Sat, Dec 08 2012 at 7:02 PM
Jim, I'm afraid you might be mixing up your terms. There's a big difference between resources, reserves, and supplies. Current oil production from tar sands is about 1.7 million barrels/day (less than 2% of global oil production). Yes, we import more oil from Canada than anywhere else but that's a result of economic and geological implications, not geological considerations. Saudi Arabia produces far more oil than Canada. So does the US for that matter. Even while the most rosy projections have tar sands production tripling by 2030 (see here: http://screencast.com/t/rXqhjy4NNK), that's still no energy panacea. Do tar sands have the potential to "postpone peak oil for decades?" No, not when depletion from conventional fields is 4 mbd per year, more than twice what tar sands add to world oil production. Does that mean we should destroy boreal forests, build pipelines, and burn this awful stuff? No. In fact, the difficulty and high cost of producing tar sands oil is another strong argument for investing in conservation and renewables. I wish more of my fellow environmentalists could realize that. And as for oil shales: Yes, they are considered to be the largest reserves in the world and the US is said to have half the world's reserves. But they are really misnamed -- not oil but rather kerogen, which basically means it was never exposed to the temperatures and pressure required to turn it into oil. We've known about this stuff for a long time, but in order to turn it into liquid fuels it requires us to essentially bake it at high temperatures for a very long time. It's very costly and has very low EROEI, which is why the all-time peak of world production was in 1980 at about 18,000 barrels/day. That was about 0.2% of world production. Even with record high prices in the last five+ years we've not seen a big investment push. Lastly, you say "The higher oil prices go, the more economic it is to drill those resources." Yes, but high oil prices have a tendency to put a drag on the economy and destroy demand. You might be interested in the analysis done by economist James Hamilton on the correlation between oil price spikes and recessions: http://dss.ucsd.edu/~jhamilto/oil_history.pdf. This is complicated stuff to be sure. I'd be happy to share more information with you, if you're interested. The bottom line is that we must transition away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible BOTH because of climate change and other environmental risks AND because we are exiting the age of cheap and easy energy, entering what Michael Klare calls the age of "extreme energy."
Sat, Dec 08 2012 at 2:51 PM
With all due respect to Jim Motavalli, this post is another example of why it's so important to raise the fundamental energy literacy of many environmentalists who seem not to understand the difference between a resource and a reserve. "We now face a glut of oil discoveries, plus big supplies from unconventional sources such as Canadian tar sands. Natural gas, cleaner than oil but still a fossil fuel, is available in unprecedented abundance (thanks to hydraulic fracking). Peak oil, it’s not happening." The fact that we are drilling 18,000 feet down in deep water, digging up bitumen that requires high levels of natural gas, water, and dilutants, or exploding shale rocks deep under ground and pumping in water and chemicals to get at tight oil or shale gas deposits IS PEAK OIL. Are there enough accessible hydrocarbons to tip us well over into climate no man's land? Hell yes. But those of us concerned about climate change would do well to embrace economic/supply constraint arguments in our opposition to the fossil fuel death-grip on our energy future. By erroneously reinforcing the industry's hype about the potential of shale gas, tight oil (shale oil), and tar sands, we keep the debate exactly where the industry wants it -- as a choice between environmental protection on the one hand and jobs, economic growth, and energy security on the other. It's a false choice.