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Oil is the greatest energy source ever discovered. Without oil, our modern way of life would simply not exist. The presence of petroleum and petroleum products in our everyday lives can be compared to oxygen; it surrounds us to such a degree that we cannot comprehend our own dependence. Currently, oil supplies more than 40% of our total energy demands. More importantly, oil gives us more than 99% of the fuel we use in our cars and trucks and other forms of transportation. We have a lot of different ways we can generate electricity (all of which are also dependent on oil), but there is currently no other viable way to fuel our transportation system, nor is there a practical solution on the horizon.

CARE's POSITION

Ironically, the greatest weakness to oil is that it is so incredibly strong. No other fuel source is even close to being as versatile and powerful as oil. Equally as important, there is currently no viable alternative. While oil plays a relatively small direct role in electricity generation (primarily through coke that is a residue from the refinement process), indirectly it is irreplaceable. We cannot build coal or natural gas-fired power plants, nuclear power plants, hydropower stations, wind turbines or solar panels without oil. Because the U.S. has only an estimated three percent of the world's oil and imports 63 percent of its petroleum, availability is a big problem. Therefore, it is prudent that we explore as much of our land and offshore areas for oil as possible, so in the event we lose a percentage of imports we can still power and protect the nation.

CARE greatly supports oil as a responsible energy source. Modern technology for oil extraction is tremendously improved from earlier years so that environmental impacts are held to a minimum. Those who criticize oil for its environmental impact fail to consider what would happen if oil were not available. The death, devastation and environmental catastrophe are not even imaginable.

FACTS

  • Oil prices are set by supply and demand in the world market, and by oil trading on global financial exchanges
  • The world consumes approximately 85 million barrels of oil per day
  • The United States consumes approximately 21 million barrels of oil per day
  • The United States imports 63% of its oil
  • It generally takes seven to ten years to move from oil discovery to production
  • The total costs for drilling tripled between 1990 and 2004
  • Oil makes up approximately one quarter of the nation's annual trade deficit
  • More than 75 percent of all oil wells in the United States are classified as "stripper wells," producing less than 15 barrels per day. Despite their small volumes, they add up. The more than 400,000 stripper oil wells in the United States produce, in aggregate, nearly 1 million barrels of oil per day, roughly what we import from Venezuela.
  • Stripper wells are extremely sensitive to oil price changes or swings in operating costs.
  • From 1993 to 2000, about 150,000 stripper wells were abandoned, costing the nation more than $3.5 billion in lost economic output and leaving about 150 million barrels of crude in the ground.
  • Most oil spills are small and can be easily cleaned up through a natural process called "land farming." In this process the oily soil is spread out and mixed with oil eating microbes.

WHAT IT IS

  • Crude oil is a mix of hydrocarbons ranging from gases to solids as well as sulfur and other materials.
  • Scientists believe oil began forming millions of years ago as plant and animal remains decayed in sediments at the bottoms of oceans, lakes and streams. Massive pressures and temperatures converted this organic matter into oil and natural gas. Under some circumstances, rock formations trapped large accumulations of crude oil that can be extracted in commercial amounts.
  • Modern refining and petrochemical technology transforms crude oil into thousands of products critical to the function of industrial societies. Take away petroleum-generated fuel, plastics, rubber waxes and lubricants and the world as we know it stops.
  • There is a common misunderstanding about oil "reservoirs." It seems reasonable to believe that there are huge underground caverns filled with oil. In reality, no such subterranean pools exist. Instead, the oil is contained within porous rock. The more porous the rock, the more easily the petroleum can flow toward the hole drilled into the ground, known as a "well bore."

