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Old Technology Fuels New Energy Boom

With U.S. oil imports hitting a 17-year low, the mainstream media has awoken to the fact that, as I pointed out three years ago, peak oil is not happening anytime soon. Charles Mann’s excellent cover story in this month’s Atlantic, “What If We Never Run Out of Oil?” focuses on an obscure, exotic, though potentially vast source of energy: methane hydrates, or crystalline natural gas trapped below the seabed. If early exploration ventures by Japan, and other countries, succeed, this gas “could free not just Japan but much of the world from the dependence on Middle Eastern oil that has bedeviled politicians since Churchill’s day.”

An Associated Press story last week reached a similar conclusion about “unconventionals” in general: companies are opening huge deposits of shale gas, “tight oil,” and other hard to reach petroleum sources that will essentially flip the energy world upside down, as the United States returns to its status among the world’s largest exporters of petroleum.

Both of these stories, though, share a common misconception, captured in the AP article’s headline: “New Technology Propels Old Energy Boom.”

In fact, the technologies underlying today’s petro-boom are not new at all; they are innovative applications and refinements of technology that has existed for decades. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to take the most obvious example, has led to gushers of new oil and gas. And drillers have been fracking wells for nearly 60 years. More than 1 million wells have been developed using fracking since the 1940s, according to EnergyFromShale.org, an industry-supported website.

The early use of fracking to get at reserves previously thought of as unrecoverable, shortly after the turn of the 21st century, came about after exploration companies began examining geologic formations using x-ray computed tomography, or CT scanners. The CT scanner was invented in 1967.

Tinker Imaginatively

What’s happening today is not a new-technology revolution; it’s an evolution of new applications for existing technology. We are doing things that we’ve been doing for decades in cleaner, more efficient, more effective, and more sustainable fashions.
More forbes.com

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