Barton vs Chu on Plate Tectonics

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Today in the Capitol a very strange confrontation broke out between Rep. Joe Barton of Texas (the ranking Republican on the House Energy & Commerce Committee), and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu:

http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/04/rep-joe-barton-i-stumped-nobel-prize-winning-scientist.php

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgKepHebKRc

A transcript :
BARTON: Dr. Chu, I don’t want to leave you out. You’re our scientist. I have one simple question for you in the last six seconds. How did all the oil and gas get to Alaska and under the Arctic Ocean?
CHU: (Laughs.) This is a complicated story but oil and gas is the result of hundreds of millions of years of geology and in that time also the plates have moved around. And so, it’s a combination of where the sources of the oil and gas …
BARTON: Isn’t it obvious that at one time it was a lot warmer in Alaska and on the North Pole? It wasn’t a big pipeline that we’ve created from Texas and shipped it up there and put it under ground so we can now pump it up?
CHU: No, there are continental plates that have been drifting around throughout the geological ages.
BARTON: So it just drifted up there.
CHU: Uh…. That’s certainly what happened. It’s a result of things like that.
WAXMAN: The gentleman’s time has expired.
(What the transcript doesn't show you is Chu laughing nervously the entire time, and Barton smiling like a cat about to pounce.)

Later in the day Barton posted the above video of the incident on Youtube, and bragged "I seemed to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question -- Where does oil come from? Check out the video" on Twitter.

Aside from the worry that Barton does not seem to have understood the fairly reasonable 1-minute explanation Chu gave him (he still seems incredulous at the end of the video) what I am curious about is what Barton imagines the answer to his original question is. His suggestion about Alaska being "warmer" implies he had some specific answer in mind, but I'm not sure what.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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My guess: He is trying to suggest that, if it were warmer in the past, then the current warming is simply due to the same cycle, rather than human caused, and therefore we shouldn't/can't do anything about it.
 
  • #3
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Barton is dumb as a rock.

Coin said:
Aside from the worry that Barton does not seem to have understood the fairly reasonable 1-minute explanation Chu gave him (he still seems incredulous at the end of the video) what I am curious about is what Barton imagines the answer to his original question is. His suggestion about Alaska being "warmer" implies he had some specific answer in mind, but I'm not sure what.
Who knows. Taking a look at some of Barton's earlier work, it seems his main purpose is to obfuscate and attack anything to do with climate change:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4693855.stm

Background: oilman, Republican, former chair of House Energy Committee

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Barton
 
  • #4
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I just feel sorry for Chu. A Nobel-winning AMO physicist, once heading a US national lab, now reduced to listening to idiot congressmen explain their pet crackpot theories.
 
  • #5
Astronuc
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It would have been great if Chu had responded that Texas and much of the central US used to be underwater, and then asked Barton if that was what he desired.
 
  • #6
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I just feel sorry for Chu. A Nobel-winning AMO physicist, once heading a US national lab, now reduced to listening to idiot congressmen explain their pet crackpot theories.
Interesting thought. I think he knew where he was heading when he made his decision to move into politics. I personally feel sorry for the idiot who does not even realize the privilege he has to receive a personal answer from a Nobel prize winner. This is the really sad part I think.
 
  • #7
Vanadium 50
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This isn't new. Al Gore was famous for this - as well as asking questions, letting the subject get one or two words out, and then lecturing the poor fellow for the rest of his time about how wrong he was. He was also famous for reading something else when the subject was speaking.
 
  • #8
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I almost feel sorry for the Republican party. They've taken a hard swing towards anti-science lately.
 
  • #9
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I almost feel sorry for the Republican party. They've taken a hard swing towards anti-science lately.
Lately?
 
  • #10
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Hey witch hunting ad hominemmers, all I see is that Barton asked a simple question:

How did all the oil and gas get to Alaska and under the Arctic Ocean?
To which the answer may be a lot more complex than plate tectonics:

Now Henry Scott at Indiana University, South Bend, and his colleagues have made methane in their lab, and shown that it is stable at the intense temperatures and pressures found in Earth's mantle, 100-300 kilometres beneath the surface. They achieved the feat by squeezing together water, iron (II) oxide and calcite between two flattened diamond tips at 50,000-110,000 times the pressure at sea level, and heating the mixture to 1,500 °C.

"Our results show that hydrocarbons can form from non-biological material and be stable, deep within the Earth," says Scott. Because the mantle makes up 80% of the planet's volume, "much more carbon in the Earth could be in the form of hydrocarbons than we previously imagined", he adds. The team's work will appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
 
  • #11
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Lately?
In the past 8 years or so. I was in my teens when Clinton was president, so I wasn't paying that close attention, but I don't remember Republicans at the time being so aggressively anti-science.
 
