by Alex Smith
July 1, 2010
Shortly, I’ll get to the latest scandals and horrors in the BP Gulf of Mexico blunder. But first, let’s go straight to an interview with scientist John Kessler, just back from a research mission at Ground Zero where the Deepwater Horizon drill ship sank.
REPORT FROM THE GULF: DR. JOHN KESSLER AND METHANE
Around 55 million years ago there was a deadly spike in the Earth’s temperature. Scientists suspect the warming gas methane was released from the sea. It is something we need to know.
Dr. John Kessler is a chemical oceanographer from Texas A&M university. He’s trying to find out. When the BP spill in the Gulf started releasing large amounts of natural gas as well as oil, Dr. Kessler assembled a team and a research vessel called the Cape Hatteras. They have just returned from the leak site, in the Gulf of Mexico.
I don’t have a transcript of the interview for you. Essentially Kessler is using the Gulf methane burst as a case study to find out how methane may have escaped out of the sea in the distant past (and possibly the future) to create massive climate changes.
Although Kessler calls the amount of methane coming out of the Gulf “astonishing” – at points a million times the normal background level – and says it is the largest single emission of methane in human history – he still doesn’t think there is enough coming from this one well to actually damage our present climate.
Apparently, it takes a lot more than that to bump up the heat. Kessler says this is “definitely not” a climate-changing event. Maybe that’s the good news.
BP has said that about 40% of everything we see coming out of the well is “natural gas”. Natural gas is a general term, which can include things like ethane and propane, but this well is probably 98% methane. Most people use the terms natural gas and methane interchangeably.
Nor is the methane likely to clump up in frozen form, called “clathrates” and stay at the bottom of the Gulf (as a threat to rise later). Kessler says there is nothing to stop even ice-encrusted methane from floating up. No major jump in the amount of clathrates, he says.
And their testing, which was done very near “Ground Zero” of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and to a radius of about six miles out – found not much methane is making it into the atmosphere. Apparently, most of it can be found suspended in the water column. However, there was enough concern about toxins in the air near the drill and leak site, that the crew had to wear respirators twice.
The main concern there is methane, as well as the emulsified oil hanging around down there, acts as a food source for life forms that use oxygen to digest. That means there could be dead zones. Kessler measured areas of greatly reduced oxygen, but so far no actual “dead zone” conditions.
This mission, funded by the National Science Foundation, used very sophisticate equipment capable of measuring gases like methane and oxygen live, as it passed through. They didn’t have to take samples back to the lab to get preliminary results (although they did take a lot back to the lab to analyze further). This is some of the newest equipment available.
The blogosphere fears of a general methane burp, which tips the climate, are not valid according to Kessler. He sees it more as an ideal test, for a greater theory about catastrophic climate change. Lots of interesting points came up in the interview.
One of Kessler’s shipmates on this research trip, on the Cape Hatteras, was David Valentine from the University of California. He was trying to use methane as a way to estimate the amount of oil coming out of the pipe. So far, I haven’t heard his results.
According to a decent article from Associated Press by Brown and Plushnick-Masti, “At least 4.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas — and possibly almost twice that amount” has come out of the well by the end of June.
I also asked Dr. Kessler about BP’s strange denial of large methane leaks, given they admit they are flaring tremendous amounts of it. The AP article says:
“BP spokesman Mark Proegler disputed Joye’s suggestion that the Gulf’s deep waters contain large amounts of methane, noting that water samples taken by BP and federal agencies have shown minimal underwater oil outside the spill’s vicinity.
‘The gas that escapes, what we don’t flare, goes up to the surface and is gone,’ he said.”
It would actually be more dangerous for the atmosphere, from a climate perspective, if that methane did “go up to the surface” and be “gone”. Kessler says that Proegler may have been talking only about the gas coming up their containment pipe, to the ships above. But certainly, the research ship accurately measured tremendous amounts of methane in the water, even miles away from the main site.
BILL CLINTON SAYS BLOW IT UP
Mainstream media carefully dances with the government, as they release the bad news in the Gulf of Mexico, one little bit at a time. For almost two months, we have heard the chorus: the only sure way to fix this oil volcano is through a relief well. All those other methods were really burning time, but no worries, the ultimate solution is coming in early to mid-August. Everything is going well, according to BP and all their talking heads.
