Sunday, October 16, 2011

Peak Human Resourcefulness vs. Peak Manpower Skills

It was not until the late 1990s that the oilsands finally began to prove themselves as a large-scale commercial resource, facilitated by a crucial tax reform and lessrigid government intervention, and by major advances in technology.

The mining process was modernized, expanded in scale, and made more flexible. Fixed conveyer belts were replaced with huge trucks with the biggest tires in the world, and with giant shovels that gather up oilsands and carry them to upgraders that separate out the bitumen. Refining processes then upgrade the bitumen into higher-quality synthetic crude oil, akin to light, sweet crude oil, which can be processed in a conventional refinery into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and all the other normal products. _CalgaryHerald
There has always been a shortage of human ingenuity. In situations where human societies are short on inventiveness and competent tech and trade skills, the fate of that society is usually quite dire. When people talk about "peak oil" or "peak resources," they do not usually understand that what they are talking about is peak ingenuity along with peak manpower skills. Many times in history, the difference between the total collapse of a society and the prospering of the same society, is a simple innovation combined with sufficient manpower skills to take advantage of the innovation.

Consider this question in the light of Canadian oil sands:
...a breakthrough introduced an alternative way of producing oilsands - not with mining but rather in situ (Latin for "in place"); that is, with the crucial link in the production chain done in place - underground. This was very significant for many reasons, including the fact that 80 per cent of the oilsands resource is too deep for surface mining.

The in situ process uses natural gas to create superhot steam that is injected to heat the bitumen underground. The resulting liquid - a combination of bitumen and hot water - is fluid enough to flow into a well and to the surface. The best-known process is SAGD - for steam-assisted gravity drainage, and pronounced as "sag-dee." It has been described by oilsands historian Paul Chastko as "the single most important development in oilsands technology" in a half century.

Altogether, since 1997, over $120 billion of investment has flowed into Alberta's oilsands, now defined as a "mega-resource."

Oilsands production more than doubled from 600,000 barrels per day in 2000 to almost 1.5 million barrels per day in 2010. By 2020 it could double again to 3 mbd - an output that would be higher than the current oil production of either Venezuela or Kuwait. Adding in its conventional output, Canada could reach almost 4 mbd by 2020. _CalgaryHerald
Canadian oilsands do not solve the world's problems of energy scarcity. But they do temporarily abate the problem for certain parts of the world. And the impact of Canadian oilsands on global oil prices -- once high-throughput pipelines to the coast are built -- will grow significantly.
The technologies for producing oilsands continue to evolve, and increasing ingenuity is being applied to shrinking the environmental footprint and reducing the CO2 emissions in the production process. As the industry grows in scale, it will require wider collaboration on the R& D challenges not only among companies and the province of Alberta but also with Canada's federal government.

Yet the very scale of the resource, and its reliability, puts a premium on its continued evolution of this particular industry. Oilsands are, after all, an enormous resource. For the 175 billion barrels of recoverable oilsands is only 10 percent of the estimated 1.8 trillion barrels of oilsands "in place." The development of the other 90 per cent requires further technological progress. _CalgaryHerald
It usually seems as if human innovators are "running in place," running as fast as they can just to keep from falling behind. Thomas Malthus put his finger on one key issue -- human societies without appreciable ingenuity or manpower skills will out-reproduce the ability of the land to support them. But Julian Simon presents the flip side of the coin -- for societies that possess innovators and skilled manpower.

Miracle of Oil from Sand by Ronald Bailey, in Reason Magazine

There is never an end to scarcity, because there is never an end to human desire and ambition -- which are essentially limitless.

Lefty-Luddites of the green dieoff.orgy persuasion, want to do away with humans -- or 90% of them at least -- in order to do away with "scarcity." By eliminating most human beings, you are eliminating most human desire and ambition, or so they think. But that is not really how it works. Perhaps they will find out the hard way.

Or perhaps pockets of civilisation will learn how to instill innovativeness and competencies into their offspring, so that the dieoff dreams of the greens will never come to reality. Competent innovating societies that were wise, would look to the possibilities that exist in the universe at large.

Earth is a fine birthplace and cradle. It should be preserved in good condition over the indefinite future. In the meantime, the ultimate future for creatures that are resourceful and competent, is the larger universe.

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Blogger Whirlwind22 said...

Whats your view on the whole "infinite growth" concept that peak oil, everything doomers believe in? Many of them seem to preach the idea of culling the human population to lower levels.

10:27 PM  

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