment with this new generation. The stakes were not high back then. They are now.

My son, who is a high school senior, surprised me a few weeks ago when he told me he was going to major in Chemistry next year. I had expected Computer Science. To me, Chemistry is a much more 'real' career than Computer Science, and I have always thought of Chemistry as one of those infinitely evolving fields that will always be in demand.

Any reality injections are welcome.

It seems to me like engineering is becoming more and more concentrated at the massive engineering factories like Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, and the Big 10 schools. I think a lot of the smaller schools don't have the finances to compete.

If you switch your kids major from chemistry to chemical engineering you will double his pay immediately. The starting salaries in oil/gas and power generation are on the rise big time.

Chemistry is indeed a evolving and important career path, in any scenario involving BAU at some level. I have two daughters in college. One in California looking at natural health systems and nutrition, and one at MIT taking Physics and Material science courses. Both a better bet than political science or a wall street job today. I have a friend whose daughter is at harvard and is amazed at the number of feckless seniors at Harvard are concerned that they have prepared for a cushy job on Wall Street and they suddenly don't exist.

I have a degree in Chemistry and program computers for a living. Deciding to go into pure chemistry as and undergraduate was the best decision I ever made. Gaining and understanding of one of the basic sciences is worth its weight in gold. Save the engineering for graduate school four years is barely enough time to pick up a basic grasp of physics, chemistry and mathematics.

With my background I can program computer, work in any number of chemical related industries, work in the medical field as a lab technician. Actually understand agriculture etc etc. People that don't understand chemistry miss a lot about our world and how it works.

As far as Chemistry being in demand thats a tough one generally in the US you really have to go to graduate school to get a job doing chemistry simply because most of the synthetic work is either drug related or about industrial catalysts. Both areas require advanced degrees. Most chemical production has been outsourced to areas such as China with weak pollution laws.

I made the mistake of taking advanced basket weaving in graduate school theoretical chemistry which is practically worthless but was a lot of fun. If I was entering the field today I'd focus on nano-technology which has a huge untapped potential. We are just now getting to the point that we can do non-homogeneous chemical reactions or real three dimensional chemistry. For example the concept of creating something quite similar to a spiders spinnerets is now conceptually feasible.

Or another example something like a spinneret that creates endless carbon nanotubes. In many cases this is a fusion of concepts from making computer chips and activating the surfaces with catalytic agents.

Beyond this I'm using my degree now to investigate using liquid nitrogen as a energy store
for renewable energy. You can't do that with a Computer Science degree.


Your comment,
"Beyond this I'm using my degree now to investigate using liquid nitrogen as a energy store for renewable energy. You can't do that with a Computer Science degree.

I have sent you an e-mail with document regarding the liquid nitrogen option, which I think has great potential. As to the computer science degree, the ability to engage in advanced computer modeling of liquid air thermodynamics and conversion efficiencies could be of great value.

I think you are on exactly the right track...


Chemistry and particularly chemical engineering should be just fine. I would look at the history of basic chemical processes as society powers down. We will have to learn how to produce basic chemicals with less energy. We will also have to look to other more sustainable sources for plastics, fertilizers, as well as energy.

Chemistry is fine if it is what he really loves. However, I think it would be money well invested to investigate before committing to a degree track. I think materials science/engineering is much more exciting. I've found that all the major breakthroughs in many fields come on the heels of materials.

Of course, should your son ever have the ability for electrical engineering... (oh, we are an arrogant and self aggrandizing bunch - but we earned it). Actually, electrical is interesting, but many other disciplines are equally exciting. My philosophy is so long as you have a good grasp of the fundamentals, you can work within many areas. (First rule, there is no such thing as a free lunch).

As for premier engineering schools, well that must be an American phenomena which escapes my imagination. Anyone graduating from a public university in Canada can hold their own with any MIT or Princeton graduate. I know because I've done it many a time. We do have a few schools that have a reputation for being the best in specialties, but all in all the general education system has a high degree of quality (pun not intended).

At the end of the day, I recommend you take some time and schedule interviews and visits to industries. I started off in architecture and after spending a summer working in the business discovered I couldn't stand it. Most high school counselors couldn't counsel their way out of church picnic. Let him see it, talk to the people, and keep his options open for the first two years.

