Thursday, July 28, 2005

All You Have to Do Is Bury 196,000 Lbs. of Prehistoric Ferns Per Gallon, Sit Back, and Wait 

It is our dearest hope to learn something new every day. Today we learned that oil is a renewable resource:
Although they laud the tax incentives to encourage oil and gas exploration in the energy bill that Congress is expected to pass this week, they are continuing to spin the idea that what they do is somehow sustainable. Pumping a finite resource like oil out of the ground must be one of the least sustainable endeavors on the planet. But this doesn't bother the oil industry, which knows a powerful public-relations word when it sees one.

The most recent ConocoPhillips annual report has a section titled "Technology Achieving Long-term Sustainability," and the CEO writes of the company's "sustainable growth plan." Annual reports from ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil speak of "sustainable development." And BP and Shell issue reports on the sustainability of their operations. There are even auditors willing to vouch for the statements in these "sustainability" reports.

All this when Arthur R. Green, lecturer for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and former chief geoscientist of ExxonMobil, says world oil production is nearing its peak.

The history of U.S. oil production is instructive. Domestic oil output steadily rose until it peaked in 1970. Since then, production has declined despite the technological know-how of domestic oil companies and the considerable incentive of high prices. Domestic oil production in 2003 was less than 60 percent of its 1970 level. (All data cited are from the federal Energy Information Administration --

To meet our demand, we import foreign oil. More than 56 percent of what we used in 2003 came from other countries, and the proportion increases every year . . . .

If an oil company makes a genuine sustainability breakthrough -- figuring out, for example, how to make hydrogen efficiently with solar power - - you can be sure the company will publicize this rather than promote the pleasant fiction that its current operations are sustainable. The reality is that no scheme for providing energy sustainably can rely on petroleum.
From Science Daily, October 2003:
A staggering 98 tons of prehistoric, buried plant material – that's 196,000 pounds – is required to produce each gallon of gasoline we burn in our cars, SUVs, trucks and other vehicles, according to a study conducted at the University of Utah.

"Can you imagine loading 40 acres worth of wheat – stalks, roots and all – into the tank of your car or SUV every 20 miles?" asks ecologist Jeff Dukes, whose study will be published in the November issue of the journal Climatic Change.

Dukes also calculated that the amount of fossil fuel burned in a single year – 1997 was used in the study – totals 97 million billion pounds of carbon, which is equivalent to more than 400 times "all the plant matter that grows in the world in a year," including vast amounts of microscopic plant life in the oceans.

"Every day, people are using the fossil fuel equivalent of all the plant matter that grows on land and in the oceans over the course of a whole year," he adds.

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