Book Review: Crude World

Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil by Peter Maass

Introduction

It succors and drowns human life. And for the last eight years, oil — and the people and places that make it — was my obsession. – Peter Maass

Today a new book by Peter Maass was released. The book is called Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil. Peter Maass is a name you may know from a 2005 article that he wrote for the New York Times called The Breaking Point. The story was a comprehensive look at where he thought oil production/prices were headed – and what the implications might be. Maass focused on Saudi Arabia in the article, and spent a lot of time covering Matt Simmons’ viewpoints. It was after reading this story that New York Times columnist John Tierney offered to bet Simmons on the future direction of oil prices. Thus arose the Simmons-Tierney bet.

I thought Maass’ 2005 article was well-researched, and it was a captivating read. So when Mr. Maass e-mailed and asked if I would like a copy of his new book, I thought it would probably be a book I would enjoy. I still have a stack of books that have been sent to me to review, but I jumped this one to the front of the queue. I hadn’t really intended to, as I am working on two other books right now*, and would normally finish those before starting another. But once I picked this book up and started thumbing through it, I couldn’t put it down.

The subtitle of the book is The Violent Twilight of Oil. The book talks about the twilight of oil, but as the chapter titles imply the focus is less on the twilight and more on the seedy side of the business. The book notes that there are some countries like Norway, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Brunei to which oil appears to have generally benefited the population as a whole. But then there are also many cases in which the discovery of oil seems to have brought many problems to the population. (The book suggests that countries with established democracies and strong self identities are less likely to suffer following the discovery of oil).

The Chapters

The chapters read like the Seven Deadly Sins: “Plunder”, “Rot”, “Fear”, “Greed”, and “Desire” are a few of the ‘sins’ covered in various chapters. Within each chapter, Maass then takes a look at an example that embodies that particular “sin.” That sort of style reminded me of a really good book I read a few years ago written by Matt Ridley. It was called Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. Each chapter of that book tells the tale of one gene from each chromosome. In Crude World, Peter Maass tells the story of oil one dysfunctional example at a time.

The book picked up where the New York Times story left off. In fact, Chapter 1 – Scarcity – was mostly about Saudi Arabia and incorporates much of that 2005 story. And if you liked his New York Times story, you will probably enjoy the book as the same style is evident. But I use the word “enjoy” loosely, as it is a sober read. You will find yourself shaking your head at some of the things that have been carried out as a result of the world’s desire for oil.

In Chapter 2 – Plunder – the book covers the case of Equatorial Guinea. The oil wealth was plundered, with the help of international oil companies, banks that looked the other way as government officials brought suitcases of money in for deposit, and governments eager for access to the resource. While he was investigating the oil story in Equatorial Guinea, Maass was accused of being a spy and kicked out of the country.

Chapter 3 – Rot – was all about Nigeria. I won’t tell you how that one turns out, but I am amazed at the (dangerous) lengths Maass went to for the story. Rot describes his journey deep into the Niger Delta in a leaky canoe, courtesy of one of the local warlords. It is well known in the oil industry that Nigeria is a dangerous place to operate. Oil companies generally pay very big premiums to get workers to agree to an assignment in Nigeria. Oil workers are kidnapped in Nigeria regularly (but rarely harmed) and held for ransom from the oil companies operating there. Warlords are constantly doing battle there, and Maass described his visit to one village that had been attacked. Shell also featured prominently in this chapter.

Chapter 4 – Contamination – tells the story of Ecuador, with special focus on the Chevron lawsuit. Maass notes the irony that California – one of the most environmentally conscious states – receives the largest portion of Ecuador’s exports.

The rest of the book’s ten chapters covers a litany of oil-induced miseries. Iraq, Russia, and Venezuela are all profiled. Former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond is presented as the face of “Greed” (albeit it in the “Fear” chapter). There is an interesting explanation in “Greed” on why companies function as they do. Maass discusses a court case between Henry Ford and the Dodge brothers, in which the court ruled that a company’s mission “is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of its shareholders.” Thus, Maass argues that if Mr. Raymond had decided to run ExxonMobil in a more altruistic manner, the board would have removed him for not operating in the best interests of the shareholders.

