COVID-19 emphatically proves the necessity of hydrocarbons – we can do better but can’t do without
Social media has wandered a strange path in its short life. Initially, it was a wonder: Facebook enabled an infinitely better way for friends and family to keep in touch, or bands to connect with fans, or businesses to promote themselves, etc. Twitter was similar, but seemed pattered on Attention Deficit Disorder and introduced that condition to a whole generation of otherwise calm people and for whom ADD is now a required social license.
Unfortunately, social media has also morphed into a tool or weapon, with digital strategists plotting how to infiltrate all corners and shape opinions by sheer volume. Number of shares = quality of idea, in the new new math.
That’s all harmless for the bulk of the piffle that gets pondered on social media – who cares if Ariana Grande changed her hairstyle because she’s cooped up at home (a lot, apparently). But the whole phenomenon is a problem when used as a tool of disinformation, and we are seeing a huge one on the energy front.
The coronavirus epidemic is being touted by some as a turning point to get rid of fossil fuels, that is, hydrocarbons, right here and right now. Per recent news articles like this one, “Greenpeace is among a number of national environment organizations demanding no cash be spent to help oil companies.” Organizations like Greenpeace see the petroleum sector on its knees, and they’re drawing their swords to finish it off. Nothing peaceful going on here.
This is the sad point where social media comes in, where the notion that this is some green “turning point” is being promoted by the likes of Greenpeace as any sort of sane thinking. And, because Greenpeace gets quoted in mainstream articles as above as some sort of valued contributor, the messaging gains traction.
It is necessary therefore to point out that such viewpoints are preying on the energy ignorance of average citizens. It is also necessary to point out that the Greenpeace-style messaging is going to fool a few, but is largely going to isolate such organizations as unhelpful extremists.
Providers of hydrocarbons have long tried to explain to the world just how much they rely on hydrocarbons, which was difficult, because hydrocarbons support everything we use and do, and the messages simply fell flat.
They are not falling flat anymore. It is glaringly obvious what a lack of hydrocarbons would mean today. Would anyone out there right now prefer to be without the petroleum-based supply chains we have now? Would you like to do without food? Medical supplies? Transportation of both? Does anyone think tourist destinations are relishing this travel-free “advancement” as desired by the likes of extremists? There is no conceivable plan to get these things without hydrocarbons for decades.
Anti-hydrocarbon people, the innocent and sincere ones anyway, say well, we don’t mean get rid of hydrocarbons today, just don’t provide them any capital. These people have no clue that natural decline rates of petroleum fields range from 5 to 20 percent per year, or even more for shale fields, and that without capital reinvestment the world would lose 5-20 million barrels per day of much needed supply, every year. Similarly, a fifth of natural gas supply could be lost every year.
And keeping production flat requires not just money for drilling, but for building pipelines to new fields as old ones are depleted. Keeping production flat is actually a monumental task that requires a lot of money, time and effort.
Sadly, it has taken COVID-19 to demonstrate just how seriously the world relies on hydrocarbons. And not just for survival; check in with any tourist-based economy and see how they are doing. Hydrocarbons provide the backbone of our lives and the occupations for billions, directly and indirectly.
Environmentally, there will be huge benefits that come out of this. We are learning which practices are most wasteful, and which have the most impact on pollution and general emissions. We will learn which we can live without, and which we can optimize in future.
Now is the time to show gratitude for all we have, and that the great big machine keeps running at all under such duress. Be grateful for the people, the equipment, and the energy that keeps it all together. Truck drivers and locomotive engineers are the new heroes, just like they were when I was a kid. Above that, the world requires, and will die without, stability and reliability of supply chains. Replacing rock-solid petroleum supply chains, which underpin all others, with intermittent wind/solar power is, in stark terms, inconceivable at this point.