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The Challenge (continued)

Petroleum & Natural Gas

Peak Oil

Petroleum is also clearly an issue but production has reached its peak (video). Soon production will begin dropping world wide by an estimated 4 to 5% per year. The reason for the steep decline is that technology got very efficient at sucking all the oil from an oil field. When the field is emptied, the decline in production is very rapid. This steep decline is happening to Cantraell in Mexico and in the North Sea where production is nose-diving at a rate of 10% per year.

The US military has warned that surplus oil production capacity
could disappear within two years
and there could be serious shortages
by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.
________The Guardian (April 10, 2010)

The original Joint Operating Environment report from the US Joint Forces Command (Senior commander, General James N Mattis) showed a projected steep drop in oil production from current oil fields at about 4.3% per year.

Production declines of this magnitude will mean that petroleum supplies from traditional sources will dwindle to nothing within the next 20 to 30 years.

Limiting Unconventional Sources of Fossil Fuels

Extraordinary Means of Recovery of Petroleum
will Lead to Catastrophic Climate Change

James Hansen has made it clear in his climate analysis, that we will need to block extraordinary means of recovery of petroleum from: tar sands, oil shale and offshore reservoirs. The atmosphere and the oceans cannot absorb the CO2 shocks from these sources, not if we want to drop to safe levels of CO2 (below 350 ppm) and avoid catastrophic climate change.

"The important point is that atmospheric carbon dioxide will peak at a value somewhere in the range 400 ppm to 425 ppm — if coal emissions are phased out by 2030 and if unconventional fossil fuels are not used significantly."

  1. Tar sands or oil sands are naturally occurring mixtures of sand or clay, water and an extremely dense and viscous form of petroleum called bitumen. Tar sands are found in large amounts in many countries throughout the world, but are found in extremely large quantities in Canada and Venezuela. They are a potent source of green house gases. James Hansen has warned:

                       The tar sands of Canada constitute a deadly threat to our planet.
                               The US and Canada must agree not to develop them.


  2. Oil Shale extraction is another form of unconventional oil production. Kerogen, an oil precursor in oil shale, is chemically treated often through pyrolysis to make a fuel oil. It is a low grade fuel. Shale Oil extraction pose environmental management issues, including waste disposal, extensive water use and waste water management and air pollution.

    It is not clear that this form of oil is ready for prime time. Since 2003 shale oil has gained attention as a potential substitute for crude oil. As of 2009, limited shale oil production was underway in Estonia, Brazil, and China. Australia, USA, Canada, Jordan, and Morocco have plans to initiate recovery attempts as well. Its economic viability varies with the ratio of local energy input costs to energy output value. We need to end our fossil fuel emission, not extend it further, if we intend to control atmospheric carbon dioxide.

  3. Offshore Oil Drilling has been progressing farther out into the sea and deeper under the ocean floor, at depths greater than 1000 feet to tap into one of the last remaining pockets of oil and natural gas in the world. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that occurred with the blowout of BP's Deep Water Horizon oil drilling rig (2010) demonstrated the extreme risk to the environment that these short-sited, poorly regulated and extreme recovery methods represent.

Frantic efforts to squeeze every last drop of oil out of the earth is not going to solve the peak oil problem, but these efforts will endanger the environment. Overdoses of atmospheric carbon dioxide from these sources will lead to catastrophic and irrevocable climate change. These environmentally disastrous, expensive, and climate-busting methods of recovery must be blocked through strong governmental action.

We must wean ourselves off of these environmentally calamitous and
ultimately pointless short-term fixes to our addiction to petroleum.
We have better choices.

Hopefully, no other fossil fuel will be used to replace petroleum. There have been proposals that we either use natural gas or liquefied coal to replace the diminishing petroleum supplies. Using natural gas would only hasten its peak as well as damage the environment. Liquefying coal is an egregiously polluting process and no solution to greenhouse gas emissions or global warming.

Natural Gas

Natural gas obtained with traditional recovery methods has been represented as our cleanest burning fossil fuel. Natural gas (video) is a "continental source" as this video explains and we are fast approaching the end of the natural gas reserves recoverable through traditional extraction methods.

A method of "last resort" called hydraulic fracturing (The Daily Show, video) also known as "fracking" is now being utilized extensively to increase the supply of natural gas in the United States. To implement this extreme method of recovery represents known environmental hazards to fresh water supplies as well as to air quality so extreme that the U.S. Congress created what has been referred to as the "Halliburton Loophole" in the environmental laws to allow scavengers in the petroleum and natural gas industries to proceed without environmental accountability. Specifically, in 2005 the recovery method called hydraulic fracturing was excluded from both the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Drinking Water Act, and the Superfund Act. Companies using this method of recovery do not have to disclose the fluid used in the fracking process. What Congress is finally asking now is, if the fracking method of natural gas recovery is so safe, why did the petroleum and gas industries seek such exclusions in the law?

For a very short term increase (3 to at most 10 year extension) in our peak natural gas supply, we are risking the poisoning of our fresh drinking and agricultural water with hundreds of extreme toxins and known carcinogens for generations to come. This map shows which states (34 of the 50 states) and their down river neighbors are most immediately impacted by this fresh water contamination issue.

Natural gas has been represented as an important bootstrap for the GREAT ENERGY TRANSITION. If this is true, we need to launch the transition, as safely recoverable and affordable forms of natural gas may well be in short supply within a decade.

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