Letters to the Editors – July 2004

Title: Letters to the Editors
Publication: The Outcrop, July 2004, p. 12

Editors’note: The March lead article, “Carbon Storage in the Rockies – How do we address the challenges?” by Genevieve Young, elicited responses from Susan Hovorka and Robert Kenney, which were published in the May issue of The Outcrop. The letter from Robert Kenney elicited the following response:

Dear Editors,

Thanks for the excellent March 2004 article on “Carbon Storage in the Rockies.” Thanks also for publishing Robert Kenney’s opinions regarding that article in the editorial section. Mr. Kenney disagreed with what he perceives as RMAG’s promotion of what he views as “…the highly debatable concept of manmade, greenhouse gasses as the cause of global warming…”

Mr. Kenney’s editorial is an example of that form of scientific challenge which relies on ridicule instead of the more rigorous task of critically analyzing the data. Mr. Kenney presumes that the scientific community should uncritically accept his assessment of global warming as “…mythology…a scare…a bogus, unproven theory…”

We all know global warming is a complex issue, not amenable to thorough analysis here (perhaps a future Outcrop article?), and that the existing climate models need better constraints (as do our industry’s working reservoir models – which are nonetheless an essential industry tool) to be able to reproduce many intertwined phenomena. However, there are some indisputable facts which beg for a second glance. The following information is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website (noaa.gov):

1) Humans pump 6 billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year through the burning of fossil fuels.

2) Measurements at Mauna Loa and NOAA’s sample collection sites around the world show an inexorable increase in CO2 since 1958, with two slight dips in that increase which have been attributed to several possibilities – differential buffering of the land and oceanic carbon sinks (ascribable to various reasons), volcanic eruptions (Pinatubo?) depressing terrestrial ecosystems and also seeding oceanic sinks with iron.

3) CO2 is one of the 4 atmospheric gases which have been shown to best reflect UV light in the form of heat back to earth instead of disappating it, giving rise to the “greenhouse effect,” a phenomenon reproducible in NOAA’s laboratories.

4) Average surface temperature of the earth has been increasing since the onset of the Industrial age.

Though we know that surface temperature has varied considerably in both the recent and geologic past, and we also know that ‘correlation does not equal causation,’ isn’t this collection of facts worth a closer look instead of simple name-calling? Together with the fact that (as Donna Anderson pointed out) Earth is approaching the optimal configuration for receiving maximum solar insolation, these facts call for at minimum a ‘first pass’ risk assessment.

Worst case – best estimates conclude that at the current rate of global warming, continental glaciers including the Antarctic ice shelf would melt within our lifetime, which would raise sea level by 40-70 meters – submerging global coastlines home to about a third of Earth’s population, and surpassing any measurable sea level rise in human history. (On the plus side for those of us living in the Rockies, real estate value in the mountain area would likely increase as our homes became Interior Seaway-side properties, from which we could view DJ Basin offshore drilling operations).

Best case – if the current rate of global warming slows to a minimum, we might forestall the onset of an ice age for an indeterminate amount of time. However, warming to the point of melting Arctic ice would stop the density-driven North Atlantic bottom water oceanic current, which warms most of Europe and the eastern U.S., and bring major climate disruptions (flooding, hurricanes) around the globe (recall the El Niño disruptions in recent history).

In either case, it is reasonable to surmise that humans are impacting Earth’s climate, and prudent to apply our creativity to finding ways to reduce the amount of CO2 we pump out of the ground into the atmosphere. If I or Mr. Kenney bought (or worse, rejected!) a prospect based on as limited an inquiry or analysis of the data as he demonstrates, we could and should be laughed out of a job.

Finally, I refer Mr. Kenney to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website (noaa.gov), where the Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory – Carbon Cycle Greenhouse Gases research group has published much of the excellent work which prompted the “…inane and punitive measures enacted by government bureaucracies…” to which Mr. Kenney refers. The research and evidence of many reputable earth scientists await our collective analysis.


Katie Joe McDonough, Consulting Geologist/Geophysicist, RMAG member