World enjoys fossil fuel boom, but should it? Comment on this post ↓
October 19th, 2013 by Warren Swil

California awash in oil,

but carbon emissions

will devastate planet

Helge Lund, president and CEO of Norway’s Statoil. Photo by: Trond Isaksen – Statoil ASA Click image to enlarge.

CALIFORNIA IS AMONG quite a few places that are suddenly awash in oil.
New technology has made previously unrecoverable deposits within reach. Gosh, there may even be some under my house!
There are new “discoveries” reported almost daily. The oil industry oligarchs are rubbing their hands with glee.
But those concerned with climate change are wringing theirs in desperation.
Should all this oil – and gas – be taken out of the ground and burned? It could spell the end of life as we know it on earth.
The debate should be not about how much fossil fuel we can find and extract. It is about whether resources are better spent developing alternatives that don’t kill us all.

WE FIRST REPORTED on this topic in Plentiful supplies pose a thorny issue for climate change debate.
Since then, in September the United Nationals Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change warned: Climate change is real and getting worse
This week, Los Angeles-area public radio station KCRW on its “To the Point” show reminded us that we are sitting on hitherto unrecoverable vast oil reserves suddenly made accessible by new technology.

The web site of KCRW shows a protest against fracking in California. Click image to enlarge.

Host Warren Olney introduced the show this way:
“California could be on the verge of another oil boom from the Monterey Shale formation which underlies most of the state,” he said.
“New technologies might allow the extraction of billions of barrels of liquid petroleum.”
California is not alone. Leader of the pack in developing new ways of accessing previously untapped reserves is Norway’s Satoil, the state-owned giant that has made that country’s people one of the richest in the world.
KCRW reporter Saul Gonzalez explained the local phenomenon:
“Essentially it’s about a 1,750 square-mile geological formation that’s could … have a lot of recoverable shale oil.
“California could have the most recoverable shale oil in the United States.”
This is supported by Tupper Hall of the Western States Petroleum Association.
“California has two-thirds of the shale oil with an estimated 50 billion barrels,” Hall said. “That number is recoverable oil, according to the US Department of Energy given the state of technology for production.
“Because of fracturing and horizontal drilling, shale oil became – from a non-recoverable resource – a recoverable resource. That kinda got everybody’s attention,” he added, with a chuckle.
Indeed the oil industry is salivating.
“Yes, [people in the oil industry] are using the “B” word [for bonanza],” Gonzalez reported. “They’re using the “K word for “Klondike” (the California gold rush of 1848), they’re using the other “B” word “Boom” …. A lot of people in the industry believe this could happen.”
But the central question is: should it happen?

The New York Times story on the Monterey Shale field, some of which is in Los Angeles. Click image to enlarge.

This was not addressed either by The New York Times in its story Vast Oil Reserve May Now Be Within Reach, and Battle Heats Up published in February.
Norimitsu Onishi wrote:
“These wells [in a Los Angeles neighborhood] are tapping crude directly from what is called the Monterey Shale, which could represent the future of California’s oil industry — and a potential arena for conflict between drillers and the state’s powerful environmental interests.”
Indeed the battle has been engaged, but it is focusing on the wrong topic.
“For decades, oilmen have been unable to extricate the Monterey Shale’s crude because of its complex geological formation, which makes extraction quite expensive,” Onishi wrote. “ The Monterey Shale’s geological formation will require companies to engage in more intensive fracking and deeper, horizontal drilling, a dangerous prospect in a seismically active region like California, environmental groups say.”
Indeed, it is good to know the risks of the new technology, and that has been the focus of environmental opposition to exploitation of the new reserves.
But the issue is larger than that – geographically, it’s global.
Take, for example this item Canada to Drill for Offshore North Atlantic Oil
in the industry publication
“Canada’s Calgary-based Husky Energy Inc. and its Norwegian partner Statoil ASA announced a major oil discovery in offshore Newfoundland and Labrador Flemish Pass Basin,” John Daly wrote on Oct. 2.

The BBC report on Statoil’s new gas drilling rig. Click image to enlarge.

“The find of light oil last month at the Bay du Nord prospect contains an estimated 400 million barrels.
“Statoil, 67 percent-owned by the Norwegian government, is the operator of Bay du Nord.”
In our August report, Statoil played a starring role for its high-tech new way to recover natural gas from a previously unreachable, undersea field.
We reported on Giant gas platform sinks below waves in which the BBC’s Roger Harrabin reported:
“A structure the size of a soccer pitch has been sent plunging to the bottom of the ocean 125 miles off Norway.
“It will house a giant compressor claimed to be the world’s biggest offshore machine. The Statoil equipment has been designed to pump some $30 billion worth of gas from a depleted gas field.”
The fossil fuel extraction industries are indeed getting smarter and more innovative in their search for deposits and the means to deliver these to markets.
But few are questioning how smart this is for the human race.
The central question is, could the resources better be spent developing clean alternatives? It costs millions (or billions) in capital expenditures to implement the new recovery techniques, while solar and wind power investments languish (with some notable exceptions, like Germany which has by far the largest solar power generation capacity in the world.)
The local debate is about fracking. The global debate should be about clean energy alternatives.
The IPCC has warned us. We need to wake up and listen.

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