About the blog: What Things Are Made Of


The United States relies on imports for dozens of commodities in everyday use. Often enough, that reliance is 100%. In this book I aim to provide awareness of the hidden geology and mineralogy behind common things, and to develop an appreciation for the global resource distribution that underpins our society. While concerns about oil import reliance are in the news every day, our needs for other minerals are comparable and are typically unknown even to technologically aware Americans.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Let’s play gossip

You remember the game—you whisper something to your neighbor, who whispers to the next person and so on around the room, until something incredibly different gets back to you. I see the Internet as one big game of gossip.

You’d think people could search around until they figured out the “truth,” whatever that may be. But it seems that many just latch onto the story of the moment, take a few highlights, add some embellishment, and pass it on.

A simple example comes from the questions I get through the Oil Statistics pages of my web site. It’s astonishing how many people ask whether or not it’s true that all of Alaska’s oil is exported to the Far East. And more astonishing how many, after I point out the answer with reliable sources, tell me I have to be lying and that I’m part of the conspiracy.

In 1996, when oil cost $12 a barrel and there was a glut of the stuff on the West Coast—refineries couldn’t handle it all—a law was passed allowing Alaskan oil to be exported. At a maximum of 7% of production. For four years, some oil was shipped to Japan, South Korea, and China. Only rarely was as much as 7% exported—the most was about 80,000 barrels per day when the US was consuming 19,000,000 barrels per day and Alaska was producing around 1,300,000 barrels per day.

In 2000, with prices up and the glut in West Coast refineries relieved, the State of Alaska and oil companies voluntarily ceased the exports, and since then every drop of Alaskan crude has gone to US refineries. But you’d be amazed how many people flat-out will not believe that.

More information and links are available on my Alaska Oil page.

Alaska Pipeline photo from US Geological Survey.

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