[T]hanks to new discoveries and new technologies, the end of fossil fuels is not looking quite so imminent. From the oil sands of northern Alberta, to America’s massive pockets of shale gas (American gas reserves would last at least 75 years at current consumption rates), to the vast offshore oil reserves that Brazil hopes will make it the world’s fourth-largest producer by 2020, fossil-fuel sources we didn’t know about or couldn’t use are suddenly available. Crucially, many of these supplies are found in thriving democracies—a dramatic shift from the past, when oil and autocracy seemed to go together.The resurgence of fossil fuels will create new winners in the global economy—oil is one reason Brazil is on the rise, and shale gas could be a source of America’s economic rebound after the 2008 slump. Oil could complicate domestic politics in countries with too much of it—there is a reason economists talk about “the curse of oil,” and dictatorships have thrived in countries with abundant natural resources.This newly available fossil fuel will intensify the fierce battle about the environment, as we have already seen in the fight over the Keystone pipeline. These deposits aren’t the easy-to-drill ones we got used to in the 20th century. They are hard to reach, and extraction will have a rougher impact on the environment. They will also be the source of high-paying jobs and will allow us to live in our comfortable, commuter-based, fossil-fueled economy decades longer than we expected. The challenge of weaning ourselves off fossil fuel even as it becomes more abundant will make the old fights about energy conservation seem like child’s play.
Analysis and a useful chart from the EIA, via the Atlantic:
You may not have noticed, but there is something happening to the American electricity supply that we’ve never seen before. Not in 1973 or 1950 or even in 1900. As long as Americans have made electricity, they’ve gotten more of it from coal than from any fuel. While petroleum and natural gas have played huge roles in our energy system, coal’s been responsible for more than 65 percent of the fossil-fuel electricity we’ve generated for most of the last 50 years. (And for big chunks of the 20th century, we made half of all the electricity in this country by burning coal.)But natural gas is in the process of overtaking coal as the top fuel in America — and fast. The energy system, as you can see in the chart, tends to change slowly. But just look at the last three years in the chart below. That’s the kind of growth that you tend to see in the high tech industry, not energy. That’s an honest-to-goodness hockey stick.