It’s been really wonderful being one of the oil babies and whilst I’d dearly like for this all to continue, in the long run we’d be better off acknowledging our dependencies and preparing ourselves and our communities for degrowth. This is from someone who for years kept supplies of hand sanitiser, face masks and gloves in our emergency provisions (and deflecting the “why is this shit still taking so much room in the cupboard” questions).
Think how ingrained it is in our psyche to ‘just pull into a service station, fillerup and pull out’. For us, it always has been like that, but always won’t be. At each visit to an energy shrine we should be doing a more respectful ritual than just waving a bit of plastic, like, pat the bowser (TikTok #patthebowser).
So why am I going on about oil? Because oil (petrol/diesel/avgas) unleashes gas, oil, electricity, food and things, things and more things. Like - everything. Everything around you (and that fact you’re even reading this) is totally dependent on oil magically making its way from deep underneath the seas and lands of Arabia and Asia and arriving in our cities to drive our trucks and machines and planes and ships and trains, to make stuff and to keep the lights on.
If the tankers stopped coming, the trucks stop running. After the run on the supermarket, then that’s it (and you thought the pandemic run was shocking). Well, that will be it until something gets cobbled together like the 1970’s oil shock. The strategic oil reserve will kick in from US; but maybe it won’t.
Being a liquid, oil is relatively safe and easy to transport and handle (whereas flammable gas e.g. methane, LPG, or hydrogen) requires much effort to keep it contained. Best of all is that oil is energy dense and has a complex chemistry from which many commodities are made (where would Covid or Tesla be without plastic?).
Apart from its geopolitics problem, oil has become more energy-expensive to extract because what is left is of poorer quality, smaller, more polluted fields (think heavy metals and hydrogen sulphide), offshore, deeper etc. The ‘easy’ oil has long since gone, and we have reached the point where the average price to extract it is greater what economies can afford but insufficient for the oil companies to produce and explore for it.
The amount of energy it takes to extract energy is often referred to as Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI). Euan Mearns
It’s for this reason promoting green hydrogen energy as sustainable is a complete myth. The energy to break the hydrogen/oxygen bond when electrolysing it is the same returned when hydrogen is burnt. To do all this hydrogen work, the machines involved to create it, store it, transport it and to oxidise it back to water are built from oil, and then their running and maintenance depends on oil. How long would your life go if you kept on using up 12 potatoes worth of energy to grow 6?
Recent energy absurdity must be the Grattan Institute pushing green ‘hydrogen’ steel. Everything in their report is solely based on a $ analysis, no analysis of the energy or resource requirements to make and run all this green steel infrastructure and why is this?, it’s because the report was produced by dickhead financier/economists whose economic theory assumes energy and metals are an infinite resource.
And then there’s gas. Texas flares the same amount of gas that South America uses just so that they can extract the shale oil. Because gas is cheap, virgin plastic is cheap (which makes energy/labour-intensive recycled plastic hard to compete). In Australia we’ve built very expensive gas infrastructure to supply overseas consumers, but Australian manufacturers pay the highest gas prices. And still the push is to develop even more ‘high energy cost’ fields in order to use the gas up and to sell it off as quickly as possible (not to conserve it for future generations to eke out).
Anyway, many other people have spoken and written much more eloquently on this topic;.
”Deep uncertainties remain about whether renewables can maintain, let alone grow, the range and scale of energy services presently provided by fossil fuels. The more optimistic renewable energy studies rely upon assumptions that may be theoretically or technically plausible, but which remain highly uncertain when real-world practicalities are accounted for”.
“This is no argument against as rapid a deployment of renewable technology as humanity can mobilise. Instead, it is a further argument for anticipating societies that require as little energy as possible to flourish, rather than assuming that energy-intensive societies can simply transition to renewable technologies without difficulty or disruption”.