I have been thinking a lot about energy, technology, peak oil, etc. over the past few months. I’ve also been doing a little research for a book I have wanted to write for about 30 years. This has led me to make two statements that I think are key to the discussion of energy, peak oil, and diminishing resources in general.
First Statement: Our resources are only limited by our ability to find and employ the cost effective technology needed to discover and recover those resources we need. We tend to look at our resources as being limited when, actually, it is likely that only our knowledge and technology are limiting us.
Take for example, Gold. First there was gold found in certain streams. As man found and recovered all of the gold in the known gold-bearing streams, he had to look for new, yet undiscovered streams. The limit to the supply of gold was the amount that could be taken from the known gold-bearing streams. Eventually, gold was also found by digging near the gold-bearing streams. This increased the known supply of the resource. But we could only dig so deep so eventually the supply would again be limited to our ability to dig in the known places. Soon, man discovered that there was gold to be dug in places not near the gold-bearing streams. Again the total resource was found to be larger than originally thought. Then man learned to dig and tunnel deeper and mines went to our technological limit of about a mile underground. This again increased the total of the known reserves of gold. Today, the TuaTona mine in South Africa is the world’s deepest gold mining operation at just under 2.5miles deep. It takes nearly an hour for the miners to descend to the working face. The cost to extract an ounce of gold from 2.5 miles down is about $800. But, the value of that ounce of gold is now $1,600 so it makes sense to go that deep. What effect does that have on the known reserves of gold?
TransOcean’s Deepwater Horizon, in 2009, drilled a well over 6 miles deep in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2010, they had problems with that well resulting in loss of life and a huge oil spill. But they proved that we could get oil and gas from deeper than ever before. Again our estimated total of known reserves increased. The only question was not, “Do we have enough oil reserves for man’s energy needs?” It became, “Do we have the technology to recover that energy in a cost effective manner?”
The Kola Superdeep borehole in Russia is just over 7.5 miles (about 40,000 feet) deep. It is currently the deepest penetration of earth that has been made by man. During the drilling, as they approached the 40,000 foot level, heats of over 350 degrees Fahrenheit were encountered. That predicted that to get to over 50,000 feet of depth (the project goal), they would have been seeing temperatures in excess of 500 degrees which would have made drill bits too soft to cut. Do you have any doubt that we will discover and learn to use new materials for drill bits that can survive 500 degrees F. or much more? Do you doubt that our known reserves of crude oil and natural gas will dramatically increase as we bring new technologies to bear on the problem?
This discussion has not even looked at the advances in non-destructive exploration technology. And, it is unlikely that even with our current technology that we have searched the entire earth for these resources.
Now for some perspective. The Earth’s Circumference is approximately 25,000 miles. That means it is about 7950 miles straight through the earth from one side to the other or just under 4,000 miles from any point on the surface to the center of Earth. So we are currently exploring less than 7.5 miles of 4,000 miles, or less than 2 tenths of one percent of the depth of earth. What is to be found in the other 99.8% of that trip to the center?
If we were to drill to the maximum capability of current drilling technology, say 40,000 feet, would we reach a limitless supply of earth at a temperature of at least 350 Deg.F.? Could we use this heat to generate power with steam to convert that to electricity? Would that be sufficient to replace our petroleum energy needs?
Second Statement: As long as demand persists and there is no competing resource at lower cost, the price of any resource will remain high enough to support the cost to discover and recover and deliver the resource.
Do you agree with my two statements? If so or if not, please express your feelings in a comment to this post.