Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Energy Scorecard


American geophysicist Marion Hubbert proposed a theory in 1956 that postulates oil production follows an eponymous curve. One of the predictions of this theory is that oil production will or already has peaked, and there is a lot of debate concerning whether the
Hubbert peak has passed.

Debate no more.

A little known fact is that the term oil reserves refers to the amount of oil recoverable under current economic restraint, and not the physical quantity of it in the ground. Hence technological improvements and the sky-high price per barrel of conventional petroleum actually increase the world oil reserves.

More importantly are the newly viable petroleum sources - tar sands and oil shale. In the past, it has been unfeasable to obtain petroleum from tar sands and oil shale simply because extraction can cost up to $30 a barrel while crude oil is closer to $10 a barrel. Recently, as crude oil shot to over $70 a barrel on world markets, it suddenly looked like a grand idea to head over to politically stable Canada and dig up some sandy oil. So much so that $100 billion is being pumped in the Fort McMurray area to build the necessary infrastructure.

Below I'm going to provide you with a list of the estimated total amount of oil in all its possible forms, just to prove that we are nowhere near the end of fossil fuels:

Exhibit A) Crude Oil
Estimated world resources: 1.7 trillion barrels

Exhibit B) Oil Shale
Estimated world resources: 1.6 trillion barrels

Exhibit C) Tar Sands (bitumen)
Estimated world resources: 3.6 trillion barrels

These figures are begging the question -
so how much oil do we actually use? Currently, annual petroleum consumption is 28 billion barrels which of course is expected to rise steadily as Indians and Chinese start buying Hummers by the boatload. If we make the assumption that annual world oil consumption is steady at 50 billion barrels, we've got 138 years left. Just for giggles 'n grins, we could include coal in our bag of fossil fuels:

Exhibit D) Coal
Estimated world resources: one exagram (1 followed by 15 zeros grams)

This coal will last at 300 years if population doesn't increase and an estimated 164 years if it does. In addition to coal, there are still other hydrocarbon fuels to be included such as natural gas and alternative fuels like ethanol which is extracted from corn or biodiesel which is extracted from the grease pit out back of McDonald's.

Think we've reached the Hubbert peak? Not likely - from the looks of things we've got over 300 years of carbon monoxide and dioxide huffing left to perfect nuclear fusion.

1 comment:

Phemfrog said...

But doesn't the extraction of oil from shale and tar sands much worse for the environment? I heard somewhere (no reference) that it makes more nasty biproducts, and really rips up the earth where they dig it out. I might be totally wrong here, so this is really a question not an arguement starter.