OTHER UNCONVENTIONAL HYDROCARBONS
[W]ith oil shale, as with all hydrocarbon accumulations, there are variations in quality between basins and there are sweet spots within basins. For this reason, the relatively high quality oil shale resources within the Piceance Basin have received the most attention in recent years with pilot projects conducted by the oil majors Shell, Chevron, and ExxonMobil, as well as a number of smaller companies. None of these pilots has resulted in commercial scale production and Chevron has recently abandoned its operations. [p. 123]
GEOLOGY VERSUS TECHNOLOGY
[O]ur calculated EROEIs both for 1990 (40:1) and 2010 (17:1) are reasonably close to the numbers cited for those years by Andrew Lees. For 2020, our projected EROEI (of 11.5:1) is not as catastrophic as 5:1, but would nevertheless mean that the share of GDP absorbed by energy costs would have escalated to about 9.6% from around 6.7% today. Our projections further suggest that energy costs could absorb almost 15% of GDP (at an EROEI of 7.7:1) by 2030. Though our forecasts and those of Mr. Lees may differ in detail, the essential conclusion is the same. It is that the economy, as we have known it for more than two centuries, will cease to be viable at some point within the next ten or so years unless, of course, some way is found to reverse the trend.16
A MIRAGE DISTRACTS US FROM HYDROCARBON REHAB
1. Chris Nelder, “Are Methane Hydrates Really Going to Change Geopolitics?” Atlantic, May 2, 2013.
2. Charles C. Mann, “Yes, Unconventional Fossil Fuels Are That Big of a Deal,” Atlantic, May 7, 2013.
3. Roberto Cesare Callarotti, “Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI) for the Electrical Heating of Methane Hydrate Reservoirs,” Sustainability 3, no. 11, (November 7, 2011): 2105–2114. doi: 10.3390/su3112105.
4. Cutler J. Cleveland and Peter A. O’Connor, “Energy Return on Investment (EROI) of Oil Shale,” Sustainability 3, no. 11 (November 22, 2011): 2307–2322, doi: 10.3390/su3112307.
5. Charles Hall, “Unconventional Oil: Tar Sands and Shale Oil—EROI on the Web, Part 3 of 6,” The Oil Drum (blog), posted by Nate Hagens, April 15, 2008.
6. Jacob Chamberlain, “Deeper Than Deepwater: Shell Plans World’s Riskiest Offshore Well,” Common Dreams (website), May 9, 2013, http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/05/09-2.
7. Hughes, “Drill, Baby, Drill,” 129.
8. Bryan Walsh, “A Rig Accident Off Alaska Shows the Dangers of Extreme Energy,” Time, January 2, 2013. Stephanie Joyce, “Shell Tallies Cost of Kulluk Grounding,” Alaska Public Media (website), February 1, 2013.
9. See, for example, “Improving Efficiency in Upstream Oil Sands Production,” ExxonMobil. John Kemp, “Column—Bakken Output May Be Boosted by Closer Oil Wells: Kemp,” Reuters, May 8, 2013.
10. Francie Diep, “Solar Panels Now Make More Electricity Than They Use,” Popular Science, April 3, 2013.
11. Doug Hansen and Charles Hall, eds. “New Studies in EROI (Energy Return on Investment),” special issue, Sustainability (2011).
12. Jessica Lambert et al., “EROI of Global Energy Resources,” (State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, November 2012), .
13. Charles A. S. Hall, “Editorial: Synthesis to Special Issue on New Studies in EROI (Energy Return on Investment),” Sustainability 3, no. 12 (December 14, 2011): 2496–2499, doi:10.3390/su3122496. Andrew McKay has proposed a new unit he calls “Petroleum Production per Unit of Effort,” or PPUE, which reflects drilling rates, drilling depths, and cost of production. World PPUE improved between 1980 and 2000 but has declined dramatically since 2000.
14. Andrew Lees, “In Search of Energy,” in The Gathering Storm, ed. Patrick Young (Derivatives Vision Publishing, 2010).
15. “Engine Trouble: A Rise in Energy Costs Will Hit Productivity,” Economist, October 21, 2010.
