By: Anna Laws
Oil and gas are key components in the machinery of modern life. You can sit in a car consuming oil-derived fuel, steering with a wheel made of oil-derived vinyl and plastics, all while trundling along over the road paved with oil-derived bitumen. Does your house have gas heating or cooking facilities? Do you work in a laboratory with gas-powered Bunsen burners? Regardless, the electricity you use is likely produced using gas turbines.
Currently the USA imports most of its oil and gas. It has only the 10th highest amount of proven oil reserves in the world, under 10% of the record amount in Venezuela and far behind the abundance in Saudi Arabia. Gas fares somewhat better; the USA ranks 5th, but with only 5% the amount of Russia.
However, the outlook is changing. As technology improves, so does the potential for reaching new untapped oil and gas wells. In addition, the currently known areas can be mined progressively more efficiently. Even as known reserves are drained and closed off, more can be done to squeeze out every last drop.
In comes Trump. Throughout his campaign, President-elect Trump gave vague notions of changing the attitude of the USA towards oil and gas drilling. He hints that regulations on drilling will be relaxed: new methods, such as hydraulic fracking, will become more widespread; and continuing work will be more intense, with fewer restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from the processes.
Fracking has a controversial recent history in the UK. The process requires vast quantities of water to be shipped across the country, resulting in a high carbon footprint. Tests of the process even produced small earthquakes in 2011. On the plus side, the subsequent electricity production using this gas has reduced greenhouse gases compared with coal-based production.
In the USA, increased fracking could open up more opportunities for natural gas retrieval. Along with other methods, local oil would become readily available and would likely slash fuel prices. And Trump promises that an abundance of jobs will be created from this endeavor.
The key debate in future months will likely revolve around this simple question: is the environmental impact worth it? Being so keen to radically increase greenhouse gases seems ludicrous in these times of climate change awareness. Further complicating matters, oil retrieval has left a sour taste in the mouths of America with the enormous oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010.
A distant solution? Sustainable energy! Now is the time to improve the current technology and harness clean, less politically-encumbered power for a brighter future.
Final ScientisTalk of the Semester!
When: 4/25, 6-70pm
Where: Lowell Small Dining Hall
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