Fuel for Thought

5 Big Fat Oil Industry Lies

Nov 28 2014 Read 1884 Times

With more and more media interest being diverted towards the subject of climate change and the apparent need to wean ourselves off our reliance on fossil fuels, both sides of the debate are not above the odd white lie or stretching of the truth. And with both playing hard and fast with the facts, it can be difficult to separate the gospel from the garbage. To help you decide which are which, here are five of the biggest whoppers spun by both the pro- and anti-oil camps.

1) We Must Switch to Renewable Energy Immediately

There have been calls from some quarters to abandon oil completely right away in pursuit of furthering renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and wave power. Whilst clean, green energy is a noble ultimate goal, an immediate switchover is impractical, undesirable and, quite frankly, impossible.

The truth is that such technologies are far from producing the requisite energy resources to continue living our lives in the manners we are accustomed to. Furthermore, the worldwide economy is so heavily dependent on fossil fuel that abandoning it would cause chaos and send us spiralling into financial ruin.

What is really needed is a gentle weaning-off of our reliance on oil and other finite fuels. The UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that the unrestricted use of fossil fuels must be phased out in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. In its recent report, the IPCC said that it is imperative that the majority of electricity is produced by low-carbon sources by 2050. You can read more about this story here: How Much Longer Can We Depend on Fossil Fuels?

2) Fracking Natural Gas Is Better for the Environment Than Traditional Oil Harvesting

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has purported to offer exactly this way to wean ourselves off fossil fuels by locating more reserves of fossil fuels and at a reduced risk to the environment. In this interview, Is Fracking the Way Forward?, leaning proponent of the practice Chris Faulkner points to the reduced levels of carbon dioxide emitted as a result of fracking.

However, this doesn;t include the methane emissions (a prominent component of natural gas) that fracking entails. Indeed, this may even be worse for the environment than CO2. For a further analysis of the topic, see the article The Pros and Cons of Fracking.

3) Oil Reserves Will Only Last 5 Years

Original estimates of the oil reserves reachable by fracking put its longevity, in the words of President Barack Obama, at a century of more. However, revisions of those estimates have come down significantly; earlier this year, the Monterey shale reserves estimate was cut by 96% - that’s down from a whopping 13.7 billion to a relatively measly 600 million barrels.

Sceptics have said that this amount is the only oil we can realistically mine, due to today’s technology not being advanced enough to make it financially worthwhile. However, this point of view disregards the massive advances in technology we have made over the last decades and which we will no doubt continue to make. New technology will likely make it much more viable to access these reserves in the future – though since it doesn’t exist yet, putting an exact figure on how much will be available proves difficult.

4) One Oil-Rich Country Can Hold the Others to Ransom

In the 70s, the countries forming the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) staged an oil embargo against the US in protest of their support of Israel in the Yom Kippur war. The embargo brought about a worldwide economic slump due to the incredibly high prices of oil and the difficulty of obtaining it.

However, such a thing would be unlikely to ever happen again. For starters, there are huge oil-rich countries which are not part of OPEC, including the USA (the biggest producer), Russia (the third biggest producer), Canada and Mexico, as well as former OPEC members Gabon and Indonesia. This means that OPEC do not have the same monopoly on the market.

Furthermore, the economies of the OPEC countries rely as much on selling the oil as the importing countries do in buying it. Therefore, a similar embargo would be somewhat akin to cutting of their nose to spite their face.

5) What’s Good for the Economy Is Good for the World

Supporters of the oil industry point to places like Africa, where capitalism is shunned, a free market doesn’t exist and the oil craze has not taken off as a result. They then extrapolate that the luxury that oil has funded in Western countries is a marker of how oil provides better living standards. Of course, this argument is both simplistic and short-term. While the US and other countries have undoubtedly profited from oil and the lives of their subjects have been enriched as a result, they did not have to deal with the same barriers as Africa and have much more resources available to them.

The argument also neglects the future of the planet. While oil may benefit our living standards short-term, long-term it can make life tricky. What’s the point of iPods and Blu-Ray players if our air is unbreathable?

Image Source: Fort McMurray, Alberta
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