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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

"Everything you've heard about fossil fuels may be wrong"

Are we living at the beginning of the Age of Fossil Fuels, not its final decades? The very thought goes against everything that politicians and the educated public have been taught to believe in the past generation. According to the conventional wisdom, the U.S. and other industrial nations must undertake a rapid and expensive transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy for three reasons: The imminent depletion of fossil fuels, national security and the danger of global warming.

What if the conventional wisdom about the energy future of America and the world has been completely wrong?

As everyone who follows news about energy knows by now, in the last decade the technique of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," long used in the oil industry, has evolved to permit energy companies to access reserves of previously-unrecoverable “shale gas” or unconventional natural gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these advances mean there is at least six times as much recoverable natural gas today as there was a decade ago.

Natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide than coal, can be used in both electricity generation and as a fuel for automobiles.

The implications for energy security are startling. Natural gas may be only the beginning. Fracking also permits the extraction of previously-unrecoverable “tight oil,” thereby postponing the day when the world runs out of petroleum. There is enough coal to produce energy for centuries. And governments, universities and corporations in the U.S., Canada, Japan and other countries are studying ways to obtain energy from gas hydrates, which mix methane with ice in high-density formations under the seafloor. The potential energy in gas hydrates may equal that of all other fossils, including other forms of natural gas, combined.


RJ65 said...

I have been saying for years that the internal combustion engine will be obsolete long before we run out of fossil fuels. Your posting just proves me correct in this view.

Sixth Estate said...

I agree with RJ65. This is useful confirmation that "peak oil" will be driven by demand rather than supply (i.e. we'll stop buying it because we don't need or want it anymore, not because we've run out).

That said, this is actually a somewhat unfortunate development from an environmental perspective. It eliminates the option of running out of oil before we cause civilization-threatening climate change.

Cranky or Just A Crank said...

Although it is an old saw, it is still apropos to point out that the Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones; the Steam Age didn't end because we ran out steam.

Anonymous said...

"before we cause civilization-threatening climate change"

if you actually beleived that you wouldn't be wasting power posting on a blog; but the vast majority of AWG believers are frauds who will not practice what they preach