A pessimist believes there is no hope while an optimist thinks everything will turn out all right. A person of hope, however, tries to solve problems with the faith that his/her actions will create a better future.
Richard Heinberg, senior fellow-in residence at the Post Carbon Institute, spoke recently in my town about peak oil and its implications for our way of life and for once I didn't end up discouraged and depressed about the future. Actually, he both inspired and energized me as he sounded a clarion call for the audience to help create the next major era in our world's history--and I want to be a part of it!
Peak oil means that we're extracting oil at the highest rate we will ever achieve. After peak, the rate of production falls even though there's still a lot of oil left. That's when the problems begin because our entire economy is designed to function properly only when oil supplies are increasing.
A lot of people are depending on technology to come up with alternatives to oil: biofuels, hydrogen, tar sands, switch grass, wind, solar and the like. However, these resources cannot make up for the huge demand for oil.
For example, Americans currently consume 19.5 million barrels of oil per day while the rest of the world consumes 85 million barrels.
To give some scale to this, the United States, the top consumer, uses almost as much as the next four highest consumers combined including China (7.8 million), Japan (4.8 million), India (3 million) and Russia (2.9 million).
It is important to note that peak oil doesn't mean we will be without oil. There is still a lot in the ground. What it means is that we are running out of cheap oil.
The oil we have been using over the past 150 years is the easiest to pump out and it's called "light sweet crude" for that reason. You just dig a well and the oil gushes out. That's why it is so cheap.
A land-based drill goes down into the earth 300 to 800 feet and costs $1 to $15 million depending on the well's depth and difficulty. Compare that to deepwater rigs that cost between $200,000 to $400,000 per day with a single well costing $100 million.
Heinberg says that about a third of U.S. oil comes from off-shore drilling.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has shown how very risky offshore drilling is. Birds, marine life and the tourist and fishing industries on the coast near Louisiana have been devastated. Meanwhile, the media and politicians have glossed over the fact that the Gulf of Mexico has almost 4,000 rigs operating under the same set of loose safety and regulatory requirements and enforcements as the Deepwater Horizon.
What are the chances of another spill? In June another occurred, this one southeast of the Mississippi Delta, before the first one had been stopped!
Many people think the high price of oil is due to greedy oil corporations. What is not understood is that more and more oil is being produced by difficult-to-obtain processes like the tar sands (a.k.a. oil sands) (http://www.energy.alberta.ca/OurBusiness/oilsands.asp). They are literally ripping the earth apart over 54,132 square miles of Alberta, Canada, to scoop up a heavy and viscous mixture of sand, clay, minerals, water and bitumen that are then treated and sent to refineries to produce gasoline and diesel. Each day 1.31 million barrels of bitumen are extracted (2008). Total reserves are now estimated at 171.8 billion barrels or about 13 percent of total global oil reserves (1,342 billion barrels), second only to Saudi Arabia.
Many people think biofuels will save us but they evoke some uncomfortable dilemmas. Land for biofuels would compete for space with land for growing food. Secondly, it takes more energy to produce ethanol than it gives. Finally, using land to grow fuel for our cars creates a moral and ethical problem when we consider that in 2008 there were riots in 20 countries because of food shortages.
In the 1930s, America used to supply half of the world's oil, said Heinberg. However, the U.S. rate of production peaked in 1970. Now we import 65 percent of the 19.5 million barrels of petroleum that we consume each day.
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