Energy Perspectives: Another Look at Fossil Fuels: It Is Very Possible That the Nation's Reliance on Fossil Fuels to Power an Expanding Economy Will Actually Increase over at Least the Next Two Decades, Even with Aggressive Development and Deployment of New Renewable and Nuclear Technologies

Article excerpt

Introduction

We use energy for so many human endeavors it is nearly impossible to list them all. In broad categories, oil is a major source of energy for transportation, manufacturing, construction, and agriculture, as well as a feed stock for manufacturing plastics, fabrics, fertilizers, and other synthetic materials. Oil or, more accurately, petroleum is a convenient form of energy. It is easy to buy, trade and sell, transport and store. But more importantly it is a concentrated and flexible energy source that can yield a range of refined products such as fuels, lubricating products, solvents, and even asphalt and tar for road construction.

However, as we read and see in the news that oil prices are increasing as the worldwide demand increases, there are effects of global events on prices and supplies. This brings us to the question, "Will we ever run out of oil?" The answer is generally assumed to be no, as it will become increasingly more expensive in the absence of lower-priced alternatives. You may ask, "When will we reach a peak in the production of oil as we know it today?" This depends on the rate of growth in demand and the development and introduction of new energy technologies, hybrid engines, and alternative energy resources. Are there alternatives to bridge that gap between oil as we know it today and future energy resources that may replace oil as a major energy resource?

Alternative Energy Resources

There is much talk in the world about alternative energy resources. Some of these resources include solar, geothermal, tidal, biomass, wind, and hydroelectric and do not depend on burning fossil fuels or atomic reactions. Frequently these forms of energy are called "alternative" energy resources because they do not contribute large quantities of usable forms of energy demanded by industrialized societies. Other energy resources include nuclear and coal. Today there are over 400 nuclear power reactors in operation in 31 countries around the world. We may ask, "What is our vision for energy resources for the future while facing increasing demands, declining sources, global warming, and world greenhouse emissions?"

There is much concern about world energy supplies and, correspondingly, the stability of global energy supplies and markets. With the increasing price of oil there has been an increased interest in the extraction of oil from shale rock formations and tar sands. Several countries, including the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Russia, and South Africa, have large deposits. It is estimated that there are the equivalent of more than two trillion barrels of oil locked up in shale in the United States (U.S. Department of Energy, 1).

Review of Current Energy Resources--Petroleum, Coal, and Natural Gas

Petroleum

Petroleum as it is directly removed from the ground or a well is called crude oil. The properties and characteristics of crude oil vary substantially depending on where it is obtained and the geological formations from which it is obtained. It may range in color from a very light brown to a thick almost tar-like black color and even some hues of red and green. Some crude oils are highly flammable right out of the ground, while other crude oils must be refined before they will readily burn.

While oil is one of the most attractive energy resources, it carries several disadvantages. Since oil is burned in one form or another, the resulting emissions are a major concern. Several of the major pollutants associated with oil are sulfur and nitrogen compounds and carbon dioxide. These and other materials are associated with greenhouse effects and environmental degradation. Government regulations have done much to reduce the environmental impact of fossil fuel use but have not eliminated the problems in their entirety. Petroleum continues to be the preferred energy source for transportation, industrial, and consumer use. …