Thursday, October 7, 2010

Middle East Wars

The Americas have at least three trillion barrels of oil equivalent in unconventional reserves (oil shale, oil sands and coal) all of these can be converted to oil and much of them are convertible to oil at current market price. Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia combined have 500 billion barrels of oil reserves.  Conventional oil producers have a history of overstating their reserves in order to improve their clout while unconventional oil production has only been done on relatively small scale until recently primarily because it was not price competitive.  If even half of the unconventional oil in the America's is recoverable at a market price of $80 a barrel then the Americas have at least three times as much recoverable oil as the middle east.  At the current rate of world consumption of 85 million barrels a day or 31 billion barrels a year, 500 billion barrels would last less than 18 years.  Canada has been increasing its oil production from oil sands in the last few years, it is currently producing at least 1.5 million barrels per day from oil sands (one snag is the supply of fresh water which is used in the oil sands process but there is the option of salt water desalination).  The U.S. imports more oil from Canada than any other country, Mexico is number two.  Canada, Mexico and Venezuela are three of the top four oil exporting countries to the U.S., Saudi Arabia is the only country from the middle east in the top eight oil exporting countries to the U.S.  See the wikipedia article on oil sands:


oilsands on wikipedia


the DOE on oil imports 


oil reserves by country 


oil reserves Venezuela 


 Oil reserves Canada


wikileaks on how few Iraqi oil contracts go to U.S. firms 


The biggest oil sand deposits in the world are in Canada and Venezuela and the largest coal and oil shale deposits are in the United States.  We did not go to war over oil, it was for the security of Israel.  The timing of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars had more to do with the Bush administrations worries about the security of Israel and the end of cheap oil and hence the end of U.S. strategic interest in the middle east than Bush administration worries about terrorism: see the guardian articles on overestimates of Saudi reserves.  Here is a wikileaks cable with similar info.  Note that between 1986 and 2003 crude oil prices averaged less than $30 a barrel after accounting for inflation but between 2004 and 2010 oil prices have averaged over $60 a barrel despite the largest world wide recession since the great depression.  This price increase has been attributed to 'peak oil', the point of the maximum production rate of oil from conventional (cheap) oil sources.  The U.S. went from the gold standard to the oil standard, this is the end of the oil standard or at least the end of the oil standard at $30 a barrel (inflation adjusted).  Really, the oil standard makes a lot more sense than the gold standard because oil is a much more important input into the economy.


historic oil prices 


peak oil on wikipedia 


radford professor on oil reserves 


The Americas do not have large proven reserves of natural gas in comparison to other regions (Russia has the largest reserves) but the U.S. does have other technically recoverable reserves, see here for an example (note that the proven reserves list on wikipedia is in cubic meters while the EIA numbers are in cubic feet, divide by 35 to go from cubic feet to cubic meters).  The technically recoverable reserves have become more economical with improvement in extraction techniques such as hydraulic fracturing.  Ocean floor methane may be extractable one day.  Also note that liquified petroleum gas is produced in the refining process and can be used in the natural gas infrastructure.  Although only a small part of the energy picture something to note is that the U.S. and Brazil are the primary ethanol producers, another transportation fuel.    The U.S. is in a very strong position in terms of fossil fuel resources at prices north of $80 a barrel for oil which begs the question why is the U.S. government spending trillions of dollars on military intervention in the Middle East rather than on developing its own resources?  A big part of the answer is Israeli influence on U.S. foreign policy.  

  CO2 emissions and global warming is another worry for use of fossil fuels but this would just give another reason to disengage from the Middle East.  It is interesting to note that based on available data today CO2 accounts for 0.04% of the earths atmosphere or 400ppm which is about 100ppm above normal.  Estimates for global warming over the next hundred years range between 2-6 degrees C although it seems debatable how reliable modeling such a complicated system is.  The normal ice age cycle has drops of 10 degrees C and drops of 100ppm in atmosphere CO2 concentration but over a much longer time frame, thousands of years instead of hundreds of years.  Geoengineering might also mitigate some of the problem, for example iron fertilization of the ocean to sequester CO2 , the ocean is a huge store of carbon, there are 38,000 gigatonnes of carbon in the ocean compared to 750 gigatonnes in the atmosphere.  Decaying plant material releases 220 gigatonnes of CO2 (60 gigatonnes of carbon) each year while the burning of fossil fuels released 32 gigatonnes of CO2 (9 gigatonnes of carbon), CO2 has about three times the mass of carbon.  Another geoengineering technique is injecting sulfur into the stratosphere which can have a cooling effect similar to large volcanic eruptions.   The geoengineer has more tools than just reducing CO2 output in his toolbox.  

In case you are worried about the ultra long term energy picture you can note that using breeder reactors, enough fissile nuclear fuel can be produced to satisfy world energy demand for thousands of years and breeder reactors produce less waste material than conventional nuclear reactors.  Nuclear and solar are really the only two options that can replace our current energy consumption levels.


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