Exploring Hydrocarbon Depletion
Page added on February 26, 2012
Americans ought to stop complaining about the superficial “price of gas” and learn some geology. The world is finite and so is petroleum, coal, natural gas and even uranium. U.S. oil production peaked in 1970 and it’s become physically impossible for us to obtain the 10 MBPD flow-rate we had at the peak.
New oil drilling is mostly in deepwater locations, remaining Alaskan fields and low-EROEI “wet” shale that can be fracked (e.g. the Bakken Formation). Dry kerogen shale has much poorer net-energy than wet shale, since it must be cooked to release the oil. And it’s largely dry shale that people hype as “trillions of barrels” and the key to energy independence. They refuse to do the math of energy input vs. output, so they overstate recoverable shale oil by well over 90%.
Here’s a brief explanation of net-energy aka EROEI, which stands for Energy Returned on Energy Invested. Imagine that 10 barrels of oil exist 1,000 feet below your house, trapped in porous rock. If you need the energy-equivalent of 9 barrels of oil (gasoline or diesel powered equipment) to raise that oil out the ground and process it into usable fuel, you’ve only really extracted 1 barrel of oil (your net return). In the real world, you also have to include the cost of transporting the oil to refineries and gas stations at the end of the supply-chain.
That concept has been explained over and over to people who keep ignoring the full context of energy yields. They pretend America’s 1970 peak can be overcome with “new technologies” or blind optimism. People need to focus on the TOTAL amount of energy required to extract and process an oil reserve. The only oil that matters is what we can afford to burn, not just what exists hypothetically in the ground.
See part 1 of this clip for links to USGS & EIA info.