The complaint that some will have about the book is that it isn’t balanced. There are a number of villains portrayed, but the oil companies really stand out. It seems that those who are telling the tales of misdeeds are generally trusted in the book, but those who are interviewed for balance are treated with suspicion. For instance, in the chapter on Nigeria, the author interviewed the director of Shell’s operations in Nigeria. The interview appears to proceed like a cross-examination. A Nigerian warlord’s words, on the other hand, seem to be taken mostly at face value.

But this is not intended to be a balanced book. It is a book designed to highlight the downside of our oil dependence. We can all think about ways in which oil has made our life better, but in the Western world we are generally spared from the nasty side of the business. In this book, Maass brings that message home loud and clear.

Conclusion

Crude World was released today, September 22, 2009. The general theme of the book is that the world’s dependence on oil has come at a very high price. This is not a book on peak oil, climate change, or renewable energy. It is not a technical book on the oil industry (for that see Morgan Downey’s Oil 101). The book covers the misery – the wars, the corruption, and the ruined lives – brought about primarily by greed from the lure of black gold. The book highlights the irony that oil could be used to improve the lives of a country’s citizens, but in far too many cases a country’s citizens end up being worse off after oil is discovered. The book was a fascinating read, and I couldn’t put it down once I started it. Now I can get back to my regularly scheduled reading.

Footnote

* The other books I am working on right now are Axis by Robert Charles Wilson and Outsourcing Energy Management by Steven Fawkes. The former is a science fiction book that I picked up because I really enjoyed Wilson’s previous book Spin. The latter has been a difficult read; I have been working on the book for six months. I met the author earlier in the year when he visited the Titan Wood plant in the Netherlands. We had quite a lot in common, and he sent me a copy of his book. But it is really a textbook, and so I have been reading it in small doses.

55 thoughts on “Book Review: Crude World”

  1. Norway is the model. They've been socking away oil revenues in a pension fund since the early 90's. It's got $400 billion in assets today,roughly $100,000 per resident.

  2. Rufus is the model.

    He bought a flexfuel car this year, and will be capable of producing his own hydrous ethanol by the summer of 2010.

    He's looking at "Kudzu."

  3. It might come as a surprise to some, but I have no animus toward the oil companies. In fact, I have great respect for what they've done for our country, and the world.

    I do recognize that they are in business to promote their own interests, and that those interests don't always, at present, coincide with my own.

    They have been very strong opponents of ethanol. Well, D'UH.

    I would vote to fire the CEO of a Major Oil Company that wasn't a vociferous opponent of ethanol. An oil company CEO's job is to promote his own product, not a competing product. Enlightened self-interest tends to work very well, in the long run, for the advancement of the public good.

    However, some people take offense when I point out that this study, or that study, is performed by an organization that receives a lot of money from the petroleum industry. I don't know why. As enlightened consumers we need access, as much as possible, to the Back-Story of any "Information" we receive.

    The oil companies (and oil) are going to be with us for a very long time. Their Financial, and, thus, Political Power will continue to be enormous. That's just the way it is.

    There are going to be some "Good" political decisions made, and some absolutely "Horrible" decisions made in the short to medium term. I suggest everyone take steps to "protect his own."

    The next few years could be a "bitch."

  4. I haven't fully read your post but people may know Maas from Seprico . A book which the Al Pacino movie was made from as well as King of the Gypsy (about the Romany) which was a good book. As well as the Terrible Hours a book about a Submarine rescue off of Portsmouth NH (I think)

    Jim Takchess

  5. As one of those ex-pats they had to bribe to work Nigeria, I look forward to reading the book and see how the author treats IOCs working in corrupt countries.

