Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here’s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.


 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

Subscribe!
Subscribe





On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.
___________

Syndicate
RSS/XML


RSS 2.0

Come on in - the quicksand's fine: my part in the energy crisis

By Chris Shaw - posted Tuesday, 12 June 2007


Thermodynamics - the branch of physics concerned with the conversion of different forms of energy.

Entropy - a thermodynamic quantity representing the amount of energy in a system that is no longer available for doing mechanical work.

Let me admit from the start that I am a dunce where money is concerned. Many of the finer points of economics are just arcane mysteries to me. Maybe that is a serious handicap. Maybe not.

Advertisement

Trying to make sense of fuel supplies by observing market forces is tricky. Obviously there are people who profit from rising oil prices and those who profit by price instability. It's like trying to get the ants off a carcass, to see how much flesh remains.

Let's stick with the simple physical things that we think we know. We think we may have used the "easy half" of the world's endowment of oil. In the best mining tradition, we have preferentially consumed the better grades of oil, as that is where the greatest energy profit may be had. But even the better quality oil deposits tend to yield their lighter fractions first, leaving the heavier, energy-lean residues to be scavenged later.

We know that the abundant poorer grades of oil contain less energy and more dross (tar sand is an extreme example). We know that they require more energy to be consumed in extraction and processing, to produce the gasoline and diesel we need. So dwindling oil quality is double jeopardy for the production of the desired article. By slow degrees, MORE energy must be sacrificed to liberate ever LESS contained energy.

No matter that we have enjoyed a plenitude of easy gasoline and diesel, that wonderful resource was never more than the "spare" energy left over after extraction, transport and processing.

It follows that as the remaining oil quality decreases, the supply of crude oil and the scale and pace of refining must increase for a steady amount of fuel produced. Yet producers are experiencing this phenomenon during a period of increasing fuel demand.

Now add the tyrannies of distance and depth to reach unexploited oil deposits.

Advertisement

Add the costly investment, relative to the yield of smaller oil deposits.

Then to make things really confusing, realise that it is oil energy which sets the value of money (especially the US dollar), not the other way around.

For example, if we wish to boost nuclear power in the teeth of dwindling liquid fuel supplies, we will discover that the "cost" of plant, mining, processing and other infrastructure will become uncomfortably high by present expectations. The more we try (and the more gasoline and diesel we burn in the process) the higher will go the "price" of the essential ingredients. It will be like chasing our own shadows. The same effect will plague the remnants of the oil industry itself.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All


Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

23 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with del.icio.us Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Chris Shaw was a mining metallurgist, until retreating to care for his beloved partner. Mining metallurgists are trained to appreciate the laws of natural abundance. Mining is where the wishful thinking of economists meets the reality of nature. Chris sometimes operates under the pseudonym "Feral Metallurgist", so that he can enjoy an air of mystique which he doesn't actually deserve.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Chris Shaw
Related Links
Best clearinghouse of all things oily
Peak oil meets climate change in the lavish documentary,
US Dept of Defense Energy Requirements
Where all this is taking us

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Chris Shaw
Article Tools
Comment 23 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend
Advertisement

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy