Wednesday, 4 December 2013

"Fossil Fuel Euphoria"... and peak oil

The Transition Town movement was founded on the dual concerns of climate change and peak oil:

infographic why section
Why | Transition Network
Futures Forum: Transition Towns... and climate change
Futures Forum: Peak Oil... and Transition Towns ...and the energy descent action plan

Business and politicians seem 'accepting' of the issue of climate change:
Futures Forum: "Limits to adaptation to climate change: a risk approach:" event 16th December
Are We Giving Up on Managing Climate Risk? Part 3: Can We Avoid “Bad Things Happen, and Then More Bad Things Happen”? | The Climatographers
Futures Forum: "...trying to use Typhoon Haiyan as an excuse to justify more concerted global action to 'combat climate change'... "
David Cameron: Philippines typhoon 'could be linked to climate change' - Telegraph

Attitudes towards the issue of 'peak oil' are changing: 
Futures Forum: Peak Oil... and EROEI... or Energy Return on Energy Investment
Futures Forum: Peak Oil: 10 Years After 'The Party's Over': an interview with Richard Heinberg
Futures Forum: Energy crisis, what energy crisis? ... "Understanding Our Oil-Related Fiscal Cliff." ... But "the shift toward renewables has several difficulties..."

Business and politicians seem 'euphoric' about the promise of a new fossil-fuel bonanza:

Fossil Fuel Euphoria

For years, energy analysts had been anticipating an imminent decline in global oil supplies. Suddenly, they’re singing a new song: Fossil fuels growing scarce? Don’t even think about it! The news couldn’t be better: fossil fuels will become ever more abundant. And all that talk about climate change? Don’t worry about it, they chant. Go out and enjoy the benefits of cheap and plentiful energy forever. This movement from gloom about our energy future to what can only be called fossil-fuel euphoria may prove to be the hallmark of our peculiar moment.

What we’re seeing is a sea change in elite thinking on the future availability and attractiveness of fossil fuels. Senior government officials, including President Obama, have already become infected with this euphoria, as have top Wall Street investors—which means it will have a powerful and longlasting, though largely pernicious, effect on the country’s energy policy, industrial development and foreign relations.
The speed and magnitude of this shift in thinking has been little short of astonishing. Just a few years ago, we were girding for the imminent prospect of “peak oil,” the point at which daily worldwide output would reach its maximum and begin an irreversible decline. This, experts assumed, would result in a global energy crisis, sky-high oil prices and severe disruptions to the world economy.
Today, peak oil seems a distant will-o’-the-wisp. Citi's Ed Morse Explains Why Everyone Is Wrong About Peak Oil, Calls for $80-90 Crude In 2020 - Business InsiderEd Morse: Move Over, OPEC—Here We Come - WSJ.com Experts at the US government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) confidently project that global oil output will reach 115 million barrels per day by 2040—a stunning 34 percent increase above the current level of 86 million barrels. Natural gas production is expected to soar as well, leaping from 113 trillion cubic feet in 2010 to a projected 185 trillion in 2040.
These rosy assessments rest to a surprising extent on a single key assumption: that the United States, until recently a declining energy producer, will experience a sharp increase in output through the exploitation of shale oil and natural gas reserves through hydro-fracking and other technological innovations.
Money Pouring Into Fossil Fuels
This burst of euphoria about fossil fuels and America’s energy future is guaranteed to have a disastrous impact on the planet. In the long term, it will make Earth a hotter, far more extreme place to live by vastly increasing carbon emissions and diverting investment funds from renewables and green energy to new fossil fuel projects. For all the excitement these endeavors may be generating, it hardly takes a genius to see that they mean ever more carbon dioxide heading into the atmosphere and an ever less hospitable planet.
The preference for fossil fuel investments is easy to spot in the industry’s trade journals, as well as in recent statistical data and anecdotal reports of all sorts. According to the reliable International Energy Agency (IEA), private and public investment in fossil fuel projects over the next quarter-century will outpace investment in renewable energy by a ratio of three to one. In other words, for every dollar spent on new wind farms, solar arrays and tidal power research, three dollars will go into the development of new oil fields, shale gas operations and coal mines. 
From industry sources it’s clear that big-money investors are rushing to take advantage of the current boom in unconventional energy output in the United States—the climate be damned... This, indeed, was the conclusion reached by the IEA, which in 2012 warned that the seemingly inexorable growth in greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide is likely to eliminate all prospect of averting the worst effects of climate change.
Is the Euphoria Justified?
There is no doubt that the present fossil fuel euphoria will lead in troubling directions, even if the rosy predictions of rising energy output are, in the long run, likely to prove both unreliable and unrealistic. The petro machismo types make several interconnected claims:
* The world’s fossil fuel reserves are vast, especially when “unconventional” sources of fuel—Canadian tar sands, shale gas and the like—are included.
* The utilization of advanced technologies, especially fracking, will permit the effective exploitation of a significant share of these untapped reserves (assuming that governments don’t restrict fracking and other controversial drilling activities).
* Fossil fuels will continue to supply an enormous share of global energy requirements for the foreseeable future, even given rising world temperatures, growing public opposition and other challenges.
Each of these assertions is packed with unacknowledged questions and improbabilities that are impossible to explore thoroughly in an article of this length. But here are some major areas of doubt.
> To begin with, those virtually “boundless” untapped oil reserves have yet to be systematically explored, meaning that it’s impossible to know if they do, in fact, contain commercially significant reserves of oil and gas. To offer an apt example, the US Geological Survey, in one of the most widely cited estimates of untapped energy reserves, has reported that approximately 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent percent of its natural gas lie above the Arctic Circle. But this assessment is based on geological analyses of rock samples, not exploratory drilling. Whether the area actually holds such large reserves will not be known until widespread drilling has occurred. So far, initial Arctic drilling operations, like those off Greenland, have generally proved disappointing.
> The effectiveness of new technologies in exploiting such problematic reserves is also open to question. True, fracking and other unconventional technologies have already substantially increased the production of hard-to-exploit fuels, including tar sands, shale gas and deep-sea reserves... The big question, however, is whether these projected increases will actually come to fruition. While early gains are likely, the odds are that future growth will come at a far slower pace.
Doubts are also multiplying over the potential for exploiting shale reserves in other parts of the world. Preliminary drilling suggests that many of the shale formations in Europe and China possess fewer hydrocarbons and will be harder to develop than those now being exploited in this country. In Poland, for example, efforts to extract domestic shale reserves have been stymied by disappointing drilling efforts and the subsequent departure of major foreign firms, including Exxon Mobil and Marathon Oil.
> Finally, there is a crucial but difficult to assess factor in the future energy equation: the degree to which energy companies and energy states will run into resistance when exploiting ever more remote (and environmentally sensitive) resource zones. No one yet knows how much energy industry efforts may be constrained by the growing opposition of local residents, scientists, environmentalists and others who worry about the environmental degradation caused by unconventional energy extraction and the climate consequences of rising fossil fuel combustion. Despite industry claims that fracking, tar sands production and Arctic drilling can be performed without endangering local residents, harming the environment, or wrecking the planet, ever more people are coming to the opposite conclusion—and beginning to take steps to protect their perceived interests.
And growing popular opposition to fracking in Europe is making itself felt across the region. The European Parliament, for example, recently imposed tough environmental constraints on the practice.

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