Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma by Joseph A. Tainter

By Joseph A. Tainter

For greater than a century, oil has been the engine of development for a society that grants an extraordinary lifestyle to many. We now take without any consideration that financial progress is nice, useful, or even inevitable, but additionally suppose a feeling of unease concerning the simultaneous progress of complexity within the procedures and associations that generate and deal with that development. As societies develop extra complicated during the bounty of inexpensive strength, additionally they confront difficulties that appear to extend in quantity and severity. during this period of fossil fuels, reasonable power and lengthening complexity were in a mutually-reinforcing spiral. The extra power we now have and the extra difficulties our societies confront, the extra we develop complicated and require nonetheless extra strength. How did our call for for strength, our technological prowess, the ensuing want for complicated challenge fixing, and the top of simple oil conspire to make the Deepwater Horizon oil spill more and more most probably, if now not inevitable? This booklet explains the genuine causal elements top as much as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. historical past, a catastrophe from which it's going to take a long time to recuperate.

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Our freedom from petroleum-based liquid transportation fuels currently lasts for only 1 week per year and perhaps 2 weeks in the future. In 2008, automotive gasoline provided 202 days of all transportation needs in the United States, diesel fuel 100 days, and jet fuel 38 days. Residual or bunker oil used to be burned in electrical power stations up until 1985, but now it powers ships almost exclusively. Ethanol sufficed to power transportation in the United States for 8 days in 2008, and ethanol production itself requires a significant amount of fossil fuels.

Unless you use the saved greenbacks to ignite wood in an efficient stove, or give them to the poor in Haiti, you will end up buying extra goods and services from less efficient sources, and you will cause more fossil energy to be burned. This way, your cumulative use of fossil fuels will actually increase, even as your rate of using these fuels directly decreases. This is the fundamental quandary facing the “decarbonizing” California. Resource Versus Production 37 the same quantity of energy supports more activities today than it did yesterday.

In geological sciences and engineering, we are already at a point of significantly diminishing returns, and breakthroughs will not be realized by continuing business as usual. Radically new solutions must be found in our quest for cheap abundant energy. We are not talking here about solar photovoltaics and wind as these technologies have rapidly matured as well. S. S. , Complexity and the productivity of innovation, Systems Research and Behavioral Sci. Syst. Res. 27, pp. 496–509, 2010) we see how this complexity has been manifested in offshore drilling structures and operations.

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