Friday, August 04, 2006

End of cheap energy

I wrote this to some friends and, as the saying goes, that'll blog! I've been thinking about this stuff for a while and not sure what I wanted to say or how, until today.


World production of oil and natural gas barely meet consumption -- we use nearly as much as is pulled out of the ground -- so there is a razor-thin buffer between us and very high prices due to "this, that, or the other thing."

I'm convinced we've seen the end of truly cheap energy. Remember the price of natural gas last winter? Stocks were low and there were supplier concerns about not actually being able to meet demand. Our cheap & easy oil and natural gas are becoming harder to find, deposits are much smaller, and the oil is of poorer quality, needing to be further refined. Natural gas is really hard to ship (i.e., to import); pipelines are the best, but on US soil we're using more and more natural gas but finding less.

The search for oil and natural gas continues, with more expensive techniques, in deep waters, arctic conditions, tar sands, and so on, but that stuff isn't going to be cheap when it gets to market.

The average American uses about 25 barrels of oil a year (household energy use, transportation, food growing and transportation, products, packaging, etc.). In China, it is about 1.5 barrels per year and increasing. In Europe, it is typically 10-12 barrels of oil per year. We could use less oil and still have a good lifestyle here in the USA. I'm starting to change my life now and stop assuming there will be endless quantities of cheap oil and natural gas forever.

Tom Brokaw's special on global warming a week or so ago had a really cool way of showing our energy use -- in cubes and blocks of carbon streaming from everything we used, piling up over a typical family's house. Then he talked you through reducing energy use, and it cut the pile of carbon in half pretty easily.
Tom Brokaw's global warming special
It'll be on the Discovery Channel again on Aug. 21.

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