Deep down in the blogosphere, a fellow writing as “dougR” (scroll down a bit) at theoildrum.com, and as SHR at godlikeproductions.com – wrote a detailed explanation of why the relief wells may not work at all. His argument centered around tiny clips and insinuations that all was not as it seemed.
The concrete plug at the bottom of the well, more than 5 miles down, was blown out. That is what really let up the gas that blew up the Deepwater Horizon and part of its crew. We knew that. But dougR suggested that the lower and middle well casing was likely blown as well. There was mainstream evidence, buried in several pieces, saying that the Top Kill adventure was called off when leaking drilling mud showed damage to the well casing around 1,000 feet below the sea bed. Nobody knows the condition of the lower casing, down near the actual oil deposit. But dougR suggested a number of forces that must have damaged that casing so badly, that a relief well will not work. Without a solid pipe casing, any drilling mud pumped in by a relief well will just pass out under the Gulf, rather than plugging up a pipe.
Several knowledgeable writers at theoildrum, some of them oil drillers themselves, didn’t like dougR’s theory, and noted his lack of solid data or sources.
But now, we find just a few mainstream news stations preparing us for this very scenario. The relief wells may not work. On June 28th, 2010 the New York Times published an article by Henry Fountain. The title “BP Discussing a Backup Strategy to Plug Well“.
BP says they are just planning a backup, even if it is never needed. They would install some kind of undersea pipeline system, to divert the leaking oil to an existing oil platform, miles away.
The New York Times finds experts who acknowledge the lower well casing could be so damaged that the relief wells may not work. An anonymous technician working on the relief project says the lower pipe may have, quote “been enlarged by the high-pressure flow of oil over the past two months.”
What a surprise! Exactly the theory proposed by dougR. Here is a link to a 2 hour long podcast conference with dougR, a.k.a. SHR done by Godlike Productions. Or just search theoildrum.com for dougR – and be prepared for a barrel load of controversy.
Yet the bad news of no relief keeps leaking out like the oil. Here is ex-President Bill Clinton talking with Wolf Blitzer on a CNN news program associated with Fortune magazine. Clinton suggests the well may have to be blown up, because the relief wells may not work. What does he know, that we don’t?
[Clinton clip – the former President admits he is not hooked into decision making, but nonetheless calls for the Navy to come in, place a non-nuclear explosive charge to knock out the well, and then pile some sort of containment system (made of rock) on top of the site. Otherwise, he says, the country is dependent on BP alone. Blitzer it taken aback, and asks Wait a Minute Are You Suggesting The Relief Wells Won’t Work? Clinton seems to dodge that, while still calling for the well to be blown up.
The thing is, boys and girls, I personally only rate the success of the relief wells at a 50% chance. The other possibility is this hot and heavy well will throw oil into the Gulf of Mexico for at least 6 more months, and some experts say, for years. If the well blows at it’s current rate for years, the oil will reach Europe, and even India, carried by the great ocean conveyor belt.
This is a world-scale disaster. No doubt, before that happens, some trigger-happy desperate Americans will design a nuclear bomb to try and blow up the well. Clinton says a nuke isn’t needed, conventional weapons could do it. In either case, the deep sea bed may seal up – or they may end up creating a wider channel that can never be plugged, until a billion or more barrels of oil, and a sky-full of methane, have come out of the Earth.
My point for now: they are trying to tell us something. Don’t count on the relief wells, any more than the “Top Hat” or the “Top Kill”.
I am heading out for a vacation. I’ll be back in mid-August. I fully expect to find the Deepwater Disaster still unfolding, still unsolved by BP or anybody else. For all we know, it may blow wide open before humans can do anything about it. The cracks and the damage may already be there.
But don’t listen to the wild voices claiming the Gulf of Mexico is going to cave in, causing a tsunami. I have been digging fairly deep into the geology of the Gulf sea floor. It is complex, to say the least.
