A Midwinter Night's Mare
Over fifty percent of the almost 100 million barrels of oil the world uses every day comes from a handful of irreplaceable fields in five tiny regions of the world. And the story is the same in every one of them. Greed, profit motive, impatience, arrogance, and out and out ignorance, have deprived future generations of what could have been while saddling them with the debt for what was. Saddam cranked his wells past recommended production limits as a result of years of UN Sanctions and to generate badly needed cash, ironically, and perhaps fittingly, leaving the US move to grab the energy reserves little to show for the endless procession of dead and maimed bodies. Our blood-soaked gory prizes in Rumulia and Kirkuk are sandy formations saturated with brine coughing up smelly, water-tainted crude, half of which is lost through cracking pipes and rusted pump stations targeted for destruction by furious insurgents. Kuwaiti fields are in about the same shape as Ghawar, same for the fields in the UAE. We know little about the state of Awiz these days, the largest reserve in Iran, but it's a pretty safe guess that since all these fields have been operating as long as Ghawar and managed by the same inept corrupt chimpanzee conglomerates who managed Saudi Arabia's only treasure, that the story is the same. Outside of the Middle East, Mexico's Cantarell field has recently just peaked and is now in decline, and the Venezuelan fields are likely to be at or near peak. Despite new finds in the North Sea the UK is now a net importer and the same goes for Norway. China has a large producing field but they use every liter of it and no one expects them to start sharing. Russia is nearing that same limit. No matter how many new finds you read about, if the country of origin uses more than they produce, it doesn't do the US a damn bit of good.
Looking at what are called 'oil reserves' gives a false sense of comfort as, at best, no more than half of the oil shown can be recovered, and in practice it's far less. The only thing that matters is how much we can bring to market and at what pace. In some cases, none of the oil presented is recoverable at meaningful rates, as is the case in the trillion barrel Orinoco Tar Belts. Sounds pretty good, right? It's nonsense; we cannot produce significant crude with current methods or foreseeable technology from these deposits. The tar is nothing but natural asphalt, way too thick to pump and far too deep to mine. Domestic Reserves in the Arctic and elsewhere sound like a lot, but even if we could extract the ideal quantity possible, the most we could get after subtracting the energy investment to run the machinery needed to harvest the oil is only enough to power our nation for a few months, maybe a year or two, tops. And that production would be spread over a decade.
This is the first part of my darkdream; half the oil in the world comes from a score of large fields which have been producing for more than fifty years. They're in bad shape. No comparable reserves have been found, and we've looked everywhere there is to look. New finds are almost meaningless in terms of world consumption, they're peanuts compared to what is needed. Nuclear fusion is a dream and fission too expensive, and besides, we're too far behind the construction curve to start now; grain ethanol takes more oil invested than it produces; solar panels would have to cover 10% of the country and manufacturing them takes oil, exotic materials, and produces toxic chemical byproducts; hydrogen fuel cells are offered as a solution only by those who lack the basic physics to understand their limitations.
Most of the time I trust primate ingenuity. I'm an optimist. Our ancestors survived many threats in the past and I think we will prevail over this as well, in the long run anyway. And it bears pointing out that we do have enough coal, oil, natural gas, alternative energy resources, and (hopefully) brain power in the US to at least keep the electricity on, the trucks, ships, and trains full of food and supplies moving, the farms churning out produce, and the water flowing, for a few decades more. If we're careful we can bridge this shortfall until we find a solution and keep ourselves afloat.
But are we that smart? Are we willing to give up our SUV's, air conditioning, and winter grapefruit, right now, so that we can have the barest essentials for a few decades? Or will we bury our heads in the sand with what is left of the oil and scream "IS NOT" until the shit hits the fan so hard it splatters us with economic collapse and starvation? Normally I'm a positive thinker. But late at night, unable to sleep, the darkdream takes over ...