May. 19, 2017

Oil: A Nonrenewable Energy Resource

Natural resources tend to be categorized into renewable and non-renewable resources (not to be confused with recyclable). Renewable resources are those which can be replenished over a relatively short period of time by natural processes. Renewable resources would include food crops, trees or livestock as well as sunlight and wind. A nonrenewable resource is a resource of economic value that cannot be readily replaced by natural means on a level equal to its consumption. Minerals and metals from the earth, such as gold, silver, and iron are nonrenewable because these resources are formed as a long-term result of geological processes such as plate tectonics. Some types of groundwater are considered to be a nonrenewable resource if the aquifer is unable to be replenished at the same rate at which it's drained. Also, nuclear materials such as uranium are nonrenewable resources. Most fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas and coal are considered nonrenewable resources in that their use is not sustainable because their formation takes billions of years. In the US alone 18 million of barrels of oil are used every day. Our consumption of petroleum far exceeds the rate at which it could be replenished.

Many years ago, it was predicted that the world would reach peak oil and supplies would dwindle until oil was no longer economically viable. Since those predictions, technologies have improved, allowing oil companies to access more difficult sources of oil such as tar sands and shale oil. There are more oil reserves left than was predicted back in the 1950’s. The problem is, most of the remaining oil is unconventional, which needs a lot more energy, money, and time to produce, so much so that the oil can no longer be produced at the rate we would like. The days when oil was easily accessed are over- the low hanging fruit has been picked. Remaining oil needs to be blasted or forced out, and is nasty and gunky, full of impurities requiring intensive refining processes. That means the oil industry needs ever larger amounts of money and energy to get and refine oil, with less and less produced. More than half of American oil production comes from shale oil. Shale oil is trapped inside of rock formations and is more difficult to extract than the traditional oil found in underground reservoirs. That means oil prices have to rise to make shale oil profitable. And when it isn’t profitable, American oil companies don’t bother extracting it. Countries with large oil reserves often attempt to control oil prices by increasing or decreasing their own production, flooding the market when they want to drive prices down. This affects American production of these more expensive oil extracting activities.

The environmental impacts of oil drilling, transporting, refining and burning is not reflected in prices at the pump. Besides the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels, the economic impact of nonrenewable resources is also damaging. Following the basic premise of supply and demand, as nonrenewable resources become scarce, the cost to obtain them will continue to rise. Viable supplies are limited. Eventually, the price will hit a point that end users cannot afford, forcing a move toward alternative energy sources. However, many of these alternative sources require ample time to be put into place, which means their development should begin as early as possible in order to enable a smooth transition to sustainable energy. The alternative to using nonrenewable resources is to use renewable resources, including such sources as solar, wind power and geothermal or any source that is essentially unlimited in supply or reusable. Sunlight spills cannot harm the environment and foreign nations cannot manipulate wind prices. In the long-term, renewable energy sources will be cheaper than non-renewable sources and provide economic security to our nation.