Extreme oil anyone ?

new-scientist-extreme-oilWhile some magazines print sensationalist articles, some other prefer to carry out real research with real facts and figures. New Scientist indeed published an interesting article on what they call extreme – or unconventional – oil.

Understanding that peak oil is either near or already arrived we can either burn as much unconventional oil as we need or use it wisely to smooth the transition to the post-oil society.

The editorial is a little gem that will allow you to better understand the full article written by David Strahan, the author of The Last Oil Shock.

Here is the full editorial :

CHEAP oil has been the driving force behind the phenomenal economic growth of the past century, at least in the west. Oil is the lifeblood of the modern world. If we were to remove it tomorrow, it is no exaggeration to say that civilisation would collapse.

But the days of abundant, easy-to-extract oil are numbered. It’s a mantra we’ve all heard before. Oil production is poised to enter terminal decline: if “peak oil” hasn’t already arrived, it is imminent.

Make no mistake, peak oil is a threat to our way of life. However much we despair at the long-term consequences of pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the prospect of an oil crisis is just as bad, if not worse, and more immediate.

For that reason, the fact that the earth is still dripping with oil is something of a blessing. Conventional oil – liquid hydrocarbons trapped deep underground – may be running short, but reserves like this are a drop in the ocean. Other sources of oil, including tar sands and oil shales, contain about nine times as much oil as we have consumed so far.

Energy companies are already digging for these unconventional resources, driven by our collective thirst (yes, that means you) for oil.

Tar sands and the like will soon make a significant contribution to the global oil supply (see “Scraping the bottom of the barrel”). Unfortunately, they are more polluting and more expensive to extract than conventional oil, which is why most of them are still in the ground.

So unconventional oil is both an opportunity and a threat. It could allow us to complacently carry on as normal, delaying the hard choices we have to make, but all the while pushing us ever deeper into climate crisis. Managed properly, however, unconventional oil could be used to smooth out peak oil and make a gentler transition to a post-oil economy.

Option two won’t happen by default. It will require a massive new push for alternatives to fossil fuels. We already know what we need: renewable electricity, a revamped grid and a network of charging stations to power the next generation of electric cars. That’s the bare minimum. In all likelihood, we’ll need carbon capture and storage, too, to mop up the emissions from that dirty unconventional oil.

All of this costs money – but the source is staring us in the face. Now, more than ever, we need a universal carbon tax which taxes fossil fuels at source according to how polluting they are. Vested interests don’t like this idea, but let’s not forget that oil companies turn vast profits: Exxon Mobil alone made $45 billion in 2008.

In a sane world, we would surely find a way to divert some of this money to solve the dilemma that oil itself has created. The question is, do we live in a sane world?

You get the idea : we could live well after peak oil. But to have a smooth transition to a post-oil society we need to act NOW on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Further reading on Green Inc. : Oil Sands Cleanup Efforts Criticized

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