    You have to ask yourself how the same IOCs operate in Norway, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, and other countries manage to do so without safety and environmental problems and corruption. If anything the IOCs moderate the excesses of the National Oil Companies. Or worse, the excesses of the Chinese or Russians.

  6. I agree with King's sentiments. I have to do business in Thailand, happily not that corrupt of a place. But when caught "speeding" one day, I had to cough up 50 baht for the traffic cop. Land transactions require mysterious fees. However, the Thai people are almost uniformly honest and productive, and affable. I heartily recommend the country to anyone.
    Trying to do business in Nigeria must require true grit. I do not blame oil companies for abiding by local governments. It's pretty easy to stand on the sidelines and criticize the players on the field.
    However, in days before ecological concerns became mainstream, I am sure many wrongs were perpetrated.

    Rufus: How are you going to make your own ethanol?

  7. Same way Grandpap did.

    Except, since I won't be drinking it, I won't have to be quite as good as he was.

    As I said, I'm looking at Kudzu.

    We've got zillions of acres of it, locally, and they'll pay you to cut it, and haul it away.

  8. Rufus:
    Okay, kudzu. Then what? What is the process? Do you need big tanks?
    I never brewed moonshine. I don't know the ropes.

  9. As I said, I'm looking at Kudzu. We've got zillions of acres of it, locally, and they'll pay you to cut it, and haul it away.

    And what is your expected EROEI on this kudzu process? Won't driving around, cutting, collecting,and hauling it home use nearly as much energy as you expect to produce?

    You say you will use the same technique your grandfather used (a moonshiner, no doubt). Did not most moonshiners need to augment their mash with large batches of sugar or molasses? I have heard that one way Internal Revenue found moonshiners was to track those who bought large amounts of sugar. Will your process require large amounts of sugar? And if so, what will that sugar do to your EROEI?

  10. Benny, I'll be checking with a couple of the enzyme companies. I don't know how small they'll go in quantity. I'll, also, be looking around to see if there's a "generic" enzyme I can use. I imagine a "few" 55 gal drums will be used.

    As for EROEI, who cares? I'm an old, retired fart who can use the exercise, and doesn't have a thing constructive to do.

    Sugar? no. I imagine that was mostly for taste. I won't be trying to drink this stuff. I'm "Crazy," but not "'tupid." (Well, at least, not That stupid.)

    🙂

  11. Can Kudzu be fermented?

    I was under the impression it was a woody type biomass crop/invasive species.

    ie. its mostly lignin and not starch, so you won't be able to malt it into sugars.

    Or is it similar to sugarcane?

    Andy

  12. Yeah, Andy, you got it right. It's a crappy, old vine that's almost impossible to kill.

    I think it's been "distilled" to a small extent by one, or two "hobbyists." I'll know more in a few months.

  13. I "Think" it was Mascoma that I was reading a few months, ago, that was going to start selling "enzymes" to smaller distillers. I don't know if they meant "My Size" small.

  14. To turn kudzu into ethyl alcohol you will need a cellulosic process, not the standard "ferment the sugars and distill it" process.

    Mr. Rufus, do you have ready on-hand a cellulosic-ethanol-in-your-garage process?

  15. G-d bless you and your efforts Rufus. I hope to hear of success.
    I plan to plant pongamia pinneta in Thailand, an oil-bearing tree. Make diesel by crushing the seeds.
    If you have land, this might work for you.
    I admire your need to be constructive. Have fun with it! If you can be paid to haul away kudzu, get exercise, and can make ethanol from it–screw the EROEI guys. You are having fun.

  16. Rufus-

    Usually, if you talk up a few people, in sales or tech, you can find someone to send you a small amount of whatever you need from a factory. If not, write a letter to the CEO personally, and plead for help. CC your local newspaper editor.
    Only a souless b-stard wouldn't help some retired guy convert kudzu to ethanol.

