Matt Kinnaman: Embrace carbon, embrace life
Do you remember Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s funny line? "Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!" But guess what? Israel does have oil. Lots of it. Maybe more than Saudi Arabia. Estimates of Israeli oil recoverable within a decade, as technology advances, are already at 400 billion barrels. On top of that, recently discovered offshore natural gas supplies are turning Israel into a global-scale energy powerhouse. This, in a land long believed to be bereft of key resources. What can we say, except, "surprise!"
And in this, our great ally Israel is a lot like us. Nowhere is the surprise of new hydrocarbon energy supplies bigger than in the United States. This new abundance is reordering -- in our favor -- the political, economic and strategic equations we thought we knew so well.
It’s worth noting that many of us were taught to believe that this was not possible. When I was in seventh grade (c 1972) the ecology movement was just getting seriously underway in American classrooms. I was told we were running out of energy, and American greed was to blame. "We have six percent of the world’s population, but we use 25 percent of its resources," my teacher said.
Forty-years later, with green curricula in full flower in schools everywhere, President Obama echoed my seventh grade teacher’s basic thesis, with a slight variant from the same school of thought: "The problem is we use more than 20 percent of the world’s oil and we only have two percent of the world’s proven oil reserves." Imagine.
But as John Lennon sang, "Well, I tell them there’s no problems, only solutions." Exactly. The U.S. Geological Survey’s now reports that the U.S. has 26 percent of the world’s oil resources (not two percent), and that’s not including our immense stores of oil shale. U.S. oil output has increased 56 percent since 2008, and the U.S. is on track to surpass Saudi Arabia in oil capacity within six years.
How did we not see this coming? Because we never see these things coming. Why not? Because discoveries are always surprises. President Obama’s "two percent of the world’s oil" warning describes conventional oil that had already been discovered. No surprise there. He’s talking about the past. But discoveries are all about the future, about the surprises we can’t see coming, like the ones that have turned our past notions about oil and natural gas supplies upside down.
The impact of horizontal drilling technology? Surprise! Economically attractive oil from tar sands? Surprise! An overflowing supply of natural gas from the fracking revolution? Surprise! Improved seismic imaging technologies that uncover still more hydrocarbon fuels? Surprise! Thanks to these surprises, the U.S. is becoming the global leader in energy assets.
Individual state economies and regions are booming. North Dakota and Pennsylvania are reaping huge rewards. Texas, California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Louisiana could be next. How about New York? Vermont? Massachusetts? We’ll see. The surprises of the carbon energy revolution are just beginning.
We’ve entered a new and surprising golden era of oil and natural gas riches. This is a cause for celebration, because carbon-based energy means life.
Generating economic opportunities? Helping the poor get richer? Getting better health care? Feeding our families? Running our schools? It requires hydrocarbon fuels. The good news is, our cup runneth over.
And, amazingly, this is almost nothing next to what lies ahead. Have you heard of methane clathrates? Also referred to as "methane hydrates," they are combinations of methane and water stored in underwater and underground ice deposits worldwide. These deposits contain almost immeasurable amounts of hydrocarbon fuel, and the technology to capture this energy could be viable within a decade.
U.S. Geological Survey researchers say that methane hydrates can yield more energy than all previously discovered oil and gas combined. Surprise!
We’re absolutely overwhelmed with energy, both now and for as far as the eye can see. From Israel to the U.S., we are watching the wonderful impact of technological surprises making us rich where we once thought we were poor, in a new age of hydrocarbon energy overflow.
And it’s a good thing, because solar panels and windmills are not our salvation. Solar power provides two-tenths of one percent of total U.S. energy consumption. Wind power provides one and four-tenths percent. "Go green" sounds good, but it’s the path to poverty. Nothing but hydrocarbon fuels can currently power an advanced
Matt Kinnaman, an occasional Eagle contributor, works in the education publishing business.