Mmmmm, oil. Black gold, Texas Tea. Nectar of the Gods and deliciously useful. It’s probably the most useful substance ever discovered by man. The average person probably doesn’t know how integral petroleum is in their everyday life. Most people know that the oil companies suck petroleum up out of the ground…or sometimes skim it off the top of the ocean…or pick it up off the beach with their bare hands…or by wringing it off a seagull. From the seagull the petroleum heads to the refinery. At the refinery something magical happens. Yes, most of the petroleum is converted into carbon emitting fuel for your Hummer or your private jet (you dick) but some of it is changed into other products.
How about a small list of products that are made from petroleum? Ink, wax, tires, nail polish, perfume, tape, antiseptics, food preservatives, soap, capsules, antihistamines, cortisone, deodorant, dye, pantyhose, paint, yarn, lipstick, linoleum, rubber, candles, trash bags, paint, lotion, shampoo, epoxy, aspirin, antifreeze, detergent, balloons, DVDs, crayons, enamel, pillows, dentures, film, contacts, ammonia, shaving cream and toothpaste. Bear in mind that this is an incomplete list.
I don’t have a long enough life span to go into every product that is made with petroleum but lets do a couple more. Try this one on for size, (literally) Nylon. I’m assuming everyone knows what nylon is. You’re probably wearing it right now as you’re reading this. That’s right, your shirt, brought to you by SHELL. Next time you bitch about global warming, remember to check your tag first. Here are the big ones though, fertilizer and pesticides.
The massive increase in food production in the last century is due entirely to the use of petroleum byproducts to create agricultural goods (fertilizer and pesticide). During the 20th century, the population of the world exploded from about 1.5 billion to about 6.5 billion. That’s a doubling of the world’s population…twice…in the last 100 years or so. Think about that for a second. In all of human history the human population was well under a couple hundred million. How long is that? Well, if you ask someone who went to church the number is about 5,000 years, if you ask someone who went to school it’s about 200,000 years. Either way, it’s easy to see that the population has spiked since we’ve added petroleum to our agricultural processes.
I’ll save you the science lesson for now, it has to do with the way petroleum is processed into ammonia or some shit and converted into something that can be made into super fertilizer. You can read about it here.
So we can see how important this resource is to our continued consumption, not to mention our continued existence. So how are we making sure that we always have a steady supply of crude oil? I mean, it would be kind of a bummer to run out of plastic…or…food right? Where does it come from and how do we get more of it?
Well if you ask someone who went to school they will tell you that the fossilized remains of living organisms, when exposed to the internal heat and pressure of our planet for hundreds of millions of years, are chemically converted into fossil fuels.
If you ask someone who goes to church they will tell you that a couple of thousand years ago, Jesus made it rain a lot and there wasn’t enough room on the boat for dinosaurs so they turned into oil.
Which ever explanation you like, it’s not like it’s a forest or some shit that will just grow back next year. Both the Jesus and the college explanations show us that our entire oil supply is sort of a one time thing. What we’ve got is what we’ve got. Good thing we have a shit ton right? Right? Let me introduce you to Marion King Hubbert, or as Shell calls him, Mr. Buzzkill.
Hubbert was a geoscientist for the Shell Corporation. This is where he came up with the concept of “Peak Oil.” What is Peak Oil you might ask? Peak Oil is a method for estimating the oil reserves left in the world. Let me dumb it down quite a bit for you. It turns out that if you measure the discovery of new oil reserves then you can predict the amount of oil production. Since we don’t have an unlimited supply of petroleum, we will eventually discover all of our oil…sort of like how we found all the…ya know…land (nod to Columbus Day).
Remember that old black and white episode of the 3 Stooges where they fixing a well in the backyard on a farm in exchange for a meal? They fuck it up, just the way we like it but they puncture an oil reserve and a geyser shoots up out of the ground. Now think about the BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill. If we still had oil reserves like we did in the 30’s where all you had to do to extract it is have Curley fall on it, why the hell would BP need to drill 30,000 feet into the crust of the Earth to find oil?
Hubbert shows this decrease in oil reserve discovery as a bell curve on a chart. On that same chart is a second curve that represents oil production. Basically, you can determine how long your current oil supply will hold out as long as you know the amount of existing reserves and the rate of reserve discovery. But it gets worse. In order to be properly fucked, you don’t need to use all of the existing oil. You only need to use about half of it, represented by the peak of the bell curve.
Once you get over the hump, the oil becomes harder to extract and the quality decreases. The well can no longer pump oil out with its own pressure. The standard procedure is to pump natural gas into the well to build the pressure back up in order to extract the petroleum. Once you’re pumping more energy into the well than you’re getting out of it, not only is it not practical, it’s just fucking retarded.
So what did Hubbert predict with his charts? He predicted that the United States would reach Peak Oil between 1965 and 1970…and we did. He predicted that the world would reach Peak Oil…well…about right now. One way to know that the world’s oil reserves have been depleted is to look at the cost of gas. For about one hundred years, gas in this country was under a dollar a gallon. In the last five years or so the price has quadrupled.
It would probably be a great fucking idea to have some other substitute ready for when we run out of petroleum later this week. Anyone working on that? Well, just so I can say I did my part; let me offer some energy alternatives.
Hydrogen: You hear this one a lot. I’ve even seen commercials advertising the Hydrogen Fuel cell car like they’re on the lot. However, the hydrogen fuel cell is not a feasible alternative to fossil fuels. Why? Well the process of creating the hydrogen for fuel cells uses…fossil fuels?!?! In fact, with current technology, it takes more fossil fuel to create Hydrogen Fuel cells than it does to fuel a car with fossil fuels. The only thing Hydrogen Fuel cells are really good for is powering the Cyberdyne 101 Terminator. Anyone who tells you differently is full of shit.
Nuclear: Sort of a risky venture, just ask anyone from Japan or New Jersey. Produces a large amount of energy but the cost is enormous the waste is toxic and lasts pretty much forever. If you live close enough to a nuclear power plant or waste dump you stand more of a chance of developing mutant super powers than receiving cheap energy. That may be a plus for some people though.
Geothermal: This one is great if you’re a Bond villain…which is good work if you can get it. Unfortunately it’s not that practical for the rest of us who aren’t trying to take over the world. The cost is high and the output isn’t impressive.
Solar: This seems like the best alternative. Light is something that we are awash in. We actually have a ball of gas that will continue to produce light for billions of years completely free of charge to us. Unlike the electric company, the sun doesn’t send a bill in the mail. Countries such as Germany have created federal incentives to help their citizens to pay for solar panels. During most of the year, these solar households are completely self sufficient and don’t require any energy for the electric company. During the sunniest times of the year they actually create excess energy that they sell back to their utility. If we could create an incentive for our citizens, the demand for solar panels would increase. This would result in an increase in production…that means more jobs. More solar panels mean more competition…that means better cheaper solar panels…which means a possible energy surplus.
So the next time you see a car with a bumper sticker that says, “Drill baby drill”, crash into that douche and explain to them that you’re continued existence depends on them watching the Discovery channel from time to time and not so much Fox news.