  17. The oil companies (and oil) are going to be with us for a very long time. Their Financial, and, thus, Political Power will continue to be enormous. That's just the way it is.
    RICH, especially coming from an ethanol supporter.

    He bought a flexfuel car this year, and will be capable of producing his own hydrous ethanol by the summer of 2010. He's looking at "Kudzu.".
    ROFLOL! Or: Dream on!

    Wake me up when you have a theoretical way (to set the bar very low) to convert kudzu into ethanol. Something that has been proven on the lab scale.

    Of course, if you wanted a proven solution you could build an anaerobic digester and convert that kudzu into biogas.

    Benny, I'll be checking with a couple of the enzyme companies.
    Don't be insulted if the started laughing hysterically.

    Remember, as RR pointed out recently, cellulosic ethanol was commercialized in the US in 1910. So ask yourself: Why does the process still need subsidies and mandates?

    Rufus is the model.
    Model of what? A raving mad ethanol supporter? Model of a person who believes only good stuff about ethanol, and bad stuff about oil?

    Please do expand, the entertainment is priceless…

  18. Thanks for your support, Benny. I just have to overcome this horrible, congenital disease.

    I think the medical/technical term is: Lazyasshit.

    heh, heh

  19. Hey Rufus, I am not in the "old fart" category yet, but certainly the pretty girls don't look my way anymore. And I can see the finish line into official old fart land.
    The destiny of us all, lucky enough to get that far.

  20. rufus wrote: They have been very strong opponents of ethanol. Well, D'UH.
    I would vote to fire the CEO of a Major Oil Company that wasn't a vociferous opponent of ethanol. An oil company CEO's job is to promote his own product, not a competing product.

    Why "D'UH"? Chevron bought all their geothermal assets and the CEO wasn't fired for that. As long as the area they branch out into is profitable, there's no reason for the shareholders to complain.

    Exxon-Mobil's CEO hasn't been fired for dabbling in algae biodiesel with Craig Venter. RR mentioned Petrobras and other oil companies making "green diesel". I don't think anyone got fired for that.

  21. Whatever happened to Chrysler's borax van? I liked the concept. Fuel cell runs on borax,which can be rejuvenated with NG. I couldn't picture how soupy borax could be made to absorb NG though. Still,borax and NG are dirt cheap. If people will pay $50 for a tank of gas,maybe they'd pay $50 to have an attendant switch out their fuel cell.

  22. And, in spite of owning six ethanol plants, Valero has still fought tooth, and nail to keep E85 out of Memphis.

    Valero realized they weren't going to be able to kill the mandates, so they bought a couple of ethanol refineries on the cheap. Big Deal.

    Exxon has been catching all kinds of the devil from the Rockefeller family for not being involved in "Green" projects so they spend a little money on Algae. Great.

    Now, this is what I don't understand. The world is the way it is. People Compete. Corporations Compete. I acknowledge this, and "I'm" Comical.

    I think I'd be "Comical" if I Didn't acknowledge so simple a fact of life.

    You win. Oil Companies love ethanol. Oil Companies have long wanted to give a significant portion of their market to ethanol. It has been the stuff of their dreams.

    All Better?

  23. Wendell, your link doesn't work, but I think I know the article.

    There are a lot of things that can be (and, are being) done with DDGS.

    A corn kernel is about 1/3 starch, 1/3 proteins, and nutrients, and about 1/3 CO2. Included in the "proteins, and nutrients" is about 3 to 5% Oil. Also, in there is the syrup which contains a goodly amount of glycerin.

    There's lots of stuff that can be done with the syrup, and esp. the glycerin. Corn Plus, and a couple of others, I think, puts the syrup through a fluidized-bed reactor, and produces about half the power for the process. Most just add the syrup to the DDGs (glycerin is decent cattle feed.)

    Others are looking at producing more ethanol with the glycerin.

    Of course those big honkin, wet-grind mills of ADM, and Cargil turn out everything from Corn Oil, to Corn Gluten Meal, to Lord knows what all.

