Three Cheers For Oil

Oil is the Earth’s miracle substance. Robert Bryce exposes the foolishness of those who attack oil. Links in original:

The International Energy Agency recently reported that global oil demand grew by 2.3 million barrels per day in 2023. The agency expects oil use to increase by 1.2 million Bbl/d this year. Meanwhile, OPEC expects oil use to jump by 2.2 million Bbl/d and by 1.8 million Bbl/d in 2025. Regardless of which estimate is correct, it is clear that oil demand continues to grow along with the global economy. Analyst Art Berman says “oil is the economy.” Indeed, like electricity, oil drives economic growth, and economic growth drives oil use.

Love it or hate it, if oil didn’t exist we’d have to invent it. No other fuel can match oil when it comes to energy density, cost, scale, flexibility, or ease of handling and transportation.

Petroleum drives modern economies, which is to say that it enables modern life. But for petroleum, we would be going around in donkey carts. And not going very far. America’s need for oil is insatiable; nothing can dent it, even temporarily, but an economic downturn. And bear in mind that throughout the time covered by this chart, automobile engines have gotten much more efficient:

The world’s demand for oil is also insatiable, and that isn’t going to change:

Petroleum is the key to lifting billions of people out of poverty. Robert writes:

Few substances this side of uranium come close to touching oil when it comes to the essential measure of energy density: the amount of energy (which is measured in joules or BTUs) that can be contained in a given volume or mass. In addition to petroleum’s high energy density, it is stable at standard temperature and pressure, relatively cheap, easily transported, and can be used for everything from making shoelaces to fueling jumbo jets.

Speaking of which:

Oil’s tyranny of density can be demonstrated by looking at the aviation sector and by doing a tiny bit of math. To make the math easy, let’s use metric units. And let’s focus on weight, as that factor is critical in aerospace. The gravimetric energy density of jet fuel is high: about 43 megajoules (million joules) per kilogram. (Low-enriched uranium, by the way, is 3.9 terajoules — trillion joules — per kilogram.)

Keep those numbers in mind as we look at the best-selling jet airliner in aviation history: the Boeing 737. A fully fueled 737-700 holds about 26,000 liters of jet fuel, weighing about 20,500 kilograms. That amount of fuel contains about 880 gigajoules (billion joules) of energy. The maximum take-off weight for the 737-700 is about 78,000 kilograms, therefore jet fuel may account for as much as 26 percent of the plane’s weight as it leaves the runway.

Obama and Kennedy are big fans of electric cars. Lithium-ion batteries have higher energy density than most other batteries, holding about 150 watt-hours — 540,000 joules — of energy per kilogram. Recall that jet fuel contains about 43 million joules per kilogram, or nearly 80 times as much energy. Therefore, if Boeing were trying to replace jet fuel with batteries in the 737-700, it would need about 1.6 million kilograms of lithium-ion batteries. Put another way, to fuel a jetliner like the 737-700 with batteries would require a battery pack that weighs about 21 times as much as the airplane itself.

It isn’t going to happen. Ever. Petroleum will not be replaced by wind, solar and batteries. Ever. It could be replaced by nuclear power, but we have a long way to go before that happens. Meanwhile, let’s celebrate oil, which has done more to improve human life than all the liberal measures enacted by all governments in history, put together.

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