Past Messages


Lesli Wood, Winter 2006

woodAre Donuts the Key to Solving Our Future Energy Needs?

The number of donut shops in Houston is too few to provide energy for all the cars driving Interstate 10 East on a slow morning.

There! I said it. I know that it is a brave and aggressive statement, but I am prepared to take the backlash from all those angry donutiers. I heard a long discourse this morning on National Public Radio about biofuel. In brief, Willie Nelson and some guy with a blender in east Houston were advocating biofuel for the future. The guy with the blender was making biofuel on his kitchen counter and advocating that we process the grease from donut shops in Houston to produce biofuel. Now there’s an idea whose time has come. American donut consumption is at an all time high. Fuel prices are up. I wonder how many blenders of biofuel margaritas it would take to run an SUV, say, from the Galleria to the Houston Museum of Natural History.

Seriously, folks. I am not Willie-bashing here—a dangerous business in my neck of the woods—but I don’t even have to begin to tell you how absurd it would be to try to power any large number of personal vehicles from biofuel. We will eventually realize that we can live with-out biofuel, and our corn and soybean food products will continue to play critical roles in sustaining life. The American populace consumes the equivalent of about 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year ( This consumption is enmeshed in so many aspects of our lives that to “dis-entangle” us from this energy use would take an act of Congress (Hmmm, now there’s a thought). Any serious changes in our habits would require serious changes in Federal and State mind sets regarding transportation in this country. My opinion is that people should stop biting the hand that feeds them—energy companies—and look at their own behavior, which is driving supply and demand economics. I can wait around in my air-conditioned office for the backlash from that opinion.

Summer heat makes me opinionated and blunt. Most of my friends would say that the weather has nothing to do with it. I am proud that I work in the energy industry. It is not the sole issue that defines me, but at least one proud aspect of my science. I am happy to say that many of my students are employed in the energy industry as well.

I have recently become embroiled in another discussion regarding liquid re-sources. This discussion deals with a resource more expensive than oil—water. (A gallon of water in most stores costs more than a gallon of refined liquid gas.) Many of my neighbors’ wells have gone dry this summer here in the Texas Hill Country, and I am praying over mine every night. A gentleman in my subdivision recently waxed enthusiastically to his neighbors, “With all the wells goin’dry, man, aren’t you glad we are hooking up to city water! ?!” I felt compelled to point out to this gentleman and the neighbors the irony that city water comes from surface reservoirs that you can now walk dry-footed across or it is pumped from commercial or city wells, further drawing down our well aquifers! And that to think that the problem of limited water can be solved by hooking up to “city sources” is a bit short sighted! And another thing. …(You know how I get with the summer heat.)

The same people who think you can use donut grease as a viable alternative fuel for vehicles probably have no clue as to where the water really comes from that fills the glass in their kitchen. As geoscientists interested in sedimentary systems, hydrocarbon basins, and water aquifers, we need to take the initiative to spread more knowledge about the impact that unchecked growth can have on our energy resources—both water and oil—not to mention the effect of unchecked development on our land quality, river and stream health, and coastal stability and viability.

The Gulf Coast Geological Societies and GCSSEPM will hold their annual joint meeting in Lafayette, Louisiana, September 25–27. The immense technical program can be viewed at It includes a range of topics centering on both hydrocarbons and the environment. I encourage you to attend and take advantage of both aspects of the program. Likewise, I hope many of you can attend the Perkins Conference in December in Houston. The topic is Reservoir Characterization: Integrating Business and Technology. Key questions to be addressed include (1) What is the optimal characterization work-flow for the reservoir in question, and how is it best implemented? (2) How are economics and decision making integrated with technical understanding of the reservoir? (3) How is uncertainty best evaluated and addressed? Although this meeting is focused heavily on hydrocarbon production, these questions are all pertinent, not only to hydrocarbon reservoir development, but also to water reservoirs. Sedimentary architecture is clearly a common component of both fluid systems, and much can be learned from pooling experiences and sharing opinions. As sedimentary scientists, we can bridge the gap between media-driven perception and scientific realities of energy, water resources, and growth. Your voice is important in that process and I encourage you to use it—not only in summer, but year-round.

As my parting shot, in my final GCSSEPM Newsletter President’s Column, I encourage you to educate your-selves on the issues that impact you and those around you, to speak your opinions from a foundation of science, and to stand up for the geosciences and what they can bring to societies’ future. GCSSEPM will remain an outlet for education in the community long after I am gone. I want to thank the Council Members and Foundation Board Members, as well as the general membership of GCSSEPM, for their enthusiastic support of the society and for the knowledge that I have gained over the course of this year. I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in Lafayette and at the Perkins Conference in Houston.