energy sources

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mantvius's picture
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Joined: Mar 30 2009
Posts: 1
energy sources

hello, everybody,

wanted to address this question to Chris, but since he is too busy to answer, i was advised to post it here. that's what i'm doing :)


hello, Chris!

i have thoroughly watched the Crash Course. very educating indeed! however, when talking about energy sources, i did not hear a single word about gas. no, not gasoline. what i mean is "Natural gas" ( - things like methane, propane, butane, etc. i don't know how it is in USA, but here in Europe gas constitutes quite large part of all energy sources. it is widely used for heating, cooking, production of electricity, etc. so i wander why didn't you include natural gas when talking about resource depletion?

thanks for the answer and for the whole Course! ;)

Vilnius, Lithuania

jnottingham's picture
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Joined: Mar 30 2009
Posts: 1
Re: energy sources

The sourceable supply and proven reserves of NG in N.America are actually increasing in recent years due in large part to improved technology in drilling and recovering techniques.  It is the relative abundance of NG resources that is behind efforts like "The Pickens Plan."  That said, NatGas represents about 1/4 of the total energy consumption in the United States.  So an increasing reliance on NG that displaces oil would deplete the NG reserves pretty fast.  What you didn't ask was about the other predominant source of energy in North America, and that's coal.  Together NG and coal are the source of about 1/2 our energy consumption in the U.S.  With improved gasified coal technology and improved NG resource development, we could offset a significant enough portion of imported oil to be virtually energy independent with adequate resources to last into the mid part of this century.  Add newly improved wind and solar technology, not to mention biodiesel (far superior to ethanol) and it is not inconceivable that the limits on global oil production could become a competitive advantage for the U.S. 

Jeff Nottingham
M.A., Economics


phredd's picture
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Joined: Sep 9 2008
Posts: 16
Re: energy sources

All of the fossil sources, whether coal, oil, or natural gas (indeed, even the one mineral source we know of, uranium), are subject to depletion, the only question is timing.  Natural gas is catching up with oil in terms of use, and time to peak is not expected to be very far off at all.  Several sources predict that the downslope for natural gas will be much sharper than for oil, because production is largely a matter of hit or miss.  In other words, an oil field can have some difficult geology which slows production and spreads it out over a longer period, as advanced extraction techniques eke a little bit extra out of the ground over time.  With gas, either you can get it or you can't.  There aren't many techniques for improving extraction of the resource once it is tapped, so once it is gone, it is just gone.  There's very little production tail, so the decline is potentially very steep.

Also, I wouldn't count on an oil shortage giving the US a competitive advantage, given that we currently expend a lot of oil to extract coal.  There's a lot to suggest that an oil shortage will actually lead more or less directly to a coal shortage, as well.  I believe Richard Heinberg is set to release a new book on that subject.  Energy independence is a myth unless and until total energy expended is limited to renewables.  There is no long-term fossil-fuel-based energy strategy that can possibly be sustainable.  We can lessen the pain by diversification, but renewables are the ONLY long-term answer.

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