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Sec. Chu Explains Plate Tectonics To Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX)

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Uploaded on Apr 22, 2009

http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/200... In an Earth Day hearing, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was forced to explain to Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) how oil is found in the Arctic. Chu and other administration officials are testifying today before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where Barton is the top Republican.

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 into the Arctic Ocean?

CHU: (Laughter.) 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 and ship it back?

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.

The driving force for Alaskas oil formation during the Triassic era 200 million years ago, according to University of Alaska geologist Mark Rivera, is plate tectonics, which is the unifying theory of geology.

Ironically for someone who has called climate science absolute nonsense, Barton was actually onto something. During the Triassic, the entire planet was indeed a hothouse and entirely deglaciated. The carbon dioxide (CO2) content in the atmosphere was at its highest ever levels, spiking from 1000 parts per million to 3000 ppm. The end of the Triassic period was marked by one of the largest mass-extinction events in Earths history.

Habitable conditions for humanity, hundreds of millions of years later, are very different. Carbon dioxide levels, which had been below 300 ppm for the last 650,000 years and was stable at 280 ppm during the rise of human civilization, have skyrocketed since 1800 because of our burning of coal, oil, and natural gas to 388 ppm, a nearly 40 percent rise.

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