The Wonders of Technology and Mysteries of Geology

InsideSources | May 2, 2017 | William O’Keefe

The U.S. Geological Service recently announced its finding of the largest continuous natural gas deposit in the nation. It stretches from Louisiana to Texas and contains estimated reserves of 304.4 trillion cubic feet of gas. This represents almost 10 percent of the Energy Information Administration’s 2015 estimate of natural gas reserves.

The level of natural gas reserves is a remarkable turn of events. Forty years ago, proven reserves stood at 213 trillion cubic feet and steadily declined until 2000. And, 40 years ago, on April 18, President Jimmy Carter delivered an energy message of pessimism to a nation that had endured the shortage and pain of the first Arab oil embargo.

In that message, the president said: “The oil and natural gas that we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are simply running out. … World oil production can probably keep going up for another six or eight years. But sometime in the 1980s, it can’t go up any more. Demand will overtake production. We have no choice about that.”

“To some degree, the sacrifices will be painful — but so is any meaningful sacrifice. It will lead to some higher costs and to some greater inconvenience for everyone. But the sacrifices can be gradual, realistic and they are necessary.

“We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and our grandchildren.”

During the decade of the 1970s, pessimism and gloom seemed to dominate the national mood. The Club of Rome in its publication The Limits to Growth projected the world would run out of natural resources in a few short decades — gold by 1981; mercury, silver by 1985; tin petroleum by 1992; and natural gas by 1993. Others who subscribed to the limits philosophy predicted mass starvation.

The belief that the world was running out of oil and gas led to energy policy initiatives to constrain their use and develop alternatives. These initiatives squandered hundreds of billions of dollars without producing commercially viable alternatives. But, they did not completely diminish the power of entrepreneurial spirits.

The petroleum industry continued to invest in technology that has resulted in more efficient exploration and production and the energy renaissance that has reversed the decline in both oil and gas production and reserves. Hydrological fracturing and horizontal drilling have been the keys to unlocking the almost unlimited amounts of natural gas that is gradually replacing coal as the main source of energy for electrical power generation. This reality confirms the work of Rockefeller University’s Jesse Ausubel that the world has been on a long-term trend to move from more carbon-intensive fuels to less carbon-intensive ones.

Read the full op-ed here.

Bill O’Keefe is president of Solutions Consulting in Providence Forge, Va.