Oil Information and Statistics from Oil Apocalypse

There’s an interesting episode of Mega Disasters called "Oil Apocalypse" that runs on the Discovery channel.  Here are some details and quotes that I transcribed from it:

In the US, nearly 100% of cars, farm equipment, trains, and planes run on oil.

Oil provides nearly 50% of all our energy needs.

Petrochemicals are the base of many of our day to day products including plastics, asphalt, tires, polyester, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals.

The US produced 10 million barrels per day in the 1950s, but only consumed 7 million, so we exported the surplus.  World consumption was 20 million barrels per day.

Today the US produces 8.3 million barrels per day, but consumes more than 20 million, so we import about two-thirds of the oil we use.  World consumption is now 84 million barrels per day.

Saudi Arabia produces and exports 10 million barrels per day, and has reserves of between 160-260 billion barrels.

The world has consumed 1 trillion barrels since 1859; there are an estimated 1-3 trillion barrels left, but it’s harder to extract than the first 1 trillion, and it’s being consumed much faster now.

Ethanol has for years comprised about 10% of most US gasoline, to reduce engine knock.

Most US ethanol comes from corn, which means that its use as a fuel is hard on our food supply.  Ethanol is expensive to produce, takes lots of energy to produce, and still produces pollution.

Hydrogen fuel cells are expensive, and they aren’t technically an energy source since the hydrogen in them takes energy to produce.

Most of our electricity is currently provided by coal.  Nuclear power provides 20% of US electricity; solar and wind provide less than 1%.  The US is "the Saudi Arabia of coal."

Canada is the US’s primary supplier of foreign oil (surpassing even Saudi Arabia) partly due to the oil sands in Alberta.

Venezuela exports 2.2 million barrels per day, but it is mostly heavy oil considered inferior to middle eastern light crude oil; it needs more refining to be usable.  But the reserves could be hundreds of billions of barrels.

Colorado’s oil shale has more oil than all of Saudi Arabia’s reserves, but it’s probably not feasible to extract/convert it.

Posted by Anthony on 4 replies


01. May 28, 2008 at 10:13pm by Tasha:

Hmm, so what are our feasible options to reduce consumption and/or dependence on foreign oil?

02. May 29, 2008 at 03:28pm by Anthony:

Well that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?

The ways to reduce oil consumption are obvious but not easy: drive (much) less, buy a car that’s (much) more fuel efficient, carpool or use public transportation instead of driving, and turn your heat down in the winter.

Of course, it’s hard to drive less when you need to drive to work; most people don’t have piles of money laying around to shell out for a new hybrid car; and carpooling and public transit aren’t realistic options for most people unless you live in a city.  And "turn your heat down in the winter" doesn’t make much difference unless everyone does it, not just in the US but globally, and does it by a significant amount.

The problem is that there’s just nothing that compares to oil in its ability to store and deliver large amounts of energy.  That’s why we use it, after all.  Coal and natural gas are also good, but aren’t particularly suitable for use in cars, and of course they’re going to run out just like the oil will.

The ideal solutions are renewables like solar and wind power, since they’re virtually free and limitless.  But it’s going to take  time for the technology behind them to become efficient enough for them to provide a significant amount of our energy.  And in order for them to replace oil for use in transportation, we need significant improvements in battery technology, which is also going to take time.

It seems to me that the best real solutions are to drill for more oil and to start building nuclear power plants again.  We currently can’t drill anywhere off the coasts of the US, except in the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to the environmentalists.  And nuclear power has a stigma that it can’t seem to get away from.

The key question is how long it’s going to take for solar, wind, and battery technology to mature to the point where they’re efficient enough and cheap enough to replace oil.  I don’t know how long that’ll be, but I don’t hear anyone saying that it’s just around the corner.  So in the meantime I don’t see how we can avoid more drilling and more nuclear.

03. May 29, 2008 at 08:10pm by Tasha:

That’s the bothersome thing, nothing will be a short term answer.  I realize that it was my choice to buy an suv, but the rate at which gas prices are rising is ridiculous.  It takes years for gas prices to rise a dollar and then takes just months to rise two more dollars?  Really?? We are in the process of changing our whole way of working to avoid having two cars out, because at this point, it’s just not cost effective to have us both out on the road.  If it works out we are going to get a civic or some other small, high mpg car to use for inspections. Having another car payment will be cheaper than using our suvs. It sucks but we have no other choice.

04. Jun 19, 2008 at 02:50am by Anthony:

Earlier this week, presidential candidate John McCain proposed an end to the offshore drilling ban that’s currently in effect for most of the US coastline.  Today president Bush said he supports an end to the ban as well.  Here are some interesting details from a New York Times article on the topic:

Quoting The New York Times:

Offshore drilling is blocked by two bans, one imposed by Congress and the other by the first President Bush’s executive order. [...]

No one knows for certain how much oil is in the moratorium area.  The federal Energy Information Administration estimates that roughly 75 billion barrels of oil in the United States may be found in all areas of the country that are now off limits for development, and that 21 percent of this oil - or about 16 billion barrels - is covered by the offshore moratorium. [...]

After President Bush’s remarks on Wednesday, [Senator Reid] said: "The facts are clear.  Oil companies have already had ample opportunity to increase supply, but they have sat on their hands.  They aren’t even using more than half of the public lands they already have leased for drilling.  And despite the huge tax breaks President Bush and Republican Congresses have given oil and gas companies to invest in refineries, domestic production has actually dropped."  And the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said, "The president’s proposal sounds like another page from the administration’s energy policy that was literally written by the oil industry: give away more public resources to the very same oil companies that are sitting on 68 million acres of federal lands they’ve already leased."

The Congressional moratorium was first enacted in 1982, and has been renewed every year since.  It prohibits oil and gas leasing on most of the outer continental shelf, 3 miles to 200 miles offshore.  Since 1990, it has been supplemented by the first President Bush’s executive order, which directed the Interior Department until 2000 not to conduct offshore leasing or pre-leasing activity in areas covered by the legislative ban.  In 1998, President Bill Clinton extended the offshore leasing prohibition until 2012.  One person familiar with the deliberations inside the White House said that Mr. Bush was briefed on Tuesday by his top aides, including Joshua B. Bolten, the chief of staff, and that the aides recommended lifting the executive order.

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