My 2 cents,

Well, I have a chem degree too. What I found is that I hated research - I had a real deal of an openended sort of corp. grant to investigate TLC and electrophoresis. I also worked in electroplating research which I also hated - dealt mostly with cathodic corrosion potential. In retrospect, I didn't have the intellectual maturity to pull these off. But...

I moved over into production and process development management and became a quasi-ChemE. I loved it. But...

If I had it all to do over again, I should have been an Ag major. My rationale at the time is that I could simply get a job. I have always regretted my choice.


A BTW, my degree was ACS (American Chemical Society) certified as far as curriculum went which meant I missed out on stuff I was simply interested in. I could only take on elective course during undergraduate study.

My younger sister graduated from RPI (one of the better engineering schools) into the teeth of a chemical industry recession. One member of her class of chemical engineers got a job in the chemical industry.
Prepare for flexibility. Say, as a financial analyst for merchant banking types deciding which chemical industry project to finance.

What are the components of your energy courses?

There's the rub. What exactly do we teach and who decides the course content?

I'm not a teacher so I can't approach the subject from a teacher's perspective. I have sat in on some contentious school board meetings so I know how difficult it would be to create energy courses at the school district level.

Part of me wants to see energy course content developed at the national level. The problem with expecting national governments to mandate energy courses and become involved in the content is obvious. By the time it was done it would be too late and the course content too ineffective.

I'll switch from my doomer hat to a faith in the human species hat for a minute. The key to energy course content is valid data. Unlike math and science which, at the grade and high school levels, have content that is fairly static, some energy course content would be a moving target. At least once a year the courses would need to be updated to reflect the new knowledge gained in the previous year. The course content dealing with complex subjects like peak oil should be based on peer reviewed data. I would suggest an international, non-profit agency could act as a clearing house for energy information that countries could reference while developing their energy course content.

Even amongst experts there is often conflicting energy data. I don't want to imply there will be only one "right" course content. In fact, one facet of the energy course must be a full understanding that there are multiple viewpoints, but let's exclude those that are not peer reviewed.

One of the bright spots in our educational system are schools run by teachers and administrators that break away from the mediocre and provide their students (our children) with and education that is the envy of other schools (and parents). Perhaps these schools could start the energy course movement and provide a blueprint for school districts, states, and federal governments to follow. Success from the bottom up rather than from the top down.

I don't want to give an impression that my concept of an energy course is well researched. I believe we need to start with the desired result and then work backwards to the steps required to achieve that result. An enormous task, but one that will literally change the world in the next quarter century.

My premise is we humans act on inertia. We base our future plans on our past experiences. Hence the current financial crisis. If we are to minimize the horrendous consequences of not decisively dealing with energy now, we need to change our inertia from a lack of energy education to a full energy education. It is easier to effect this change in children than in adults. However, because the establishment of energy courses will involve a substantial number of adults who otherwise would not learn about our energy future, we will see a positive increase in the number of current decision makers who can effect energy policy.

We don't currently see discussions between adults and children at the dinner table about how algebra will soon change the world we live in:) One, I would hope, stupendous success of energy courses would be an ongoing dialog between adults and children about the future of the planet. The result being more educated and motivated adults.

I would be interesting to hear from some TOD readers who are teachers. I'm betting they could whip up energy course outlines for grades one through twelve. Their input would spark some interesting discussion. I hope so, don't want to have to put my doomer hat back on right away.

One last thought before I head out to work.

We are in an energy crisis. It will do little good to teach energy courses that don't Include this fundamental fact. We did not need to teach energy courses 50 years ago (let's not debate this:) because there was no energy crisis then.

But all energy courses worth their salt contain a couple of key elements:

1) Material balances

2) Energy balances (let's not get into where we draw the boundaries)...

3) Basic physics (incorporates above) and energy transfer

4) Thermo (my inner ChemE is showing).

Finally, a review of the technology now in use as well as some hint of the near-horizon. I teach courses such as this, mostly to people that already have a technical background but have never gotten deeply into the nergy production field or the associated issues.