HOW IT WORKS

  • Most oil production includes three distinct phases: primary, secondary, and tertiary, or enhanced, recovery.
  • When an oil well is drilled, naturally occurring reservoir pressure is typically enough to force the oil into perforations in the well pipe all the way to the surface.
  • Once the natural pressure is gone, pumps are often used to suck the oil to the surface.
  • Natural reservoir pressure together with pumps may recover up to 40% of the original oil.
  • Water can be injected into surrounding wells to push oil towards production wells, which is called "water flooding."
  • Water flooding can produce another five or ten percent of the original oil deposit.
  • Other recovery techniques are steam or CO2 injection.
  • Typically, little more than a third of a field's original oil in place is ever recovered. The remainder stays behind as a potential target for new technology and/or future improvements in market conditions (i.e., higher prices).
  • Newer technologies promise to recover as much as one half of the oil in a given location, perhaps more.
  • In some cases oil can also be mined from shallow fields. In this process, tunnels are dug under the reservoir and holes are drilled up through the tunnel roofs into the reservoir itself. The oil drains into an area where it can be extracted. This technique can recover upwards of 90 percent of a reservoir's oil. Unfortunately, this process is very expensive and as a result is rarely used.

PROS

  • Oil is the lifeblood of the world economy
  • Oil forms the backbone of many exporters' economies.
  • Every domestically-produced barrel of oil is one less barrel that has to be purchased from a foreign source
  • Domestically produced oil is an essential component of our national security
  • Oil gives us machines (cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, farm equipment, etc.), which do our work for us. Prior to oil more than 90 percent of human labor was physical labor.
  • The "energy profit" from a large oil field is extremely high. It's estimated that one barrel of oil must be consumed in order to extract 50 more barrels, leaving an energy profit of 49 barrels. Most other energy sources have a much smaller energy profit.
  • With newer refining techniques and technological progress, fuel sources from oil (gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, etc.) burn relatively clean. For example, a car of 1960 emitted the same amount of pollution as thirty of today's vehicles.
  • Petroleum is contained within an astounding number of products that we take for granted, such as anything plastic or rubber. Oil-based products include everything from magic markers, lipstick and pantyhose to footballs and synthetic fibers for today's clothing to asphalt.
  • Today's oil wells leave a much smaller footprint than in the early days of oil production, typically only about one and a half acres once the well is completed.
  • Advances in directional drilling have significantly reduced the footprint even more.

CONS

  • Oil is not a renewable energy source, which presents us with a future fuel and products problem.
  • Importing large quantities from foreign nations (many of which are hostile to U.S. interests) endangers national security
  • Burning any fossil fuel produces pollution, including greenhouse gasses that may contribute to climate change.
  • All oil development necessitates some environmental impact, including the well site, road construction, and noise.
  • Modern drilling techniques have greatly reduced the potential for contamination of groundwater. However, it would be illogical to believe that there will not be accidents or spills.
  • It is easy to list negative impacts from oil production and use, but is virtually impossible to imagine what our world would be like without oil.

THE FUTURE

  • Increasing conventional domestic oil production while producing fields decline is arguably the biggest challenge facing the United States today.
  • The development of oil shale and tar sands appears to be the only viable alternative to conventional oil.
  • Politicians and environmental groups continually speak about the need to develop renewable energy resources to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, but such rhetoric is disingenuous. The vast majority of renewable energy is geared toward electricity generation, not liquid fuels
  • The potential for any non-fossil fuel source to replace oil within the next several decades is slim
  • Continuing to import large quantities of oil from foreign sources jeopardizes our national security
  • The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is a U.S. Government complex of four sites created in deep underground salt caverns along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast that hold emergency supplies of crude oil. These reserves would only support the United States oil consumption at 25 percent for about 100 days and therefore SPR only provides a measure of short term security
  • The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that American will use about 39 percent more oil through the year 2025. The EIA estimates that non-hydropower renewables (ethanol, geothermal, biomass, solar, and wind) will provide less than seven percent of America's total energy by the year 2025, virtually none of that energy going to liquid fuels as a supplement to oil.
  • The EIA forecasts world energy demand through 2025 rising by almost 60 percent. World demand is expected to increase faster than in the United States as the developing world strives to catch up with the West.
  • The EIA estimates the combined market share of carbon fuels will increase to 88 percent.
  • More than 90 percent of the increase in total energy demand is expected to be met by oil, gas, or coal.
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