  24. Are you sure you're an "Optimist?"
    Sure. I did point to an obvious non-pie-in-the-sky solution, didn't I? Another way would be to add a gasifier to your vehicle (gas or diesel).

    There is a HUGE difference between being an optimist and being addicted to alcohol (make it E85). Admittedly, the casual observer can sometimes confuse one state of mind for the other.

  25. Oil Companies love ethanol. Oil Companies have long wanted to give a significant portion of their market to ethanol. It has been the stuff of their dreams.
    More precisely: if ethanol was a real threat, Big Oil would own it already. Just think of all the positive press they'd get for investing local. The Dems and their protectionist union supporters would wet themselves at the mere thought…

    Or do you think Big Oil likes dealing with corrupt governments all over the world?

  26. Talk about a Flexfuel vehicle!

    BTW, Rufus, should you ever succeed in converting kudzu into ethanol, I suggest you bottle it under the label Rufus' Model Kudzu or such. You might even sponsor a meet and greet event for everybody posting here…

    Even as rubbing alcohol, it would be quite profitable (at least more profitable than driving on it), my local store sells "E70" for ~$9.50/gal…

  27. A question for Robert:

    When I was a kid, my city in the Midwest — as did many cities — had a gas works down by the railroad track where they made "town gas." (The "gas house" was usually in the less gentile, poorer part of town. Remember the old "Gas House Gang" from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1934? They got that name for the dirty uniforms they wore, and the scrappy, hard-nosed way they played.)

    Was that "town gas" the same thing as syngas?

  28. Yes!

    "town gas" aka “city gas” aka “producer gas” aka “super fund site”

    Thanks to electric lights the world changed. Some very good engineering was involved making city but they did not need environmental engineers or health safety specialists.

    Looks like fun but EBS is more logic changes without significant capacity changes. It would be interesting to model splitting EBS tanks by closing the cross connect valves. Live hard, die young; no worrying about poly aromatic hydrocarbons.

    What hazardous waste is a byproduct of renewable energy! Who da thunk that there are unintended consequences of innovation. Of course some times innovation is nothing more than forgetting the lessons of the past.

    Wendell, your are hereby nominated to the lofty position of garbage sorter at the waste to energy plant. You can tell your friends that you have a 'green' job.

  29. Want to know how to quickly eliminate ethanol subsidies?? All it would take is to have Big Oil buy up most of the existing production capacity. How long would you think it would take for the VEETC to disappear? But as Clee indicated, if Big Oil were to buy up ethanol capacity, it would mean that they are profitable (without subsidies). Subsidies are ok for all kinds of industries making huge profits, but not for Big Oil and their measly 6-7% returns. For a billion dollars, ExxonMobil could probably buy up the entire cellulosic sector, if they thought any of them might actually become profitable.

    People used to rag on the oil companies all the time for not investing in biofuels. Can you imagine how much grief they would have gotten if they had invested and were the dominant owners of ethanol capacity during the last several years? How many Congressional investigations would there have been to force them to divest?? They know they will always be criticized, will always be demonized (like the "Crude World" book does), and so they just concentrate on doing what they do best on behalf of their demanding shareholders. Shame, shame, shame.

  30. O/T: For anyone who follows Polywell Fusion … did you spot that it got $8m in funding this month? There is half a chance that by April 2011 we will know if Polywell Fusion is going to completely revolutionise global energy production! (Note: half a chance that we will * know * . That the answer will be "yes" is a much longer shot)

  31. OxyMaven,

    This a point I've often made. Do people really want Big Oil dominating the alternative energy scene? Imagine a future where energy is supplied not by a highly fragmented and geographically diverse extraction industry with widely shared technologies, but by a manufacturing or process industry dominated by a relatively small number of companies (perhaps with patents involved). What makes people think that will be better, in terms of cost and security? Do they think Exxon management will suddenly turn into a group of choir boys if it dominates the world's clean energy market? And why wouldn't people prefer that the real experts do the work rather than an outsider coming in and trying to reinvent the wheel?

