Thursday, January 06, 2011

To Complain About Limited Resources is Like a Trillionaire's Child Complaining About Allowance; The Case for Optimism from the Ocean Floor

Here's some new support for economist Julian Simon's optimistic view that resource scarcity wouldn't ever be a problem, even with a growing world population, because of the power of innovation, discovery, human ingenuity, entrepreneurship, substitutes, and technological progress to overcome any resource shortages:  the ocean floor might contain reserves of minerals vastly greater than those on land. 

"It's easy to be a pessimist in a world full of calamities. But for those worried about the continuing availability of natural resources, data from the ocean makes a good case for optimism, says economic geologist Lawrence Cathles.  

In a review paper published June 23 online in the journal Mineralium Deposita, Cathles, Cornell professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, writes that while land-based deposits may be a dwindling source of valuable minerals, deposits on the ocean floor could power humanity for centuries.

The minerals, including sulfur, copper, zinc, iron and precious metals, are contained in volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposits that form on the ocean floor where tectonic plates pull apart and allow magma (molten rock) to invade the Earth's 3.7-mile- (6 kilometer-) thick crust. The magma heats seawater to 662 degrees Fahrenheit (350 degrees Celsius) and moves it through the ocean crust via convection; and the seawater deposits the minerals where it discharges along the ridge axis.

"We are not resource limited on planet Earth. For a human on Earth to complain about resources is like a trillionaire's child complaining about his allowance or inheritance. It just doesn't have much credibility in my view," he said.  "I think there's real risk if we don't really carefully, and in a credible way, articulate that there are enough resources for everybody," he added. "We don't have to fight over these things."

HT: "Che is Dead"

32 Comments:

At 1/06/2011 5:08 PM, Blogger bix1951 said...

The robots will be down there at the bottom of the ocean working for us and I bet they find a lot of crude oil too.

 
At 1/06/2011 5:19 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Some say methane hydrates on the ocean floor will provide fossil fuel for another several hundred years.

But, in general, doomsters do not get the price signal. Working continuously, it reduces demand, brings forth alternatives, and spurs new production.

 
At 1/06/2011 5:19 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

Let me know when human ingenuity creates carbon out of nothing and burns it without affecting the atmosphere.

 
At 1/06/2011 8:19 PM, Blogger Jason said...

The issue is at what cost does this kind of exploration and production become profitable? I don't think we are even close to that point now.

 
At 1/06/2011 8:47 PM, Blogger Bloggin' Brewskie said...

One company big in this is Nautilus Minerals.

 
At 1/06/2011 9:33 PM, Blogger aorod said...

People have talked about this for years. Putting it into effect is like putting a man on the moon.

 
At 1/06/2011 10:31 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

Spinsters are not the only ones who don't get the price signal.

 
At 1/06/2011 11:14 PM, Blogger Panamint Joe said...

Hydra said at 1/06/2011 5:19 PM:
"Let me know when human ingenuity creates carbon out of nothing and burns it without affecting the atmosphere."

Hydra, you're barking up a dead mule's a##. Carbon isn't an issue and has never been an issue.

 
At 1/06/2011 11:26 PM, Blogger Panamint Joe said...

Another abundant resource that's been ignored is thorium to power nuclear reactors. Most of the research on thorium reactors was completed by the end of the 1960s, courtesy of the American taxpayer, but the Department of Energy all but ignored it and eventually succeeded in quashing commercialization. Thorium produces slow fission and virtually no radioactive waste, ideal for running power plants, but the interest of the DOE and the U.S. Department of Defense lies strictly in fast fission for making weapons. What's more, thorium reactors are practically foolproof and meltdown-proof, and don't require massive containment buildings; they're so safe they could be put into residential neighborhoods to provide electrical power and steam heat to clusters of a few hundred houses and local businesses. It's been estimated that there is more than 100 times more thorium in the Earth's crust than uranium, and a considerable amount of it is available now with zero mining effort, because for decades it was an unwanted by-product of uranium processing.

 
At 1/06/2011 11:28 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

As someone who has invested in undersea mining ventures and is talking to companies about using some of the same equipment to develop methane hydrate based natural gas production I am well aware of the potential. But let us not fool ourselves that this will be easy or that it will lead to plentiful supply any time soon because I have been waiting for years for some of these ventures to pay off and expect to be waiting for quite a bit longer.

