There is a growing environmental movement called “Keep fossil fuels in the ground” based on a report by, I don’t know, some silly environmental group. Their thesis is that in order to save the climate (their inexplicable phrase, not mine – the climate can’t be “saved”, it will always be a climate even if temperatures go up 50 degrees) 80 percent of fossil fuels need to remain in the ground.
Finally, common ground to work from. Although the article itself is remarkably stupid (per senior climatic pettifogger Bill McKibben: “The world’s remaining concentrations of fossil fuels can be understood as…’carbon bombs’ which will wreck the planet if they are used.”) and deceitful – the original source for the article stated that “80 percent of coal reserves, half of gas, and one-third of oil reserves could not be used if the world is to avoid global temperatures rising more than two degrees Celsius,” which McKibben and co twisted into “80% of fossil fuels.”
What’s good for the energy industry is that, for once, we can take advantage of the ignorance that these organizations propagate to survive. For years the witless claims and fear mongering have been winning, giving birth to fads like opposing pipeline construction. This time however, their demand that the majority of oil remain in the ground is – though they don’t realize it – probably consistent with reality and with a healthy oil and gas sector.
Take the oilsands, for example. The KFFITG movement would like to see 80 percent of fossil fuels remain in the ground. Deal! The oil sands contain an estimated 1.8 trillion barrels, 20 percent of which is 360 billion barrels. At current production rates, that is…almost 400 years worth.
So of course they’d backpedal. This can be seen elsewhere, rarely, where the few that realize what they’re proposing argue that they didn’t mean that at all. The eco-warriors are not about to sit back and lose that argument, so they qualify what they’re talking about. It’s not 80 percent of the oil in the ground that they want to leave unburned, that’s way too generous, it’s 80 percent of reserves. There now everyone’s happy, right? Oh wait, we’ll take that bet too, because at 2.5 million b/d, which is what is produced from the oil sands currently, roughly, that would provide 37 years worth of production. And because producible reserves are a function of oil prices, as oil prices rise (which they surely will) the amount classified as recoverable reserves rises. Surely it’s environmentally friendlier to continue producing from an existing site by expanding it rather than creating a new one, right?
I understand, it’s just a game. Reservoir estimations include a great deal of guesswork and are a function of prices more than anything, at least with respect to recoverable reserves. So it makes little sense to play the game with too much seriousness.
But on the other hand, that’s where the war is being fought, and lost. As crazy as it seems, people like McKibben have taken the moral high ground and are using it to convince people that the very fuel that keeps them warm and feeds them is evil and needs to be abolished. They get away with it because fear is their tool; doomsday scenarios always sell if done with the right marketing. It helps that people are not good at understanding risk.
They fear the unknown or that which plays on the imagination far more than the real risks they should worry about. We are terrified of strangers or random home invasions that almost never occur, then we text while driving. We worry about the climate warming by an extra half a degree in fifty years, which might lead to rising oceans and severe droughts, while at the same time ignoring the fact that the absence of oil and gas would sentence hundreds of millions to death from freezing and starvation.
As always, the green fear merchant industry has taken us down the wrong axis; we are led to believe that green energy means saving the planet, and fossil fuels mean killing it. That is a false construction, a battle that doesn’t exist. Green energy is not ready or able to save the planet, not even close. Not with 7 billion people on it. To keep that number alive requires, for a number of decades yet, a major commitment to fossil fuels. For those groups that are trying to kill fossil fuels in the short term, they owe it to the world to explain which parts of it they are willing to sacrifice. My bet is that it won’t be their comfortable lives, or their hobbies, or their travel plans, or their organic vegetables. But I’ll leave that to them to explain.
If the petroleum industry wants to operate in relative peace, concessions may have to be made to enable their “social licenses.” While that horrible phrase may make it seem like pandering to the lowest common denominator (which it is), it may be a very good point to concede in the depressing battle to shape public opinion.
Read more insightful analysis from Terry Etam here