I've got a couple degrees in Chemistry and concur with much of the above. Ideally, I think an undergrad degree in Chemistry from a place that doesn't shy away from the math side, followed by a graduate degree in engineering would be the best ticket. I enjoyed grad school, but the hours I spent monkeying aorund with microscopic IR laser diodes and changing the gases in my XeCl excimer really don't help me with much. In hindsight, a more practical course of study might have been good. Or better yet, I should have pursued a PE (Physical Education, not Professional engineer!) degree...woulda got me the same salary with half the work and half(?) the current grading. (I teach at a community college). Oh well, next time.

BTW...when I survey my General Chem students, it seems that less than a quarter want to be science/engineering. At least half want to "go to med school". Dunno what the others are doing there....miscellaneous life sciences maybe.

This is what I do to get the junior engineers - and myself - excited about what we do. It doesn't cost much and is quite productive.

By my desk I have a floor to ceiling white board and plenty of markers and erasers (never forget the eraser!). When we get to discussing, drawing, formulating, and summarizing by well know equations you can see the eyes light up. As a commercial, profit making industrial engineering firm, we get to delve into the first principle aspects more than most. This gets the juice going.

Then! Then, when you can summarize an otherwise obscure real world point due to your experience in 3 seconds with a flash of the marker, they are hooked. I've been know to add or subtract millions of dollars on a design by a simple, "excessive and nominal value", to "it's worth the money to prevent the 'boom' that could happen".

There you have it me hearties, spend $150 on white board, markers and erasers, put the damn thing in the middle and let it happen. If you are an engineer or scientist, that's why you get out of the bed in the morning whether you are 19 or 79.

This is what I do to get the junior engineers - and myself - excited about what we do. It doesn't cost much and is quite productive.

By my desk I have a floor to ceiling white board and plenty of markers and erasers (never forget the eraser!). When we get to discussing, drawing, formulating, and summarizing by well know equations you can see the eyes light up. As a commercial, profit making industrial engineering firm, we get to delve into the first principle aspects more than most. This gets the juice going.

Then! Then, when you can summarize an otherwise obscure real world point due to your experience in 3 seconds with a flash of the marker, they are hooked. I've been know to add or subtract millions of dollars on a design by a simple, "excessive and nominal value", to "it's worth the money to prevent the 'boom' that could happen".

There you have it me hearties, spend $150 on white board, markers and erasers, put the damn thing in the middle and let it happen. If you are an engineer or scientist, that's why you get out of the bed in the morning whether you are 19 or 79.

It sound nice but I am not clear what level you want to teach this at. If it is at the high school level my personal experience inclines me to doubt you will find more than a few teachers qualified to theacch this kind of material.

The idea is to teach energy in all grades from 1 to 12. If we all agree that the next quarter century will be structured around energy supplies, we need a generation that is energy literate. I've been reluctant to propose course outlines because it is not my strong suit. However, without course outline examples, I now see how tough it is to pass on the concept. I'll work on some examples over the next few days.

In the mean time, think of the energy courses as being similar to math and science courses that build on the previous years courses. By definition, energy is a wide ranging subject which intertwines with math, science, political science, and history. Certainly, we can weave some energy education into the existing courses. But I think this is a mistake. The consequences we face are too dire. Energy education can't be an add on. It has to be a primary course.

Critical energy decisions need to be made at the personal, family, community, state, national, and international level. The number of these decisions, their urgency, and complexity will rapidly increase each year. Like many of you, I fear war and famine may be inevitable. We don't have the luxury of time, and we certainly can't make it up as we go.

I want to see an entire generation that is prepared to contribute to our energy future because, by the 12th grade, they understand what the aggregate of TOD readers and contributors do. I don't mean they have the equivalent of a college degree or better. They have enough education to actively participate in shaping our energy future because they understand, really understand, what needs to be done.

It should also discuss some of the basics of the formation and production of the fossil fuels. In some of my classes I use video from the Burke's Connections Series and Bronowski's Ascent of Man series to give some background. There are also some old NCB videos - such as "Nine Centuries of Coal"."

