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Saudi America and the State of Denial

By Michael Collins - Posted on 03 December 2013

The U.S. will surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil producer by 2015, and be close to energy self-sufficiency in the next two decades, amid booming output from shale formations, the IEA said.   Bloomberg Nov 12

The shale oil boom delivers dollars but at what cost?

Well, I guess that means every thing will be just fine.  We'll have plenty of cheap fuel to drive gas-guzzlers and lots of walking around money from out new status as oil suppliers to the world.  We might even have enough money to fund health care, Social Security, and fix our collapsing infrastructure.   There's just one catch.  But first, here's some more good news. (Image: Phillip Taylor)

Tim Johnson of McClatchy just wrote an excellent article outlining the geopolitical implications of our new energy wealth: "Rise of Saudi America will alter globe, prolong U.S. superpower role." Nov. 28.   Rather than a slow decline from superpower status, Johnson makes the case that the rise in domestic shale oil production plus sought after U.S. oil industry services and technology will sustain the U.S. as a dominant superpower.

Dependence on Middle East oil will soon be a thing of the past.  Johnson suspects that will make disasters like the Iraq invasion, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria a thing of the past.  The shale oil boom, according to Johnson, has us fat and happy, counting our dollars from energy exports rather than bringing democracy (aka military action) to oil producing countries.   

There's just one catch 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the official international organization studying the impact of carbon dioxide (C02) on the climate.  The group is a consensus organization of scientists and known for caution in the past.  However, a leaked version of IPCC's upcoming report offered dire predictions for the rest of the century.  Food shortages, frequent extreme weather events, urban flooding due to sea level rises, etc. coming our way in 20 to 40 years, depending on efforts to slow things down.

Around the same time the IPCC report was leaked, Nature Magazine published an landmark study showing how extreme temperatures will become the norm as early as 2020, in sub equatorial regions.  If nothing is done to stop these changes, the study authors say that southern Indonesia will feel the impact first with increased temperature "affecting every living thing" starting in 2020.   Mexico, Nigeria, and Central America are next in 2030.   In our globalized economy, it is not likely that the U.S. will escape the impact of the eco-meltdowns, e.g., infectious diseases.

These projections do not account for the rapid exploitation of shale oil starting in the next year or so.  Why is this a problem.

Experts estimate that "full-fuel-cycle carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from oil shale derived liquid fuels are likely to be 25 to 75% higher than those from conventional liquid fuels, depending on the details of the process used."  Regulations is behind the curve, as usual.  The promise of Saudi America outstrips planning and prudence.

The 2040 date for major the world altering impacts of climate change (absent preventative measures) is based on conventional gasoline.  Each major increment of shale oil gasoline used will move up the disaster dates the IPCC report outlined.

We're number one

The United States will lead the world in shale oil exploitation.  It will provide many of the shale rich nations with superior extraction technology to accelerate a switch from conventional to shale oil based gasoline.  The world will be awash with toxic fuel and some in the a few in the U.S. will make a fortune.

A lot of good it will do them.  The new wealth and technologies for shale oil production won't change the laws of physics and chemistry.  The new wealth can't buy more capacity for CO2 in the atmosphere, which is about at its limit.  We will cook the planet as we substitute one form of CO2 production with a form five times as toxic.  There's only so much CO2 the atmosphere can accumulate before the impact of climate change become permanent.

Leading climatologist James Hansen did the math on the Canadian tar sands project in Alberta.  He said:  "If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate."  Canada has just 14% of the recoverable shale oil found in the U.S.

The McClatchy article quotes Robert Manning of the Atlantic Council on the coming boom times for the U.S. energy sector:

“The implications of the U.S. shale revolution are so great for its economy and security that you don’t want to kill it with stupidity.  If we find out that it’s causing earthquakes, or something else bad happens, you want to prevent that stuff."  McClatchy, Nov 28

How's this for killing it with stupidity?  The oil boom is based on fuel that is five times more toxic than the poison that's ruining the environment now.  The transition from the precipice of decline into full-scale irreversible global changes will destroy human society, as we know it.   The shale oil boom is really a weapon of mass destruction with a short fuse.

Barring some extraordinary alternative clean fuel developed in the next year or two, the shale oil gravy train will deliver us to a steaming cauldron of environmental and social decay in short order.


Leaders in shale oil deposits.  McClatchy
Leaders in shale oil deposits. McClatchy

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