Are we sitting on unlimited fossil-fuel resources?

You’ve heard that we’re running out of oil.  You’ve heard that natural gas has a finite and ever-shortening supply.  The media has been reporting on Peak Oil for decades, and the peak has always been just around the next corner.  But what if that weren’t true, and for practical purposes, the US has an unlimited supply of fossil fuel for its energy needs?  Would that not undercut the entire notion of an energy crisis, except as self-inflicted?

Get ready for a paradigm change, courtesy of … Salon? (via Ace)

Are we living at the beginning of the Age of Fossil Fuels, not its final decades? The very thought goes against everything that politicians and the educated public have been taught to believe in the past generation. According to the conventional wisdom, the U.S. and other industrial nations must undertake a rapid and expensive transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy for three reasons: The imminent depletion of fossil fuels, national security and the danger of global warming.

What if the conventional wisdom about the energy future of America and the world has been completely wrong? …

If gas hydrates as well as shale gas, tight oil, oil sands and other unconventional sources can be tapped at reasonable cost, then the global energy picture looks radically different than it did only a few years ago. Suddenly it appears that there may be enough accessible hydrocarbons to power industrial civilization for centuries, if not millennia, to come.

So much for the specter of depletion, as a reason to adopt renewable energy technologies like solar power and wind power. Whatever may be the case with Peak Oil in particular, the date of Peak Fossil Fuels has been pushed indefinitely into the future. What about national security as a reason to switch to renewable energy?

The U.S., Canada and Mexico, it turns out, are sitting on oceans of recoverable natural gas. Shale gas is combined with recoverable oil in the Bakken “play” along the U.S.-Canadian border and the Eagle Ford play in Texas. The shale gas reserves of China turn out to be enormous, too. Other countries with now-accessible natural gas reserves, according to the U.S. government, include Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, France, Poland and India.

Let’s stipulate that we may still want to move away from gasoline as a personal-vehicle fuel for reasons other than supply.  Refining uses a lot of energy, for instance, and the entire process produces emissions other than carbon dioxide that really do present problems in large quantities.  Rather than switching to electricity, which is hardly an environmental boon (as I explained earlier this week), we should move to natural gas instead.  We have had that technology for decades, going back to at least the 1980s when I drove a natural gas powered taxi … very, very briefly.  The fuel burns cleanly and it allows for a normal range on vehicles without overloading an already-problematic grid.

One potential reason this technology hasn’t captured the imagination is because it would take drilling and exploration to find it.  Documentaries such as Gasland have soured the public on the newer extraction technologies, but as Phelim McAleer explains, the film didn’t bother to mention that reports of flammable water in the region go back decades before fracking began. “It’s not relevant,” Gasland director Josh Fox replies when challenged:

As I said earlier, the energy crisis in this country is entirely self-inflicted, mainly because the demagogues and Chicken Littles have controlled the narrative for far too long.