The False Panacea of Energy Independence

 

Politicians, commentators, and some fellow Richochetti often mention “energy independence” as a solution to the conundrum of Middle Eastern politics. Dealing with the complex mess of that region is a thankless and dirty job, and we’ve been stuck doing it because of the importance of Persian Gulf oil to the world economy. I raised this issue last night in a comment to a post by Claire Berlinski, and it seemed to me that it warranted further discussion.shutterstock_78597688

The United States is not involved in the Middle East because we import oil from the Middle East. Rather, events in the Middle East can have a major impact on the worldwide price of oil. This would be true even if the US doubled its oil production and became a net exporter, as the Middle East would continue to produce a large proportion of the world’s oil. Simply put, American “energy independence” will not change the political importance of the Middle East, nor will it insulate the US from oil price shocks resulting from events in the Middle East.

This is true because a large percentage of the most easily-accessible oil is located in the Middle East. This is a matter of geography, and is not something that we can change (assuming conquest of the oil fields is off the table). In fact, I would not be surprised if falling oil prices increase the proportion of oil produced in the Middle East, as I suspect that the more marginal wells (which tend to shut down when prices drop) are located elsewhere.

The figures for 2014 are as follows: US field production of crude oil & petroleum products was about 12 million barrels/day. Total imports were about 9 million barrels/day, but net imports were much lower at about 5 million barrels/day. About half of those net imports (2.6 million barrels/day) were from Canada. Less than 2 million barrels/day were from the Persian Gulf area. Thus, supply from the Persian Gulf accounted for about 12% of US consumption.

Worldwide, the Middle East accounted for about 30% of global supply (27.5 million of about 91 million barrels/day, using 2013 figures).

I see no reason to believe that increased US oil production — on any reasonably foreseeable scale — would make Middle Eastern oil less important to the global economy. The same holds for any reasonably foreseeable decrease in US consumption, whether due to lifestyle changes (e.g. driving less), use of alternative energy sources, or use of more efficient cars.

From the figures above, note that the US consumes about 21% of the world’s oil supply (about 19 million of 91 million barrels/day). Even draconian reductions in US oil use would have a relatively small effect on the global market.

In considering this issue, it is critical to understand that there is a global free market in oil, which makes questions of import/export rates largely unimportant. For non-economists, this reality may be difficult to grasp. As a simpler example, consider the global wheat market. A drought in, say, Ukraine would reduce world supply, making it a little harder for everyone to meet their demand. This drives up prices everywhere even in places like the United States that are net exporters of wheat. Supply disruptions in the Middle East have the same effect on the global price of oil.

This price effect, incidentally, is not a failure of the market. Rather, it is the defining feature of the market. When supply decreases due to an outside event, prices increase so that the quantity demanded is reduced by the same amount, bringing the market back into balance. In the absence of such market adjustments through government price controls, the result is either a shortage due to a price ceiling (think of the 1970s gas lines when price controls were imposed, or New York housing shortages after rent control) or oversupply due to a price floor (think of the government warehousing cheese in order to prop up the price of milk).

In short, there is little or nothing that we can do by changing US domestic policy, regarding either oil production or consumption, that will solve the problem of the Middle East and its disproportionate effect on the global oil market.

There are 40 comments.

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  1. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    This is a good attempt, but incorrect.

    Fracking will make most countries in the world capable of meeting their own energy needs, at costs ranging from $30 to $60 per barrel, putting an effective long-term lid on prices of $50 to $60 per barrel.

    If US domestic policy incentivizes or otherwise speeds the spread of fracking knowhow to all the places in the world with massive trackable reserves, then the Middle East becomes accordingly less important.

    Indeed, as local oil and gas supply grows, the seaborne trade will drop.

    Here is a US Government map of frackable reserves:

    frackablereserves

    Yup. Just about everywhere.

    • #1
  2. AUMom Member
    AUMom
    @AUMom

    I am not sure how old you were when OPEC decided to cut production to raise gas prices. Gas lines, alternate days of purchase, anything made with petroleum (which are many) went sky high. Those funds allowed the Saudis to continue their domination as well as Qadafi.

