The dangerous new era of “extreme energy.”
Fracking, Oil Sands, and Deep-Water Drilling
By Daniel Gross
Monday, June 7, 2010
The ongoing debacle in the Gulf of Mexico is a sign of many things: the incompetence of BP, poor oversight, and an industry that places too much emphasis on production technology and too little on safety technology. But it also highlights a larger truth. We’ve entered an age in which the production of energy, especially from fossil fuels, demands ever-more-expensive environmental trade-offs. We’ve entered what Michael Klare, professor at Hampshire College, calls the era of “extreme energy.”
Consider how oil production in the United States has evolved. In Texas in 1901, wildcatters didn’t have to work very hard to tap into the great Beaumont gusher. The oil was essentially at the surface, all but seeping out of the earth’s crust. When the land-based oil was exhausted, American prospectors went to sea. And when the shallow-water oil was exhausted, they went farther out. In 1985, only 21 million barrels, or 6 percent of the oil produced in the Gulf of Mexico, came from wells drilled in water more than 1,000 feet deep. In 2009, such wells produced 456 million barrels, or 80 percent of total Gulf production. Today, deep-water Gulf wells account for about one-quarter of the oil the United States sucks from the earth. The webcams broadcasting images from the spill provide a real-time measure of the environmental cost of this effort.