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Oil Well Pumps

What should be done about our greatest addiction?Posted: August 11, 2012

Perceptions by Gerry Warner

The clock is ticking!

No, I’m not talking about the Doomsday Clock, which measures how close the world is to nuclear catastrophe. Nor am I talking about that annoying electronic or mechanical contrivance you have at your bedside that jolts you every morning into facing another day.

The “something” I’m talking about is much more serious than any of these. Indeed it’s a “something” that drives every aspect of our lives as well as world politics, the economy, our climate and the very viability of our industrial civilization. It’s also our greatest addiction and we’re becoming more hooked all the time even though the supply is steadily decreasing, even as our need becomes greater and greater.

You know what I’m talking about because you use it every day even though you may seldom think about it. But you’ll be thinking about it more in the near future as the clock continues to tick down and we haven’t yet found a viable alternative to our addiction to oil.

Is addiction too strong of a word? Well, consider this. Global oil consumption in 2010 (the latest statistic) stood at almost 85 million barrels-a-day. That’s “barrels,” not gallons and every day we use more (40,000 gallons-a-second). How long can the planet sustain this thirst? That’s where, pardon the pun, sparks begin to fly because some, often think tanks supported by oil companies, claim there are many new reserves to be tapped in shale beds, under the ocean and beneath the rapidly melting arctic ice.

And there’s undoubtedly some truth to this, but it isn’t the whole story because there’s a great difference between reserves and “economically accessible reserves.” Much of the oil being counted on in the future is just too expensive to pump or frack out of the ground, to bring up from the ocean floor or get out from under the ice. In fact, according to Alex Kuhlman, a University of Amsterdam economist and internationally recognized oil expert and author of ‘The Peak Oil Survival Guide,’ it may already be too late. “Oil is now being consumed four times faster than it is being discovered, and the situation is becoming critical.”

Kuhlman points out that oil production has already peaked in 33 out of 48 countries producing it including Kuwait, Russia and Mexico. As for Canada’s vaunted oil sands, they are barely feasible even now because for every three barrels of crude the tar sands produce it takes the equivalent of two barrels of oil energy (usually natural gas) to produce enough heat to process the oil. And when you consider the political battle going on now over the proposed Enbridge oil pipeline to the West Coast and the need for more oil tankers to carry the dangerous black liquid down the coast, the oil sands become even less viable.

Kuhlman puts it this way. “The world is not running out of oil itself, but rather its ability to produce high quality, cheap and economically extractable oil on demand . . . . “ The Stone Age did not end because of lack of stones and the Oil Age won’t end because of lack of oil. The issue is lack of further growth.”

Worldwide discovery of oil peaked in 1964 and has been falling ever since. Since 1981, we’ve been consuming more oil than we’ve been discovering and it’s now widely acknowledged by the world’s leading petroleum geologists that more than 95 percent of all recoverable oil has been found, says Kuhlman.

Truth to say, there are those who claim the notion of peak oil is a “myth.” Then again, the same thing is often said about climate change as the world’s glaciers inexorably melt under that warm cloud of green-house gases that our consumption of oil contributes so mightily to.

But there are no easy answers to this conundrum. Oil has given large parts of the world, especially the West, the highest standard of living in history. Nobody should be under any illusions that people will part with our high standard of living easily. Even if a world-wide consensus developed overnight to move away from oil (highly unlikely) it would take at least a generation to wean us off the magic hydrocarbon and all the infrastructure that goes with it.

But we better get started now because as the U.K Energy Research Centre says: “A global peak is inevitable. The timing is uncertain, but the window is rapidly narrowing.”

Anyone out there want to buy a used SUV?

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and Cranbrook City Councillor. His views are his own and he does not speak for Council.

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