    When we are energy independent, that cannot happen again. It will also help Europe get out from under the domination of Russia’s oil. That’s another gift.

    • #2
  3. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Some of your arguments are correct, and some are not.  An admirable romp.

    If the US produced all of the world’s oil, and global use went unchanged (not static per se, just not theoretically different from now) , price increases would be a net benefit to us.  Increased prices would be money paid internally, and exported oil would be more profitable.  Allow that under these conditions, individual pain at the pump is offset in the aggregate by employment.  Under this scenario further, if the US consumed none of the world’s oil, an increase in price wold be unalloyed profit to a first approximation, and still predominantly profit after factoring in increased production internal cost (even if only approximated by internal chargebacks), once again offset by aggregate benefits.

    So increased US production benefits the US, and decreased US consumption benefits the US.

    As it is, every percentage point of current (well, contemporary) production from overseas represents money flowing out of our hands.  In order to make this stop hurting, we have to expand scope sufficiently that every transaction everywhere is aggregated, which eludes the point of analysis.

    • #3
  4. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @KermitHoffpauir

    Different crude oil sources are for different refinery configurations and product slates.

    Crude oil is not a monolithic feedstock just as there is no such thing as a generic crude oil cookie cutter refinery other than skidded tinker toy refineries used in the wild to extract a single product or two out of a crude oil stream.

    Once you get those FACTS cemented into your mind you will find that we no longer live in 1899.

    • #4
  5. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    I was going to respond, but the three comments above me have hit my three main points.  To summarize

    1) Fracking technology will allow the entire world to be less dependent on middle eastern oil

    2) The U.S. is no longer vulnerable to an oil embargo imposed on us by OPEC

    3) The U.S. increasing the percentage of global oil it produces is obviously beneficial to the U.S., even if the gobal effects aren’t all that impressive.

    You’re also looking at the 2014 figures as if they are the baseline from which there will be little potential for improvement, where as your baseline really should go back quite a few years to see the overall effect fracking has already had.

    • #5
  6. Ricochet Moderator
    Ricochet
    @OldBathos

    I always assumed that “energy independence” simply meant not having to depend on the worst regimes on the planet to meet our energy needs. Nobody would mind being “dependent” on Canada or Norway.

    A free and healthy global energy market is good for everybody except the aforementioned worst regimes on the planet.  We don’t need “independence” in the sense of Ghandi-like stupidity where each family is expected to make its own clothes and mine its own energy supplies such there is no market for the presumptive bad guys to dominate.

    We need need independence in the sense one can independently select from a range of restaurants or prepare dinner oneself–no option is precluded, no costs are artificially or unfairly imposed. the best option is the one freely chosen in the moment.

    • #6
  7. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @KermitHoffpauir

    Frank Soto:I was going to respond, but the three comments above me have hit my three main points. To summarize

    1) Fracking technology will allow the entire world to be less dependent on middle eastern oil

    2) The U.S. is no longer vulnerable to an oil embargo imposed on us by OPEC

    3) The U.S. increasing the percentage of global oil it produces is obviously beneficial to the U.S., even if the gobal effects aren’t all that impressive.

    You’re also looking at the 2014 figures as if they are the baseline from which there will be little potential for improvement, where as your baseline really should go back quite a few years to see the overall effect fracking has already had.

    What kind of crude oil do you need?  Does it need to be high in paraffins?  Does it need to be high in asphaltenes?  Does it need to be high in naphthas?  Does it need to be high in entrained gases?

    • #7
  8. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Kermit Hoffpauir:

    Frank Soto:I was going to respond, but the three comments above me have hit my three main points. To summarize

    1) Fracking technology will allow the entire world to be less dependent on middle eastern oil

    2) The U.S. is no longer vulnerable to an oil embargo imposed on us by OPEC

    3) The U.S. increasing the percentage of global oil it produces is obviously beneficial to the U.S., even if the gobal effects aren’t all that impressive.

    You’re also looking at the 2014 figures as if they are the baseline from which there will be little potential for improvement, where as your baseline really should go back quite a few years to see the overall effect fracking has already had.