My job is science education at a university. Part of my work is getting teachers to teach science that makes sense to their students. There are already a lot of "externally generated special interest course materials" out there, clamoring for teachers' attention. Getting these used takes a substantial push, so the ones we hear about are funded by some organization, such as The Soybean Council, the National Wildlife Federation, and so on. Do you suppose we could get funding from an oil company to support an energy education curriculum? Hint: there already is one, supported by either oil or coal interests, and it does a great job of selling the party line.

An energy curriculum such as the one X is thinking about would likely be perceived as counter-mainstream if it were to go against established "wisdom". It would be a tough sell. Parents in the midwest would complain to the principal that "your teacher is trying to tell my daughter that ethanol is bad!" Here in the midwest, ethanol from corn is a sacred cow.

Schooling is primarily a mechanism for replication of the dominant culture. Any attempt to insert a change is met with strong opposition from entrenched interests. It has reluctance to change built in. For example, I've been working for years to teach science teachers (1) a basic understanding of fundamental physics principles and (2) how to teach science for understanding in their own classrooms. Most teachers don't understand the science they are teaching very well (if at all) so of course most of them fall back on attempting to transmit a series of facts, which doesn't serve most students very well (or worse, it convinces the students that science is a collection of discrete, inscrutable facts). But getting teachers to make these changes is very difficult. Teachers, already burdened with more to think about than they can possibly handle, worry that they will not be seen as "teaching the right stuff" or they won't be able to "cover enough content". So very few change in the way that will make a difference, and those who do change face a lot of flack from their students, from parents, and often from their own administrations.

My point is, what you're proposing isn't easy. It's necessary for an informed population, but not easy.

Nevertheless, I have a similar dream of creating a set of course materials not just about energy but about systems thinking. Systems are particularly hard to think about. I'm talking about the bio-geo-economic system that Charlie Hall is promoting (which includes energy) or the psycho-politico-social system. People don't think about systems such as these and therefore they assume they don't exist. It would take years of gradual introduction before people would begin seeing the connections that ecologists or some sociologists see. And we need a population of people who recognize that certain things are intimately connected.

Does anyone here have any good references on systems in general? Or do you have any ideas about how to teach systems, or at least how to teach connectedness?

I too experienced a similar contrast. On Sept. 4th and 5th, I spent two days in Redmond Washington at the 'Beyond Oil: Transforming Transportation' conference which was held on the Microsoft campus. While the words 'peak' and 'oil' were only spoken in the same sentence once - by Andy Frank, the creator of the first gas-electric hybrid nearly 30 years ago - there was *some* discussion about rising oil prices and geopolitical turmoil. Mostly, however, the problem of peak oil was glazed over -- not seen as a problem, but as an opportunity to roll out new technologies and make boatloads of cash. And I must admit, many of the technologies were fantastic! Unfortunately none could be scaled up at a rate fast enough to keep up with rising demand and declining production of conventional oil.

Of course the ASPO conference, held a few weeks later, was rife with doom and gloom. Ahhh... equilibrium restored! From this contrast, I took away a simple and strong lesson: peak oil is going to affect different places and populations in uneven ways. It's not a stretch to conclude without any rigorous intellectual effort that the less advantaged groups - those already living on the economic margin and at threat of defaulting on home loans, etc. - will be the earliest and most seriously impacted. On the other hand, on the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum will be the first to get in on the fantastic alternatives which will be slowly rolled out over the next few years.

I believe that the case for Peak Oil has been made. It's not a theory, but an impending reality which we need to plan for intelligently. Intelligent planning requires rigorous impact analyses at local, regional, state, and national scales; but this research is not being conducted at the scale required.

My daughter will be getting her B.S. in chemistry next spring. I once asked if she was interested in getting a teacher's certificate since science teachers are in low supply. She had looked in to it and found all the extra classes needed to qualify to teach the simplest of scientific concepts to children would require 1 to 2 more years of college in order to get a job which pays less than one she will easily get with her B.S. Some how her B.S. is good enough for teaching college freshman but not good enough for teaching 4th graders.

We have endured decades of opposition to public schools by right wingers who believe creationism is scientifically valid. These people are willing to spend 4 or 5 times as much as is allotted to public school students by sending their children to private schools just so they won't have contact with blacks. With the overwhelming majority of children in this country being short changed in their education and with silly rules which block those with science degrees from teaching our children is it any wonder that so few enter science and engineering professions.

