[Marxism] Re: Peak oil

Richard Fidler rfidler at cyberus.ca
Fri Oct 14 16:14:55 MDT 2005

And what do the "peak oil" believers think of this:

Look for oil where it shouldn't be


Globe and Mail, Wednesday, October 5, 2005 Page B2

OTTAWA -- Michael S. Stanton is 88 now, and his eyesight is 
failing. This Calgary geologist, though, has a clear vision of oil 
exploration in the years ahead. Mr. Stanton thinks he knows the 
source of the oil in the Alberta tar sands. He could be right. If 
he is, geologists will begin to look for oil in places where they 
now think it shouldn't be, where, by conventional rules, it won't 
be. The age of cheap oil may be finished, he says. The age of oil, 
he says, probably isn't -- because there is more to find.

Geologists have advanced a range of theories to explain the origin 
of the heavy oils in Alberta. Almost all of them end with the same 
origin as Alberta's conventional oil reserves: marine sediment 
from a prehistoric sea. Mr. Stanton says these theories are wrong. 
He says the heavy oils flowed, as a kind of liquid coal, from the 
vast, nearby coal deposits of the Alberta plains. In the beginning 
therefore, the tar sand oil was peat, a plant material that --  
under the right pressure, the right temperature -- turns into 

This is heresy. For decades, geologists have associated coal 
almost exclusively with gas, not oil. Mr. Stanton first advanced 
his theory informally at international conferences in the 
mid-seventies, when he was senior staff geologist at Chevron. 
Discouraged by the skeptical response, he didn't publish. Now he 
has, and he says he is encouraged by the professional reception 
this time round. Geologists have even travelled to his home to 
discuss the theory.

As immense as the tar sand reserves, with trillions of barrels of 
oil captured in them, Alberta's coal reserves are larger still. 
Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board says the province's 
mountain region holds 24 billion tons of coal. In the foothills, 
14 billion tons. In the central plains, 2,000 billion tons, a 
quantity of carbonized peat that is almost beyond calculation, 
almost beyond imagination. Mr. Stanton's theory begins with a 
simple premise: the source of the oil, whatever it was, must be 
comparable in dimension to the tar sands themselves. Ancient 
sea-bed sediments could not have existed in the quantity implied 
by the oil in the tar sands, he says -- not by a factor of a 
hundred times.

By his calculations, more than 650 billion tons of coal in the 
western Alberta plains are of the same Jurassic age -- say 200 
million years -- as the heavy oils. These coal beds have direct 
access, through channels in rock formation, to the tar sands. The 
"organic profile" of this coal reveals exceptionally high levels 
of carbon, suggesting there was once "gigantic tonnage of coal and 
shale capable of producing huge volumes of liquid hydrocarbons." 
And, finally, these coal beds contained huge quantities of 
macerals, microscopic particles of a fluorescent substance that 
typically indicate high levels of long-ago oil production.

Mr. Stanton doesn't say that oil came from coal as we know it. 
Anthracite coal is "mature" coal, a finished product in a 
manufacturing process that took place across millions of years. He 
says the oil came during the process. Think adolescent coal. This 
coal oozed a bituminous guck, which was then lifted upward by 
gases and placed on a "conveyor belt" -- a horizontal funnel of 
porous sand and gravel -- that carried the viscous oil to the 
sands of central Alberta.

Geologists have known for decades that hydrocarbons come from 
coal. The British have exploited coal for oil for a hundred years. 
But orthodox science holds that this process, taking hydrocarbons 
from coal, makes sense only with a few eccentric forms of coal. 
Mr. Stanton says: Wrong. "They [geologists] are missing the forest 
for the trees," he says. "Coal is oil-generative." And some coal 
has "great oil-generating potential." There are many locations 
around the world, he says, where this kind of coal exists in large 
quantity. "Geologists will now look for more land basins that are 
side-by-side with coal deposits," he says. Some of these sites 
will hold the same heavy oil as Alberta. He names Venezuela's tar 
sands as one known example.

Beyond discoveries of coal-based oil, Mr. Stanton says, vast 
quantities of oil will be extracted from shale, as the Americans 
are now doing. And beyond oil in all its natural forms, he says, 
lies the prospect of manufactured oil.

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists published Mr. 
Stanton's theory in Search and Discover, its electronic journal 
for exploration geoscientists. In an editor's note, the journal 
said it deemed his "controversial thesis" worthy of publication, 
worthy of "serious consideration and testing." The editor's note 
concluded: "If proven to be a reasonable interpretation, this 
[thesis] has very wide application in exploration."

