Sunday, November 3, 2013

SNAKE OIL: Chapter 6 - Energy Reality

This article is the final excerpt from Richard Heinberg's new book SNAKE OIL: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future. Given the urgency and importance of the issues we are serializing the book here at 
During the past year, article after article in the mainstream press has gushed over the prospects for American oil independence and natural gas exports, while ignoring the context—an ever-increasing requirement for the investment of capital and energy in the extraction of fast-depleting and often poorer quality fuels.

The media’s euphoria was perhaps epitomized by Charles C. Mann’s lead article in the May 2013 issue of Atlantic titled “What If We Never Run Out of Oil?” The magazine’s cover proclaimed, in tall capital letters, “WE WILL NEVER RUN OUT OF OIL”—which of course is true: the Earth’s crust will always contain immense amounts of crude. It’s just that we won’t be able to afford to extract most of it because doing so would take either too much money, too much energy, or both. Continuing the theme, the article’s subtitle asked a startling question—“What if fossil fuels are not finite?”—which implies uncertainty as to whether the Earth is a bounded sphere or a plain extending endlessly in four directions. Title, subtitle, and headline were presumably intended as attention-grabbers: the article itself was serious and thoughtful—though, as I hope to show, profoundly misleading.

In this chapter, we will first address a few of Charles Mann’s claims in the Atlantic article and then proceed to the much more important discussion of our real energy prospects. Continue reading...

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