The End Of Oil: On The Edge Of A Perilous New World

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2005-04-05
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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You live in this world. You use oil. You must read this book. The situation is alarming and irrefutable: within thirty years, even by conservative estimates, we will have burned our way through most of the oil that is readily available to us. Already, the costly side effects of dependence on fossil fuel are taking their toll. Even as oil-related conflict threatens entire nations, individual consumers are suffering from higher prices at the gas pump, rising health problems, and the grim prospect of long-term environmental damage. In this frank and balanced investigation, Paul Roberts offers a timely wake-up call. He talks to both oil optimists and oil pessimists, delves deep into the economics and politics of oil, and considers the promises and pitfalls of alternatives such as wind power, hybrid cars, and hydrogen. A new afterword brings the book up to the minute. Brisk, immediate, and accessible, this is essential reading for anyone who uses oil, which is to say every one of us.

Author Biography

Paul Roberts is the author of The End of Oil, a finalist for the New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Book Award in 2005. He has written about resource economics and politics for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Rolling Stone, and lectures frequently on business and environmental issues. He lives in Washington State.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1(20)
1 Lighting the Fire
2 The Last of the Easy Oil
3 The Future's So Bright
4 Energy Is Power
5 Too Hot
6 Give the People What They Want
7 Big Oil Gets Anxious
8 And Now for Something Completely Different
9 Less Is More
10 Energy Security
11 The Invisible Hand
12 Digging In Our Heels
13 How Do We Get There?
Afterword 333(12)
Notes 345(15)
Bibliography 360(9)
Acknowledgments 369(2)
Index 371


Prologue I was standing on a sand dune in Saudi Arabia's "Empty Quarter," the vast, rust-red desert where one-quarter of the world's oil is found, when I lost my faith in the modern energy economy. It was after sundown and the sky was dark blue and the sand still warm to the touch. My Saudi hosts had just finished showing me around the colossal oil city they'd built atop an oil field called Shayba. Engineers and technicians, they were rattling off production statistics with all the bravado of proud parents, telling me how many hundreds of thousands of barrels Shayba produced every day, and how light and sweet and sought-after the oil was. Saudi oilmen are usually a taciturn bunch, guarding their data like state secrets. But this was post 9/11 and Riyadh, in full glasnost mode, was wooing Western journalists and trying to restore the Saudis'image as dependable long-term suppliers of energy -not suicidal fanatics or terrorist financiers. And it was working. I'd arrived in the kingdom filled with doubts about a global energy order based on a finite and problematic substance-oil. As we'd toured Shayba in a spotless white GMC Yukon, though, my hosts plying me with facts and figures on the world's most powerful oil enterprise, my worries faded. I'd begun to feel giddy and smug, as if I had been allowed to peek into the garden of the energy gods and found it overflowing with bounty. Then the illusion slipped. On a whim, I asked my hosts about another, older oil field, some three hundred miles to the northwest, called Ghawar. Ghawar is the largest field ever discovered. Tapped by American engineers in 1953, its deep sandstone reservoirs at one time had held perhaps a seventh of the world's known oil reserves, and its wells produced six million barrels of oil a day-or roughly one of every twelve barrels of crude consumed on earth. In the iconography of oil, Ghawar is the eternal mother, the mythical giant that makes most other fields look puny and mortal. My hosts smiled politely, yet looked faintly annoyed-not, it seemed, because I was asking inappropriate questions, but because, probably for the thousandth time, Ghawar had stolen the limelight. Like engineers anywhere, these men took an intense pride in their own work and could not resist a few jabs at a rival operation. Pointing to the sand at our feet, one engineer boasted that Shayba was "self-pressurized"-its subterranean reservoirs were under such great natural pressure that, once they were pierced by the drill, the oil simply flowed out like a black fountain. "At Ghawar," he said, "they have to inject water into the field to force the oil out." By contrast, he continued, Shayba's oil contained only trace amounts of water. At Ghawar, the engineer said, the "water cut" was 30 percent. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Ghawar's water injections were hardly news, but a 30 percent water cut, if true, was startling. Most new oil fields produce almost pure oil, or oil mixed with natural gas- with little water. Over time, however, as the oil is drawn out, operators must replace it with water, to keep the oil flowing-until eventually what flows from the well is almost pure water and the field is no longer worth operating. Ghawar wouldn't run dry overnight: depletion takes years and even decades; however, daily production would continue to fall steadily, and the Saudis would be forced to tap new fields, like Shayba, to maintain their status as the world's preeminent oil power. While such e

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