Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘peak oil

The Big Picture: Fracking, Global Warming, and War

with 4 comments


One of the hardest things about trying to keep up with what is going on in the world is that things change. Sometimes very quickly. Yet the model of the world we have in our heads changes a lot more slowly, or not at all in some people. Things that were stable for decades do eventually change, and if we don’t update our mental models to reflect this, our understanding of the world becomes flawed. Frankly most people’s understanding of the world is a more reflection of their prejudices than any true understanding, but still, some of us are trying to make sense out of it all. And in trying to make sense of it all, a huge shift has taken place over the past few years. Illustrated above. That’s the USA from space. See the big lighted splotch near the upper left middle of the image? That’s in North Dakota. How many huge urban areas are there in North Dakota? None. So what the hell is that huge lighted area? That, dear readers, is fracking. More specifically, that’s the Bakken Formation being exploited for oil. Even five years ago the expert opinion was that the Bakken Formation wouldn’t be producing oil any time in the near future, I even blogged about it. Then a breakthrough was made in oil extraction, fracking as it is known, and the Bakken Formation is now a major and expanding oil producer. The lights by the way are excess natural gas simply being burned off.

OK, so what does this mean? I think it means we’re screwed. We were already in trouble, but this is a huge change, and I think it’s going to have some disastrous consequences. First, the huge change part. Remember peak oil? Well, despite decades of expecting peak oil to hit around 2010, it hasn’t. And now, with fracking, peak oil has been put off for decades. And instead of being an oil importing country, the USA will soon be an oil exporting country once again. These are huge changes and futurists must be scrambling to adjust their models and forecasts. Oil is at the centre of modern civilization, so these changes will ripple outwards and affect everything. And yet this huge change in where our civilization is headed is taking place almost unnoticed. That’s a topic for another day, most people miss anything less than sudden catastrophic rates of change. And as a codicil to my following two points, I don’t think much could derail this. Keystone pipeline or no, the fracking accessible oil deposits in North America will get used, they are way too valuable and the oil industry is already the most powerful industry on the planet, weapons possibly excepted. Of course the weapons industry also wants these deposits exploited, since one can’t fight modern high tech wars without oil. And if one is at all familiar with American politics, big oil has huge influence. Not to mention more or less corporate control of the mainstream media, so opposition to massive fracking will be marginalized. Whether we like it or not, oil is going to be the prime mover in the USA for decades to come.

Speaking of opposition to fracking, that’s where the first major problem rears its ugly head. A massive new wave of oil exploitation is going to be the death knell for any serious mitigation of global warming. Just the lights in the image above illustrates that. We’re talking a mind numbing amount of CO2 being added to the atmosphere just from the production of oil in the first place, and then of course that oil will almost inevitably be used in such a way as to also add to the CO2 in the atmosphere. I don’t even blog about global warming any more. The people who are in denial about it are no more rational than people who deny evolution or the Big Bang. Eventually it will get bad enough that maybe something will be done, but by then it will be far too late. Fracking just means it will get worse sooner.

OK, so fracking means global warming is going to destroy civilization even sooner than was feared, there’s something worse than this? Yes, yes there is. War and oil. Or more specifically, it takes oil to build and run tanks. If one has lots of oil, one can build a lot of tanks. Yes, that’s the simple version. Let me try a different approach. The rich of a country come into a huge pile of money. They are urged to spend it on consumer goods or war to make even more money. They already have all the consumer goods they need. War it is! I posit that the USA will do what every imperialistic power in history has done when it came into some profound new source of wealth … go on an orgy or war and conquest. And since the USA has been on an orgy of war and conquest since 1900 at least, it’s just going to get much worse. I think in the 21st century the USA is going to try and reassert western colonial control over the entire world, at the point of a drone if need be. That’s certainly been the path we’ve gone down under Obama.

So, world war and world climate catastrophe all because of some lights in North Dakota? Yeah, that’s pretty much my theory for today. Earth is a strange planet.

PS: The day after I posted this, I got this link in email: Geologist’s provocative study challenges popular assumptions about ‘fracking’ Who knows?

(The above image is by NASA and is Public Domain under US copyright law. Yes, I’m blogging again after a hiatus due to odd events in my life. Future posts will get back to weird history and such, I’m getting all my negatively out on this post. For the moment.)

Written by unitedcats

February 20, 2013 at 9:38 am

We’re Fracked

with 6 comments

And no, not another 9/11 post. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments on those, there’s a even a few I haven’t responded to. Granted, I don’t get around to responding to every comment, but I try to respond to many or most of them. I get a lot of international comments, not terribly surprising, I’m a rare breed in the USA, an intellectual. I’ve known that since the 80s when we met some German brothers in New Zealand. Later they hitchhiked across the USA and visited us in California. One of their questions was, where are all the intellectuals? I couldn’t say.

I digress, the topic of today’s blog, fracking. Fracking is a method of drilling oil out of low grade oil deposits like oil sands and oil shales, of which the USA has in abundance. During the last gas crunch a few years ago, some wags tossed fracking around as a solution to our oil problems. The Bakken Formation was a favourite example. Experts in the field pointed out that we were decades away from being able to commercially exploit these deposits in a large way. My own considered opinion was that the experts were right.

Well, apparently I was wrong. So were the experts. The technology is here, now. Fracking wells have become commercially viable, and are sprouting up all over the place. It’s entirely possible that in a decade or less the US could produce its own oil, or even become an oil exporting nation again. This is a pretty big change from the peak oil scare a few years back, apparently peak oil has been put off a few more decades.  This is all good, right?

No, not necessarily at least. There’s three points that make this an interesting topic, the first of which is, who knows? This is a wonderful example of how things can change very quickly on the world stage. For decades the exploitation of oil shale and oil sand deposits have largely been a pipe dream. They aren’t any more. This is a huge change. And when the equation changes, all sorts of things can fall out. So this is an important development that might change everything, so people should be aware of it.

Secondly, even if fracking really does produce copious amounts of oil and natural gas, the environmental consequences appear to be non-trivial. Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, which basically is pumping heated fluids into the ground to fracture rack and allow oil and gas to flow out. Um, what heated fluids? And um, isn’t there groundwater down there? Who knows, and yes. This is why fracking has been outlawed in a few minor jurisdictions. Like Queensland, Quebec, France, and several US states. At best it’s safe to say there are future unknown costs, possibly significant,  due to environmental concerns.

Lastly, are there geopolitical implications? Yes, yes there are. One would think it would be a good thing, but anything is possible. My fear is that this will fuel American militarism abroad for a few more decades. And at our current rate of enemy creation, that means we will be at war with the entire world in a few decades. Yeah, that will work out well.

(The above image is of the burning Piper Alpha oil platform. It’s claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit. It was a disaster that was a classic disaster, a whole string of events led up to it, and it’s a study in disaster prevention to this day. A bunch of guys died. I chose it to illustrate that the exploitation of oil and gas involves costs, sometimes very human ones.)

Written by unitedcats

September 12, 2011 at 10:41 pm