Even at the collegiate level there is lack of interest in the hard sciences on a financial level. A couple years ago her college received a million dollars from just one donor for a new surface for the football field yet couldn't find less than one tenth that for new lab equipment. If industry truly wants more engineers and scientists it will have to put its money where its mouth is and pay whatever it takes to educate them. This may mean full ride scholarships for many more science, math, and engineering majors at the collegiate level as well as more pay for science and math teachers at the grade school level.

A child's academic success is more dependent on their parents than the amount of money spent on their primary education. Private or public, rich or poor. It is true that there is a barrier to entry for teachers, but that has nothing to due with the crazy right wing. Its more of an effort by teachers to increase salary by artificially keeping the supply of qualified teachers down. Accountants do the same thing with their CPA process, etc.

I'm telling you the engineering factory schools are getting an unbelievable amount of money from industry and government. There is a huge gap between the top tier engineering schools and the rest of the schools. Science departments at colleges struggle for funding, top engineering programs struggle to find ways to use all the funding.

BTW peak oil is more of an economic theory than a science topic.

a theory....hmmmm.
I guess that depends ones definition of "peak oil". However, it is not "theory" that oil will (or has) peak(ed). It is only a question of when, and what the backside implications are.

If a resource is finite (oil is) and we extract it, we will eventually run out (or stop extracting for some other reason). Therefore, we will have a *rate* (volume/time) of zero as we embark on the extraction, and rate of zero when we conclude extracting. Somewhere between those zeroes there will be a maximum, aka a "peak". It's funny that this is something that I must have learned in precalculus 30 years ago, but it in the oil context it only sank in relatively recently. As I explain it to others, it has become painfully clear that this situation is not as intuitively obvious as it should be.

(Note, I've been playing around with projections for "percent extracted", taking the derivative and seeing how well it matches the Hubbert stuff. I'm not a statistician, but am puzzled why folks favor a symmetic curve (Gaussian). Might make ssense if your abcissa were "percent extracted", but doesn't make sense to me when it is simply time.)

But more importantly....yes, parents are probably the biggest factor. On the downside, we are killing ourselves by having non-math and science people teach kids in grades 8-12 those subjects. Blame the unions?


Well actually I teach it as part of engineering courses, and not as a theory.

Don't buy all the BS.
Big engineering with lots of engineers means big projects, which are a thing of the past.
We don't do it anymore.
India and China produce hundreds of engineers for every US graduate and there are plenty of H1-B green cards, automation and offshoring to keep US wages low.
Foreigners want to use their own engineers for their development.
Technology is international and the US has very few trade secrets.
Biggest growth in mining is environmental-reclaiming and remediation.
The number of graduates from all US mining schools ia around 100 per year which is probably about the number graduated from a single Chinese university.

Well, however you want to put it, predicting the future is a prediction. No one knows for sure how technological advances, economic conditions, or unforseeable events will affect the future. It doesn't bother me that the subject of peak oil isn't taught in a high school science class.

Maybe mining isn't doing so hot in the US but the American EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) firms completely dominate the worldwide infrastructure market.

A lot of those engineer degrees abroad are comparable to a technical school degree in the US.

Sorry if I gave the wrong impression - mining is booming in the US at the moment and the schools cannot produce enough qualified graduates fast enough. And as for finding students that wish to stay on for graduate school . . . . . . .

See the nuclear utilities have been saying that too and I just laugh at them. Why would a mechanical engineer work at a nuke plant in the middle of nowhere at $55k when they can work for an EPC firm or energy company and make 70-80k out of college and live in a decent city? Can't get engineers, then either jack up your salaries or move your company to a city that will attract a lot of talent. As commodity prices increase and the nuclear build begins engineering salaries will jump even further and I'm sure engineering enrollment will follow. I think kids are starting to realize that there are a lot of world problems and that as an engineer you can take a stab at fixing some of them.

As for the graduate engineering students, a masters degree now only takes about three semesters and for most students tuition, room and board, and some spending money is included. Not a bad deal.

