Friday, March 2, 2007

Nuclear Oil is an antidote to the Peak Oil Blight

Oil production outside OPEC and former USSR

Peak Oil is a name given to a concept of resource depletion. The 2004 US DOE chart above illustrates that in Texas oil was first pumped from the earth in 1934. Texas oil production rose and then began falling as the oil was depleted more rapidly than discovered. Peak oil happened in 1971 in Texas. As oil runs out in one area of the world, further exploration and new technology has successfully found oil in others. The chart illustrates the peaking of oil production in other countries, excluding OPEC and the former USSR.

Marion King Hubbert developed the model of peak oil in 1956, and it has been controversial since then. The Association for the Study of Peak Oil developed the following chart, which represents worldwide oil production peaking in about 2010.

The Peak Oil Blight is the coming increase in CO2 emissions

Oil production will peak at some time in the not-too-distant future, and the world will run down the supply of easily pumpable oil. As the supplies lessen and demand continues the price of oil will increase, creating incentives for further exploration and the development of new technologies and sources. The sources include shale oil, tar sands, tar sludge, heavy crude, and coal. These alternative oil sources are plentiful. There are estimated to be one trillion barrels of oil in the Alberta tar sands. The Colorado Green River Basin has an equivalent amount of oil shale. Although the world might run out of pumpable oil in 50 years, there are over 500 years' worth of these alternative oil sources.

The technologies for converting these substances to oil and gasoline already exist; Germany made gasoline from coal in World War II. In the early 20th century, before natural gas pipelines, US cities made syngas (CO + H2) by spraying water on hot coke.

However, the conversion costs to make oil from the alternative sources are high both in terms of money and energy use. With current technology the energy will come from burning more such fossil fuel, increasing CO2 emissions. For example, diesel fuel can be made from coal. Creating and using coal derived diesel releases 45 pounds of CO2 per gallon of fuel, compared to 25 for diesel from crude oil. Shell Oil has a method for extracting oil from oil shale by heating the ground to 65o degrees F for 3-4 years to liquefy the oil.

Alberta tar sands excavation

Alberta tar sands are mined and then oil is extracted by heating in a retort. All these technologies require substantial heat, and that heat is provided by combustion of a large fraction of the products being extracted. Coal To Liquid (CTL) plants are already in operation. South Africa's SASOL produces 150,000 barrels per day.

Heat is used in the GTL (Gas To Liquid) plants under construction in Qatar and Nigeria. Such $18 billion plants will convert natural gas to ultra clean diesel oil, but 45% of the natural gas is consumed in the process.

Over the next 50 years, as pumpable oil is depleted, the price will rise, encouraging exploration of alternative sources and plants to extract the oil. These plants, burning more fuel, will emit more CO2. Unless society takes some actions, the invisible hand of economics may well drive the world to double CO2 emissions. This should be a nightmare scenario for environmentalists.

Nuclear Oil is an antidote to the Peak Oil Blight

Nuclear Oil is a name for oil produced using nuclear power. Pebble bed reactors and other nuclear reactors are good sources of heat. The high temperatures reactors can provide process heat to conversion plants that heat oil shale, oil sludge, or tar sands to extract oil. The overall productivity of the conversion plants would be increased and CO2 emissions eliminated by not burning the end product for heat.

Nuclear reactors can be built at the production sites, such as the Alberta tar sands pits, the Colorado shale oil lands, the West Virginia coal mines, the Qatar gas fields, or the eastern Venezuela sludge oil fields. The oil extraction and production processes can take place more efficiently, using nuclear heat, without creating even more CO2.

The website has much more about peak oil and the opportunities to use nuclear power to reduce CO2 contributions and extend the availablility of fossil fuels. It is comprehensive, written in a sassy style, and filled with links to explore the subject.


Vehicle fuels like gasoline and diesel will be used for decades. Oil depletion and natural economic forces will encourage extraction of oil from alternative sources, releasing ever more CO2. Nuclear heat can eliminate the need to burn fuel and release CO2 during production.

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