The Deepwater Horizon was drilling into a narrow ledge, along a cliff where the shallower shoreline shelf deeps into the deepest waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I suppose it is possible that there could be an undersea landslide, if the cowboys blow off some big munitions deep under ground. There is also a fault line in the Gulf, but there is almost zero chance that humans could trigger a change there.
But the oil and gas cavity itself is not just a gigantic hole that can cave in. The best evidence shows it to be full of chambers with supporting rocks, almost like a honey-comb.
There is a larger phenomenon where shore lands in the Gulf of Mexico, and some of the sea bed, is falling lower, because so much oil and gas has been removed. The is called “subsidence“. Search Google for Subsidence and Gulf of Mexico, and you will come across the work of a lonely geologist in the U.S. Geological Survey. That is Dr. Robert Morton, operating out of the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center in Florida. I called Dr. Morton for an interview, but he has been out, possibly on the Gulf.
Morton’s long-time work has been studying the way land sinks, after oil and gas has been removed. That has been well documented on the U.S. Gulf Coast, in States like Louisiana and Texas. Sinking wetlands were part of the reason Hurricane Katrina was so devastating to New Orleans. The wetlands could have absorbed more of the tidal surge, but they are disappearing, in part due to the 4400 offshore oil and gas drilling platforms along the coast. Something has to fill all those spaces left by the former oil.
Some even conclude that the giant earthquake in Sumatra may have been caused by oil and gas production there.
But Morton’s work shows that a single well, like that drilled by the Deepwater Horizon, does not cause the collapse of the sea floor. It takes a long time, with a lot of rigs. That is my reading of the science so far, though anyone should admit, we are in unknown territory with a blowout this size, in a well this deep.
Personally, I am not expecting a collapse of the Gulf sea floor, or a tidal wave, even in the most extreme circumstances, unless some fool tries to blow up a nuclear weapon down there. Then, all bets are off.
BP FAKES AN ISLAND TO SAY “WE AREN’T DRILLING OFFSHORE IN THE ARCTIC”
Yeah, this is some of the most disgusting news, coming from Tim Dickinson, writing in the Rolling Stone magazine. In the radio program, we have a brief reading with notes by Susan, host of the California social action program Raising Sand. The article is called “BP’s Next Disaster.”
The U.S. government issued a moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic, off Prudhoe Alaska. To get around that, BP created a man-made “island” out of gravel. Then they claimed they were not drilling offshore, but on “land”.
BP is using this ruse to set up another possible catastrophe, this time in the remote Arctic. They intend to drill about 6 miles sideways under the sea, to reach a large gas and oil deposit, deep down. What could possibly go wrong, with a world-class company like BP?
Why does the administration allow fakery to skirt around a protective moratorium? Will BP paint their fake island green?
Just this week, British scientists released a report outlining how very dangerous drilling in Arctic waters would be. Basically, there is no way to recover from a blow-out like the Deepwater Horizon mess. The oil goes out under the dark ice. Due to the cold water, there are fewer organisms to break it down. Some of it may remain in the Arctic environment for decades. And no relief rig could get to the scene possibly for nine months. And then they may not have time to drill the relief well, before the pack ice returns. Drilling from the ice is not possible.
It is a guaranteed disaster with no way to fix it, no way to clean it up. Just like the Deepwater Horizon on steroids. But this land drilling, from a fake BP island, is still going ahead, even as the company and the country founders in a volcano of errors and oil.
In the Radio program, I feature a reading from that article, with comments, by Susan, the host of an independent radio program called Raising Sand. Find a description and download link for that program here.
THE REAL NEWS CLIMATE, PEAK OIL, THE ECONOMY
But let’s not get too caught up in the single biggest environmental disaster in history, that BP spill. It is already bigger than Chernobyl, and the destruction of the Amazon was not a single event. Bhopal killed more people in the initial explosion.
Yet all the time we see news anchors broadcasting from the Gulf, you know they are missing the biggest disaster ever facing the planet. I am saying climate change has arrived in force.
I regret I have not had time this season to cover the many extreme precipitation events in just the past few months. From America to China and beyond, humans have been flooded out. The reports are always the same, new records, some 500 year records, sometimes more than a foot, or a third of a meter of rain, falling within 24 hours. Guangdong’s Huilai county, in China got two feet in 24 hours! Wherever these extreme rains hit, the roads, the fields, the towns flood out. No current drainage systems can handle it.