    This has always seemed to me to be one of those empty slogans that take on a life of its own, that no one gives a second thought to. But certain pundits and celebrities think it sounds cool.

  32. "Or do you think Big Oil likes dealing with corrupt governments all over the world?"

    Isn't that the truth. Companies will go there for business, but they don't enjoy the experience. I know of one large company whose policy was to intentionally avoid such countries. I wonder if people who assume that oil companies love rolling in the mud know how hard it is to get staff to agree to a posting in Lagos?

  33. An oil company can be in on every step of the supply chain. Exploration,drilling,production,shipping,refining,wholesale and retail sales of gasoline,diesel,motor oils etc. They don't have to make money on every step of the chain.

    With ethanol,they can own the stills. But,if traders bid up the price of corn,they're screwed. I just can't see Exxon getting into farming in a big way. On the other hand,something like algae could probably be tightly controlled. Control the whole supply chain,and profits are virtually guaranteed.

  34. "An oil company can be in on every step of the supply chain."

    Could be…. be mostly aren't.

    I don't think any oil companies are in the oil field services or drilling businesses.

    Only 8-10 of the 13,800 or so oil producers are in the refining business.

    Only those 8-10 of the 54 US refiners are in the production business, and the largest refiner (Valero) has no upstream business.

    I think the pipeline companies tend to stick to that segment, although some producers have interests in pipelines (e.g. TAPS).

    US producers don't have much skin in the retail business at all.

    I suspect this complete value chain control is highly overrated, since nobody's really doing it in a big way.

    "With ethanol,they can own the stills."

    With oil, they can own the refineries. It doesn't mean they all rush to do so.

    "But,if traders bid up the price of corn,they're screwed."

    If traders bid up the price of oil, most of the refiners are screwed. Businesses in general don't like to see rising COGS.

  35. Nobody is going to hold Shell Oil hostage armchair. If oil prices are too low,they can put off much of the exploration and drilling. Oil companies may not own the drillers,but they do run things on the drilling rigs. Shell can make up for low oil prices if refined fuel prices are high enough….and the other way around.

    With ethanol,commodities traders can bankrupt half the industry in a years time. We know that,because it happened last year. Do you really think big oil wants to be held hostage by a handful of traders in a Chicago options pit?

  36. Imagine a future where energy is supplied not by a highly fragmented and geographically diverse extraction industry with widely shared technologies, but by a manufacturing or process industry dominated by a relatively small number of companies (perhaps with patents involved). What makes people think that will be better, in terms of cost and security?

    I don't think it would be any better, but it seems a bit inevitable with the way the economy currently works in general. It seems like most industries are dominated by some Big Three with smaller companies perhaps filling some niches. But occasionally a nimble upstart will overturn one of the stagnating giants, (the companies that compose the Dow and the S&P 500 do change periodically), so I don't see it as totally hopeless either.

  37. "so I don't see it as totally hopeless either."

    I agree. I just point out that there's no assurance that making Big Oil invest in alternatives, or even getting rid of Big Oil altogether, will make the world a happy place. It would probably be a cleaner place though, and I have no problem with that!

  38. But maury, why is it in traders' long term interest to hold buyers hostage, if that's even possible? Why do you want to drive prices so high that large customers can no longer buy? Even OPEC recognizes this.

    I don't think traders can simply snap their fingers and make prices high. Used tire traders could not convince me to pay $500 for a used tire. There has to be market support to make this happen. If traders can do this, maybe it's more accurate to say that the commodity was undervalued in the first place.

  39. Shell can make up for low oil prices if refined fuel prices are high enough….and the other way around.
    Oh yeah?

    Please explain how Shell is going to control refined fuel prices, in order for nobody to hold them hostage.

