Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fossil fuels - boon or balloon?

GREAT (I repeat, great) article from Michael Klare about the current overenthusiasm for fossil fuels, fueled by new discoveries and new technologies, and how it is influencing all sorts of different policies, from energy to international relations.    Klare lays bare the underlying flimsiness of the architecture of power that's being constructed, showing that there are a lot of unjustified assumptions and unfulfilled promises that are being banked on, big-time, and speculated on, even bigger time.

Behind all this is the specter of climate change, which fracked natural gas and tar sands oil will only make worse.  Add to that the pollution of groundwater, the instabilization of the ground surface, the triggering of earthquakes, pipeline problems and oil spills on land and in the water - and the future is not so rosy as the people with rose-colored glasses are seeing.  And that's why, even though I have not opined on this subject for awhile, that I believe nuclear power is still the only truly viable long-term non-polluting, reliable, large scale energy-generating source currently available to us.

So below I provide some pithy excerpts from Klare's article, entitled, aptly, "Fossil Fuel Euphoria". The links come from the article.

A. GOOD. "The boost in domestic oil and gas output, it is further claimed, will fuel an industrial renaissance in the United States -- with new plants and factories being built to take advantage of abundant local low-cost energy supplies.  “The economic consequences of this supply-and-demand revolution are potentially extraordinary,” asserted Ed Morse, the head of global commodities research at Citigroup in New York.  America’s gross domestic product, he claimed, will grow by 2% to 3% over the next seven years as a result of the energy revolution alone, adding as much as $624 billion to the national economy."

B. GOOD. " A new elite consensus is forming around the strategic advantages of expanded oil and gas production.  In particular, this outlook holds that the U.S. is benefiting from substantially reduced oil imports from the Middle East by eliminating a dependency that has led to several disastrous interventions in that region and exposed the country to periodic disruptions in oil deliveries, starting with the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74.  “The shift in oil sources means the global supply system will become more resilient, our energy supplies will become more secure, and the nation will have more flexibility in dealing with crises,” Yergin wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "

C. NOT SO GOOD. " To begin with, those virtually “boundless” untapped oil reserves have yet to be systematically explored, meaning that it’s impossible to know if they do, in fact, contain commercially significant reserves of oil and gas.  To offer an apt example, the U.S. Geological Survey, in one of the most widely cited estimates of untapped energy reserves, has reported that approximately 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30% percent of its natural gas lie above the Arctic Circle.  But this assessment is based on geological analyses of rock samples, not exploratory drilling. "

D. NOT GOOD EITHER. "Finally, there is a crucial but difficult to assess factor in the future energy equation: the degree to which energy companies and energy states will run into resistance when exploiting ever more remote (and environmentally sensitive) resource zones.  No one yet knows how much energy industry efforts may be constrained by the growing opposition of local residents, scientists, environmentalists, and others who worry about the environmental degradation caused by unconventional energy extraction and the climate consequences of rising fossil fuel combustion.  Despite industry claims that fracking, tar sands production, and Arctic drilling can be performed without endangering local residents, harming the environment, or wrecking the planet, ever more people are coming to the opposite conclusion -- and beginning to take steps to protect their perceived interests."

E. WORST.  " As heat waves and extreme storm activity increase, so will concern over climate change and opposition to wholesale fossil fuel extraction.  The IEA warned of this possibility in the 2012 edition of its World Energy Outlook.  Shale gas and other unconventional forms of natural gas are predicted to provide nearly half the net gain in world gas output over the next 25 years, the report noted.  “There are,” it added, “also concerns about the environmental impact of producing unconventional gas that, if not properly addressed, could halt the unconventional gas revolution in its tracks.”

Of course, I recommend reading the whole article to get the full impact.  It describes well the good, the bad, and the unlikely.

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