That said, this type of mining should be supported because it will cause a huge reduction in the amount of energy needed to produce base metals. It is nice to be able to get to the mineral without having to dig it out from low grade ore, and spending a lot of money and energy to concentrate it before it goes to the smelters.

 
At 1/06/2011 11:30 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Let me know when human ingenuity creates carbon out of nothing and burns it without affecting the atmosphere.

There is no problem with the atmosphere. The carbon was extracted from the atmosphere and all burning it does is put it back so that plants can extract it again.

 
At 1/07/2011 8:17 AM, Blogger Robert Hargraves said...

Thorium energy can be cheaper than from coal

Energy cheaper than from coal will end fossil fuel CO2 emissions through the economic self interest of all countries. Affordable electric power is key to achieving prosperity in developing nations – prosperity that leads to sustainable birthrates and lessened global competition for food, energy, and natural resources.

The liquid fluoride thorium reactor holds this promise, along with inexhaustible thorium energy and environmental safety. Learn more about

Social benefits and technology: http://rethinkingnuclearpower.googlepages.com/aimhigh
Science: American Scientist, Jul/Aug 2010, Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/download/file.php?id=791
Engineering: http://energyfromthorium.com

 
At 1/07/2011 8:39 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

Thorium energy can be cheaper than from coal

Possibly, but you will need trillions of dollars in new investment in nuclear facilities, millions of new engineers and a supply chain that can deliver all of the materials needed to build the facilities. That will take decades.

Energy cheaper than from coal will end fossil fuel CO2 emissions through the economic self interest of all countries. Affordable electric power is key to achieving prosperity in developing nations – prosperity that leads to sustainable birthrates and lessened global competition for food, energy, and natural resources.

Actually, rich people use more resources than poor people so making Africans and other poor people richer will increase the need for certain resources and create a new demand peak. It is only after some equilibrium is reached that population (and demand) will decline.

The liquid fluoride thorium reactor holds this promise, along with inexhaustible thorium energy and environmental safety.

At some point the promise will have to be reality. Right now it is still unproven for reliable commercial production. While the CANDU reactors have no trouble burning thorium they are still too expensive and need a better design.

 
At 1/07/2011 9:22 AM, Blogger BP said...

Nautilus Minerals - NUS on Toronto, is already close to mining a zinc deposit of PNG. Their website can give you the cost to mine shallow water high grade zinc vents. It is less than you think.

Diamonds are mined offshore Angola.

 
At 1/07/2011 9:45 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

Nautilus Minerals - NUS on Toronto, is already close to mining a zinc deposit of PNG. Their website can give you the cost to mine shallow water high grade zinc vents. It is less than you think.

They better be closer. I first heard a presentation of theirs about six years ago and have been having long chats with management since. While the company has made progress it is still a long way from being a profitable producer. They usually bring some high mineral content smokers to the PDAC but from what I can tell they are also interested in material that is also buried by sediment because you need a lot of tonnage to make the process profitable. That would require massive capital investments and a lot of jumping through regulatory hoops. The last time I looked there were still problems with PNG government approvals and some of the NGOs were sniffing around looking for a way to halt development.

The stock has been dead money since 2007 and prices are still well below their peak because investors are not as positive as people on this site are.

 
At 1/07/2011 10:10 AM, Blogger Sean said...

The existence of scarcity is one of the fundamentals of economics. Without it, you wouldn't even have a need for prices, or economics as a field. Waving away the concept of scarcity or finite access to supplies is just silly. Yes, there are a lot: no, there are not so many that distribution doesn't matter.

 
At 1/07/2011 6:33 PM, Blogger Panamint Joe said...

At 1/07/2011 8:39 AM, Blogger VangelV said...
"Possibly, but you will need trillions of dollars in new investment in nuclear facilities, millions of new engineers and a supply chain that can deliver all of the materials needed to build the facilities. That will take decades."

Not hardly. If we get the government to step out of the way and stop being so obstructionist, private industry could put a fair number of units on line in less than 10 years, using less than 500 competent engineers in various disciplines, and costing billions, not trillions of dollars. Oh, yeah, also get the lawyers to sit down and shut up.

