Alternate Energy Sources


Myths and Realities of Mineral Resources, Walter Youngquist

  • The United States passed the point of oil self-sufficiency in 1970, and has been an importer of oil ever since then.
  • Where there are great thicknesses of sedimentary rocks, 16,000 feet is, with a few exceptions, the limit of oil occurrence. Below that depth, because of the temperature of the Earth, only gas exists.
  • At the present time the U.S. uses about 18 million barrels of oil a day. A 100 million barrel oil field is regarded in the petroleum industry as a "giant." They have been discovered only infrequently. Yet if one of these giant oil fields was used to supply U.S. oil demand, it would last less than six days! Each well makes a contribution, and each discovery serves to stretch out domestic supplies a little longer. Individually most fields, with the notable exception of the huge Prudhoe Bay Field, and each well produces an insignificant amount of oil relative to total U.S. production. But taken together they add up to the 6.4 million barrels a day now being produced.
  • It is true that worldwide oil production is becoming a bigger and bigger business. The reason is that the easy to find, shallow oil has been found. Now, more and more significant discoveries have to be searched for in remote "frontier" areas (arctic, or jungle) or must be sought after in deep water offshore areas which involve very expensive exploration programs. Costly leases must be negotiated with foreign governments, and if the area of interest is offshore, huge drilling platforms which may cost half a billion dollars or more must be built. These are expensive areas in which to operate.
  • Alternative energy sources can replace oil in its energy uses, but in some uses much less conveniently than in others.
  • At the present time, 97 percent of the world's approximately 600 million vehicles are powered by some form of oil.
  • The British scientist, Sir Crispin Tickell, states a very important fact, "…we have done remarkably little to reduce our dependence on a fuel which is a limited resource, and for which there is no comprehensive substitute in prospect."(28) It is very important to note that there is no apparent replacement for oil in the volumes and ways in which we now use it. The transition to a comparable energy source or sources will be difficult, and probably much less convenient than using oil.
  • Conversion to a solar energy economy would involve vast construction projects installing huge collecting systems. Houses and factories would have to be redesigned to much more energy efficient standards. In transport, an electric economy means electric cars, and the facilities to generate huge amounts of power beyond what is presently being used. And the electric car, as far as can be visualized with reasonably foreseeable technology, would not offer the degree of mobility which gasoline powered vehicles do.
  • There are several reasons why converting growing plants to oil will not be a significant substitute for oil obtained from wells. These have been touched upon in other chapters. Briefly they are:
          • The energy conversion efficiencies are low, in some cases as with ethanol from corn, it is negative.
          • The energy cost of harvesting and transporting the materials is high relative to the energy produced. In the case of wood, cutting the trees and loading and hauling them to a processing plant would be energy intensive even before processing into a liquid.
          • The volumes of plant material available are not sufficient to yield large amounts of oil, given the low energy conversion efficiencies.
          • The degradation of the land growing these materials by continuing harvesting without returning the fiber to the land is severe.
          • If wood is considered, there is already a scarcity of wood in most of the world. In the form of wood waste (little is wasted now) there is insufficient raw material from this source to provide significant amounts of feedstock to convert to liquid fuel.
          • The best land is now under cultivation for much needed human food supplies. If plants were used for raw material for liquid fuel conversion they would either have to displace food crops from present agriculturally developed land, or put marginal lands (thin soil, steep hillsides) into production which would greatly increase land degradation by erosion, and also have serious downstream effects, including silting up of reservoirs.
  • There had been no demonstrated methods of oil recovery at costs competitive with oil of comparable quality, nor have there been any such methods demonstrated to this date (1981).
  • Much of the oilsand is too deep to be reached by strip mining. Other methods are being tried to recover this deeper oil, but the economics are marginal. With the strip mining and refining process now in use, it takes the energy equivalent of two barrels of oil to produce one barrel.
  • Energy and mineral conservation and recycling are useful goals, but conservation is only a temporary solution to the overall problem of continued growth of energy demand from an ever-increasing population.
  • The rate of consumption of almost ail resources, particularly energy, is increasing every year.
  • Faith that science and technology can solve all resource supply problems is evidenced by the widely expressed public view that "you scientists will think of something." It ignores the fact that something cannot be made from nothing, and in order to have a resource one must have some material thing with which to work. This fact, however, is met with the thought that substitutions can be made.
  • Science and technology will not be able to continue to discover and develop the amount of new resources necessary to support a population growing at an exponential rate.
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