Bubbling crude

In my grandparents’ day, oil was easily found. Sometimes it was as easy as shooting at some food.

Jed Clampett shooting for food

Up through the ground came a bubbling crude! Jed Clampett’s own personal oil slick in his Ozark mountain wilderness, and no pesky government oversight telling him to clean up the mess.

Ozark Bubbling Crude from Beverly Hillbillies

Ol’ Jed’s muzzle loader was an antique even in his day. Oil flowed under pressure from not too far underground, and getting the oil was as simple as punching a hole in the ground to collect the black gold. After US oil production began declining in the 1970s, the large Middle East oil fields came online and those too flowed freely from the ground like artesian wells.

Over the past century we’ve used up half of estimated world total reserves. Naturally, we started by taking the easy to use stuff — the oil that flows naturally from the ground. Instead of an old musket, today we need marvels of engineering like the Deepwater Horizon.

Deepwater Horizon  semi-submersible oil drilling rig

This 5th generation deepwater semi-submersible drilling unit was capable of operating in harsh environments and water depths up to 10,000 feet and could drill to an astonishing 35,000 feet. It weighed 72 million pounds, was 400 feet by 260 feet across, and moved under its own power for dynamically positioned station keeping. The Deepwater Horizon was insured for a whopping $560 million. This is the equipment we need today for oil extraction.

Even the large Saudi fields are declining in production, with ‘enhanced recovery’ techniques like saltwater injection required to keep the pressure up and the oil flowing. We’re required to spend gobs of money for smaller and smaller returns, and tolerate higher risk — both in terms of the money invested and the potential for environmental catastrophe.

This is the very result of Peak Oil, folks: You spend more effort to get less of a declining resource. It’s like slurping a big milkshake — at first, it’s wonderful smoothy goodness, but before long you’re sucking in vain while expending more effort for the dregs left at the bottom of the glass. That’s exactly what we’re doing with oil these days — sucking at the straw for the dregs.

Former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister, basically admitted that we’re at Peak Oil when he claims gasoline will skyrocket to $6 to $8 per gallon if we continue to restrict domestic offshore drilling. We can blame the oil industry and regulators as much as we like, but the real problem is our own profligate and unrestrained use of a declining resource that’s getting harder to get.

Whether we like it or not, we’re approaching a day where cheap transportation and everything that goes with it — including cheap grocery snacks — will become history, and it might be time to polish off Jed’s old muzzle loader to keep our families fed.

San Francisco people: Arco / BP “shut down” party on June 11.

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