Sunday, March 02, 2008

What is the Outlook for the Availability of Fossil Fuels?

by Paul Calhoun

I think this article is comparable to the people who slow down on the highway to look at an automobile accident. You are not involved in the accident, yet you surely are curious about what is happening. At the present time we can sense the presence of a disaster, but we do not have enough information to feel that we can get involved. My push to adopt renewable energies is based on our continued polluting of the environment with the burning of fossil fuels. We know that we must slow down this pollution so that our quality of life will not be severely degraded. There is another piece of information needed to prod us into action, and that is how long do we have before we run out of fossil fuels? As a current member of the earth, I am concerned that we leave future generation’s sufficient energy to bridge the gap from fossil to renewable fuels. This, to me, is looking at the car wreck. How long do we have until we are the ones involved in the wreck?

The majority of Americans now think that climate change is a problem and that global warming is real. But there still is not a sense of urgency. Every year the US emits CO2 that equals the equivalent weight of 1.2 billion elephants (2 trillion pounds using average size elephants). It is time to stop ignoring 1.2 billion elephants in the room. It is time to implement a plan that will adopt renewable energies at a pace to stabilize the environment from CO2 pollution and then, hopefully, start to reduce the amount of pollution we must derive this plan with an eye to how long our reserves of fossil fuels will last. Once we derive this plan we then can look at future generations and inform them “Here is the plan”.

The development of modern civilization has been dependent on both the availability and the advancement of energy. We have witnessed a progression from animal and steam power to the internal combustion engine and electricity generation and to the harnessing of alternative sources of energy. Because of our reliance on energy sources, it is also important to understand the impact of energy use on the environment. All aspects of energy, the way it is produced, distributed, and consumed, can affect local, regional, and global environments through land use and degradation, air pollution and global climate change via greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the foreseeable future, it is very likely that fossil fuels will remain our largest source of energy. However, fossil fuels are finite resources and there is concern not only about both domestic supply and U.S. reliance on foreign supplies but, also, with the increasing cost of these fuels. The research on the longevity of fossil fuels is an exciting adventure in itself. I will touch on some of the theories before I conclude this series of articles. Given the slack of a decade or two, the best summation of the longevity of fossil fuels is presented in “Wikipedia, Fossil fuel: Years of production left in the ground with the most optimistic reserve estimates (Oil & Gas Journal, World Oil)”.

Oil: = 45 years

Gas: = 72 years

Coal: = 252 years

With the slack of plus or minus 10 years, most projections are consistent with the Wikipedia numbers. . The popular Hubert peak theory projects that for any given geographical area, from an individual oil-producing region to the planet as a whole, the rate of petroleum oil production tend to follow a bell-shaped curve. “Olduvai revisited 2008” from The Oil Drum blog is an amazing study. This theory was first laid out by Richard Duncan in1989 when he observed that world energy per capita had been declining for a decade. The Olduvai waveform for oil starts in 1950 which is consistent with the Wikipedia projections that the waveform will be completed by 2053.

The energy consumption of a nation is proportional to its Gross National Product (GNP).i.e. (The higher the GNP of a nation, then the higher its consumption.).To maintain our accustomed standard of living, we require the amount of energy that we are burning now to maintain our lifestyles. With the depletion of fossil fuels this will require renewable fuels to fill in the gap.

How do we hammer this information into a plan? A roadmap needs to be derived that utilizes the adoption of solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energies into our energy consumptions needs. Technologies such as stuffing CO2 into caves should not be adopted until they are proven. A plan that incorporates renewable energies with fossils fuels usage would be more realistic for our country to follow.

How do we proceed?

We must continue tax incentives for the renewable energy sectors to incubate their growth. Our House of Representatives in Congress has passed a bill to renew the energy tax incentives that are due to expire December 31, 2008. President Bush threatens to veto this bill because it taxes the Oil Industry $19 billion dollars from multi-billion dollar profits. The president’s premise is that the oil companies require these profits to continue exploration of new oil. Politics aside, we desperately need to find new sources of renewable energy.

We need to demand that our local and national leaders produce renewable energy action plans. There are pockets of leadership like Arizona and California. This leadership needs to be at a national level to be successful for the USA. Once this is accomplished we will be well on our way for future generations.

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