Sunday, June 20, 2010

Shut-up Stupid Sunday: Getting off Oil II

In my last Fantastic Future Friday I addressed the people (like myself) who watched President Obama’s speech and thought it was too little, too late. In this post I will address the other side, the pro-oil people.

It would be easy to do this post on the extreme pro-oil people, one’s like Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Rand Paul of Kentucky who think America should apologize to BP for letting our coastline mess up their oil drilling. But I won’t.

Instead I will address the people who think we can’t break our addiction to oil. Plenty of people think that since our modern society has been powered by cheap fossil fuel energy for so long it will be impossible for us to live any other way, and the idea of renewable energy is just a utopian fantasy.

If you believe that, lets look at what it means if you are right.

The world had roughly 3 trillion barrels of “proven” oil reserves, these numbers are questionable but lets go with them. In the last century we burned 1.25 trillion of these reserves leaving us with 1.75 trillion barrels. So if we can’t get off oil when that’s gone civilization is gone as well.

So far so good at that rate we will have another century of oil. Let our grandkids deal with it.

Unfortunately, our oil use has grown every year, except the last three, by 1.5%. This small increase doesn’t sound like much but it has great consequences. Because of the mathematical process known as exponential growth.

Each of these small increases of 1.5% builds on each other so the amount of oil we need grows more and more. So while we only burn 85 million barrels of oil a day now, if we continue to increase our oil use in 10 years we will need 99 million barrels a day, in 20 years 114 million barrels, by the year 2050, will need 154 million barrels a day, but at that point, we won’t have it as will we have burned through our remaining 1.75 trillion barrels.

Under that scenario, in 40 years we will see the complete breakdown of civilization. If you are under 40 years old, chances are you will live to see this and when it happens the next generation will use you as food since 9 billion people can’t survive using pre-industrial techniques.

Now some of you are probably thinking, what about new “unproven” reserves?

Since 1960 no new large oil fields have been discovered. But maybe we didn’t look hard enough; we had no reason to with only the oil embargo of the 70s and the runaway oil prices of the last decade we had no real incentive.

The wildest claim I’ve heard for “unproven” oil reserves was 9 trillion barrels, this is ridiculously high but lets go with that number.

With our increasing need for oil; In 2060 we will need 178 million barrels a day. In 2070, 207 million barrels a day. Until we reach 2114 when we will need 400 million barrels a day and we will have burned through all 9 trillion barrels (even the 6 trillion that are unlikely to exist).

Under that fantasy, you will live through the modern times and even your kids might live through it. Your grandkids: Fuck ‘em.

However this oil utopia can’t ever come to pass because of some real physical limitations on how we get oil and what oil is.

An ideal oil well taps into a “pocket” of light sweet Pennsylvania grade crude oil. This oil is transported to the surface through a 6-inch pipe pressured by natural gas. This light sweet Pinn oil can be filtered through an old sock and used to run a diesel engine. Back in the 1950s farmers would power their tractors straight from the wellheads in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Unfortunately, we are out of this type of well. Even in prime fields of Kentucky and Tennessee we are no longer pulling up diesel grade crude. As we move farther off the prime oil drilling areas the crude gets dirtier, as it gets dirtier it needs more processing which takes energy, meaning we get less net energy return per barrel. Once it takes more energy to process the oil than it returns it is useless as an energy source.

A lot of oil is useless, I have oil on my land, it is at 200 feet, but it is so thick it needs to be lifted out in buckets and it would take more energy to process it and turn it into fuel than the fuel gave back in energy. For a while people used this oil to paint fences with.

As well as quality of oil, new oil wells have to be drilled deeper. Oil wells in Texas are being drilled a mile deep to get the oil. That takes a lot of resources to drill and as we use up the prime spots to drill the chances of hitting oil grow smaller.

As the prime oil wells dry up we have to move to more and more remote parts to look for oil, beside the hazards of drilling in remote areas, it takes more oil to move the oil to places it will be processed and used. So as we try to get more oil we get less and less return from the oil.

Eventual we hit a peak as to how fast we can get the oil out of the ground. People in the oil industry believe we are at that peak now and that it is between 85 million and 88.5 million barrels a day.

People outside the industry have put the peak at 110 million barrels a day. Lets use their numbers.

If the peak is around 110 million barrels a day, we will reach that shortly after the end of the next decade. If we do nothing to stop our demand for oil all human progress will stop. As we will need to use more and more of our resources to get less and less oil.

The world will enter a period of deflation, the value of your property, assets, everything besides cash will become worth less. As far as the government debt ran up in the last 30 years, it will never be paid. Reducing the deficit now won't even help as GDP contracts permanently the trillions of dollars in accumulated debt will overpower any revenue.

When that happens the economy will break down. Oil and food will be the only currency and we will enter a new type of Dark Age. The infrastructure will start to collapse as it becomes impossible to maintain it and civilization will decline to a state that it can never emerge from as all the easy to get resource have been used up.

Keep in mind I have used the best possible numbers throughout this post, the reality probably much closer.

So to those people who think we can never get off oil think about the fact that in the best possible scenario, one that defies real physical limitations, we will be out of oil in 40 to 100 years. In reality the consequences of our oil addiction will hit much sooner.

So even if you truly believe that those of us looking for alternatives are wasting our time, you have nothing to lose as if you are right you will get to live to see the end of human civilization, but if you are wrong we can move through this period and start and new chapter in humanity’s history.

So to everyone who believes there is no is no point to trying to find alternatives to oil, I say, “Shut-up Stupid, Our quest to find an alternative to oil and continue to keep the human civilization moving forward beyond our current generation is not a matter of life and death, its much more important than that!”

By Darrell B. Nelson former VP of "Kentucky Mountainview Petroleum" and author of Invasive Thoughts