My favorite liberal magazine, The Rolling Stone, has an article titled Ethanol Scam: Ethanol Hurts the Environment And Is One of America’s Biggest Political Boondoggles. Nothing new there. You’ve read the same at Mover Mike, here, and here.
What caught my attention was the piece in the article in which several other technologies are included in the topic, Dumber Than Ethanol:
Liquid Coal – not only is the cost of one plant that produces 156,000 barrels of diesel per day, $7 Billion, but it would consume four barrels of water per barrel of diesel.
Tar Sands – about 1 Million barrels of oil per day are produced from tar sands, but recovering that oil consumes 5 barrels of water per barrel.
Oil Shale – a ton of shale is considered rich if squeezing it delivers 30 gallons of oil. It is so costly and polluting that we’ve spent over $10 Billion and get only .0001 percent of our energy needs from this source.
My emphasis on water is based on an article at Earth Policy Institute warning of water shortages. Consider, We are over pumping our aquifiers in each of the big three grain producersâ€”China, India, and the United States.
The U.S. embassy in Beijing reports that Chinese wheat farmers in some areas are now pumping from a depth of 300 meters, or nearly 1,000 feet. Pumping water from this far down raises pumping costs so high that farmers are often forced to abandon irrigation and return to less productive dryland farming. A World Bank study indicates that China is overpumping three river basins in the northâ€”the Hai, which flows through Beijing and Tianjin; the Yellow; and the Huai, the next river south of the Yellow. Since it takes 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain, the shortfall in the Hai basin of nearly 40 billion tons of water per year (1 ton equals 1 cubic meter) means that when the aquifer is depleted, the grain harvest will drop by 40 million tonsâ€”enough to feed 120 million Chinese.In India, water shortages are particularly serious simply because the margin between actual food consumption and survival is so precarious. In a survey of Indiaâ€™s water situation, Fred Pearce reported in New Scientist that the 21 million wells drilled are lowering water tables in most of the country. In North Gujarat, the water table is falling by 6 meters (20 feet) per year. In Tamil Nadu, a state with more than 62 million people in southern India, wells are going dry almost everywhere and falling water tables have dried up 95 percent of the wells owned by small farmers, reducing the irrigated area in the state by half over the last decade.
In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansasâ€”three leading grain-producing statesâ€”the underground water table has dropped by more than 30 meters (100 feet). As a result, wells have gone dry on thousands of farms in the southern Great Plains. Although this mining of underground water is taking a toll on U.S. grain production, irrigated land accounts for only one fifth of the U.S. grain harvest, compared with close to three fifths of the harvest in India and four fifths in China.
And it’s happening in Pakistan, Baluchistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel, and Mexico.
The water shortage and the resulting food shortage may make the energy shortage seem like a zit an elephant’s ass.