The real tragedy in international comparisons lies in the ratio of lawyers to engineers/scientists. I don't have to tell you a joke or two for you to acknowledge the common knowledge.

O.k., this Engineer died and was at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter said, "I'm sorry, but the records show you are to go to Hell."

"Hmmm", said the Engineer, "I thought I led a good life and all, but if you say so."

A few days later in Hell the Engineer says to himself, "You know, I can make some improvements around here. Air conditioning and escalators between the levels would be a good start."

After the work is completed Satan looks around and thinks, "I like having Engineers around. Air conditioning and escalators, that's kind of nice."

Just then, God gets on the inter-after-life telephone and calls Satan. "Hey Satan, I understand you have an Engineer down there."

"That's right", replies Satan.

"Well, ol' Beelzebub, you know Engineers are supposed to go to heaven."

"That may be so.", responds Satan, "But you know, I like having Engineers here. We've got escalators and air conditioning. I think I'm going to keep him."

"Now look here Satan!", barks an angry God. "If you don't return the Engineer right now I'm going to have to sue you in the Universal Court!"

"Oh ya?", laughs Satan. "And where are you going to find a lawyer?"

For methane-contaminated mine ventilation air, rather than worrying about extracting the methane, why don't they just recover ALL ventilation air and use it for combustion air for a methane-fueled generator?

Sure, the ventilation air would have some varying fraction of extra CO2 (from people and machines using O2) and less 02, and some amount of methane, but a decent exhaust O2/CO2 analysis should allow closed-loop control of the process. It would almost have to be easier than drilling a lot of extra wells to get at the gas prior to mining.

ya know....that makes a lot of sense....exhaust gas recirculation? Maybe they already do that?


The concentration has to be below 1% for it to be acceptable in a mine and (having in my time tested for gas by looking at the additional height it gave to a safety lamp flame) this is not enough to do much good. You get some idea of the relative amounts ( - methane 281 cu m/min, ventilation air volume 68,493 cu m/ min.) at this methane recovery operation. (pdf)

And we are worried about carbon dioxide and monoxide collecting underground, since these gases too can pool and kill people.

It actually is, generally, a lot easier to drill and degasify ahead of mining.

What a great string of posts this has been! How I have enjoyed listen to a smart discussion about how we can develop training for our young generation regarding the world energy future! This is a useful and productive line of thinking, not the normal "defeatism" one often hears, and opens up(as we have seen in the posts above) fascinating discussions concerning technology, transportation, financing of engineering development, the poltics of energy, ecology, realistic statistical measurement of how energy is used and how potential alternatives can fit in, the aesthetics of energy both current and possbile future, "elegant design" solutions...the list could go on and on.

I have long been interested in teaching a junior high and high school energy class in much the same fashion as the "craftsman" style architects were education at the turn of the 20th century: The architect started out studying the first structures and materials of humankind, being straw, textiles, mud, stone and even ice (as in igloos in the Inuit northern regions, and work forward to methods involving wood, advances use of stone and brick, and then steel,aluminum and other advanced metals, glass,advanced textiles and even plastics and carbon fiber in construction. In other words, the student studied every path humans had studied and used up to this point in history in building structures for human use.

Imagine a similiar course in energy, starting with human power, animal power, the history of windmills and sailing ships, then the combustion methods of burning wood, peat, coal, oil, natural gas, and right into the modern use of nuclear and modern solar and wind systems, biofuels and finally modern nuclear fusion theories and the difficulties involved. Also considered should be tidal energy, geothermal, and other potential cutting edge ideas, with a complete discussion of costs, current technology, needed breakthroughs, EROEI calculations, etc. The student, whether they were entering the banking and investment area, politics, or engineering, science or product design would then have a basic understanding of energy, and would be able to weigh various potential solutions and options with greater objectivity and an understanding of what was potentially realistic as opposed to what options were nothing more than propaganda.

Anyway, thanks again everyone for a really excellent discussion, the kind of discussion that doesn't occur often enough, but when it does it keeps me coming back to TOD. :-)


I too am of the opinion that ‘energy’ should be taught as a specific topic, and not be an add-on or off-shoot from elsewhere, or for that matter, a specialized choice later, or an option that can be chosen, like language A rather than B.

