Global energy consumption is expected to grow 60 percent by 2020 over 1997, from 380 quadrillion BTUs to 608 quadrillion BTUs. One barrel of oil supplies about 5.8 million BTUs.
natural gas consumption is expected to more than double by 2020. Is this
increase sustainable with present supplies?
More than half the Earth's organic carbon is found in gas hydrates
For the first time in decades, OPEC leaders are not just talking tough, but actually tightening the valves on their pipelines. The soaring energy prices, however, don't reflect just OPEC's machinations, but also the hallowed relationship between supply and demand.
World energy consumption is booming. In 1997, the planet used 73 million barrels of oil daily. That's projected to balloon to 113 million barrels by 2020.
Against these numbers, the Strategic Reserve will supply literally a drop in the barrel. Don't reach for your calculator: We did the math: 30 million barrels would have fed the 1997 market for 9 hours and 52 minutes. At today's level of consumption, it would be turned into carbon dioxide even quicker. While crude's price of more than $30 per barrel is not a record in real dollars, the energy future looks grim enough:
While optimists say a higher price will wring new supplies out of the sedimentary rock, pessimists are busy rubbing oil into the wound. "Governments understand that we're approaching the time of a permanent era of decline of conventional fossil fuel production," says Roger Sassen, deputy director for resource geosciences at Texas A&M University. "I've never seen it in the newspapers. Dan Rather could not imagine that basically nobody has found any super-large oil or gas fields in decades." Even the "glitz" about discoveries in the Caspian Sea is "all fluff," he says.
A second distinction from the previous energy crises is the paucity of interest in energy alternatives. The crises of the 1970s taught that technologies like high-mileage cars could actually cut fossil fuels consumption. Indeed, as The New York Times maintains, "the demand side of the energy equation is as important, if not more so, than the supply side" (see "The Politics of Fuel" in the bibliography).
on the rocks -- more than hot air?
The new source, called gas hydrate or methane hydrate, is molecules of natural gas trapped inside crystals of frozen water -- ice. Gas stores compactly inside ice, and estimates of gas hydrate are breathtaking. Beneath permafrost alone, the resource ranges from 5,000 to 12 million trillion cubic feet (tcf).
For comparison, the United States uses about 22 tcf of natural gas per year, and the global gas resource is about 13,000 tcf. (In geo-speak, "resource" is the amount of a material thought to exist in the Earth; "reserves" can be economically extracted at present. Higher prices make it feasible to spend more for extraction, so reserves in the ground -- not to be confused with reserves in tanks and ships -- reflects the price of the commodity.)
The real bonanza, however, is under the ocean, with a wild estimate ranging from 30,000 to 49 million tcf.
With little notice outside the oil patch, gas hydrates have grabbed the attention of fossil-fuel analysts. "I know, oil companies know, governments know that [today's oil and gas] game will be over in 20 to 30 years," says Sassen, who directed geochemical research for three major oil companies. "If you going to change the planetary infrastructure before the lights go out, you've got to start thinking about gas hydrates now."
Why the big deal now?
are 1 2 3 4
5 pages in this feature.
Bibliography | Credits | Feedback | Search