Peak oil. It sure is a well-worn term these days isn’t it. For how long now have all manner of ‘ists’, from economists, scientists, geologists to cultists been dreading the fateful day when global oil production slips past it’s highest point of generation and begins the disastrously slow tumble into the abyss. Has it come yet?
For many environmentalists and clean energy advocates, the coming of the peak age was something to be heralded, a point in time when big oil conglomerates and lobbies would finally get what was due, a humongous kick up the ass and warning bells so loud they would have no choice but to change their ways. Of course, and I must admit I fell prey somewhat to this foolish dream, this was never, ever going to actually happen, especially knowing what we know about these rich black gold-diggers and planet-wide market forces. When peak oil eventually strikes, they will simply dig even deeper and ravage even further to continue selling what they love best - oil and gas. Well folks, looks like we may have reached the next level of ignorance.
Based on a report by famed energy expert Leonardo Maugeri, published with the Harvard J.F.K. School of Government, the world is far from it’s final days of generous oil extraction, oh far far from it. According to his worryingly optimistic and frankly laid-back assessment, the current daily generation of 93 million barrels will exceed 110 million by 2020, the largest increase in per-day extraction in a decade since the 1980s. How, you may ask, is this even possible? I thought the world was drying up and oil was on its deathbed, ready to be succeeded by its ‘cleaner’ bastard son natural gas. Let’s look to America and Canada for the answer - fracking and the release of so-called ‘unconventional’ oils.
By now we should all know roughly what fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is all about. The bottom-line is that it really is not good for the environment, in so so many ways it would be silly to list them here. However fracking, and the jointly terrible extraction of both shale oil and oil shale (look it up, surprisingly they are two different things, both bad news) are completely rewriting the peak oil history books. With this new technology, the once scared and struggling oil companies, fearful of their future without reserves, can begin to restock and resupply on a scale practically unheard of until now. It’s estimated that a particular shale formation underlying North Dakota could hold as much untapped oil as a small Persian Gulf nation, without all the political risk and instability. How absolutely perfect for the Americans.
Add to the mix the unimaginably oil and natural gas reserves resting under most of the northern parts of Canada and Alaska, of which more becomes available as the Arctic ice caps melt and recede, and we’ve got enough oil to last us a goddamn lifetime of frivolity and combustion. Given Canada’s recent stance on global climate debates, notably the Kyoto Protocol, it would not surprise me in the least to see them capitalise on this newfound glory to its fullest extent, draining the land beneath them and flooding the market with sweet oil. Even though this ‘unconventional’ stuff is terribly hard to reach and even more difficult, costly and damaging to refine, the big companies will do it anyway, as it’s just what they know best.
To top the cake with a nice fat cherry, the new oil production will facilitate the job market greatly, undoubtedly producing thousands of dirty jobs nationwide, something the American politicians and speakers never fail to emphasise, given how well it sits with voters. Even though it’s been proven on multiple occasions that renewable energy creates at least 4x the number of jobs over the same period as coal or oil, the instant policy-makers or environmentalists protest such doings, they will likely be branded heretics who fight to bring down the very creation of ‘blue-collar’ jobs. When the enemy has a weapon with such a sting as this, it’s almost a pointless endeavour.
Of course, this a rather defeatist, overly-pessimistic view of the near-future, but then again it’s what we’ve generally come to expect; it doesn’t take much of a brain to see that such vast domestic resources will be jumped on without hesitation. Sure companies will continue to do their ‘good bit’ by putting some money into clean technology as a front for public opinion, but everywhere else the wallets will be dripping with youthful oil as far as the eye can see.
Natural gas will likely still reign supreme a few years down the line, because it not only produces less carbon dioxide (see: it still produces carbon dioxide aplenty), but it is cheaper, safer and easier to extract and is highly tempting on the market, especially domestically. But instead of oil crashing and burning (sorry), it will be buoyed by this new wave of production, sticking around for long enough to literally hammer the final nail into the coffin of our climate and global ecosystem.
However we won’t notice due to the fact that life will be allowed to continue as normal; cars will still run, plastics will still be made and food will be transported from around the world to meet our needs. That is the true shame of this story.
The one last thing that really gets me is this. We can come up with truly ingenious technologies to harness the wind, sun, tides and rubbish for clean, renewable energy, but only plug so much money into it before we quickly grow bored and wait for something else to trigger its success. Equally, we can come up with fantastically stupid ways of extracting oil and gas from dense rock miles down, which costs millions more and pose hugely higher risks to both workers and the public, but as soon as we see the oil running and gas hissing, scratch that, even just the prospect of it, there’s no end to the money companies will provide to see it work. I despair.