    What kind of crude oil do you need? Does it need to be high in paraffins? Does it need to be high in asphaltenes? Does it need to be high in naphthas? Does it need to be high in entrained gases?

    This doesn’t address the primary points that anyone has made in this thread.  Can you explain the point you are trying to make?  It appears that you are saying that because none of us have bothered to get into the weeds on this issue, that our discussion is not useful.

    Can you supply us with a map that lays out different kinds of crude by location, showing how it has an effect on the discussion at hand?  Some other piece of evidence that shows how it has an effect on the discussion at hand?

    • #8
  9. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    I agree with many of the criticisms here, but I think AP is entirely right that “energy independence” — as commonly used — is a silly concept.

    What we want is a diverse, growing, global energy industry, where no one is beholden to the whims of a small set of supplier. “Independence” isn’t quite the right word or that.

    • #9
  10. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @KermitHoffpauir

    Old Bathos:I always assumed that “energy independence” simply meant not having to depend on the worst regimes on the planet to meet our energy needs. Nobody would mind being “dependent” on Canada or Norway.

    A free and healthy global energy market is good for everybody except the aforementioned worst regimes on the planet. We don’t need “independence” in the sense of Ghandi-like stupidity where each family is expected to make its own clothes and mine its own energy supplies such there is no market for the presumptive bad guys to dominate.

    We need need independence in the sense one can independently select from a range of restaurants or prepare dinner oneself–no option is precluded, no costs are artificially or unfairly imposed. the best option is the one freely chosen in the moment.

    Venezuela could use our condensate which is erroneously legally classified as crude oil by 1970’s legislation.  We could use their high asphaltene content crude oil with only a 5 day transit via ship.

    Canada can and does use our condensate and we get their oil via a several thousand miles of pipeline already coming to the Gulf Coast.

    • #10
  11. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    I think he’s saying that unless we need some ridiculously specific grade, then the source is meaningless.  Which would be silly.  The difference between buying and selling is what matters.

    • #11
  12. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    “Energy buffered”

    • #12
  13. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I agree with many of the criticisms here, but I think AP is entirely right that “energy independence” — as commonly used — is a silly concept.

    What we want is a diverse, growing, global energy industry, where no one is beholden to the whims of a small set of supplier. “Independence” isn’t quite the right word or that.

    Compared to what we have now, I’ll take it as shorthand for “far less dependent upon offshore conditions”.

    • #13
  14. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I agree with many of the criticisms here, but I think AP is entirely right that “energy independence” — as commonly used — is a silly concept.

    What we want is a diverse, growing, global energy industry, where no one is beholden to the whims of a small set of supplier. “Independence” isn’t quite the right word or that.

    Eh, in the context of the OPEC embargo virtually crippling the U.S. I think independence is an appropriate word.

    • #14
  15. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Ball Diamond Ball:I think he’s saying that unless we need some ridiculously specific grade, then the source is meaningless. Which would be silly. The difference between buying and selling is what matters.

    Yes. The technical differences between different feedstocks can be overcome with time. Predictability of supply enables those adjustments.

    • #15
  16. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @KermitHoffpauir

    Frank Soto:

    Kermit Hoffpauir:

    Frank Soto:I was going to respond, but the three comments above me have hit my three main points. To summarize

    1) Fracking technology will allow the entire world to be less dependent on middle eastern oil

    2) The U.S. is no longer vulnerable to an oil embargo imposed on us by OPEC

    3) The U.S. increasing the percentage of global oil it produces is obviously beneficial to the U.S., even if the gobal effects aren’t all that impressive.

    You’re also looking at the 2014 figures as if they are the baseline from which there will be little potential for improvement, where as your baseline really should go back quite a few years to see the overall effect fracking has already had.

    What kind of crude oil do you need? Does it need to be high in paraffins? Does it need to be high in asphaltenes? Does it need to be high in naphthas? Does it need to be high in entrained gases?

    This doesn’t address the primary points that anyone has made in this thread. Can you explain the point you are trying to make? It appears that you are saying that because none of us have bothered to get into the weeds on this issue, that our discussion is not useful.