16. Tim Morgan, “Perfect Storm: Energy, Finance, and the End of Growth,” Tullett Prebon (blog), January 2013, 77.
17. Bryan Sell, David Murphy, and Charles A. S. Hall, “Energy Return on Energy Invested for Tight Gas Wells in the Appalachian Basin, United States of America,” Sustainability 3, no. 10 (October 20, 2011), doi: 10.3390/su3101986. Caveats are from private communications with one of the study’s authors.
18. Hughes, “Drill, Baby, Drill,” 75.
19. For further discussion of this point, citing failures to improve efficiency in tar sands operations, see Andrew Nikiforuk, “Difficult Truths about ‘Difficult Oil.’”.
20. The EROEI for tight oil production in the Bakken play is under investigation; a report by Egan Waggoner on the subject is in preparation.
21. Morgan, “Perfect Storm,” 3.
22. Improvement in EROEI can be inferred from falling prices for new solar and wind installed capacity (private communication with Charles Hall). However, some renewable energy technologies achieve higher EROEI by relying on materials such as rare earth minerals that have an increasing energy cost over time due to depletion of the more accessible deposits. Also, as the best locations for wind turbines, tidal, and geothermal power are utilized, further expansion requires the use of less favorable locations, resulting in lower EROEI.
23. “Renewable Electricity Futures Study,” National Renewable Energy Laboratory, last updated May 13, 2013, . One early reader of this chapter commented: “You don’t necessarily need the same amount of energy to achieve the same functionality post-fossil fuels. For example, in our plug-in vehicles we drive on about one-fifth of the energy used by a typical gas car to achieve the same result of moving people down the road. Plus we make that renewable energy by PV on our own rooftop for one-eighth the cost of gasoline. So you could say we only have one-fifth the energy available to us and paint a negative picture of having 80% less energy available, but we’re achieving the same motive result as a fossil fuel powered tool.”
24. Benedikt Römer et al., “The Role of Smart Metering and Decentralized Electricity Storage for Smart Grids: The Importance of Positive Externalities,” Energy Policy 50 (November 2012): 486–495, . Janvon Appen, “Time in the Sun: The Challenge of High PV Penetration in the German Electric Grid,” IEEE Power and Energy 11, no. 2 (March 2013): 55–64, doi: 10.1109/MPE.2012.2234407. For a more optimistic perspective on the potential of microgrids to enable higher levels of renewable energy, see Chris Nelder, “Microgrids: A Utility’s Best Friend or Worst Enemy?”.
26. David Manners, “Massive Consolidation in Solar,” Electronics Weekly, January 14, 2013.
27. Andrew Herndon, “Biofuel Pioneer Forsakes Renewables to Make Gas-Fed Fuels,” Bloomberg.com, May 1, 2013.
28. Louis Bergeron, “The World Can Be Powered by Alternative Energy, Using Today’s Technology, in 20–40 Years, Says Stanford Researcher Mark Z. Jacobson,” Stanford Report, January 26, 2011, . Amory Lovins, “A 40-year Plan for Energy,” TED talk (March 2012).
29. Ted Trainer, “Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society,” (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2010). For a moderate and realistic take on the capabilities and limits of renewable energy, see David McKay, Sustainable Energy—Without the Hot Air (blog).
30. Prices could fall absent a full-fledged global recession, if energy efficiency in transport vehicles increases significantly (we are already seeing modest gains) and vehicle miles traveled decrease significantly in regions experiencing very low economic growth. 31. Gail Tverberg, “Low Oil Prices Lead to Economic Peak Oil,” Our Finite World (blog), April 21, 2013.
32. Richard Heinberg, Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis (British Columbia, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2009). Tadeusz Patzek and Gregory Croft, “A Global Coal Production Forecast with Multi-Hubbert Cycle Analysis,” Energy 35, no. 8 (August, 2010): 3109–3122.
33. “The Dream that Failed,” Economist, March 10, 2012.
34. Gail Tverberg, “How Resource Limits Lead to Financial Collapse,” Our Finite World (blog), March 29, 2013.
35. This, by the way, would not solve serious ecological problems such as resource depletion, topsoil loss, species extinctions, and water scarcity. I’m focusing here only on our energy-economic-climate conundrum.