The Second Age of Oil: A Contrarian ViewOctober 11, 2012
Michael Klare, writing at European Energy Review, argues that recent claims of a new age of oil are wildly overselling the case and that, in fact, the march to a post-petroleum economy continues unabated. In the service of his argument, he coins the term “extreme oil” for the unconventional resources that I and many others point to as the next generation fuels that will power the Shale Age. Klare presents a formula for why this Age will not materialize: “Extreme energy = extreme methods = extreme disasters = extreme opposition.”
The problem with this formulation is that many of these unconventional resources are no longer even unconventional – unconventional has become the new conventional. There is nothing remotely extreme about shale oil and shale gas, and the methods for extracting them are well developed and widespread – not extreme at all. There have been no “extreme disasters” attached to shale oil or gas, and although the jeremiads of anti-fossil fuel activists have ginned up occasionally significant opposition, none of it has been what I would term “extreme.” And, while deep water oil, Arctic oil, Canadian tar sands and Venezuelan heavy oil all require arguably extreme methods for production, the biggest resource in the shed – kerogen (oil shale) may end up being the most environmentally sound of them all, if Red Leaf’s EcoShale process plays out. Finally, Klare’s dark warning of environmental apocalypse if these resources are utilized ignores the ongoing development of mitigating technologies like the Olah CCU process that captures excess CO2 and converts it to methanol.
Klare has long written on the nexus of energy and geopolitics, from a decidedly leftist perspective. Long time readers know that I have an affinity for leftist writers because I find the quality of their analyses to be generally high, even though I largely disagree with their conclusions. Klare is someone whom I have referenced repeatedly in my own work, but this piece lacks analytical rigor – it is just a screed, which is often the signal of a warrior who knows his cause is lost. Progress is not inevitable, and Luddites can always slow down progress, but the technological positivists usually prevail in the end.