Saturday, January 29, 2011

High-Speed Rail and Peak Oil

5. Drastically reduces our oil addiction and lowers our risk from the coming oil peak crises.
In light of President Obama’s mention of high speed rail in his SOTU speech earlier this week, I thought I’d bring back my series on High Speed Rail.  Here is what Obama had to say about high speed rail in his SOTU speech:

“Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying – without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.”

Over the course of the last few months, I have made arguments against throwing all of our tax dollars into these projects. Click here to review my other posts. In this post I will argue against what has been called the “peak oil” crises or theory.

  --Would this be the oil peak crises predicted to occur in 1978? Or the oil peak crises predicted to occur in 2000? Or the one that is supposed to happen next year? While the dates are random, the hysteria surrounding the “oil peak crises” is not random.  Every time there is a spike in the oil prices, somebody comes along to say we have reached “peak oil” and the end is neigh.  Peak Oil production is a continuously moving and nearly impossible target to pin down. As more discoveries are made, technology is improved to extracted oil from fields previously diminished fields, shale and oil sands become cheaper to extract, and alternative energy production methods are developed, oil peak will move further to the right.
  --Should we make efforts to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels? Of course we should. But is building high-speed trains the answer? There are a lot of factors that will make or break this. The main factor is will people ride the dang thing? Is giving up freedom of the open road and the convenience of the automobile worth it to most people? As it stands right now, the answer is “NO”. Another huge factor is the generation of energy to power these high-speed trains.  I personally have not found one bit of data anywhere that tells me how much energy these things will use as compared to vehicles on the road. But I do know that a long freight train can move more goods and material more efficiently than trucks. So it does stand to reason that a passenger train probably have the same benefits. But it all goes back to the point I have made several times, ridership must be enough (removing enough cars from the road) to reduce the cost per energy unit used to less than the cars it has removed.

--What about building a natural gas-fired plant to power these high-speed railroads? The energy to run these systems will be tremendous, probably more than the current level of wind and solar technology could support (except for switch boxes and light systems). While natural gas would not be as clean as many of the greenies would like (25-35% less carbon output when burned), it would certainly be a great bridge energy producer until the supposed green technology is cheap to build and ready for prime-time. Natural gas is a very abundant resource, with trillions of cubic feet available in the US alone. There is already talk about natural gas being one of the alternatives to oil, so why not start with these projects? Build a gas fired plant to produce the electricity that would run the motive power. As an added bonus, the natural gas plant could sell off the excess to regional power companies, who would in turn sell it to the home and other industrial consumers.

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