Geological Resource Policy
Supply: Generally speaking, the longevity of supplies of any non-renewable substance is a function of consumption rate and the rate at which resources can be converted to reserves.
Petroleum: Consumption has increased rapidly, with as much being consumed in the last 20 years (i.e. your lifetimes) as in the previous 100. Obviously, at some point in thefuture, production will decrease as reserves are depleted. When this will happen depends on two the two stated factors:
- Primarily our ability to convert resources to reserves. If this does not happen, production will peak within ten years then begin to decline. If new reserves are found, it will probably be from:
- Offshore drilling in deeper water than currently feasible.
- New petroleum exploration techniques: The days in which one could discover a vast new petroleum reservoir, (called an elephant), such as the Persian Gulf are gone, however methods like seismic stratigraphic techniques have enabled us to exploit smaller resources more effectively.
- Indeed, in 1987, known US reserves amounted to ten year supply for US. Today, we continue to have ten year reserves. We didn't run out because of conversion of resources to reserves.
- If this rate of reserve discovery persists, production shouldn't start to fall until 2020, and cease around 2120. (Your grandchildren will be alive.)
- The US record:
- US produces 11% of world's oil, but consumes 25%. thus contributes to US trade deficit.
- 60% is used for transportation.
- Voluntarily reduced consumption: Economic disruptions of late 1970s and early 1980s, demonstrated our ability to do this.
- Involuntary reduced consumption: We get over half our oil from abroad. This supply is vulnerable to political events. Examples:
- 1973 oil embargo. (Truck convoys, etc.)
- 1991 Desert Storm.
- War in Pacific, 1940s.
- Increased consumption abroad as large countries like China, Indonesia, and India industrialize.
- The upshot is that despite its utility as an energy source, strong incentives (particularly political) exist to develop alternative sources.
Coal: Abundant in US, environmentally disruptive to mine and use.
Nuclear: We've discussed briefly the risks: Industrial accidents and pollution from waste material. Now a little detail on the latter. We don't think as much about nuclear waste pollution as we do about reactor accidents or weapons proliferation because it is not as spectacular, but after a half century, it has already become a very bad problem.
- In mid 20th century arms race, we were racing to develop nuclear arsenal, and carelessly discarded nuclear wastes contaminated the ground. These, along with toxic industrial wastes, were addressed in 1980 environmental remediation program called Superfund Program.
- Of these, the most troublesome are sites such as the Hanford site in WA state, site of nuclear arms facility. For roughly 35 years, wastes from leaking storage tanks invaded water table near Columbia river, threatening people and fisheries.
- Estimated cleanup costs: 200 - 350 billion dollars over about 70 years. (5 billion per year)
Huge costs suggests that we should confront tradeoffs:
Currently, options 1 & 2 aren't available at sites like Hanford. Choice of approach made by US Dep.t of Energy and federal (EPA) and state regulators.
- restore to pristine condition
- Restore to condition permitting normal use with acceptible health risk
- Partial cleanup. Restore to point that land is usable for industrial but not residential uses
- Monitor and remediate at perimiter of otherwise restricted area.
- How did this happen? Combination of high priority given to weapons development and secrecy.
- Inclusion of scientists: In several cases, non-inclusion of scientists in remediation agreements have resulted in gov't committments that can't be honored for technical reasons, leading to litigation. Thus, money for remediation research is reduced.
Mineral resources: Similar to energy resources, but with two big differences:
- As industrial economies mature and major infrastructures are put into place, they seem to be shifting from construction to service economies. The result is an actual drop in mineral consumption rates.
- Many mineral resources can be recycled. % of recycled metals by US:
- Iron: 56
- Copper: 60
- Gold, platinum, aluminium: 45%
- US produces 60% of minerals it consumes. Problem comes from certain "strategically critical" materials such as cobalt, manganese, chromium, and titanium. Without these, entire industries (such as aircraft and chemical) would collapse. Thus, federal gov't has maintained strategic stockpiles since 1939.
- Prospects for future:
- For most mineral resources, reserves are increasing thanks to new exploration and extraction technologies. Nevertheless, they are finite.
- Federal land makes up almost quarter of US land area. This is variously:
It is up to public to establish proper balance between these priorities, nevertheless, the potential for conversion of considerable resources to reserves exists from reallocating land use or transferring toprivate ownership, as has been done in the past.
- maintained for recreation
- for preservation of environment
- leased for logging and mining.