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Is Petroleum Sucking the Life out of the Planet?

Jim Baird's picture
Owner Thermodynamic Geoengineering

inventor,Method and apparatus for load balancing trapped solar energy Ocean thermal energy conversion counter-current heat transfer system Global warming mitigation method Nuclear Assisted...

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  • Dec 26, 2013

It was either a Freudian slip or a moment of rare political candour when Alberta’s Municipal Affairs Minister related to an audience on the other side of the country that oil and gas wealth is sucking the life out of everything else in Alberta.  

In defence of his pronouncement he told the legislature in which he sits he was using Alberta as an example to make a larger point that any economy that puts all its eggs in one basket is asking for trouble.

Douglas Porter the Chief Economist for BMO Capital Markets punctuated this axiom on a countrywide scale in a paper Trade Trends: One Big Winner, Lots of Little Losers, wherein he pointed to the latest Canadian merchandise trade figures that show while energy, which in Canada equates to oil and increasingly more narrowly Alberta’s unconventional oil, is doing fine, everything else is doing anything but fine.

By way of the following diagram he showed how since 2002 the countries non-energy merchandise trade has declined, and since 2007 has been in deficit, whereas the trend line for energy goods has remained upward.

Unfortunately the decline in non-energy merchandise has outstripped the increase in energy with the result the country has been running a current account deficit since 2009.

In a world seeking to move away from fossil fuels it remains to be seen how long it will be before even the country’s energy exports start to go into decline.

The fundamentals aren’t good.

There is currently a glut of oil in the U.S. market that has been Canada’s primary energy market to date, which combined with questions related to the Keystone XL pipeline and the discount Canadian producers are taking relative to global oil prices have caused Canada to look to Asia, particularly China, as an alternative market for Alberta’s 170-billion barrels of recoverable oil, which is increasingly being seen as the bedrock of the Canadian economy.

The South China Morning Post however is reporting on how China’s oil sands bet has gone sour in Canada. After investing billions in North America, Chinese firms are licking their wounds as prices fall and production targets are missed with the result Chinese investment of US$19.3 billion last year has declined to less than $1 billion this year.

And it isn’t just in Canada where the cost of oil dependency is high. The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security points to a U.S. Department of Energy study that shows U.S. dependency on oil from countries that are either politically unstable or at odds with America have subjected the country’s economy to supply disruptions, price hikes, and loss of wealth totaling $7 trillion over the last 30 years; more than the cumulative cost of all of the wars fought by the U.S. since the Revolutionary War. This $7 trillion represents about 40 percent of the current U.S National Debt, the servicing of which is a drain on everything else.

Richard Smalley, the 1996 Nobel Prize winner and world’s foremost energy evangelist, lectured before his untimely death from cancer that the greatest challenge facing the world is the need for new sources of abundant, clean, cheap energy. “To give all 10 billion people on the planet the level of energy prosperity we in the developed world are used to, a couple of kilowatt-hours per person,” he said, “we would need to generate 60 terawatts around the planet— the equivalent of 900 million barrels of oil per day.”

Total current production according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration is about 1/10th of that, which is another reason for not putting all of our eggs in the petroleum basket since to do so is to overlook ninety percent of the market.

Were this market to be fully serviced with oil, which currently accounts for about 1/3rd of the world’s total primary energy production, then BP’s 52.9 years of proven reserves would be reduced to about 5 years and in that short a span we would consume half of the carbon allowed to keep us within the 2 degrees agreed upon at Copenhagen.

In the course of his lectures Dr. Smalley pointed to a list of the top 10 problems the world faces ranging from energy at the top to population at the bottom and hypothesized that energy was the key to solving the other nine.

In fixating on petroleum therefore, which cannot meet the needs of the majority of the planet; we are permitting the most significant of the world’s problems to fester and paying short shrift to their solutions.

But then energy is the largest enterprise on the planet and petroleum accounts for the lion’s share and with scarcity comes higher value and greater profits.

And then there is the question of whether or not fossil fuels are literally sucking the life out of the planet? My original post in this forum suggests that may in fact be the case, considering ocean warming is interfering with phytoplankton production that in turn is the origin of half of the atmospheric oxygen we breath.

A few years back the Jamaica Observer posed the question, The world runs on oil. Or is it run by oil? Their view, which is hard to refute, was the latter is the reality, which is a shame and not conducive to the wellbeing of the planet.

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Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on Dec 27, 2013


Good post Jim,


Our dependence on oil has been compared to an addiction and like those addicted to tolerance building drugs it gets ugly in the “late stages” of that addiction. Just one more fix the addict pleads and of course it’s never enough. Like a hapless monkey with it hand caught in a trap that allows itself to be caught because it won’t let go of the bait we humans are doomed to the same fate. We know that we must find a carbon neutral way of powering this planet but continue in our errant ways. Sadly, the fossil fuel industry should be leading the way to a clean future but the lure of money and a lack of imagination has set all of us on a slide that will end in disaster. What we are witnessing, especially in Canada, are the symptoms of the disease that plagues us all. Every dollar invested in that “black hole” is wasted and the oceans will continue to warm and acidify which, as any competent scientist will tell you, will end in an extinction level event where we will be the stars of the play.









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