Wednesday, November 21, 2012
There’s a lot of hype about all the non-traditional oil and gas being produced in the United States. People even talk about the US becoming a net energy exporter.
It’s not like there’s been a sudden discovery of all these energy sources. Petroleum engineers have known about them and how to recover them for years. They just haven’t been economically viable until now.
Oil at ~$90/barrel makes them worth going after. The big question is whether or not the economy is viable with $90 oil. There’s some evidence it isn’t.
I’ve some grave and serious doubts about the boom as it has all the hallmarks of being just another bubble getting ready to burst.
Never mind that. Let’s say that it is really a good investment. Assume that the energy yields are significantly larger than the energy invested. Pretend that the recovery processes are not harmful to the environment. While we are in dreamland, let’s say there’s 20 years of energy surplus.
Great. Then what? Eventually, we start to use more oil and gas than we produce. All the heroic effort and investment no longer produce the needed energy. Where is the country then? I’d say we’d be worse off than before.
In the mean time, the rest of the world goes down another path. Efficiencies are increased. Sustainable alternatives are developed. While the US is grubbing in the ground for the last drop of oil, other places will be enjoying clean, low cost energy.
I know this can happen because it did happen. The United States used to lead the world in wind and solar technologies. Then cheap Alaskan oil flooded the market. The US dropped development of alternatives. Other countries did not and are now reaping the benefits.
Germany has produced over half it’s power from renewables. Other countries are catching up. (except for the US) Now the United States imports wind generators and solar electric panels from the rest of the world.
There’s not a whole heck of a lot that I can do to influence national policy. That doesn’t mean individuals have to make the same mistakes their government makes. It wouldn’t hurt to take energy conserving measures in our personal lives. Producing even a little renewable energy at home provides a taste of energy freedom. Your home energy policies are too important to leave in the hands of politicians.