This is a herald – the other side of global warming: global wetting. Even a slightly warmer world takes up much more precipitation. And something in our atmosphere, possibly the great cloud of dust and pollution we humans create – is causing this excess rainfall to come down all of a sudden, in different locations, all over the world. Many of us are going to be washed out, repeatedly. And the weather-casters always describe it as a freak isolated incident, rather than tying into the pattern of global wetting.
Here is a quick quote on the subject, from Joe Romm at the blog climateprogress.org
“Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told me earlier this month:
There is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”
The other big story, which I tried to cover a couple of weeks ago in my program titled “Heat-stroke” – is surely the heat. Before I do the interviews you hear on Radio Ecoshock, I always ask my guests to describe the weather first, so I can set their sound levels. Otherwise people tend to start right in on the interview, before I’ve go the equipment set properly.
Lately the answer, from Washington, D. C. to Texas is always the same: an exclamation about how unbelievably hot it is. Over at Wunder Blog, Jeff Masters explains “Extreme heat wave in Africa and Asia continues to set all-time high temperature records.” (June 26, 2010) Quote:
A withering heat wave of unprecedented intensity and areal covered continues to smash all-time high temperatures Asia and Africa. As I reported earlier this week, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Chad, Niger, Pakistan, and Myanmar have all set new records for their hottest temperatures of all time over the past six weeks. The remarkable heat continued over Africa and Asia late this week.
The Asian portion of Russia recorded its highest temperate in history yesterday, when the mercury hit 42.3 °C (108.1 °F) at Belogorsk, near the Amur River border with China. The previous record was 41.7 °C (107.1 °F) at nearby Aksha on July 21, 2004. (The record for European Russia is 43.8 °C — 110.8 °F — set on August 6, 1940, at Alexandrov Gaj near the border with Kazakhstan.)
Also, on Thursday, Sudan recorded its hottest temperature in its history when the mercury rose to 49.6 °C (121.3 °F) at Dongola. The previous record was 49.5 °C (121.1 °F) set in July 1987 in Aba Hamed.
We’ve now had seven countries in Asia and Africa, plus the Asian portion of Russia, that have beaten their all-time hottest temperature record during the past two months. This includes Asia’s hottest temperature of all-time, the astonishing 53.5 °C (128.3 °F) mark set on May 26, 2010, in Pakistan. All of these records are unofficial and will need to be certified by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). ”
That’s the end of a quote by Jeff Masters at wunderground.com.
Where is Senator Inhofe now, the man who built a snowman outside Congress to laugh at Al Gore? And now we see that Al Gore is being smeared with sex just like his former boss Bill Clinton. Obviously, if Al Gore had sex urges, as a hotel masseuse alleges from several years ago, now trumpeted by the National Enquirer – than everything he ever said about climate change is a lie.
Sex outside marriage means science isn’t true. Read that in blogs all over the Net. Al Gore may have to make an exit as an ambassador of climate change, now that the dirty media are bringing out his laundry. Forget having a personal life, if you challenge the fossil fuel industry.
Al Gore is trying to translate new federal data on global temperatures into political momentum for climate change legislation.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week that worldwide temperatures for May and the January-May period were the warmest on record.
‘Every month we delay work, the planet continues to warm. The Senate needs to take action on the climate bill immediately,’ Gore wrote on his website Thursday afternoon.”
And he’s right. Climate change is a bigger disaster than the BP blowout in the Gulf. Heat and wetting is planet changing, for eons.
ARCTIC ICE MELTING TO A NEW RECORD….
The Arctic ice is melting so fast this year, it is set to beat the 2007 record minimum. Totally scary. The dark ocean will grab more heat. Nearby Greenland can not help but be affected. Scientists have just announced that the Arctic was much warmer than they thought, 19 degrees hotter than today, must 4 million years ago. And they worry we are headed right back there. Good luck living on that planet.
A SECOND DEPRESSION IS ON IT’S WAY…
But hey, failing energy supplies will probably hit your lifestyle first. And for all the finance reading I’ve been doing, I don’t doubt that a second Depression is on it’s way. It could happen soon, or it could slowly unfold over the next two or three years, but the system if way past bankrupt.
