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Letter: Oil Depletion - Apocalypse Now
Peter Chow for local2 sault ste. marie
April 28th, 2012 at 10:58am
Gasoline is the least expensive liquid we can buy – compare its cost per volume to bottled water, alcohol, juice, milk, or any other commercial liquid. Gas and oil are also by far the most underpriced liquids available.
One barrel of crude oil (currently $140) yields the energy equivalent of 12 men working 24/7 for one full year – a fantastic bargain even at minimum wage. One liter of gas ($1.44) will move your car with 4 occupants and their luggage for miles. Try and get manpower to do that for that price.
Our civilization runs on oil – oil is the lifeblood of mankind. Yet today we are standing on the brink of the apocalypse, the specter of oil depletion.
Oil obviously is a non-renewable resource, formed millions of years ago from decomposition of plant and animal (dinosaur) life. At last count, no new dinosaurs are being produced.
Oil production follows a bell curve, called Hubbert’s curve. In 1950 the USA produced half the world’s oil. In 1956 Hubbert predicted that the US would reach “peak oil” (production) in 1971 and sure enough, oil production started to decline in 1971. Today the US produces less than 7% of the world’s oil.
Oil industry experts believe that the world will soon reach “peak oil” if it hasn’t done so already. All the most recent major new finds, North Sea, Alaska Prudhoe Bay and Siberia have already peaked. OPEC production is based on the size of national reserves of oil left, so OPEC countries consistently deny any decrease in their reserves in order to maximize the amounts of oil they can export. Iraq was the biggest under-developed field left, leading to the US invasion. Experts believe that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer has peaked. More and more salt water is being pumped into Saudi oil fields to generate current levels of production.
The world uses 85 million barrels of oil per day. The American Petroleum Institute estimates the world’s reserves to be 1.25 trillion barrels. At 85 million barrels daily, the estimated oil depletion date is 2057. However oil demand, fueled by China and India and other developing countries, will rise to 120 million barrels before 2020. Energy researchers at Oxford University now predict that demand will exceed supply by 2015, ending mankind’s 100 year history of cheap oil.
The nightmare is that there is no foreseeable alternative available to replace oil on this kind of scale. Hydrogen fusion technology is estimated to be more than 40-50 years away in the future. Natural gas, wind, solar, hydro, tidal and nuclear cannot come close to meeting energy demand on the scale of oil.
The development of our oil sands (total reserves 177 billion barrels) is only an indication of desperation increasing. Extraction of oil from tar sands requires huge amounts of energy (from natural gas). It requires 4 units of water for each volume unit of crude oil produced, annually twice the amount of water consumed by the city of Calgary. The Athabasca River will become an environmental disaster. The oil sands are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, spewing out 40 million tons of CO2 per year.
Oil depletion will not be a pretty picture – transportation costs will skyrocket; the personal automobile will be unaffordable; prices at Walmart will skyrocket due to transportation costs from China; food prices will shoot up with drastic food shortages; living in suburbia will no longer be feasible; international travel will be a luxury only for the super-rich; wars will erupt over remaining oil (and water, another subject) supplies; economic, political and social chaos (ie.. terrorism) will ensue. The earth's population (7 billion) will contract; estimates are that there will be only enough energy to support less than 1 billion people. Stephen Hawking sees the only solution to be extra-terrestrial.
Our leaders are at a loss to even think about what lies ahead, so they don't, let alone have a dialogue about it.
Our generation has been extraordinarily lucky to live where and when we have, an unprecedented period in human history without major war, with cheap energy and a standard of living that will be unsustainable for future generations.
The challenge for the coming generation is to make a quantum leap in human ingenuity to avert the coming apocalypse, quantum advances along the lines of the development of the steam age, the oil age and the nuclear age.