    Can you supply us with a map that lays out different kinds of crude by location, showing how it has an effect on the discussion at hand? Some other piece of evidence that shows how it has an effect on the discussion at hand

    Frank Soto:

    Kermit Hoffpauir:

    Frank Soto:I was going to respond, but the three comments above me have hit my three main points. To summarize

    1) Fracking technology will allow the entire world to be less dependent on middle eastern oil

    2) The U.S. is no longer vulnerable to an oil embargo imposed on us by OPEC

    3) The U.S. increasing the percentage of global oil it produces is obviously beneficial to the U.S., even if the gobal effects aren’t all that impressive.

    You’re also looking at the 2014 figures as if they are the baseline from which there will be little potential for improvement, where as your baseline really should go back quite a few years to see the overall effect fracking has already had.

    What kind of crude oil do you need? Does it need to be high in paraffins? Does it need to be high in asphaltenes? Does it need to be high in naphthas? Does it need to be high in entrained gases?

    This doesn’t address the primary points that anyone has made in this thread. Can you explain the point you are trying to make? It appears that you are saying that because none of us have bothered to get into the weeds on this issue, that our discussion is not useful.

    Can you supply us with a map that lays out different kinds of crude by location, showing how it has an effect on the discussion at hand? Some other piece of evidence that shows how it has an effect on the discussion at hand?

    1.  We need and will import some Saudi crude oil for its high paraffin content with one of its products being a lube oil base stock.
    2.  We need high asphaltene crude oil for petroleum coke and it primarily comes from Canada, Venezuela, Ecuador and Columbia.  We do have a smidgeon of it in the U.S. in Railroad Valley, NV and the Monterey Basin (Los Angeles and Bakersfield CA)
    3.  Supposed (and legally because of 1970’s legislation) crude oil from some of the new U.S. fields really isn’t crude oil at all, but condensate which is more of a petrochemical feedstock.  Eagle Ford and Utica are prime examples of this misinformation.

    • #16
  17. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Frank Soto:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I agree with many of the criticisms here, but I think AP is entirely right that “energy independence” — as commonly used — is a silly concept.

    What we want is a diverse, growing, global energy industry, where no one is beholden to the whims of a small set of supplier. “Independence” isn’t quite the right word or that.

    Eh, in the context of the OPEC embargo virtually crippling the U.S. I think independence is an appropriate word.

    I think that’s more a matter of us not wanting to be dependent on a particular nation or region (especially, an unfriendly one with little else to offer) for our energy needs.

    I realize we’re rather parsing words, but my impression has been that most people — though not those on this thread — think energy independence means that the US produces all of its own oil, which is just silly.

    • #17
  18. Jager Coolidge
    Jager
    @Jager

    Kermit Hoffpauir:

    Frank Soto:I was going to respond, but the three comments above me have hit my three main points. To summarize

    1) Fracking technology will allow the entire world to be less dependent on middle eastern oil

    2) The U.S. is no longer vulnerable to an oil embargo imposed on us by OPEC

    3) The U.S. increasing the percentage of global oil it produces is obviously beneficial to the U.S., even if the gobal effects aren’t all that impressive.

    You’re also looking at the 2014 figures as if they are the baseline from which there will be little potential for improvement, where as your baseline really should go back quite a few years to see the overall effect fracking has already had.

    What kind of crude oil do you need? Does it need to be high in paraffins? Does it need to be high in asphaltenes? Does it need to be high in naphthas? Does it need to be high in entrained gases?

    Could you explain what the differences are, is there some use for crude that has to have high paraffins? If through using the supply in the world or embargo crude high in asphaltenes was no longer available, could we find a way to make crude low in asphaltenes serve the purpose?

    If there was a significant price benefit could companies change their  process to make use of a different kind of crude to get to the same or a similar end product?

    • #18
  19. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I prefer “energy security” to the term “energy independence.” What we seek is a stable supply that is controlled by me market rather than the whims of the mullahs. One of the benefits of our recent high prices is that it paid for technological innovation that ultimately brought the prices down and put control of the streams in more rational hands. I’ll take a supplier driven by greed over a supplier driven by greed + ideology any day. We can work with greed.