 
At 1/07/2011 7:32 PM, Blogger Charles Frith said...

Delusion. No mention of the cost or the waste or the pollution.

 
At 1/07/2011 9:09 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Not hardly. If we get the government to step out of the way and stop being so obstructionist, private industry could put a fair number of units on line in less than 10 years, using less than 500 competent engineers in various disciplines, and costing billions, not trillions of dollars. Oh, yeah, also get the lawyers to sit down and shut up.

Less than 500 years and you put up a number of units on line in less than 10 years? You are dreaming. You need engineers all along the supply chain. You need people who understand reactor design, materials, civil engineering, electrical systems, software integration, cooling towers, pump design, etc., etc. etc. The quality control requirements are huge so you will need many steps that are checked by competent individuals. You will need planners who can take designs and create workable step by step instructions for each reactor that is being put up. You will need specialists who can get all of the inputs necessary on time and ensure that they meed the exact specifications. Each welding seam, mechanical fastener, fitting, etc., will have to be designed, by someone and checked upon installation. Each operator will need to ensure that the plant's output is integrated into its systems and evaluate the distribution system robustness to handle the new additions.

Even if procedures were streamlined you are still looking at hundreds of people per plant working for two to three years trying to get the right permits. At the same time as this is happening there will be a huge demand for engineers to build CTL plants and various other infrastructure that will allow us to transition to a new system. And every step along the way you will need a great deal of capital that cannot be created by a printing press.

 
At 1/07/2011 9:10 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

No mention of the cost or the waste or the pollution.

The cost is clearly an issue. The waste and pollution aren't because there won't be much in the way of pollution.

 
At 1/08/2011 1:35 AM, Blogger Hydra said...

Panamint.

You are an idiot.

Trillions of tons of carbon buried for tens of thousands of years are not an issue.

Converting that to CO2 that absorbs infrared in the atmosphere is a significant change of state.

 
At 1/08/2011 1:40 AM, Blogger Hydra said...

Correct Vange.

Know what the atmosphere was like, then?

 
At 1/08/2011 1:42 AM, Blogger Hydra said...

The lawyers will sit down when the insurance companies stand up.

 
At 1/08/2011 9:08 AM, Blogger BP said...

http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/view/mineweb/en/page103855?oid=118052&sn=Detail

AngloGold and De Beers to spend $40 million on undersea gold hunt

AngloGold Ashanti and its associate company De Beers (which already has substantial undersea diamond mining expertise) are putting $40 million towards a search for gold under the Atlantic

 
At 1/08/2011 9:15 AM, Blogger BP said...

"Delusion. No mention of the cost or the waste or the pollution."

How many people die from the London Fog or get the bubonic plague from dirty living conditions or get sick from the excess horse manure in the street. It seems people think cities were cleaner before cars. It is actually the other way around. Read up on the Horse Manure Crisis of 1894... http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/our-economic-past-the-great-horse-manure-crisis-of-1894/

 
At 1/08/2011 9:37 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

Trillions of tons of carbon buried for tens of thousands of years are not an issue.

Converting that to CO2 that absorbs infrared in the atmosphere is a significant change of state.


You are uninformed. First, the half life of emitted carbon in the atmosphere is less than ten years so any effects by human emissions of CO2 decline very quickly. Second, the 15 micron absorption band is nearly fully saturated. That means that additional CO2 has a smaller and smaller effect. Third, we already have data that shows that measured temperatures have not gone up materially since the 1930s, which is very inconvenient for the AGW argument. The reported temperature increase actually comes from an artificial warming signal added by computer algorithms and imputed readings for areas that have no data. With record cold temperatures outnumbering record highs I would think that warming is the last thing that you would be worried about.

 
At 1/08/2011 9:55 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

AngloGold and De Beers to spend $40 million on undersea gold hunt

About two years ago at the PDAC I was part of an interesting discussion about the undersea mining movement. From what I can remember there were three main points being made.

The first was that if the miners were allowed to go after smokers they would have very high quality targets that would yield very good returns. The downside to this approach had to do with timing. I argued that going after smokers my be the equivalent of high-grading. This means that the ultimate recoverable amounts would be much lower because other, more marginal deposits, which could be developed a few years later, would not be developed. The argument against me had to do with cash flow. The miners needed to get as much out as possible to pay down debts and make a profit. It is only after the process yielded sufficient amounts that they would worry about optimization.