  • #12
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Hey witch hunting ad hominemmers, all I see is that Barton asked a simple question:



To which the answer may be a lot more complex than plate tectonics:

How about you take other quotes from the article?

"You probably won't be able to drill for it, because it's far too deep," he explains.
Rankin adds that the best way to obtain methane generated in the mantle would be to look for pockets in the crust where rising gas has become trapped. But he predicts that the amount of gas is unlikely to be significant compared with the oil and gas reserves we already know about. "By the time the gas has reached the upper crust, most of it will have dispersed," he says.
Plus, the article only talks about natural gas, not oil.

The team next plans to investigate whether oil can be formed under similar conditions
So, the answer really isn't more complicated than plate tectonics for the vast majority of methane and possibly 100% of the oil we know about.
 
  • #13
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Hey witch hunting ad hominemmers, all I see is that Barton asked a simple question:
  • Are you suggesting that Chu is certainly unaware of this specific research, and if so could be reproached with that ? Assuming Chu conducted this research himself, are you suggesting that it would have been appropriate to brought this point in the context of a 45 second answer ?
  • Assuming the point you raise is actually relevant to the resources there North, are you suggesting that plate tectonics plays no role at all, or should not be mentioned at all in those 45 seconds ?
  • In general, are you suggesting that it is appropriate for Barton to challenge Chu in the context ? Would you rather discuss those matters with Barton or with Chu from a scientific point of view ?
Please state your point clearly. Right now you are just lecturing us on nitpicking details.
 
  • #14
Ivan Seeking
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Hey witch hunting ad hominemmers, all I see is that Barton asked a simple question:
And why did he ask it? Also, that isn't all that he did. He then bragged about stumping a Nobel winner, which he didn't. So he not only asked an irrelevant question, he also lied about the answer.
 
  • #15
Ivan Seeking
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Oh yes, then he implied that techtonic plate theory is silly - "so it just floated there". Now he can run home and brag about his great intellectual duel with a scientist.
 
  • #16
Astronuc
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Now Henry Scott at Indiana University, South Bend, and his colleagues have made methane in their lab, and shown that it is stable at the intense temperatures and pressures found in Earth's mantle, 100-300 kilometres beneath the surface. They achieved the feat by squeezing together water, iron (II) oxide and calcite between two flattened diamond tips at 50,000-110,000 times the pressure at sea level, and heating the mixture to 1,500 °C?

"Our results show that hydrocarbons can form from non-biological material and be stable, deep within the Earth," says Scott. Because the mantle makes up 80% of the planet's volume, "much more carbon in the Earth could be in the form of hydrocarbons than we previously imagined", he adds. The team's work will appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
But is this a plausible explanation.

When one looks are oil and gas well logs, the cores contain rock of sedimentary deposits, not characteristics of the depths of mantle. Sedimentary rocks form at or near the surface.

But one can go to a reliable source - Schlumberger, which is one company with decades of experience in oil and gas exploration and development.

The Making of Oil: Birth of a Reservoir
http://www.seed.slb.com/subcontent.aspx?id=2400 [Broken]
"Something in the order of 500 million years ago there was only simple life in the seas, and these shallow seas would be rich with organic, living organisms.

Plankton and algae, proteins and the life that's floating in the sea, as it dies, falls to the bottom, and these organisms are going to be the source of our oil and gas.

When they're buried with the accumulating sediment and reach an adequate temperature, something above 50-70° Centigrade they start to cook. This transformation, this change, changes them into the liquid hydrocarbons that move and migrate, will become our oil and gas reservoir."
. . . .
Only 50-70°C! and at pressure a lot less than 50,000-110,000 atm!

Evolution of a Reservoir
http://www.seed.slb.com/subcontent.aspx?id=28500 [Broken]

So people who do oil and gas exploration seem to support Chu's statement. Or was Chu mislead by the oil and gas industry?
 
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  • #17
LowlyPion
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But is this a plausible explanation.
Sounds to me more like wishful thinking. Public policy (drill baby, drill, the party will never be over) in search of some rationalization from improbable science.
 
  • #18
russ_watters
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If they want to "get" him, they should go after him harder on nuclear power. Nobel prize winner or not, he's in politics because he's got some politician in him.
 
  • #19
D H
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Chu was lucky Barton's time ran out. Even fools can be right and Nobel prize winners wrong some of the time. This was one of those times. Alaska has been near the Arctic Circle for a long, long time.

http://www.geog.nau.edu/courses/alew/ggr346/text/maps/continental-drift2.jpg [Broken]

The Arctic was a whole lot warmer 155 million years ago. In a way, Al Gore et al brought this question on by decrying how we are destroying the planet with global warming. We aren't. If anything, we are making the planet more hospitable to life in general as the biggest effect of global warming will be on the (currently rather inhospitable) Arctic.

