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.
We can do this everyone! Stand by each other, call a friend, support small businesses. If you’re bored pick up “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” at Amazon.ca, Indigo.ca, or Amazon.com.
Very true. Apathy and indifference along with a generally “progressive” and sympathetic media allow the highly vocal anti-hydrocarbon activists to lever their opinion and keep the oil industry on it’s back foot.
‘Above that, the world requires, and will die without, stability and reliability of supply chains.’
Napoleon found that out when he led the Grande Armée to Moscow. We don’t wish to experience a similar disaster.
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History does rhyme if not repeat. Agree Bob let’s hope we learn from those past disasters!
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When I first heard the number of BPD a decent size oil company has to discover each year just to stay flat I was shocked. Had never thought of it that way before.
Yes it is surprising for most people. On top of that, it’s not just drilling new wells. As fields are depleted, new ones need to be developed, meaning they need to be connected and plumbed in. Each step is now a fight, and that’s just to keep production flat, never mind grow. Horizontal wells decline much faster too, from super high initial rates to much lower within a year or two. So the plumbing needs to be built for that initial jolt of production too. It’s not easy!
Terry, thanks for your blog thoughts. I’m wondering why you call your website Public EnemY Number One? I’m at a loss. Thanks, Amy
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Hi Amy, thanks for the thoughts. It’s actually Public EnerGy Number One. Beyond being a play on the common “enemy” phrase, it’s meant to imply that it’s a top source of information (or strives to be) for the general public. It was originally meant to simply explain energy concepts to curious people outside the industry. The tone has changed sadly since the industry is under such attack now – it is necessary to justify the existence of the industry because certain elements of the climate change movement are trying to convince the world it can live without hydrocarbons. It cannot. So sadly the “Public Energy Number One” name is also now a reflection that a lot of misguided people now want to make hydrocarbon production illegal or impossible. The name also therefore reflects the demonization of a crucial industry that is far, far more than “Big Oil”. If you’re interested in more, my book “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” goes into all this in better (and more fun) detail!
One of the electric cars I was considering was the Chevrolet Volt. Because it’s a plugin hybrid with a range extending gasoline engine, long trips do use fuel, but because most trips are short, many owners buy a 40L tankful a month, or less. The computer will force the engine on to use up the stale gasoline once or twice a year, so it doesn’t last forever. ‘Pure’ electrics burn a shocking amount of electricity in a Canadian winter, unless you keep them in a garage with the natural gas heater on.
If all vehicles (including heavy vehicles) were designed on that pattern, we would burn a lot more cheap electricity and a lot less petroleum fuel, and because of that we could afford to pay a lot more for that fuel. $200 a barrel oil wouldn’t noticeably impact the economy.
There are other benefits, too. An ice storm could be no big deal with nearly every vehicle carrying a battery and generator that is hooked up to a house every night to charge. (but a few interlocks would be needed, to prevent them running inside a garage.
What about the ‘duck curve’ and the intermittent solar and wind, and the vehicle charging load, and all that? Alberta is far from having those problems with 60 MW out of 16,000 MW capacity being solar, but even with 100 times as much this stuff would be more controllable and less random than the 1950’s technology that first brought electric light to the farm. If there’s an oversupply of electricity it goes on sale, and the chargers ramp up. If the supply gets short, the chargers shut off, co-generation ramps up, and some could even sell power back. In the old days, refrigerators and freezers were designed to cut out if the frequency dropped, or just burn out if the voltage dropped.
The ‘wind-water-solar’ acolytes of Professor Mark Jacobson know full well that their spreadsheet warrior emperor has no clothes. The kicking and screaming about TransMountain got so much louder when Premier Notley threatened to just shut off the ‘dirty oil’ tap, that the true feelings were clear. Most people in BC want to keep having petroleum transport fuel available. Even in this time of COVID when the diesel Purolator truck brings the Amazon order, I’m not seeing the death of the oil industry.
[…] Time to set the record straight: this is not a turning point to “go green” as the likes of Greenpeace articulate all too well in the media. It’s actually a turning point in the education of the public as to what they can and can’t do without. Read on… […]