Part 2 of A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash adds more stark images and historical footage that shows the importance of energy in the form of readily accessible oil, but it also illustrates some of the toxic hazards and armed conflicts that we have accepted as a price of benefits that oil has provided. The images of derelict pumpers and drilling rigs, petroleum covered workers, soldiers, tanks and occasional fires should help people remember that “cheap” oil has not been without some risk and cost.
Earlier this week, there was another dramatic incident that illustrates the importance that people place on improving their access to useful energy. A gasoline carrying pipeline in Nairobi, Kenya sprung a leak in a ghetto where people live in cardboard shacks. The better off there actually have a tin roof.
When the gas started coming out, instead of backing away and warning others as would happen in countries where we take access to energy almost for granted, the people in Nairobi grabbed whatever containers they could find and ran toward the leaking gasoline. They are so desperate for a little heat that they would risk their lives for the several thousand BTUs worth of gasoline that they would be able to fit into a container.
The tragic, but not surprising result was that something sparked and caused an inferno that incinerated at least 100 people and cause burns that will likely be fatal for another 100, many of whom were children. I highly recommend reading John Wheeler’s thought and action provoking commentary titled Only the Energy Impoverished Run Towards a Gasoline Spill.
One aspect of the stark picture painted by A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash should jump out at anyone who pays attention to world economic news. The video, produced in time for documentary film festivals in 2007, includes segments in which a component of the interview subject’s concern about oil supplies comes from his or her assumption that the economic good times would continue, driving demand ever higher. Seen from a viewpoint from 2011, those predictions of growth were optimistically wrong – oil production and consumption since 2007 has been essentially flat.
As we learned in the 1970s, all we need to do to be able to stop our growth in oil consumption is to endure a terrible economy with few job prospects and a series of financial crises. When oil prices are high, people conserve by traveling less, eating out less, buying fewer power boats, buying fewer new cars, flying less, and buying fewer homes. Not surprisingly, the economy in oil and gas producing regions like Texas experiences a different trajectory when oil prices are high.
If we really are near or past the peak in oil production AND we do not develop a reliable alternative, the future will create an ever growing number of energy impoverished people who will run towards a gasoline spill or who will willingly go to war to protect access to dwindling supplies. That depressing fate seems to be the prediction of the producers of A Crude Awakening.
The 1 minute clip below offers an interesting point of departure for a conversation. The music is ominous but the footage used as a visual representation belies that music. After all of the scenes of devastation caused by extracting, transporting and distribution oil, I find it refreshing to see a picture of Diablo Canyon. I know that it produces the energy equivalent of about 100,000 barrels of oil per day in emission free electricity from its idyllic seaside location. It creates that magical resource in a facility that does not even need a smokestack and transports it to customers over quiet transmission lines that are a lot less dangerous than petroleum filled trucks.
When the David L. Goodstein, a physics professor from the California Institute of Technology, makes the dramatic statement that building 10 terrawatts worth of nuclear power plants would require 10,000 of the largest type of plant, I guess that is supposed to be an overwhelming challenge. However, I had just watched a video that stated there are more than 700 million internal combustion engines in the world.
If we start now and really focus on maintaining the momentum, we could soon be completing several dozen new plants every year around the world. If we start building them in the same kind of factories now produce ships, tanks, and aircraft there is almost no limit to how many we could be completing after a period of building the infrastructure, including the required training academies.
He said that building those units using the same technology that we have usually used would provide a resource that might only last a decade or two. However, the way we’ve always done it only consumes U-235, which represents about 0.2% of the potential fission fuel since it ignores both U-238 and Th-232. My immediate response was “well, we won’t do that” since we have several proven alternatives already.
Besides, we do not have to totally replace all fossil fuels to make a substantial impact.