Top Leaderboard, Site wide
September 21, 2014
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
Help us grow by sharing
and liking Truthdig:
Sign up for Truthdig's Email NewsletterLike Truthdig on FacebookFollow Truthdig on TwitterSubscribe to Truthdig's RSS Feed

Newsletter

sign up to get updates


Political Will Is Only Barrier to 100 Percent Renewables
Truthdigger of the Week: Naomi Klein




A Chronicle of Echoes


Truthdig Bazaar
The John Lennon Letters

The John Lennon Letters

Edited by Hunter Davies
$29.99


Dark Hope

By David Shulman
$14.69

more items

 
Report

A Tough-Oil World

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share

Posted on Mar 14, 2012
Azzazello (CC-BY)

By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch

This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Oil prices are now higher than they have ever been—except for a few frenzied moments before the global economic meltdown of 2008. Many immediate factors are contributing to this surge, including Iran’s threats to block oil shipping in the Persian Gulf, fears of a new Middle Eastern war, and turmoil in energy-rich Nigeria. Some of these pressures could ease in the months ahead, providing temporary relief at the gas pump.  But the principal cause of higher prices—a fundamental shift in the structure of the oil industry—cannot be reversed, and so oil prices are destined to remain high for a long time to come.

In energy terms, we are now entering a world whose grim nature has yet to be fully grasped.  This pivotal shift has been brought about by the disappearance of relatively accessible and inexpensive petroleum—“easy oil,” in the parlance of industry analysts; in other words, the kind of oil that powered a staggering expansion of global wealth over the past 65 years and the creation of endless car-oriented suburban communities. This oil is now nearly gone.

The world still harbors large reserves of petroleum, but these are of the hard-to-reach, hard-to-refine, “tough oil” variety. From now on, every barrel we consume will be more costly to extract, more costly to refine—and so more expensive at the gas pump.

Those who claim that the world remains “awash” in oil are technically correct: the planet still harbors vast reserves of petroleum. But propagandists for the oil industry usually fail to emphasize that not all oil reservoirs are alike: some are located close to the surface or near to shore, and are contained in soft, porous rock; others are located deep underground, far offshore, or trapped in unyielding rock formations. The former sites are relatively easy to exploit and yield a liquid fuel that can readily be refined into usable liquids; the latter can only be exploited through costly, environmentally hazardous techniques, and often result in a product which must be heavily processed before refining can even begin.

Advertisement

Square, Site wide
The simple truth of the matter is this: most of the world’s easy reserves have already been depleted—except for those in war-torn countries like Iraq.  Virtually all of the oil that’s left is contained in harder-to-reach, tougher reserves. These include deep-offshore oil, Arctic oil, and shale oil, along with Canadian “oil sands”—which are not composed of oil at all, but of mud, sand, and tar-like bitumen. So-called unconventional reserves of these types can be exploited, but often at a staggering price, not just in dollars but also in damage to the environment.

In the oil business, this reality was first acknowledged by the chairman and CEO of Chevron, David O’Reilly, in a 2005 letter published in many American newspapers. “One thing is clear,” he wrote, “the era of easy oil is over.” Not only were many existing oil fields in decline, he noted, but “new energy discoveries are mainly occurring in places where resources are difficult to extract, physically, economically, and even politically.”

Further evidence for this shift was provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a 2010 review of world oil prospects. In preparation for its report, the agency examined historic yields at the world’s largest producing fields—the “easy oil” on which the world still relies for the overwhelming bulk of its energy. The results were astonishing: those fields were expected to lose three-quarters of their productive capacity over the next 25 years, eliminating 52 million barrels per day from the world’s oil supplies, or about 75% of current world crude oil output. The implications were staggering: either find new oil to replace those 52 million barrels or the Age of Petroleum will soon draw to a close and the world economy would collapse.

Of course, as the IEA made clear back in 2010, there will be new oil, but only of the tough variety that will exact a price from us all—and from the planet, too.  To grasp the implications of our growing reliance on tough oil, it’s worth taking a whirlwind tour of some of the more hair-raising and easily damaged spots on Earth.  So fasten your seatbelts: first we’re heading out to sea—way, way out—to survey the “promising” new world of twenty-first-century oil.


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

By prosefights, April 25, 2012 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment

Readers may benefit from

Toward Energy Literacy

http://www.energypulse.net/centers/article/article_display.cfm?a_id=2526

Report this

By Jozef Oud, April 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To quote the last line of this excellent article: Who would want it? Indeed! I certainly don’t. But we are all being forced into this even as clean, sustainable energy is abundant! I’m talking about HYDROGEN, the most common element on the planet. But the technology to use it is being suppressed by the fossil fuel companies. Wake up, people, defend our Earth against the evil greed. Demand we switch to clean energy by investing all that money it will cost to get the oil into renewables. Refuse to pay fuel taxes, break free, we’ve all been held hostage for far too long! Now is the time!

Report this

By diman, March 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment

For those of you interested in the problem, watch the documentary “Collapse” with Michael C. Ruppert.

Report this

By prosefights, March 15, 2012 at 6:54 am Link to this comment

BEFORE THE NEW MEXICO PUBLIC REGULATION COMMISSION

IN THE MATTER OF THE APPLICATION OF NEW MEXICO GAS COMPANY FOR APPROVAL OF 2012 ENERGY EFFICIENCY PROGRAMS AND PROGRAM COST TARIFF RIDER PURSUANT TO THE NEW MEXICO PUBLIC UTILITY AND EFFICIENT USE OF ENERGY ACTS.

NEW MEXICO GAS COMPANY, Applicant.  )

Case No. 11-00369-UT

PROPOSED DECISION OF HEARING EXAMINER

http://www.prosefights.org/nmgco/intervene/hearing/hearing#response

Report this
Clash's avatar

By Clash, March 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm Link to this comment

Yup slim Picken’s buying up as much of the water in the Ogallala Aquifer as he can, so he can sell it back to?

I don’t no about spearing the Earth, and pumping toxic chemicals to cool drills, and hydraulically fracture rock for the gas, but the additives in the water sure taste great, probably good for you to?

Sorta like the Hanford plume.

Report this
Clash's avatar

By Clash, March 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm Link to this comment

March 11, passed by and I didn’t see any articles here about the emperors plans to back the building of 2 more machines from hell, happy Fukushima day.

I know they say it will all be cleaned up in 30 years, but I think they left some 0’s out of their number.

Report this
Clash's avatar

By Clash, March 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm Link to this comment

The end of the age of oil, finally? That easy, I don’t think so, not till those who control the resources make the earth a grave.

Report this
 
Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
 
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
 
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
 
 
 
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
 
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
 

A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion   Publisher, Zuade Kaufman   Editor, Robert Scheer
© 2014 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.

Like Truthdig on Facebook