    What % of Shell's profits come from refining? I suspect it is a low number. Too low to bail them out.

    Your theory requires a leap of logic on par with the best conspiracy theories.

  40. I never claimed Shell could control refined fuel prices. The fact that Shell Oil is well diversified,and involved in every step of oil's supply chain is no "theory" requiring some leap of logic. Major oil companies can't be put out of business by traders in an options pit. Ethanol companies can. No conspiracy theory. Just the way it is.

    I take it you chose to call yourself Optimist as a touch of irony?

  41. The fact that Shell Oil is well diversified,and involved in every step of oil's supply chain is no "theory" requiring some leap of logic.
    Missing the point intentionally? Shell maybe involved in all sorts of business, but, like BP's involvement in solar panels, the diversification does not protect them from low oil prices.

    Your suggestion that low oil prices conveniently coincide with high prices for refined products, thus protecting Big Oil from market forces remains a ridiculous conspiracy theory. Regularly disproved by the quaterly profit statements from Big Oil.

    Major oil companies can't be put out of business by traders in an options pit.
    Maybe you didn't get the memo, but that is exactly what the blame-the-speculators crowd believes. If they took their believes to a logical conclusion that is.

    I take it you chose to call yourself Optimist as a touch of irony?
    Can't say I get it. Does doubting wild conspiracy theories about the evil Big Oil make one less optimistic?

  42. "Regularly disproved by the quarterly profit statements from Big Oil."

    The fact that very few producers (some of them quite large) have decided to enter the refining business also makes the idea doubtful.

  43. No, town gas is not the same as syngas, it is the result of destructively distilling coal and purifying out certain unwanted things like sulphur compounds and ammonia; it was a rich fuel but did not extract all the available energy (but the coke produced was one of several commercial byproducts). Syngas is a producer gas, loosely speaking, but more precisely it is "water gas" – what you get by reducing steam with coke, wood chips or similar, generally by providing outside heat (sometimes the heat is supplied by using a mixture of superheated steam and oxygen, so some heat goes in that way and some burning adds more); it is not as rich as it contains oxygen in carbon monoxide, but all the energy from the reducing fuel is captured (though there are inefficiencies in getting the heat to add). Traditional producer gas burned the same things but in a limited air supply so there was only partial combustion; it was diluted with atmospheric nitrogen etc. and generated heat, which needed cooling to use efficiently in internal combustion engines – but the process as a whole, though cheap and simple, lost a lot of energy as generated heat as well as producing a non-rich gas. Some systems worked part way between water gas and producer gas, either to get an intermediately rich gas with no net heat generation, or in a batch mode switching between generating each type of gas (using stored heat from one stage to drive the other).

  44. Thank you P.M. Lawrence.

    Apparently the gas houses that made town gas, were not very attractive things. From the pictures I've seen of the one in our town, it's easy to see why natural gas quickly displaced town gas in the 1950's.

    All I can recall of it is the big gasometer whose membrane would rise and fall as the volume of gas inside fluctuated. Gasometer

  45. Wendell Mercantile, the gasometers that I recall were like the one you linked to and did not have membranes. They were simply cylinders that could rise and fall over water traps as the gas volume within them varied. They buffered demand with supply from a batch generation process.

  46. I've enjoyed many of Ridley's books, including "Genome." Presently reading "The Red Queen." I was disappointed by his support of Lomborg's book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist." I wonder if that hurt his own book sales.

    I also read a lot of history and trust me, all of human history is one long, brutal, violent grab for other human beings resources. The obliteration of upwards of 90 million native North and South Americans at the hands of invading Europeans was for land and any resource found on it. The Bison were obliterated for their pelts and even their bones that were left scattered over the plains were later scavenged to make dye.

    Ditto for coal, gold, bauxite, biofuels, you name it. Oil is just one of the latest. History can help put things in perspective. A book covering all of that would be too heavy to lift.

    Biodiversivist

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