Into the depths: Finding new energy
Posted on Wednesday, July 26, 2006 @ 23:42:22 GMT by vlad
Justice Litle /Wed 26 Jul, 2006
A fascinating piece in the latest MIT Technology Review - a US magazine focused on emerging technology and its implications - highlights the depths to which we now must go for energy – pun intended.
- The Discoverer Deep Seas is a ship that does not pump oil, but drills
for it, at a cost to Chevron of $250,000 per day to lease and another
$500,000 a day to operate. At 835 feet long, the Deep Seas is the
length of an 80- story skyscraper.
- Chock-full of machinery,
with its rusty sides and giant derrick amidships, it looks "like a
ghost tanker attempting to sneak off with the Eiffel Tower."
Visual aesthetics aside, this technological wonder has recently been
hard at work 140 miles off the Louisiana shoreline, drilling through
4,300 feet of water and 24,000 feet of seabed - more than five miles in
- Yet that is only a start. Bryant Urstadt, the article's
author, reports: "Chevron and Transocean have already worked out a
long-term lease on a yet larger ship, Discoverer Clear Leader, which is
to be delivered in 2009 and will cost Transocean some $650 million to
- Similar in many ways to Deep Seas, it will have a
larger drive unit at the top of the derrick, allowing it to drill in up
to 12,000 feet of water, boring as far as 40,000 feet below sea level.
Consider the incredible ingenuity and technology required to sail a
boat to an exact spot out in the deep ocean, to drill five to seven
miles down from the surface, to insert concentrically smaller rings of
pipe into the freshly drilled hole, to cap it off and then to deliver a
gigantic floating rig, built elsewhere and towed in, to extract the
- And consider that all this is done with routine operating costs running from millions to billions.
In discussions of the piece, my colleague Byron King wryly noted: "Just
think of all the work it takes to lift that oil, and then we burn it up
into smoke idling in traffic." It does seem mind-boggling.
- All that effort, and for what?
- Fortunately, you and I don't
have to justify how we use the petrol in our tanks; the free market
does that by setting a clearing price for what petrol and other crude
oil products are worth.
- The hotly debated environmental
costs, and how the country will cope when energy prices rise to
socially unacceptable levels, is another kettle of fish.
Sustainability questions aside, the depths to which we must go
illustrate how energy is getting harder and harder to find and extract.
The cheap stuff really is gone - except in certain parts of the Middle
East - and the technological ante is being upped significantly.
The total amount of organisation, co-ordination and capitalisation
required, already awe-inspiring, is only increasing in scale and scope.
- This is why the managers of well-run energy companies have
much longer time horizons than Wall Street. They understand the
challenges, and opportunities, still ahead...
for The Daily Reckoning
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