66 – Understanding America’s Energy Security Challenge

 

Fossil fuels now provide about 80 percent of the energy Americans use. While everyone understands that these are non-renewable energy sources, Americans act as if they were. The reality is that America’s remaining technically recoverable oil, natural gas, and coal endowment is finite. As America achieves energy independence and as America’s population continues to grow, primarily due to immigration, the rate at which the remaining endowment is depleted will also grow. If America does not have replacement non-fossil fuel energy sources ready in time, the consequences on our national security and economic prosperity will be severe.

“Understanding America’s Energy Security Challenge” is the second of an Energy & Environmental Security Series of videos published on the Spacefaring Institute’s™ YouTube® channel. These videos explain why the United States should undertake an orderly transition from fossil fuels to space-based solar energy.

This 13-minute video addresses these topics:

  • Why the need for energy security?
  • How large is the remaining U.S. fossil fuel endowment?
  • How long will the U.S. fossil fuel endowment last?
  • What will it take to replace fossil fuels?
  • What should America do to meet this energy security challenge?

The video includes charts and tables explaining the key points.

The script of the video follows:

Introduction

A standard barrel of oil contains 42 U.S. gallons. When used to measure the energy content of fossil fuels, this is referred to as a barrel of oil equivalent or BOE. Hence, for oil, 1 barrel equals 1 BOE. The United States has about a 1,500 billion BOE endowment of technically recoverable oil, natural gas, and coal resources remaining. While this sounds like an almost inexhaustible supply, the reality is much different. Each year, Americans consume about 14 billion BOE of fossil fuels. As this rate, the remaining technically recoverable fossil fuel endowment will only last, at best, just over a century. With the U.S. population of 320 million likely to climb to, at least, 500 million by 2100, the endowment will likely be exhausted much faster. America’s energy security challenge is to undertake an orderly transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy before harmful shortages of affordable fossil fuel supplies occur for our children and grandchildren. This Spacefaring Institute video discusses:

  • Why the need for energy security?
  • How large is the remaining U.S. fossil fuel endowment?
  • How long will the U.S. fossil fuel endowment last?
  • What will it take to replace fossil fuels?
  • And, what should America do to meet this energy security challenge?

Part A – Why the need for energy security?

As industrializing nations transitioned from wood fuel to fossil fuels in the mid-1800s, their national security and prosperity became dependent on the uninterrupted supply of fossil fuels. Like food, water, and shelter, the functioning of modern civilization is totally dependent on assured and affordable electricity and fuel supplies, especially oil. This reality hit home in America in the early 1970s as the United States started to significantly depend on imported oil for its economic prosperity. During the fourth Arab-Israeli War in 1973-74, Arab nations cut-off oil exports to the United States to pressure the United States from supporting Israel. While the boycott lasted, America experienced shortages in gasoline, heating fuel, and electricity, often then generated using oil. While the overall reduction in energy supplies was only a few percent, the economic disruption was severe. The same thing happened again in 1979 when the Iranian Revolution permanently ended Iranian oil exports to the United States. This brought a nearly decade-long severe recession and has had serious political and military consequences in the Middle East and globally ever since. For well over a century, fossil fuel energy security has been vital to America’s national security. This is a primary reason why energy independence has become a popular national goal.

Part B – How large is the remaining U.S. fossil fuel endowment?

Estimating the size of U.S. technically recoverable fossil fuel resources is undertaken by the United States Geological Survey or USGS. Technically recoverable refers to those resources than can be safely and legally extracted using available technological means. As of 2013, the total technically recoverable domestic oil endowment is about 260 billion BOE. For natural gas, the total is about 400 billion BOE. For coal, the total is about 880 billion BOE. These total about 1,550 billion BOE. This estimate will be used to evaluate U.S. fossil fuel energy security.

Part C – How long will the U.S. fossil fuel endowment last?

This chart shows the total amount of energy consumed in the U.S. since 1850. Up through 2015, the United States has consumed about 926 billion BOE of fossil fuels. In 2015, with a population of about 320 million, Americans used nearly 14 billion BOE of fossil fuels. Of this total consumed, about 6 billion BOE was oil, about 5 billion BOE was natural gas, and nearly 3 billion BOE was coal. Should the U.S. become energy independent in producing oil, the technically recoverable oil endowment of about 260 billion BOE would only last about 43 years. The technically recoverable natural gas endowment of about 400 billion BOE would last about 82 years. Coal, however, would last 327 years at the 2015 production rates. Coal can be converted into a synthetic oil at a conversion rate of about 2.5 BOE of coal to yield 1 BOE of oil. Replacing 6 billion BOE of oil per year would require about 15 billion BOE of additional coal production per year, boosting total coal production to about 18 billion BOE per year. At this rate, the 880 billion BOE of coal would last only about 49 years. Thus, being energy independent to avoid dangerous foreign entanglements, would exhaust the 1,550 billion BOE endowment in less than a century. However, the U.S. population is still growing, primarily by immigration. By 2100, using U.S. Census Bureau projections, the U.S. population may reach 500 million, if not more. This means that the total U.S. fossil fuel endowment could be depleted well before 2100, within the lifetime of today’s children and grandchildren. It is apparent that, by 2100, the use of fossil fuels in America will have diminished significantly, if not completely. Clearly, replacing fossil fuels to ensure American energy security this century is now very important.

Part D – What can replace fossil fuels?

Of the energy Americans use, about 40 percent is used as electricity with the remaining 60 percent used as fuels. About 80 percent of the total energy used is now provided by fossil fuels with the rest coming from nuclear and renewable energy sources. Thus, fossil fuels now meet the energy needs of about four out of five Americans or about 256 million people. To replace fossil fuels, additional renewable and nuclear energy sources must be built. A typical new nuclear power plant will generate one billion watts or one gigawatt of electrical power. Using electrolysis, electricity can be used to extract hydrogen from water to use as a fuel to replace oil and natural gas. Each one gigawatt nuclear power plant will be able to meet the total electricity and hydrogen fuel needs of about 100,000 Americans. Thus, replacing the fossil fuel supply for 256 million Americans will require that about 2,600 one gigawatt nuclear power plants be built. Further, to meet the energy needs of the expected 500 million Americans by 2100 will require about 4,000 nuclear power plants to replace fossil fuels. For perspective, the United States currently has 100 commercial nuclear power plants.

Part E – What should America do to meet this energy security challenge?

These three charts show the increase in the human population, the rise in carbon emissions from fossil fuels, and the total atmospheric carbon dioxide level since 1500. The red band represents the normal range of carbon dioxide levels over the last 400,000 years. With the carbon dioxide level already abnormally high and still climbing, the environmental need to get our carbon dioxide emissions under control requires a transition to non-fossil fuel energy sources. Starting at 14 billion BOE per year of fossil fuels and reducing this to zero by 2100 will still require that the U.S. fossil fuel industry supplies roughly 600 billion BOE of oil, natural gas, and coal through 2100. Thus, a robust U.S. fossil fuel industry will still be needed for several generations to keep America energy secure as an orderly transition from these fuels is undertaken. By 2100, for an American population of 500 million, about 4000 one gigawatt nuclear power plants, or their renewable energy equivalent, will need to be built to replace fossil fuels. Starting in 2020, this will require that construction of about 50 new nuclear power plants, or their renewable energy equivalent, begins every year for the rest of the century. Only with this approach, can the U.S., in an orderly manner, achieve the energy and environmental security needed by our children and grandchildren.

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