    • #19
  20. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @KermitHoffpauir

    Leaving now to go oversee loadout of equipment that I sold to Citgo refinery Lake Charles.

    • #20
  21. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    The King Prawn:I prefer “energy security” to the term “energy independence.” What we seek is a stable supply that is controlled by me market rather than the whims of the mullahs. One of the benefits of our recent high prices is that it paid for technological innovation that ultimately brought the prices down and put control of the streams in more rational hands. I’ll take a supplier driven by greed over a supplier driven by greed + ideology any day. We can work with greed.

    ^This. I could also get behind “Energy Liberty,” but this is just quibbling over branding.

    • #21
  22. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @KermitHoffpauir

    I’ll never forget meeting a trucker at Hobby Airport in Houston in the late 1980’s around Christmas.  He was flying home for the holidays.

    His sole truck route was hauling Florida oranges to California because they are sweeter than California’s and hauling California oranges to Florida because they are better looking.

    Consider oil trading and product trading to be kinda similar.

    • #22
  23. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Me, I’m an Energy Narfblarian.

    • #23
  24. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    “Energy security” is a better term than “energy independence”.

    The original post focuses on price.  True, oil is a global commodity whose price is set in international markets, but as other commenters have noted, it is supply that is of the greatest concern when it comes to energy security.

    • #24
  25. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    “His sole truck route was hauling Florida oranges to California because they are sweeter than California’s and hauling California oranges to Florida because they are better looking.”

    Did he also haul Florida and California women for the same reasons?

    Hey!  People!  It’s a joke!!

    I’ll be here all week.  Next week, at Giggles in West Nyack, New York.

    • #25
  26. Yeah...ok. Inactive
    Yeah...ok.
    @Yeahok

    Great, now everybody’s got oil. Not quite as great, now everybody’s got muslims.

    It may have been a better trade to leave all the oil extraction in the middle east as long as all the Charlie Hedo jihad stayed in the middle east as well.

    • #26
  27. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @ArizonaPatriot

    AUMom:I am not sure how old you were when OPEC decided to cut production to raise gas prices. Gas lines, alternate days of purchase, anything made with petroleum (which are many) went sky high. Those funds allowed the Saudis to continue their domination as well as Qadafi.

    When we are energy independent, that cannot happen again. It will also help Europe get out from under the domination of Russia’s oil. That’s another gift.

    The reason there were gas lines and alternate days of purchase is that there were price controls.  I explained this in my original post.

    • #27
  28. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @GrannyDude

    This is all very helpful (speaking as one whose response prompted AP’s!). Here’s a related question:

    The M.E. doesn’t really have much else that anyone wants besides oil. At the moment, one way and another, they haven’t needed much else. They certainly could get away with appalling behavior because we (a broad “we” not just U.S.) needed their oil badly enough to stay engaged. When we (again, broad “we”) can walk away, go to another restaurant where the waiter isn’t wearing a suicide vest,  or choose a florist that isn’t hiding mad bombers behind the counter, mightn’t they have an incentive to be a little less terrifying and volatile? Or not?

    Incidentally—you guys might know this—is it possible to turn plastics back into fuel? (That is, could we “mine” the great Pacific gyre?)

    • #28
  29. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Thanks for the feedback — and for my first promotion to the main feed — huzzah!  I have questions and comments about four notable themes in these responses.

    1.  Perhaps non-energy uses of oil (e.g. lubrication) invalidates my global analysis.

    While I understand that there are many non-energy uses of oil, including lubrication and use as raw materials for products ranging from plastics to fertilizer, my impression is that the overwhelming importance of oil to the global economy is as a source of energy, especially for transportation.  I remember oil price spikes from 1979 to the present, and my impression is that the overwhelming problem that these cause is “at the pump” — that is, an oil price spike causes very substantial increases in the cost of transportation.

    I’ve never noticed a substantial problem with the price of motor oil, automatic transmission fluid, or plastic items ranging from storage bins to Barbie dolls.  I understand that these effects exist, but it seems to me that the global economic implications resulting from oil price spikes is overwhelmingly caused by increases in transportation costs.