Read James Howard Kunstler’s blog for June 28th, 2010 titled “Say What?” to find out more. Meanwhile, here is a quick clip from a woman named Stoneleigh, speaking to a Transition conference in England. The talk at The Seale Hayne Agricultural College, in Devon, UK was titled ” Making Sense of the Financial Crisis in the Era of Peak Oil”.
That was part of a 2 hour talk plus Q and A by Stoneleigh. Stoneleigh was a biologist and environmental consultant. She’s a lawyer, and a research fellow at the Oxford Institute for energy studies, writing papers on lax nuclear standards in Eastern Europe and electricity policy. She is now living in Canada, and at one point ran a bio-gas producers’ association. Meanwhile, she has studied finance for the past 15 years. She describes herself as “a big picture person” – and has the varied background to do it well.
She was also an editor at theoildrum Canada – a peak oil and energy analysis site. She moved on with Illargi to found one of the top 8 most visited financial blogs, The Automatic Earth. Radio Ecoshock has an interview with Illargi in our show broadcast April 17th, 2009.
MY PERSONAL PLAN B
My vacation is also part of our family Plan B, should the economy totter and fall. We found a cheap piece of land in a village, along a mountain fed river, with good growing conditions. Slowly, we’ve been adding to the existing mobile home, with the eventual intention to make it self-sufficient.
But you also have to get to know your neighbours in any retreat locations. That is also why I spend a month a year there, getting to know people, and the resources of the surrounding country-side.
The best we could expect is a peasant existence, without the riches of the current false economy. But we have done it before, bootstrapping up from nothing, without electricity, to 90% self-sufficiency. If “extend and pretend” no longer works in the economy, I may keep broadcasting from a small place in the mountains. If the Net still works at all.
Our current economic system has hundreds of trillions more markers, claims on money, than exists in the physical world. Pretty well all the banks, and governments are really bankrupt. There are giant contracts coming due, debts that can never be repaid, all set to certain months, fixed years. And as they fail, eventually there must come a tipping point, where the economy falls over.
Personally, I agree with Stoneleigh that economic disaster will come even before Peak Oil or climate change. Perhaps that is why many of our most downloaded programs are about the economy. I encourage you to load up your IPOD, computer or mp3 player with the eight most downloaded Radio Ecoshock programs, for your Summer listening. Get tuned in, before the Great Correction Comes.
We hit more than 21,000 programs downloaded in this past month of June alone. Join all those folks, by going to our main page at ecoshock.org. Sign up for our podcasts, which resume September 1st, and find our Summer program schedule, to grab the most popular pieces, as selected by you, the listeners.
THE GREEN MAJORITY
I want to tell you about another good green listening experience.
Last week I had a visit in our Vancouver studio with Jordan Poppenk, a driving force behind the Canadian show environment show “The Green Majority”. That is billed as that country’s only dedicated environmental news hour. The Green Majority is produced at CIUT 89.5 FM in Toronto, Canada – by volunteers from the University of Toronto.
The program has proved popular, being rebroadcast by another 13 stations in Canada, from coast to coast. Normally, it’s hard to find real reporting of environmental affairs in Canada, other than isolated pieces almost always written from a growth and business perspective. The CIUT students dig deeper, read between the lines, and take events from the Arctic warming to inner city recycling as serious and worthy of your time. No celebrity bumpf or political propaganda – just a real news show.
Jordan Poppenk is heading off, pursuing his post-graduate work in psychology. But he’s spending the Summer cycling across Canada to raise awareness of the need for a steady-state economy, instead of endless consumption and planet-deadly growth. He is backing CASSE, the Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, which is easy to find at steadystate.org
I was going to interview Jordan, but ran out of time as I prepared our Summer programming, while packing for an extended vacation in the mountains. My apologies to Jordan, for an opportunity missed to talk about the pleasures and problems of trying to produce real green radio.
Find the program, complete with free mp3 downloads, at besustainable.com/greenmajority
Of course, you can just sign up for their podcast at the usual places, from Itunes to Podfeed.net. If you are tired of the B.S. analysis or blackouts of the environment at your local newspaper, or corporate TV station, tune in to The Green Majority for an hour of Canadian and international news.