The second point had to do with mining areas where the gold was deposited by slowing water flows. This would require finding particular characteristics of grounds near river deltas and doing sufficient sampling to find areas where the deposits are were not too dispersed.

The third point was brought up by one of the finance people. He said that investing a few million in a project that held some promise was a great use of the 'marketing' budget. Just as BP got a lot of play for the 'Beyond Petroleum' scam, the good mining companies could get a great deal of attention because of the stories that would be written up in mining magazines, business magazines, and the general press that was looking for hope rather than a viable business model.

In this case we see two large companies spending $8 million a year and getting more attention than they would had they spent the money on advertising.

 
At 1/08/2011 10:15 AM, Blogger Taleb's Drudge said...

What is "che is dead"?

 
At 1/09/2011 6:10 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Typically I have found those with liberal "progressive" outlooks on life to be among the least imaginative individuals I have ever met. They are always saying we will run out of resources.

So much so, that if they get large numbers in an area, they become dangerous to the community or country they reside in with their myopic outlooks.

 
At 1/09/2011 6:21 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Typically I have found those with liberal "progressive" outlooks on life to be among the least imaginative individuals I have ever met. They are always saying we will run out of resources.

That may be true. But when it comes to the Peak Oil argument 'liberal progressives' are not saying much. Most of the people who are making the argument are what you might call conservatives who tent to believe in markets most of the time.

And to be clear, the Peak Oil argument does not say that we will run out of oil. It says that conventional (and current unconventional) oil production will peak and that we will have to transition to other sources of energy. Some of the loudest voices are actually optimists about the markets and are trying to look for solutions from other sectors.

The real problem comes from the naive optimists, who do not understand just how dependent we are on CHEAP oil and do not understand just how difficult idiot politicians make it for individuals looking to come up with viable solutions.

 
At 2/12/2011 3:53 PM, Blogger Panamint Joe said...

VangelV, notice that I wrote "500 competent engineers". There are engineers, and then there are people who have the title, but not the training or qualifications. In real life I'm a registered professional engineer, and over my career I've encountered plenty of pretenders and people who were promoted and given the title "engineer" due to a loophole that industry had the various state legislatures write into their laws. I stand by my statement — 500 competent engineers, with adequate support from competent tradesmen and inspectors. Any more than that would only serve to muddy the waters and slow down progress.

 
At 2/13/2011 9:19 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

VangelV, notice that I wrote "500 competent engineers". There are engineers, and then there are people who have the title, but not the training or qualifications. In real life I'm a registered professional engineer, and over my career I've encountered plenty of pretenders and people who were promoted and given the title "engineer" due to a loophole that industry had the various state legislatures write into their laws. I stand by my statement — 500 competent engineers, with adequate support from competent tradesmen and inspectors. Any more than that would only serve to muddy the waters and slow down progress.

First, that is not exactly what you wrote. You wrote, "If we get the government to step out of the way and stop being so obstructionist, private industry could put a fair number of units on line in less than 10 years, using less than 500 competent engineers in various disciplines, and costing billions, not trillions of dollars."

See your problem? If not let us look at the statement more carefully.

First, when we notice something wrong we have the government get involved and try to fix it by passing rules and regulations. It does not get out of the way and let competent people do their jobs. Obama did not fix healthcare by getting out of the way. He introduced hundreds of new agencies and groups to get in the way and tell everyone what to do.

Second, the job is too big and too distributed over too large an area for 500 engineers to make the necessary decisions to do the job cheaply and effectively. They would wind up competing for the same resources and put strains on the same production and distribution chains. That would drive prices to very high levels. (See the tar sands development and the drilling platform construction process for a perfect example of how this works.)

You also wrote, "Oh, yeah, also get the lawyers to sit down and shut up."

How do you do that? As I wrote on other posts, to fix healthcare you needed to reign in the trial lawyers that caused prices to explode by forcing doctors to engage in defensive medicine. Congress did not have the power to do that because the trial lawyers had too many lobbyists in Washington and gave too much money to politicians. Short of a collapse you will not see the lawyers reigned in and by the time there is collapse there will not be the capital to spend on the necessary infrastructure.

 

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