    For example, my wife and I probably use about 1,600 gallons of gasoline each year, compared to about 1 gallon of motor oil, and a fraction of a gallon of automatic transmission fluid.

    Metaphorically speaking, perhaps I am missing the forest for the trees.  But if the problem is a forest fire, the type of tree doesn’t really matter.

    Am I wrong about this?  If so, could someone give an example of, for example, a lubricant shortage causing major economic dislocation?

    2.  Perhaps oil is not really a “global market” but rather a number of independent sub-markets.

    I understand that there are many different varieties of crude oil, with different characteristics and somewhat different uses.  As discussed above, however, my impression is that the overwhelming use of oil is as a transportation fuel, and that substitution effects will tend to make the prices of the various types of crude oil move in unison.  For example, here is a graph of Brent vs. WTI crude oil prices:

    Brent vs WTI

    They certainly appear to move in unison, which tends to prove my point — that any major supply-related event worldwide will cause price increases pretty much across the board.  Am I wrong?  If so, please provide examples.

    By the way, I assume that the recent divergence in price between WTI and Brent is the result of substantially increased US supply provided by fracking technology, and that there is some time lag in adapting refineries to use this new (and perhaps somewhat unexpected) supply source.  This is consistent with the EIA report from which I obtained the graph, which stated that WTI prices have recovered “because the infrastructure limitations that had lowered WTI prices are lessening.”  The graph above only runs through mid-2013, and the WTI-Brent gap narrowed in 2014:

    WTI-Brent 2014

    3.  Perhaps “fracking” will solve this problem.

    I understand that “fracking” technology allows recovery of oil reserves not available with prior methods, though this method is more expensive.  My impression is that fracking was economically viable with crude prices in the $80-$100 range, which was the range in 2011-2014.

    Does anyone have any information about: (1) whether fracking will remain profitable with crude prices in the $50-60 range, and (2) if so, the time necessary for fracking technology to displace Middle East production?

    My impression is that fracking is largely responsible for driving crude prices down to their current low range, but that this lower price is going to inhibit future fracking development, so it is not likely to eliminate the importance of Middle Eastern supply.  Perhaps the Middle Eastern share of global supply will decline from the current 30% to something like 25%, but that will still leave the world price vulnerable to supply disruption in the Middle East.

    4.  I don’t think that focus on “energy security” changes my point.

    I guess this depends on what one means by “energy security.”  If our concern is a literal, physical interruption of oil supplies flowing to the US, then I don’t think that this has ever been a significant concern.  Except for a few choke points that have a relatively minor effect on the US (Hormuz, Malacca), we have excellent control over the sea lanes.

    My point is that, even if the US became essentially 100% self-reliant for its energy needs, the global price would continue to be effected by Middle Eastern disruptions.  Calling it “energy security” rather than “energy independence” does not change this fact.  Or am I missing something?

    • #29
  30. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Kate Braestrup:This is all very helpful (speaking as one whose response prompted AP’s!). Here’s a related question:

    The M.E. doesn’t really have much else that anyone wants besides oil. At the moment, one way and another, they haven’t needed much else. They certainly could get away with appalling behavior because we (a broad “we” not just U.S.) needed their oil badly enough to stay engaged. When we (again, broad “we”) can walk away, go to another restaurant where the waiter isn’t wearing a suicide vest, or choose a florist that isn’t hiding mad bombers behind the counter, mightn’t they have an incentive to be a little less terrifying and volatile? Or not?

    Incidentally—you guys might know this—is it possible to turn plastics back into fuel? (That is, could we “mine” the great Pacific gyre?)

    I can’t imagine that it would be efficient to mine the Pacific gyre.  The estimate that I looked up was about 5 kg of material per square km — or in terms Americans can understand, about 5 pounds per square mile.  Imagine the effort needed to filter a square mile of ocean, at the end of which you’d have just 5 pounds of plastic.

    Here’s a quick translation: 5 pounds of plastic is about 105 plastic water bottles.  That sounds like a lot, but spread out over a square mile, this means 1 water bottle per 6 acres.  How would you like to search 6 acres to find a single water bottle?

    • #30
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