One of the reasons is: children aged 5-13 (one should start at the primary level) live in a world that takes energy for granted. To them, in the western world, cars for ex. are objects that are as ‘natural’ as trees and rocks. Electric light is a given, more reliable than sunlight (it might rain!); the insides of houses are comfortable, etc. The adults around them behave as if all this was not even a topic for discussion, a kind of right or perpetual landscape, backdrop, in which humans bumble about their business.

So, teaching ‘energy’ is in fact, firstly, edging children to a new and different world view - one that is different from that held by most of the ppl who have power over them, which includes Gvmts. and Educational authorities. So it is a very tall order... impossible to effect easily. Ppl - parents - don’t take kindly to anything that smacks of either change or propaganda or that differs from their world view (see the teaching of creationism in the US for ex.) Education is highly conservative, always, with a kind of exception for the Natural Sciences (and abstracts like math, at the higher levels) which are seen as possessing a quality of ‘fundamental truth’, utility of some kind (technology) and little intrinsic danger (the danger coming from human folly and not the scientific truth, e.g. atom bomb.)

Energy, however, is a topic not only scientific, or economic, as someone said above, but socio-political. In fact, beyond how sailing ships work, or the EROEI of bio-fuels, it is highly inflammatory (sic). A good portion of Americans are Republicans and the popular figure of the day seems to think that drilling in Alaska and bombing abroad will achieve ‘energy independence.’

Skirting part of what are the fundamentals renders the educational effort somewhat empty, a kind of paste-on of knowledge hanging in the air, with few applications in real life beyond the politically correct such as the present green wave craze evident in college brochures, furniture magazines, or French supermarkets - bio labels and last week the complete disappearance of plastic and paper bags, as well as an extra tax on all picnic materials. (Of course there are some exceptions, I'm being very general.)

I don’t mean to be discouraging in any way, simply this dimension has to be taken into account.

Has the date and place been set for ASPO-USA 2009?
would like to put on my calendar.


I would go one step further and include a solid grounding in all earth natural resources. Much of the US population, not just the children, is so far removed from these sources they cannot see the connections. For years I was a volunteer in the Houston public school system. I focused on 10 yo's with a basic "What is this made from?" show and tell. A portion was based upon energy sources but also included very common items they encounter daily. As an example all (including most teachers) were amazed to find out that sheet rock, the common component of their home walls) was made from rock. All the more amazing since it's called sheet "rock".

At the end of the presentation they realized that virtually everything around them that didn't come from a plant or animal began as a rock in the ground somewhere. Truly shocking to most. The goal of the effort wasn’t to turn them into junior geologist but just plant a seed of awareness.

Thanks to all who expanded on my thoughts of energy education. We agree energy education in some form is desirable. We also agree it will take a gigantic effort and a powerful ally to oppose the efforts of politicians and special interests to stop or modify energy education to serve their agendas.

Can our governments, with the assistance of knowledgeable energy experts and energy organizations, legislate appropriate energy policy in the next quarter century? If we look back in time, there is a history of failures by governments to act decisively. We have seen that energy data and selfless, hardworking experts who explain that data have not been effective in getting new legislation passed. The data is not the problem, nor is the expertise and dedication of the experts.

To convince governments to pass critical energy legislation requires additional tools. Deciding what these new tools should be and implementing their use is just as important as energy data and energy experts. The thought of my last words before starving to death being "we were right" somehow lacks satisfaction.

Let's step way back and look at our energy future with candor. I see challenges so enormous, and current efforts to pass needed legislation so ineffective, my conclusion is solving our energy problems requires the equivalent effort of putting a man on the moon. The alternative could be energy wars killing hundreds of thousands and famine killing hundreds of millions.

That's why I proposed energy education in our schools. We need tools on this scale if we are to convince governments to make correct energy decisions.

Perhaps someone or some organization with the required resources will champion energy education in our schools. But, just as important is investigating other tools on the scale of energy education. Pushing harder against the wall of government to get them to do their job won't work. We need to use new tools to go around the wall and meet them face to face.