Oil Production and Climate Change
Comment of the Day

December 19 2014

Commentary by David Fuller

Oil Production and Climate Change

My thanks to a relative for this interesting and detailed report by James W Murray, School of Oceanography, University of Washington.  Because it consists mostly of graphics, here is the briefest opening:

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”

Mark Twain

There are many, many things that the public and policymakers know for sure about energy that just ain't so.

"We like to think that the reason we enjoy our high standards of living is because we have been so clever at figuring out how to use the world's available resources. But we should not dismiss the possibility that there may also have been a nontrivial contribution of simply having been quite lucky to have found an incredibly valuable raw material that for a century and a half or so was relatively easy to obtain."

- James D. Hamilton (Dept. of Economics, UCSD)

Oil Production has beenon a plateau since 2005

David Fuller's view

Here is the report on Oil Production and Climate Change.

Many thanks for this interesting and informative report.  I have been reading, trying to learn from, and commenting on energy reports for over 45 years.  Most have proved to be quite inaccurate, in terms of long-term forecasts, largely because their authors did not fully appreciate the march of technology.  Many also had biases, across the widest range, from green alarmists to industrial deniers.  Moreover, if what we know about energy production and technology had remained unchanged from the '60s or '70s, we would be living in a much more economically depressed and energy challenged environment today.  I think you could say the same about what we know today, relative to what will happen during the rest of our lives and well beyond.

Of course Climate Change is extremely important and worrying, and we are but one of its major causes, if we consider the long-term history of our planet.  Coal is currently the cheapest energy source, widely available and the biggest pollutant.  Fortunately, the use of coal is being phased out by many countries, not least in China, for health reasons. 

Greens and political alarmists such as Al Gore persuaded Germany to invest fortunes in inefficient wind mills and early solar projects.  As a consequence, in addition to some of the world's highest energy costs, Germany is burning more coal today because the renewables need back-up coal-fired plants to offset frequent, sudden shortfalls when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining.   

France closed some of its older nuclear power stations following Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, caused by a massive earthquake and tidal wave.  Today, France burns more coal for the same reasons as Germany, and both countries have considerably weaker economies.  These mistakes have been repeated across much of Europe and the UK.

The report above, interesting though it is, has biases and inaccuracies, such as the sweeping generalisations in points 3 & 4 below:

3. They are environmentally damaging because the fracking fluid is highly toxic and much of it escapes during the blowback process and sometimes water wells are contaminated.

4. Because each well has low flow and depletes quickly, massive numbers of wells must be drilled creating significant infrastructure damage to roads and bridges. Currently no state or municipal authorities are capturing anything close to the total cost of the infrastructure damage from the shale operators which means taxpayers are gong to be left paying those bills.

It is also out of date because oil extraction techniques are improving at a rapid pace.  More importantly, cleaner natural gas is eating into the global demand for oil far more rapidly than the best renewables.  You have probably read about Prelude, which is hugely important.  'New nuclear' power stations can dramatically reduce the need for crude oil.  The efficiency of solar power stations, large and small, continues to improve.  Let us hope that we live long enough to see commercial nuclear fusion, which will do more than anything else to reduce our contribution to Climate Change.

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