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From fossil fuels to far-out energy February 26, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, energy, environment, explore, life, nature, science, space, technology, world.
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Oil derrickOne of the biggest issues right now — arguably bigger than even global warming — is energy: specifically, spiralling energy consumption in the face of depleting supply. In Canada, total energy consumption grew by 20.3% between 1980 and 1997, and we consumed five times the world average in terms of energy use, using an annual equivalent of 6.19 tonnes of oil per capita. (Source)

The energy strain has resulted in black-outs around the world, including the 12 hours or more that much of the northeastern U.S. and Ontario were out of power in August 2003, and massive blackouts that surged across much of western Europe in November 2006.

Meanwhile, world energy demand has been predicted to rise 45% by 2030 by which time oil production will fall by half — which is either a good or bad thing, depending on whether you’re selling the energy — although some claim that the earth will never run out of oil as long as there is new technology to help get at the hard-to-reach supplies.

While world powers jockey for control of the oil-rich Middle East, there is increased pressure in North America for new oil and gas sources in wilderness areas, such as the environmentally sensitive Chukchi Sea, which lies above the Arctic Circle between Alaska and Russia. On Feb. 1, 2008, a coalition of native Alaskans and conservation goups filed a lawsuit to stop the drilling in the environmentally sensitive area, but there will surely be more oil rushes to get at the huge reserves said to be in the North. 

But all is not lost. Last week, NASA announced that Saturn’s orange moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has mapped about 20 percent of Titan’s surface with radar, discovering lakes and seas which are estimated to contain more hydrocarbon liquid than Earth’s oil and gas reserves, and dunes that contain a volume of organics several hundred times larger than Earth’s coal reserves.

Steven Hobbs (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)Ah, yes… Titan. Now that potential mining bonanza should be a challenge to technology. Let’s see, only -179 degrees Celcius. An environment of liquid methane and ethane and a mix of complex organic molecules called tholins. Titan is only about 50% larger than the moon, and it took the Cassini probe seven years to get there. Well, but I’d bet the job would pay an astronomical salary. Anyone up for it?

On the other hand, maybe we should start to think about Plan B, just in case we don’t get to Titan before our fossil fuels run out, just in case the story about endless energy reserves turns out to be a pipe dream.

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Related Links:
NASA: Titan’s Surface Organics Surpass Oil Reserves on Earth”
Titan Oil Reserves
Blackouts around the world
Times: “Energy crisis cannot be solved by renewables”
Guardian: “Steep decline in oil production…”

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