So like a kid who was handed a hundred dollars, we have foolishly spent all our savings at once. Millions of years of energy – wooooosh! Gone. Done. It is very difficult to predict just how many reserves are left or how much concentrated energy they hold, but their presence is increasingly rare and at greater and greater depths. It has become wildly more expensive to find and mine these energy reserves.  Here is a quick summary of why it is so expensive. It starts by the bidding off of plots of land (often underwater). Differnt oil companies will check out the plot and decide on it potential to yield oil/gas/etc. If the plot really looks promising, numerous companies will bid on the plot, driving up the price. Once bought, a company will run a few seismic lines to get some sections like the one below. On ships that run on the order of just a couple tens of thousands of dollars per day, this is one of the cheaper parts of the process. The seismic sections will be handed to the companies geologists or geophysicist who are in charge of predicting if their is oil hiding among any of the squiggly lines. Based on their stratigraphic knowledge, they look for a few things: A gas or oil source, a fault through which it may run, and an overlaying impermeable layer that may have “caught” the relatively buoyant oil or gas as it tried to float upward. It is far from easy. Seismic sections only give information about changes in sub-surface rock levels, nothing directly about their age, type, or any other property.

A typical color seismic section.
A typical color seismic section.

 

If the geologist thinks it is likely that oil has been trapped within some permeable rock by an overlaying impermeable rock, the oil company will then spend anywhere from millions to about a billion dollars sending out a drill rig, drilling down to where the oil should be, and hoping real hard they run into said oil. Well sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. If they don’t,  you better believe that one, the geologist who is payed the big bucks to read the squiggly lines is in some big trouble, and two, the cost of that and other failed exploratory drilling is incorporated into the price the oil company charges for its oil. As we are forced to drill deeper and deeper, the costs of drilling also increases exponentially. Further still, drilling deep into the seafloor under 4000 meters of water is significantly more difficult and expensive than drilling to the same depth from land, but sea based drill sites are far more common now as many land sites have been exhausted. So sometime in the future, the relatively near future, gas and oil prices will be increasing quite a bit more than they already have been. As we force ourselves to dig deeper and deeper to extract dwindling sources of oil and gas, the prices will be forced to skyrocket. Remember also, the cost of extracting oil is expensive not just in a set financial way, but also in an energy sense. More expensive oil literally drives oil to be more expensive. From well to gas station or power planet, it is a very energy intensive processes to harvest energy. Eventually, it just won’t be worth it. $4 dollars for a gallon of gasoline seems like a lot, but what about $10 or $20? In the past 20 years, the price for a gallon of gasoline has doubled, tripled, and then quadrupled. This will be a continuing trend. Would you still fill up your car’s tank if it costs $300 dollars? It is not a question of if this will happen, but how soon. Gasoline and other sources of concentrated energy will soon have to be viewed as a luxury instead of a necessity.

Electronics ItemsSo give it 10 years, 20, years, 50 years, whatever. At the current rate, natural energy stores financially worthwhile are sure to run out much sooner rather than later. Oh, and $10 dollars for a gallon of gas may sound inconvenient, but let’s think about what else runs on these extracted fossil fuels. For starters, your computer. Also, the internet, the lights in your house, your heater, your air-conditioner, your washer and dryer, your stove, your microwave, your refrigerator, your hot water and plumbing system, most of our military, your cell phone, your speakers, your television, the machines that harvest and deliver your food, the factories that make your clothing, the factories that make your, well, everything. Hopefully you get the point. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G runs on fossil fuels. Soon enough, all these things will be obsolete, at least in an economically viable sense — impossible to run except at very high costs. It will not happen at once, but gradually. We have seen the first phase; a push for more energy efficient cars, a few solar panels on top of homes, etc. In less than 20 years, we have about tripled the miles per gallon of our more fuel efficient cars. This, unfortunately, is not only a result of some pretty impressive technology, but the result of too many years of a market flooded with cheap concentrated energy. Why even worry about paying the extra money to make cars more efficient when a gallon of gas is as cheap as water? The next step is a few more energy decisions. Maybe clothes dryers will become a relic of the past, an obvious waste of energy when it take just slightly more time to dry clothing outside. Perhaps more people will start biking to work, less gas guzzling cars will be produced, and a few alternative energy sources will begin to become more  mainstream. As we tend to do though, we will wait until the last moment, until it just is not feasible to keep using energy the way we have. Then, soon enough and all of the sudden, we will have to stop using concentrated energy all together. Home gardens, solar water heaters, and wind turbines powered lights may seem like hippy jargon now, but what about when a quick run to the grocery stores to pick up some milk, cereal, and carrots costs you $100? Well, maybe our government will continue to do what it has done and drive inflation or subsidize food and gas more to help match these expenses, but we all know making up money to pay for real products is a game we can only play for so long. At some point, the goods we need for even basic survival will be worth more than any amount of made up money with no physical backing. Can you imagine the impact this will have on our modern society? We live by cheap and easily available energy. Maybe this is part of why no one seems to have wanted to face this “inconvenient truth” (yeayea). But, irregardless, these energy realities are coming. The time of cheap abundant concentrated energy is coming to an end and the massive empire we have built on its availability will follow in suit. So, what do we do ? Well, that brings us to (3) Admitting we have a problem.

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