Heaven knows, we can never have enough environmental coverage.
THANKS TO ALL LISTENERS FOR ANOTHER GREAT SEASON
This month of June, folks like you downloaded over 21,000 copies of the Radio Ecoshock Show (just this month alone). That’s another whole audience, coming in over the Net, in addition to our 21 radio stations. That is so cool, considering I started out in 2005 with a Podcast. What is born on the Net, stays on the Net.
There are a bunch of listeners I would like to thank for their tips and help this year – too many to read them all out. But Carl, thanks for maintaining the Green 960 page. I appreciate the Virtual Renderings by Chask in Colorado, and Pop dEffect Radio from Skidmark Bob – for all the great and weird clips you provide for us independent producers. And Dana Pearson was a real find for green songs – like his newest version of “Corporate Catastrophe” now available on our Music page, of the Ecoshock Audio-On-Demand menu. Just scroll down on our main page at ecoshock.org.
And singer Steve Forbert has updated his monumental oil song, adding the BP gusher in May of 2010. The sad list now takes 13 minutes with a chorus. That is on our music page, or better yet, go to steveforbert.bandcamp.com.
Thank you Guy in Australia, green journalist Stephen Leahy in Toronto, and just dozens and dozens of tipsters and friends I’ve made over the Net, as Radio Ecoshock keeps rolling out week after week.
And that’s just what will happen again, possibly in late August, certainly in September, as I crank out another 45 non-stop shows. Don’t worry, there will be plenty to talk about, maybe even to cry about, as 2010 continues to unwind.
Ecoshock is a listener-powered show. Your feedback, your ears, your hearts and brains keep me going. Otherwise, it would be a world without hope.
I’ve been teasing you throughout this show with versions of Neil Young’s song, “After the Gold Rush” You may have heard it covered by the trio, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton. Or the Alice Band, and the funky take by a group called “the Endless.” And of course the rare 1973 hit version by the English acapella group “Prelude”.
We’ll go out with a classy new version by Canadian K.D. Lang, from her new album “Hymns from the 49th Parallel”. And after the oil rush, you might find one song of hope, from the album “The Long Way Home”, by the Dixie Chicks. It’s called “I Hope”. And sometimes, despite all the challenges ahead of us – I do hope. Maybe, we can do better than catastrophe?
Don’t forget to try out our Summer programs and downloads.
I’m Alex Smith, signing out. See you in September.
Greg Palast: Lobbyists benefit from BP oil spill + Gulf Coast, grab your gas masks!
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Any discussion about oil prices over the next decade must include an attempt to quantify emerging economy demand as an important driver at the margin. Here is a simple thought experiment using Chinese demand to give some idea of the magnitude of the supply issues we face:
– China moves from 3 bbls/person/year to the South Korean per capita consumption level of 17 bbls/person/year
– Transition takes 30 years
– No peak in global production
In next 10 years we must find 44 million BOPD. If you superimpose peak production on top of this demand profile using the following parameters oil prices would increase approximately 250% in real terms over next 10 years:
– Oil demand elasticity of -0.3
– Current production 84 million BOPD, current price US$ 80
– Peak production 100 million BOPD
– Post peak decline rate of 3-4%
If you want to try the model for yourself using your own assumptions it can be found at Petrocapita Income Trust:
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Calling all organic chemists and civil engineers:
Is it possible to deploy rolls of woven hemp to collect the crude oil and, in the process, create another raw material to solve a different problem? I’m thinking we create a new form of roadbed by impregnating hemp with crude oil. Chop it up into containerized/otherwise transportable, road-sized sheets that interlock, say 4 meters by 8, that can be laid down lengthwise and crosswise in alternating layers creating a laminated surface. Think of it as asphalt plywood. Think of it as emergency roads on demand in developing (or recently disaster-stricken?) countries in desperate need of basic transportation infrastructure. Is it viable? You do the inventing…I’m claiming the patent. Think Henry Ford and his car bodies manufactured from hemp fiber.
Think “tOILet paper”. Yep. I said it.
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