In this timely, well-written and (mercifully) short book, Heinberg assembles the facts about shale oil and gas exploitation, debunks the myths and presents us with a new modified peak oil scenario that includes the ‘low hanging fruit’ component to our resource predicament as first outlined by Chris Martenson in the Crash Course. The analysis shows that humans always exploit the easiest resources first, whether it’s slow-moving land mammals, metals or fossil fuels, and that when these are used up we move on to the next easiest. So far so much common sense. What’s different about the present period in human history is that because the oil boom of the last 150 years has enabled us to increase our population 7-fold and use up resources at a dizzying rate, there are no new resources to discover. Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) is being quite blatantly touted by industry and governments as the next new source of easy oil, which it is not. The EROEI (energy return on energy invested) from fracking is on average a zero sum equation, in other words the energy produced from fracking is the same as the energy that has to be put in to get it. This makes no sense economically, and is the main reason why UK banks and private investors are steering clear of the fracking industry. In the USA it has been a different story because shale rock formations are much more abundant and accessible than in the UK and there has been, at least temporarily, a profitable investment to be made. But Heinberg points out that this is a Wall Street-driven bubble exactly like the sub-prime mortgage disaster of 2008 and that everyone involved is likely to lose their shirt – apart from the investment banks of course, who benefit both on the way up and on the way down.
Heinberg ends the book with a plea for investment in renewables as the only sensible or indeed feasible energy future. Some might say – the only chance for a future at all, if we are not to completely trash our planet in return for a quick buck. Certainly the amount of hydrocarbon in the earth is enough to fry the planet many times over, if we were to extract all of it. One small benefit of the book to me is that the word ‘shill’, as in ‘industry shill’, is now a useful addition to my vocabulary. ‘A shill, also known as a plant or a stooge … typically refers to someone who purposely gives onlookers the impression that they are an enthusiastic independent customer of a seller (or marketer of ideas) for whom they are secretly working.’ Thanks again Wikipedia.
And thank you Dirk! If you are wondering whether there are any shills in Britain have a look here.