The Value of Alaskan oil.

Today marked an interesting day in the Oil Economy.

First, Oil hit an all time intra-day high of $56.60.

Second, the US Senate rejected, by the slimmest of margins (51-49), a motion to halt the approval of development of the oil rich ANWR area of Alaska.

Proponents of developing ANWR love to say that it is necessary because it could produce a peak of 1 million barrels of oil a day…. and that will lessen the USs’ dependance on oil from foreign lands and feed the USs’ ever growing need for fuel.

Would development of ANWR really make a dent in US reliance on oil imports?

Yes, of course. If we’re talking 1 million barrels of crude oil, it would be like eliminating the need to import oil from Nigeria. However, Nigeria is only #5 of the top countries from whom the US imports oil. If the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, Venezuela or even Iraq goes south… well, that 1 million barrels from Alaska suddenly won’t be able to make up the difference.

If you really want to be depressed though… head to the Energy Information Administration website and look at their data.

I did, and I’ve created this chart:

(click the image to open a larger version)

Total Energy consumption in 2003… and that’s all forms and for all purposes including coal, renewable, oil, and gas for electricity, vehicles and everything else… totalled nearly 10 Quadrillion (10,000,000,000,000,000) BTUs.

For scale, 1 million barrels of oil/day per year would equal around 2.12 Quadrillion BTUs. Right now the difference between Total Energy Production and Consumption is roughly 3 quadrillion BTU. If Consumption continues on it’s current trend, in 10 years, when that 1 million barrels/per day might actually be a reality, we’ll likely be looking at a gap of 4 or 5 quadrillion. Again, it seems that this whole ANWR thing, while helping, will not solve our problems.

So how *do* we solve the problem…. well, we start by looking at the BOTTOM of the graph. There you will see renewable energy production. Solar, Wind and Geothermal are barely visible.

Isn’t it interesting that, over the past 30 years, energy from renewable sources has been, practically, flat?

Do *you* not see room to grow there? Given the same amount of attention and resources, is it not possible that renewable energy could make up that gap, and then some? After all, only renewable energy has the capacity to grow indefinifinitely, where-as fossil fuels are doomed to decline.

ANWR is a stop-gap. And an inadequate one at that. The gains to be made from investment and development in the renewable energy sector are far greater than anything else we can imagine.


The Register says GM and Shell Hyrdrogen will work to have its’ first Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2012.

The company has already begun tests on 60 Mercedes A-class vehicles in Japan, Germany, Singapore and the US, according to Reuters


Jeremy Bentham, Shell Hydrogen’s chief executive said that energy companies would start rolling out hydrogen filling stations when there was customer demand. He acknowledged that hydrogen-powered cars could be attractive to consumers and said his job was to be prepared for that business, Reuters reports. He added that if Europe were to switch to Hydrogen as its main fuel source for its cars, it would need 50 million tons of hydrogen per year to meet demand.

As Bunker has said in the comments. We have a lot of work to do!

3 replies on “The Value of Alaskan oil.”

  1. Chris,

    I have to tell you, as a mechanical engineer, that if there were a way to make those other sources feasible, it would be done. The best source is one which has not been allowed: Nuclear.

    Right now, renewable energy really is only in wood. If we could store energy from those sources when they produced large amounts for use when they didn’t, they might be worth developing. The best hope for energy storage is fuel cells. With them we have hydrogen, which is even more dangerous to handle in bulk than nuclear fuel–it just doesn’t have the bad press. And even then we get DC power, which is far less efficient than AC and has much greater losses in transport.

    The silver bullet is not yet discovered. Trust me, though, there are companies looking for it, including the energy companies (which are the current incarnation of oil companies). Whoever comes up with it will have a monopoly for years, and profits which go along with that.

  2. “Right now, renewable energy really is only in wood. If we could store energy from those sources when they produced large amounts for use when they didn’t, they might be worth developing.”

    You’re forgetting about hydro (reservoirs) for one thing. Plus, even with difficulty storing the energy, wind could meet a much larger percentage of our power needs (I’d argue it’s already much cheaper than nuclear when you factor in disposal costs and insurance), and I think both solar and tidal power are slowly moving towards feasability as well. I already see solar lights in more and more places so the technology is penetrating the mainstream.

    No doubt that none of these are silver bullets, especially for transportation, but they all could (and probably will) play a much bigger role in meeting our energy needs.

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