Ever the contrarian, I have been quite skeptical of the many breathless claims being made by wide swaths of the media about how a new energy bonanza is going to overtake the U.S. and eventually the world. The subject, of course, is the new shale plays in both natural gas and oil.[Chris Martenson]
While these plays are in special cases quite extraordinary, and the technology is just brilliant, many of the more exuberant claims made in the past about the potential contributions of these plays are now being dialed back.
The reason? Just like any other resource, the shale plays were ‘high graded,’ meaning the best ones were drilled first. (As they say in Texas: We drill the best spots first.)
The reason I say ... that shale oil proves that Peak Oil is upon us is that we would not be drilling them if there were anything better left to drill. The simple yet profound reason that we're going after this more difficult and expensive oil is—drum roll, please—the easy and cheap stuff is all gone.
There’s little to disagree with the proposition and strategy of touting good news versus bad. With plates full to overflow as it is for just about all of us, piling on discouraging or distressing news about even more challenges is not anyone’s first choice. It’s not in anyone’s Top 100.
This is all the more understandable when the facts relate to overarching problems which each of us can do little or nothing about on our own. Climate change is like that. So is peak oil.
Successful overcoming the countless challenges each of those topics will require from each and all of us is daunting on their best days. Recognizing that the collective efforts of countless industries, officials, organizations, and individuals—acting in concert no less—is a feat few of us have the time or inclination to consider. It’s simply overwhelming, and best left to another day….
A choice, of course, but one that will require a reckoning at some point. The good news loudly and frequently shared with us is that our energy/fossil fuel production has been on the increase in recent years, and that reserves exist in sufficient quantities to power all of our needs for decades to come. If it weren’t for the facts, it would be the best possible news we could hope for.
Touting the recent production increases without putting it in context in terms of historical trends offers a nice window to a much bigger scene. Overlooking the costs, quality issues, rapid depletion rates of what’s now being relied upon, and the many related factors (not the least among them the environmental and water usage concerns required to sustain the recent production increases) offers storytellers a nice montage of other and more pleasing aspects to share.
But those montages tell only a small part of the story, and have limited shelf lives.
If not today, then soon enough, the realities about declining conventional crude oil supplies and all the issues surrounding what’s required and what results from the efforts underway to find substitute sources will call for consideration and adaptation. Not the more pleasant side of the story, to be sure.
But the technological marvels and prowess we’ve demonstrated throughout our history need not and should not be limited to the hydraulic fracturing and deep-sea production innovations mow being relied upon. Those impressive enhancements are still being applied to finite, costlier resources. Finite….
Every day we spend relying on those magnificent improvements to provide us with another day of fossil fuel supplies is more day we lose to the necessary work of beginning to transition away from our all-encompassing dependency on those same finite, costlier resources. Better we try to get ahead of that challenge than be steamrolled by it.