Peak Oil Is Over! (not)

[Warning: Cynicism to follow...]

We've had some great news come out in the last couple of weeks. First we learned that global warming is over. Now, guess what -- so is peak oil!

It looks like we're going to be saved from our energy woes by something called the 'Bakken Formation' -- a huge sedimentary rock formation (shale and dolomite) that runs under North Dakota, Montana and southern Saskatchewan.

The following piece of news is storming the internet, and bringing sighs of relief to many around the blogosphere:

Massive Oil Deposit Could Increase US reserves by 10x

America is sitting on top of a super massive 200 billion barrel Oil Field that could potentially make America Energy Independent and until now has largely gone unnoticed. Thanks to new technology the Bakken Formation in North Dakota could boost America’s Oil reserves by an incredible 10 times, giving western economies the trump card against OPEC’s short squeeze on oil supply and making Iranian and Venezuelan threats of disrupted supply irrelevant.

In the next 30 days the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) will release a new report giving an accurate resource assessment of the Bakken Oil Formation that covers North Dakota and portions of South Dakota and Montana. With new horizontal drilling technology it is believed that from 175 to 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil are held in this 200,000 square mile reserve that was initially discovered in 1951. The USGS did an initial study back in 1999 that estimated 400 billion recoverable barrels were present but with prices bottoming out at $10 a barrel back then the report was dismissed because of the higher cost of horizontal drilling techniques that would be needed, estimated at $20-$40 a barrel. -- Next Energy News

It seems the whole peak oil theory was just a conspiracy by a bunch of left-wing hippies who wanted to see us all living in caves after all. We can all relax now, and forget about having to learn how to live without transport, plastic, food, clothes (and pretty much everything else). That's right -- all you guys out there living off-grid, what were you thinking? Come on, pack up your solar panels, your goats and chickens, and head on into town again to enjoy the 'good life'! (I just know you secretly miss the 9-5 routine -- or was it 8-8?).

Oh, since thirty days has passed by now, and since you're still reading, we might as well take a peek at the U.S. Geological Survey report they mentioned above. I can hardly wait; it feels like Christmas!

Okay, stop looking, I found it:

The USGS estimate of 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil has a mean value of 3.65 billion barrels. -- U.S. Geological Survey
Hmm... 3 to 4.3 billion barrels? And 'technically recoverable'? What happened to "a super massive 200 billion barrel Oil Field"? I'm beginning to feel a little ripped off....

But, let's think positive. That still sounds like a lot of oil, doesn't it? Off-gridders, you might want to hang fire for a moment, while we run some numbers.

Let's see [scratches head and gets pencil out], the U.S. currently consumes a little over 20 million barrels of oil per day (20.59 million barrels). If I divide 3.65 billion (the mean figure of 'technically recoverable' oil) by 20.59 million I get... oh... just a little less than six months worth of oil at present rates of consumption....

Assuming all 4.3 billion barrels could be retrieved, it would represent nine months of oil consumption in the United States.

... Now, let's consider the nature of the Bakken oil. It doesn't sit in big underground pools where you can just pop in a metal straw and suck it out. This oil is trapped in layers of shale – a sedimentary rock – up to 3,000 metres deep. Getting at it is expensive and difficult, and certainly damaging to the surrounding landscape and environment.

You thought the oil sands were messy and energy-intensive? Bakken is tough oil. You have to drill down and then horizontally through rock, which has to be fractured to release the oil that is tucked away in small pores.

It will cost dearly to go after Bakken oil, just as Chevron will have to pay a bundle if it hopes to extract the 3 to 15 billion barrels it has discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, kilometres under the water at its "Jack" wells.

The technology exists to get it – at least some of it.

We can also have a manned mission to Mars if we truly wanted to pay for it.

Now, with oil at $110 (U.S.) a barrel, some of those Bakken reserves just might make it into our vehicles one day. What's perplexing, however, is the oil industry's determination to go after this expensive, dirty stuff when other, cleaner alternatives do exist.

"The reason is very simple," explains Hermann Scheer, president of the World Council for Renewable Energy, during a telephone interview from Berlin.

"The oil companies have tied all of their investments to transportation, refineries and distribution. That means they're prisoners of their own energy supply chain." -- The Star

Um... off-gridders, do you, perhaps, have room for one more?

And, another thing. Shale Oil is not your gorgeous soft Nigerian crude. It is crude, but not crude oil, if you get my drift:

The name oil shale has been described as a promotional misnomer, since the rock is not necessarily a shale and the kerogen in it is not crude oil; it requires more processing than crude oil, which affects the economic viability of shale oil as a crude oil substitute.

…Surface-mining of oil shale deposits has the same environmental impacts as those of open-pit mining. These impacts include acid drainage induced by the sudden rapid exposure and subsequent oxidation of formerly buried materials, the introduction of metals into surface water and groundwater, increased erosion, and air pollution caused by the creation of particulates during processing, transport, and support activities.[59] It may damage biological and recreational value of land and an ecosystem in the mining area. In addition, combustion and thermal processing generate waste material, and the atmospheric emissions include carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. Environmentalists oppose production and usage of oil shale, as it creates even more greenhouse gases than conventional fossil fuels.[60] Experimental in-situ conversion processes and carbon capture and storage technologies may reduce some of these concerns in the future, but at the same time they may cause other problems, including groundwater pollution.

Concerns have been expressed over the oil shale industry’s use of water. This is a particularly sensitive issue in the arid regions of the western US.[62] Depending on the technology, the above-ground retoring uses one to five barrel of water per barrel of produced shale oil. — Wikipedia

Further Reading:

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  • Posted on April 15, 2008. Listed in:

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