Friday, December 4th, 2009

The Myth and Reality of U.S. Energy Resources

Inside-the-beltway types contend with daily acronym overload, a non-stop alphabet soup denoting different agencies, policies and programs. Compounding the confusion for plastics industry professionals is that there’s often overlap with our own initiatives (OCS, for example, is short for both Operation Clean Sweep — an SPI environmental stewardship program — and the energy-rich offshore area known as the Outer Continental Shelf).

CRS stands for Congressional Research Service and, while largely unknown outside the world of public policy crunchers, they’re the legislative branch’s non-partisan research arm, functioning as a sort of in-house think tank for Congress. And one of its recent studies stood out from the myriad other government reports that SPI regularly reviews and digests.

On the subject of natural resource availability and cost, today’s popular media often paints a gloomy picture of our nation’s future, suggesting a bleak and desolate America marked by scarcity, sky-high prices, rationing — an overall diminution of prosperity.

CRS says otherwise.

In a recent report, CRS puts U.S. combined reserves of natural gas, oil and coal ahead of every other country in the world at 1321 billion barrels of oil equivalent. And this doesn’t even encompass reserves in known but harder-to-access resources such as oil shale. Russia comes in a close second, at 1248 billion, but then the field drops off dramatically. Saudi Arabia? Third, at just 543 billion. China’s next at 494.

The technological know-how exists to develop these resources efficiently, cleanly and safely. Skeptical? Think about the offshore platforms that withstood Hurricane Katrina.

Long story short: the U.S. can create its own energy future. The only question is, will we? For our industry – dependent on these resources for both feedstocks and fuel – it’s a question that can have only one answer.

One Response to “The Myth and Reality of U.S. Energy Resources”

  1. Scary. It’s like it’s OK to use cocaine and heroin if we can grow our own coca and poppies here in the USA.
    Also scary: in almost 2 weeks no-one responded with a comment. Either no-one is reading this blog, or they are too busy or driven or lazy to comment … or they are too scared, consciously or unconsciously, to deal with this question.
    We’re addicted to consumption, like the rest of the world, and it can only get worse — for the economy, the society and our children’s environment (we’ll do OK in the next few years, thank you).
    That’s why the word “sustainability” is so important. I don’t care whether the source of plastics is sugar, corn or oil — that just caters to the public imagination that bio is good and chemical is bad. We can’t afford that fantasy any more. I want to see total life-cycle analyses of all the inputs to manufacture (what do we do with the stalks and spent cane, for example) before I consider something “green.” And we need a society where we are proud when we use less stuff, cooperate more and thus need less, and use the blessings we now have (the Internet, electronic communication, work-at-home possibilities) to provide us with amusement, exercise, productive work, health and relationships — in short, the quality of life we need to live sustainably and not on a headfirst slide into disaster.
    The underlying danger to all this is that we (USA) can’t do it alone. The world is so interlinked already — financially, materially and culturally — that if we in the USA somehow achieved a stable and sustainable balance of consumption, there are still billions in China, India, Indonesia, Africa, etc, for whom there aren’t enough resources in the world to support the current consumption rates in the developed countries.
    I tried to put your numbers in terms that make sense to us who don’t deal with the magical monster number every day:

    USA … 1321 billion barrels, 308 MM people, = 4300 barrels per person
    Russia … 1248 bn, 180 MM people = 6950 barrels per person
    Saudi Arabia … 543 bn, 26 MM people = 21,000 barrels person
    China … 494 bn, 1334 billion people = 370 barrels per person

    China has, and therefore, is a major problem: their 370 barrels per person at 42 gal/barrel is enough to cover a football field to a depth of ONE-HALF INCH!! That’s reserves?
    The USA’s 4300 bbl/person comes to a whopping 22 inches of oil over that field, just about up to our knees. Our current consumption is 7130 million barrels a year (71% for transportation) — source is the US Energy Information Administration. — so our 1321 billion barrels of reserves can last us another 185 years, assuming NO population or consumption growth. Sounds good, and it’s even “better” because as reserves get more difficult/expensive to extract, use will decrease, so these reserves may last us even further into the future.
    This, however, assumes “Island America,” and no-one now believes that strict closing our borders to all threats, trade and immigration can work, especially if the rest of the world doesn’t have such reserves but still goes blindly into the consumption patterns that we have been setting for them. Desperate people are by definition desperate, and in a dog-eat-dog world, the streets are littered with dead dogs.
    We are 4% of the world’s population. Do we share with Europe (450+ million), India (close to 1.2 billion people), Latin America (another 450 million), Africa, SE Asia?? And if we tap our reserves to sell to them, what do they pay us with?
    Maybe it’s too late already, and we should just keep our stuff and our toys and our bling, and hunker down to keep out all intruders who want to be like us. But to those of us who have a little hope left, we can take pride in reducing our consumption and converting our society as much as we can to such a conservation ethic, backed by science and geopolitical realities, rather than fantasy or wishful thinking, and practiced by our leaders and role models as well as the general public.
    Don’t ever forget: Buy-buy really means bye-bye.

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