Peak Oil and Alternative Energy

By Santa-Barbara, Jack | Canadian Dimension, July-August 2006 | Go to article overview

Peak Oil and Alternative Energy


Santa-Barbara, Jack, Canadian Dimension


The world is beginning to wake up to the fact that peak oil is real. Various financial institutions, as well as oil companies, independent geologists, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a range of corporations eager to cash in on alternative energy sources have stressed its importance. Sweden and Norway have both initiated plans to be essentially free of fossil fuels by 2020, and a small number of municipalities are beginning to incorporate energy consumption and production into their core planning activities. In other words, plans are already underway to prepare for an energy future that no longer relies on cheap energy.

Peak oil, of course, does not mean the world is about to run out of oil, but only that we are about to reach the level of maximum production of conventional oil--the halfway point, so to speak. The implications of this geological fact are profound precisely because conventional oil is such a unique resource, and because we rely so heavily on it to fuel not only our transportation services globally, but our economy, as well.

The Advantages of Conventional Oil

What is so unique about conventional oil is that it has such a high energy content and is relatively easy to extract from the ground. In addition, oil is easily transported at ambient temperatures, and is relatively safe to handle. It also has many other uses besides producing energy--plastics, pesticides and fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals.

For all its unique properties, the feature of conventional oil that is most important is its high net energy--the amount of useable energy left to do work after we subtract the energy we put into extracting and processing it. And this is the crunch issue when we look for alternatives to conventional oil.

Conventional oil is a geological deposit of fossil remains that is mixed with natural gas. Once a hole is drilled to reach it, the gas helps push the oil out of the ground, where it can be collected and processed for use as a fuel. As a well is depleted, however, the gas is also diminished. At a certain point, it is no longer able to push the remaining oil out of the ground. The engineering solution to this phenomenon is to pump natural gas, carbon dioxide, or water back into the ground to force out the remaining oil. It works, but there is a cost--and the cost is not simply financial. It takes energy to pump water or gas into the well to extract more oil; consequently, the net energy (what is available to do later work) is lowered.

This reduction in net energy over time is a known characteristic of all conventional oil wells. We now know that individual wells, oil fields and, indeed, entire national oil reserves, exhibit this phenomenon. As the well or field matures, two things happen: the amount of oil that can be extracted from the source declines in volume, and it takes more energy to extract the remaining amounts.

Some two thirds of major oil-producing nations are known to have peaked--reached the half-way point of depleting their oil reserves. What is less well known is that, as this peaking of individual national oil reserves occurs, the net energy available from these sources also declines. The world ends up using more energy simply to extract more energy. Net energy from oil has declined from 100:1 early in the twentieth century, to less than 20:1 today; and it will continue to decline as more oil producing nations, especially that large producers in the Middle East, reach their peaks. When the global peak occurs, the amount of oil extracted will decline, and so will the net energy of that oil.

A New Meaning to "TINA": There is No Alternative to Conventional Oil

Maggie Thatcher's famous quote that "there is no alternative" to capitalism can also be applied to conventional oil. There is no alternative to conventional oil in terms of net energy, and it is net energy that drives the global economy.

COAL AND NATURAL GAS have net-energy ratios almost as high as conventional oil. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Peak Oil and Alternative Energy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.