There's one minor problem with our beneficence: We will make the planet a lot less hospitable to human life in doing so. Most people live near the coast. Raising global temperatures to levels such as those found when the Prudhoe Bay field formed would inundate most major cities worldwide.

The correct response to Barton's question was "so what?"
 
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  • #20
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If anything, we are making the planet more hospitable to life in general as the biggest effect of global warming will be on the (currently rather inhospitable) Arctic.
I hear that argument made seriously by AGW deniers pretty often. "Global warming won't destroy the planet!" I haven't heard anybody make that claim, other than the deniers.

There's one minor problem with our beneficence: We will make the planet a lot less hospitable to human life in doing so.
That is the real point that the deniers seem to be missing. A lot of us "environmentalists" don't give an eff about the environment, we just don't want coastal cities to disappear in the next few centuries.
 
  • #21
D H
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That is the real point that the deniers seem to be missing. A lot of us "environmentalists" don't give an eff about the environment, we just don't want coastal cities to disappear in the next few centuries.
There's a flip side to that: A lot of environmentalists don't give an eff about humanity. Because humanity is not important to them, they have to couch global warming in terms of what it is doing to everything but humanity. "We're destroying the planet!" No, we aren't. We're merely changing the planet.

Triggering a runaway greenhouse effect, turning Earth into a true sister of Venus is destroying the planet. Tipping the climate into a new mode that is a bit warmer than present is not destroying the planet. A few wacko climatologists do claim we are triggering a true runaway greenhouse effect. Then again, a few say that global warming isn't our fault. Sans these wackos, the climatological consensus is that we are tipping the climate into a new mode that will be slightly warmer than present.

My concern isn't so much whether polar bears will die off. My concern is the threat to modern civilization. Life as a whole is extremely robust. Life has weathered a lot worse than the changes we are inducing. Modern civilization on the other hand is extremely fragile.
 
  • #22
mheslep
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I almost feel sorry for the Republican party. They've taken a hard swing towards anti-science lately.
Lately?
Chu is good example of the politicization of science by the present administration, as his lame, non-answer to McCain on nuclear recently showed:

http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalca...uclear-on-chu/ [Broken]
“What’s wrong with Yucca Mountain, Mr. Chu?” Mr. McCain asked at the hearing.

“I think we can do a better job,” Mr. Chu replied.

“We’re going to have spent fuel sitting around in pools all over America,” Mr. McCain said. “To say after 20 years and $9 billion dollars spent on Yucca Mountain that it’s not an option is a remarkable statement . . . It’s clear industry isn’t interested in the construction of nuclear power plants because we have no place to store” nuclear waste.

Mr. Chu said the administration plans to come up with a new plan for storing spent nuclear fuel later this year. “I want to seek the best advice of deeply knowledgeable people,” he said. He cited assurances from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that interim storage of waste at nuclear plants is safe, but was vague about what options the administration sees for long-term storage.
Chu's background is in atomic physics, and after years of working energy issues at LLNL, and Yucca Mountain originally proposed 22 years ago, I had expected perhaps a negative response, but at least a good technical and workable one. This is just useless.
 
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  • #23
Skyhunter
DH,

You need go back further than 200 million years for the position of the continents when the biomass that became oil was formed. Also it is important to remember that this biomass was formed under the sea, not on the surface of Alaska.

Barton was asking a loaded question. Chu didn't take the bait.

And I agree with earlier sentiments, Barton is an idiot.
 
  • #24
Astronuc
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A couple of neat pictures representing the Earth's geography during the Permian period.

http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~rcb7/270NAt.jpg

http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~rcb7/240moll.jpg

They put Alaska and half of Texas underwater. Alaska is between 30-45°N latitude which puts it several hundred miles south of where it is today (51-71°N), which is the point Chu was making. So it was certainly warmer in Alaska - and wetter too.
 
  • #25
The Quantum Pontiff did a good job of satirizing the issue:

Rep Joe Barton Thinks Oil in Alaska Disproves Global Warming

Okay, well he didn't exactly say that, but he certainly is a smug son of a gun who asked a grade school question to a Nobel prize winner in physics, apparently expecting a "gotcha" moment (via TPM):

Dudes even so proud of himself that he (or his staff) posted this video on his YouTube page.

BEDEVERE: Exactly. So, logically...
VILLAGER #1: If... she... weighs... the same as a duck,... she's made of wood.
BEDEVERE: And therefore?
VILLAGER #2: A witch!

Then again, what should you expect for someone who produced this:
Wind is God's way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it's hotter to areas where it's cooler. That's what wind is. Wouldn't it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I'm not saying that's going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can't transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It's just something to think about.
 

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