Forget crude. Coal is the obvious way to go


Globe and Mail, Friday, October 7, 2005 Page B2

OTTAWA -- The Germans used coal, converted into oil, to drive 
tanks in the Second World War. The South Africans used coal, 
converted into oil, to drive an entire economy in the 1980s. 
(Using homemade oil in its last-gasp defence of apartheid, South 
Africa not only withstood an international oil embargo but 
produced gains in GDP.)

Notwithstanding all of the scientific and technological advances 
of the past quarter-century, fossil fuels have driven the world --  
and coal has remained the fossil-fuel energy source of last 

Now the world is turning to coal by preference. Coal is more 
efficient. More versatile. Cheaper. Cleaner. Definitely cleaner. 
Within the next 10 years, coal will be the cleanest of fuels, not 
the dirtiest. For North America especially, clean coal will be the 
obvious way to go. The U.S. possesses more coal than any other 
country on earth. The U.S. and Canada together possess proven and 
measured reserves that should last for a thousand years. Or more. 
Long enough, at any rate, for solar power and wind power to get 

The U.S. has one extra reason to go with coal. An indigenous and 
secure American supply of fossil-fuel energy would, for all 
practical purposes, free the global economy from the deadweight 
costs of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It 
would restore oil prices to a reasonable level, inducing OPEC to 
self-destruct. And coal won't support a successor scam. There will 
be no "OCEC" (Organization of Coal-Exporting Countries). Almost 
half of the world's coal resides, safe and secure, in 30 
democratic countries that share a commitment to market economies. 
Coal is democratic, decentralized, equalitarian. And it will soon 
be as clean as a squeak.

Although it isn't discussed much, the U.S. does have an 
"independence day" energy policy. It anticipates a fossil-fuel 
economy for another hundred years, which is realistic. In the past 
four or five years, the Americans have spent $5-billion (U.S.) on 
research and development for a clean-coal economy -- research that 
has already produced cleaner coal. Two years ago, President George 
W. Bush committed another $1-billion for the construction of the 
world's first zero-emissions fossil-fuel plant. (A Canadian 
government report observes, perhaps ruefully, that U.S. funding 
for clean-coal R&D has been "massive.") By 2012, the prototype 
plant will turn coal into hydrogen, generating electricity and 
producing a pollution-free fuel for vehicles at the same time. It 
will remove all the pollutants associated with coal in the past. 
And it will capture carbon dioxide emissions and will convey them, 
by pipeline, to deep caverns for storage.

Around the world, more countries are moving toward clean coal, and 
moving faster. Using different technology than the U.S., Japan has 
embraced clean coal. Britain has declared a policy preference for 
clean fossil fuels ahead of nuclear energy. China uses all the 
coal it can get, whether it's clean or dirty. In the entire world, 
it appears, only Ontario thinks it will no longer need coal-fired 
generation of electricity. Ontario needs to think again. By the 
time it gets rid of coal, assuming it does, Ontario will be 
compelled to reverse itself. Fortunately, you can build a 
clean-coal generating plant in four years. You need a decade, or 
more, for nuclear -- plus you need forever, of course, for the 
radioactive waste.

In the prototype stage, we'll pay a premium for ultra-clean coal. 
Demonstration plants always cost a premium. But with high prices 
for all the alternatives, it probably won't be very much --  
nothing like the premium paid for the first barrels of heavy oil 
from the Alberta tar sands, which cost $40 a barrel and seemed 
expensive at the time.

With vast coal deposits spread across the country, Canada is in an 
excellent position to exploit clean coal. In the end, we will 
probably have little choice to make. Whether we use clean coal or 
not, we will be compelled to rely on coal to replace coal-fired 
electrical plants that must be retired in the years directly 
ahead. Only three provinces (British Columbia, Quebec and 
Newfoundland) can produce enough hydro power to meet the 
increasing demand for electricity. Yet all the rest can profit 
from clean coal, especially Atlantic Canada -- welcome back, Cape 
Breton -- and Saskatchewan, two regions of the country that could 
use the money and the jobs. Yet Alberta would profit, too, with 
exploitation of a natural resource that will last for centuries, 
not for decades.

In this instance, Canada can't rely on the United States to do all 
the heavy lifting. The American vision of pristine-pure coal rests 
on high-grade coal. Canada must work with a lower-grade coal. 
Though we'll have access to U.S. research, we'll need our own 
Canadian demo plant, our own Canadian R&D and our own Canadian 
technological innovations.

Clean coal has come a long way but we're losing precious time. 
This country sometimes appears incapable of making strategic 
decisions of national importance. The government-industry 
consortium known as the Clean Coal Technology RoadMap is a good 
start, in a symbolic way. All we need now is a road.

neilreynolds at rogers.com

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