What’s Current? Issue #9 – Anti-Nuke Zealots, Natural Gas Power, LA Basin’s Oil Reserves

As this week’s selection of articles describe, the conventional wisdom among California’s politicians and journalists is scarcity. Whether it’s oil that we could drill and refine in-state instead of importing, or natural gas power plants that could be upgraded to become world leaders in efficiency, or nuclear power which anyone serious about climate change ought to be urgently fighting for, instead there is an unrelenting fight to eliminate these solutions. For water, in a state where only a few million acre feet more are required to achieve abundance and resiliency, and could be found through diverse projects tapping sustainable sources, instead the solution is always more rationing.

Meanwhile, renewables remain problematic. We are realizing offshore wind is more expensive than originally promised. Biofuel plantations are decimating farms and forests around the world. Battery technologies still require appalling amounts of natural resources. Even photovoltaics are problematic, with concerns about impact and lifecycle costs, not to mention most of them come from China.

Californians must face reality. For starters, proponents of practical abundance — purveyors of oil, natural gas, nuclear power, and water — need to start supporting each other instead of trying to be the last one standing.

Large Volumes of Potentially Recoverable Petroleum in the City of Los Angeles

The premise of a corny old comedy TV show in the 1960s, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” was how a poor Dust Bowl farmer discovered crude oil on his land and, suddenly wealthy, moved to Beverly Hills. But who knew that Beverly Hills itself is sitting on oil? A lot of oil. 230 million barrels of oil are estimated to lie below these homes of the rich and famous, and in all, the LA Basin is home to over 1.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Why does this matter? Because nobody can extract oil more responsibly than Californians can, and as it is, we’re importing 1 million barrels a day from places with deplorable environmental and labor standards. Just the bunker fuel exhaust spewing into LA from offshore oil tankers is many times more polluting than emissions would be from modern, ultra-clean oil wells.

Whole-of-Government Approach to Prevent American Production

Of oil, that is. Black gold. In this brief but depressing summary from the Western Energy Alliance, the point is made that the industry is being overwhelmed. A relentless onslaught of new regulations from multiple state and federal agencies has made it impossible to effectively respond. Big producers move out of state or overseas, leaving small independent producers without the means to survive. The EPA, DOE, SEC, Dept. of Labor, DOT, NHTSA and BLM — just to name some of the main federal actors — have all declared war on oil production. Why? Californians consume 1.8 million barrels per day of oil, and produce less than 500,000 barrels per day. The rest is imported. It’s easy to proclaim the moral high ground, when $6.00 per gallon gas doesn’t affect your household budget. But it’s killing California’s most vulnerable communities. That’s supposed to matter.

Despite Climate Goals, California Will Let Three Gas Plants Keep Running

It would be interesting — and a welcome surprise — for someone at the Los Angeles Times to explore the potential to retrofit California’s natural gas fueled power plants to use advanced combined cycle designs, which can convert 80 percent or more of the embodied energy in the natural gas fuel into electricity. If every fossil fueled power plant in the world were retrofitted to this emerging technology, it might not achieve “net zero,” but the ratio of CO2 emissions to gigawatt-hours produced would drop by a factor of 4X. That’s a technology the world will buy. That would be an attractive example for California to export to other nations.

Anti-Nuclear Zealots are Still Fighting to Cripple California’s Grid

This opinion piece from a conservative source doesn’t hide its bias, but gets at least one pertinent fact right. Diablo Canyon provides 2.1 gigawatts of baseload electricity to the grid, which represents 10 percent of California’s in-state electricity generating capacity. The article links to a study by the Washington, DC-based “Environmental Working Group” claiming keeping Diablo Canyon open another 20 years will cost between $20 and $45 billion. But a 2021 study jointly published by Stanford and MIT concluded that keeping Diablo Canyon open for 20 more years would save $21 billion. With or without Diablo Canyon in the mix, nuclear power belongs in California’s energy future. We need to explore both the newest, safest emerging nuclear energy designs, as well as reform the regulatory morass that makes nuclear energy far more expensive.

State Water Board Hearing Oct. 4, 2023 “Making Conservation a Way of Life”

Public comments will be heard 10/04/23 regarding “A new framework for managing urban water use.” This is coming not from the State Legislature, but from appointees on the California State Water Board. The proposed regulations aim to reduce urban water use by “30-48 percent.” It would limit indoor water use to 42 gallons per person per day, and impose “water budgets” on outdoor watering. Notwithstanding the heat island impact and aesthetic blight caused by eliminating huge percentages of neighborhood landscaping (or the inconvenience and expense of mandating poorly designed and failure-prone appliances and fixtures that take efficiency to extremes), it is risky to squeeze every drop of surplus out of our urban water systems. In the event of a prolonged drought or civil disruption to portions of water supply infrastructure, having a system that over-delivers during normal times is a robust hedge against a disastrous reduction in water supply.